Friday, June 22, 2018

Henry Ossawa Tanner. June 21, `1859 - May 1937

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893. Accepted in the Paris Salon of 1894

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21,1859, the son of an African American minister in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church and a mother who was a former slave. He became the most significant African-American painter of the 19th century and the first to achieve international recognition. 

His mother, Sarah, had escaped the south via the underground railway and settled in Pittsburg where she eventually married Benjamin Tucker, Henry Ossawa Tucker's father. Although the family moved several times during Henry's childhood, in 1864 they settled in Philadelphia where Henry developed his interest in art. His parents were not happy about his desire to become a painter and tried to get him to work in a mill but Henry was too frail and became ill.

During his recuperation, Henry lived at home and at the age of 21, his parents allowed him to enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. When he was a student there, he came to the attention of Thomas Eakins who encouraged his talent and was a great influence on his early styleTanner moved to Atlanta in 1889 in an unsuccessful attempt to support himself as an artist and instructor among prosperous middle class African-Americans. Bishop and Mrs. Joseph C. Hartzell arranged for Tanner's first solo exhibition, the proceeds from which enabled the struggling artist to move to Paris in 1891. Illness brought him back to the United States in 1893, and it was at this point in his career that Tanner turned his attention to genre subjects of his own race. -   From Rings: Five Passions in World Art, by J. Carter Brown

Spinning By Firelight, 1894
In his autobiography The Story of an Artist's Life, Tanner describes the burden of racism: "I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, although in a place where I had every right to be, even months afterwards caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself."

Instead of the comic stereotypes of the African American, Tanner sought to imbue their lives of struggle with dignity and integrity: Henry Ossawa Tanner, who sought to represent black subjects with dignity, wrote: "Many of the artists who have represented Negro life have seen only the comic, the ludicrous side of it, and have lacked sympathy with and appreciation for the warm big heart that dwells within such a rough exterior." The banjo had become a symbol of derision, and caricatures of insipid, smiling African-Americans strumming the instrument were a cliche. In The Banjo Lesson, Tanner tackles this stereotype head on, portraying a man teaching his young protege to play the instrument - the large body of the older man lovingly envelops the boy as he patiently instructs him. If popular nineteenth-century imagery of the African-American male had divested him of authority and leadership, then Tanner in The Banjo Lesson recreated him in the role of father, mentor, and sage. The Banjo Lesson is about sharing knowledge and passing on wisdom."  From Rings: Five Passions in World Art, by J. Carter Brown

Daniel in the Lion's Den
Raising of Lazarus
In 1897, Tanner's "Raising of Lazarus" so impressed Rodman Wanamaker, a Philadelphia merchant living in Paris, that he financed the first of Tanner's several trips to the Holy Land. Encouraged by his new found acclaim, Tanner returned to the US but the racial prejudice convinced him that he would not remain and continue painting. In 1899 he married a Caucasian opera singer working in Paris and his knowledge of the racism and Jim Crow laws convinced Tanner to settle permanently in Paris. 

During his life in France, he moved away from genre painting dealing with African-American topics and instead, painted religious works, influenced by his trips to the Middle East and his own religious faith. Although he never lived in American again, he was a symbol of hope to generations of African-American artists including the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, all of whom struggled against the racism and bigotry in the United States. Although his traditional style was rejected by later generations of African-American artists. According to Alan Locke, an African-American scholar, Tanner never developed a school of Negro art."(Locke, 1933). But that was not Tanner's goal and he should not be judged by such a narrow ideology. When placed among his peers, other painters of the 19th century, he is as skillful a painter as any. During the final years of his career, he received international acclaim, numerous medals and was awarded the distinction of the title of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. 

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water. c. 1907. Des Moines Art Center.

SF Art Picks for the weekend of June 23-24- from the SF Chronicle

“René Magritte: The Fifth Season”: A well-chosen, carefully researched, beautifully designed reconsideration of a beloved artist whose enigmatic works taught us, as beginners, to look more deeply. Through Oct. 28. $27-$35; ages 18 and younger free. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. 415-357-4000.

Taravat Talepasand: “Yeki Bood, Yeki Nabood, Once Was, Once Wasn’t”: “Westoxicated” is the title of a photorealistic self-portrait that commands this small gallery in the Minnesota Street Project. It is a key to the artist’s embrace of pleasure as a metaphor for self-determination. Through June 30. Free. Jack Fischer Gallery, 1275 Minnesota St., S.F. 415-522-1178.

Louise Bourgeois Spiders”: The French American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) left behind a remarkably diverse body of significant work, but none of it was more popular with the public than her extended series of sculptures and drawings of spiders. She spoke of those works as “an ode to my mother” and implied that she meant that in the nicest way. Through Sept. 4. $19-$25; ages 18 and younger free. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. 415-357-4000.

“Ragnar Kjartansson: Scenes From Western Culture”: Those who wandered, mesmerized, through Ragnar Kjartansson’s nine-screen video installation “The Visitors at SFMOMA last year will want more from this quite different 2015 effort than it delivers. But if not every work by an artist can be a masterpiece, this strong follow-up is rewarding on its own terms. Through Sept. 1. Free. McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, 1150 25th St., Building B, S.F. 415-580-7605.

Judy Dater: Only Human”: Since the early 1970s, certain pictures by Judy Dater have retained an unshakable status in the evolving history of photography. If never quite taken for granted, the greatest of these works — mostly portraits, generally of women — seem to have always been a part of the contemporary American image lexicon. The Bay Area artist’s first survey in two decades makes the pictures exhilaratingly new again. (There is also a smaller, free exhibition of Dater’s works on view at Modernism Gallery. 415-541-0461; Through Sept. 16. $6-$15, under 18 free. De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F. 415-750-3600.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kurt Schwitters. Born on June 20, 1887. Multitalented and multidisciplinary German artist.

June 20, 1887. Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters (20 June 1887 - 8 January 1948) was a German artist who was born in Hanover, Germany. Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including dadaism, constructivism, surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures. 

 "I am a painter and I nail my pictures together,” Kurt Schwitters said to fellow artist Tristan Tzara in 1919. Throughout the 20's, the work flowed forth. He made no distinctions between his art (painting, collage, sculpture, design, installation), his writing (poetry, essays, children’s stories) and his performances. He met everybody who was anybody in that wild, creative world: Hannah Höch; Constructivists like El Lissitzky; Theo van Doesburg, a founder of the movement known as De Stijl — and collaborated with many of them. He traveled Europe nonstop, performed tirelessly, had shows and attracted collectors.

"Take a dentist's drill, a meat grinder . . . Take lights and deform them as brutally as you can. Make locomotives crash into one another . . . Explode steam boilers to make railroad mist. Take petticoats and the like, shoes and false hair, also ice skates."  That is the scenario for one of his theater pieces. 

"The more one sees of Schwitters, the more we see his influence, not only Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.  but Kleinholtz, the SF Beats with their love of urban decay, the contemporary conceptual artists with the hanging rope and deformed wire props. He's the inspiration for Pop Art, Fluxus, Conceptual Art to site-specific art, and the forerunner of present day artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Gregor Schneider and Rachel Whiteread." Robert Hughes

Like so many artists, he had to flee Germany when the Nazi's came to power. He ended up in a camp in England for refugees where he continued to work, even though his health was very poor. He died shortly after the end of WW II.

The multidisciplinary nature of Schwitters’s output and the destruction of so much in WW II, may be one of the reason why he remains an underground figure. 

Like a prophet scorned in his own day, he saw it all, made it all and, as is true with so many great artists, his reputation came into his own only after his death in 1948. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Mother and Child.

Just as the mother's gesture tenderly protects yet presents her daughter, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida expressed tenderness in his portraits of Spanish people, particularly women and children.

Monday, June 18, 2018

She Thinks She's Young !!!

Se Cree Joven (She Thinks She's Young) by Alice Bag, with subtitles in English.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Escher. Born today in 1898. Dutch graphic artist, lithographer, woodcuts, mezzotints.

June 17, 1898. Maurits Cornelis Escher (17 June 1898 - 27 March 1972) was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically-inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. In this image: Installation view, ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience at Industry City, June 8, 2018 - February 3, 2019. Photo by Adam Reich. Courtesy Arthemisia.

For me it remains an open question whether [this work]
pertains to the realm of mathematics or to that of art.

         M.C. Escher

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Poussin, born 1594

A dance to the music of time. 1640
Et in Arcadia ego (The Shepherds of Arcadia), second version, late 1630s, Louvre

The Inspiration of the Poet, 1629–30, Louvre

Nicolas Poussin was born in 1594 in Les Andelys, a small town in Normandy. Although we know little about his upbringing and early career, he is said to have come from a noble but impoverished family and to have studied Latin in his youth, training that was to have great influence in his art. He became a painter sometime around 1612, and shortly thereafter moved to Paris, where he had some success but won scant distinction. His fortunes only significantly improved in 1622 when he came to the attention of Giambattista Marino, the celebrated Italian poet then at the Tuscan court of Marie de Medici. Marino recognized and encouraged Poussin's genius and arranged for the painter to move to Rome in 1624.

Poussin's first years in the Eternal City were very difficult; he was poor, and gravely sick with venereal disease, an illness that affected him for the rest of his life. Poussin's extraordinary gift for inspiring friendship aided him in overcoming the crisis. One friend, Jacques Dughet, a cook, nursed him back to health, and another, Cassiano dal Pozzo, a preeminent antiquarian in Rome, helped him to gain patrons and win commissions. In 1627 Poussin finished for Cardinal Francesco Barberini a pair of large history paintings, The Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem and The Death of Germanicus, and from then on Poussin's reputation as one of the leading artists in Rome was secured.

Poussin took an intense interest in recreating the appearance of ancient paintings. To this end he often based his figures on classical sculpture and included evocations of the few remaining fragments of Roman landscape painting. He strove, too, for perfect accuracy in depicting the details of classical and early Christian costume, ritual, comportment, and architecture. This required considerable antiquarian research, frequently in consultation with Cassiano dal Pozzo and others. Yet it is important to see in this activity not only a desire for scientific exactitude; it also has the poignancy of reaching for an unattainable ideal. The artist Peter Paul Rubens, who was another friend of Cassiano dal Pozzo, wrote in 1637 that the "examples of the ancient painters can now be followed only in the imagination"—they were elusive like phantoms in a dream. Presumably for Poussin too the desire to recreate ancient painting had something of the character of fantasy.

It was in 1648 that Poussin began to concentrate on landscape painting and from then until his death in 1665 it remained a chief preoccupation.

Spring. The Earthly Paradise

Summer. Ruth and Boaz

Autumn. The spies with the grapes. 

Winter. The Flood
The landscapes he made in these years have been recognized as a sublime achievement ever since their creation. Already in the seventeenth century they were cited as the supreme examples of a new "heroic" style of depicting the world. In nearly every regard they differ visually from the early mythological pictures. They are much larger in size, typically several times bigger than the pictures from the first years in Rome, and the figures are on a smaller scale relative to the setting, so that the depiction of the landscape becomes paramount. In tone and color as well they mark a striking contrast with the earlier paintings: rather than reds and browns as before, now cool blues and greens dominate, so that many of the late images are soothing to behold.

Poussin was frequently ill and the ravages of venereal disease left him with weak arms and trembling hands that became ever more difficult to control. One room in the exhibition displays a poignant group of late drawings whose broken and jagged marks show that by the end Poussin no longer could form a straight line or maintain steady contact of the pen on the paper. So acute was the infirmity that Poussin knew while making his last works that soon he would have to abandon painting altogether.

It was with this knowledge, and in the face of death, that in 1660 Poussin began his last great series of paintings, the Four Seasons... With this series, the artist ponders the primordial cycles of time and nature: each of the pictures represents not only a different season, but also a different hour of the day, and a different stage in human life, from creation to destruction. As so often before, Poussin here was inspired by Philostratus' Images, which ends with an account of a painting of the seasons.

In the translation Poussin read, that picture is a meditation on three themes—the art of painting, the beauty of nature, and the character of human destiny—the very subjects that preoccupied Poussin throughout his career, and of which he sought to give final expression in this last series. The full significance of such profound works has been discussed by scholars and critics ever since their making. What is not open to dispute is the fixity of attention and the seriousness of purpose with which he completed these sublime paintings. Joshua Reynolds, William Hazlitt, and Kenneth Clark have each compared Poussin with the epic grandeur of Milton, and looking at these works, I am reminded of lines from the conclusion of Il Penseroso, which was written in the 1630s:

    And may at last my weary age
    Find out the peacefull hermitage,
    Where I may sit and rightly spell
    Of every Star that heav'n doth shew,
    And every Herb that sips the dew;
    Till old experience do attain
    To something like Prophetic strain.

Like the narrator of the poem, Poussin contemplated human character and natural order in search of the essential and the eternal.

Landscape with Saint Jean at Patmos (Late 1630s)

Today, as in the seventeenth century, Poussin is best known for narrative scenes from classical literature and religious history, idealizing images in which noble figures are posed like ancient statues. In few of his pictures do the settings, rather than the figures, predominate, and only about thirty of his two hundred or so paintings are generally called landscapes

Since the triumph of Impressionism, we have lost the habit of taking time to study paintings. We look at them in the same way we leaf through a book, which is to say, distractedly. It is important, then, to learn to stand before Poussin's works for a long time, to relearn how to take one's time—that time to which Poussin paid so much attention.... He wanted the time one might spend reading and absorbing a text and in understanding its significance or its message to be spent contemplating his paintings, with the same complete attention, the same concentration, the same reflection, the same emotional engagement.

The promise is that if you will look, you will find that Poussin's landscapes are magical paintings of unforgettable affective power.


Magical Painting of Poussin
By Andrew Butterfield
Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions

An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, February 12–May 11, 2008.

Wikipedia here 

Images from Wikipedia