Introduction to American Art, Part Two

July 8, 2021 at 1:49 pm (Art)

It will be noted, from the examples in Part One, that early American painting possesses a certain folk art , even primitive, quality. We must keep in mind the fact that the European art of this period – the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and prior – had a glorious artistic heritage to draw upon, starting with the statuary and sculpture of antiquity, followed by the vivid imagery evoked in the West by the doctrines and rich lore of Christianity.

In addition, there was little if any professional caliber instruction available to aspiring artists in colonial America. Reproductions of the great masterpieces of Europe could be seen only in the engravings that were circulated at the time in the colonies. These would have reproduced the outline of  each work and not the color – no color!

Apollo Belvedere

 

Laocoon and His Sons

Both of the above works are housed in the Vatican Museums.

The Laocoon was discovered buried beneath a Roman vineyard. Michelangelo was present as it was gradually unearthed. I have a picture in my mind of his standing there. eyes wide with amazement, as this masterpiece was revealed to the world.

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra, c. 1545

This striking image of the Genius of the Age provides a neat segue into the Renaissance:

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, by Raphael, 1504

 

Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Meadow, 1505

Saw this painting  for the first time yesterday and fell in love with it at once. The chubby, blissfully dozing little baby, his beautiful mother, robed in red and blue, adoring her little offspring as new mothers will do, the clouds above her curving around a to the left and almost seeming to form a halo…

Talk about getting sidetracked!

Anyway, American art of the pre-Revolutionary period seems positively quaint when compared to masterpieces like the above. This is not to say, however that it does not possess its own unique virtues:

Isaac Royall and Family, by John Feke

 

Mann Page and Elizabeth Page, by John Wollaston

There is a certain piquancy in the way these characters peer out at us from their two-dimensional space. The children are especially charming.

Yet it seems almost miraculous to go from the above to this full-blooded, beautifully rounded portrait of Henry Pelham:

 

Boy with a Flying Squirrel, 1765

Henry Pelham was the half-brother of John Singleton Copley, the first great painter to emerge from the Colonies.

Statue of Jon Singleton Copley in Copley Square, Boston

 

 

 

 

 

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Introduction to American Art, Part One

June 29, 2021 at 9:11 pm (Art)

Did I ever get a gloriously heavy dose of American Art the week before last! Two hours on a Friday evening, followed by a 9:30 AM to 4 PM session on the following Saturday.

Art historian Bonita Billman started us off with Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t either.

Here’s a quick précis from the Met:

Born in Dieppe, a center for cartography and manuscript illumination, Le Moyne de Morgues emigrated to London, probably following the Huguenot massacres of 1572.

Le Moyne de Morgues accompanied a French expedition to Florida in 1564. The goal of the  expedition was to establish a colony. In this they did not succeed; however, Le Moyne de Morgue, a gifted artist, made numerous botanical paintings. This one is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it is entitled A Sheet of Studies of Flowers: A Rose, a Heartsease, a Sweet Pea, a Garden Pea, and a Lax-flowered Orchid:

Equally valuable are Le Moyne de Morgue’s sketches of Native Americans.

For more on Le Moyne de Morgue’s images of Native American, click here.

And for more images of the fruits and the botanicals, which are truly lovely, click here.
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In colonial America, portraits were in demand. Among the earliest, dated between 1671 and 1674, are these two of John Freake and his wife Elizabeth Clarke Freake, shown here holding baby Mary.

These works are both held by the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass. Fascinating information concerning these paintings can be found at the Worcester Art Museum’s site.

And why have I not mentioned the name of the artist? Because it is not known. He is usually referred to as the Freake Master or the Freake Limner. He dwells, seemingly forever, among the shadows of early America, a land evoked in the haunting prose of Nathaniel Hawthorne, in such stories as”The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Young Goodman Brown.”   (Some elements of this story might make for a compelling work of historical fiction, methinks.)
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The Bermuda Group (Dean Berkeley and his Entourage), begun in 1728; reworked in 1739, by John Smibert

An interesting story lies behind this painting. Here are its main points, as summarized on the site of the Yale University Art Gallery:

The Bermuda Group commemorated an ambitious venture to found a seminary in Bermuda. Frustrated with what he saw as a corrupt European civilization, the philosopher and Anglican cleric George Berkeley (far right) believed that only in the New World would a religious and cultural rebirth be possible. His patron, John Wainright (seated), commissioned the artist John Smibert (standing left), whom Berkeley had hired to teach at the new college, to create this portrait of the expeditionary party, which included two additional wealthy supporters and members of Berkeley’s family. When the seminary project failed for lack of funds, Berkeley’s entourage returned to England, but Smibert moved to Boston and established himself as America’s first professional painter. Despite Berkeley’s misfortune, his poem “Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America” became a touchstone for the new nation: “There shall be sung another golden age / The rise of empire and of arts / … Westward the course of empire takes its way.”

Westward the course of empire takes its way….

 

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Art Certificate Earned!! :))

June 5, 2021 at 8:39 pm (Art, Italy)

I got it! And I’d like to share with you just a small fragment of my delightful experience in getting there.

Art historian Rocky Ruggiero presented two four session courses this Spring for the Smithsonian: Italian Renaissance Art and Drama Most Splendid: The Art and Architecture of the Baroque and Rococo. I want to briefly talk about the Italian Renaissance course  first.

Professor Ruggiero gave us a quick survey of late Medieval Art, after which we slid easily into the early Renaissance. First, Cimabue (c. 1240 – 1302), whose famous Crucifix was so badly damaged in the 1966 flood in Florence. It took them eleven years to restore it.

The Crucifix, right after the flood

 

Cimabue Crucifix, restored

Today in Florence, priceless artworks or manuscripts are not kept at street level or underground. Higher flood barriers are in place near the Uffizi Gallery; new reservoirs and another dam were built. Regular flood drills are conducted in the city, and advance warning systems are in place, yet some experts question whether enough has been done to prevent disaster next time the Arno bursts its banks.

Cimabue’s Crucifix is now fixed on a high wall in the Museum of Santa Croce, with an electrical pulley designed to haul it up to safety in the event of another deluge.

[From “The Great Flood of Florence, 50 Years On,” by Eileen Horne, in The Guardian, November 5, 2016]

There’s a terrific book on this subject by Robert Clark: Dark Water: Art, Disaster, and Redemption in Florence.

Anyhow, after a necessarily brief stop in Siena, highlighting the work of two of its great masters, Giovanni di Paolo and Duccio di Buoninsegna,

Adoration of the Magi, by Gentile da Fabriano

Detail of the above:

Duccio’s spectacular Maesta. I love the story of how the people carried this masterpiece through the streets of the city before placing it on the altar of Siena Cathedral. I can almost see the procession, in my mind’s eye…

it was back to Florence, Cradle of the Renaissance. But wait – There’s still Pisa, a place which as lots more to see than this:

Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano, equally gifted father and son, created these beautiful sculptural works:

 

Decoration of Siena Cathedral, by Nicola Pisano (c. 1220/1225 – c. 1284)

 

Pulpit – Baptistery of Pisa

So when we finally get back to Florence, we must immediately salute the mighty triumvirate of the Italian High Renaissance: Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo.

Of the three, Raphael is my personal favorite. I love his portrait pf Baldassare Castiglione:

Also I like this video, with its dramatic re-enactments and its appealing actor, Joe McFadden, in the role of Raphael:

I can never forget standing, alongside my sister-in-law Donna, before Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks in London’s National Gallery:

Finally, Michelangelo. Professor Ruggiero waxed rhapsodic over this genius, of course with good reason:

Pieta

Section of the Sistine Chapel

Professor Ruggiero stated most emphatically that Michelangelo did NOT assume a prone position while painting the Sistine ceiling. He painted standing up, on the scaffolding.

This is such a quick run-though, with so much left out – sorry!  Also, I hope I haven’t made any errors – let me know if you spot any.

And I didn’t even get to “Drama Most Splendid.” Next time, then.

 

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Art to calm and to inspire

May 22, 2021 at 9:50 pm (Art)

Art and books, art and books! I am awash in both.

I know…lucky, lucky me.

Here are some paintings that I have recently come to know and love – in no particular order:

Christ Healing a Deaf Mute Person, by Philippe de Champagne

You could almost forget that this is a religious depiction, the landscape is so compelling and beautiful. Yet it is vital to know that in a small corner of the picture, a miracle is occurring.

Moonlit Landscape by Washington Allston

The Mill, Rembrandt

Is is the singularity of the structure, set against a threatening sky, the steep cliff descending into calm water below, the juxtaposition of almost glaring light, and encroaching darkness…. I don’t know. This picture has, for me, an hypnotic quality.

In the Orchard, Sir James Guthrie

To my eye, there is in this picture an element of the sacramental. The way the girl is looking past the boy rather than at him. It puts me in mind of a radically different image in which a woman is staring fixedly at something she alone can see:

Sir James Guthrie is a part of a group of Scottish artists called The Glasgow Boys. He is an artist new to me. I find his work deeply appealing.

View of the Garden of the Villa Medici, Velasquez

I have an inexplicable passion for this painting. I asked by art  guru Nora if she could help me to understand why I should feel this way about it. She noted that a view that at first seems straightforward seems later to be full of mystery. Why is the entrance to this structure boarded up in such a haphazard manner? We cannot know. And the trees seem almost to surround it, protecting it.

To me this is a portrayal of sheer beauty. It is also an atypical work for Velasquez, made on a trip to Italy. He was primarily a portrait painter.

In his youth, Velasquez was apprenticed to the painter and writer Francisco Pacheco. In time, he also became Pacheco’s son-in-law.

In the book Lives of Velasquez, Pacheco writes:

I gave him my daughter in marriage, persuaded to it by his virtue, chastity, and good qualities and by the expectations raised by his great native talent.

Michael Jacobs begins his introduction thus:

Velasquez is an artist whose works are so dazzling in their technique and so uncannily lifelike that it is difficult at times to think of him as a man of flesh and blood.

So the book I’m referring to is part of a series put out by Getty publications. They’re unusually small for art books; this volume on Velasquez measures about six inches  by four and a half. It contains Michael Jacobs’s wonderfully illuminating essay, plus the piece by Pacheco and another by Antonio Palomino (1655-1726), a Spanish painter and art historian. I should mention that there are numerous color reproductions in these books, and althouh they are small, they are nevertheless wonderful.

In order to see all the titles currently on offer in this series, click here.

Here are a few more works by Velasquez to feast your eyes upon:

Portrait of Juan de Pareja

I vividly recall the excitement at  the Metropolitan Museum of Art when this work was acquired in 1970. It has been described as “among the most important acquisitions in the Museum’s history”.

Old Woman Frying Eggs

Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Pablo de Vallidolid, the King’s fool

The famous, and incomparable, Las Meninas. To the left, Velasquez himself can be seen, pondering his work.

Whenever I gaze at the art of Velasquez, I hear the timeless, evocative music of Joaquiin Rodrigo. Here is the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez:

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Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me…

May 14, 2021 at 6:23 pm (Art, Family)

 

 

Art books, a cookbook, and a mystery, all wonderful, all courtesy of this terrific guy:

Oh,and if you look closely, at the table, you will note the presence of an Amazon Gift Card.

Such bounty, such generosity! Such love.

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‘Art has been a blessing and a lifeline for so many.’

April 21, 2021 at 6:39 pm (Art, Magazines and newspapers)

It certainly has been, for me.

The above title comes from an article by Caroline Campbell in the December 2020 issue of Apollo: The International Art Magazine.

Campbell continues:

It reminds us of our humanity, and links us to others. In it, we can resilience and comfort.

She then observes:

The  art of the past, however, has a task that seems particularly salient at this moment: to remind us that creativity endures in hard times, and  that crises and pandemics are nothing new. Nor do they last forever, or entirely define the life and experience of those who live  through them.

This is the first time I’ve seen an Apollo’s Awards Issue. It proves to be an especially enriching trove. A few of the highlights:

Toyin Ojih Odutola, selected as artist of the year.

I’d never heard of this Nigeria-born, America-raised painter. I definitely like her work.

The Firm

The Missionary

For Museum Opening of the Year:  The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, Nigeria

And the British Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art:

 

Obviously I can’t wait to see this, ardent Anglophile  that I am!

In other venues, notable acquisitions:

Marie Antoinette in a Park, by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Lebrun,  acquired by the Metropolitan Museum

 

Palm Sunday by Elisabeth Sonrel, acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 

Nice work by the women, I think. It puts me in mind of a  book I read recently, entitled Eighteenth Century Women Artists: Their, Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs. The author is Caroline Chapman. If this sounds fascinating – well, it is, and then  some.

Several of these women were familiar to me: Elisabeth Louise Vigee Lebrun (whose self-portrait graces the cover), Angelica Kaufmann, Rosalba Carriera. But others were new, and I was happy to get to know  them.

Summer, by Rosalba Carriera. This artist, who worked mainly in pastels, was in her day much in demand as a portraitist.

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A Much Beloved Painting

April 5, 2021 at 1:31 pm (Art)

Garden at Saint-Adresse, also known as La Terrasse à Saint-Adresse, by Claude Monet, 1867

As I approach my seventy-seventh birthday (!!), I find myself increasingly frustrated by the inability to make time stop. Yes, to stop in its tracks. To cease, desist, quit robbing others and myself of our ability, vitality, and just plain life force. We know where we are headed, inexorably.

There is one way to stop time. From the beginning of the world, image makers have known this. You will pass, but the image will remain. Thank God – literally – for this.

It is the gift given to us by the arts of painting and photography. The Garden at Saint-Adresse is one of my favorite paintings because it fixes in time a moment of supreme happiness. The people, the sun,the wind, the flowers, the sea – all there, bathed in golden light, forever.

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‘That arm, hacking like an executioner, performed an act of the most extreme cowardice.’ – The Wreck of the Medusa, by Jonathan Miles

February 26, 2021 at 4:02 pm (Art, France)

https://kiamaartgallery.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/thc3a9odore-gc3a9ricault-the-raft-of-medusa-1818-19.png

The size of the above image does not convey the full impact of this painting. The format of this blog does not allow for anything larger. So I suggest that you click here . Then click again on the image displayed.

The Raft of the Medusa depicts the actual aftermath of a terrible maritime disaster that took place in July of 1816, off the coast of what is now Mauritania. The artist is Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault.

There were 148 persons aboard  the raft – 147 men and one woman. These were the ones that didn’t make it into the lifeboats. At first, the lifeboats were towing the raft. But then, those in the boats felt that the raft was too much of a drag on their efforts to reach the shore.. So one among them took an axe and hacked away at the rope that connected the sea-going vessels. Thus, with those brutal strokes, the raft was set adrift, with almost no food, precious little water, and no navigational instruments with which to aid their passage through the stormy Atlantic.

Everything terrible that could happen to those on the raft, happened. Every desperate measure was acceded to. When they were finally rescued, only fifteen survivors remained.

The story of the  survivors’ ordeal on the Medusa’s raft is fairly well known. What is less wel known is the story of the survivors on the lifeboats. They put ashore in what is now Mauritania. (Their original destination was Senegal.) They found themselves in the Sahara, marooned with almost no food or water and harassed by hostile tribesmen. The heat alone was nearly unbearable. For sustenance, they were forced to drink milk mixed with camel’s urine, a “…common source of nourishment for the nomadic tribes who spent up to a week without solid food….”

After a horrific ordeal, the survivors of the shipwreck were finally rescued. It is a miracle that any of them lived to tell the story. And yet, miraculously, they did.

Horace Vernet, Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Gericault, probably 1822 or 1823, 1998.84, MET.jpg

Theodore Gericault, by Horace Vernet, 1822-1823

And let us not give short shrift to the artist. Gericault was the very embodiment of the tormented Romantic artist.   While still in his teens, he embarked on a passionate love affair with Alexandrine Caruel, Baroness de Saint Martin. She was young and beautiful, and possessed a keen interest in the arts. In short, she was everything Gericault wanted in a woman. She was also, by marriage to his father’s brother, his aunt. Alexandra Caruel by Géricault

The affair went on for several years. Gericault absented himself for a time in Italy, partly in an effort to forget Alexandrine, but it didn’t work. As soon as he returned to France, he fell back into her embrace. Eventually she became pregnant, and this finally put paid to their affair. Their infant son was farmed out to the care of another; Gericault never saw him.

Gericault was a man of overmastering passions. He transferred his obsession with Alexandrine to an obsession with the story of the Medusa shipwreck. He shaved his head and sequestered himself in his studio as he labored on his great masterwork. He obtained body parts from the mortuary of a nearby hospital to aid him in his quest for a realistic depiction of a horrible event. (At the time, the composer Hector Berlioz was a reluctant medical student at the same hospital.)

The painting was completed in 1819. By that time, Gericault was beset by illness – depression and tuberculosis. He died in 1824 at the age of 32.

Today, The Raft of the Medusa is one of the most renowned works of art in Paris’s Musee du Louvre.

This book was recommended by Paul Glenshaw. Mr. Glenshaw has recently presented a number of fascinating art webinars for the Smithsonian Associates Streaming Service.

Theodore Gericault’s monument is located in Paris’s famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

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Christmas 2020, in Art and Music

December 25, 2020 at 8:07 pm (Art, Christmas, Music)

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Associates streaming service, I recently had the great good fortune to attend via Zoom a webinar entitled ‘The Nativity in Art: Centuries of Storytelling.’ Our speaker was art historian Elaine Ruffolo.

Here are some of the images she shared with us:

Domenico Ghirlandaio

Taddeo Gaddi

Jacopo Tintoretto

Gentile da Fabriano

Lornzo Monaco

 

Federico Barocci

Hugo van der Goes (from the Portinari Altarpiece)

And my favorite of all these gorgeous works of art – I can’t say exactly why: Giorgione’s Adoration of the Shepherds:

Elaine Ruffolo was speaking to us live, in real time, from Florence, Italy, where she resides.

And now, some music:

 

 

 

 

 

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My Chicago family, at Thanksgiving. They’ve been a model of resourcefulness and buoyancy. Hopefully, I will be seeing them again, before too long. I am starved for hugs!

This has  been a tough year for many of us. I believe that next year will be better. Love to all. And to my British friends: Hang in there, as you always have, with courage and resilience.

 

 

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More on Paul Gauguin and Brittany

November 29, 2020 at 8:53 pm (Art, France)

 

….in February 1888, Gauguin returned to Pont Aven. Brittany suited his temperament. At that time, he wrote to his friend Schuffenecker:’I love Brittany. I find a wildness and a primitiveness there; when my wooden shoes ring out on its granite soil, I hear the muffled, dull, powerful note that I am looking for in my painting.’ The moors, the valleys gouged by rivers, hidden pathways, hedgerows, the old slate-roofed grey dwellings huddled in the hollows, dark forests of beech, ash and oak-all these contributed to the romantic atmosphere of the legendary landscape. A dampness in the air, a special quality in the light, revealed that the sea and its rocky coast were not far away. Gauguin found a spiritual climate here that was perfectly in tune with his desire for a simpler, more intimate form of painting. The little chapels nestled among mossy trees, the stone Calvaries and the crudely carved wooden statues became fused in his mind with other primitive forms that haunted him.

The Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard, and Their Circle, by Claire Freches-Thory and

Antoine Terrasse 

Maybe it’s my current immersion in art, but this paragraph struck me as exceptionally beautiful.

Paul Gauguin en Bretagne

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