The season of autumn provokes us to browse the history and find wonderful examples of umbrella art and bring exciting new look to the masterpieces we all know. The story of an umbrella is old as time and reaches to the oldest civilizations because rain and sun always somehow bothered human kind. Although the different variations of portable canopies existed throughout Ancient Indian, Aztec or Siam culture, the first records of modern foldable umbrellas date from I Century in China, when a a Han Dynasty official Wang Mang ordered the carriage with collapsible umbrella. Before this period, there were only fixed canopies to protect people from rain or sunlight. It is interesting that the Chinese character for umbrella is 傘 (sǎn) is very similar to the modern umbrella.
In all Middle Eastern civilizations, where the hot climate dominates, protection from the sun was crucial, especially to the ruling class. In Persian ancient capitol Persepolis there are found numerous depictions of parasols, which was usually carried by servants following the royalty members in everyday situations such as parades or hunt. In Ancient Egypt, various predecessors of umbrellas existed, frequently made of palm leafs or precious and expensive feathers fixated on long, richly decorated handle. In Ancient Greece, parasols were inevitable fashion accessories for women and according to some records were signs of femininity. After significant cultural changes men of higher classes start using parasols as an amenity of class distinction. The custom of umbrella use passed to the Ancient Rome, where it was sign of luxury lifestyle aestheticism and servants were honored to hold umbrella made of leather over the heads of rich mistresses. After the period of Ancient civilizations, in Middle Ages umbrella was completely forgotten and there is no evidences of its use across Europe.
In 17th century, the era of Enlightenment began in Europe, while the explorations of the ancient cultures were common so the umbrella had its long awaited fashion come back. The models of modern umbrellas was imported from China, and the common use was adopted from Ancient Greek and Rome, so the European gentleman were attended by servants carrying umbrellas. It is interested that Anglo-Saxon culture considered the umbrella part of the public demonstration of masculinity as opposed to its effeminacy in Greece and Rome. Reasons of this cultural distinction could be found in the fact that the public sphere in 17th century Europe was almost exclusively reserved for men. Women in Europe started use parasols and umbrellas first in royal courts and salons of high class society and than slowly conquered the streets in 18th and 19th century, period that we mark as a beginning of the modern culture. Therefore, we brought the most interesting paintings focusing on umbrellas and parasols, listed in chronological order.
Featured images: Salvador Dali-Sewing machine with umbrella I, 1941, detail; Pierre-Auguste Renoir - The Umbrellas, c.1881-86, detail; Émile Bernard - Les Bretonnes aux ombrelles, 1892 via wikiart; Childe Hassam - Rainstorm Union Square, 1890; Banksy - Umbrella Girl, 2008 in 2013
Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake is one of the most famous woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. It is dating from 1857 and belongs to the ukiyo-e oriental genre of art, dealing with the scenes from everyday life and rich folk history and tales.
Featured image: Hiroshige - Sudden shower over Shin Ōhashi bridge and Atake, 1857, detail via wikimedia
Paris Street; Rainy Day from 1877 is the best known work of French painter Gustave Caillebotte. The painting is first shown on Third Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. Caillebotte’s work differs from the impressionist style of his contemporaries, by its photo realistic features and framing.
Featured image: Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day. Image via googleartproject.com
At The Umbrellas, Renoir depict almost photographic snapshot of the Parisian street crowd in the rain. Since he painted the piece for more than five years, he involved all his reconsiderations of the artistic style in it, so the Umbrellas pose both impressionist and realist hallmarks.
Featured image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir - The Umbrellas, c.1881-86, detail
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is a great example of Pointillism and of Neo-Impressionism in painting of Georges Seurat. It is considered the faithful representation of a leisure life of Parisian middle-class, with the sharp critique of the bourgeois boredom.
Featured image: Georges Seurat - A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884. Image via wikipedia.org
Rainstorm Unions Square is iconic depiction of New York behind the umbrella-wielding crowd created by famous American impressionist painter Childe Hassam.
Featured image: Childe Hassam - Rainstorm Union Square, 1890
Breton Women with Umbrellas is painting by Emile Bernard, French painter closely related to Syntethism, post-Impressionist current which unified two-dimensional flat patterns, artistic feelings for the subject as well as the appearance of natural forms.
Featured image: Émile Bernard - Breton Women with Umbrellas, 1892 via wikiart
In his own words, Magritte was bothered with a question: How to show a glass of water in a painting in such a way that it would not be indifferent? And after he painted the dozens of glass images he came up with a dialectical composition that unites two opposite relations to the water – containing and repelling it. Magritte named this surreal painting as an homage to Hegel’s dialectic.
Featured image: Rene Magritte - Hegel’s Holiday, 1958, detail via wikiart
Umbrella Girl belongs to the Banksy’s famous series of stencils, painted during his visit to post-Katrina New Orleans in 2008. Fragile girl under the umbrella symbolically represents all the people in need, compelled to rely on insecure means of help such is rain-pouring umbrella.
Featured image: Banksy - Umbrella Girl, 2008 in 2013
Read Other Interesting Stories
In 1550, the Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari published the most important guide on lives of the artists that is still relevant today.