Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Day 7, A conversation between two paintings

Picnic in Normandy by Juan Luna

Picnic in Normandy by Juan Luna

My students are always fascinated when I point out that Juan Luna’s Spoliarium isn’t his only work, nor academic painting his only style. Two examples currently hang in the Vargas Museum, right inside campus. One is a study of The Trial of Galileo and the other is Picnic in Normandy. If these two painting could talk, I wonder how the conversation would actually go.

The first to greet you is the Trial, “There is no question to my greatness. I represent academic work, the style accepted by the famed Salons. I demand the highest of skill to produce. It is by this measure that an artist can truly be accepted as a great artist.”

But the Picnic would soon respond, “I challenged the norm of the Salon. This is the beginning of impressionism and modern art. There is no need to be restricted by the Salon. Impressionists would soon have the Salon the Refusés to respond to such restrictions. I am freedom.”

It is as the art world was in the 19th century. There is the highly established academic style of painting, the only way then to be truly accepted into the Salons, the epitome of an artist’s career. On the other hand, the time also signals change. A change in art, a change in perspective.

The Trial would tell of the technique, “Look at the beauty of my composition, the balance.  Look at the fineness of the strokes. The contrast in darkness and light. The story centres of Galileo and look at how the spotlight seems to hit him, while his critics are cast in darkness. Only a greatly skilled artist would be able to represent this story like this.”

But Picnic would gently smile and say, “Look at how light I am. Look at the brightness of this canvas. Look at the brushstrokes, rough and alive, each of them as if telling their own stories. Skills for the academia are inside the studio, but for us, it is right here in the sun. Looking at me, you can feel the wind in your hair and the sun in your skin. It is as if light has been captured in this particular moment in time.”

The usage of light would be a key difference in the two styles. The academic style needed to perfect the usage of light inside the stability of the studios, while the impressionists would really go outside to try and capture how light affects the objects. Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series and Water Lilies depict this perfectly.

The Trial would point out, “There is a lot to learn in works like me. I bring to life important historical moments. Here, you can picture the story and the trial of Galileo. The man to bravely say that the earth is not the centre of the universe, and the earth actually revolves around the sun. This was against the teaching of the church at the time and would cost Galileo his life.”

But Picnic would reply, “Do you say that there is nothing to learn in everyday life? I put that into focus. I am lightness, and air, and freedom. Though history is important, it is everyday life that we actually live in. Painting how our life is, gives it more life. It gives us time and opportunity to reflect at the ephemeral moment that we live in. Everyday life is just as important.”

Which is more important indeed? History or everyday life? Must there be a conflict? In the academic style, historical and allegorical paintings are certainly given more weight. It is the way to acceptance. But the vantage point of everyday life must not be forgotten. The 19th century would weigh this two together, with two opposing sides. One has an established footing, while the other is starting to flourish.

The Trial may perhaps conclude and say, “There is a freedom to you, but I am the path to acceptance, the path that Juan Luna needed to take to establish himself. Thru his academic works, we was able to say that I am just as good as the colonisers.”

While Picnic would accept, “You are the path to acceptance. But indeed I am the path to freedom. I am the proof that he lived through this time, that he accepted the challenge of creating. He learned and he continued to learn.”

The 19th century was a signal for change. The academic style was challenged by the impressionists. In the Philippines, it was the beginning of an active engagement of the artists such as Luna in Europe. Their social class and status gave them a drive to prove themselves equal to the colonisers. It is the time that Jose Rizal would be motivated to write the two great Filipino novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Their first drive is to prove themselves equal, it would be later that the call for revolution would be engaged.


Note: I wish I am more fluid with my words, but I enjoyed this assignment. Contrasting two different objects in a form of a dialogue is not easy. This two works entered my mind and I just let it go. I hope to improve on my prose, as it feels like the paintings are giving a lecture. Also, I wish I can show you The Trial of Galileo but I can’t seem to find an image online. I can only show Picnic in Normandy.


2 comments on “Day 7, A conversation between two paintings

  1. Uday
    April 14, 2015

    This was an interesting take on a dialogue!! I thought it was a bit heavy on words, but interesting nevertheless. 🙂 I wonder how would it be if Mona Lisa and The Last Supper had a conversation!

    • Portia Placino
      April 14, 2015

      Thank you! 🙂 Now that’s one interesting conversation, both works are heavily guarded, one in Paris and the other in Milan. If they can have coffee and converse, I wonder what they would say. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 14, 2015 by in Art Classes, Art History, Art Writing and tagged , , , , , , , .



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,572 other followers

Follow Portia Placino on WordPress.com


We turned the crib into a toddler bed a few days ago so we can use it again. We've been co-sleeping the past few months since I accidentally dropped her into her crib one time as she was getting too heavy for me. Another issue we had was her climbing, which I thought wouldn't happen until she's 3. With all the acrobatics going on, I thought it would be safer if she stayed with us for a while. Then, she just became more stable in climbing the bed and other things, I decided to just turn the crib into a toddler bed and see how that would go. She loved it. We hang out, play with the gang, and even read stories there. Tonight, I turned off the lamp and she led me there to sleep. Let's see how that goes. I'm afraid she'll fall off it. Also, what will happen when she wakes at 4-5am for her feeding? I really don't know. But fingers cross this experiment goes well. I am definitely not a fan of co-sleeping. We lasted over a year with her in her crib until the dropping/climbing incidents. Where did your baby/toddler sleep? #toddlernarratives
She is 18 months old today. Thought we'd celebrate with great food but it really didn't turn out as planned. That's life I guess. But she insisted on going up and down the stairs of the restaurant until she can manage it on her own. The 18 months flew by so fast. Here she is, little miss independent. #toddlernarratives
Petty Mommy revenge. I will eat Yan Yan while you nap! It is all mine! 90s me is pleased. Lol. #babynarratives
Omg!!! 1 year ago?!? #babynarratives
Agawan sa milk tea pagkatapos magpabakuna kontra sa polio. Natuto din po kami mag-jeep para tipid. Lakas! #milktea #babynarratives
This is the little one dancing to k-pop. Lol. Can anyone tell us what songs she was dancing to? We had a tough Friday. We went to public health unit to get an OPV. Then we walked to Rodic's for lunch. After that she rode her first Ikot jeep to go to school. After school, we tried to get a cab to get home, but after like 30 minutes, we really couldn't get one. There were very few cabs on campus and a grab ride would cost a fortune, so we decided to gamble with a jeepney ride. Little one fell asleep for most of it but I felt so bad for her, she looked so dishevelled after. As it was late and we don't have time to cook before she gets really hungry, we stopped by Centris to eat. She enjoyed fries at KFC. But #gamerchef forgot to get me a cookie from Family Mart. There were several events going on and she spent some time dancing to k-pop near Better Days. Being poor is no joke and we are still fortunate we can turn a horrible situation around. I could only shudder at the thought of having no extra money when you need to stop over for food. This is Friday night at the Metro. We are exhausted, but today is also a testament to how resilient babies could be. Go Leia! Dance! #babynarratives
%d bloggers like this: