Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pieter de Hooch, Interior with Women beside a Linen Closet

Pieter de Hooch, Interior with Women beside a Linen Closet, 1663
27.6 x 29.7 in.

Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age.  Born in Rotterdam, his father was a bricklayer and his mother was a midwife.  He studied in Haarlem, where he apparently began developing his reputation for interiors, often with men and women in conversation.  De Hooch returned to Rotterdam where he became painter in service to a linen merchant and art collector.  This appointment caused to travel extensively around the Netherlands, including Delft where he eventually moved.  One of De Hooch's most famous works was from this period.  Moving to Delft in 1654, de Hooch joined the Guild of St. Luke, where he was a member at the same time as Johannes Vermeer.  Some of de Hooch's works from this period strongly resemble Vermeer.  De Hooch's reputation grew, and he became known for his quiet domestic scenes with open doorways.  This motif often led to rather complex compositions. Like most Dutch painters of the time, de Hooch also demonstrates a clear interest in the complex and beautiful ways that light shapes a scene.  The interior scene I have featured exhibits both of these tendencies.  It contains de Hooch's signature open door, which in this case opens to reveal a significant distance to the courtyard.  In this piece he also included a second egress–the stairs  that lead to the next story at the edge of the painting.  The scene contains some natural light from that distant doorway, and perhaps some that shines onto the doors of the linen closet, but overall the scene is rather dark and the figures are in shadow.  However there also seems to be light coming from just beyond the staircase, where the wood is lighter and warmer at the very top of the stairs.  The warm wood color also appears on the linen closet and the beam on the ceiling.  Meanwhile, the painting is quite intricately detailed, from the architecture in the minuscule courtyard, to the beautiful pattern of the linen basket, the art on the wall, and the small bowl that sits on top of the wardrobe.  The spatial complexity of this painting gives it a lot of its interest, but the rich colors and the palpable presence of the figures also create a painting of great depth and beauty.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Charles Cottet, View of Venice from the Sea

Charles Cottet, View of Venice from the Sea, 1896

Charles Cottet (1863-1925) was a French painter known for his seascapes and landscapes of Brittany.  Cottet studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Puvis de Chavannes, as well as at the Académie Julian, where he became friends with the painters who would form Les Nabis (which Cottet was not a member of but was associated with).  He traveled extensively, spending time in Egypt and Italy and on Lake Geneva to paint.  However, he found his true inspiration on a trip to Brittany in 1896.  He became known for his dark, evocative scenes of Brittany and exhibited in the Salon in 1899.  Cottet's seascapes are rather unusual, giving a strong sense of the scope of the sea and invoking a strong mix of calm and power.  This view of Venice is also rather unusual. There are strong elements of fantasy here, with the intense gold coloring and swirling clouds. Cottet makes Venice appear like a magical city beyond the shimmering water.  There is also a somewhat sketch-like appearance to this piece, which adds to the fantasy, as though the scene is glimpsed through a dream.  Cottet painted another similar version of the scene, with, perhaps, more realistic coloring, and more movement in the water.  In the painting I have featured, the water appears glassy, a mirrored surface to reflect the boats and city.  Everything is aglow in the bright light of sunset.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rufino Tamayo, Tres Personajes

Rufino Tamayo, Tres Personajes, 1970
51 x 38 in.

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) was a Mexican painter.  Born in Oaxaca, he was of Zapotec descent, which is often cited as an important influence on his work.  After his parents died, Tamayo moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt and help with the family business.  However, recognizing his talent, his aunt enrolled him in the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in 1917. While in school, he experimented with the leading genres of the time, including Cubism, Impressionism, and Fauvism, always adding a distinctly Mexican character to these styles.  Over time, Tamayo found his own style, mixing traditional art with modernism, and influenced by abstraction and Surrealism.  In 1926, he left Mexico and moved to New York, although he spent significant amounts of time in both New York and Mexico CIty for the rest of his life.  Tres Personajes (Three People) is a stunning example of Tamayo's skill and style.  It is abstract, almost entirely, and employs bright colors and mysterious shapes.  The painting also features Tamayo's signature rough painting surface, achieved by mixing sand and ground marble dust into the paint.  The piece is generally seen to contain one female figure, one male, and an androgynous figure in between. While I can certainly see those elements, to me the painting isn't about the figures, it is about shape and color.  The intense palette seems like the main subject of the painting, and Tamayo used interesting shapes to utilize those colors and convey their effect. Even the use of grey and black is very powerful.  This painting was stolen from a Houston warehouse in the late eighties and became the subject of an FBI investigation, but it never turned up.  It was discovered in 2003, nestled between two trash cans in Manhattan at the corner of 72nd St and Broadway by one Elizabeth Gibson, who knew little about art but was compelled to take the painting home.  The trash was picked up twenty minutes later.  It took some three or four years and a lot of research, but Gibson eventually discovered that she had a famously stolen painting.  She contacted Sotheby's who confirmed the painting's authenticity.  Gibson received a finder's fee and reward and the painting was sold on behalf of the original owner.  No culprit has ever been identified and no one knows how it ended up in the trash on that particular corner, but this masterpiece, which had been given up for lost by the owners, was miraculously discovered and saved.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Karl Blossfeldt, Plate #96: Aconitum

Karl Blossfeldt, Plate #96: Aconitum, printed in 1928

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was a German photographer and sculptor.  He studied at the University of Fine Art in Berlin and later taught at the Berlin Arts and Crafts School, which became a very important part of his life.  Blossfeldt inherited his father's love of music and nature; as a boy he played in local fields and woods, collecting flowers and plants to make a small garden near his house.  We can see the influence of these experiences in the enlarged photographs of flowers and plants that make up the majority of his oeuvre.  Blossfeldt produced a very wide variety of such images, displaying stunning detail and intricacy.  Given Blossfeldt's incredible output, I had a great deal of difficulty choosing an image to feature in my post.  There were so many choices that I found fascinating.  I eventually settled on this image of aconitum (aconite) also known as monkshood and wolf's bane, among other names.  I find the plant and the photograph very interesting; there is an anthropomorphic quality, as though the stalk and leaves actually form a person (this is not unique among Bossfeldt's works).  Aconite is extremely poisonous, sometimes even called the queen of poisons, and has been used to tip arrows in hunting and is used in murder.  It is believed by many that Cleopatra killed her brother, Ptolemy XIV, with aconite.  I think this adds another dimension to the photograph, and I began to see the person in pain, raising their arms (leaves) above their head.  There is also an excellent use of light in this photograph, using areas of shadow to make the plant stand out in starker relief and show its shape.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Konstantinos Volanakis, The Burning of a Turkish Frigate

Konstantinos Volanakis, The Burning of a Turkish Frigate
35.5 x 51.5 in.

Konstantinos Volanakis (1837-1907) was a prominent Greek painter, best known for his many seascapes, a genre which he helped establish in modern Greek painting.  Born near the city of Rethymno in Crete, his family moved around a lot, eventually settling on the island of Syros in the Cyclades.  After completing school, Volanakis went to Trieste to work as an account for a Greek family he was related to.  While there, he began sketching ships and harbors.  His employers (who were also family) recognized his artistic talent and arranged for him to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  His first success came in 1869 when Emperor Franz Joseph held a drawing competition to commemorate the Battle of Lissa, which had occurred three years previously. Volanakis won the contest for his stirring and epic depiction of the battle, winning one thousand florins and free travel with the Austrian navy for three years.  This proved invaluable to Volanakis, as he traveled with the navy, sketching and painting the ships and harbors he saw. Many of his paintings also resemble genre scenes in content, showing children on the beach or the toil of working fishermen.  He also painted some landscapes and mythological scenes.  The Burning of a Turkish Frigate is an extremely intense and intricate piece.  Its subject is a tactic from the Greek War of Independence.  Greek revolutionaries would row a small boat laden with explosives up to the side of a large Turkish frigate.  The strategy was quite successful and contributed to the success of the Greek revolt.  In one case in 1821, the fire aboard the Mansourija was so large that it killed 600 Turkish sailors.  The painting does an excellent job depicting the extent of the blaze.  To the right of the frigate, we can see the small Greek ship still burning, leaning against the side of the Turkish ship.  Notice the detail that Volanakis included in the Turkish scramble to escape and the texture of the rising smoke.  The scene is contained within the context of a masterful seascape, where the waters churn and clouds blanket the sky. Just beyond this disaster, the sea is calm, reflecting the deep twilight blue of the sky.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Red Tower in Halle

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Red Tower in Halle, 1919
47 x 36 in.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) was a German Expressionist painter and one of the founders of the expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge).  Born in Bavaria, his family moved frequently and Kirchner attended a number of different schools in Frankfurt and Perlen.  Eventually the family settled in Chamnitz, once Kirchner's father had secured a job as a professor.  Kirchner attended the royal technical university in Dresden, where he studied architecture and engineering, as well as art.  Among Kirchner's biggest influences, especially early in his career, were Matisse and Gauguin.  The work of the two great modernists was crucial in the development of Expressionism.  In 1905, Kirchner founded Die Brücke with his friend Fritz Bleyl and two architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel.  The group intended to break away from traditional academic painting to find a new mode of expression, and a bridge between the past and present.  Kirchner worked in landscape and portraitdeveloping his own unique style. Among his most celebrated and powerful pieces is Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915).  The Red Tower in Halle demonstrates this particular style, featuring a distorted landscape and unusual perspective.  With chalky colors and monumental forms, just outside the realm of normal perception, the painting is rather disconcerting.  There is an erie or ominous sense to it; perhaps those are storm clouds rolling in in the background.  The red tower was a minor landmark in the southern city of Halle, but perhaps there was some prescience in Kirchner's piece.  The tower was destroyed by an artillery fire in 1945 when the city was occupied by American troops.  After a great deal of success, and being seen as one of the leading figures of modern art in Europe, Kirchner's work was labeled degenerate by the Nazis in 1937.  Twenty-five of his paintings were exhibited in the famed Degenerate Art Exhibition that year.  Kirchner was expelled from the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and he went to Switzerland with his partner, Erna.  He held an exhibition in Basle to mixed reviews.  Thoroughly depressed over the actions of Germany, and with fears that they would invade Switzerland after Poland, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in 1938.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thomas Cole, Sunny Morning on the Hudson River

Thomas Cole, Sunny Morning on the Hudson River, 1827
51.5 x 76 in.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was a major Anglo-American painter and the founder of the Hudson River School.  Born in England, his family emigrated to the United States in 1818, settling in Steubenville, Ohio.  Cole initially set out to be a portrait painter, having learned the rudiments of the craft from a wandering portrait painter named Stein.  However he had little success with portraits and his focus shifted to landscape.  Cole moved to Philadelphia where he practiced by copying works on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  He soon moved to New York to join his parents and sister who had moved there.  He then helped found the National Academy of Design in 1826.  Cole drew on the European landscape tradition, but adapted it to the environment and character of the United States.  He painted New England and the Hudson River Valley as one would the fields of Italy, creating a revolution in the American approach to landscape.  Cole's work was highly romantic, and often included fantastical elements or entirely imagined landscapes.  Among his most famous works are The Oxbow (1836) and his series of five paintings entitled The Course of Empire (The Savage State, The Arcadian StateThe Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation).  Sunny Morning on the Hudson River is a classic example of Cole's style.  It features a romanticized sunrise over the mountains.  One of the most interesting elements is the shapes created by the fog, clouds, and foliage.  Blowing in the wind, they all stir and sway in similar ways to give the painting a deep sense of movement. The mountain, meanwhile, is the archetype of solidity.  The river incorporates both sides of the spectrum, certain and constant, yet always flowing and moving.  Cole successfully invokes these archetypes, but subtly, to create a painting of great interest and meaning.  With his steady brushwork and command of color and light, the painting becomes very effective.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ivan Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Ivan Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1883
29.7 x 39 in.

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887) was a Russian painter and art critic.  He attended the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts from 1857-1863, however he rejected the strict rules of the academy and initiated what is known as "the revolt of fourteen," wherein a group of young students refused to paint the assigned subject of an exam painting in rebellion against the annual competition. They were expelled and founded their own group, the independent Artel of Artists.  Kramskoi's paintings directly oppose the precepts of traditional academic painting.  They often express a realism, both stylistically and emotionally, that does not adhere to the conventions.  Although he did paint some religious and mythological paintings, and a few landscapes, he is best known for his numerous and diverse portraits, including his celebrated self-portrait of 1867 and his portrait of Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia.  Portrait of an Unknown Woman is perhaps Kramskoi's most celebrated painting, and a treasure of Russian art.  When it was initially shown, some critics objected to the woman's expression which they perceived as haughty and superior, even immoral, with some going so far as to say she was a prostitute.  However its popularity has grown over time and the subject is now seen as a strong and resolute woman, whose character shines through the painting's rendering.  All of her features are carefully rendered to express both her beauty and a certain intelligence and intensity.  Meanwhile, her setting of the carriage and winter street are rendered with great texture and atmosphere.  This painting has been used as the cover for certain editions of Anna Karenina, and many have associated this woman's personality with that character's, invoking the special Russianness that they share.  Whoever this woman is, she is a compelling figure, both in the history of Russian art, and within the picture space of this painting, where we long to meet her potent gaze.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jan Thorn Prikker, The Bride

Jan Thorn Prikker, The Bride, 1893
57.5 x 34.6 in.

Jan (Johan) Thorn Prikker (1868-1932) was a Dutch painter and printmaker and a pioneer of Art Nouveau.  Prikker attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, where he became the director of the art gallery.  He moved to Germany in 1904 to help found a new school of arts and crafts.  A major part of Art Nouveau philosophy was the incorporation of decorative arts into the fine arts. Prikker's work included landscapes as well as decorative pieces such as textiles and stained glass.  Much of his work had religious themes and he had a very unusual figurative style.  The Bride is fairly abstracted; while we can certainly make out recognizable shapes (flowers, columns, etc.), there is no clear narrative, and the bride herself is difficult to discern. Instead, Prikker shows a veil, beautifully draped in this somewhat surreal setting.  In addition to elements like the style of flowers, what makes this painting so distinctly Art Nouveau is the relationship of line and color. With the thick black outline, the piece bears a resemblance to stained glass, and the pale colors also suggest a kind of translucence.  Art Nouveau was also about the integration of natural and unnatural forms, an impulse brought on by the machine age. Here, Prikker seamlessly combines flowers and vines with columns and candles to create an ambiguous space the evokes both indoor and outdoor, natural and constructed.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

William Hogarth, from The Tempest

William Hogarth, from The Tempest, c1735
31.5 x 42 in.

William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English painter, printmaker, social critic, and satirist.  Born in London, his father was a poor Latin teacher and his apprenticeship was in the engraving of trade cards. Around this time, Hogarth began immersing himself in the culture and society of London and he sketched what he saw.  Although he initially worked as an engraver, he produced his first satirical work as early as 1721.  It caricatured financial speculation and the collapse of the South Sea stock company.  Hogarth eventually became a successful painter in a variety of genres.  Perhaps his most famous work is the six-part Marriage à-la-mode (The Marriage ContractThe Tête à Tête, The Inspection, The Toilette, The Bagnio, The Lady's Death).  The series satirizes the upper class and tells the story of a disastrous marriage agreed upon for financial gain.  This painting of a scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest represents a very different style from most of Hogarth's work, painted on a commission.  The piece utilizes a lush style of brushwork and rich, vibrant colors.  While some class commentary could perhaps be read into the disparate depictions of Caliban (on the far right) and Miranda, this content is debatable and is certainly not the main focus of the work.  Instead, Hogarth merely illustrates the scene with great skill.  Ferdinand approaches on the left to court Miranda, while her father Prospero stands between them.  The spirit Ariel, meanwhile, floats above the scene playing the lute.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Herbert James Gunn, Pauline Waiting

Herbert James Gunn, Pauline Waiting, 1939
30 x 25 in.

Sir Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) was a British/Scottish painter of portraits and landscapes. Born in Glasgow, he studied at the Glasgow and Edinburgh Schools of Art, before attending the Académie Julian in Paris from 1911-1914.  He left Paris at the outbreak of World War I.  Gunn served first with the Artists' Rifles, a light infantry unit that was founded in 1859 as a regiment for artists, musicians, and actors, but by 1914 it had expanded to include many professionals and artists made up only five percent of the troops.  He received a commission to the Scottish Rifles and saw active duty in France.  After the war, Gunn's artistic career began in earnest.  He began in landscape and had initial success.  However, in 1926 Gunn decided to devote himself entirely to portraiture.  Many of his portraits depict women, often of high society, although of course he painted men as well.  In portraiture Gunn was immensely successful, eventually receiving commissions to paint both King George VI and the official coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.  Pauline was the wife of the artist, and he painted her several times.  Pauline Waiting is a beautiful portrait that captures the subject's elegance and poise.  With excellent use of crisp, clear lines, Gunn created a painting that holds the viewer's fascination.  Pauline is rendered beautifully and styled very intensely, catching the viewer's eye.  She waits calmly, though perhaps she comes across a little impatient.  This may be due to the intense effect created by her contrasting skin and lipstick, as well as her clothing, because her expression does not appear agitated. Instead she seems to be gazing at something we cannot see, which naturally intrigues the viewer. She almost feels like someone we might pass by at a coffee shop, and wonder whom she was waiting for and what she was looking at.  We are left to ponder Pauline's beautiful face with her dark, keen eyes.  She stands out, black in a bright setting, but also as a beacon of intrigue in an otherwise uninteresting setting.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Cornelis van Haarlem, Hercules and Achelous

Cornelis van Haarlem, Hercules and Achelous, 1590

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638) was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age and a leader of Northern Mannerism.  Born in Haarlem, he studied in Antwerp.  He was very influenced by Italian Mannerism and Baroque as well as Northern painters like Bartholomeus Spranger.  He became a celebrated portrait painter, but today is best known for his mythological and religious paintings.  Cornelis often created paintings with heightened drama and elaborate narrative.  Hercules and Achelous was one of his most Baroque paintings, containing rather stark chiaroscuro.  Achelous was the spirit of the Achelous River, the largest river in Greece, therefore he is the chief river deity.  An extremely ancient deity, his worship predates most of the Greek pantheon.  Achelous was sometimes considered the source of all fresh water in the world, and by extension all nourishment.  He appeared in many forms—a powerful bull, a man with the tail of a sea serpent, a snake of gleaming colors, a young or elderly man with a beard that produced a continuous stream of water.  Achelous was a suitor of the princess Deianeira, but Hercules also sought her and when they fought, Achelous was defeated by Hercules.  Cornelis shows several episodes of the story at once.  The center shows Achelous in his bull form, with Hercules, in his traditional lion-skin cloak, wrestling him to the ground, about to break off one of his horns. Hercules gave the horn to the Naiads who transformed it into the cornucopia, depicted at the far right.  The painting also shows Achelous in two other forms, for he transformed throughout the fight.  To the left, just under he bull's tail and haunches, we see Hercules facing the god in his serpent form, although it is hard to make out exactly what is happening.  These details are easier to discern in this larger (but distorted) version.  To the right, in between the large Hercules and the Naiads, we see the conclusion of the fight.  Hercules wins by brute strength, lifting and crushing Achelous, now appearing as a man, in his arms.  This painting has beautiful texturing, such as the musculature of the two central figures and the shining scales of Achelous's serpent tail.  We also see Cornelis's skill with high drama, choosing the moment just before the important breaking of the horn as his central incident.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lawren Harris, Algoma Hill

Lawren Harris, Algoma Hill, 1920

Lawren Harris (1885-1970) was a Canadian painter and a member of the Group of Seven.  Born in Ontario to a wealthy family of industrialists, Harris studied art in Berlin from 1904-1908.  He became friends with J.E.H. MacDonald and in 1911 the two founded the Group of Seven, who initiated the first major Canadian art movement.  Harris had a very distinct style, depicting simplified natural forms in bright, almost heavenly light.  Often these are winter of mountain scenes.  As his career progressed, Lawrence transitioned into abstract painting.  Many of these pieces resemble natural forms, but he also explored line and shape. Harris's late works combine his styles and present landscapes with the flow and freedom of abstraction.  Algoma Hill was painted during an excursion that the Group of Seven took to the Agloma region of Ontario to paint.  Harris produced another painting from this trip that shows a wide view of the valley.  Agloma Hill is in a rather different style than most of Harris's landscapes, with elongated lines and visible brushstrokes.  Here the purple of the hill dominates the canvas, giving the viewer a sense of sublime wonder.  The colors here are rich and effective—the purple, the red flowers, the green ground, the sky changing from yellow to blue.  Harris also goes to more trouble to show the rocky details of the hill and boulder, successfully depicting the texture of the stone.  This painting was stored in a back closet of a Toronto hospital for many years.  It was essentially forgotten until it was discovered by cleaning staff.  In 2005 it was sold at auction for $1.38 million.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Egon Schiele, Seated Woman with Bent Knee

Egon Schiele, Seated Woman with Bent Knee, 1917

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) was an Austrian Expressionist painter with a very distinctive style and aesthetic.  Schiele had a somewhat traumatic and disturbed childhood.  His father, Adolf, was a station master in the Austrian Sate Railways and young Egon became obsessed with trains.  He constantly drew them over and over and the obsession became so consuming that his father destroyed his sketchbooks.  Schiele also displayed incestuous tendencies toward his younger sister, Gerti.  Concerned with his son's behavior, Adolf broke down the children's locked door, only to discover them developing film.  When Egon was sixteen he took his twelve-year-old sister to a hotel room in Trieste without permission, but it is unknown what transpired there.  Egon's confused sexuality can be seen throughout his work, which often contains contorted figures, explicitly nude and nude self-portraits.  Schiele attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts and then became a student of Gustav Klimt, whose influence can be seen in some of his works. Although he experienced professional success, his life was also marred by a series of public struggles.  In 1912 he was arrested for seducing a girl below the age of consent.  Those charges were eventually dropped, but he was convicted of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children.  The judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle in the courtroom.  In 1914 he married a respectable girl named Edith Harms.  After avoiding conscription for over a year, Schiele did serve in World War I, first escorting Russian prisoners and then as a clerk.  He continued to paint throughout this time.  In autumn of 1918, Edith, who was six months pregnant, died of Spanish flu, and Egon died three days later.  In addition to his trademark figurative paintings, Schiele also did a number of intense landscapes.  Seated Woman with Bent Knee is an example of Schiele's trademark style, with its rough sketch-like appearance, but presents an interesting counter example to his nudes.  This piece is sexual, but not explicit, and much of the intensity is achieved through color.  The red hair and green shirt contrast with the subject's pale skin to create a thoroughly engaging tonality.  There is also a lot of depth in the woman's face, creating an extremely fascinating and effective portrait.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Joaquin Mir Trinxet, The Rock in the Pond

Joaquin Mir Trinxet, The Rock in the Pond, c1903
40.2 x 50.4 in.

Joaquin Mir Trinxet (1873-1940) was a Catalan Spanish painter, particularly known for the intense color of his landscapes.  Born in Barcelona to a high class Catalan family, Trinxet studied at the Escola d'Arts i Oficis de Barcelona.  In 1899 he traveled to Majorca with his friend Santiago Rusinol, which had a profound influence on the young Trinxet.  In Majorca, and just after returning, he painted fascinating landscapes where the distinction between form and color is blurred.  He had his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1901, and received positive reviews but the public found his work difficult to understand.  Eventually Trinxet moved on to more realistic landscapes, influenced by Impressionism.  however these works still contain the same complex interplay of form and color, where each informs the other so thoroughly that it is difficult to separate them.  The Rock in the Pond is one of Trinxet's earlier pieces, and clearly exhibits the hallmarks of that style.  The green cast of the painting informs every element, and is powerful enough to feel like a narrative element.  The rock itself, and the rocky outcroppings in the background, appear almost alive and ready to move.  The reflection of the water adds to the unsettling nature of the painting; Trinxet created a picture space where forms bleed into each other and the universe repeats.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gerard Sekoto, Under the Umbrella

Gerard Sekoto, Under the Umbrella, 1967

Gerard Sekoto (1913-1993) was a major South African painter and musician.  Sekoto was the son of a missionary, and music was a part of his life since childhood.  His affinity for visual art emerged in his teenage years, and he originally studied sculpture.  However the stylistic strictures that he was forced to adhere to were to confining and paternalistic for Sekoto, so he decided to pursue art on his own.  He spent a few years as a teacher, painting in his spare time.  He submitted his work to an art contest and was awarded second prize.  Soon after, in 1938, he moved to Johannesburg to pursue his career as an artist.  He immediately had success and held his first solo show in 1939.  In 1940 the Johannesburg Art Gallery purchased one of his paintings, which became the first painting by a black artist to hang in a major South African museum.  In 1947 he left South Africa and moved to Paris, largely due to the oppression and second-class status he had endured.  Sekoto continued to paint, but his first years in Paris were very difficult, and he also worked as a jazz pianist.  Eventually he found his footing and had success both as a painter and musician, recording several records and composing twenty-nine songs.  Much of Sekoto's work is political, or at least social commentary, and depicts the struggles of South Africans.  Many of his paintings feature bright colors and intense light, and abstracted forms that recall both traditional art and European modernism.  He also did a number of intensely evocative portraits.  Under the Umbrella has a more muted tonality than most of Sekoto's work.  Painted in Paris, it seems to simply show a day on the street.  Whether there is any racial content to this painting is difficult to discern; the two central figures—those actually seated under the umbrella—do appear to be black and are wearing the bright garments that African figures do in Sekoto's other paintings.  However, in this case that does not really affect the narrative.  The two women sit and watch while other pass by.  At first glance, this does seem to be a rainy day as the title suggests. The coloring is grey and there seems to be water on the ground reflecting the scene. But notice the patch of blue sky peeking through the trees.  This seems to be the end of a rainstorm, where the sun has begun to brighten the sky.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Daniel Garber, Lowry's Hill

Daniel Garber, Lowry's Hill, 1922
50 x 61 in.

Daniel Garber (1880-1958) was an American Impressionist painter.  Born in Indiana, Garber first studied painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, before moving to Philadelphia and studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he also taught for forty years.  Garber is known for his large landscapes, as well as his interior scenes.  Many of Garber's works contain fascinating tonality and coloration.  He frequently used a very limited palette or a particular range of colors to create successful and impactive paintings.  He also repeatedly painted his granddaughter, Tanis. In Lowry's Hill the scene is unusually abstracted; the large, snow-covered shapes of the hill dwarf the small village in the foreground, but it is a bit difficult to discern the details.  When I first saw this, I thought the snowy swaths of hillside were billowing smoke.  The treeline at the top makes the canvas look unfinished.  I think Garber created a work of startling complexity that seems to draw on Native American art.  With its muted colors, but bright sunlight and monumental forms, this simple landscape takes on an unusual character and becomes work of deep fascination.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Eileen Agar, The New Planet

Eileen Agar, The New Planet, 1963

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) was a British artist who became a member of the Surrealist movement. Agar was born in Buenos Aires to a Scottish father and an American mother.  The family moved to London in 1911.  After formal schooling, she began studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, before traveling to Paris to study further.  One of her earliest works is her 1927self-portrait, which shows the distinct influence of Post-Impressionism.  However, she soon began experimenting with Surrealism, having become friends with Surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard.  She soon exhibited with the Surrealists as a member of the group.  One of Agar's most complex works is Autobiography of an Embryo (1933-34), which combines Surrealism with folk art imagery to create a composition reminiscent of a Classical wall painting full of modern symbolism. Agar also explored Cubism, was a prolific photographer, a collagist/sculptor, and even experimented with multimedia pieces.  The New Planet is from Agar's later period, when she retained Surrealist elements, but created work full of intricate shapes with a more visceral symbolism.  In The New Planet we feel some truth in the title; the colorful and geometric sphere is certainly something new while another one seems to be coming into existence.  However, that doesn't entirely cover it.  What Agar offers is a new way to look at our own planet, thereby creating a new planet.  There is great weight and intensity to these shapes and colors.  They appear like windows onto another world beyond the green field, and beyond our own perception.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Titian, The Death of Actaeon

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, 1559-75
70.2 x 78 in.

Titian (1488/90-1576) was one of the greatest masters of the late Italian Renaisance. As the leader of the Venetian school he created works of unparalleled sensitivity and expressivity of the brush. Titian studied with Giovanni Bellini and his early works in particular show the influence of his master.  Titian quickly moved beyond the compositional conventions of Bellini's tradition, creating works of great complexity and nuance.  One of his earliest masterpieces was his Assumption of the Virgin, a complex three-tiered composition that was the largest altarpiece in Venice at the time.  Titian's mythological scenes often display great narrative dynamism.  Among his most famous paintings is Venus of Urbino (1538).  While a majority of Titian's works utilize bright, warm colors, there are select number that have a tonal darkness similar to The Death of Actaeon.  Late mythological scenes, like The Flaying of Marsyas (1570-76), and religious paintings, like Pietá (1576) which was his last painting) demonstrate this, as do some portraits, like his 1567 self-portrait.  Perhaps the painting the Death of Actaeon most resembles is actually the very early Orpheus and Eurydice.  The story of Actaeon is that he was a hunter who either saw Artemis bathing or boasted that he was a better hunter than she.  As punishment she transformed him into a stag and set his own hunting dogs on him, tearing him apart.  Titian previously did a painting showing the earlier part of the story.  One of the most interesting aspects of Death of Actaeon is the depiction of him mid-transformation; we see him half man and half stag, yet already his dogs ripping at his flesh.  The brownish green of the forest reflects the gruesomeness of the scene.  The figure of Diana/Artemis herself is powerful and dominates the painting.  She hold her bow out, metaphorically hunting Actaeon.  She is certainly the brightest part of the painting, as though her divine power emanates from her.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hubert Robert, View of Ripetta

Hubert Robert, View of Ripetta, 1766
46.9 x 57.1 in.

Hubert Robert (1733-1808) was a French academic painter.  After a brief stint learning sculpture, his teacher encouraged him to turn to painting and in 1754 he traveled to Rome to study at the French Academy there.  Robert spent eleven years there and became a bit obsessed with ruins. He depicted monuments of ancient Egypt and Greece.  He showed people living in ruins, and even imagined the Louvre in ruins.  In the same year he did a painting of the fully functional Grand Gallery of the museum.  Robert is also celebrated for his landscapes.  View of Ripetta was Robert's entry piece for membership to the French Academy; he was accepted and the painting was shown in the 1767 Salon.  The painting is, like his imaginary view of the ruined Louvre, what's known as a capriccio–an artistic fantasy of an imagined or altered landscape. In this case he did not predict the decay of the city, but placed several disparate Roman locations in the same scene.  The Port of Ripetta, in the foreground, was a port on the Tiber River used for a short time in the eighteenth century.  Dominating the right side of the canvas is the ancient Parthenon, and to the left is the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill, built in the Middle Ages and renovated by Michelangelo in the Renaissance.  In this way Robert also combined several time periods in the same painting.  Additionally Robert has made the port appear ancient and ruined, although it had only been built in 1703.  This painting show's Robert's great skill in French academicism, and the fascinating romance he saw in ruins.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sanitago Rusiñol, Ticket Seller at the Moulin de la Galette

Sanitago Rusiñol, Ticket Seller at the Moulin de la Galette, 1890

Santiago Rusiñol i Prats (1861-1931) was a Spanish painter, as well as a poet, playwright, and occasional architect.  A native of Barcelona, he was a major figure in Catalan modernism. Rusiñol began his artistic education at the Centro de Acuarelistas de Barcelona.  In 1889 he traveled to Paris to further his studies, where he lived in the artistic community at Montmartre.  He is perhaps best known for his landscape and garden paintings, but in my opinion his figure paintings are more effective.  He depicts his subjects with great intensity and compassion.  The painting I have featured is a beautiful example of Rusiñol's work in Paris.  The Moulin de la Galette is the windmill at the top of Montmartre. It has had a wide range of uses and associated businesses, but in 1890, and today, it was the home of a popular restaurant.  Rusiñol also did a painting of the kitchens there.  This painting of the ticket seller is a fascinating study in space and figure.  The setting of the walkway recedes away from her, creating an odd perspective and the sense that she is standing quite close to us.  The colors of the ticket seller's garments are present elsewhere in the painting—the black appears in the dark parts of the walls and the pink on the sign to the left.  This makes her appear like a fixture of the scene, an indelible part of the Moulin de la Galette.  She herself appears somewhat weary of her job, but engaged and resolute.  She is a figure of great visual interest, almost meeting the viewer's gaze.  She also occupies the same function she did in life—restricting access to the destination beyond her.  As viewers we cannot penetrate the space and give her our tickets to enter the windmill.  Instead we remain on the outside, this young woman our only interface with the attraction.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

El Greco, View of Toledo

El Greco, View of Toledo, 1596-1600
47.8 x 42.8 in.

Doménikos Theotokópoulos, commonly known as El Greco (1541-1614) was a major painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance.  Born in Crete, which was part of the Republic of Venice at the time but still commonly thought of as a part of Greece, he originally trained in Post-Byzantine art, of which Crete was the center.  He then traveled to Venice and Rome and trained in the Italian tradition, learning from Renaissance and Mannerist painting.  In 1577 he moved to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death, creating his best known paintings, often with a religious theme.  There he received his nickname of El Greco, where Greek painters were significantly rarer than in Italy.  However, during his life it was only ever a nickname and he signed all his works with his full name and in Greek lettering.  Simply put, El Greco was incredibly ahead of his time.  Although it is easy to trace his influences and the tradition he is working in, he injected his works with a type of emotionality and expression that was unparalleled in his day.  El Greco prefigured and/or influenced all types of modernism and expressionism that has occurred in the last century and a half of western art, from Impressionism and the landscapes of Turner and Monet, to the Picasso's Cubism, to Pollock's Abstract Expressionism.  View of Toledo is one of El Greco's most famous paintings, and one of only two landscapes that survive from him.  The intense expressivity of the sky and clouds cast a dark light over the landscape.  Even the contouring of the hills expresses the emotional tenor of the scene. We can feel the wind gusting through the trees and grasses that creates those roiling clouds, while the stone of the city stands unmoved.  Notice the stark contrast in coloring between the green-brown of the land and the grey-blue of the sky.  The painting seems to exist in both night and day at the same time, creating a sense of unease and unnaturalness; such is the extent of this weather effect that it becomes supernatural.  Here is a very large image of the painting so I encourage you to click on it to view the intense detail of the work, particularly the velvety blackness of the sky surrounding the tallest towers of the city.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Claude Monet, Le Port du Havre, effet de nuit

Claude Monet, Le Port du Havre, effet de nuit, 1867

This marks my 300th post!  I chose this early painting of Monet, whom I wrote about in one of my earliest posts (before I really had my format down).  Claude Monet (1840-1926) is of course one of the most famous painters there is.  He was a, if not the, leader of Impressionism, and works such as his many water lilies and Japanese bridge at Giverny are among the most iconic paintings in the world.  Monet had a long and diverse career, and I had a lot of difficulty choosing which painting to feature.  The sheer volume of his out put is a bit staggering.  I eventually settled on this early depiction of his hometown of Le Havre.  Le Havre is a port city in the north of France on the English Cannel, and Monet was very influenced by the shipping and industry he observed. The modern shift toward industrialism became one of the most enduring themes in Monet's work. This view of the port is a rather dark painting, with the lights popping out of the darkness. Although it predates the official start of Impressionism by several years, this piece's hazy vision of the night scene is very in keeping with Impressionist characteristics.  The shapes are not clearly defined, but made up of indistinct lines and shapes.  The colors blend together to create a scene of great intensity and mystery.  We cannot entirely see everything that is happening in the scene, just as Monet, presumably, could night see everything before him on this dark night.  Part of the reason the painting is effective is because there is so much we can't see or interpret.  We are left peering into the darkness, uncertain of how much of the action we've observed.  The ships and buildings blur together to create an impression of the scene.  In spite of the looseness of his brush, Monet's strokes were always very deliberate, for he was committed to accuracy. We can see this especially in the reflections of the ships to the left, and the difference in his brushstrokes between the water and the sky.  What Monet gives us a view of the modern Le Havre, but viewed through the hazy dark of the night, so that elements like the yellow and red lights, the waves of his brushwork, and the rich purple that pervades the scene become the focus of this seascape.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Róbert Berény, Woman Lying on a Divan

Róbert Berény, Woman Lying on a Divan, c1930
17.3 x 31.5 in.

Róbert Berény (1887-1953) was a Hungarian painter and an important avant-garde artist.  Born in Budapest, he began formally studying art at age seventeen when he studied with a local artist. He soon traveled to Paris, where he was influenced by the modern French art, particularly Cezanne and Matisse.  Upon returning to Hungary, Berény became a leader of the group known of painters as The Eight, who brought expressionism and cubism to Hungarian art. Berény worked in a number of genres, including still-lifelandscape, and portraiture, painting such notables as Béla Bartók.  Berény created stirring and effective depictions of his subjects, showing great emotional and psychological depth.  Woman Lying on a Divan is one of his most interesting works.  The painting is fascinating compositionally, featuring a mirror that reflects the open window, and a slight upturn of the perspective creates an unusual sense of space.  Meanwhile the main subject of the woman is stretched out, seemingly elongated by the extreme horizontality of the canvas.  The painting offers a certain quiet stillness; the sunlight pours in and we can sense breezes blowing past, but in this room a woman is sleeping undisturbed under the softness of Berény's brushstrokes.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots

Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, 1976

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) was an American photographer known for her black & white photographs featuring herself and other female models, often nude.  Woodman began taking pictures of herself as early as thirteen, when she was still in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Beginning in 1975, she began attending the Rhode Island School of Design and studied abroad in Rome.  Many of Woodman's photographs feature blurred figures, due to movement and long exposures, as well as distorted and obscured faces.  In Polka Dots, Woodman crouches in a dilapidated room.  Woodman appears somewhat small, only a feature of this crumbling room.  Her dress is torn, exposing her, but she holds the dress with one hand and covers her mouth with the other.  Woodman is simultaneously exposed and hidden, naked and obscured.  We repeatedly see the same dichotomy in her work.  Here her pose also suggests hiding, as though she has been caught sneaking away, but she makes eye contact with the viewer.  Over and over, we see Woodman displaying ambivalence about being seen.  This creates great tension in her work, and a voyeuristic discomfort.  We cannot tell if the subject is comfortable being looked at, so we feel uncomfortable looking.  There is a deep sadness in many of Woodman's photographs, which only becomes more pronounced with the knowledge that she killed herself at age twenty-two.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sadamasa Motonaga, Work

Sadamasa Motonaga, Work, 1962
67.75 x 90.25 in.

Sadamasa Motonaga (1922-2011) was a Japanese artist and a leader of the Japanese avant-garde movement.  Motonaga studied fine arts in Osaka and founded the Gutai Movement along with Kazuo Shiraga.  The two artists are often compared for their robust and expressive abstraction.  Motonaga was also a master of negative space, creating shapes within a discrete space, where the composition seems to constitute interaction.  Motonaga is also known for his later works, almost computerized in their cleanness of form, which he began to produce in the 1970s.  Towards the end of his life he combined the two styles.  1962's Work is a prime example of Motnoaga's flowing style, and one of his most celebrated pieces.  It contains some very evocative forms, that could perhaps suggest a neuron or a nebula, and intensely vibrant colors. There is significant motion in this piece, as though the thick paint is churning and swirling over the canvas.  We feel the intensity behind the artist's every motion, and the deliberate paint application.  This large painting can envelop the viewer, drawing them into this deep well of color and light.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

André Derain, Golden Age

André Derain, Golden Age, c1940
107.87 x 188.58 in.

André Derain (1880-1954) was a major French artist known for founding Fauvism with Henri Matisse. Derain was born just outside of Paris; in 1895 he began to study painting on his own. He studied to be an engineer, but took some painting classes during his studies at the Académie Camillo, where he met Matisse in 1898.  In 1900 Derain met Maurice de Vlaminck with whom he shared a studio.  It was eventually Matisse who convinced Derain's parents to allow him to abandon engineering to become a painter and Derain then attended the Académie Julian.  His earliest works resemble Post-Impressionism, Cezanne in particular.  In the summer of 1905, Derain and Matisse worked together in the south of France, painting the Mediterranean scenes. The intensely bright colors of their work caused a critic to derisively dub them "Les Fauves" (wild beasts) and the name stuck.  Fauvism hit its stride in the following years, with Derain's time in London proving quite productive.  After World War I Derain began to take a somewhat traditionalist, imbuing classical styles with modern aesthetics.  One of his most famous paintings is Harlequin and Pierrot (1924) from this period.  Golden Age is a very interesting painting, tending toward Primitivism.  With the dark colors and shading, Derain created a very moody atmosphere. As the name Primitivism suggests, Derain was inspired by folk art, with the animals resembling traditional depictions.  Such darkness was not uncommon in Derain's later works, which stand in sharp contrast to his Fauvist period.  Whether because of the tragedy of witnessing two world wars, or simply a shift in viewpoint, Derain no longer saw the world in such heightened color, instead seeing the beauty in the brown and black places that seem to be so present in our world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Madeleine Lamiere, Woman Sitting in a Dagobert Armchair

Madeleine Lamiere, Woman Sitting in a Dagobert Armchair

Madeleine Jeanne Lemaire (1845-1928) was a French painter and printmaker, as well as in important figure in Parisian cultural development, hosting gatherings of artists and introducing Marcel Proust to the intellectual Salon scene.  Her earliest work shows a strong vein of French academicism, but she soon began developing her own style.  By introducing fashion into her work, Lemaire portrayed Modernity in its purest form and stood out from her peers.  She painted complex views of modern society, as well as the complex feelings of society women.  Lemaire continued to work throughout her life and produced fascinating work with intense emotionality. The featured painting is no exception.  Although the backdrop and chair are quite skillfully rendered, the star of the painting is undoubtedly the woman herself.  She sits casually in a very modern garment and headpiece.  She is very much the modern woman of the early twentieth century, with an early flapper vibe.  However, she seems ambivalent.  The woman seems pleased to be sitting in an expensive dress and sitting in an ornate chair, but perhaps unsure if she belongs there.  She also looks a bit small in that large chair and against that vast backdrop. Nevertheless, she gazes resolutely at the artist and viewer, asserting her place.  Notice the model's smooth face and the lines created by her arms and legs, creating subtle yet engaging shapes.  This beautiful painting leads us to question the feelings of the subject, successfully portraying the nuance of her thoughts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Nancy Graves, Areol

Nancy Graves, Areol, 1978
64 x 88 in.

Nancy Graves (1939-1995) was an American sculptor, painter, and printmaker.  Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, her father was an accountant at the Berkshire Museum of Art and he fostered her interest in art, nature, and anthropology.  Graves attended Vassar College where she studied literature, then studied art at Yale.  After graduating she received a Fulbright Scholarship to study painting in Paris.  She also traveled extensively during this time, particularly spending time in Florence.  Her first piece to make an impression on the New York art scene was her realistic sculpture of Camels (1968) that seemed to belong in a natural history museum, as much as an art museum.  In 1969 Graves became the first woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum. Her next series involved sculpting and arranging camel bones of both modern and Pleistocene specimens.  Graves began doing significant work in painting in the mid seventies, creating abstract and highly colorful pieces.  She also made a significant number of aerial landscapes, often based on maps of the moon.  Areol is one such piece, the title being a pun on aerial and areola (which can also refer to any small circular area) after the purple section.  This painting struck me because of the intense balance of haphazard energy and tight control.  The swirling lines and colors appear chaotic but are arranged quite orderly.  The sparing use of color speaks to this control, because Graves used only the exact amount of color she needed, leaving significant portions of the canvas uncovered.  Throughout the 1980s she continued to explore new types of work, using unusual materials in her sculpture and furthering the bounds of her art. Graves made her final works in April of 1995 at the Walla Walla Foundry.  The next month she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she died that October.  Since her death, a number of major exhibitions and retrospectives have been held for her, and she continues to be one of the most interesting and respected artists of recent decades.