Friday, July 31, 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paul Jenkins, The Archer

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

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'Ambre Gris

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Matthew Smith, Yorkshire Landscape

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah

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

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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fernand Léger, Branches (Logs)

Fernand Léger, Branches (Logs), 1955

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Jackson

Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Jackson, 1867

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Good Shepherd

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Roderic O'Conor, Bog Scene

Roderic O'Conor, Bog Scene

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Maurycy Gottlieb, Cairo Slave Market

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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Abraham Manievich, A Town Through the Branches

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

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Balthus, Thérèse

Balthus, Thérèse, 1938
39.5 x 32 in.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

William Etty, The Crochet Worker

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

John Henry Twachtman, Wild Cherry Tree

John Henry Twachtman, Wild Cherry Tree, c1901

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Max Ernst, The Cardinals Are Dying

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cuno Amiet, Moonlit Landscape

Cuno Amiet, Moonlit Landscape, 1904

Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) was a Swiss painter, illustrator, and sculptor, and an important figure in the development of modern art in Switzerland.  Born in Solothurn in Northern Switzerland, Amiet attended the Academy of Fine Arts Munich and the Académie Julian in Paris.  Amiet wanted to move beyond academic painting and joined the Pont-Aven School, which included artists like Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.  In 1893 he returned to Switzerland and set up his own studio; his first exhibition in Basel was well received.  Amiet was entirely devoted to the pure color of a painting to express its tone, the primary innovation that he brought to Swiss modern art.  Amiet produced more than 4,000 paintings, over 1,000 of which are self-portraits.  Although he had a long and diverse career, the primacy of color as an emotive force remains constant.  Whether in landscape, or portrait, or something in between, it is clear that Amiet saw the world through the rich power of its many colors.  In Moonlit Landscape, the color seems to explode out of the ground, with the purplish-blue ground radiating into the sky.  the use of these many round shapes (clouds perhaps) populating the sky gives the painting a supernatural feel.  At the very top of the painting, the blue is interrupted by the moon itself, a small yellowish orb.  We have all seen nights like this, where the eerie indigo light seems to spread across everything we see.  Amiet captured this feeling and portrayed such an indigo night with great depth and insight.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Giorgio de Chirico, The Evil Genius of a King

Giorgio de Chirico, The Evil Genius of a King, 1914
24 x 19.75 in.

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was a major Italian artist.  Born in Greece to a Genovese mother and Sicilian father, de Chirico studied art in Athens and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he also read the works of major German philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.  De Chirico returned to Italy in 1909, first spending time in Milan where he developed his signature style, which he would later call Metaphysical Art, with the piece Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon.  The movement blends Classical architecture with dream-like metaphysical elements, usually highly geometric.  The movement naturally had a profound influence on Surrealism.  While de Chirico explored other styles throughout his career, it is these metaphysical pieces for which he is best remembered.  The Evil Genius of a King (Le mauvais génie d'un roi) is a prime example of the style, with its prominent use of architecture, geometric objects strewn across the surface, and the intense use of sunlight.  The painting challenges our perceptions of space and distorted relationships.  The plane is so tilted as to make the scene physically impossible, but the sphere stays put and does not roll down the ramp.  The painting is poised in an untenable point in space and time—precarious, yet eternally fixed for our viewing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kazimir Malevich, The Knifegrinder

Kazimir Malevich, The Knifegrinder, 1912

Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) was a Polish-Russian painter and a major figure in the development of abstract art.  Born Kazimierz Malewicz to a Polish family living in Kiev.  His parents fled to Kiev in the aftermath of the failed January Uprising of 1863 of the Poles against the tsarist army. After learning a lot from decorative art like embroidery and wall decoration, Malevich moved to Moscow in 1904 to study at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.  He became a member of the avant-garde movements in Moscow and St. Petersburg, becoming friends with artists like Vladimir Tatlin and Marc Chagall and exhibiting with artists' groups and collectives.  Malevich's earliest work which was quite varied, with folk-inspired landscapes and patterns.  He soon moved into Futurism and Cubism, often combining the styles. In 1915 Malevich founded Suprematism, with his manifesto From Cubism to Suprematism.  The styles employs geometric forms with a varied or limited range of colors, to emphasize pure feeling over the depiction of objects.  Malevich gained international acclaim, as well as a place teaching in the Post-Revolution Soviet regime.  However, he sensed the tide turning against modern art after Lenin's death and Trotsky's fall from power.  When he traveled to Warsaw, Berlin, and Munich to exhibit, he arranged to have most of his paintings left behind, for fear they would not be safe in Moscow.  When he returned, he was proved right when the Stalinist regime turned against modern "bourgeois" art, especially abstraction.  Malevich was banned from creating or exhibiting such art. He continued to paint in his later years, still producing works of great interestbeauty, and social consciousness, but without his signature style.  The Knifegrinder is one of Malevich's great Cubo-Futurist masterpieces.  The painting successfully combines the two genres, bearing the color and fragmentation of Futurism and the abstracted geometry of Cubism.  We can discern the subject of the painting, the titular knifegrinder hunched over his work, but the distortion is extreme so that we must peer into the scene.  The entire scene looks refracted, as though viewed through some kind of filter.  The radial impression of the painting is enhanced by the spinning sharpening wheel at the center of the composition.  Some of these basic features are typical to Futurism, but Malevich's skill in brining them to life and giving the piece movement is remarkable.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

David Brett, Sushi

David Brett, Sushi, 2015

Here's another photograph of my own, taken last month.  I hope you like it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Jan Fyt, Bird Concert

Jan Fyt, Bird Concert, 1658
53 x 73 in.

Jan Fyt (1611-1661) was a Flemish Baroque painter and etcher known for his many and varied depictions of animals.  Born in Antwerp, he was apprenticed at age ten to a restorer of pantings. Next he trained with Frans Snyders, a celebrated painter of animals and still-lifes, and entered the Guild of St. Luke at age twenty.  In 1633 he traveled to Paris and then Italy the following year, stopping in Venice for some time to work.  During his life, Fyt was perhaps most celebrated for his paintings of hunts and hunting trophies [note: somewhat graphic image].  He rarely included figures in his paintings, as he had little facility with them, and when they were included in a scene, he often entrusted them to the cooperation of another painter.  I find Bird Concert to be a rather unusual painting.  Now hanging in the Rockox House in Antwerp, the piece has an odd quiet power to it.  The gathering of these different species of birds seems deliberate somehow on their part, as though they all planned to meet her to confer with one another.  Among the birds depicted are a peacock, a Brazilian parrot, a rooster, two herons, an unidentified game bird, and a jay apparently reading a book.  The noise of this imagined scene must be overwhelming.  Many of the birds, namely the herons, rooster, and peacock, are all squawking, crowing, or screeching. The birds have been somewhat anthropomorphized, which partly accounts for the deliberate impression of their congress.  The background is also interesting and a bit ominous, clouds swirling over an obscured landscape.  The rendering of the birds themselves is quite skillful, evident in their feathers and musculature; the peacock's plumage is, or course, particularly virtuosic.  I can't quite say why I find this painting so compelling, but I want to gaze at it to learn what has brought all these birds here on this evening, in this strange place and under this arresting sky.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rick Bartow, Coyote Going

Rick Bartow, Coyote Going, 2002

Rick Bartow (b.1946) is a Native American artist of Wiyot and Yurok heritage.  Born in Newport, Oregon, he displayed a love of art from an early age.  He attended Western Oregon University, graduating in 1969 with a degree in art education.  Bartow was then drafted and served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971, where he received a bronze star.  His Native American heritage and the trauma of his tour in Vietnam inform his art and intertwine throughout his work, which hang in museums all over the world.  Perhaps his most celebrated piece is Cedar Mill Pole (1997), which has been displayed at the White House, among other places, and is one of the most highly regarded pieces of Native American public art in the country.  Bartow's paintings are complex expressions of pain and heritage.  Often using chaotic splashes of paint to create his images, they often depict animals, especially birds and dogs or coyotes.  Many of his works explore the relationship between animals and humans by pushing them together into one body or picture space.  This is the case in Coyote Going, where it becomes difficult to see where the coyote ends and the man begins.  Their bodies fuse to become one figure.  Bartow often leaves part of the painting white, which causes us to reflect on the nature of space, and the color looks like something out of a dream, seeping across the piece.  In this case, the blue color serves as a background, while the yellows, pinks, and greens form the bodies.  It is worth noting that the faces of the coyote and the man are both painted an opaque black, obfuscating their identities and individuality.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Zao Wou-Ki, 4-4-85

Zao Wou-Ki, 4-4-85, 1985

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) was a Chinese-French painter.  Born in Beijing, he began studying calligraphy when he was a boy.  From 1935-1941 he studied at the China Academy of Art.  In 1948 he moved to Paris with his wife, Lan-lan, a composer, living in Montparnasse.  Zao held his first French exhibitions shortly thereafter, which were met with praise from Joan Miró and Picasso. Zao's earliest works were figurative, resembling traditional art from various cultures. His style developed throughout the fifties, exploring different types of abstraction.  He soon began using pure abstraction, abandoning figuration altogether, except for the subtle suggestion of natural forms.  Zao often worked in diptychs or triptychs, and his work can resemble a howling tree or a billowing nebula.  An extremely intense use of color became the visual focus of Zao's work.   He also mostly abandoned titles, simply using the date of creation as the title of the work. 4-4-85 is one such piece.  Here the colors splash and crash together, suggesting lava or colliding forces or cells.  The colors are carefully chosen to create the right balance of shape and color, and the continually engage the viewer.  The composition does the same job, leaving the balance of the painting in question, with the large mass on the right much heavier than the stream on the left.  But the painting leads the eye to the center of that stream of color, so it is able to hold up next to the larger splash.  Zao's work is visceral, the colorful abstraction creating and immediate response from the viewer.  The luminous colors and sense of expansive motion make the paintings effective and powerful.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Léon Spilliaert, Marine Dorée

Léon Spilliaert, Marine Dorée, 1921

Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) was a Belgian painter and graphic artist.  Generally considered a symbolist, his work also tends toward Surrealism, Expressionism, and occasionally Cubism.  Born in Ostend, Spilliaert was the oldest of seven children.  He displayed an aptitude for art at an early age, constantly drawing and doodling.  He was mostly self-taught and an auto-didact.  His first job was in Brussels, illustrating the works of Symbolist writers for a small publishing company.  His earliest works already express Spilliaert's signature style, with strong lines, exaggerated forms, and expressive use of black.  Nevertheless, his oeuvre demonstrates considerable variety. Spilliaert applied his unique aesthetic to portraits (including multiple varied self-portraits), landscapeseascape, and many works that defy such classification.  His two most famous pieces are Clair de Lunes et Lumières (Moonlight and Light, 1909) and Digue la Nuit (Dyke at Night, 1913).  Marine Dorée is much more colorful than most of Spilliaert's paintings–bright and golden, with rich and intense colors.  This is a powerful sunset that colors the whole world orange. The colors swirl throughout the canvas like the waters and winds they represent.  In this painting, it is difficult to see exactly where land ends and water begins, they are so intertwined.  The people appear to be standing on the beach or in the shallows, at the border of the two spaces.  Clouds and waves form and reform as golden light flows through the scene.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Willard Metcalf, On the Suffolk Coast

Willard Metcalf, On the Suffolk Coast, 1885
10.6 x 18 in.

Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) was an American painter born in Lowell, Massachusetts.  He began painting in 1874, and when he was eighteen in 1876, he opened a studio in Boston.  Metcalf began studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, holding his first solo exhibition in 1882. Sales from the exhibition financed travel to Europe, fist going to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian.  He also spent time in England.  By 1886 Metcalf was painting at Giverny, where he was apparently the first American painter to visit.  The paintings of this period show a strong Impressionist and Barbizon influence.  Metcalf returned to the United States in 1888, living first in Philadelphia and then in New York.  He became an important member of the American society of artists known as The Ten, founded by his close friend, Childe Hassam.  Most of Metcalf's mature work consists of New England landscapes, rendered with extreme accuracy. His domestic interiors and portraits (including an 1890 self-portrait) are also well regarded.  This view of the Suffolk coast and Metcalf's other painting of the same name, were both painted of the coast of Suffolk, England (despite his growing up so near Suffolk COunty, Massachusetts). Metcalf demonstrates great skill in his handling of the water.  The sea reflects color in a realistic way and the texture and motion of the waves is successfully conveyed.  We can almost sense the volume of the waves and feel the up and down movement of the boat on the surf.  Mewnshile the sky is painted with a luminous sunset that shines on the boat and fisherman in the blue-pink water.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Frank Bowling, Spreadout Ron Kitaj

Frank Bowling, Spreadout Ron Kitaj, 1984-86
90 x 112.75 in.

Frank Bowling (b. 1936) is a British artist who is a major figure in post-war British art.  Born in Guyana, his father was a police administrator and his mother was a seamstress.  At age fifteen, he moved to England to live with an uncle and finish his education.  After serving in the Royal Air Force, Bowling attended the Chelsea School of Art before being awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where his fellow students included major artists like David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj, with whom Bowling was particularly close.  Upon graduation, Hockney was given the gold medal, and Bowling the silver.  (Bowling was actually set to take the gold, but a controversial marriage to Royal College Registrar Paddy Kitchen damaged his reputation and pushed him to silver.)  Bowling started in figurative painting, before embarking on his well known map paintings, some of which incorporate elements of  abstraction.  In one member of the series, he mocks celebrated Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman with 1968's Who's Afraid of Barney Newman. Bowling moved on to pure abstraction, creating great explorations of shape and color.  Bowling's continues to examine these issues in his most recent works.  Spreadout Ron Kitaj uses mixed media, including oil paints, beeswax, chalk, glitter, acryllic foam, shredded packing materials, oyster shells, broken plastic toys, and metallic pigments (nickel, silver, gold, and pearlessence). Bowling was inspired by a Caribbean song he heard on the radio, after receiving a lengthy and kind letter from Kitaj, with whom Bowling had fallen out of touch.  The ecstatic color and thick texture of the painting, along with its large size create an impressive and effective piece.  Bowling believed in the expressivity of paint alone, without the need for figuration.  This painting is an example of the great power and intensity that Bowling expresses in his work over the course of his long career.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York, 1932

Berenice Abbott (1898-1911) was an American photographer known for her black and white photography of New York City.  Born in Ohio and raised by a single mother, she attended Ohio State University but left early to move to Greenwich Village in 1918.  She became a part of a group of intellectuals, that included Czech anarchist Hippolyte Havel (who "adopted" Abbott), philosopher Kenneth Burke, writer Djuna Barnes (with whom she shared an apartment), and political activist Emma Goldman.  Abbott initially intended to become a journalist but became interested in theater and sculpture.  In 1919 she almost died in the flu epidemic.  Abbott traveled to Europe in 1921 to study sculpture in Paris and Berlin.  While there, she adopted the French spelling of her name (Bernice became Berenice) at Barnes's suggestion.  She became interested in photography in 1923 when she was hired to be a darkroom assistant by Man Ray.  Abbott took to photography immediately and Man Ray was quite impressed with her skill, allowing her to use his darkroom.  She had immediate success and began photographing major literary and artistic figures, including Jean Cocteau and the canonical portrait of James Joyce (as well as a few others of the author).  Abbott returned to New York in 1929, intending to only visit, but immediately saw the photographic potential around her.  She spent most of the rest of her life there engaged with the city streets and architecture.  Abbott produced dozens of amazing photographs of New York, showing all aspects of the city.  Her 1938 photograph of the Flatiron Building is particularly famous and her 1936 view of the Manhattan Bridge shows the intimacy she brought to her subjects.  Nightview, New York is a stunning view of Manhattan, which shows the luminous city (literally and figuratively) to full effect.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jasper Johns, Three Flags

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958
30.875 x 45.5 in.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Laura Knight, Self-Portrait with Model

Laura Knight, Self-Portrait with Model, 1913

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was a major English artist who was one of the most successful and popular painters in Britain during her lifetime.  In 1936 she became the first woman to join the Royal Academy since founding members Angelica Kauffman (died 1807) and Mary Moser (died 1819).  Born in Derbyshire, Laura Johnson was the youngest of three daughters.  Her father died when she was a baby and the family struggled financially thereafter.  In 1889 she was sent to Paris to study art at an atelier, but she did not stay long.  Fortunately, Laura's mother, Charlotte, taught at the Nottingham School of Art and managed to secure her daughter a place when she was just thirteen.  After only two years, Laura was ready to take over her mother's teaching duties when she became ill.  At school she met Harold Knight, who was a very promising student, and decided the best way to progress was to copy his work.  The two became friends and married in 1903.  Some of Knight's earlier works reflect her own upbringing.  She soon became known for her landscapes and exteriors, as well as powerful and complex portraits.  Soon Knight was painting portraits of prominent entertainers like pianist Ethel Bartlett and wrestler/strongwoman Joan Rhodes.  She then became an important chronicler of World War II, depicting the women hard at work at home, as well as the Nuremberg Trials.  Self-Portrait with Model is one of Knight's most famous pieces.  Often referred to as simply "Self-Portrait" or "The Model", the painting is largely political in its subject matter.  At the time, women were not allowed to paint from live models in most British art schools, restricting them to casts or prior drawings. The painting is a clear challenge of the policy, as well as a deliberate provocation, with Knight demonstrating her own power.  The painting is also notable for its fascinating spatial relations; with the use of mirrors, Knight painted the scene to show both herself and the model (fellow artist Ella Naper) from the view of someone entering the room from behind.  It is also interesting to compare the model with the representation the Knight included, and note also the brush in her hand.  The work was initially well received, but the Royal Academy (unsurprisingly) refused to hang it, and soon negative critical reaction followed, even being called vulgar.  However, Knight remained proud of the painting and exhibited it throughout her career.