The Story in Paintings

November 5, 2010

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to take advantage of the availability of art in the region.  Up until last weekend, I had focused my art excursions to museums in San Francisco.   Last Saturday, I embarked on a day trip to Stockton to visit a little known treasure called the Haggin Museum.  The collection includes paintings by 19th- and early 20th-century American and European artists, including Jean Béraud, Rosa Bonheur, William Bouguereau, Jean-Léon Gérôme, George Inness and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.   This three-story brick building contains more than 34,000 square feet of exhibition space and houses the largest collection of major Albert Bierstadt works.   His depictions of Yosemite, particularly Sunset in the Yosemite Valley, are worth the trek to the Central Valley. 

As impressed as I was by Bierstadt and the Renoir (La Toilette) as well as The Juniata River by George Inness, it was  the historical paintings of Jehan-Georges Vibert,  mainly Check, Napoleon and the Cardinal, that inspired the writer in me.  It never ceases to amaze me how an artist can tell a whole story in the painting of a single scene through the use of facial expression, color and symbolism.  In this rendition, Napoleon has just been placed in “check” while playing a game of chess with the Cardinal.  Napoleon’s grimace, the fingertips placed upon his brow, as well as his slouched posture communicates the man’s displeasure.  Meanwhile, the Cardinal’s hint of a smile, his commanding red robe billowing at his feet, and relaxed pose, suggests the man feels comfortable and composed.  The polar bear rug at his feet is reported to symbolize “Russia”, a country Napoleon has failed to conquer.  It has been reported that Vibert reproduced Napoleon’s luxurious bedroom at the palace of Fontianebleau with great accuracy and that he replicated the attire of his subjects down to the Legion of Honor medals.  Compared to the two dimensional canvas a painter has to recreate his setting and cast of characters, writing seems easy. 

Here is some basic information if you are interested in visiting the Haggin Museum

Admission is a steal at $5.00 per person.

The Haggin Museum is located in Victory Park:
1201 N. Pershing Ave.
Stockton, CA 95203
(209) 940-6300

12:00-5:00 p.m.

1:30-5:00 p.m.

1:30-9:00 p.m.
1st & 3rd Thursdays

For more information visit: