Sunday, May 31, 2015

Arshile Gorky, The Limit

Arshile Gorky, The Limit, 1947
50.75 x 62 in.

Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) was born Vostanik Manoug Adoian.  He was an Armenian-American painter and a leading figure in the formation of Abstract Expressionism.  Born in Armenia, Gorky's father fled the draft in 1908 and came to the United States, leaving his family behind.  In 1915, Gorky escaped the Armenian Genocide with his mother and sisters, but his mother died of starvation in the aftermath.  The children arrived in the United States in 1920 and reunited with their father, but he and Gorky never grew close.  Gorky shed his Armenian identity, taking a new name and often claiming to be a Georgian nobleman. He enrolled at the New School of Design in Boston.  Gorky's earliest works show a strong Impressionist influence (particularly Cezanne), but he soon began exploring Cubism.  In 1933, he became one of the first artists employed by the WPA, where he would meet the group that would eventually become the New York School, or Abstract Expressionists.  Gorky's first works of pure abstraction still show the strong influence of Picasso as he works to understand and express the organization of space.  His style comes into its own in the 1940s.  The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1948) is often considered his greatest work and the truest expression of his style.  Sadly, after a series of personal and professional difficulties, Gorky hanged himself in his barn in Connecticut in 1948.  The Limit is a piece from Gorky's period of greatest creativity.  The large stretch of green is marked with a few shapes that seem to teeter on the edge of something.  There is a surprising amount of motion in this piece, as though the shapes join to form a mobile.  The colors are well chosen, subtle and beautiful yet striking.  This large painting makes quite an impact, challenging the viewer to see its complexity and its strangely fascinating balance.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Carlo Carrà, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli

Carlo Carrà, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli, 1910-11
78.25 x 102 in.

Carlo Carrà (1881-1966) was an Italian painter and one of the leaders of the Futurist movement. His professional art career began when he was twelve and he left home to work as a decorative muralist.  He spent time working in Paris and London and learning from contemporary art.  In 1901 he returned to Milan, where he enrolled in the Brera Academy.  Some of his early works are fairly traditional landscapes, but as early as 1900 Carrà began to explore the distorted space and intense colors of Futurism.  In 1910 he signed Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Manifesto of Futurism, along with Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, and Luigi Russolo. Carrà was more Cubist than his colleagues, using geometric deconstruction of space to portray his subjects.  The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli is perhaps Carrà's most famous work.  Angelo Galli was an anarchist and labor organizer in Milan.  He was killed by police during a general strike in 1904.  Fearing that Galli's funeral would turn into a political demonstration, the state sent police to bar anarchists from the cemetery.  When the mourners resisted, police responded with force and a fight ensued.  Carrà was present at the funeral and witnessed the event.  Carrà captured the intensity and chaos of the scene, as well as the rapid movement of the figures.  The two factions brandish weapons and clash with each other.  The black flags of the anarchists fly over the crowd. Using the afternoon sun shining in the background, Carrà turns the episode into a heroic scene, reminiscent of the political paintings of the Age of Revolutions.  The central figure becomes a freedom fighter, struggling for liberty against the oppressive state.  At the center of the painting we see Galli's red coffin held precariously on the shoulders of the pallbearers as the struggle to endure the violence.  The coffin seems to emanate light just like the sun, illuminating the figures of the fighters.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Richard Rothwell, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Richard Rothwell, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, c1840
29 x 24 in.

After posting a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft yesterday, today I decided to post one of her daughter, Mary Shelley.  Richard Rothwell (1800-1863) was an Irish portrait painter.  Born in Athlone, he studied with the Royal Dublin Society (now just called the Dublin Society) from 1814 to 1820 when he won a silver medal.  He moved to London and became an assistant to the celebrated painter Thomas Lawrence.  Rothwell's reputation grew thanks to his association with Lawrence.  When Lawrence died, Rothwell completed many of his unfinished works and was one of the most popular up and coming artists in Britain and Ireland.  However, in 1831 he took an ill-timed trip to Italy to study art and expand into history painting.  When he returned to London in 1834 he found that his reputation has evaporated.  Rothwell still had a moderately successful career, but never reached the heights that had been expected of him.  Rothwell did many traditional portraits, and shows a great deal of sensitivity in his work.  This canonical portrait of Mary Shelley is Rothwell's most enduring piece.  Rothwell successfully captures the great writer's gravitas and intelligence.  With the simple background and dark dress, Shelley's face and pale skin stands out in stark contrast.  The most striking element is probably her sad, heavy eyes. She appears very wise, and perhaps too knowledgable about the pain of the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

John Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft

John Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1790-91
29.88 x 25.12 in.

John Opie (1761-1807) was a prominent English history painter and portraitist.  Born in Cornwall to a master carpenter, Opie showed prodigious talent in drawing and mathematics.  By age twelve he had opened a small school to teach local poor children reading, writing, and arithmetic. However Opie's father was not supportive of his son's gifts and apprenticed him to a carpenter. Opie came to the attention of the celebrated satirist John Wolcot who bought Opie out of his apprenticeship and took him under his wing.  After a few years of experience painting portrait around Cornwall, Opie and Wolcot moved to London.  Although Opie did a number of history paintings, he became best known for his portraits.  His subjects included lords and artists like Henry Fuseli, as well as many anonymous figures—peasants, or more likely models posing as such.  One of his subjects was the celebrated writer and feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (and mother of Mary Shelley). Opie painted a second portrait of Wollstonecraft in 1797, the year of her death.  That piece is extremely simple, just a direct and honest portrait of its subject.  It is a beautiful painting and has become the canonical image of Wollstonecraft, but I find this earlier portrait more interesting.  We see Wollstonecraft reading and turned toward the artist, as though caught mid-page.  This is a common portrait pose, but usually seen with great learned men, emphasizing their years of study. The effect is similar here, and it is exciting to see a woman of that time portrayed in this way. Wollstonecraft comes across extremely intelligent and engaged.  She meets the gaze of the artist and viewer, inviting us into the picture space.  Opie portrays her with great skill and care, showing the texture of her hair and dress, her keen expression, and her engaged right hand actively turning the page.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Victor Hugo, La Tour des Rats

Victor Hugo, La Tour des Rats, 1847

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is of course one of the most famous French writers of all time, a towering figure of the Romantic movement.  However, in addition to his novels, poetry, and plays, he was also a prolific visual artist.  Hugo produced over 4,000 drawings, but kept it private for fear it would overshadow his literary work.  He showed them only to family and close friends, and occasionally gave drawings as gifts.  Hugo mostly viewed it as a casual hobby, but at certain times in his life it had more importance for him.  Delacroix remarked that if Hugo had decided to pursue painting, he would have outshone all the artists of the century.  In both style and execution, Hugo's drawings are startlingly modern.  He employed pen-and-ink and charcoal, but he often applied charcoal with matchsticks or his fingers.  He did not hesitate to incorporate stains and ink blots that his children made on the paper, and he sometimes added coffee grounds or soot to create the desired effect. It seems that a lack of formal training in drawing freed him from the conventions of French academicism, so that he was only committed to the actual appearance of the final image.  And being a man of immense creativity, this approach allowed for some very unusual approaches.  In these small drawings, Hugo preceded some of the innovations of ExpressionismSurrealism, and even Abstract Expressionism.  He demonstrates incredible understanding of the expression of form and shading, using color only sparingly to enhance his images.  This drawing of the Tower of Rats (which has a rather gruesome story behind it) is an incredibly intense and expressive image of the Rhine.  A sepia version of the scene has more discernible details.  There is great darkness and drama here, engendering deep trepidation and reflection.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Albert Saverys, La Lys en Hiver

Albert Saverys, La Lys en Hiver, 1947
31.7 x 39.8 in.

Albert Saverys (1886-1964) was a Belgian painter, extremely prominent during the interwar period. Born in the city of Deinze in the Belgian province of East Flanders, Saverys studied at the Ghent Academy of Fine Arts against the backdrop of the First World War.  Many of his earliest works are Expressionist, also often showing a strong Japanese influence.  Stylistically diverse, his work expresses the pain of the extreme destruction of World War I as well as hope for rebuilding. Saverys's paintings have an extreme intensity, created by broad, physical brushstrokes and deep saturated colors.  Another painting shows a very different view of the River Lys in Winter, with use of pointillism and simple lighting.  The painting I have featured is a very complex depiction of this river, which played a significant role throughout Saverys's life. With the oranges and browns of the sky, and the box-like buildings, this painting may seem pessimistic, but the earthy glow of the landscape is one of warmth, suggesting a drawing close together against the cold.  The red sun that hangs in the sky remains a warming influence, bringing light to this village.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Daido Moriyama, Kyoku Erotica

Daido Moriyama, Kyoku Erotica, 2007

Daido Moriyama (b.1938) is a celebrated Japanese street photographer.  Born in Osaka, he moved to Tokyo in 1961 to work as an assistant in a studio.  He has been exhibited all over the world and has received the Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement from the International Center of Photography in New York.  Thematically, his work is largely devoted to depicting the decline of traditional Japan in the post-war period.  With images of a stray dog or an actor effecting the pain of a samurai, Moriyama shows the pain and conflict of Japanese modernity.  He is best known for his intense street scenes and images of children, often in squalid environments.  Moriyama's photographs are often sexual and offer a complex view of degradation.  This photograph of a leopard looking in the window of Cartier is very striking.  I could find no information about the scenario that gave rise to the image, but its extreme strangeness is part of what makes it powerful.  Most of Moriyama's work uses high contrast and rich black and white, which is put to effective use here.  The cat's coat looks especially beautiful with the contrast and it body is elongated by its pose.  There are certainly themes that can be read here—the clash of the modern and traditional or consumerist and natural worlds—but I am tempted to look away from those themes and see it simply as a bizarre picture of a leopard shopping for jewelry.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Matthias Stom, St. Ambrose

Matthias Stom, St. Ambrose, c1633-39

Matthias Stom (or Matthias Stomer) (c1600-c1652) was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age.  He was a master among the group of Dutch painters who were directly influenced by Caravaggio. The movement originated in Utrecht, where Stom was from.  In that vein, Stom's work is characterized by extreme chiaroscuro and  intense drama.  He painted mostly religious scenes, with his portraits of saints, such as Ambrose and Jerome, particularly well regarded.  Stom was committed to brining a certain realism to his biblical scenes, here the human and dismal aspects of the stories were foregrounded.  This is evident in paintings like Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham (1637-39). This is one of two portraits of St. Ambrose that Stom produced, and I find it quite beautiful.  The painting is based on a description in Augustine's Confessions, wherein Augustine comes upon Ambrose reading silently to himself, which was less common although far from unheard of in antiquity.  Augustine was struck by the idea silent reading to inform spiritual contemplation.  Here we see Ambrose (perhaps following his reading with a stylus), deep in contemplation.  His face is thoughtful and reserved, but with a quiet activity.  Stom's skill is evident in the rendering of the light and shadows (not in full chiaroscuro) and elements like the leather of the book and the texture of the tablecloth.  The most striking element, though, is of course Ambrose's cloak which drapes do beautifully over his shoulders.  The white fabric is excellently portrayed, and the decorated edge is quite astounding.  Stom conveys the shimmering and intricacy of the design, which acts almost like a medieval halo to illuminate the spiritual depth of the saint.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Zinaida Serebriakova, A Goat Attacked by Grey Wolves

Zinaida Serebriakova, A Goat Attacked by Grey Wolves, 1901

Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) was a prominent Russian painter and one of the first Russian women to be distinguished as a painter.  Born in Kharkov, now in Ukraine, her family was, on her mother's side, one of the most renowned artistic and intellectual families in Russia.  Her mother was herself skilled at drawing, and both her brothers worked in the arts, one as a successful architect and the other as an administrator and curator.  Beginning in 1900 Serebriakova attended art school, and studied under some of the great Russian artists of the day, such as Ilya Repin. Serebriakova worked in every popular genre of the time, including portraiturelandscapecityscapegenre scenesinteriors, and still-life.  She even dipped in Classical mythology.  Serebriakova painted quite a few nudes, and often sexualized her subjects, whether female or male.  She also painted several self-portraits which are quite celebrated.  This painting of a goat attacked in the woods by wolves is an extremely early effort by Serebriakova.  Painted when the artist was only seventeen and still very much studying, the forms and lines are rather crude.  But that is what drew me to it.  The painting has a visceral, animalistic quality to it that is very appropriate for the subject matter.  It is almost as though the bites and slashes of the wolves created the lines.  With its sharp angles and exaggerated forms, the piece is somewhat inspired by folk art, which the coloring and theme also support.  Already it is easy to see Serebriakova's emerging talent, for she has successfully made us feel the emotional content of the painting.  The lines are confident and deliberate, and the blending and gradient of colors suggests technical sophistication.  Finally the painting is very exciting; depicting the moment of the kill, this is very much an action oriented painting.  We sense the tension of the concluded chase, the goat's pain, the triumph of the wolves, and we see just the smallest touch of blood seeping out where the wolf has just bitten down.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Gerolamo Induno, The Sad Premonition

Gerolamo Induno, The Sad Premonition, 1862
26.4 x 33.9 in.

Gerolamo Induno (1825-1890) was an Italian painter from Milan.  After studying at the Brera Academy, Induno took part in the start of the First Italian War of Independence, known as the Five Days of Milan.  Consequently, he became well known for his military scenes, which have a profound degree of reality and authenticity.  One of Induno's most celebrated pieces shows a young man saying goodbye to his mother as he goes off to war.  Induno also painted scenes of the aristocracy and a number of portraits, including a beautiful self-portrait, but, aside from his military paintings, he most celebrated for his genre paintings.  These quiet depictions of everyday life depict Milanese people with a great amount of sensitivity and interest.  The Sad Premonition (Triste Presentimento) seems to be a combination of Induno's two favorite genres.  This is certainly a genre painting stylistically, showing a young woman in her bedroom early in the morning.  However, thematically this is a military painting.  She holds a token of her lover, her premonition being that he has died in battle.  This is a stunning painting, with the bright light of morning and a beautifully appointed, if somewhat worn, room.  The walls and furniture are rendered with great care and accuracy, invoking the true character of the room.  Yet the sadness of this beautiful young woman makes the beauty of the room and the morning fall away.  She sits lonely and despondent.  The overall whiteness of the scene makes quite an impression, with the pale walls, bedspread, and garment.  The sunlight whitens the shudders and casts its glow over the room.  Her dark hair stands out with rich color.  There is an intense stillness here; the woman is unable to move due to the weight of her premonition, and it feels as though the room itself cannot exhale due to the sadness of its occupant.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Angelica Kauffman, Portrait of Louisa Leveson Gower as Spes

Angelica Kauffman, Portrait of Louisa Leveson Gower as Spes (Goddess of Hope), 1767
49.4 x 39.6 in.

Maria Anna Angelika Kauffmann (1741-1807) was a prominent Austrian painter.  Born in Switzerland, where her father was working for a bishop, her family moved back to Austria when she was young.  Her father was a moderately successful painter himself and he recognized his daughter's talent and gave her instruction.  Angelica was immoderately brilliant in several areas, learning a number of languages from her mother, reading incessantly, and showing talent as a musician.  However she shows the greatest kill in painting and by age twelve she was highly regarded and painting portraits of bishops and nobles.  After first traveling to Milan with her father, Kauffman spent several years in Italy, becoming a member of the Academy in Florence, then having great success in Rome before traveling to Bologna and Venice.  While in Rome she befriended famed art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, whom she painted in 1764.  He spoke highly of her, writing of her intelligence, poise, artistic skill, and magnificent singing voice, which he said "rivals out greatest virtuosi."  Kauffman became a celebrated figure in 18th century society.  While in Venice she met the wife of the British ambassador, who convinced Kauffman to accompany her to England.  There she became good friends with Sir Joshua Reynolds, and a few years later she became one of the two female founding members, along with Mary Moser, of Reynolds's Royal Academy.  Eventually she moved back to Rome with her husband, where she befriended Goethe, where she continued to enjoy success and prestige.  Kauffman became known for her portraitsclassical scenes, and family portraits, sometimes of royal families.  She also painted historical and literary scenes.  One of her most celebrated pieces is her self-portrait.  Louisa Leveson Gower was the daughter of the Marquess of Stafford, one of many nobles whom Kauffman painted while in London.  She paints her as Spes, the Roman goddess and personification of hope, symbolized by the anchor and the flowers in her hair.  There is great sensitivity and depth in this portrait.  Kauffman's skill is evident in every aspect, from the soft hair and skin, to the realistic fabric, to the intense rocky background.  This is one of Kauffman's numerous masterpieces.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paris Bordone, Venetian Lovers

Paris Bordone, Venetian Lovers, 1525-30
31.9 x 33.9 in.

Paris Bordone (1500-1571) was an Italian Renaissance painter who worked in Venice.  He was born in Treviso and moved to Venice when he was very young.  He apparently had a brief and unhappy apprenticeship with Titian, who was the leader of the Venetian style.  Most of his works cover the traditional subject matter of the time, Classical antiquity and religion.  Bordone does so with a great deal of complexity and sensitivity.  His works feature intricate compositions and great emotional depth.  Bordone manages to communicate extreme nuance and subtlety in the faces of his subjects, giving the viewer a lot to consider when viewing his paintings.  He also painted a number of portraits and contemporary scenes, such as Venetian Lovers.  I came across this painting on the cover to an edition of John Ford's seventeenth century tragedy 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore and was immediately struck by the piece.  The painting features a lot more chiaroscuro than most of Bordone's work, which gives a sense of unease and high drama.  This is enhanced by the presence of the third figure, lurking in the shadows of the chiaroscuro.  This figure may be a procurer, but it has also been suggested that it is a self-portrait due to the artist's cap.  The couple themselves are quite fascinating.  With one hand he offers her a gift (or payment) of jewelry while the other is around her shoulder, moving toward her neck.  Of course if we follow his line of sight, we see he is gazing at her cleavage.  The woman's face is a bit harder to read. She looks off to the side, appearing skeptical of disinterested, or perhaps merely bored of the function of her job.  This is one of Bordone's most celebrated paintings and it's easy to see why. Bordone demonstrates his skill with textures in the woman's dress, while her hair appears soft and natural. Their skin is smooth and realistic, while their faces are beautifully rendered with expressions complex and engaging.  The use of light is also quite masterful.  This is a beautiful painting with great depth and a fascinating pair of lovers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Henry Raeburn, Double Portrait of Mrs. Alexander Allan and her granddaughter, Mathilda

Henry Raeburn, Double Portrait of Mrs. Alexander Allan with her granddaughter, Mathilda, c1815
50 x 39.5 in.

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) was a Scottish portrait painter and an important figure in the development of Scottish national arts after their union with England to form Great Britain in 1707, as he was the first major painter after the Union to remain based in Scotland.  After being orphaned, he was supported by his older brother and received an education at Heriot's Hospital. When he was fifteen he was apprenticed to a goldsmith.  Many pieces of jewelry that he made still survive, complete with minute drawings or engravings on them.  Largely self-taught, he began to produce portrait miniatures and, after some success, began in full size oil paintings.  Raeburn is mostly known for his traditional portraits, and he painted such leading figures as Sir Walter Scott (twice in fact).  He was named King George IV's official portrait painter in Scotland and was knighted by him on a visit to Edinburgh.  Raeburn's most famous painting is The Skating Minister (1790s).  This portrait of Mrs. Allan and her granddaughter is a beautiful example of Raeburn's skill.  He imbues their faces with dignity and sensitivity, and communicates the love between the two with the simple gesture of Mrs. Allan loosely holding Mathilda's hand.  Notice the rendering of the clothes, the delicacy of Mathilda's lace dress and the lush weight of Mrs. Allan's. Most importantly though, Raeburn conveys the light in their eyes, which is what makes the painting engaging and expressive.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, The Bombardment of Copenhagen

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, The Bombardment of Copenhagen, the night between the 3rd and 4th of September, 1807, 1807

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) was a Danish painter who laid the foundation for the Golden Age of Danish Painting and is considered the father of Danish painting.  Born in a small town in southern Denmark, his father was a painter and carpenter.  He began his training with a local church and portrait painter and then became an apprentice to a respected artist in 1800.  He then went on the study at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen.  Eckersberg had initial success there, but clashed with his teacher and he did not win the gold medal there until 1809 after his teacher's death.  He traveled to gErmany and Paris where he studied under Jacques-Louis David for a time.  He also studied in Florence and Rome.  Eckersberg was successful with traditional Classical motifs and religious scenes, but where he really distinguished himself was in his figure painting.  His portraits are quite celebrated and 1841's Morning Toilette is perhaps his most famous painting.  He also produced beautiful landscapes and seascapes.  The painting I have featured is a depiction of the Battle of Copenhagen, when the British navy lay siege to the city to commandeer Denmark's naval fleet.  Eckersberg painted another rendition of Copenhagen burning, so, especially considering he lived in the city at the time, the event clearly had a significant impact on him.  The most interesting thing to me about this painting is the light. The fire casts its glow over the entire scene, so that the people and buildings are bathed in orange light.  The dark sky is red with fire and black with ash.  There is great action in this scene, with the frantic movement of the many figures.  The firelight seems to pulsate and flicker.  Eckersberg manages to convey the sadness of this siege and the chaos and fear it engendered.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Francesco Bacchiacca, Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel

Francesco Bacchiacca, Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel, c1517
14 x 11.1 in.

Francesco Bacchiacca (1496-1557) was an Italian painter who worked in the Florentine Mannerist style of the later Renaissance.  Bacchiacca spent his life in Florence.  He was an apprentice in the studio of Perugino (who also taught Raphael) and began to collaborate with other painters on important commissions by 1515.  He gained experience through painting chests (cassone) and other bedroom furnishings for Florentine nobles.  He expanded into large scale altarpieces with works like Beheading of John the Baptist.  In 1540 he became a painter at the court of Duke Cosimo I de Medici and his wife, Duchess Eleanor of Toledo.  In keeping with his reputation for decorative painting, Bacchiacca's first commission at court was to paint the walls and ceilings of the duke's study with plants and animals.  Much of his work is fairly typical for the period, mostly religious figures and scenes.  However, he does show particular interest in exploring family dynamics and relationships.  His painting of Leda and the Swan demonstrates this, which shows, instead of the traditional depiction of their intercourse or romance, the birth of their children from eggs (though why Zeus as the swan is being nursed by Leda, I have no explanation).  Bacchiacca takes a similar approach with this painting of Adam and Eve.  Domestic scenes of the family are somewhat rare, showing neither the drama of the Expulsion, or the tragedy of Abel's murder.  A later work that copies Bacchiacca's actually includes the Expulsion in the background to increase the drama, but Bacchiacca did not find that necessary.  The resonances are quite enough. Everyone knows what happened to Adam and Eve before this, and what will transpire between Cain and Abel.  Instead he shows this quiet moment.  Adam pauses in his labor to speak to Eve, and the children appear shy and timid, clinging to their mother.  Eve dominates the space, as the mother dominates the domestic sphere.  It is a simple scene, rendered with care and skill.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Marianne North, Mouth of the Kuching River, Sarawak, Borneo

Marianne North, Mouth of the Kuching River, Sarawak, Borneo, 1876
4 x 20 in.

Marianne North (1830-1890) was a major British naturalist.  She is known for her work in biology and botany, as well as her extensive travel writings.  North grew up affluent and trained as an opera singer, and after her voice failed she began painting flowers.  She lived with her father in Syria and Egypt for a few years, and when he died in 1869 she chose to pursue her ambition of painting plants of foreign countries.  She first went to Sicily, then North and South America, spending time in Jamaica and Brazil.  North lived in the Canary Islands, then traveled around the world, painting the flora of locations like California, JapanBorneo, Java, and India.  Today, she remains best known for these botanical paintings, but during her travels North also became an accomplished landscape painter, carefully rendering the many locales she visited.  The beautiful delicacy of this view of Borneo is really quite amazing.  North brilliantly conveys the pale light of sunrise, and uses the river to explore the nature of that light.  She uses a narrow palette, employing only a few colors necessary to depict an accurate rendition of the scene.  The pale yellow that occupies most of the scene transforms into gold and complements the distant blue mountains.  North's hand is so sure, with every stroke precisely chosen to shape this sunrise. This is a small painting, but the unusual panoramic shape gives it an expansive and sweeping quality.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lee Miller, Henry Moore

Lee Miller, Henry Moore, 1943

Lee Miller (1907-1977) was an American photographer and a fascinating cultural figure.  Born in Poughkeepsie, she began her career as a model, as I discussed yesterday.  Sadly Miller experienced sexual abuse when she was a child and then she was exploited by her father when she posed nude for him as a teenager. He also gave her some basic instruction in photography.  Her modeling career began when, at age nineteen, she was saved from walking in front of a car by Condé Nast.  She then appeared on the cover of Vogue in March of 1927, drawn as an iconic twenties flapper.  She became a highly sought after fashion model.  In 1929 she moved to Paris with the intention of becoming apprentice to Man Ray and joining the Surrealist movement.  At first Man Ray insisted that he did not take students, but of course he let her model for him and the two became lovers.  She soon started her own photography studio and the two began to collaborate, with Man Ray posing for Miller.  She became a successful Surrealist, producing images that are interesting and powerful, as well as becoming a core member of the movement's Paris circle.  When World War II broke out, Miller become a photojournalist for Vogue, documenting the Blitz.  She was then accredited into the armed forces as a war correspondent.  She produced some of the most powerful and recognizable images of the war, including the first use of napalm at St. Malco and the horrors of Buchenwald. After the war Miller suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and struggled with drinking. She gave birth to her only child in 1947, which helped her begin to move on.  She and her husband bought a farm in East Sussex, which became a popular destination for artists such as Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, and Max Ernst.  She almost entirely gave up both photography and modeling.  Henry Moore was another artist who visited Miller's Farley Farm House.  He was a major British sculptor known for his large semi-abstract pieces, particularly reclining nudes, who became friendly with Miller in London during the Blitz.  In this photograph Miller captures him standing in the London Underground's Holborn station, being used as a bomb shelter.  We see the intensity of Moore and the scene around him with people crowded into the station.  Another shot from the same night shows the size of the station and the gaping cavern of the train tunnel. This compelling image expresses the fear and sadness of these people, and Moore's powerlessness, standing underground, waiting for the bombs to fall.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Arnold Genthe, Lee Miller

Arnold Genthe, Lee Miller, 1927

Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) was a celebrated photographer known for his pictures of San Francisco and his evocative portraits.  Born in Berlin, his father was a professor of Latin and Greek.  Arnold decided to study the Classics as well and attained a doctorate in philology.  He immigrated to San Francisco in 1895 to work as a tutor, and decided to teach himself photography.  Among his best known photographs are his images of Chinatown, where he was committed to authenticity and thus often hid his camera.  His are the only known photographs of the area from before the 1906 earthquake.  Genthe's pictures of the earthquake are also extremely important and powerful, offering a singular view of the effects of the disaster.  Genthe is also acclaimed for his powerful portraits, which have an intense energy and presence.  In 1925 he photographed Greta Garbo.  Lee Miller was a renowned photographer herself (whom I will cover tomorrow) known for her coverage of World War II.  However she began her career as model.  Genthe photographed her several times, often nude, and produced beautiful and interesting images.  This example from 1927 is softer than many of Genthe's photographs and has an intense play of light and shadow. Miller's own sensitivity and intelligence come through strongly.  The composition of the photograph, where Miller fills the frame (which differs from the nudes) and looks away from the camera and viewer, is quite engaging and the viewer is left unable to meet Miller's gaze.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Maxwell Armfield, Self-Portrait

Maxwell Armfield, Self-Portrait, 1901

Maxwell Ashby Armfield (1881-1972) was an English painter and illustrator.  Raised in Hampshire as a Quaker, he attended the Birmingham School of Art; the school was a major center of the Arts and Crafts Movement which had a significant impact on Armfield.  He traveled to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1904 before returning to England.  Armfield became an established member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly known for his portraiture.  Armfield was very influenced by the early Renaissance (particularly French art of the fifteenth century) and in many ways shares qualities with the Pre-Raphaelites, both stylistically and philosophically.  The Arts in Crafts Movement in part grew out of the Pre-Raphaelites, but Armfield has a certain social engagement that is not present in the previous movement.  For example, where Pre-Raphalites merely shunned industrial society in favor of natural beauty, Armfield criticized it outright.  Armfield was also an advocate of democratization of art, and used his illustration to reach a wider audience.  His self-portrait is a very complex piece.  Armfield frequently worked in tempera, the favored medium of the middle ages and early Renaissance (and the pre-Raphaelites), which helps give the painting its somewhat flattened look.  Like many self-portraits, he depicts himself engaged in the activity of art, holding a palette and brush, and looking directly out of the canvas at the viewer.  As I have discussed, this trend is in part logistical, for the artist must look in a mirror while working and therefore ends up painting what they see.  However, it also gives the painting and intensity, since Armfield meets our gaze.  He appears as a rather somber young man, thoroughly dedicated to his work.  Behind him we see an intricate background with an elaborate wallpaper pattern. This is a powerful piece that invites us into the private world of the artist and challenges us to meet him, intellectually and emotionally.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (849-3)

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (849-3), 1997
102.36 x 133.86 in.

Gerhard Richter (b.1932) is a contemporary German artist, and an important contributor to modern European painting.  Born in Dresden, his father was a schoolteacher and his mother was a bookseller.  The family managed to remain mostly apolitical during most of the Nazi regime by moving to the Polish countryside, although eventually Gerhard's father was forced to join the party, but it was in name only.  After leaving school in tenth grade, Gerhard apprenticed as an advertisement and set painter, then studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts beginning in 1951.  Richter's earliest works show promise, but it is not until he began exploring abstraction that his work becomes truly impressive.  However, unlike many artists, Richter does not, nor has he ever, work in a consistent style; he has worked in styles as diverse as mechanical gridsserpentine formssubverted portraiture, and photography.  Nevertheless, his large, colorful abstract canvases are perhaps his most effective.  These pieces speak to the frenzy and uncertainty; they are thick and obfuscated, full of rapid motion and overlapping colors.  His recent works continue to explore the nature of color and abstraction.  Abstract Painting (849-3) exemplifies Richter's signature style, with large swaths of red dominating the canvas.  There is an aggression to this piece, particularly in the stripe of red that covers up the blue in the center. This piece has a lot of power, and with its imposing size of over eight by eleven feet, the painting is quite imposing.  There is a physicality to the work, necessitated by painting such a large canvas with such large strokes.  It is tempting to read statements about the chaos of the modern world into Richter's work, and while such ideas may be present, the emotional force of the color is more central to the work.  Richter used a complex process of continual layering and scraping of paint to create this rich, multilayered painting and give it its complex and textured power.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Eva Bonnier, Dressmakers

Eva Bonnier, Dressmakers, 1887

Eva Bonnier (1857-1909) was a Swedish painter.  Born in Stockholm, her father was a member of one of Sweden's foremost publishing families.  In 1878 Bonnier became a student at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts (in the women's section) in Stockholm.  In 1883 she traveled to Paris with a friend to study painting and stayed there until 1889.  She won an honorable mention at the Salon in 1889.  She mainly devoted herself to portraiture in the following years.  She has a well known self-portrait and is celebrated for her unflinching portrayals of illness.  Bonnier mostly stopped painting around 1900 and devoted herself to philanthropy, starting a foundation for the beautification of Stockholm and art patronage.  One of her last paintings is a portrait that shows remarkable depth and stylistic clarity.  Dressmakers is an interesting painting for its use of light and textures.  One of the most complex elements is the dress spread on the table.  The drapery is quite impressive and the weights and textures of the fabric are masterfully conveyed, so that the presence of the dress is palpable.  The pose of the two women is one an action pose, poised in the middle of their work, but emanates calm and conscientiousness.  Bonnier's careful technique can be especially seen in the face of the righthand woman.  Meanwhile the light streams in from the window, shining through the curtains and onto their work, and, in places, through the dress.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Joseph-Benoît Suvée, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi

Joseph-Benoît Suvée, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, 1795
126 x 163 in.

Joseph-Benoît Suvée (1743-1807) was a Flemish painter who emulated the French Neoclassical style.  Born in Bruges, he moved to Paris when he was nineteen to study painting.  In 1772 he won the Prix de Rome and spent a few years in Rome furthering his skills.  When he returned to France in 1778 he was admitted to the Academy.  He became a rival of Jacques-Louis David, earning his hatred.  Suvée was a skilled academic painter who, like most artists at the time, frequently depicted scenes from Classical history and mythology, as well as creating several depictions of allegory that resemble portraiture.  One of his most interesting paintings is entitled The Invention of Drawing (1791) and depicts the legendary invention of portrait drawing, wherein a young woman traced her lover's silhouette before he went off to war to remember him by.  Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi is perhaps Suvée's most famous painting, and hangs in the Louvre.  Cornelia Africana was the daughter of famed general Scipio Africanus and was held up as an archetype of a virtuous Roman woman.  She married Tiberius Gracchus Major, who was much older, but the two were quite happy together.  When he died she chose not to remarry despite her youth, and he is depicted as the statue in the nook at the center of the background. Cornelia was the mother of the Gracchi brothers, who became consuls and attempted to pass major reforms. They proposed redistributing major tracts of aristocratically owned land to the poor and veterans, as well as other social reforms.  They are sometimes considered the first Socialists.  This painting is a traditional Neoclassical piece.  Using precise brushwork, rich colors, and sculptural forms, the painting use space, architecture, and a group of figures in a traditional and powerful way to tell its story.  This scene is based on a story from the brothers' youth.  When a rich woman visited the Gracchi household, she was showing off her jewels and finery. Cornelia, who lived a life of relative austerity, called her two sons into the room and said, "These are my jewels."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with an Imaginary View of Tipoli

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with an Imaginary View of Tipoli, 1642
10.12 x 8.5 in.

Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) was a major French painter, particularly lauded for his landscape painting. Born Claude Gellée in the Duchy of Lorraine, he is often simply known as Claude in the English speaking world, due to his extreme popularity in Britain.  After learning the basics of painting from his older brother, Claude traveled to Italy where he spent most of his life.  He first worked in Naples and then joined a studio in Rome.  He traveled fairly extensively and had the opportunity to study nature in many parts of Europe.  When Claude was working, landscape was just beginning to gain status as serious painting.  Like Italian landscape pioneers before him, Claude dressed his landscapes up with Classical and religious subjects.  In addition to furthering the status of landscape painting, Claude established conventions that became the standard against which future landscapes were judged, and some of his principles of composition are still in use today.  His pastoral scenes were considered so perfect, that real landscapes were often judged against his paintings (the origin of the term "picturesque").  The landscape I have chosen, a view of the ancient town of Tipoli, is a beautiful little piece.  About the size of a sheet of paper, the painting exhibits many of Claude's core principles of light and space.  He often features figures in the middle ground, and always frames his landscapes with trees.  Add a bit of Classical architecture, and you have an ideal bucolic landscape.  One of the things that makes this painting interesting is that there is more action than in many of his works.  While there may be figures in motion, the image of this small procession crossing the bridge creates a very different feeling. Meanwhile the sun glows immensely bright, illuminating the scene and radiating through the sky. The beauty of the mountains and waterfalls complements the large trees on the left, while the bridge crosses the gorge and water stretches out in the background.  There is a soft crispness to Claude's brushwork that makes his paintings very precise, but also warm and inviting.  He was extremely skilled and influential, creating beautiful scenes of the Italian countryside.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Aaron Harry Gorson, Industrial Scene, Pittsburgh

Aaron Harry Gorson, Industrial Scene, Pittsburgh, 1928

Aaron Harry Gorson (1872-1933) was a Lithuanian-American painter.  He immigrated to Philadelphia in 1888.  He worked in a factory to fund his art career and began taking classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  He began to have some success and he made enough money selling portraits to study in Paris for a year.  He studied at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts.  While in Paris, he saw the great strides made by Impressionism, which had a significant impact on him.  When he returned to the United States in 1901 he settled in Pittsburgh and painted the industrial scenes of the city.  Even after he moved to New York City in 1921, the factories of Pittsburgh, as well as his own time working in a factory, continued to hold sway over his work.  He repeatedly painted similar scenes of factories at work over water.  Not unlike Monet's urban landscapes, Gorson paints these scenes, not as hazardous and threatening, but as beautiful and exciting.  The intense bursts of light and smokes almost look like supernatural events.  The painting I have chosen to feature has a fascinating mix of scenic elements.  The fire of the factory rises behind a pale street or walkway, which stands unaffected by the pollution.  The sky and water, meanwhile, are filled and colored by the smoke and fire. Gorson also includes a bridge and a glimpse of the city, lit by electric lights, in the distance, which shows the whole system at work.  It also makes the factory look like an outpost of the city, a billowing marvel that must be traversed to reach Pittsburgh.  Although Gorson does not depict the factories negatively, there is a certain sublime awe in the face of raging industry that hints at its overwhelming power.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Janice Biala, The Bull

Janice Biala, The Bull (ArtNews Bull), 1956
43 x 55 in.

Janice Biala (1903-2000) was a Polish-American painter.  Born Schenehaia Tworkovska in a small city in the kingdom of Poland, she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1913.  Her brother was the well known Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov.  Biala studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, where her primary teachers were Charles Hawthorne and Edwin Dickinson (respectively), who helped her learn to interface with subjects and mediate form and color.  One of her most interesting early works is a nighttime cityscape, in which space seems to collapse in on itself so that the bright and noisy intensity of the city becomes all-consuming.  Her style continued to develop throughout the forties, and she began to experiment with abstraction.  Biala continued to paint with as much energy and creativity throughout the eighties, and having gained significant renown, continued to exhibit her works.  Since her death at ninety-seven, her reputation has only increased.  Biala painted images of bulls a few times, exploring their physicality and dominance of space.  This piece is somewhat different than the others; it is much more abstract, and while the bull is still discernible, the swirling matter around it seems more dominant.  Any other specific elements are difficult to make out, but it does seem clear that the bull is behind something else.  One of the most prominent features of the painting is the palpable energy that emanates from it.  Biala's intensity and power are very present here.  Her brushwork is rough in appearance, but she exhibits significant control and each stroke is deliberately placed.  Much of the canvas is dominated by black, white, and grey, therefore the use of color becomes very purposeful.  The small touches of red, blue, and yellow do stand out but largely serve to accentuate the shapes and forms of the painting.  The controlled chaos that is rendered here creates a powerful balance and evidences Biala's great talent and depth.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oskar Kokoschka, Bodégon with Affair and Rabbit

Oskar Kokoschka, Bodégon with Affair and Rabbit, 1914

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) was an Austrian painter, poet, and playwright.  Born to a poor family in the town of Pöchlarn, his father was a goldsmith.  Kokoschka's early life was largely shaped by a few particular events.  Shortly after his birth, a devastating fire broke out in the town, which led to a strong belief in omens and superstitions.  In 1887, Oskar's older brother died, which hung over the family thereafter.  FInally, his father's continual financial failure caused the family to relocate repeatedly, moving further from the center of town and into progressively smaller homes. Consequently, Oskar drew closer to his mother and took financial responsibility for the family for most of his life.  He began working when he was still in school, and spent his free time, as well as some class time, reading classic literature.  After a professor suggested he pursue a career in fine art, Kokoschka was accepted to the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, where he was one of three accepted out of 153 applicants.  The school was very progressive, so he was able to approach painting freely, without the constraints of academicism.  His early works show experimentation with a number of styles.  Kokoschka is best known for his expressionistic landscapes and portraits.  Many of his works are very personal; perhaps his most celebrated piece is The Bride of the Wind (1914) which is an expression of his deep love for Alma Mahler, with whom he had an affair.  After she ended the affair for fear of becoming overwhelmed with passion, Kokoschka remained in love with her for the rest of his life.  Bodégon with Affair and Rabbit is an excellent example of Kokoschka's style.  Truth be told, I have no idea what the title is meant to signify, other than the obvious presence of a rabbit in the center.  A bodégon is a type of Spanish still-life that shows the contents of a pantry (not really applicable), and the affair may refer to Alma again, but it is difficult to discern her presence here.  What I do see is a remarkable expression of movement and flow.  These curving strokes and intertwining lines seem to breathe as we view this piece.  The man, rabbit, and other animal (a tiger?) are not realistically portrayed, but they have a strong presence and a certain emotional reality to them.  Meanwhile, a single star gleams in the inky sky over the green mountains and plains.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Bayou Scene

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Bayou Scene, 1920

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876-1958) was an American painter from South Carolina.  Growing up in Charleston after the Reconstruction, Smith was very influenced by the immense change happening around her.  Hearing firsthand accounts, such as those of her father, of Charleston during slavery, when the city was affluent, Smith keenly felt the cultural decline that was taking and had taken place throughout the South.  Indeed, some of her works show an uncomfortable degree of nostalgia for the Antebellum South.  However, Smith's better pieces are undoubtedly her landscapes.  These pieces present an illusory vision of the land and nature.  Working almost entirely in watercolor, Smith creates soft and hazy scenes that become dreamlike renditions of the places they depict.  Bayou Scene is a powerful example of Smith's style.  With bright, blazing colors, and viscerally ominous shapes, the painting becomes emblematic of the mystery and intensity of the bayou.  The shapes almost look like they're melting in the wet heat.  The scene recedes into shadow, leaving the viewer to question what lies beyond the reaches of the light. The orange light, green trees, and purple water dance together, their colors blending and curving. The scene is one of uncertainty, changeability, and transience.  As soon as one of those birds flies away, the movement will ripple throughout the scene and the space and colors will change.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Alexei Harmaloff, Girl with a Red Shawl

Alexei Harlamoff, Girl with a Red Shawl
18.75 x 14.75 in.

Alexei Harlamoff (1840-1925), also Harlamov, was a Russian painter.  He was born into a family of serfs near the Volga river.  His parents won their freedom in 1850 and in 1854 Harlamoff became a guest student at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.  Three years later he won a silver medal for drawing and gained a place in the studio of a prominent history painter. Although he began his career with history painting, and a rendition of the prodigal son won him a gold medal and a scholarship aboard, he did not stay with the genre long.  He traveled across Europe, spending time in Italy, Germany, and France, where he stayed for many years. Harlamoff became immersed in portraiture and he remains best known for his many portraits of children and young girls.  He does not discriminate based on social class, and some of his most powerful works depict the poor and unfortunate.  He also worked in other genres, creating some exteriors and the thoroughly fascinating Artist and his Model (1875).  Girl with a Red Shawl is one of Harlamoff's throughly moving pieces.  This girl comes across so sad, yet powerful.  Her presence is potent and electric.  Harlamoff renders her with both delicacy and forcefulness, so that her character is effectively portrayed.  Her eyes look off center, away from the artist and the viewer.  We want to know what she is looking at, and her eyes are su beautiful that we want to stare at them.  Notice also the fine brushwork of her shawl; the strokes of paint are somewhat loose and thick, adding to the shabby appearance of the garment but making it instantly noticeable.  Harlamoff applies the same basic approach to the whole painting.  There is sorrow and misfortunate here but the painting is endlessly engaging and we cannot look away from this sad, beautiful girl.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Édouard Vuillard, Landscape at Saint-Jacut

Édouard Vuillard, Landscape at Saint-Jacut, 1909
34.06 c 76.38 in.

Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) was a French painter and printmaker.  Vuillard was born in Cuiseaux before moving to Paris with his family when he was ten.  He attended the famed Lycée Condorcet, which turned out such notable students as Marcel Proust, Paul Verlaine, and Jean-Pal Sartre. There he developed a close circle of artistic friends, one of whom, Ker Xavier Roussel, encouraged Vuillard to join a painter's studio with him.  The two learned rudimentary painting skills there, and Vuillard was eventually accepted into the École des Beaux-Arts.  He joined the Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist artists who were particularly influenced by Gauguin and Cezanne and who utilized some of the ideas of art nouveau by engaging with a wider variety of media.  Vuillard's reputation developed through the 1890s, as he had national and international success.  Vuillard's work often consisted of domestic interiors and shows a fairly consistent style.  He also was known to use rather bright colors, especially early in his career.  He painted numerous portraits and garden scenes, and also applied his sweeping brushwork to landscape.  Landscape at Saint-Jacut is a beautiful example of this capability.  Here the entire painting looks like flowing water due to the smooth line of Vuillard's brushstrokes.  The colors are softly applied, recalling Cezanne. Some of the forms are rather crudely rendered, but their presence and essence are effectively portrayed.  There is a serene quietude to this scene, even as a breeze blows over the clouds and through the trees

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their children

Relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their children, c1340 BCE

This relief of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family is frequently called the first (surviving) domestic scene in art.  Akhenaten, born Amenhotep IV, is one of the most famous and unusual Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.  Akhenaten is often considered the first monotheist in history, abandoning the traditional Egyptian pantheon, and instituting sole worship of the Aten, the manifestation of the sun, originally one of the aspects of Ra.  Some scholars consider this Atenism the foundation of the monotheism of Judaism.  The period of Aten's supremacy was relatively short; it lasted about twenty years in what is known as the Amarna period, and traditional religion was restored not long after Akhenaten's death at the end of a seventeen year reign.  In terms of visual art, Akhenaten completely changed the way Pharaohs were depicted. Abandoning the traditional depiction of Egyptian kings, Akhenaten's official images look completely different. He is shown with an elongated face and more delicate features; he has thin arms, legs, and chest, wide hips, and a prominent stomach.  This has led to a variety of medical diagnoses in modern times, with some speculating that he was transgendered.  We can see the same basic body shapes in this relief, and the elongated heads of the children are particularly prominent. Considering that most depictions of Pharaohs incorporate little or no personal differentiation, it is just as likely that these odd portraits were purely stylistic.  The issue of Akhenaten's appearance remains a very large mystery of Egyptology.  However, even aside from the figures' unusual appearance, this relief of Akhenaten and his family is extremely interesting. We see the family in worship of Aten (extending ankhs toward the royal family at the ends of the rays).  It is extremely unusual to see such a simple and earthly scene of a Pharaoh, who were usually regarded as gods. It is interesting that Akhenaten placed his family in such prominence. Today, two members of his family surpass him in fame; his wife, Nefertiti is especially well known due to her famous bust, and their son was Tutankhamen.  There is something inherently sweet about this family scene. We see the children climbing on their parents, and there is an intimacy that comes through more than three thousand years later.