London art museums: the National Gallery and the Tate Britain: Two

May 12, 2017 at 11:18 am (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

[Click here for One in this series]

Last Saturday, Professor Bonita Billman regaled us with numerous fascinating stories to go along with the spectacular art works on display. For instance:

The Origin of the Milky Way, by Jacopo Tintoretto – ca. 1575-1580

According to myth, the Milky Way was formed by the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, in a fit of pique. (If my recollection of the field of mythology is correct, she was prone to these.) It seems that her half-sister Athena brought the infant Heracles to Hera so that she could nurse him. Hera was initially willing to perform this task – never mind that Heracles (Hercules) was the offspring of one of Zeus’s innumerable illicit love affairs – but Heracles suckled with such vigor that she cast him off. In the process of doing this, she scattered her mother’s milk over a wide area. So wide, in fact, that it coalesced into the galaxy we now call the Milky Way.

How to respond to such a tale except by exclaiming: Who knew??

There’s more on this in the Wikipedia entry on Heracles, along with wonderful additional illustrations.

 

 

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London art museums: the National Gallery and the Tate Britain: One

May 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

The Ambassadors, By Hans Holbein the Younger – 1533

[Click twice to enlarge.]

This extraordinary painting is one of many discussed last Saturday by our presenter Bonita Billman at our day long lecture on London’s National Gallery and the Tate Britain.  This was the second such outing for my fellow art lover and friend Jean and myself. It was just as enjoyable as Seductive Paris from last November, with the added attraction of the trains having run on time.

That strange object at the bottom of the canvas is what is called an animorphosis.  Wikipedia enlarges on its use here and also provides this normalized version of the image:

I read somewhere that if you hold the back of a highly polished spoon up to the image in the painting, you can resolve it into the image shown directly above. I tried it, and after much contorting and head twisting, had to admit defeat. Try it yourself, if you like, and let me know if you can make it work.

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‘The life of Henry Ossawa Tanner is nothing short of inspirational.’

November 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, by Thomas Eakins

Henry Ossawa Tanner by Thomas Eakins, 1900

So begins the foreword to the catalog that accompanied the 2012 retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibit was entitled Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1859, Tanner moved with his family to Philadelphia while he was still very young. The city served as an incubator for great American art and artists, and so it proved to be with him.

Tanner’s professional journey began at age thirteen with a  walk beside his father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, where they encountered a landscape painter. Transfixed by the magic of this artist’s craft, Tanner knew at that formative moment that he wanted to be an artist.

[From the above cited Foreword, by David R. Brigham]

In 1879, Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He profited greatly from his studies there, especially those undertaken with Thomas Eakins. Nevertheless, his exposure to the taunts and routine humiliation of racism distracted and dismayed him. And so, like many of his fellow artists, he journeyed to France. This was in 1891. In 1899, he married Jessie Olsson, a Swedish-American opera singer. They had a son, Jesse. With the exception of several short trips back to America, Tanner remained living abroad for the remainder of his life.

Tanner’s style was fluid; his subject matter ranged from scenes of daily life for African-Americans to religious subjects.

In paintings like The Banjo Lesson, one can see the fluid use of paint, as if he effortlessly swept the pigment onto the canvas. The light and color of the piece echo the Impressionists in that it seems as if the subjects are caught at a fleeting moment as the sun starts to fade. While many of his works were influenced by Impressionism he never moved into the whole of that style, and because of this he was often criticized as being too “old fashion.” Yet, when looking at his use of color and the application of paint, there is such vitality and softness that it is hard to imagine calling it “old fashioned.”

Both in his genre scenes, African American paintings and his religious work, there is a type of compassion and gentleness between the subjects, which is rarely seen in art. In his painting The Annunciation (1898), the divine light of an angelic presence illuminates the entire room. The young Mary, frightened but full of gentleness looks questioningly towards the messenger whose warm light seems to embrace her.

[From the Henry Ossawa Tanner entry on Sullivan Goss: An America Art Gallery]

The Banjo Lesson

The Banjo Lesson, 1893

The Thankful Poor, 1894

The Thankful Poor, 1894

Spinning by Firelight, 1894

Spinning by Firelight, 1894

The Annunciation, 1898

The Annunciation, 1898

Abraham's Oak, 1904

Abraham’s Oak, 1904

View of the Seine Looking Toward Notre Dame, 1896

View of the Seine Looking Toward Notre Dame, 1896

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, 1897

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1897

A Mosque in Cairo, 1897

A Mosque in Cairo, 1897

In recognition of his achievements as an artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner was honored in his adoptive country France by being made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1923.

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To view more of Tanner’s art, go to The Athenaeum.

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