Michelle Puentes France as Text 2022

“Only Recognized for her Beauty” by Michelle Puentes, Paris as Text, July 12, 2022

Photography by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Walking across the world famous Museum, it was wonderful to see the historical and cultural pieces of artwork that changed and created the history of art. Having the works of wonderful masters such as Theodore Chasseriau, Jacques-Louis David, and Leonardo da Vinci, it displayed marvelous artworks that created new movements and changed the perception and purpose of art. Throughout the hall of the Louvre, most subjects of artworks were women, displaying the beautiful soft curves and angelic facial features of the world’s favorite muse. Unironically, out of the 1,400 artists represent in the Louvre, only 21 were female artists in the entire collection.

A topic that has been discussed and argued in the art world for centuries, it was strange seeing the proof before my very own eyes. Being a female artist, I saw myself inspired by so many beautiful figure paintings and portraits, seeing it mostly focused on the female physique. However, in the sexualized content of the artworks, it was uncomfortable knowing all of them were done by only men.  The very own matter of women always being viewed as only objects of beauty but not being allowed to pursue a career in art was embodied in this museum, as only those who were allowed to make art were men during these time periods. The idea that women should solely focus on domestic work and motherhood had dominated in the 18th century and continued in the 19th century, in conjunction of the time art history was acknowledged and written about extensively. Therefore, women were not recognized as master artists and thus, erased from the history of art. Additionally, during the 16th,17th, and 18th centuries, the most prominent form of art was painting, and women were excluded from working with this, especially nude drawing. Not being encouraged to pursue general careers, women were occupied majority of the time with domestic tasks, and as consequence, being underrepresented in today’s art history.

However, it was the matter of how women were represented in these artworks that brought up many questions. In context with the time period of the artwork, it was upsetting seeing that women were highly sexualized and only acknowledged for their beauty, not capabilities. Art techniques being a complicated skill that require years to master, many capable female artists were denied the right to develop this skill through apprenticeships or workshops as other male artists had received. And art being in high demand by governments and churches during these time periods, majority of the jobs were given to men who made their name in the art world. Although today there has been a growing number of female artists represented in the art world, there still seems to exist a disparity of female artist representation in art history. And though much of the art was created by men before, there still exists a number of art works done by women during those time periods. It’s only the curator’s choice of what they choose to display. 

“A Destined Death” by Michelle Puentes, Versailles as Text, July 13, 2022

Louis XVI Marriage — Parisology

Snow white skin tinted with rose pink cheeks, her ruffled baby-blue dress enhanced her doll-like azure eyes. Hidden beneath a soft pink smile, her youthfulness shone through, with large pearly earrings and subtle, light eyebrows. 

Posed in a striking purple and gold velvet clothing, his slight smile and down-turned eyes offered a hesitant appearance. His drowsy face and lenient stance, his quiet personality showed through the royal painting.  

 After France’s massive debt bringing overwhelming poverty, it took one single weak ruler to make the long line of France’s monarchy fall to its knees. A shy, indecisive heir paired up with a young, mischievous princess, the French people overthrew the two weak rulers and create a massive shift in the history of political institutions. Both living in their own bubbles while worsening France’s economic crisis, the pair were nearly condemned to a tragic destiny.

Looking back at the paintings of the lives of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, it almost made me feel pity for the young couple who was simply incapable of ruling a powerful country. Although his grandfather was an iron ruler, Louis XVI was withdrawn and living in the shadow, until thrown into the spotlight at age 20. Paired up with the immature, playful daughter of the Austrian emperor, King Louis XVI was engaged to 14-year-old Marie Antionette at 15. Both becoming king and queen of France at age 20 and 19, their incapability to make wise, firm decisions mixed with France’s boiling economic circumstances led to their tragic downfall. However, as much as both failed as rulers, each had a promising future if born into a different life. Louis, who started learning craftmanship at a young age, found a particular taste for carpentry and furniture. Having attempted to give his wife something special, he crafted her a spinning wheel which she later gave away to another one of her servants (McGasko,2020). Marie, on the other side, was very fond of children, and adopted several during her time as a queen. She took care of three orphans when her usher passed away and a Senegalese boy who was presented to her as a gift. Unfortunately, both had the country in their hands but ended up staying disconnected from their responsibilities, perhaps possibly having lived longer lives if born into a different status. 

The pressure of royal descendants to have their fate determined immediately before birth is a liberty taken away before even being born. And it’s true, being born into royalty was not the worst that could happen during the 18th century, but the extensive political pressure and turmoil could not form potential leaders when the crown was based on blood lineage. After centuries of established monarchies in Europe, maybe it was time for a radical change in capable people taking power. And unfortunately, the first victims of it were rulers who were never fit for the throne.  

Walking through the majestic palace of Versailles, one can’t help but imagine what it would feel like to live in the glorious halls of gold and silver, dressed in thick drapes and having every delicacy at your hand. However, it all came at a cost for the two rulers who took extensive advantage over their sovereign status. Could have they both regretted their failures as rulers while being brought to the guillotine, or could they have accepted their fate and be content with their short-lived fantasy? 

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Marie Antionette being taken to her Execution, William Hamilton, 1793

References: 

McGasko, J. (2020, October 14). The human side of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Biography.com. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.biography.com/news/king-louis-xvi-and-marie-antoinette-execution-anniversary

A&E Networks Television. (2021, April 23). Louis XVI. Biography.com. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.biography.com/royalty/louis-xvi 

Michelle Puentes, Izieu as Text, July 12, 2022

Among the peaceful greenery and calm ambience of Izieu, only one would think that this is a perfect safe haven for those who seek rest. The perception is partly true, as it was a refuge home for Jewish children facing persecution during the Holocaust. However, on a dreadful morning, darkness seeped in and the Butcher of Lyon raided Maison d’Izieu, deporting 44 children and 7 staff to concentration camps. However, a story that is not widely known around the world, the only role left is to remember the children and their stories, in order to ensure this atrocity is not committed again. But unfortunately, as much as the world knows about the events of the Holocaust, today, there still persists ongoing genocides that show history has never learned it’s lesson. 

At the time of the Holocaust , no one knew about this, as reports of the ongoing genocide was detained by mass media and the government. Information about the mass murders of Jews did not reach the public until 1941, and it was only until 1942 that Nazi reports of annihilating the Jewish population came to the allied powers and neutral leaders. News about the holocaust then came out to the American public in 1943, and that’s when public pressure from American Jews began towards the government. The delay by many national governments and world leaders to intervene led to a mass fall, possibly saving a larger number of people if intervention was done earlier. But even today, history continues repeating itself with ongoing concentration camps and mass genocide, even after the world swore to never let it happen again.

The Nazi’s concentration camps have existed for 12 years before the surviving prisoners were free, and following that, the world discovered of their atrocious acts and violence towards them. However, human rights today have been violated viciously by many dictatorship governments, including North Korea and China who have set up concentration camps for their own population. Although pertaining to a political reason rather than a racial, the same levels of torture and inhumane deaths upon the population have both occurred on different scales. In North Korea, it is estimated that 130,000 North Koreans are forced to do hard labor, receiving very little clothing, food and heating. In the Hoeryong concentration camp, it is reported by survivors that prisoners undergo constant abuse, about 30% having deformities such as smashed eyes, torn ears, and faces covered in cuts and scars from beatings. Every year, about 2000 die from malnutrition, children making up a large percentage. The use of gas chambers still exist, where a survivor named Kwon reported a human experimentation where a family with two children died from asphyxiant gas. Experimentation of inexperienced medical officers have also occurred , where they practiced surgery techniques on prisoners with useless operations and medical mistakes, leaving them crippled permanently. These crimes are yet to be known to the world, and yet to be taken action against as we failed to do in time with the Holocaust. 

Out of so many gruesome details, it is something unbelievable to find out, even after everyone promised to fight for human rights for the past centuries. After nations fought in World War 2 for the liberty of people, it seemed the world was at peace and nothing like this could ever occur again. But even today with a facilitated widespread communication possible through technology and mass media, the world is still unaware of existing genocides and concentration camps hidden around the world. How many more stories like the children of Izieu could exist that we are unaware of? Was our role to remember their names and stories so something like this could never happen again, or have we allowed it to happen again with the ongoing bombardment of entertainment and distractions that we prefer to seek? How many more promises will we make to the world to never let it happen again?

 

“Political Prison Camps in North Korea Today”(PDF). Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. July 15, 2011

“The testimony of An Myong-chol, an ex-guard at a political prisoners’ camp in North Korea”Monthly Chosun Ilbo, Sadistic Experiments on Living Human Beings, March 1995

Barnett, Antony (1 February 2004). “Revealed: the gas chamber horror of North Korea’s gulag”The Guardian

“The testimony of An Myong-chol, an ex-guard at a political prisoners’ camp in North Korea”Monthly Chosun Ilbo, 2,000 Inmates Missing Arms or Legs, March 1995, 

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/when-did-the-world-find-out-about-the-holocaust

“Immunity to Justice” by Michelle Puentes, Lyon as Text, July 12, 2022

After four decades had gone since executing, torturing and sending 7,500 French Jews and French Resistance to concentration camps, Klaus Barbie, a former Nazi Gestapo, was charged with 177 crimes against humanity. Having sent the children of Maison d’Izieu to concentration camps,  killed the leader of the French resistance,Jean Moulin , with slow death, and deported hundreds of people one last time to death camps before Germans retreated, the Butcher of Lyon lived a life of protection from harm after World War 2, despite having committed so many atrocities. And America, the one who played a major role in defeating Hitler, had failed humanity again by protecting the bloodthirsty Nazi. 

Having discovered this while researching at the Memorial de Montluc, it made me ask myself why it took so long to condemn this man to prison for his crimes. The military prison even being in use while Barbie was free, it was not until 1987 that he returned to Lyon and went on trial for his inhumane crimes. However, the reason lied within the very own country that was founded upon freedom. A contradicting action, the Americans took in a Nazi responsible for taking the life and liberty of so many Jews and French Resistance fighters in order to fight against a rising oppressive communist government that could possibly take away the life and liberty of Americans. A Nazi who worked as an U.S agent for two years, he received immunity from French prosecutors as he provided “valuable anti-communist information”. Even after World War II was over, Klaus attained responsibility over other deaths, including helping dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez set up brutal internment camps for those who opposed him. From a government who was aware of the crimes Nazi’s had committed against it’s population, it took effort from other countries to serve justice for what this murderer had done. And even yet, he had only been sentenced to life in prison at 73, where he died of cancer in 1991. Reflecting on this case, what laws and legal rules must be established to condemn those responsible for many deaths beyond borders? Is it really more important to follow the other county’s regulation in sake of international relations or can justice be done without borders? 

Lesley James McNair by Michelle Puentes, Normandy Cemetery Project, July 23, 2022

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Since I was young, war was discussed and depicted in many aspects. In history books, in movies, in songs, and in art, it was known to me as the event where soldiers fought one another and died. However, it was an abstract concept to me, and I never understood its purpose or meaning until now. 

Visiting the Hotel des Invalides’ WWI & WWII museum, I gazed upon pictures of wounded soldiers and numbers of people who died. An ongoing discussion about the meaning of war and its necessary evil in the world, it made me question the purpose of war and if any alternative existed. Could nations fighting over territory talk it out? Or could world leaders who cause conflicts fight between themselves?

However, that isn’t the situation of every war. Some try to conquer the world. Others try to eliminate a population. And in World War 2, one man tried to do both. 

A war no one wanted to enter after the first World War, World War II had millions being persecuted for their ethnicity under the relentless hatred of one man. America initially entered World War II after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor bombing, but soon, their reasons expanded towards fighting against the spread of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. A fight for the freedom of human rights of millions, American soldiers worked alongside the British to breakdown the spreading of Nazi’s territory and claim back the freedom for Jews in Poland, France, Germany and other countries.  

In a country rooted upon freedom, 9,386 American men and women sacrificed their lives to combat for the freedom of other nations. And of these 9,386 brave warriors, one of them was named Lesley James McNair.

Born in a small town of Minnesota, McNair pursued a military career in the U.S Naval Academy after graduating high school in 1897. Rising up, he graduated in 1904 and became second lieutenant. His skills in technical drawing, engineering, prototype building and statistical analysis began receiving Army-wide recognition, and in April of 1917, he entered World War I. Arriving in France, he was assigned to American Expeditionary Forces and soon became the youngest general officer in the Army at age 35. During his interwar period, his skillful technique in equipment development, unit organization, Army training and combined arms fighting methods hugely developed, which would become essential to World War II. From April 1939 to July 1940, McNair prepared Command and General Staff College’s graduates for the upcoming challenges of World War II. He then was promoted to Major General in September 1940 and in March 1942, was named Commanding General in Army Ground Forces. 

In spring of 1944, Operation Quicksilver was in action. A military deception conducted to mask the landing sites for the Invasion of Normandy, Eisenhower was in need of a trustworthy commander with prestige to continue the Operation Quicksilver. At the age of 61, McNair was requested by Eishenhower as the successor to the operation and was approved by Marshall. McNair arrived in July 1944 in France to observe the troops in action and deceive the Germans into thinking he was in France to exercise command. However, in July 25, 1944, a mistake had occurred. The Eighth Air Force dropped an aerial bomb short of their target, falling on U.S soldiers and killing over 100 of them and wounding 500. General Omar Bradley recounted this tragedy:

“The ground belched, shook and spewed dirt to the sky. Scores of our troops were hit, their bodies flung from slit trenches. Doughboys were dazed and frightened….A bomb landed squarely on McNair in a slit trench and threw his body sixty feet and mangled it beyond recognition except for the three stars on his collar.” 

He was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France, and his tombstone originally listed him as a lieutenant general. In November 11, 2010, his rank of general was finally reflected on his gravestone, making him the highest ranking military officer buried in that cemetery.

Even after he died, my parents who came to the U.S were not even born. I may not have any blood or family related to the efforts of the American people in World War II, but I do hold a strong respect and gratefulness for every American soldier who died in a war for people from other nations. A country rooted upon freedom, these are the same people who have allowed us today to enjoy the taste of freedom. And having parents who gave up everything to come to America, I stand for the values of sacrificing one’s life to give others a chance at life. 

A man who dedicated his entire life to the U.S Military and survived World War I, it was only a button pressed a few seconds too early that took his life. The tragic death that left almost no trace of his body, his sacrifice meant the lives of millions others being saved before it was too late. Even his funeral was kept secret to maintain the military deception at the time, being only attended by his aide and other generals. But today, I come here to break the secret and let everyone know of how your life left a trace in mine. 

References:

 Omar Bradley, A general’s life: an autobiography (1983) p. 280

Zaloga, Steven J. (2001). Operation Cobra 1944: Breakout from Normandy. Osprey Publishing. p. 41. 

“General Lesley J. McNair: Little-Known Architect of the U.S. Army”, p. 13.

After D-Day: Operation Cobra and the Normandy Breakout, pp. 114–116.

https://www.abmc.gov/normandy

Eugene Delacroix by Michelle Puentes, Pere Lachaise Project, July 23, 2022

Photographed by Michelle Puentes, CC by 4.0

Eugene Delacroix, most famously known today for his painting “Liberty Leading the People”, was one of France’s most important painters in the Romanticism era. The Romanticism era is characterized by a deepened appreciation of the beauty of nature, along with emphasizing emotion over reason, a counteract against the Neoclassicism movement. Delacroix withdrew inspiration from art of Rubens and the Venetian Renaissance, going against his rival Ingres, who focused on Neoclassical perfectionism. Taking inspiration from literature, history and African culture, his legacy led to shape the art of the Impressionist movement and Symbolist movement.

Born on April 26, 1978 in Charenton Saint-Maurice France, he was born to a minister of foreign affairs and mother who was passionate for literature and art. Having his father pass away at age of 7 and mother pass away at age 16, he began his artistic studies and joined the studio of painter Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. He enrolled in Ecole des Beaux Arts and often visited the Louvre, taking inspiration from paintings of Titians and Rubens. His first major painting, The Barque of Dante, sparked sensation from the public, and was accepted by Paris Salon in 1822. Influenced by the Raft of Medusa, it received both support and controversy for its loud emotion and unique approach to color and technique. In 1824, he displayed Massacre at Chios, showing death and anguish amongst the Greeks that were about to be slaughtered by the Turks. His depiction of suffering brought controversy however, being called “a massacre of art” by another artist and accused of showing no glorious ending. The painting contained several powerful effects, including a infant clutching his dead mother’s breast. He later came onto creating works based on literature, such as Death of Sardanapalus and Woman with Parrot. But his most influential work was in 1830, where the representation of France’s July Revolution came to life. “Liberty Leading the People” was his best known painting, showing a mix of both the romantic and neoclassical approach. Influenced by the events of “Les Trois Glorieuses” , it was a political upheaval that occurred over the course of three days where King Charles X attempted to restrain the French people’s rights. In this painting, Liberty, portrayed as a woman, leads the people with the tricolor flag in one hand and a bayonet in the other, embodying the modern struggle of freedom. The people are made up of different social classes, showing a member of the lower class who wears a shirt but no jacket and a worker in a bourgeois outfit, wearing a vest and top hat. There is also a young boy holding two pistols, symbolizing the youthful insurgents, and the dead bodies of civilians and soldiers, showing those who died because of the revolution. The painting’s pyramidal structure allows the eyes to be drawn to several points of the painting, displaying chaos, energy and order.

The profound painting today has influenced many of the world’s literary and artistic works, including Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and France’s gift to the United States, the Statue of Liberty. However, his influence did not only stop there. His vibrant color palette and innovative artistic skills influenced the art world, freeing art from the limitations of 19thcentury rules and practice.  His bold demonstration of rejecting the rules of conventional art made him admirable, especially amongst the Impressionist movement, such as Edouard Manet and Charles Baudelaire. 

Painting after painting and artist after artist, the history of art has proved to be an interconnecting web of everchanging rules and different purposes behind art. The impact of Eugene Delacroix in my studies as an artist has allowed for artists today to break the boundaries of art and stray away from the rigid rules bordering a white canvas. It was not only his innovating art technique, but his challenging attitude that has made him a figure in the art world. If not for his attitude of defiance in his artwork, the Museum of Orsay would not be filled with the stunning Impressionist works of Manet and Renoir. And if not for the Impressionists rejection towards human and historical subject matters in art, the spirit of artistic freedom and subjectivity would not exist in modern or contemporary art.  

Looking back at art history, it is amazing seeing the ripple effect of contemporary events and artists influencing one another and creating radical changes. It is not by how perfect one could draw a circle or how realistic one could portray a human body that brought worldwide recognition to an artist, but rather how innovating and original one can be with art that truly gives creativity it’s definition. 

References:

https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism

https://www.eugenedelacroix.org/biography.html

https://www.biography.com/artist/eugene-delacroix

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/delacroix-and-the-rise-of-modern-art/eugène-delacroix-themes-of-influence?viewPage=1

Author: mpuen017

Michelle Puentes is a sophomore student pursing a double degree in Art and Psychology with a Certification in Italian Language at Florida International University. She loves to explore and travel, learn new languages, draw and paint, play guitar and serve in her church. She aspires to become an art therapist for children with emotional or physical struggles, and wants to travel around the world to immerse in different lifestyles and appreciate the art and cuisine.

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