News of the Art World

July 2, 2020 at 2:36 pm (Art)

A previous unseen sketch in charcoal by Picasso is slated to be auctioned by Sotheby’s on July 28. Dated 1931, this portrait, called Femme endormie (Woman Sleeping) depicts one Marie-Thérèse Walter, ‘lover and muse’ of the artist.

On seeing it, I was immediately put in mind of this image:

Ara Pacis Augustae

This frieze resides in the Museum of the Ara Pacis, in Rome. I had never previously heard of this institution, or this work, until I obtained this book:

Does anyone else perceive the likeness? I think it’s the angle of the head, the suggestion of a slightly veiled repose.

As to the book itself, it is slow going, but I like the elegiac tone. I return to it from time to time.

 

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Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Art

June 25, 2020 at 1:43 am (Art)

I recently took a week long course on art inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This was a wonderful experience.

Here are just a few of the paintings we studied:

The Rape of Europa, by Noel Nicolas Coypel

 

Jupiter and Io, by Antonio da Coreggio (Can you discern Jupiter’s face? Hint: look closely at Io’s face.)

Many are the ways the wily Jove sates his seemingly endless desire! Here is Rembrandt’s Abduction of Europa:

This is one of the few mythological subjects painted  by Rembrandt.

The Rape of Europa

This masterpiece by Titian is owned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. We’re lucky to still have it; the thieves who perpetrated the notorious theft of March 18, 1990 kindly left it behind. There was some hope that when Whitey Bulgur was finally apprehended in 2011, that he might reveal knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing art. But apparently he did not; if he possessed any useful knowledge on the subject, it’s gone with him to the grave.

Meanwhile, the museum is currently offering a $10 million dollar reward “…for information leading to  the recovery of the stolen works.”

Anybody know anything?

Empty picture frames remain in place – sad reminders.

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Mercury and Argus, by Velasquez. This one of the last paintings Velasquez did. I find it utterly haunting; Mercury is preparing to kill the hundred-eyed Argus. He has seen too much.

 

Deucalion and Pirrha, by Giovanni Maria Bottala. Following the Great Flood, humanity is being reborn from those rocks this man and woman have  been commanded to throw behind them.

This is a huge, delicious subject. There’s more to come.

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Solace in Beauty

June 1, 2020 at 7:18 pm (Art, Current affairs, Music, Poetry)

I am deeply sorry for the pain being felt by many people right now in this country.

I fear that the beauty of this first day of June little avails aching hearts. So I would like to offer some words, sounds, and images of  beauty, as possible solace.

Willem Kalf (1619-1693), Pronk Still Life with Holbein Bowl, Nautilus Cup, Glass Goblet and Fruit Dish

About the chambered nautilus, Wikipedia tells us this:

Nautilus shells were popular items in the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities and were often mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem to make extravagant nautilus shell cups, such as the Burghley Nef, mainly intended as decorations rather than for use. Small natural history collections were common in mid-19th-century Victorian homes, and chambered nautilus shells were popular decorations.

Here is a cutaway view showing the configuration of the shell’s chambers:

In his eponymous poem, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrests a deeper meaning from this curious artifact:

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
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Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
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Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
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Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
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Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
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To return to Wikipedia, the above entry led me in turn to an entry on goldsmiths. On that page, I found this image, which greatly appealed:
Entitled The Bagdadi Goldsmith, it is a creation of Kamal-ol-molk, This  artist was from Iran; he lived from 1848 to 1940.
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This encounter brought to mind a haunting work by the great Russian composer Alexander Borodin. It is called In the Steppes of Central Asia. (The quality of this video is not great, but the visuals are arresting and the music…well, just listen:
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Art Love: Paintings that currently enchant me

May 10, 2020 at 1:30 am (Art)

Virgin Among Virgins in a Rose Garden by the Master of the St. Lucy Legend, 1475-1480

Garden in May by Maria Oakey Dewing, 1895

 

 

Georges de La Tour Peasant Couple Eating, ca. 1620

 

Road in the dunes by Salomon van Ruysdael

 

Astronomer by Candlelight by Gerrit Dou, late 1650s

 

Young Bull by Paulus Potter, 1647

 

White Horse by John Constable, 1819

 

The Princes of Orange and their Families on Horseback, Riding Out from The Buitenhof, The Hague by Paulus van Hillegaert, 1596

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Cardsharps, fortune tellers, and other dubious (but secretive fun) pursuits

May 5, 2020 at 6:16 pm (Art)

It began, as did so much in Baroque painting, with Caravaggio:

The Cardsharps, 1594

“With this petty crime scene, Cardsharps, the young Caravaggio invented a genre of trickery pictures.” (from Caravaggio.org)

Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, by Georges de la Tour, 1630-34

 

The Cardsharps, by Gerard van Honthorst

 

The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen, 1622

 

The Proccuress by Johannes Vermeer, 1656

 

The Fortune Teller, by Caravaggio, 1595

 

Fortune Teller by Georges de la Tour, 1630

 

Fortune Teller with Soldiers by Valentin de Boulogne, 1618-20

These pickpocket paintings brought to mind this number from the musical Oliver!

Why should we break our backs
Stupidly paying tax?
Better get some untaxed income…

Gerrit (Gerard) van Honthorst, Dirck van Baburen, and Hendrick ter Brugghen were the primary exemplars of a group of artists that have come to be known as the Utrecht Caraviggisti. Caravaggio had no workshop and did not deliberately seek to pass on his distinctive artistic proclivities. Nevertheless, his unique, revolutionary style – the use of models from everyday life, their up close, in your face presentation, and above all, the heightening drama of darkness and light – had a profound influence on his contemporaries and immediate followers.

I’ve saved Hendrik ter Brugghen’s Gamblers for last:

This is because I want to share with you this delightful bit of street theater staged in music. I believe it was conceived as an accompaniment to Utrecht,  Caravaggio, and Europe, a special exhibit at Munich’s great Alte Piankothek. It was staged last year. Oh, to have seen it!

 

 

 

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‘Truly, my friend Rembrandt, all honor to you.’

April 23, 2020 at 12:21 pm (Art)

Judas, repentant, returning the pieces of silver, by Rembrandt, 1629

That single gesture of the desperate Judas…a raging, whining Judas groveling for mercy he no longer hopes for or dares to show the smallest sign of expecting, his frightful visage, hair torn out of his head, his rent garment, his arms twisted, the hands clenched bloodlessly tight, fallen to his knees in a heedless outburst–that body, wholly contorted in pathetic despair.

[He] can withstand comparison with anything ever made in Italy, or f or  that matter with everything beautiful and admirable that has been preserved since the earliest antiquity….that which (and I say this in dumb amazement) a youth, a born and bred Batavian…a miller, a smooth-faced  boy, has done: joining in the figure of one man so many divers particulars and expressing so many universals. Truly, my friend Rembrandt, all honor to you.

Constantijn Huygens was astounded when he saw what the young Rembrandt – age 23! – had accomplished in this painting.

Surely there are few things in this world as inspiring as the praise of one genius for another. May this example comfort and encourage us now.

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The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624)

April 13, 2020 at 1:38 pm (Anglophilia, Art)

Yes – It’s Frans Hals’s famous painting of the Laughing Cavalier. Except, chortled our (Osher Life Long Learning) lecturer Nora Hamerman, he is not laughing and he is not a cavalier!

He is obviously not laughing; rather, he is smiling in a somewhat secretive way. (It was considered bad form to portray a subject openly laughing – open mouthed, that is. The condition of the teeth probably had something to do with that proscription.) As for being a cavalier – meaning a knight or some type of nobleman – he was not that, either. Most likely he was a Dutch cloth merchant. Certainly his spectacular doublet is a fine advertisement for his wares!

Nora inquired whether any of us had actually seen this painting. “I have!” I exclaimed, delighted to recall my visit, several years ago, to London’s fabulous Wallace Collection. That’s where The Laughing Cavalier looks out with sly pleasure at delighted visitors.

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The Lure of Ancient Egypt

March 28, 2020 at 4:50 pm (Art, Egypt, History)

I am most fortunate to own this book: The author, John Boardman, boasts a most impressive CV. From the publisher Thames & Hudson:

Sir John Boardman was born in 1927, and educated at Chigwell School and Magdalene College, Cambridge. He spent several years in Greece, three of them as Assistant Director of the British School of Archaeology at Athens, and he has excavated in Smyrna, Crete, Chios and Libya. For four years he was an Assistant Keeper in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and he subsequently became Reader in Classical Archaeology and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He is now Lincoln Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology and Art in Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy, from whom he received the Kenyon Medal in 1995. He was awarded the Onassis Prize for Humanities in 2009. Professor Boardman has written widely on the art and archaeology of Ancient Greece.

You can see and hear Sir John Boardman talking about his life’s work here.

Professor Boardman’s graceful prose is redolent of times past:

The civilization and arts of Egypt have revealed themselves to the rest of the world in dramatic ways. In antiquity Greeks, then Romans, were attracted to Egypt’s obviously extreme antiquity and the exoticism of its arts….Biblical associations and the longevity of its styles of art and writing seemed to mark it out as something exceptional in the history of man….

Sporadically, the country divided politically into North and South. Overall, however, there was undisturbed unity of culture, language, and art which must have contributed to the fact that the highly distinctive idiom for the arts which had been developed in Egypt by the third millennium BC lasted with very little basic change in appearance, styles, subjects and techniques, for more than three thousand years….

Egyptian art is overwhelming in its stylistic idiosyncrasy, its at-first-sight unlikeness even to the various other arts of the urban world with which it made contact. In this must lie much of its unceasing appeal to modern eyes.

There is, of course, so much more in this section, where Sir John’s erudition shines forth in a way that is never pedantic but invariably engaging.
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Rahotep and Nofret

Rahotep ruled during ancient Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty.   These statues of Prince and his wife Nofret were discovered deep inside their mastaba in 1871, by Albert Daninos an assistant to the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette.

These statues are in such superb condition due to  the fact that they had not seen the light of day for several millennia. Particularly striking are the  eyes, which were crafted chiefly of rock crystal:

Indeed, so lifelike were they that when the workman shone their lights upon them, they thought they were in the presence of living beings. Terrified, they fled the premises.

 

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Peregrinations and ruminations, for sustenance in tough times

March 19, 2020 at 3:01 pm (Art, Music, Nature)

Two days ago, a walk around the neighborhood was most salutary. While I didn’t take these pictures, I did see these flowers!

Narcissi

 

Vinca

 

Crocuses

 

Daffodils

 

Forsythia

But then you go inside and the same grim news awaits you… Or, rather, more and different grim news. But no, mustn’t dwell on it. Instead, be grateful for what we still have to sustain us:

Great books, like this one:

I just finished it, and I loved it. Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau is a character I will cherish going forward. It’s been a long time since I fell so completely in love with a character in a novel as I did this time.

I continue to enjoy the Darko Dawson series by Kwei Quartey. Dark is a many-sided, fully three dimensional creation. I cherish him also, as well as his world in Ghana.

Kwei Quartey and Louise Erdrich have both created worlds for me to lose myself in. Much needed at this time. I am deeply grateful to both these gifted authors.
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I am always finding new paintings that amaze me. I mean, look at this!

Scenes from the Passion of Christ by Hana Memling, ca1470

My post of March 12 featured this work by Annibale Carracci:

 

Boy Drinking – a show piece for Carracci’s technical expertise –  resided at the Christ Church Picture Gallery at Oxford University until approximately 11 PM on Monday, March 16. That is  the estimated time at which it was stolen, along with two other priceless paintings, one by Salvator Rosa and another by Van Dyck. Click here  for more on this theft.

Let’s hope for a speedy recovery of these priceless works of art.

As if the world doesn’t have enough to worry about right now, I know…

Finally, there is always music, as with this gorgeous Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, whose sonatas I recall playing on the piano many years ago. (The visual, this achingly poignant Pieta, is by, once again, Annibale Carracci.)

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“….one feels a power seething inside one, one has a task to do and it must be done.”

March 15, 2020 at 4:55 pm (Art, Book review, books, France)

  Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. Having lived variously in the Netherlands and Belgium, he went to Paris to live with his brother Theo, an art dealer, in 1886. Despite the brothers’ deep love for each other, there were conflicts. Van Gogh was always painting and drawing; he soon developed the idea that living in the south of France would would be beneficial to his life and his art. And so, in 1888, to Arles, and the yellow house.

The Yellow House, 1888

While in Arles, Van Gogh’s health, both mental and physical, rapidly deteriorated. Yet as an artist, this was one of his most prolific and fruitful periods. He had had an idea of creating a sort of colony artists, and Paul Gauguin did in fact join him there for a time. It is hard to imagine two more volatile personalities cohabiting in the same small space. After 63 days had passed, Gauguin left Van Gogh, the yellow house, and the south of France forever. (The Yellow House by Martin Gayford describes this turbulent period in fascinating detail.)

Meanwhile, Van Gogh was experience increasing periods of instability and breakdown. He left the south of France in 1890 and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise, a suburb of Paris. In this way he could be close to Dr. Paul Gachet, who was himself an aspiring artist as well as a physician.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890

This was to be the last port of call for the tormented spirit of Vincent Van Gogh. In July, he was found in his room with a gunshot wound to the chest. He survived for some thirty hours. No surgeon was available, so the bullet could not  be removed. At any event, a fatal infection soon set in. At the time of his death on 29 July 1890, Van Gogh, his stunning genius largely unrecognized by the art world, was 37 years old.

(In recent years, a controversy has arisen as to whether Van Gogh actually shot himself, or whether some other person was responsible. For more on this, click here.)

This quick summation leaves out a great deal. For instance, there is a period when Van Gogh was living in The Hague – 1882 to 1883. He took in a prostitute named Clasina Maria “Sien” Hoornik. Sien, pregnant at this time, served as an occasional model for Van Gogh.

Sien, who already had a five-year-old daughter, gave birth to a boy in July of 1882. Vincent cared for Sien; he loved her children even more and was especially taken by little Willem:

A baby, for Vincent, was simply “the best thing”— life’s first fresh bud, irresistibly calling for the consolation that makes us human, a primary reality of a kind he himself was fated never to produce.

Julian Bell wrote A Power Seething some four years after the publication of the mammoth tome – 976 pages – by Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.  In his introduction, Bell explains:

I have written this book out of my love for Vincent van Gogh, the letter writer of heart-piercing eloquence. Researching it, I have gotten to know something of Vincent the social animal, the misfit tearing a ragged course through the late nineteenth-century Netherlands and France.

I deeply appreciate that Bell declares his love so boldly and without apology. He wields an even hand in the telling of this story, but his devotion to his subject nonetheless shines through. By the time you finish this (comparatively slender) volume, you may very well feel the same. I did, but I was most of the way there already.

In July of 2018, my friend Jean and I had the pleasure of attending a presentation at the Smithsonian entitled “Van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard.” I created a post on the subject; it features two guest appearances by my granddaughter.

There exists a lovely book on this subject.   I also recommend this edition of Van Gogh’s wonderful letters. It contains visuals of those letters, in addition to some of his most memorable art.

Vincent and his brother Theo were very close. Theo almost singlehandedly kept Vincent afloat, both financially and artistically. It’s often said that Vincent sold only one painting in his lifetime. He might have sold more, had he not given his art away so freely and so generously. Theo was  shattered by Vincent’s death. In frail health himself, he died six months later at age 33.

Theo van Gogh
*1882

Johanna ‘Jo’ van Gogh-Bonger (1862-1925) was Theo’s wife. In 1890, she gave birth to a son, whom they named Vincent Willem. Jo was instrumental in assuring that Vincent’s fame was established and continued to grow in the art world.

Julian Bell, writer and painter, comes by his gifts naturally; his father, Quentin Bell, likewise practiced these professions. His father, in turn, was the art critic and theorist Clive Bell, who was the husband of painter Vanessa Bell, who was the sister of Virginia Woolf.   (The Bells and Virginia and Leonard Woolf comprised the nucleus of what famously became the Bloomsbury Group.)

 

The Handover, by Julian Bell

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a section for questions and answers. Someone asked if there were any descendants of the van Gogh family still living. The site features a gracious response from Willem van Gogh.

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A Van Gogh gallery

Bedroom in Arles, 1888

 

The Night Cafe, 1888

 

Red Vineyards, 1888

Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles, 1889

 

The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890

The Starry Night, 1889. One of the first paintings I ever came to know and love. My mother took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I was eight years old. We went upstairs; she sent me in ahead of her. I just stared and stared, not moving.

 

Starry Night over the Rhone, 1889

We all end our lives with a deficit, van Gogh once told Theo, “yet, yet, one feels a power seething inside one, one has a task to do and it must  be done.”

 

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