Wednesday, October 21, 2020

National Apple Day

It’s #NationalAppleDay!


What better way to celebrate than with Lucas Cranach the Elder's Adam and Eve, 1526, #InOurCollection - currently on display, © The Courtauld. @NationalGallery

#didyouknow that Cranach and his workshop made over fifty versions of this subject?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Hans Hoffman, 16th century German painter, School of Dürer


Not the abstract painter Hans Hoffman but a much earlier painter. This Hoffmann was quite successful in his life, becoming court painter to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor.  Although Hoffmann does not match Dürer in skill, he brings an element that is not present in the greater artist.  While Dürer's nature studies are purely objective and realistic, Hoffmann anthropomorphizes his animals in a very unusual way, a way that Dürer was not interested in exploring.  This beautifully rendered hedgehog is incredibly detailed and lifelike. We feel the texture of the animal's spines, and the soft fur of its underbelly.  We see the fineness of its whiskers and the sharp claws.  However, when we turn our attention to the hedgehog's eyes we see something beyond this realistic portrayal.  There is so much character there, the hedgehog is animated and alert.  It makes eye contact with us and its personality shows through. It appears somewhat weary, but curious and engaged.  The effect is also present in Hoffmann's painting of a wild boar piglet.  While Hoffmann may not be as great an artist as Albrecht Dürer, or Hans Hofmann for that matter, there is an authenticity and connectedness in his work, and we feel the presence and temperament of his animals in their surroundings.

Hans Hoffmann  (c. 1530 in Nuremberg – 1591/92 in Prague) was a 16th-century German painter and draftsman. He was an artist on the Rudolph II‘s court and a leading representative of the Dürer Renaissance, specialized in watercolor and gouache nature studies, many of them copied from or based on Dürer’s work.

Hoffmann’s imitations were so admired that a biographer described him as “a diligent painter . . . who copied Albrecht Dürer so assiduously that many of his works were sold as Dürer originals.”

In 1585 he was appointed as a court painter by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, who brought him to the imperial court in Prague. At the imperial court, Hoffmann advised Rudolph on the development of his art collection and acquired for him works by Dürer to his famous Kunstkammer. But Hans Hoffmann, besides copying perfectly Durer, was also a talented artist who created his own masterpieces.

While Hoffmann was also active as a painter of portraits and religious subjects, he is best remembered for his highly finished drawings after nature. It’s very important because artists of that time rarely painted after nature.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Women artists in the news. Hilma af Klint, Jenny Saville, Anni Albers

 Women artists in the news. Hilma af Klint, Jenny Saville, Anni Albers

Contrary to popular myth, she was neither isolated or ignored. Hilma af Klint was linked to both modern art of the time and Swedish society. But she believed that her work was unappreciated and preferred to keep it private and shown within a small circle. At the time of her death, she left over 1200 works, solidifying the claim to be the inventor of modern abstract art. She created her first abstract painting in Stockholm in 1906. Klint was the modern abstract artist before Kandinsky. Before Malavich.

 Klint rarely exhibited her remarkably forward-looking paintings and, convinced the world was not ready for them, stipulated that they not be shown for 20 years following her death. Ultimately, her work was not exhibited until 1986, and it is only over the past three decades that her paintings and works on paper have received serious attention. 

First solo exhibit in the US was in 2019 at the Guggenheim. 

Self Portrait (Propped) by Jenny Saville. Sold at 9.5 million pounds (US$ 12. 4 million) during Sotheby's contemporary sale. This marks a new auction record for any living female artist. 

"Up close, these paintings break apart into abstract glops of paint, slathered on like cake icing with massive brushes. From a distance, however, they depict gigantic fleshy women out of some bondage clinic, images that challenge all conceptions of the feminine and erotic. And though Lucian Freud is certainly her artistic forebear, Saville makes him seem quaint."

Tate Modern exhibited the work of Anni Albers (1899-1994). The show brought together the most important works from major collections, many of which will be show in the UK for the first time. Opening ahead of the centenary of the Bauhus in 2019, the exhibition was a long over due recognition of Albers's pivotal contributions to modern art. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Chilling moments during Barret's confirmation testamony

 Judge Amy Coney Barrett wasn’t inclined to opine on anything — not on whether in vitro fertilization is “tantamount to manslaughter,” not on whether she might support re-criminalizing homosexuality and certainly not on whether she’d invalidate Obamacare or Roe v. Wade.

But the most chilling moment of her Supreme Court confirmation testimony Tuesday came when she said she would “need to hear arguments” about whether President Trump can postpone the election.

“President Trump made claims of voter fraud and suggested he wanted to delay the upcoming election,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, observed. “Does the Constitution give the president of the United States the authority to unilaterally delay a general election under any circumstances? Does federal law?”

This should have been a gimme. There was only one correct answerNo.

But this is not the answer Barrett gave. “Well, Senator, if that question ever came before me, I would need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion-writing process,” she answered. She said she didn’t want to give “off-the-cuff answers” like a “pundit” but rather approach matters “with an open mind.”

What? Sure, nominees try to avoid the slippery slope of opining on potential cases, but there is no room for argument here, especially from a self-proclaimed “originalist” and “textualist.”

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states: “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett answers questions during the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution requires: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January … and the terms of their successors shall then begin.”

Title 3, Section 1, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code specifies: “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.”

By the plain wording of the Constitution and the law, a president cannot unilaterally postpone an election. But this nominee, sounding more Trumpist than textualist, tells us it’s debatable.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) returned to the subject of elections, asking Barrett: “Under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the poll?”

Again, an easy question with an obvious answer. The U.S. Code (Title 18, Chapter 29, Section 594) calls for a fine, imprisonment or both for “whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote.”

But Barrett answered differently. “I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts,” she said.

What makes Barrett’s answers disturbing (and what probably makes her so wary about answering) is there is nothing hypothetical about any of this. Trump did propose postponing the election. He has made clear he will dispute the results if he does not win. He refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. He has repeatedly raised unfounded doubts about the integrity of elections and falsely declared mail-in balloting fraudulent. He has called for armed civilians to patrol the polls. He has mobilized federal police against his critics.

After Trump proposed on Twitter “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd amendment. It is under siege!,” members of a self-proclaimed militia hatched a plan to kidnap the governor of Michigan, and considered the same for the governor of Virginia, according to the FBI. Trump is using the Justice Department to protect friends; he has used Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark A. Milley in his reelection ads without their consent; and he turned the White House into the set for a political convention.

He got the national intelligence director to declassify unverified information about his political opponents; he circumvented Congress to give election-season tax breaks and payouts by executive order; and he threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to “put down” election-night unrest.

Against that backdrop, Barrett’s remarks on postponing elections and intimidating voters could serve as an invitation to lawlessness from the woman who would, if Republicans have their way, be on the Supreme Court by the time Trump tries to discredit the election.

“This president,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “expects his nominee to side with him in an election dispute” and find that “Democrats have rigged the election.” Leahy asked Barrett to recuse herself from such a dispute to protect “confidence in both you and the court.”

The nominee demurred.

Thanks to the GOP’s abolition of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, Barrett needn’t win over a single Democrat — and she didn’t try. Republican questioners delighted in her past criticism of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s ruling upholding Obamacare.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Barrett votes to strike down Obamacare and abortion rights. But is it too much to ask that a Supreme Court nominee would defend the Constitution and federal law from a president who disregards both? Apparently so.

From the Washington Post 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Indigenous Peoples' Day


Collaborative work by Indigenous Australian artists from the Ken Family from Amata Community in the APY Lands of South Australia

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Guan Daosheng, the most famous female painter in Chinese history


Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain by Guan Daosheng (1262-1319), Chinese poet and painter during the early Yuan Dynasty and is credited as being the most famous female painter in Chinese history

It’s seven centuries old, but Guǎn Dàoshēng’s 管道升 response to her husband wanting to take a concubine still scorches the page. “Grab a lump of clay,” she urged him in a poem (as translated by Jennifer Purtle), make a model of you and another of me. “Smash us together; / Use water to blend [our parts].” Make two new figures of us. “Thy clay contains me, / My clay contains thee.” Make no mistake. “With thee, in life [I] share a coverlet, / In death [we will] share a single crypt.”

This Yuan Dynasty poem — passionate, carnal, spoken as if to a peer — was everything a good Confucian marriage wasn’t. This relatable romance still has a place in modern China, with cartoon adaptations on Weibo, and amateur Douban poets riffing on it to express their own sexual and spiritual passions.

Guan bent several norms of ancient China. She was a legendary artist specializing in masculine subjects, collected by emperors and revered by a Confucian society which usually confined women to the family courtyard and ranked them beneath their husbands.

Who is Guan Daosheng?

Her breaking of the gender mold began from her birth in 1262. Her parents — wealthy, lacking sons and believing her intellect exceptional — gave Guan a son’s classical education at a time when most women were denied this privilege.

They hoped to find someone worthy of her, and they weren’t disappointed: the man they chose as her husband was Zhào Mèngfǔ 赵孟俯. He was of noble birth, descended from the family of the Song — the imperial dynasty before the Yuan. He was already revered as a brilliant scholar and would become known as the greatest landscape painter of the Yuan. His application of calligraphy techniques to painting — minimalism, black-and-white colors, emphasis on personal expression over accurate representation — led to an artistic revolution.

The match was a spectacular success. In a society where (according to Marco Polo) women in some parts of the country wore special bonnets that kept their eyes fixed on the ground and rarely ventured out of doors, Guan had privileges as Zhao’s wife. Kublai Khan eagerly collected the greatest Chinese scholars of the day to cement his mandate to rule the Han Chinese. When her celebrated husband was summoned to Dadu (Kublai’s capital, the embryonic Beijing) in 1286 to work for his court at the War Ministry, she was allowed to travel with him from Huzhou, all the way up the Grand Canal.

The strength of Guan and Zhao’s love was unconventional — partly because of Zhao’s admiration for Guan’s unusual character, which the poem “You and I” would have reminded him of. “Guan was remarkably explicit in expressing her ardor for her husband, committing to paper sentiments most unseemly by Confucian standards of the ‘pure and obedient’ or ‘chaste and righteous’ wife,” says Professor Jennifer Purtle of the University of Toronto. After Guan’s poem, Zhao never mentioned concubines again.

His devotion can be seen in how he chronicled her: his epitaph for her in The Collected Works of the Songxue Studio forms the majority of source material for her life, describing fondly her “manner [which] was winning…[and with] intelligence clear as moonlight.” She had also been his collaborator — the two writing poems for the other’s artwork — as well as his estate manager.

She was famous at the time for her bamboo paintings. The plant had already been painted for centuries, but in Guan’s hand it was given an interesting twist. Instead of single stalks of bamboo being the only feature as was traditional, she painted them in intricate thickets re-situated in landscapes of southern China.

But why was a woman painting bamboo? Maybe she yearned for hallmarks of the south while cloistered in the Khan’s capital and the dry northern plains surrounding it. However, the plant was also a masculine symbol, constantly green all year round and hard to bend, even harder to break. Perhaps it was a subtle note of defiance, symbolic of the strength of the Han Chinese, bowed but unbroken under Mongol rule. But critics were more interested in Guan’s gender-reversed subject matter: even her brushstrokes were considered too controlled for a woman’s hand, and the gender-neutral language of her verses were equally manly.

Perhaps this fixation on her identity frustrated Guan, who wrote tongue-in-cheek in 1310: “To play with brush and ink is a masculine sort of thing to do, yet I made this painting. Wouldn’t someone say that I have transgressed? How despicable, how despicable.” What was the point of these petty restrictions for women, especially if they were so easily and readily overturned for her?

Her work was popular. This was unusual for Yuan gentlewomen, who brought shame on their family by interacting with men or showing their work to outsiders. One of Guan’s contemporaries, the poet Huang Zhigui, lamented how a stranger had dared to ask for one of her paintings. By comparison, Guan’s husband (and his prominent position at court) gave her the status needed to bend the rules. It’s believed she collaborated on works with her husband, the two publicly painting temple murals together.

She gained fame across the Empire and spawned numerous imitators, the Emperor Renzong setting her reputation by collecting her work (alongside those of her equally talented husband and son). He gave her the title “Lady of the Wei Kingdom,” which elevated her in her own right to the position of a feudal lord, and commanded her to calligraph the “Thousand Character Classic.” According to Zhao, Renzong said this was “to make posterity aware that in Our court there was a Lady who excelled in calligraphy.”

But little is left of her work, this ancient celebrity now an intriguing shadow. Only one extant piece has been authenticated as hers with certainty: “Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain,” from 1308. It was a view painted from “a small boat” for one of her powerful female patrons at court.

She left Zhao a widower, succumbing possibly to beriberi while traveling homeward down the Grand Canal in 1319. Zhao never remarried, and painted bamboo for the remaining three years of his life, yearning for the woman with whom he had shared his soul.