Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Pascin

Julius Mordecai Pincas, (March 31, 1885 - June 5, 1930) known as Pascin, Jules Pascin, or the "Prince of Montparnasse", was born in Bulgaria. During World War I, he worked in the United States. He is best known as a painter in Paris, where he was strongly identified with the Modernist movement and the artistic circles of Montparnasse. 

 Julius Mordecai Pincas was born in Vidin, Bulgaria, to a Sephardic Jewish family of a grain merchant Marcus Pincas.  In 1892, he moved with parents to Bucharest, where his father opened a company "Marcus Pincas & Co". His early artistic training was in Vienna and Munich. At the age of 20 in 1905, he adopted the pseudonym Pascin (an anagram of Pincas). About the same time, he began contributing drawings to Simplicissimus, a satirical magazine published in Munich.

In December 1905 Pascin moved to Paris, becoming part of the great migration of artists to that city at the start of the 20th century. In 1907 Pascin met Hermine Lionette Cartan David, also a painter, and they became lovers. They lived together until Pascin left for the United States on October 3, 1914, after the beginning of World War I. A few weeks later on October 31, Hermine David sailed for the United States to join Pascin.

They were married in the United States and stayed there until the end of WW I. 

After Pascin returned to France, he became the symbol of the Montparnasse artistic community and is more associated with France than the US. Always in his bowler hat, he was a witty presence at the haunts of the area’s bohemian society.

 Despite his social life, Pascin created thousands of watercolors and sketches, plus drawings and caricatures, which he sold to various newspapers and magazines. He studied the art of drawing at the Académie Colarossi and, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he drew upon his surroundings and his friends, both male and female, as subjects. He wanted to become a serious painter, but in time he became deeply depressed over his inability to achieve critical success with his efforts.

During the 1920s, Pascin mostly painted fragile petites filles, prostitutes waiting for clients, or models waiting for the sitting to end. His fleetingly rendered paintings sold readily, but the money he made was quickly spent. Famous as the host of numerous large parties in his flat, whenever he was invited elsewhere for dinner, he arrived with as many bottles of wine as he could carry. He frequently led a large group of friends on summer picnics beside the River Marne, where their excursions lasted all afternoon.

Jules Pascin, Portrait of Mimi Laurent, oil on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

Ernest Hemingway's chapter titled "With Pascin At the Dôme", in A Moveable Feast, recounted a night in 1923 when he had stopped off at Le Dôme and met Pascin escorted by two models. Hemingway's portrayal of the evening is considered one of the defining images of Montparnasse at the time.
 Pascin struggled with depression and alcoholism. "[D]riven to the wall by his own legend", according to art critic Gaston Diehl, he committed suicide at the age of 45 on the eve of a prestigious solo show.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matisse's illustrated books at the Legion

Henri Matisse was 60 years old when he began to create original illustrations for livres d’artiste (artists’ books). By the time of his death, 25 years later, he had produced designs for 14 fully illustrated books, several of which are considered 20th-century masterpieces of the genre. View seven of these rare books, including Poésies (1932) and Pasiphaé (1944), in conjunction with the special exhibition Matisse from SFMOMA at the Legion of Honor.

Absolutely delightful animation of one of Matisse's figures from Le Jazz:

More at:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Grab Bag

Interestingly enough, most of Saturday's art bits are about the recovery of stolen art. We have one birthday boy, Anthony Van Dyke and one museum that bought a rare work by Artemisia Gentileschi.

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art-America's oldest public art museum-has acquired a rare self-portrait by Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

More on Artemisia:

Rembrandt's painting "Child with a Soap Bubble", stolen in 1999, has been recovered in the southern city of Nice, and two people found in possession of the Dutch master's painting have been arrested, a source close to the investigation said on March 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE.

Norwegian Museum Will Return Matisse Painting to Heirs:  A Nazi-looted painting by Henri Matisse will be returned to the heirs of a Jewish art dealer by a museum in Norway. Painted in 1937, "Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace” is valued at about $40 million.

One is better than nothing? In other restution news, Gurlitt may now return the looted art. Octogenarian Cornelius Gurlitt originally said he would not restitute any of the artwork. In poor health from heart surgery, he now says he will return a Matisse to the family of the art dealer Paul Rosenberg, according to the lawyers. "Seated Woman/woman Sitting in an Armchair" was noticed in online images by descendants of Rosenberg when the Munich art trove was first made public last November.

Passed down from Gurlitt's father, who worked for the Nazis to collect "degenerate art" and confiscate art from Jews and others, there were 1,280 artworks found in the Munich apartment. A couple hundred more artworks were later discovered in Gurlitt's Salzburg residence. Many works were found to be in poor condition from improper storage, and 39 are paintings by the likes of Renoir, Monet and Manet.

Plus a short video of a BBC tour of his super secret stash:

Anthony van Dyke was born last week.  (22 March 1599 ? 9 December 1641). He  was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England. He is most famous for his portraits of Charles I of England and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years. He also painted biblical and mythological subjects, displayed outstanding facility as a draftsman, and was an important innovator in watercolour and etching. In this image: Auction workers pose for photographers as they hold a portrait made by Anthony van Dyck, during a pre-auction photo-op for the 'Old Master Paintings and Early British Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours' sale in Sotheby's auction house in central London, Friday July 3, 2009.

Who gets the art? Crimean museums fear they could lose hundreds of precious artefacts loaned to a Dutch museum before the peninsula's occupation by Russia, a museum director said Wednesday. The rich collection of items spanning the 2nd century BC to the late medieval era, was loaned to the Allard Pierson museum in Amsterdam before the political upheaval that resulted in the Crimea being annexed by Russia.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Weekend Picks for March 28 - 30

Bonnard. "Paris, Rue de Parme on Bastille Day, 1890." part of "Intimate Impressionism," on view at the Legion of Honor. (@FAMSF)

The big opening this weekend is "Intimate Impressionism" at the Legion of Honor. Small exquisite masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art - landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, interiors, and portraits are on view. The 70 paintings are from the Mellon collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. which is currently closed for renovations.

Vollon. "Mound of Butter." A creator of realist genre scenes and still lifes inspired by 17th century Dutch art, Vollon was admired for his technique(@FAMSF). I wanted to just lick that mount of butter or, better yet, put it on some crusty French bread.

 The works make up what in French might be called a "catalogue raisonné" of small-sized, "intimiste" paintings of French Impressionist art. Giving reasons for the emphasis on "plein air" first laid by Corot, the show goes on to present us with small canvases of what came to be known as the 'Impressionist' group (Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Cézanne, Degas, Berthe Morisot).

 Vuillard. "The Conversation." No artist has ever so suggested the soul of an interior—the sense of habitation.—Julius Meier-Graefe, on Vuillard (@FAMSF)

The paintings' dimensions reflect their intended function: display in domestic interiors. Their intimate effect also extends to the paintings' themes-many are studies of the artists' favorite places and depictions of people familiar to them, and the works often became gifts shared among friends.

 Édouard Vuillard's (1868-1940) long career spanned the fin-de-siècle and the first four decades of the 20th century.

The real treasure of the show comes at the end with a wall of paintings by Vuillard whose thickly pattered works are seldom seen in the Bay Area.

More at:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rembrandt's 'The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis' on view

"The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis" (1661-62), originally Rembrandt’s largest and most prestigious painting, is now on view at the Rijksmuseum in a very rare showing.

The painting was commissioned by the Amsterdam city council for the Town Hall. After the work had been in place briefly, it was returned to Rembrandt, who may have never been paid. Rembrandt drastically cut down the painting to a quarter of the original size to be sold. It is the last secular history painting he finished

Owned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, the painting has been at the Nationalmuseum of Art in Stockholm for more than 150 years, leaving Sweden only twice in that time, in 1925 and 1969.

Both of those occasions were for showings at the Rijksmuseum. The masterwork will be displayed in the Gallery of Honour starting 21 March 2014 in commemoration of the 400-year anniversary of bilateral relations between Sweden and the Netherlands. Rembrandt painted "The Conspiracy of the Batavians Under Claudius Civilis," Claudius Civilis for short, in 1661-1662 under a commission from the burgomasters of Amsterdam.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Ode To Joy" as interpreted by the Muppets.

Such a beautiful day - we need a bit of Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" as interpreted by the Muppets:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Intimate Impressionists' coming to the Legion of Honor

Mark your calendar for the upcoming exhibit at the Legion of Honor. The National Gallery is closed for renovations and San Francisco will benefit from this with a show featuring 19th century avant-garde painters such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Vincent van Gogh.

The exhibition includes nearly 70 paintings from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and features a selection of intimately scaled impressionist and post-impressionist still lifes, portraits and landscapes, whose charm and fluency invite close scrutiny.

“Intimate Impressionism resonates with the outstanding impressionist and post-impressionist works from the Museums’ own holdings,” says Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “This exhibition is the latest in a rich history of collaborations between the Fine Arts Museums and the National Gallery of Art dating back to the 1940s. We are pleased to host these national treasures and provide our audience with the opportunity to view them here at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.”

 Kenneth Baker had the privilege of talking to the curators of the show, Mary Morton of the National Gallery and Melissa Buron of the Fine Arts Museums and asked them to "single out a few favorites."

Vuillard's "Yellow Curtain" appeared on both their lists. Morton: "Vuillard lived with his mother much of his life, in small apartments where the brightly designed textiles of his mother's business as a seamstress covered most of the visible surfaces. Out of this environment, the artist created hundreds of small-scale meditations on patterns and colors, creating wonderfully abstracted spaces. In this picture, a figure, probably his mother, pulls back a uniformly ocher-yellow curtain to reveal an exuberantly patterned room beyond. These small works garnered the moniker "Intimistes" for Vuillard and his comrade Pierre Bonnard."

Buron: "The title doesn't give us a lot of information, but we know that it's a snapshot of Vuillard's mother in her dressing room. We know because of how she's dressed and groomed that she's either just gotten up or is getting ready to retire. We don't know whether she's aware of being watched. The fact that she's shown in this setting with a bright curtain and pattern, and the flatness, make it feel very tightly enclosed. It conveys the intimacy of a family connection."

More on Vuillard:

'Self Portrait Dedicated to Carrière. 1888/89, Paul Gauguin. Mockery and malice in equal measure.

Morton: "Gauguin painted multiple self-portraits across his career, and he was intensely concerned with his own persona, with creating, in dress and manner, a particular vision he had of the avant-garde artist. Here he wears a brightly colored Breton shirt, signaling his affinity with this remote region in northern France and the culture there that Gauguin felt was more "primitive," closer to nature, a place apart from the decadent modernity of Western capitals like Paris. He gazes out with a kind of knowing look, and with his ears slightly pointed, he looks like a troublemaker."

'Mound of Butter' 1875/1885, Antoine Vollon

Morton: "Here an artist who is not well known makes a veritable masterpiece out of a mountain of soft, churned butter. There is a marvelous way in which the viscous texture of the paint he smears around with his brush serves as a kind of analogue for the substance of butter, the butter knife standing in for the paint brush."

'Tama, the Japanese Dog' c. 1875, Edouard Manet

Buron: "This picture was owned by Théodore Duret. He traveled in Asia and became one of the first great European collectors of Japanese art. He brought back this dog, and convinced Manet that he should paint it. We know its name because it's stamped on the upper corner. ..."

"Manet made the dog look like he's just gotten into or is about to get into some mischief. Manet may have put a Japanese doll in the foreground to suggest this. Tama looks completely indifferent to the fact that someone of Manet's stature is painting his portrait. "

All images from the National Gallery Web Site:

Quotes from Kenneth Baker's interview in the Chron

"Intimate Impressionists" opens at the Legion of Honor March 29

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Birthday William Henry Johnson

William Henry Johnson (March 18, 1901-1970) was an African American painter born in Florence, South Carolina. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and became a student at the National Academy of Design in New York.

His style evolved from realism to expressionism to a powerful folk style (for which he is best known).

 Three Friends. 1944-1945

Johnson spent the late 1920s in France, absorbing the lessons of modernism. As a result, his work became more expressive and emotional. During this same period, he met and fell in love with Danish artist Holcha Krake, whom he married in 1930. The couple spent most of the '30s in Scandinavia, where Johnson's interest in primitivism and folk art began to have a noticeable impact on his work.

During this period, he traveled to North Africa. Here he studied the "primitive" lifestyles of the Arab locals. This concept of the "primitive" is very important to Johnson. "My aim is to express in a natural way, what I feel both rhythmically and spiritually, all that has been stored up in my family of primitive tradition."  

In 1938, he returned to the US and was able to get a job with the WPA. This work provided him with what was to become one of his major projects, a discussion of the history, events, and peoples of the African American community. His art became concerned with the reworking of traditional religious images.

Street Musicians. 1939-1940

His immense range and talent did not protect him from the additional difficulties faced by African-American artists of the era. Although Johnson enjoyed a certain degree of success as an artist in this country and abroad, financial security remained elusive, In the late 40's, after the dealth of his wife from cancer, Johnson fell ill and returned to New York in 1947 to enter the Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island, where he spent the last twenty-three years of his life. He stopped painting in 1956 and died on January 1, 1970.

 Swing Low Sweet Chariot

After his death, his entire life's work was almost disposed of to save storage fees, but it was rescued by friends at the last moment. The Harmon Foundation gave more than 1,000 paintings, watercolors, and prints by Johnson to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (then the National Museum of American Art) in 1967.

 Going to Church. Oil on burlap.

In 1991, the Smithsonian American Art Museum organized and circulated a major exhibition of his artwork, Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, and in 2006, they organized and circulated "William H. Johnson's World on Paper."

In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Johnson's honor, recognizing him as one of the nation’s foremost African-American artists and a major figure in 20th-century American art. The stamp, the 11th in the American Treasures series, showcases his painting Flowers (1939-1940), which depicts brightly colored blooms on a small red table.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Book of Kells is now on line

The Book of Kells contains portraits of all the Evangelists as well as of Christ. This portrait of John has a notably intricate border.

As part of the general celebration of St Patrick’s Day at Trinity, the Book of Kells in its entirety is now viewable in the Library’s new Digital Collections online repository. The link is slow, slow, slow but the images are gorgeous, one of the great treasures of the early Middle Ages.

The Book of Kells (Irish: Leabhar Cheanannais) (Dublin, Trinity College Library). is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables.

There is great uncertainty about its origins. It is thought that the Book of Kells was first worked on at the monastery on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, and was continued, after Viking raids, at the monastery of Kells in Ireland. Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the 10th century, and how the book survived is a miracle.

It was stolen in the 11th century, at which time its cover was torn off and it was thrown into a ditch. The cover, which most likely included gold and gems, has never been found, and the book suffered some water damage; but otherwise it is extraordinarily well-preserved.

In 1541, at the height of the English Reformation, the book was taken by the Roman Catholic Church for safekeeping. It was returned to Ireland in the 17th century, and Archbishop James Ussher gave it to Trinity College, Dublin, where it resides today.

The Book of Kells was written on vellum (calfskin), which was time-consuming to prepare properly but made for an excellent, smooth writing surface. 680 individual pages (340 folios) have survived, and of them only two lack any form of artistic ornamentation. In addition to incidental character illuminations, there are entire pages that are primarily decoration, including portrait pages, "carpet" pages and partially decorated pages with only a line or so of text.

As many as ten different colors were used in the illuminations, some of them rare and expensive dyes that had to be imported from the continent. The workmanship is so fine that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.

The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Salon Doré to reopen in April

Of of all the museums in the Bay Area, the Legion of Honor gives the strongest sense of being both French and 18th century. Of course it is not; the Legion's beautiful Beaux arts building was build to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I.

But so much in the collection is French and is reminiscent of the arts of living in 18th century France (if you were an aristocrat or/ had lots of money).

There is Francois Boucher's delicious painting of Marie-Louise O’Murphy, one of the many young mistresses of Louis XV.

Their collection of 18th century English and French porcelain

Prints such at Jean-Guillame Moiette's "Sacrafice to Diana." Pen and brown ink with white heightening on blue paper (later 18th century). Below

Or this anonymous drawing of a graceful beauty, red ink on cream laid paper.

Denis-Jean de La Villgueray may have been one of the urbane elite that visited the salon; we will never know.

Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721). The Foursome (La Partie Quarrée), ca. 1713. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection. 1977.8 

Ranked among the greatest artists of France, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s enigmatic themes were popular, influential, and widely collected during his lifetime. Born in Valenciennes, then part of Flanders, his intensely personal style was informed by the Venetian masters, whom he studied in Paris, and by a deep affinity for music and theater.

In this painting, known as a fête galantes, the artist evokes an arcadian dreamland of music, conversation and amorous dalliance. Although the work’s title can be defined simply as a party with two couples, the risqué implications of The Foursome remains unchanged from the eighteenth century. This union of observation and fantasy, plus ambiguity of intent and erotic connotations is characteristic of Watteau’s best work.

Dalliance in the salon? Mais bien sûr! As well as politics, witty repartee and all the arts that made this era so delicious for the privileged.

But, lacking Dr. Who's telephone box or a time travel machine,  being at the Legion and walking through the elegant rooms is one of the only ways we have to mentally reconstruct that world at it's most gilded and sumptuous.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rudolf Bauer at Weinstein Gallery (Opens March 15)

I see that the works of Rudolf Bauer will be opening at Weinstein on March 15 - looks like a fascinating exhibit.

Realm of the Spirit runs March 15 to April 20 at Weinstein Gallery (383 Geary Street). Bauer runs March 18 to April 19 at the San Francisco Playhouse (450 Post Street).

Bunnies at Sorokko Gallery, nightlife at the museums and Pi day. I got snarky about the artist who paints bunnies. I love an opportunity to snark.
Realm of the Spirit runs March 15 to April 20 at Weinstein Gallery (383 Geary Street). Bauer runs March 18 to April 19 at the San Francisco Playhouse (450 Post Street).