Friday, July 20, 2018

Morandi. Born on this day in 1890

Morandi cannot be closely identified with a particular school of painting. His major influence was the work of French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, whose emphasis on form and flat areas of colour Morandi emulated throughout his career. Morandi first exhibited his work in 1914 in Bologna with the Futurist painters, and in 1918–19 he was associated with the Metaphysical school, a group who painted in a style developed by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà. Artists who worked in the Metaphysical painting style attempted to imbue everyday objects with a dreamlike atmosphere of mystery.

Morandi developed an intimate approach to art that, directed by a highly refined formal sensibility, gave his quiet landscapes and disarmingly simple still-life compositions a delicacy of tone and extraordinary subtlety of design. His gentle, lyrical colours are subdued and limited to clay-toned whites, drab greens, and umber browns, with occasional highlights of terra-cotta. Morandi’s paintings of bottles and jars convey a mood of contemplative repose reminiscent of the work of Piero della Francesca, an Italian Renaissance artist whom he admired.

I have seen some of his works and they don’t appeal to me. The dull colors, the static bottles, all of which are supposed to represent stillness and just seem boring. But some people love his work. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Degas. Born on this day in 1834

Edgar Degas was born on this day in 1834. This work, "The Dance Class," and its variant in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, represent the most ambitious paintings devoted to the theme of the dance.

From the New Yorker: An air of Dickensian tragic irony attends Degas’s last years, when, like an avatar of Marley’s ghost, he dragged the chains of his spent obsessions. He seems to have learned in 1870 that his eyesight was defective. It worsened with age. The condition, which made him painfully sensitive to light, probably played a role in the turn toward tactility in his late works, exploiting memories of visual form that were lodged in his wrist and inner eye. He often worked surfaces with his fingers. The physicality of his charcoals and pastels, after the early eighteen-nineties, positively explodes in strong blacks and blazing colors. He increasingly relies on a motif of the female back, arranged diagonally at an angle from the side, like a raked and tilted shelf. Meanwhile, his sculptures of dancers and horses ride a jet stream of perfect realization, as if less produced than discovered. Degas rarely appeared in public, except at auctions of his art. He stopped working in 1912. In wintry isolation, he survived until 1917, dying at the age of eighty-three.

He never reconciled himself to being thought of as a leader of the impressionist movement although he was one of the most active and powerful members. Degas became renowned for his depictions of modern Parisian women  such as dancers, cafe singers and laundresses. Degas’s style differed from the Impressionists in that he preferred to paint indoors from sketches or memory rather than in the open air, and his work displayed a quality of line, foregoing the characteristic Impressionist detached brush strokes. Known for his keen observation of naturalistic movement, Degas’s realistic style set him apart from his Impressionist contemporaries.

He seems to have believed that an artist can have no private life and his cruel wit alienated most of his friends. His reputation as a curmudgeon was well deserved as was his open Antisemitism. 

From Wikipedia: The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He also fired a model who was Protestant. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Caravaggio. Died on this day in 1610

July 18, 1610. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (29 September 1571 - 18 July 1610) was an Italian artist active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. His paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a formative influence on the Baroque school of painting. In this image: A photographer and a cameraman take a picture of Caravaggio's painting "The calling of Saints Peter and Andrew" in Rome, Monday, Nov. 20, 2006. The painting, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, languished for years in a dusty storeroom before being identified as the work of Italian master Caravaggio, on show at the Gate Termini Art Gallery in Rome.

We know a lot about this life and much of it involves the police. This was a man with a severe case of emotional incontinence, someone known to the law in more than one state for bouts of violence, but also a man whose genius and talent for innovation was recognized by the very same people who had the power to destroy him. 

The art historian Michael Fried's new book, After Caravaggio, which has just been published by Yale University Press, looks at the painter's followers and the long shadow he cast over the 17th century. 

It follows Fried's 2010 publication The Moment of Caravaggio, where he focused on how the Italian Baroque artist propelled the emergence of the "gallery picture" as a distinct genre that moved away from traditional altarpieces and religious commissions. 

"Part of the larger argument of both After Caravaggio and The Moment of Caravaggio is that in the first decades of the 1600s, Rome saw the rise of marvellous private galleries owned by nobles and cardinals, who bought and commissioned works by artists like Caravaggio," Fried says. "Artists became aware of the natural competition that took place in those galleries, because if you hang pictures alongside one another, they will fight among themselves to find out which is strongest. Caravaggio was the big winner here." 

The new book elaborates on many of the themes that have animated Fried's work since his spirited attack on Minimalism in his 1967 essay Art and Objecthood. But this new work, he says, is not an attempt to lay an absolute bedrock for this history of Modernism. "The direction I always want to go is not, here is something happening for the first time—there's nothing that ever begins like that, there is always something before. But instead, if you think about these pictures this way, this is how you can make sense of them." 

Perhaps the last painting he produced, the stunning David with the Head of Goliath, painted while on the run in 1610 just before he succumbed to fever, says it all: David is a portrait of the young artist while Goliath’s head brings us Caravaggio brought low by his loving and living. Such is the stuff of legend.

At the National Gallery here

Review of a number of new books on him here

Helibrun Time line of art. Baroque art here

Caravaggio and his followers here

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Born on this day in 1723

Sir Joshua Reynolds, born on this day in 1723, in Plympton, Devon. Here taking a good look at himself for his own portrait at age 24. He became the most famous portrait painter in 18th century England.

Sarah Campbell
Mrs Abington (Actress) 

Joshua Reynolds here

Review in The Guardian here

Portrait painting in England here

18th century Pastel Portrait here

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Rembrandt. born July 15, 1606, Leiden, Netherlands—died October 4, 1669

The difference between this self portrait of Rembrandt at 52 (1653), battered but regal and the etching of him as a young dandy (see below) could not be more telling. He had been forced to sell his art collection in 1652. Soon he would be forced to sell his home and declare bankruptcy, ending up in a home run by the Amsterdam city fathers to house the poor. His handling of paint has never more been more sure, his painter's stick is the scepter of a dethroned king - battered, wary but wise, compassionate and weary.  He encountered the depths in every person he painted; he did not flinch from doing that for himself. 

Self Portrait, 1639

Bathsheba at her bath, holding the letter from King David. The model was his wife, Hendrickje Stoffels
Robert Hughes: If Rembrandt had tried to turn her into a glamour-girl all'Italiana, the image would have failed. But it succeeds because he portrayed a woman thinking while naked - an almost unheard-of achievement in the art of the nude. Bathsheba clearly has an internal life, not merely an external beauty. She is engaged in moral reflection - the fact that she is no longer reading the letter makes that clear - and her pensive expression has a gravity beyond that of any other Bathsheba. Will she? Won't she? Does she want to? If so, how much? The questions are left hanging in the air, but we are left intensely conscious of them - of the ambiguity, so to put it, that hangs over all beauty, all desire. But then, her beauty is of a different order to the conventional; those broad hips, those sturdy hands, connect her to the actual world we live and feel in. And what lends a further dimension to the subject is that we know, if we are Biblically literate, something that Bathsheba, inside the Bible story, does not: that the amoral King David wants her so much that he is going to murder her husband, get him out of the way by putting him in the front line of battle.

"In Rembrandt's (late) great portraits we feel face to face with real people, we sense their warmth, their need for sympathy and also their loneliness and suffering. Those keen and steady eyes that we know so well from Rembrandt's self-portraits must have been able to look straight into the human heart." Gombrich, p. 423.

The anatomy lesson

Rembrandt van Rijn, in full Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Rembrandt originally spelled Rembrant, (born July 15, 1606, Leiden, Netherlands—died October 4, 1669, Amsterdam), Dutch Baroque painter and printmaker, one of the greatest painters in the history of art, possessing an exceptional ability to render people in their various moods and dramatic guises. Rembrandt is also known as a painter of light and shade and as an artist who favoured an uncompromising realism that would lead some critics to claim that he preferred ugliness to beauty. Encyclopedia Brittanica 

Robert Hughes wrote about Rembrandt in a 2006 exhibit at the Tate: But then there are artists whose work is not like this (ones we admire from the outside) . They are the ones who acknowledge human imperfection and mortality. And not only acknowledge it, but in some sense glory in it, making it the prime subject of their art. For if men and women were perfect, mentally, physically, morally, spiritually, why would they need art at all? ...

Then there are the numerous self-portraits. Rembrandt would be remembered as an extraordinary self-portraitist if he had died young at, say, 45. But he lived much longer and it is the work of his old age that one most admires: that intimate, unflinching scrutiny of his own sagging, lined and bloated features, with the light shining from the potato nose and the thick paint: the face of a master, the face of a failure and a bankrupt. Life, and his own mismanagement of life, has bashed him but no one could say it has beaten him.

Wiki Art here

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918)

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Born on July 14, 1862, Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter, decorator, and a prominent member of the Vienna Secession movement. For most of us, his most famous painting was his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a painting stolen by the Nazi's and which took the sole remaining member of the Bloch-Bauer family years to get back from the Austrian government.

"The Woman in Gold" was executed in oils, silver, and gold—a radiant example of his so-called Golden Style, which was inspired by the artist's two visits, in 1903, to Ravenna, where he saw the Byzantine mosaics in the church of San Vitale.

He was especially taken, Renée Price tells us in her commentary on the painting when it went on display at the Neue Galerie, by the mosaic image of the Empress Theodora, "glittering before an abstract gold background." These were "mosaics of unprecedented splendor," he wrote to his friend Emilie Flöge. But Byzantine mosaics were not the only influences tugging this portrait toward decorative abstraction: Russian icons also embedded faces in a plane of gold; Egyptian art, which fascinated Klimt, is echoed in the hieroglyphic eyes dominating Adele's strapped dress; and Japanese woodcuts, Janis Staggs writes in her catalog essay on Klimt's relation to Emilie Flöge, "typically schematize the hu-man body hierarchically: the face and hands are depicted with painstaking verisimilitude, whereas other physical attributes—as well as clothing and elements of nature—are rendered more abstractly." Horizontal eyes and vertical half-moons in the sitter's garments both suggest vaginas, indicating another of the painter's interests and doing nothing to discourage persistent but unproven rumors of a romantic connection between the artist and his subject.  Catalog, 2008

The Kiss


Pallas Athena

His work included decorative murals, drawings, often very erotic and private portraits, inspired by Byzantine imagery. His public commissions, particularly his three paintings on the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. Criticized as pornography, the storm of criticism drove him into only accepting private commissions. The  works were destroyed during WW II by the Nazis. Klimt died in the flu epidemic of 1918. 

From WikipediaAccording to the writer Frank Whitford: "Klimt of course, is an important artist—he's a very popular artist—but in terms of the history of art, he's a very unimportant artist. Although he sums up so much in his work, about the society in which he found himself—in art historical terms his effect was negligible. So he's an artist really in a cul-de-sac." Klimt's work had a strong influence on the paintings of Egon Schiele, with whom he would collaborate to found the Kunsthalle (Hall of Art) in 1917, to try to keep local artists from going abroad. Artists who reinterpreted Klimt's work include Slovak artist Rudolf Fila.

The Art Story here
Wikipedia here