Thursday, December 31, 2009
His style was so influential that he was widely imitated and many of his ideas became part of an art and design movement, art nouveau. Based on natural forms abstracted and decorating classically draped figures Mucha was enormously influential in his time. Muchas writhing line, decorative flattening, pastel colors, and astronomical references were a language he could deploy for almost any product. His lovely women with their long necks. hairpieces of flowers and the occasional halo were charming and elegant
In the 1960's he was rediscovered and his work was again influential. Psychedelic art rifled his ideas. When you see the art of Peter Max or the Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine, those are 1960's rehashing of Muchas ideas.
Rock music albums and the "head comix" of that era used a lot of frankly derivative copies of his work. He was often not credited. But posters of his work becoming available and hanging in college dorm rooms, and black light pharmaceutical recreation areas across the nation made him a popular artist for a few years there.
Mucha returned to Prague in the 1920's and began work on a series of enormous paintings in a cycle entitled The Apotheosis of the Slavs. They were unknown to us in the 60's, so I will return to them later. They were thought dangerously nationalistic by the invading Nazis in the thirties. In 1939 immediately after the invasion by Germany, Mucha was arrested by the Gestapo and questioned ruthlessly. His health failed and although released, he died of a lung ailment shortly thereafter, certainly as a result of his mistreatment at Nazi hands.
images courtesy of artrenewal.org. Go check em out, the links in my sidebar, great site!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
This post is another in my "who was famous in the 60's?" series. The artist on this page Kley was a German newspaper cartoonist who lived from 1863 to 1945.I am excited to turn you on to this guy. I am very fond of his work. He LIT me up in the late 60's. Dover press published several books of his drawings and he was a a great hero to me in high school. I drew a lot in India ink trying to acquire the look of these. I can't say that I ever did.
Kley was a wildly talented irreverent cartoonist who took on the church the government and the foibles of the German people. His drawings are facile in the extreme. His command of the figure and animal anatomy is wonderful. I envied his ability to whip out those lithe nudes in any position or angle he needed.
Kley was a big influence on the movie Fantasia and was studied extensively by the Disney artists of that era. I think that is probably why his reputation has survived. He is all but forgotten in Germany today.
If you want to see an example of someone who could draw with a pen fluidly I think Kley and Charles Dana Gibson are great examples. They lived at roughly the same time and their ability was developed because printing in the popular press at that time did very well on ink drawings.
These images are from "More Drawings by Heinrich Kley copyright 1962 by Dover Press, here is a link to where you can get a copy.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Above is the left hand panel from a triptych now called the garden of good and evil, its original title is now lost. The sixties was very excited about Bosch, the idea was popular that he illustrated nicely the ideas of Freud. For the most part that idea has been soundly refuted, and he has come to be viewed as well with in the late medieval tradition.
Very little is known about Bosch other than that he lived from about 1450 to about 1515 in the Netherlands, which was in those days a possession of Spain. We know his father was a painter, although none of the fathers works remain. We do know that he was a member of a conservative religious organization called the Brotherhood of Our Lady.
Above the Death and the Miser.The imagery that seemed so surreal in the 60's was actually illustrations of sermons and concepts of the medieval church. The paintings are descriptions of hell and the dangers of earthly sins. It strikes me as somewhat amusing that a society that wouldn't have had a minute for a fire and brimstone speech, had such a fascination for what was essentially a painted version of the same thing. The paintings are full of bizarre and in many cases sexually unattractive (that's a nice way to put it ) images. I remember seeing posters of Bosches work in officers of college professors and others who wanted to appear smart., He was thought daring and "a difficult" artist.Without much interest in understanding the religious symbolism in the art or the ideas prevalent in the artists time it was hip to attribute to the paintings the ideas of contemporary psychology.
This painting is full of demons doing unpleasantries to their charges. There is a real nastiness to these demons and the message to the viewer is "straighten out, or this is ahead of you". The works of Bosch were often compared to a then living surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Here's one below.
Dali, a Spaniard, really did intend to illustrate the ideas of Freud. Later financial shenanigans with his estate and a general shift in interest away from Freudian ideas has somewhat diminished his popularity. There are some very impressive Dali paintings though, below is one.
I am going to return tomorrow and show several more artists who were big in the 60's. One you probably wont know but should really find exciting.
Monday, December 28, 2009
I plan to do posts on trees and continue some of the art historical threads I have started, but as those are larger themes, I am going to continue with some smaller ideas for a few more days. This is a continuation of the thought that gave you Maurice Utrillo the last two nights. Art history is different for each era, the art history of today is not the same as our grandparents. I became aware of art history in the 60's and in a way it formed a baseline against which I have observed its continued evolution. For the better I think, incidentally.
I think it is interesting to notice, that which each era has mistaken for art. In the 60's art was often confused with psychology. Psychology was huge at that time. Dr. Leary, above was taken very seriously because he was a scientist! Others might have opinions, but psychologists brought data, their opinions outclassed those of lesser shamans. In the dark ages when you were supposed to shut up and listen, the bureaucrats cried "God says!" By the sixties they cried "Studies show!"
Psychology today was a major magazine, Freud was still in power and Jung had a best selling coffee table book at the end of that decade. When you went to the museum, people stood in front of the paintings and talked not about how the paintings looked, or what period they were from. They talked about their feelings, how the paintings made them feel and the psychology of that artist. People didn't know enough about art to talk about it, but they did know, or at least thought they knew how to talk about psychology. They mistook art for Psychology. In fact the idea was that if you knew pop psychology that was all that was necessary to unlock the mysteries of art. You still meet people who think that today.
The art that was most preferred in the 60's was that which lent itself to that treatment. A tortured artist was good for projecting psychological diagnosis's onto. Irving Stones popular biography of Van Gogh gave people something to talk about. He was perhaps the most valued artist of that time. He is still held in very high regard but I think he was more so in the 60's. He was played by Kirk Douglas in the movie.
Andrew Wyeth, a truly great painter was ideal for this era, and appealed to the love of the psychological. He is the most psychological of contemporary traditional painters. There were several painters though who appealed so strongly then whose reputation seems to have slipped like Utrillo's since then. Above is an El Greco. Their otherworldliness made them popular and prints of El Greco were common and he was an artist that people knew. Much ink was spent explaining his art from a contemporary psychological standpoint. Below is another.
The peculiar elongations of his figures were attributed to personal psychology, inspired and were compared to another artist popular during the era who had mental problems, Modigliani. Modigliani was afflicted with alcoholism , tuberculosis and drug addiction, and women absolutely loved him. He was only 5'5" tall and lived a life of total debauchery after he arrived from his native Italy in Montmartre. His lover, twenty one year old Jeanne, nine months pregnant, jumped to her death from a high window a day after his death.
Jeanne Modiglianis model and lover.
Now there's psychological anguish. The importance of his art seemed to peak during the 60's and while still a famous artist his reputation is not now, what it was then. Below is one of his nudes. Rather elegant I think.
I will return tomorrow with another artist who was hot in the 60's
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Well, as long as I brought him up, I guess I ought to tell the story. It is a good one. Utrillo was the son of Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938). Valodon was the illegitimate daughter of a laundress who at fifteen joined the circus as a trapeze artist. An injury sent her into the modeling business in Montmartre.
That was the place to be for the wild artistic life of the era. She modeled for Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas (with whom she was a life time friend) and Puvis de Chavannes. Here is a picture of her by Lautrec.
She had a son, probably by Puvis although it might have been Renoir or,well who knows. She never said, and may herself not have known. Valedon was a mistress to many artists and used the opportunity to study with them. She eventually became one of them and a successful painter herself.
Utrillo was a sort of teen age delinquent and had serious mental problems in his late teens. His mother encouraged him to paint. He hung around the artists area of Paris, Montmartre painting depressing streetscenes and became better and better known, until by the 1920's he was an internationally known artist.
The painting I showed yesterday:
"Lapin Agile" is available on post cards all over Paris and is an icon. I set up and painted exactly this view a few years ago, although I actually cropped it a little differently. Montmartre is a tourist area with an art theme. Picasso and Modigliani lived here and a lot of the other Parisian painters of that generation. Today there are sketch artists there doing portraits on newsprint. Most of them were from Eastern Europe and were entranced by the Soltek easel I was using. I told them it was the lunar lander.
The scene is absolutely unchanged since then. It is a little unnerving. I suppose they preserve it as a tourist attraction. but there are few places where you can go and be in an environment so like a famous painting. There are lots of street painters in Paris, but they are like the musicians playing on the street in America. Few are very good, maybe none. The locals thought I was amazing ( their standards were very low) and as I worked, I had dozens of Frenchmen standing behind me and saying Bon! all day. They tried to hand me money but I turned it down. I did however happily take their cigarettes. Galoises Caporals, a fine smoke, no filter.
Utrillo was plagued his entire life by recurrent alcoholism and insanity. He was hospitalized a number of times. At the end of his life he married and underwent some kind of a religious conversion. Despite all of the liquor, madness and marriage he lived into his seventies.
I have posted his art not because I think he is a great painter to emulate, but more because I think he falls into the category of things an artist ought to know about.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
I am not going to post much tonight as it is Christmas But I thought I would throw this out. There was a time when this guy Utrillo was in the very select number of artists who were deemed to be important. Prints of his art were everywhere and it was hip to like and to talk about Utrillo. He is now pretty much forgotten. It might be an interesting post to write about artists who have been in favor and then disappeared again.
Thank you all for coming and reading my blog. It would be impossible to motivate myself to write if I didn't know people were reading it. I wonder what I will write about next?
Friday, December 25, 2009
Henryk Hector Siemiradzki Christ in the house of Mary and Martha.
Its Christmas eve. I took my family to evening service at an old wooden church atop a hill in a tiny New England village. The simple church was painted white except for some classical trompe work behind the altar and on the ceiling. From the middle of the ceiling hung a big brass candelabra. The church was from the eighteen fifties and looked pretty much as it must have the day it was built. We sang the old carols, Angels we have heard on high, Joy to the world
and Hark the herald Angels sing. There were perhaps fifty of us in the church, since we were out in the countryside the church was filled with families and working people.
At the end of the service we were each given a lit candle and after singing a last hymn we processed out the big open doors of the church into the snowy darkness of a village where the sky was full of a million stars, that never show in the city. The snow was crunching under our feet as we walked to our car and called goodnight to our friends.
Tomorrow morning we will open the presents we have wrapped and placed under the tree, our kids are college age now, so we no longer have little children, wide eyed and in footed pajamas running down the stairs to see the tree with packages piled high around and stretching out from its base. But this is nice too. It is not less.
I feel like I have again run another lap. For me the year seems to end on Christmas eve, not New years. We have dinner with our oldest friends, our children and their friends who we have watched grow up. My eldest girl says its time to watch Its a Beautiful Life and that is an attractive bowl of shrimp shes got there. That movie makes me cry every year. I pretend it doesn't.
Merry Christmas to you and God Bless
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This is also a Raphael. The child has an abdomen similar to a moth I noticed. The conventions for how an attractive baby should be proportioned have yet to develop. In fact I don't think their was general agreement as to how a female figure should be proportioned at this time either.
There are so many fine Madonna and child pictures and I have cherry picked a dozen or so from different eras to unfurl before you over the next few days. Here is a Bouguereau.
It lacks the classical restraint and reserve of the Raphael, but it is a lovely painting. As you know I am fond of his art and I think he will be an enormous influence on the next generation of young American painters. That which is most reviled by one generation is sometimes most admired by their grandchildren.
Lastly here is anothere Rembrandt, his pictures always seem so unpretentious to me. Even his putti are a LITTLE more believable. All of the figures in this painting are arrayed along a serpentine pathway that runs from the cradle through Marys arm to her head, back through Joe with his axe, and then up through the pukids being dropped into the scene via some sort of a chute.
1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.Breughel the younger, I love the Breughels paintings, they are so full of charm. They seem to give a real picture of the world in which they were painted. The wise men are over there in the left corner. I like the architecture in there. The magi were probably Zoroastrian priests who were into astronomy. The magi root was also used to create the word magic. so they may have been "sorcerers". Only later did tradition make them three, one for each described gift, name them, and call them kings.
Above is an adoration by Pellegrino Tibaldi, I can't even tell if these guys are shepherds, magi or the Village People. It looks like a tag team match in a professional wrestling broadcast. And those damned putti are up in the top of the frame with the roll of Charmin again! Weird. There is an interesting parallelogram opening leading to the virgin Mary who might otherwise be lost in the writhing tangle of bodies. It looks like a bait shop in there.
This piece from the Prado in Madrid by Fray Juan Bautista Maino a Spanish artist has the star shing down and its easy to tell who the Magi are, by there robes and actions. The Christ Child is presented as being older which fits the description of young child as in the passage above. This is not the evening of Christs birth but later. In popular tradition though we expect the Shepherds and the Magi on the same stage at once. Squint way down, that's a good way to simplify a painting , look at it through your eyelashes. Do you see a big X shape drawing your eye to the head of the King in the white turban and the Christ child? There are a number of lines radiating out from that point, there is no doubt where you are supposed to find the baby in this painting. And everybodies got their pants on! To my mind this is a far more effective painting than the bath house follies above it.
I think the upper picture the artists purpose is to show off how well he can do figures. In the lower painting the artist wants to tell the story, in an effective and coherent way. He gives to the viewer rather than trying to impress them with what a great artist he is. I see the same problem out there today when I look in some of the contemporary art magazines. I think the painter should care for the viewer, that makes it picturemaking. If you are only out to make something to impress them, your painting may say nothing but,"I am SO cool". The occasional "I am so cool" painting is OK, but most people don't want a steady diet of them. They want to receive a visual gift, get something of value, be nurtured or see something beautiful, see a story, or reflect on some deep sympathy that we all hold . I think picturemaking is very important. When people ask me what I do for a living I respond "I paint pictures".
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
About the Christ child are a pinwheel of limbs formed by the leg of the kneeling shepherd, Marys raised arm, the woman in the hats arm, and then the shepherds arm. The baby is in the center of a maelstrom of converging arcs.
The painting above is by Gerit Von Honthorst, who lived at the same time as Rembrandt but was a few years his senior. Honthorst was a wildly successful artist and studied in Rome to learn the Carravagiast style. That is, he painted scenes using the chiaroscuro style of Caravagio. Rembrandt too was a follower of that style but became so unique that the label was to small to fit him.
I think the darks scattered about this painting are less well designed than those or the Rubens above or that Rembrandt from the other day. The same illuminated by a baby against a dark field ploy goes on in all of these pictures and Gerit isn't quite as good at it. Squint at the picture and notice the following slightly clunky little darks.
- The dark behind the praying shepherd on the lefts hands.
- The dark below the chin of the cow
- and the dark shape to the right of Marys head.
Above is a Bernardo Strozzi who was born just a little before Rembrandt is playing the same theme too, with the illuminated shapes set against the darkness. Marys gesture is lovely and there is a silvery cast to this painting that is a little different than the golden glow of the dutch paintings we have been seeing. Squint way down on this one and see what fine shapes Strozzi has made. The radiating spoke like shapes formed by the draperies supporting Christ work really well. The two vertical staffs on either side of Mary are a great counter to all of the ovoid shapes in there. Thats a neat design idea too.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Xave a xolly Jolly Xmas, its the best time of the year! Xappy Xollidays! Xo,xo, xo Merry Xmas!
I'll be xome for xmas, youx can count on me! Phrosteee the xnowman! Xrudolph the xred nosed xreindeer, Xad a very Xhiny noxe.
OK, here's the scripture;
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Artists have loved the adoration of the shepherds for a number of reasons. First of all you have the great event, angels, some local rustics, maybe some barnyard animals and weird backcountry architecture, but more than that ITS A NIGHT SCENE! all suffused with awe and holiness. That's a marvelous opportunity for a painter. Painters have used dramatic lighting, like in the Rembrandt above.That is an absolutely stunning picture by the way. Rembrandts Christ in born in a stable, and he knew what a stable was and he knew what Shepherds looked like too.Notice the big areas of darks in both pictures above and how they "sew" the pictures together. The light effect in this Rembrandt is so great, and he has all the possible variations going on too. He has Christ as a light source, the holy family and their visitors are illuminated by that light, and a figure cuts in front of it.That even further capitalize on the pictorial devices made available by his use of this light source. But most importantly I think Rembrandt has created a scene of awe and hushed reverence. These people are aware of the giant importance of what they are seeing. I don't really think there are a lot of better paintings than this one, but as I said before, Rembrandt is the Beatles of painting.
This is a Boucher, he takes a very different approach, his painting is decorative and very stylized. He was a mannerist painter and everything he did was that way. A very different approach, I think less effective too, but its still great painting. Everything in it is arrayed in a sort of swooping inverted arc, like a big U shape with Christ placed at the balance point. Boucher is a generation or so later than Rembrandt and his art is a revolution away from that dark style and is considered Rococo. Incidentally the famous and wonderful quote from Boucher is "Nature is too green, and badly lit" wouldn't that make a great neck tattoo for a landscape painter?
images from artrenewal.org
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Below is the scripture from Luke upon which these are based. I expect many of you think scripture, particularly in the more artful King James version is a little hard to read. Humor me and read it. I will see you on the other side.
- 26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Here is a Dante Gabrielle Rossetti of the annunciation. This one is less overblown and I think reads better from our 21st century viewpoint. Mary looks shocked, as well she should be. Stunned. She would have had to be thinking, why me?
Here is Raphael on the same subject. Mary is in a palace of some kind, maybe Greek. Wonderful painting but I personally feel it is so formal the narrative gets lost.
This is my favorite, Mary looks shocked and Gabriel is gliding towards her in a slightly supernatural way I love the color in this painting. It is by Waterhouse, the Victorian English master. It is not overdone and it tells the story.
Well as I am still sick. That's about what I can do tonight. I did get through it, I hope it makes sense. Tomorrow I think we will have to find some Shepherds watching their flocks by night.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
OK, lets see...... Rembrandts father was a miller, like Constables oddly. The mill above is lovingly observed, but I am surprised at how he placed it against the side of the picture like that. I guess that pole that protrudes from its right hand edge with the rope saves it. If I cover the pole with my shaking febrile hand the design seems weakened. The shapes of the blades of the windmill are beautiful and I guess he gets away with it all. Rembrandt was familiar with oriental wood block art, the tea that came from the east was wrapped in it. I suppose this bizarre design is taken from woodbock prints from the orient. Etchings have been particularly influenced by oriental design. Amsterdam's trade made it a crossroads of culture.
This next piece is a little gem though. Here Rembrandt is using the arabesque or the decorative outline of the quaint cottage to make his design go. The varied and wandering outline is full of charm. The little guy to the right of the house is indicated by the rising line that sweeps around the front of the house to point him out. That springy slightly concave line the guy is walking on is nice too. Its rhythmic. Usually using concave lines in a landscape is dangerous but here Rembrandt has done it. This house must have been thought of as charming and quaint in Rembrandt's day. Notice the strong reflected light enlivening the right hand wall of the structure. That takes away any feeling of heaviness and substitutes a glow that seems warm and welcoming. I can feel the sun bouncing around in there.
Here's another little piece of pastoral lowlands country. On the right a little man carries buckets with a yoke. All of these etchings were made to appeal to a middle class merchant society that arose from the trade out of Amsterdam in the 1600's. Artists before this had mostly worked for popes and aristocrats who wanted something very different than the scenes that would have been familiar to Rembrandt's clientele. The country side and home and hearth sort of themes are characteristic of a democratic art. Instead of gods and mythological ruins, we have simple everyday life presented unadorned and truthfully.
Our own art of America was later to be built on the same model. I have always felt that the influence of Dutch painting on American art has been under appreciated.
There you have it. A blog post. Now I am taking my mumbling, hissing, fever bunnies and going back to bed.
images from archive.org