Feel Art Again: "The Triumph of Galatea"

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Jean-Baptiste van Loo. Though van Loo is not very well known today, he was frequently mentioned in late-19th and early-20th century dictionaries and encyclopedias of artists. His 1722 painting, "The Triumph of Galatea," is one of his better known works.

1. The van Loo family was quite the artistic bunch. Louis-Abraham van Loo, Jean-Baptiste's father, was a painter as well as art instructor to his sons. Jean-Baptiste's borther, Charles-Andre, also became a painter, as did Jean-Baptiste's two sons, Louis-Michel and Charles-Amedee-Philippe.

2. For five years, from 1737 to 1742, Jean-Baptiste stayed in England. There he painted the portraits of Colley Cibber (actor, playwright, and Poet Laureate), Owen McSwiny (theatrical manager), Sir Robert Walpole (generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain), and the prince (Frederick) and princess (Augusta) of Wales.

3. The encyclopedias and texts from the late 1800s and early 1900s reference Sir Walpole, who apparently noted that Jean-Baptiste "bore away the chief business of London from every other painter." They also report that, while "his likenesses were very striking," they were "not often flattering."

4. "Galatea," which means "she who is milk-white," refers to three women in mythology. Of the three, the most well-known was the wife of King Pygmalion of Cyprus. Another was a Sicilian nereid, or sea nymph, who was in love with Acis, the son of Faunus and a river nymph. The final Galatea was the wife of Lamprus; she prayed to Leto that her daughter be turned into a son.

5. Jean-Baptiste van Loo's "Triumph of Galatea" is likely a representation of the Galatea who loved Acis. According to the story, the cyclops Polyphemus was jealous of Acis and thus killed him with a boulder. Galatea was distraught over the murder of her love, and so she turned his blood into the river Acis (in Sicily). However, no sources appear to document the inspiration or source of "The Triumph of Galatea."

A larger version of the work is available here.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday. Well, except next Tuesday (Christmas). Or the Tuesday after that (New Year's Day).