Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Thank you and Goodnight

Well this is my final blog post.  I want to thank everyone who has supported me and read the blog over the last year.  This has been a wonderful experience, and I've learned a lot.  Sometimes I've written about an artist whom I'd never heard of before and discovered for a post.  Sometimes I've written about a piece that I didn't have to research at all.  Each post has been exciting for me and I hope you've felt the same.  I've reached 365 posts and almost 32,000 views and I could not have done it without the support of my readers.  I've gotten so much positive feedback over the year and it's really meant a lot to me.  I thought a lot about what to post for my final artwork, and in the end I couldn't pick just one.  I've selected four pieces that I want to share with you, each from an artist I've posted before, with just a bit of commentary.  I hope you like them.  Thank you.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour's Mouth, 1842
101 x 89 in.

Turner is one of my favorite artists, which is why I wrote about him for my first post, and then again for the commemorative one hundredth post.  He was in this storm and watched a ship be tossed about.  Some have linked this painting with the famous story of the artist having himself tied to a mast in a storm so that he could experience it in full, but it is unknown if they are related. I find this piece to be a masterful representation of Turner's style and vision, expressing the violence and chaos of the storm.

Pablo Picasso, Night Fishing at Antibes, 1939
81 x 136 in.

Picasso, despite his brilliance and importance, is not an artist I would have expected to include in this post.  However, I came across this painting today and it just about blew my mind.  I find it to be incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring.  It is a perfect synthesis of Picasso's Cubism and Surrealism.  The shapes are brilliant and the colors are stunning.

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504
9.89 x 7.89 in.

Dürer was perhaps the greatest printmaker in all of art history, as well as being an incredible painter.  His skill with line and contouring is unparalleled and he always managed to inject his prints with such sensitivity and emotion.  This engraving of Adam and Eve is one of the finest examples of his skill.  At this point in his career, Dürer was very interested in the perfectly symmetrical human form, and these figures are exmples of it, each standing in the Italian contrapposto pose.  Adam holds a branch of mountain ash, the tree of life, and Eve the fig branch, the tree of knowledge.  The four animals on theground represent the four humors (cat is choleric, rabbit is sanguine, ox is phlegmatic, elk is melancholic).  Each element is rendered with great sensitivity, conveying the texture of flesh, animal, bark, and foliage.

Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872
18.9 x 24.8 in.

This is essentially the painting that started the Impressionist movement.  It was exhibited at the first show the Impressionists held in 1874, and a critic disparagingly gave them that name based on this piece.  "Impression" was the term used by artists for a sketch of a scene made on the spot that would later be turned into a completed work in the studio, so to declare an impression a finished piece was in itself an act of rebellion.  The painting is of Monet's home city of Le Havre. It had become an industrial port, and we can see the steam ships and factories coming to life in the early morning light.  The small rowboat in the foreground is dwarfed by these machines.  With its broad brushstrokes and striking colors, this painting had a huge impact on the tone and style of the movement, and also set the stage for Monet's most famous works.  It is a brilliant and beautiful painting, where the small orb of orange sun casts an incredible light over the harbor.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Georges Seurat, Parade du Cirque

Georges Seurat, Parade du Cirque, 1887-88
39.25 x 59 in.

Georges Seurat (1859-1891) was a French Post-Impressionist painter who greatly affected the direction of modern painting at the end of the nineteenth century.  Born in Paris, Seurat first studied art at the École Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin and then at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1878.  He left school after little more than a year to serve in the military, and when he returned to Paris he opened his own studio.  Seurat's earliest work shows the strong influence of Impressionism, but soon afterward we can see his unique voice taking hold.  His first major painting was Bathers at Ansières (1884), which shows a mix of Impressionism and the neoclassical training that Seurat received.  Seurat's most famous painting is undoubtedly Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884), which is the archetypal example of pointillism, which Seurat invented. Pointillism uses what is known as divisionism (or chromoluminarism), that is it utilizes discrete dots or patches of separate colors, which the viewer then mixes optically, rather than the blended colors that were the convention in prevailing styles.  Seurat often painted images of Parisian society, and his final painting remained unfinished at the time of his premature death.  Parade du Cirque (Circus Sideshow) makes excellent use of pointillism.  It was his first nocturnal scene and his first depiction of popular entertainment.  The Circus Corvi was set up in Paris in the spring of 1887 and they would hold free sideshows on the street to entice passersby to purchase tickets; the far right of the canvas includes people on line to buy them.  There is a twinkling mystery to this painting; a captivating fog seems to hang over the scene.  Pointillism is especially well suited to rendering the lights, which accounts for their twinkling quality.  We cannot make out the faces of the performers, enticing us further into the scene.  There is also a certain glow produced by the dots of color, particularly noticeable in the reddish aura that surrounds the tree branches.  All of these elements produce a painting that is highly engaging and invites the viewer into the act, just as the performers are inviting their spectators into the main show.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, A Walk in the Woods

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, A Walk in the Woods, 1870

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French painter and one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement.  Born to a working class family in the city of Limoges, Renoir worked in a porcelain factory as a boy.  There his drawing skill was noticed and he was chosen to paint fine china patterns.  In 1862 he began studying art in Paris, and soon met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille.  Renoir first exhibited at the Salon in 1864, but the political turbulence made it difficult to get noticed.  He had his first major success at the Salon of 1868 with Lise with a Parasol (1867).  After to failing to gain much ground with critics in the traditional academic establishment, Renoir joined Monet, Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot, among others, in the first Impressionist exhibition in April of 1874.  The show established the group and signaled Impressionism (named after a painting of Monet's by a disparaging critic) as the next great style of art.  Renoir eventually became one of the most successful artists in France.  Renoir worked in portraiture (that happens to be a painting of Monet) and landscape, producing works of great sensitivity.  He painted scenes of everyday life, and he is also well known for his paintings of children.  Renoir also painted many scenes of Parisian society, and produced one of the most important paintings of the leisurely lifestyle of the time in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876). In his later life Renoir continued exploring the themes that interested him throughout his career, particularly the relationship of flesh and color.  A Walk in the Woods, also known as Madame Lecoeur and Her Children, is a very unusual painting for Renoir.  It is does not contain the bright light and airiness that marks most of his oeuvre.  Instead it is dark and a bit ominous.  The trees are thick and block out the sky, allowing little sunlight through, and what sky we can see looks grey rather than blue.  The trees are crooked and bent, hanging over the path and intertwining with each other.  Madame Lecoeur and her children are not walking on the path, and in fact seem to be walking between two distinct paths, and the appear so far to the edge of the canvas that the painting feels unbalanced and unsettling.  Renoir creates this feeling using his signature large brushstrokes and rich colors, resulting in a painting that is highly engaging, yet somewhat impenetrable.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Rembrandt, Belshazzar's Feast

Rembrandt, Belshazzar's Feast, 1635
66 x 82.4 in.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was the greatest master of the Dutch Golden Age, and one of the most important painters in European art history.  Born in Leiden in the Dutch Republic, now the Netherlands, into a well-to-do family, his mother was Roman Catholic and his father was in the Dutch Reformed Church.  These dual influences, and the fraught religious climate in which he lived had a profound effect on his work, though there is no evidence that Rembrandt himself belonged to a particular church.  He studied at the University of Leiden where he began to take a serious interest in painting.  He was apprenticed to a number of local artists before opening his own studio in 1624 or 1625.  In 1631 he moved to Amsterdam and had great success as a professional portraitist.  From there his career took off and her received a number of important commissions.  Rembrandt was extremely prolific and worked in many different genres.  He is perhaps best known today for his numerous self-portraits, which he painted throughout his life.  He frequently painted religious scenes, such as the well-known Return of the Prodigal Son (1669). Rembrandt also painted scenes from Classical mythology and contemporary Dutch life.  Some of his most famous paintings are in this last genre: The Anatomy Lesson (1632), The Syndics of the Drapers' Guild (1662), and especially The Night Watch (1642).  The inspiration for Belshazzar's Feast comes from Rembrandt's interest in Judaism; he lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, and frequently explored Jewish culture in his work.  This story is from the Book of Daniel. Belshazzar was a co-regent (in some sources a son of) with Nebuchadnezzar who had looted the Temple of Jerusalem.  Belshazzar used sacred goblets taken from the temple for this feast, but the hand of God appeared and wrote on the wall (the origin of the phrase "writing on the wall") a message in Hebrew.  The prophet Daniel is summoned to interpret the words and explains that God has numbered the days of the Babylonian kingdom and it will soon come to an end.  Indeed Belshazzar did live to see the sack of Babylon by the Persians.  For this painting Rembrandt consulted with his friend, the rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, but deliberately transformed the words, writing them vertically rather than the usual right to left of Hebrew, perhaps explaining why Daniel's translation was required.  Every detail of this painting is rendered with incredible detail, from the food on the table to Belshazzar's elaborate garment.  Perhaps the most remarkable element is the painting's lighting; the only light source in the composition is the writing itself and all of this bright and warm luminosity emanates from the divine hand and sacred words.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Corinne Michelle West, The WIz

Corinne Michelle West, The Wiz, 1976
78 x 48 in.

Corinne Michelle West (1908-1991) was an American Abstract Expressionist artist artist, who often painted under the name Michael Corinne West.  Born in Chicago, she attended the Cincinnati Art Academy and graduated in 1930.  She had her first solo show at the Rochester Art Club in 1936, around the same time she began going by Mikael to aid in her success.  In 1940, West adopted Michael, which she used in her everyday life as well as her painting.  In the late thirties she met Arshile Gorky, an early leader of the New York school.  They became close, and West became his muse.  They were probably lovers, but it is known that Gorky asked West to marry him several times, but she refused.  While some of her early work used figuration, West turned to pure abstraction before many of her contemporaries.  Her work demonstrates a profound understanding of the nature and effect of abstraction.  West occasionally used all black in her paintings, but most of her works are explosions of color.  Her later work demonstrates the same profound exploration of line and color.  The Wiz is a powerful work, that feels somewhat primal. There is an aggression that comes to mark some of West's paintings and this piece tends toward that energy, but does not feel angry, but rather ecstatically intense.  Using only primary colors, black, and white, West adds to that sense of primal urgency to create a very effective and beautiful painting.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Harald Engman, Nyboder with figures, evening

Harald Engman, Nyboder with figures, evening, 1931
17 x 23 in.

Harald Engman (1903-1968) was a Danish artist, best known for his resistance to the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  Little is known of his life, but he was a sailor and then spent time in New York City's Chinatown in the early twenties.  In the mid-twenties he began showing art in Copenhagen.  Engman's earliest work mostly consists of cityscapes and views of rural Denmark. However when the Nazis invaded Denmark he began to oppose the regime with satire and visual ridicule.  One painting depicts Hitler, Goebbels, and Göring as characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin, with young a Jewish girl up on the auction block.  He also produced more straightforward contemplations of the war.  Engman's most famous painting is perhaps Human Pyramid (1941), expressing his disgust at the Danish government's complicity in the invasion, and executed after Engman left Copenhagen for seclusion in rural North Zealand.  His post-war work returns to the city but sees it in a new light.  Nyboder, with figures, evening is from Engman's earlier style, depicting the Nyboder naval barracks.  It is a dark and evocative painting, portraying its subject with the minimal amount of light required.  The painting contains an unusual flatness, particularly evident in the sky, that gives the piece and eerie feeling.  Engman does not let us know any of these figures, offering only their silhouettes.  Interestingly, we do see the tree quite clearly; with the moonlight shining through it the branches are completely visible.  Otherwise, the scene remains shrouded in darkness, and we are left peering into this painting from across the street.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Laestrygonians, A House on the Esquiline Hill

Laestrygonians, A House on the Esquiline Hill, Rome, 50-40 BCE
approximately 47 " high

This Roman fresco from the first century BCE is in what's called the Second Style.  While the First Style created the illusion of an elegant marble wall, the Second Style was intended to create the illusion of a three-dimensional world and extend the space beyond the confines of the room. The Garden Fresco at the Villa of Livia is a prime example of the style.  This painting from a house on the Esquiline Hill, one of Rome's famed seven hills, is from a series depicting the travels of Odysseus.  Using painted columns to separate the scenes, the frescoes illustrate some episodes from Homer's Odyssey with great accuracy and detail.  The Laestrygonians, appearing in Book X of the Odyssey, were a race of cannibals who hurled rocks at Odysseus's fleet, destroying all but one of their ships and killing and eating several of his crew.  Odysseus's own ship was spared by hiding in a cove.  This fresco shows the Laestrygonians mostly with their backs to the viewer, currently hurling their stones to destroy the ships. I love to see the way ancient painters used space and color.  This anonymous painter imported a great deal of drama and action into this piece, conveying the turmoil of the scene and the chaos besieging the fleet. While it is difficult, or impossible, to know how the fresco looked two thousand years ago, the water remains a rich blue color, and the shading of the rocks, ships, and figures is clear.  Even now we can still get a sense of motion in the water and sky.  The figures themselves are skillfully posed to show their movement and activity.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Francis Picabia, La Source (The Spring)

Francis Picabia, La Source (The Spring), 1912
98 x 98 in.

Francis Picabia (1879-1953) was a major French avant-garde painter and poet.  Born in Paris to a French mother and a Spanish-Cuban diplomat, Picabia honed his artistic skill to finance his stamp collection; when he was fifteen he would create flawless copies to replace his father's Spanish paintings and then sell the originals without his father's knowledge.  He then studied at the École des Arts Decoratifs after being taken into the studio of leading history painter Fernand Cormon. Picabia's early work is heavily influenced by Impressionism, but people began to criticize his work for lack of originality.  He began incorporating Cubist elements into his work and soon became close friends with Marcel Duchamp and Guillaume Apollinaire.  Duchamp's influence can be immediately seen in Picabia's paintings.  We can also see the influence of Futurism and the extremes to which Picabia took his abstraction.  Picabia soon became a major pioneer of Dada, creating the Dadaist magazine 391.  Picabia's work continued to develop and he became a highly original and powerful artist.  He explored many genres and styles throughout his long career.  La Source (The Spring) is an extremely complex Cubist piece, demonstrating Picabia's skill in composition and controlled technique.  The limited palette gives the work a great deal of power and resonance, as the shapes and shades splinter and mirror each other so that the spatial relations of the painting become quite unclear.  Picabia offers the fracturing of Cubism with the delirium of Expressionism.  Its depth, both spatial and emotional, is elaborate and intricate, making it easy to become lost in these shapes black, red, and grey.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Karel Appel, Untitled

Karel Appel, Untitled, 1977

Karel Appel (1921-2006) was a major Dutch artist of the post-war period.  Appel produced paintingssculpture, and drawings, as well as poetry.  Born in Amsterdam, he produced his first painting at fourteen.  His uncle, an amateur painter himself, gave young Karel and easel and paint set, as well as some introductory lessons.  Appel studied at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam during the German occupation and had his first solo show in 1946.  In 1948 he cofounded the avant-garde group CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam).  The group, and Appel in particular, often used a stylized version of children's drawings to explore (in part) dynamics of purity and corruption.  Appel's controversial mural Questioning Children (1949) prompted him to move to Paris where he developed his international reputation.  Some of his paintings have political content, such as Hiroshima Child (1958), but most retain some amount of figuration, whether a young girl, a crocodile, or a mountain landscape.  Appel did, however, work with pure abstraction in his drawings.  This untitled piece from 1977 is one of Appel's more abstract paintings; it is perhaps possible to make out some figures, but nothing is definite, especially without a title.  The painting is about its swirls of color and thick texture.  Appel was very engaged with the material quality of his paint, "slapping" it on the canvas with brush, palette knife, or by hand, and molding it to its desired shape and texture.  In this work we see the intermingling of the blue and purple, sometimes making it hard to see where one transitions into the other.  Yellow courses underneath while the black dances on top of the action, holding the composition together.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Young Girls on the Edge of the Sea

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Young Girls on the Edge of the Sea, 1879
24 x 18.1 in.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was a prominent French Symbolist painter.  Born near Lyon as Pierre-Cécile Puvis, his father was a mining engineer who was descended from a noble family of Burgundy.  Throughout his life, Pierre identified strongly with the noble lineage of the Burgundians and later added the ancestral 'de Chavannes' to his name.  Puvis attended Amiens College in Paris, intending to follow his father's profession before a serious injury disrupted his plans.  He traveled to Italy as part of his convalescence and was transfixed by the art he saw. When he returned to Paris in 1846 he announced that he had decided to become a painter.  He was apprenticed to several painters, but found he preferred to work alone, taking anatomy classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts.  He had his first showing at the Salon in 1850, but it took many years for him to gain wide recognition.  Puvis is best known for large-scale murals; his work often has fantasticalpastoral, or allegorical themes, drawing on the inspiration of Classical art.  Puvis also did a number of religious paintings, the occasional portrait, scenes of peasant life, and some very interesting pieces that are difficult to classify.  Among his most famous pieces is the large mural The Sacred Grove Beloved by the Arts and Muses (1884-89).  Young Girls on the Edge of the Sea is in many ways characteristic of Puvis's work; it has an idyllic setting, soft colors, and Classical modeling of flesh and bodies.  However, there a less polished element to this painting that to my eye gives it its life.  Rather than the intensely sculptural appearance that Puvis's figures often have, this painting exhibits a greater degree of naturalness.  There is a certain roughness in the brushwork, particularly visible in the sky, that conveys engagement and emotionality.  The textures of the plants, ground, clouds, sea, hair, and flesh are all portrayed effectively and with great care.  In shaping these women's bodies, Puvis deviated somewhat from Classical poses, imbuing the figures with life and motion.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain, 1930s

Tsuchiya Koitsu (1879-1949) was a well-known Japanese printmaker who specialized in woodblock (ukiyo-e).  He was a member of the shin hanga (new prints) movement that took place in the first half of the twentieth century.  Born in rural Japan, Koitsu went to Tokyo at age fifteen to apprentice with master printmaker Kiyochika Kobayashi.  Koitsu's first successful prints were depictions of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.  Koitsu remained working in the studio of his master for nineteen years.  In 1931 he met the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo, and began to be published by him.  Watanabe published many prominent shin hanga artists and it through this distribution that Koitsu made a name for himself.  He drew on accepted shin hanga style, such as using intense lighting effects to convey the emotion of a scene.  Many of Koitsu's pieces are landscapes, and bear a very strong resemblance to centuries-old ukiyo-e.  However Koitsu is also frequently responding to modernity, such as in his cityscapes.  It is these two impulses that, to my eye, come together so strongly in Long Spell of Rain.  In many ways this resembles traditional Japanese woodblock, but its use of space and light also looks toward more modern art.  One of the most interesting elements is the flooded field that the two foremost figures (a mother and son?) are attempting to traverse; the floodwater shimmers in the warm, soft light in the exact same patterns as the blue water in the foreground, so that it almost looks like the water is being reflected in the air.  Meanwhile the foggy light in the sky recedes into dark inky blue.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Joan Miró, People at Night, Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails

Joan Miró, People at Night, Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails, 1940
14.94 x 18 in.

Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a major Spanish/Catalan artist, an important figure in the development of modern art.  Born in Barcelona, he began drawing lessons at age seven.  He studied at the fine art academy at La Llotja and then at the Cercle Artistic de Sant Lluc.  Miró had his first solo show in 1918, but his work was ridiculed.  His early work shows a mixture of influences, particularly traditional art and Fauvism.  After the failure of his first show, Miró moved to Paris where he hoped the artistic community at Montparnasse would be more receptive. Influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, he began to develop his own aesthetic.  His style really took form in the mid-twenties, when his particular use of color and geometry produced works of great complexity and originality.  Miró's two most famous pieces are from this period: Dancer (1925) and the highly symbolic Birth of the World (1925).  While he utilized similar elements for the rest of his career, his late work is quite diverse and striking.  The painting I have featured is from a series of small paintings generally known as Constellations.  There are twenty-three of them, each as complex and beautiful as the last.  People at Night, Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails is unusual in the series for its blue background, which gives the appearance of nighttime.  These figures and shapes swirl around each other in the night sky. Miró tells us that they are guided by the phosphorescent tracks of snails, the spheres of light along some of the lines.  There is indeed a phosphorescence in this piece, a luminosity that draws me to it and makes me want to gaze into the inky blue and follow the lines in stark black and red.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paul Jenkins, The Archer

Paul Jenkins, The Archer, 1955
51 x 31 in.

Paul Jenkins (1923-2012) was an American abstract painter.  Born in Kansas City, Missouri, as a boy Jenkins met Frank Lloyd Wright when he was hired by his uncle to rebuild a church.  The great architect encouraged the young Jenkins to pursue agriculture rather than art.  His uncle then encouraged Jenkins to visit Thomas Hart Benton, who encouraged Jenkins in his aspirations. After serving in the Navy, Jenkins moved to New York in 1948 and studied at the Art Students League.  Around this time, Jenkins met leaders of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists—Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman.  In 1953 he traveled to Europe and eventually settled in Paris, divinding his time between Paris and New York.  His first solo exhibition was held in Paris in 1954.  His first important sales were Divining Rod (1956), purchased by the Whitney Museum, and Peggy Guggenheim's purchase of Osage (1956). Although he always worked in pure abstraction, Jenkins's paintings do evoke natural formations like mountainswavesamber, or marble.  Beginning around 1960, Jenkins moved away from oils toward acrylics, creating pieces that appear as veils of color.  Although they look like staining, they were produced with pouring and spreading with an ivory knife.  He frequently used the word phenomena in his titles, giving his work an air of the supernatural.  Later works like Phenomena Astral Tundra (1986), Distance Finding Mozart (1992), and Phenomena Wind Arch (2009) use a similar technique but continue to explore its diverse possibilities.  The Archer is one of Jenkins's earliest pieces, demonstrating the rich texture and dense composition that marks his early work. There is possibly a vague human figure with a bow drawn suggested in the black that forms something of a background, but mostly the painting is an explosion of color with all sorts of shapes and sights available to the viewer's interpretation.  To me there is ecstasy here, with the possibility of being overwhelmed by the intensity of these colors.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'Ambre Gris

John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'Ambre Gris, 1880
54.75 x 35.7 in.

John SInger Sargent (1856-1925) was a major American artist, often considered the leading portrait painter of his generation.  Although his parents were American, Sargent was born in Florence and spent most of his life in Europe; his parents became nomadic expatriates, mostly based in Paris, after the death of John's older sister at age two and his parents decided to go abroad to recover.  Sargent demonstrated a talent for art from childhood and first had painting lessons at age thirteen.  He began formal training with the painter Carolus-Duran, before being admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts.  Sargent had his first painting accepted to the Salon in 1877, with his 1879 painting of Carolus-Duran his first major success.  Sargent painted indoor and outdoor scenes of society and family, as well as landscapes, works with social commentary, and unconventional cultural scenes.  Among his most famous and well-regarded paintings is Portrait of Madame X (1884), although at the time it was highly controversial for the model's attire and rumored infidelities.  The model, Virginie Gautreau, was humiliated by the incident and Sargent was devastated; the failure of the piece was a huge blow to his burgeoning career in Paris.  Soon after its exhibition, Sargent moved to London where his success continued unabated.  Among the major figures Sargent painted were Robert Louis StevensonJohn D. Rockefeller, and most famously Theodore Roosevelt.  Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris) is a beautiful painting, now hanging in the Clark Art Institute.  It is simultaneously rather simple and quite complex.  The use of such limited tones gives the painting an air of mystery, as well as invokes the sense of the Orient, for it was painted on a trip to Tangier.  To create the gradations in texture and atmosphere with so little color require great skill and care. Ambergris, a resin excreted by whales and found in seawater, was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to ward off evil spirits.  Henry James praised the painting as "exquisite, a radiant effect of white upon white," and says the woman is "beautiful and memorable."  Indeed, we can see very little of the woman's face, but her beauty and mystery entice us to gaze at the painting to penetrate the world presented, in fact a fantastical and hodgepodge portrayal of its locale.  Lifting her veil so slightly, the subject simultaneously evokes a nun and a geisha.  The subtle and enveloping whiteness of this piece, made possible by its miraculous use of light, is beautiful and intensely engaging, shining with a bright mystique.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Matthew Smith, Yorkshire Landscape

Matthew Smith, Yorkshire Landscape, c1935
20 x 24 in.

Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith (1879-1959) was a British painter.  Born in Halifax, he studied at the Manchester School of Art and then the Slade School of Art in London.  In 1908 Smith traveled to France where he studied under Henri Matisse, whose influence can be seen in some of his work. Smith was also influenced by Fauvism in general, taking the style to extremes.  Many of his other landscapes show a distinctly Impressionist or Post-Impressionist influence.  In addition to landscapes, Smith painted portraits, often nudes, and some very Cezanne-inspired still-lifes. Smith had a very successful career and was knighted in 1954.  The landscape I have featured, painted in Smith's home county of Yorkshire, stands out among his oeuvre, showing less influence of other painters and styles.  Using rather thick and visible brushstrokes, the piece creates a powerful expression of this tree and hillside.  The purple sky tinges the whole painting with an element of fantasy, which when combined with the thick canals of paint, draws attention to itself as representation rather than reality.  Nevertheless, the painting is an intensely effective portrayal of its subject, showing the wind and wildness that whips across this hill.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah, 1609-1610
73 x 81 in.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish Baroque artist and one of the most influential painters in the history of art.  His father was a Calvinist and his parents fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568 due to persecution of Protestants, however after the death of his father in 1587, Rubens was raised Catholic by his mother, Maria Pypelincks.  Religion played a major role in Rubens's work and he would go on to become a major voice of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  Rubens received a humanist education before being apprenticed to some of the leading artists of the day. After joining the Guild of St. Luke in 1598, he traveled to Italy where paintings by Italian masters and Classical sculpture had a profound impact on him.  Throughout his prolific career, Rubens mostly painted mythological scenesreligious works, and portraits.  In addition to his prodigious technical skill, Rubens gave his subjects a profound humanity, such as in Virgin in Adoration of the Christ Child (c1615) where the adoration he expresses is really the love of a mother for her child.  Among his best known works is the extensive Marie de' Medici Cycle, depicting the life of Marie de Medici and her husband Henry IV of France.  Despite its size (twenty-four paintings) and grandeur (each about 13 x 10 feet), the series was never completed due mostly to the exile of the queen in 1630 by her son, Louis XIII.  Samson and Delilah is a relatively well known painting, now hanging in the National Gallery in London.  Having fallen in love with Delilah, Samson tells her that his uncut hair is the source of his strength.  Now he has fallen asleep in Delilah's lap and a servant cuts his hair.  Philistine soldiers wait outside the door to arrest the weakened Samson. Notice Delilah's expression.  She appears guilty and uncertain of what she is doing, torn between the agreement she has made and her feelings for this man whom she has seduced.  This differs from the biblical narrative but it seems clear in Rubens's version.  The complexity of this composition is a remarkable achievement, both in the arrangement of the figures and the elaborate setting.  Elements such as Samson's musculature, Delilah's flesh, and her draping gown are all outstandingly rendered to create a painting of great intensity and impact.

[Note: My apologies to my readers for the lack of discussion in my last two posts.  I have been injured and not felt up to writing full entries.  I hope to edit them in the next few days.]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fernand Léger, Branches (Logs)

Fernand Léger, Branches (Logs), 1955

Due to my own run-in with a tree branch, I will skip the discussion for tonight.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Jackson

Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Jackson, 1867

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was a British photographer.  Although not very widely appreciated during her life, she has been extremely influential to modern photography and is now considered one of the great early photographers.  Born in Calcutta, her father was an official for the East India Company and her mother was a French aristocrat whose father was a page of Marie Antoinette.  Cameron (née Prattle) was educated in France, then returned to Calcutta where she married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist stationed there.  He was twenty years older than she, and when he retired in 1848 the family moved to London.  Cameron's career as a photographer didn't begin until 1863 when she was 48 and her daughter gave her a camera as a present.  Within a year she was a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. Her goal was always to capture beauty; she considered her first successful photograph to be her 1864 portrait of ten-year-old Annie Wilhelmina Philpot.  Her work in her short career places her as one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography.  Cameron photographed such figures as Alfred Lord Tennyson (multiple times in fact), scientist Sir John Herschel, leading Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry, and Alice Liddell (the model for Alice in Wonderland).  Cameron also photographed heroic and literary scenes, particularly Arthurian scenes illustrating Tennyson's Idylls of the King.  Her favorite subject, however, was her niece, Julia Jackson, who later became Julia Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf.  The portrait I have chosen to feature is incredibly intense.  It is an example of Cameron's close up portrait style which was so innovative.  Jackson meets the gaze of the camera and the viewer and communicates great depth of thought and feeling.  The picture is beautiful and haunting, successfully communicating some aspect of its subject's inner self.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Good Shepherd

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Good Shepherd, 1902-03
30.31 x 36.22 in.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1856-1937) was a major African-American artist, and the first to gain international fame.  Born in Pittsburgh, his father was a minister and political activist, and his mother, Sarah, was born into slavery, but escaped via the Underground Railroad.  The family moved to Philadelphia when Henry was young, where his father befriended Frederick Douglass. In 1879, after teaching himself some art, Tanner became the only black student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  There he became a favorite student of Thomas Eakins, whose progressive approach to drawing and painting had a profound affect on Tanner.  Although he began to have success and sell paintings, racism was a major roadblock for Tanner.  In 1891 he went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian.  He found that his race was much less at issue in France and chose to remain there for most of his life.  He continued to have success and his 1896 painting Daniel in the Lions' Den (although that is a later version of the subject) was accepted into the Paris Salon.  Tanner had a diverse body of work, including genre paintingscityscapeslandscapesOrientalist works, and interesting takes on religious scenes, such as the Annunciation and Sodom and Gomorrah.  His two most famous paintings are, unsurprisingly, genre scenes of African American life—The Banjo Lesson (1893) and The Thankful Poor (1894), both painted during brief trips back to the United States.  The Good Shepherd is another religious image, but to me the painting is much more about the setting and atmosphere than the ostensible subject.  The lighting in this painting is quite effective, a pale blue glow that pervades the scene.  The interaction of the moon and the trees is what gives the piece a lot of its tension; the moon is obscured by them but remains powerful enough to light the surrounding landscape.  Meanwhile a small figure, presumably Christ but possibly a generic shepherd, stands or walks between the two trees, merely a feature of this mysterious and beautiful landscape.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

William Dobson, The Executioner with the head of John the Baptist

William Dobson, The Executioner with the head of John the Baptist, 1640-43

William Dobson (1611-1646) was an English painter, praised by John Aubrey as "the most excellent painter that England has yet bred."  Born in London, his father was a decorative artist, and he was apprenticed at a young age to a painter and printmaker.  Dobson practiced by copying the royal collection, with Titian and the Venetian style having a particularly strong influence.  At first Dobson had difficulty finding work, but when court painter Anthony Van Dyck died in 1641, Dobson began to receive many royal commissions, including painting both Charles I and Charles II.  Dobson was almost exclusively a portrait painter.  Among his most celebrated pieces are a portrait of Dutch painter Abraham van der Doort (c1640) and of his wife, Judith, as well as a self-portrait.  Although Dobson was primarily a portrait painter, he did occasionally put his hand to other genres, like this religious painting of the head of John the Baptist.  The painting is influenced by Venetian styles in its handling of color and texture, but it also draws on Caravaggio.  Although it does not employ his chiaroscuro, the use of light is very similar to those paintings, where it comes from a single discernible source that is present in the scene.  The executioner holds the head impassively, while Salome and Herodias gaze at it in wonder.  While the light source is clearly the flame held by the boy, due to its close proximity to the head, there is a thematic implication that the light emanates from the severed head, that of a saint.  The light touches every corner of the painting, illuminating the beautiful rendering skin and flesh and the textured drapery of the garments.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Roderic O'Conor, Bog Scene

Roderic O'Conor, Bog Scene

Roderic O'Conor (1860-1940) was an Irish painter.  He studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin before traveling to Antwerp and Paris, where the Impressionists significantly affected his style.  He became friends with Paul Gauguin after traveling to Brittany and joining a group artists surrounding him.  O'Conor was also greatly influenced by Van Gogh.  He returned to Ireland and found significant success, but continued to spend a great deal of time in France, eventually dying there in 1940.  O'Conor is best known for his landscapes and seascapes, but he also did a number of portraits, still-lifes, and nudes.  Among his best regarded paintings is The Wave (1898), an unadorned portrait of the sea, and his self-portrait (19233-26) is quite striking.  I could find very little information about Bog Scene, not even a year, but the piece is quite stunning.  The particular use of form and color strikes me as quite modern, particularly evident in the rough shapes of the splotches of pink (clouds?) throughout the sky.  The entire scene is portrayed with heightened color, almost fantastical, to emphasize the activity and life in a bog. O'Conor's forms are very rough, only giving the vaguest idea of the subject, but it works quite well, particularly in a depiction of a bog where fog and mist would obscure one's vision.  Currents of color run through the foreground, while fuchsia mountains rise in the background.  This is a scene of immense complexity, effective because the color is so arresting and the forms so engaging.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Maurycy Gottlieb, Cairo Slave Market

Maurycy Gottlieb, Cairo Slave Market, 1877
9.84 x 15.75 in.

Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879) was a Polish-Jewish painter of the Romantic period.  Born in Galicia (now in Ukraine but at the time it was part of Poland), he was one of eleven children.  At fifteen he enrolled at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, and then two years later went to Krakow to study there. An anti-semitic incident prompted Gottlieb to leave the Academy in Krakow and travel to Norway, back to Vienna, Munich, and Rome.  He was convinced to return to Krakow in 1878 by his former teacher, Jan Matejko, to work on a series of monumental paintings, including scenes of Jewish history.  In 1876 he won a medal in Munich for his Shylock and Jessica, depicting a scene from The Merchant of Venice.  Like many Romantics, Maurycy was very taken with Orientalism.  He frequently painted pieces with Jewish themes, such as Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew (1876) and Salome's Dance (1879). He also painted many portraits.  Cairo Slave Market is one of Maurycy's Orientalist pieces; he includes architecture of Cairo in the background.  The scene is one of great pathos, the sadness most clearly signified in the woman on the far right leaning against a wall. Despite the poor quality of the image I found, we can see the exhaustion and pain in her face and body language.  The woman on the right, stripped nude for the inspection of potential buyers, appears humiliated, covering her face.  Meanwhile, the man selling the slaves gazes out at the viewer with a cold expression.  The intensity of feeling that pervades this painting is present throughout Maurycy's work; he was a man of great passions, as evidenced by his 1876 self-portrait.  In 1878 Maurycy proposed marriage to Laura Rosenfeld (the celebrated writer and educator Laura Henschel-Rosenfeld), on whom he had based Jessica's face as well as other subjects, but she rejected him to marry a Berlin banker.  When he heard of her marriage eighteen months later, Maurycy is said to have intentionally exposed himself to the elements, and soon died of the illness contracted.  However more than 300 sketches and paintings by Maurycy survive and he is now considered one of the greatest Polish painters of his era.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Abraham Manievich, A Town Through the Branches

Abraham Manievich, A Town Through the Branches, 1914-15
34.02 x 38.74 in.

Abraham Manievich (1881-1942) was a Russian-American artist known mostly for his landscapes and cityscapes.  Born in the town of Mstsislaw, now in Belarus, he studied at the Kiev School of Art from 1901 to 1905.  He later taught at the Ukrainian Academy of Fine Arts.  Manievich's early works are squarely Post-Impressionist, but he soon began to fins a more unique style, incorporating elements of Cubism and Futurism, as well as Fauvism, sometimes to erie effect. He applied his aesthetic equally to buildings and trees.  Manievich enjoyed significant success in these early years of his career, with his 1913 solo exhibition in Paris especially well-received.  In 1921 Manievich moved to the United States, settling in the Bronx, but he traveled significantly in order to paint other parts of the country.  A Town through the Branches is a very unusual painting. Perhaps the most striking thing about the piece is that Manievich has painted it in such a way that it resembles stained glass.  The branches of the trees and the many divisions Manievich creates crisscross and segment the scene into small sections that resemble scales fit together to create the whole.  The painting is minutely detailed and carefully planned to create a town scene obscured by these twisting trees.  Manievich uses the bright colors of Fauvism to highlight a certain unnaturalness in the depiction, drawing attention to its representational status.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Balthus, Thérèse

Balthus, Thérèse, 1938
39.5 x 32 in.

Balthus (1908-2003) was a Polish-French painter, an important modern artist.  Born Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, Balthus was staunchly opposed to any biographical information being given with his work (even once sending a telegram to the Tate Gallery that said "Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known.  Now let us look at the pictures."), so I will not say too much about his life.  Born in Paris, his parents were among the Parisian cultural elite, his father an art historian and his mother a painter herself.  Among the intellectuals he grew up around were Rainer Maria Rilke (a lover of his mother's), Andre Gide, and Jean Cocteau (who gained some inspiration for his novel Les Enfants Terribles from his visits to the family).  Rilke became Balthus's sponsor and intellectual mentor.  Balthus's distinctive style has a certain angularity as well as distinctive tonality.  Although he had a long and diverse career, certain preoccupations appear repeatedly in his work.  One of Balthus's main obsessions throughout his career is his love of cats, even calling his 1935 self-portrait The King of Cats.  He also demonstrates a continual interest in painting young girls, and often combined the two.  Sometimes these pieces were quite explicit, as in 1934's The Guitar Lesson.  Balthus insisted these works were not erotic, but rather recognized the discomforting aspects of children's sexuality.  He was also engaging with the status of women as sexual objects throughout art history.  One of his earliest and most successful models was his neighbor Thérèse Blanchard.  He first painted her with her brother, Hubert, and then several times by herself.  One of his most successful pieces is Thérèse Dreaming (1938).  This 1938 portrait is an extremely striking image, and unlike some similar pieces it does not verge on sexual.  Thérèse fills almost the whole scene and her pose extends her legs, taking up more space.  She does not look at us, but gazes off to the side, perhaps still dreaming.  The colors here are quite well done—the greenish tinge of the wall and chair, her dark skirt, pale olive skin, and of course most prominently her red jacket that focuses the entire composition. This is a masterpiece of form and color, creating a thoroughly fascinating portrait of this young girl.

Friday, July 17, 2015

William Etty, The Crochet Worker

William Etty, The Crochet Worker, 1849
19.5 x 15 in.

William Etty (1787-1849) was a British painter who was respected by his peers at the Royal Academy but had little commercial or critical success.  Born in York to a poor baker, Etty showed artistic talent from an early age, and after an unpleasant apprenticeship to a printer, he moved to London to apply to the Royal Academy of Arts.  He was supported by John Opie and Henry Fuseli who were impressed with his early work.  Beginning in 1811, Etty had at least one painting accepted for exhibition at the Academy every year, some of which sold for modest sums.  While he gained respect for his rendering of flesh tones, success continued to elude him.  He traveled to France and Italy with hopes of improving.  Upon returning to England, Etty had success with two history paintings, The Coral Finder: Venus and her Youthful Satellites (1820) and The Triumph of Cleopatra (1821).  The success of the latter in particular caused Etty to continue producing history paintings featuring nudes.  Although these became his stock and trade, he did occasionally put his hand to other genres.  Etty is now considered the first significant English painter of still-lifes and nudes, both female and male.  The Crochet Worker, painted in the last year of Etty's life, is to my eye an extremely modern painting.  With its loose brushwork and tonality, it could easily have been painted fifty years later, after the innovations of the Impressionists.  This young woman is rendered with great feeling and emotional connection, a particularly impressive feat considering that we cannot see her eyes.  Despite his lack of success, Etty demonstrates a significant amount of vision and innovation in his work, particularly in this painting.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

John Henry Twachtman, Wild Cherry Tree

John Henry Twachtman, Wild Cherry Tree, c1901

John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) was an American painter known for his Impressionist landscapes.  Born in Cincinnati, Twachtman received early training there before going to Europe to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and then at the Académie Julian in Paris.  His earliest work shows a fairly standard American style of landscape painting, but he soon developed a very personal style of loose brushwork and powerful atmosphere.  Many of his works have a cast of Tonalism, and American technique wherein the artist employs a veil of misty color. Although he did few figure paintings, he demonstrates skill there as well.  His landscapes show a deep appreciation for the natural world.  Wild Cherry Tree is in some ways quite in line with Twachtman's style and career, but there is something unusual and singular about it as well.  The focus and composition are somewhat odd, with the tree placed so near the foreground and blocking the other elements of the scene.  Perhaps most striking is the use of black brushstrokes at the edges of the foliage, which seems to particularly emphasize the wildness of the cherry tree. While there is a suggestion of wind in the corresponding slant of the tree, grass, clouds, and water, it almost seems like that movement is caused by the power of the tree, pulling the rest with it.  Meanwhile, Twachtman includes a small village that is obscured and dwarfed by the tree.  All of these elements create a piece of great power and interest, where we want to stay and watch this intense tree sway in the wind.  It also worth noting that the blossoms are widely considered the most beautiful part of a cherry tree, but Twachtman chose to paint one not in bloom, so that the green and black of the leaves become central and hold our interest instead.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Max Ernst, The Cardinals Are Dying

Max Ernst, The Cardinals Are Dying, 1962
35 x 45.75 in.

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a major German painter, graphic artist, and sculptor, as well as a poet.  As a pioneer of both Dada and Surrealism, Ernst was a key figure in the development of modern art.  Born in Cologne, Ernst's father was an amateur painter and a strict disciplinarian, inspiring his toward both painting and an anti-authority attitude.  Ernst attended the University of Bonn, studying philosophy, literature, psychology, and art history.  Among his important early influences was the art of mental patients that he saw when he visited asylums.  His earliest work shows the strong influence of Post-Impressionism, but already demonstrates the singular talent and vision that Ernst developed throughout his career.  In 1911 he met August Macke and decided to become an artist, joining Macke's group of German Expressionists.  He exhibited with the group several times in 1912 and 1913.  World War I interrupted Ernst's career and the group's activities.  Several members of the group would die in battle, including Macke and Franz Marc. For Ernst's part, he viewed his own service as a kind of death, writing that, "On the first of August 1914 M.E. died.  He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918."  Ernst returned to art after the war, and began making collages.  In 1919, he and several others founded the Cologne Dada Group.  A 1920 photographic/collage self-portrait illustrates his aesthetic at the time. Ernst's Dada soon developed into Surrealism, creating complex landscapes and portraits.  He also explored Cubism.  Among his most famous pieces is 1937's L'Ange du Foyer.  As World War II broke out, Ernst was arrested twice in Paris–once as an "undesirable foreigner" but was released, and once by the Gestapo whom he escaped.  He fled to New York where he remained throughout the forties.  Perhaps we can see the influence of New York on his paintings of the period, which often merge multiple styles.  He returned to Paris in the early fifties and remained there for the rest of his life.  His later works include many diverse pieces, such as dreamlike landscapes and powerful explorations of shape and color.  The Cardinals Are Dying belongs firmly to the latter category, which burns so bright that it looks like the sun itself could be exploding. The small sun-like design is the only figurative element within the burst of color.  Using such a small range of colors, Ernst communicates a great deal of intensity and emotion, creating a painting that is simultaneously ecstatic and tragic.