Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Thank you and Goodnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Georges Seurat, Parade du Cirque

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, A Walk in the Woods

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

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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Rembrandt, Belshazzar's Feast

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

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Corinne Michelle West, The WIz

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Harald Engman, Nyboder with figures, evening

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

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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Laestrygonians, A House on the Esquiline Hill

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

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Francis Picabia, La Source (The Spring)

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

Karel Appel, Untitled

Karel Appel, Untitled, 1977

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

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

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

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

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain, 1930s

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