Monday, January 18, 2021

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Virtual Celebrations


Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

 I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,"



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Celebrate On line:

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Berthe Morisot. Born January 14, 1841


Berthe Morisot, (Jan 14, 1841 - March 2, 1895). French Painter who exhibited with the Impressionists, and participated in their battle for artistic recognition. In spite of her gender, she became a leading figure of the most famous artistic movement of the 19th century. Because of her gender, she could not attend the almost obligatory drawing classes which featured nudes so she focused (like Mary Cassatt) on paintings of domestic life, landscapes and her daughter, Julie. 

The daughter of a high government official (and a granddaughter of the important Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard), Morisot decided early to be an artist and pursued her goal with seriousness and dedication. From 1862 to 1868 she worked under the guidance of Camille Corot. She first exhibited paintings at the Salon in 1864. Her work was exhibited there regularly through 1874, when she vowed never to show her paintings in the officially sanctioned forum again. In 1868 she met Édouard Manet, who was to exert a tremendous influence over her work. He did several portraits of her (e.g., Repose, c. 1870). Manet had a liberating effect on her work, and she in turn aroused his interest in outdoor painting. In 1874 she married Manet’s younger brother, Eugène, also a painter

Morisot’s work never lost its Manet-like quality—an insistence on design—nor did she become as involved in colour-optical experimentation as her fellow Impressionists. Her paintings frequently included members of her family, particularly her sister, Edma (e.g., The Artist’s Sister, Mme Pontillon, Seated on the Grass, 1873; and The Artist’s Sister Edma and Their Mother, 1870). Delicate and subtle, exquisite in colour—often with a subdued emerald glow—they won her the admiration of her Impressionist colleagues. Like that of the other Impressionists, her work was ridiculed by many critics. Never commercially successful during her lifetime, she nevertheless outsold Claude MonetPierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. She was a woman of great culture and charm and counted among her close friends many of the literary elite of 19th century France. 

She died at the age of 54 from pneumonia, caught from nursing her daughter through an illness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

John Singer Sargent, born January 12, 1856


John Singer Sargent's family (1856–1925) had deep roots in New England. In 1850, his father married Mary Newbold Singer, daughter of a successful local merchant.another The couple left Philadelphia for Europe in late summer 1854, seeking a healthful climate and a distraction after the death a year earlier of their firstborn child. The Sargents’ stay in Europe was meant to be temporary, but they became expatriates, passing winters in Florence, Rome, or Nice and summers in the Alps or other cooler regions. Their son John was born in Florence in January 1856.

John Sargent was given little regular schooling. As a result of his “Baedeker education,” he learned Italian, French, and German. He studied geography, arithmetic, reading, and other disciplines under his father’s tutelage. He also became an accomplished pianist. His mother, an amateur artist, encouraged him to draw, and her wanderlust furnished him with subjects. He enrolled for his first-documented formal art training during the winter of 1873–74 at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. In spring 1874, Sargent moved to Paris where he studied with Carolus-Durran, a stylish, progressive painter. More travel in both the United States and Europe followed which Sargent began to make the contacts which led to commissions and eventually fame.  

Although Sargent painted, showed, and won praise for both portraits and subject pictures at the Salons between 1877 and 1882, commissions for portraits increasingly demanded his attention and defined his reputation. Sargent’s best-known portrait, Madame X (16.53), which he undertook without a commission, enlisted a palette and brushwork derived from Velázquez; a profile view that recalls Titian; and an unmodulated treatment of the face and figure inspired by the style of Édouard Manet and Japanese prints. The picture’s novelty and quality notwithstanding, it was a succès de scandale in the 1884 Salon, provoking criticism for Sargent’s indifference to conventions of pose, modeling, and treatment of space, even twenty years after Manet’s pioneering efforts. 
Having gained notoriety rather than fame, Sargent decided that London, where he had thought of settling as early as 1882, would be more hospitable than Paris. In spring 1886, he moved to England for the rest of his life.

Although Degas described him as “a skillful portrait painter who differed little from the better Salon painters then in fashion”, we have to be careful about viewing Sargent as an essentially conservative painter. He went his own way as an artist; nothing about him was simple. He may have been the last in the line that included Velázquez and Ingres, and he may also have been one of the last society portrait painters, but he brought a textural richness, a serious and often startling sense of composition and, at his best, a muscular theatricality, to what he did as a painter.

 After 1900, Sargent stopped painting society portraits and officially closed his studio (1907) although he did complete a few more portrait commissions. 1917, most critics began to consign him to the masters of the past, "a brilliant ambassador between his patrons and posterity."

Modernists treated him more harshly, considering him completely out of touch with the reality of American life and with emerging artistic trends including Cubism and Futurism. Sargent quietly accepted the criticism, but refused to alter his negative opinions of modern art. He retorted, "Ingres, Raphael and El Greco, these are now my admirations, these are what I like." In 1925, shortly before he died, (April 14, 1925, heart attack) Sargent painted his last oil portrait, a canvas of Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Barbara Hepworth, January 10, 1903


Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. Barbara Hepworth was a sculptor and a leading figure in both British sculpture as well as the international art scene.

Hepworth studied at Leeds school of Art from 1920–1921 alongside fellow Yorkshire-born artist Henry Moore. Both students continued their studies in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Both became leading practitioners of the avant-garde method of Direct Carving (working directly in to the chosen material) avoiding the more traditional process of making preparatory models and maquettes from which a craftsman would produce the finished work. She moved toward greater and greater abstract forms. creating work that was also tactile and sensuous. 

From 1924 Hepworth spent two years in Italy, and in 1925 married her first husband, the artist John Skeaping, in Florence; their marriage was to last until 1931. But it was never an easy marriage; Skeaping was self indulgent and charming but feckless, and found Hepworth's fierce drive frightening and worse of all for a woman, not sexy. "Barbara was very unsexy and I was just the opposite," he maintained in his complacent autobiography.

From 1932, she lived with the painter Ben Nicholson and, for a number of years, the two artists made work in close proximity to each other, developing a way of working that was almost like a collaboration. They spent periods of time in Europe, and it was here that Hepworth met Georges Braque and Piet Mondrian, and visited the studios of PicassoConstantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp and Sophie Taueber-Arp. The experience was a hugely exciting one for Hepworth, for she not only found herself in the studios of some of Europe’s most influential artists, which helped her to approach her own career with renewed vigor and clarity, but also found there mutual respect. The School of Paris had a lasting effect on both Hepworth and Nicholson as they became key figures in an international network of abstract artists.

Barbara Hepworth deserves wider recognition as an artist of extraordinary stature whose importance is still to some extent hidden by the fame of the men in her life. Over 50 years, from 1925 to her death in 1975, she made more than 600 works of sculpture remarkable in range and emotional force. Her private life was complicated, at times traumatic: two marriages and four children, three of whom were triplets. And there was the long disruption of the war. What makes Hepworth wonderful was the strength of her ambition, the unswerving self-belief. She demonstrated so tangibly her understanding that "the dictates of work are as compelling for a woman as for a man”.

In 1934, Hepworth's unexpected triplets Simon, Rachel and Sarah were born.

The practical problems were formidable. But Hepworth did not reject being a mother, and was able to draw on the resources of her time and place - a nursery-training college, scholarships to a progressive boarding school. The whole business of organizing and keeping things together fell to her (of course) and she has been heavily criticized for not dropping her art and devoting her time and energies to being a more traditional mother. Nicholson has never been criticized. Intellectually she found the balancing of work and domesticity challenging but one that stimulated her creativity. 

 "A woman artist," she argued, "is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles (even in triplicate) - one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that the images grow in one's mind." She came to see that the female physical experiences extended the range of the artistic perceptions. When she watched a woman carrying a child in her arms, she would feel the experience as if it were her own.

She tenaciously continued to develop her own work, refining naturalism, creating the series of strictly abstract white marble circles, segments, slabs that became a symbol of 1930s Hampstead. For many leftwing artists, abstraction had become an article of faith, a bastion of freedom in the face of European fascist censorship.

When WW II broke out, Hepworth, Nicholson, the children and family help left for Cornwall where Barbara established a secondary circle for British art that survived WW II, although she was continually eclipsed by those who viewed Moore as the better artist. Her strong will and fierce determination to create too a toll on all her relationships although she was never "cut any slack" the way male artists are. 

Even after her life fell apart, even after the death of her eldest son Paul (1953) , even after the diagnosis of cancer of the tongue, she kept on working, kept on creating." In those last years before her accidental death by fire in her own house, she returned to smaller carvings - to themes of myth and magic, to the gravitas and stillness that was so strong in her." A life long smoker and now in extreme pain from cancer, Hepworth took a sleeping pill and fell asleep with a cigarette in her mouth. She was 72. 

One can only hope that like Lee Krasner, her artistic vision will be recognized for what it is -- and not as a pale reflection of the men in her life.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Elizabeth Sirani. January 8, 1636 - August 28, 1665


Portrait of Vincenzo Ferdinando Ranuzzi as Cupid, somehow. It involved a lot of dyed feathers! Painted by Elisabetta Sirani

Being a woman artist in Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries was extremely difficult. In the Cinquecento in Italy, for example, leading male artists were crowned with the term virtuoso (which translates to “mortal god”), while women artists were widely overlooked and given few opportunities to create. But they still did. One such was Elizabeth Sirani. One of the three daughters of a Bolognese artist and teacher, Giovanni Sirani, Elisabetta Sirani had many artworks in her native Bologna to study, both classical and contemporary. She also traveled to Florence and Rome to study the paintings there.

Women messing with men's heads. Judith is finding the head of Holofernes quite distasteful.  But a woman's got to do what a woman's got to do. 

Salome having a special moment with John's head. Maybe having a little chat

During the Renaissance, some other women were taught painting, but few had the opportunities for learning that she did. Encouraged by a mentor, Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, she assisted her father in his teaching and studied with other instructors there. A few of her works began to sell, and it became clear that her talent was greater than her father's. She painted not only quite well, but also quite quickly.

"You looking at me?" Melpomene, the muse of tragedy

Even so, Elisabetta might have remained no more than her father's assistant, but he developed gout when she was 17, and her earnings were essential to the family. He may also have discouraged her marrying. An independent painter by 19, Sirani ran her family’s workshop. When her father became incapacitated by gout, she supported her parents, three siblings, and herself entirely through her art.

At 27, Elisabetta Sirani came down with an unexplained illness. The mystery illness is not surprised, given the medical knowledge of the time. She lost weight and became depressed, though she continued to work. She was ill from the spring through the summer and died in August. Bologna gave her a large and elegant public funeral

According to written records, when she died at 27, the Italian artist Elisabetta Sirani had already produced 200 paintings, drawings, and etchings. 

Sirani’s funeral was an elaborate affair involving formal orations, special poetry and music, and an enormous catafalque decorated with a life-size sculpture of the deceased. In addition to her substantial oeuvre, Sirani left an important legacy through her teaching. Her pupils included her two sisters, Barbara and Anna Maria, and more than a dozen other young women who became professional painters.

Cupid, pull back your bow.. ooppps.. shot the wrong person

Cleopatra about to prepare her famous pearl-in-vinegar cocktail. Flashing a bit of décolletage for the occasion, to distract her lover,  Mark Antony.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Albert Bierstadt. Painter of the unspoiled west.


Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. He joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion to paint the scenes. He was not the first artist to record the sites, but he was the foremost painter of them for the remainder of the 19th century.

Bierstadt was born in Prussia, but his family moved to the United States when he was one year old. He returned to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf. He became part of the second generation of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along the Hudson River. Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. Bierstadt was an important interpreter of the western landscape, and he is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.

Interest in Bierstadt's work was renewed in the 1960s with the exhibition of his small oil studies.[8] Modern opinions of Bierstadt have been divided. Some critics have regarded his work as gaudy, oversized, extravagant champions of Manifest Destiny. Others have noted that his landscapes helped create support for the conservation movement and the establishment of Yellowstone National Park.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Sarsoon ka Saag or Jolly Green Vegetables


Sarsoon ka Saag or Jolly Green Vegetables 

I am not trying to become a vegetarian but I have cut back substantially on eating red meat and fish (because the oceans are being over fished and red meat - well, that should be pretty self-explanatory). 

I try to plan for one or more meatless dinners a week and today's meal was right out of the pages of Julie Sahni's book on Vegetarian Indian Cooking. Well, maybe not quite RIGHT out - let's say, inspired by the original recipe but with several Nancy-type variations. 

Sarsoon Ka Saag is mustard greens cooked with a little cornmeal, Punjabi-style. I always keep several kinds of greens in the fridge so I substituted 1/2 cup of collard, turnip, mustard greens and chard. When the greens were completely thawed, I squeezed all the excess water out of them and put them in a colander to drain.

While the greens were draining, I sautéed one large onion and several cloves of garlic in vegetable oil. Then I added 1 tbsp Menthi power (I think it's made from Fenugreek), two green chilies (seeded and diced), 1 tbsp of coriander and a large piece of ginger, peeled and chopped into small pieces. 

Then, I sprinkled the pan with 1/4 cup of cornmeal because the mixture is supposed to be silky and somewhat thick. Once all the spices smelled fragrant, I added all the greens and made sure that the spices were completely mixed with the greens. Lastly, I added about 2 cups of vegetable stock. Simmer until the greens are tender and salt and pepper to taste.

You are supposed to add a spiced butter to the mix when it's ready to eat but I didn't want to add any extra fats. I also thought that the greens weren't spiced enough to my taste. I like much more spice and vinegar in my greens so I added vinegar to taste (maybe 1/4 cup each of cider and white wine vinegar), more  sautéed garlic, two more diced chilies and a cup of pickled carrots. 

Now, that's good eating. 

If I make it again, I'll leave out the cornmeal as I didn't feel that it added anything. I don't need a thickener with my greens. I like them chunky, vinegary and hot, with lots of roughly chopped up pieces of onion and carrots.

Here's an official version from somewhere on the web:

1 bunch spinach washed and chopped fine (approximately 1/2 lb or 250 gms)
1 bunch mustard greens washed and chopped fine (approximately 1/2 lb or 250 gms)
2 green chillies
1 tbsp grated ginger (or paste)
1 tbsp grated garlic (or paste)
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsps ghee (clarified butter)
1 large onion grated
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
Juice of 1/2 a lime/ lemon
1 tbsp bengal gram flour/ maize flour

Mix the greens, green chillies and salt to taste and boil in 1 cup of water till cooked.
Mash the greens mix well to make a course paste.
In another pan, heat the ghee on a medium flame. When hot add the grated onion and fry till pale golden.
Add all the other ingredients and fry till oil separates from the masala (onion-spice mix).
Add the greens mix to this and stir till blended.