Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday ramblings

Last night, PBS broadcast a documentary on Hans Litten. I had never heard of him and thought I had reached the end of my interest in the Nazis and their barbaric regime. But I was mesmerized and moved to tears.

Thoughts are free:

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They flee by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!

Hans Achim Litten (June 19, 1903 – February 5, 1938) was a German lawyer who represented opponents of the Nazis at important political trials between 1929 and 1932, defending the rights of workers during the Weimar Republic

Trailers for "Mr. Turner." from the always insightful blog "Lines and Colors" with links to more reviews:

Photographs, fakes and the demise of the educated eye from:

Fifty Shades
"In a world where pop superstars perform in flashy costumes, stiletto heels, and headset mikes, with giant screens broadcasting their every move......he emergence of a countertype was all but inevitable...."

All Art Friday - every piece a gem:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

'Mr Turner,' a triumph for director Mike Leigh and actor Timothy Spall

 If you like biographical movies about artists to be "inspiring" and your vision of the late 18th/early 19th century decorous and mannered, Mike Leigh's film on J. M. W. Turner is not the movie for you. Turner was not a gentleman but he was a genius, possibly the greatest landscape painter than England has produced. 

 Some have found the film boring. With all due respect, I would suggest that their attention span and ability to follow a quiet movie has been destroyed by too many blockbusters with ear splitting music and enormous special effects. Most of the film consists of Turner doing what artists do - walking, watching, sketching, thinking, working. It's the real drama of a working artist, not the artificial drama of Hollywood.

 The son of a barber and a mother who was put away as a "lunatic," Turner didn't smooth down his rough edges and Leigh does not flinch from portraying the human damage his selfish, art-obsessed behavior created. Timothy Spall embodies the great early-19th-century seascape painter J.M.W. Turner as he was described by his first biographer, G. R Leslie, " "short and stout and with a sturdy, sailor-like appearance. There was nothing elegant in his appearance." He was (and is portrayed as) businesslike in his dealings with clients and a tireless worker. He produced over 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 paper works

 The film opens with a long shot of the Dutch landscape, cuts to two women walking along a canal and over to Turner, sketching. The film follows him into the busy world of London where he lives with his elderly father (Paul Jesson) and a bashful housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson). Then he's off to Margate or one of the homes of an aristocratic patron or the Royal Academy where he's full of amiable cheer with some of his fellow artists combined with arrogant contempt for some of them. In one scene Turner snubs the artist Constable, who working next to him on a canvas involving much red. Turner ridicules him in a well-documented incident by adding a bright red buoy to the landscape, a blob of carmine carelessly stuck on the canvas with his thumb and worked in by hand.

 Leigh does not flinch in portraying Turner's relationships with women - as cruel and casual as any in that era.  His poor housekeeper, mutely adoring, becomes more and more consumed with eczema and loneliness.  Yet, he never kicked her out, even though she was so eaten up with eczema that she had to wear a veil and was a terrible house keeper to boot. From a biography on him, I found out that he left her several drawings and 600 pounds in his will, a very significant sum for the time.

Ruth Sheen portrays his estranged mistress as angry and self-righteous, trying to get more money from Turner and recognition that her two daughters are his; Turner always denied that they were. On his visits to Margate, where he lives in domestic bliss with Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey), a kindhearted widow, he sheds his identity altogether, adopting his lady friend’s last name. The tenderness he shows her is missing from most of his relations with women, with the exception of Mary Somerville (Leslie Manville), a Scottish scientist who shares his interest in the properties of light. Ruskin, the critic who championed Turner is portrayed in a derogatory mocking way as a self-righteous cockscomb and Turner's fellow artists range from supportive to completely dismissive.

 Leigh captures the changing world of England, from rural to urban, from wind to steam, from insular to increasing global. His patron in the beginning is the 18th century aristocrat, played by Paddy Godfrey. The man who offered to buy the lot (Peter Wight) represents the new world of industrial capital. There are multiple cameos in the movie - from Oscar Wilde chortling at a painting to Queen Victoria muttering her dislike of Turner's work to Prince Albert to the numerous merchants, sailors and people on the street, a world that's richly imagined beyond what usually passes for realism in a movie. "Mr. Turner' is a triumph for Mike Leigh and for Timothy Spall.

 There is no glorious epiphany at the end of the movie, no wrapping up of a complex figure with poetic finesse. Turner's work was about the light and it's light, that cinematographer Dick Pope gives you, composing each landscape like a Turner painting - from the film's opening shot of Dutch windmills to seascapes, moors, and majestic mountains.

 For those who surrender themselves to the pace of the movie, it is as if you are walking along side Turner, a man who gave himself to his art completely in a world that was outwardly cruder than ours. What is that Buddhist saying about the journey being more important than the goal?  Go on the journey with Turner which Leigh and Spall have made possible, the dark side as well as the light.

Monday, January 12, 2015

John Singer Sargent, born today in 1856.

There is no way I could pass up celebrating today's birthday boy. Although John Singer Sargent (Jan 12, 1956 - April 14, 1925)  was known during his life time for his portraits of the Edwardian elite, it's his watercolors that continue to dazzle.

During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings.

His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.

In 1907, at the age of fifty-one, Sargent announced his retirement from the kind of society portraiture that, with the help of some judicious investments, had made him so prosperous. By then, he had already begun painting watercolors outside of the studio, en plein air.

At first, Carbone (his first biographer) explained, he painted the watercolors for himself. “In his studio, apparently, he had stacks and stacks of them, just in piles. People describe parts of his house with stairways lined with framed watercolors. He would give them as presents—there’s this joke that people would get engaged just so they could get a Sargent watercolor.” (“These sketches keep up my morale,” he told a friend, “and I never sell them.”)

Eventually, though, he grew serious about exhibiting and selling them, and came to see the watercolors as a body of work in their own right. He realized that their beauty was most visible when they were seen together, and he sold them in two large groups, one to the Brooklyn Museum, in 1909, and another to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, in 1912. By that time, it was clear that the watercolors were serious art. “One of the things we wanted to do with the show,” Carbone said, “is correct the sense of these works as being his ‘vacation’ occupation. They were really an extension of his most serious aesthetic concerns.”

Sargent was fascinated by light and by the ways he could reproduce the magic of its effects. A friend who travelled to Morocco with Sargent wrote: “He goes into raptures over the effect of translucency which is given to the white walls of the houses and mosques by certain lights, and also the unusual effect caused by the fact that the outlines of the buildings against the sky are lighter than the sky itself.”

Link to Boston exhibit:

There are several Sargent watercolors and drawings at the Houghton Hall exhibit, currently at the Legion. The show closes on January 18.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Parmigianino - born today in 1503

 "The Holy Family"

January 11, 1503. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (also known as Francesco Mazzola or, more commonly, as Parmigianino ("the little one from Parma") or Parmigiano; 11 January 1503 - 24 August 1540) was an Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma.

His work is characterized by elongation of form and includes Vision of Saint Jerome (1527) and the Madonna with the Long Neck (1534). In the image. "The "Holy Family" 16th painting depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus attributed to the Parmigianino, one of ten masterpieces recovered by the art squad of the Carabinieri paramilitary police, is shown during a press conference in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. The paintings were stolen in 2004 from an ancient religious complex in Rome official said, and were located last December. The works were wrapped in newspapers and hidden in the trailer of a suspected art smuggler.

Last year, the Legion had (on loan from the Frick) a very pretty piece of painting. Called "Schiava Turca," although the lady in question was neither a slave or Turkish, it gave us a chance to see one of Parmigianino's paintings first hand.

"I think she's really beguiling," says Melissa Buron, the Legion of Honor's associate curator of European art. "The sense of personality you get from this portrait - she's a living, breathing flesh-and-blood person, with a lot of twinkle in her eye. You can speculate for yourself: Would you want to have tea with her? Or is she an idealized conception?"