Top 8 Relaxing Artworks to Make You Feel Better

Added Mar 26, 2021 - 7 minutes read

Félix Vallotton, Laid down woman, sleeping, 1899, private collection.

Do you tend to succumb to panic? Are you worried about the current situation? 
Don't worry, you're not alone. And today, we're going to relax by enjoying the most laid-back masterpieces in art history. Sit back, relax your muscles, let go: well, that urgent email can wait, right? 

Sometimes art is a vehicle for tenderness and relaxation. Look at these scenes, look at these characters, transfer your soul into theirs, and enjoy the moment. Rest for a while, you've earned it! 

1. Felix Vallotton, Laziness

We begin this ranking serenely with this lazy engraving made in 1896 by the Swiss artist Felix Vallotton. This artwork shows the profound avant-gardism of its creator: although the process used to create this composition is very old (xylography), the theme and chosen motifs seem particularly modern for an artwork created just before the twentieth century. As a reminder, the only pictorial revolution was limited to the success of Impressionism, in their golden age at that time. 

We discover a relaxed damsel, frolicking on a bed draped with blankets in geometric patterns. Her head in a mountain of soft pillows and her legs in the air, she teases a cat standing on its hind legs. United by the immaculate candor of their bodies, these two accomplices reflect the nonchalant freedom. An interesting parallel if we compare these nap companions to the condition of artists in this period, who are more emancipated from academism and norms of bourgeois morality. Henceforth, artists can let their creativity blossom and impose their wishes, being mostly no longer dependent on rich patrons of all kinds. 

2. Hippolyte Flandrin, Study (Young Male Nude Seated beside the Sea)

Who said academic paintings were boring? This nude young man in foetal position, painted in Rome in 1836, takes the viewer into a dream as lascivious as it is introspective. This is certainly the best-known artwork by the Lyon-based artist Hippolyte Flandrin and is housed in the Louvre Museum. If we look at the emotions of this mysterious protagonist, the unanswered questions pile up: is he melancholic? is he sad? is he in deep thought? Is his mind at rest? The landscape and the idyllic setting of this Mediterranean composition make us doubt his spleen. Let us consider then that it's a simple withdrawal, as restorative as desirable: imagine if you were there...

3. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, In the Bed

This artwork by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, painted in 1892, looks like a sweet Sunday rest. However, this painting hides more audacity than it seems: these two sleeping companions are women, prostitutes, and homosexuals. Parisian brothels were a favorite playground for this sophisticated artist, who produced over a hundred artworks inspired by strange and profoundly modern scenes of life in these curious spaces of freedom.

4. John William Godward, Expectation

In 1900, British artist John William Godward created this enchanting artwork. It depicts a woman reclining in a lascivious manner. On a large Mediterranean marble balcony, she lies on a tiger skin (badass), dressed in a delicate salmon colored dress, she holds a black feather fan in her left hand. Apart from a particularly eye-pleasing facture, this artwork stands for nothing more than the romanticism of an illusion of truth. And sometimes, that's more than enough to be appreciated: who wouldn't like to bask, just for a few minutes, under the sun on this white marble bench?

5. Van Gogh, The Siesta

Naptime is not just a privilege of the upper class, and this 1890 artwork by Vincent Van Gogh is a powerful reminder of that. This composition is a tribute to Jean-François Millet, a realist artist who painted a couple of sleeping peasants in 1866, relatively identical to the one depicted by the Dutch artist. Van Gogh was also part of the realists' motivation, of which Gustave Courbet, author of the famous paintings L'Origine du Monde and The Stone Breakers (already mentioned in our Article on 5 Mysteriously Missing Masterpieces), was the leader.
This anti-romantic movement was born from the ardor of several artists, particularly annoyed to see in painting only idealized landscapes, still lifes and portraits of bourgeois. Abandoning the utopian fantasy and pursuit of perfection, they decided to paint the real world, real life, that of peasants and workers, that of ungainly bodies and sun-burned faces. Even though Van Gogh began painting a few decades after the golden age of realism, his condition could only make him a true follower. Having sold only a few paintings during his lifetime, he survived in poverty and debauchery in constant contact with the “lower class, of which he was an integral part.

6. Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream

Is it possible to be peaceful in all circumstances? For the American artist Winslow Homer, these two conceptions are completely compatible, and he gives us the proof with this artwork created in 1899. The title comes from a powerful ocean current, the Gulf Stream, which flows between Florida and the Bahamas.
We see a man on a precarious boat in the middle of a storm, surrounded by more or less dead sharks in the hollow of a wave. A scenario that calls for the greatest panic. However, the man appears relaxed, peaceful, settled as if he was about to sunbathe. Zooming in on the artwork, we discover a strange white line on his torso: by a very contemporary reading, it almost looks like he's wearing headphones, and enjoying Michael Jackson's best album (Off the Wall, without a doubt).
If you tend to give in to pressure, take inspiration from this meditative nonchalance.

The artwork isn't the consequence of any known fact, it's simply the result of the artist's dreams, who crossed the Gulf Stream many times, and who was also passionate about marine events. And if you too wonder about the future of this character, as reckless as imaginary, here is the answer that Homer gave on a vexatious question at a vernissage: "You can tell these ladies that the unfortunate man who now is so dazed and parboiled, will be rescued and returned to his friends and home, and ever after live happily"

7. Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair

This artwork, created in 1878 by the French American impressionist Mary Cassatt with the assistance of the no less famous Edgar Degas, will hopefully bring you back to the free time revelry of your tender years. When you were still a frail cherub whose only motives were to laugh, eat, lounge and doze. We discover a little girl, dressed according to the bourgeois standards of the time, but in a deeply anti-worldly position. Her eyes downcast, she seems indifferent to the gaze of others, to the reflections of her appearance. And quickly, her asserted arrogance becomes enviable

After observations, we often analyze some feminist ambitions: the point of view of this artwork is very particular: the framing is low, at the level of the child. Armchairs are wide and high, as if they were perceived by a small person. They appear as padded obstacles, huge restrictions of softness. This can be seen as an allegory of domestic life at that time: women's emancipation could only be expressed through the education of their children and the proper management of their homes. Not all prisons have bars...

8. Frederic Leighton, Flaming June

This artwork by British painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton, created in 1895 in the purest Pre-Raphaelite style, is a true ode to laziness. It shows a woman, elegantly dressed in an orange veil, in a position that is as tortuous as it is probably comfortable, a position that only the mischievous spirit of Morpheus has the secret to. The artist drew his inspiration from the theme of sleeping nymphs (naiads), which was very popular in Greek statuary. He was also inspired by one of his favorite sculptures, Michelangelo's Night, which he regularly visited in the Medici tomb in the heart of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.   


And that's it, the rest is over, you can get back to it. If you don't want to put a stop to your peace and quiet, take the opportunity to discover our Collection of Relaxing Artworks, available on Artmajeur.
And if the desire persists after that, then have a good nap!

Bastien Alleaume
Content Manager - Artmajeur Online Art Gallery  


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