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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Henri de Toulouse –Lautrec: The Stars and Starlets

Henri de Toulouse –Lautrec’s production is closely related to Parisian worldly life and, coinciding with the height of the café dansant era, it deals with the world of the stars at the end of the century. The glories of Yvette Guilbert, Aristide Bruant, and Jane Avril were mostly recorded by the little artist’s incisive pencil, which portrayed them in action on stage or in poster presentations of the shows. The master’s work documented their triumphs step by step.

Aristide Bruant, bound to Toulouse –Lautrec by a long friendship, was a modest railroad employee who became a famous popular singer and then opened his own cabaret, Le Mirliton, at 84 Boulevrad Rochechouart.

Aristide Bruant

France, 1851–1925.
Composer and song-writer, he created his own genre of very realistic, often anarchical songs with lewd quips addressed to the audience.
Jane Avril (1868-1943)
dancer, singer and actress, Jane Avril did frenetic dances in the fashionable Parisian nightclubs. Later she was also highly successful in London. 

Ethereal, good looking, refined and elegant, yet gifted with devilish energy, and with the nickname “La Melinite” (a substance similar to dynamite), Jane Avril was considered the incarnation of dance. She lived surrounded by a crowded court of admirers, of whom Toulouse –Lautrec was the most constant.
Jane Avril Queen of Montmartre and The Moulin Rouge

An American from Illinois, Loie Fuller was the “butterfly” of Paris. With a specialized team of electricians she perfected a show based on the use of hand-held sticks to twirl veils around her body while standing with her legs still.
Yvette Guilbert (1894, Albi, Musee Toulouse –Lautrec). This charcoal drawing was a study for a never realized poster. The project was refused by Guilbert who saw herself portrayed as very ugly. In a letter to the artist about the portrait she wrote: "For heaven's sake, don't make me so atrociously ugly! Many people who come to visit haven't been able to withhold terrible cries upon seeing it." 

Authorized since 1876, the shows with these dancers and singers were accused of competing with the theater. Actually they were directed toward a popular public, offering a low priced amusement. Despite censure, these shows were the norm in places that allowed freedom of expression.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Renoir: Moulin De la Galette

Renoir is the only great painter who never painted a sad painting. Moulin De la Galette is the greatest example of his radiant outlook. It is an anthem to youth and happiness, expressed in the pure colours and light palette of the Impressionists. 
Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette1876.
Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Renoir captures a party at a popular Montmartre locale, in the greatest ever painting en plein-air.

Auguste Renoir was born in 1841 in Limoges, to a tailor father and factory worker mother. He was still a young child when his family moved to Paris. He trained as a craftsman, decorating first porcelain, then fans and curtains. In 1862 he had enough money to pay for painting lessons from Charles Gleyre at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he met Monet, Sisley, and Bazille. Along with them, he admired the masters of the previous generations, particularly Corbet, Corot, ad the landscape artists of the Barbizon school. He went with his companions to paint outdoors, en plein-air, in Fontainebleau forest. In Paris he frequented the Cafe Guerbois, where young artists congregated around Manet and the writer Zola. Shunning the official Salon culture, Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Degas, Pissaro, and Bazille founded Impressionism. In 1874 Renoir exhibited seven works at the first Impressionist exhibition, held by photographer Nadar.

In the early 1870s, the Moulin de la Galette was a popular Montmartre locale where people went to open-air evening dances. The dance floor was beneath a large shed, with a plinth for the orchestra, set in a large tree-filled garden, where workers, students and young artists met on weekends.

In his Moulin de la Galette, purchased immediately by Renoir's fellow painter and friend Caillebotte, the artist is studying the quality of light and the dynamic depiction of a scene of modern life, following the orientation and experimentations of his companions. Shown at the third Impressionist exhibition, in Rue Le Pelettier in 1877, the painting was enthusiastically received by Georges Riviere, who wrote in the L'Impressionniste review "This is a page of history, a valuable monument to Paris life." 

Existential happiness - almost an ode to joy and youth - and a "sketched" quality to the painting, are the first impact of the work. Only a few of the faces in the foreground are handled with the virtuosity of portraiture; in the rest of the painting - and this is one of Renoir's innovations - space is resolved in the inebriating splendor of the colours and light penetrating from above, blending the bodies and the surrounding environment.
A number of Renoir friends posed for the work. The women are the young model Estelle, in the striped dress, and her sister, actress Jeanne Samary, who is standing next to her. Sitting around the table are painters and intellectuals, but they are not easily identified with any precision. Among the dancers, behind and to the left, are the couple Marguerite Legrand, known as "Margot",  and Pedro Vidalde Solares y Cardenas, a painter of Spanish origin, wearing a black felt hat.
Franc-Lamy, one day, found a preparatory sketch in my atelier for Moulin de la Gallete. "You really ought to paint that picture," he told me. It was very complex: finding the models, a garden...I had the good fortune to receive a well-paid commission: a portrait of a lady and her two daughters, for 1200 francs. I rented a house with a garden in Montmartre for one hundred francs a month...and it was there that I pained Moulin de la Galette..."
In the garden at his Rue Cortot studio Renoir painted not only his famous canvas, but other renowned large format works such as The Pergola, Nude in Sunlight, The Swing, and Claude Monet Painting in his Garden.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French 1841-1919). Claude Monet painting in his Garden at Argenteuil, about 1873.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Nude in the Sunlight
Musée de Louvre, Paris, France

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
The Swing, 1876

Paris, Musée d'Orsay

In order to grasp the lighting and the pose of the characters, the artist painted an initial version of the work on site. Riviere and other friends, who later posed for the painting, helped him to carry the large canvas from his studio to the big outdoor dance hall. In the plain-air painting he completely defined both the composition and the color scheme. Back in his studio he put the finishing touches to the work. 

From 1875-6, thought still mixing colors on his palette, Renoir began applying pure paint directly onto the canvas, as little luminous dabs which could define a shape by forming a homogeneous tone on the retina of the beholder, standing at a certain distance from the painting. This technique - characteristic of the painting of the early Impressionists, and used as a rule by the painters of the neo -impressionist movement too - allows the artist, even on large canvases, to render the effects of light as spots of color which casually fall on bodies, faces, clothing. These spots of light, which are evident on the jacket of the foreground figure whose back is turned to us, are a cypher of Renoir's style in works of this period. 
Elsewhere, particularly in the background of the painting, the light fragments into a myriad of reflecting particles, in a kaleidoscopic effect whose texture borders on the of matter. This fading effect is countered by the blobs of color. Light and dark chromatic areas alternate in a sinuous rhythmic play which adds depth to the painting and creates an illusion of space. 
Despite the apparent freedom and spontaneity of the scene, captured as in a snapshot, the guiding principles with which the artist constructs and develops his composition bring together the different groups and the various dancing couples. Three diagonals originate in the bottom left-hand corner, diverging to the closer-than-expected backdrop of the painting. It is extraordinary how, in a depiction of such bold articulation, Renoir expresses himself with such felicitousness, and with such a light touch: the space is overcrowded, the foreground is almost completely absent, and his figures are framed in a fashion which recalls the practice of photography. Moreover, the scene is constrained within a limited space by the lack of sky and the absence of a perspective effect, deadening the space beyond the backdrop. Despite all this, the picture irresistibly conveys an air of festivity. 
To fully understand the character of the painting, one must consider the contemporaneous development of photography. Many 19th century painters were deeply conditioned in their choice of subject by this young art; Moulin de la Galette, however, takes this process a step further. Renoir is attempting to go beyond the static nature of poses by experimenting with modulations of light and movement. It is perhaps no coincidence that his son Jean became an accomplished film director. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hudson River School in Nineteenth–Century American Art: Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886)

Asher Brown Durand was a man who practices what he preached - "Go first to nature to learn to paint landscapes." The revolutionary aspect of that statement can only be understood in historical context. Coming at a time when American nature painting was dominated by European esthetics, he may well have been the first to advocate a direct response to nature, placing highest value on seeing and feeling for oneself. he urged painters to be influenced by weather, by atmosphere and light. And he took to the hills  and return with fresh, moisture-filled pictures. In 1855 he painted In the Woods, large and refined, and no doubt based on sketches completed in the field. From North Conway, New Hampshire, that year he wrote a letter describing in great detail the scene he found.

In the Woods, 1855
Asher B. Durand (American, 1796–1886)
The region of the White Mountains is justly famed for its impressive scenery: passages of the sublime and beautiful are not infrequent, and for those who have the physical strength and mental energy to confront the former among the deep chasms and frowning precipices, I doubt not it would be difficult to exaggerate, and the simple truth would be sufficient to convey the full idea of "boundless power and inaccessible majesty", represented by such scenes. But to one like myself, unqualified to penetrate the "untrodden ways" of the latter, the beautiful aspect of the White Mountain scenery is by far the predominant feature. In this respect, this locality (North Conway) possesses advantages probably unequalled  by any other, both for its  immediate prospects and for the convenience of excursions in the vicinity, introducing new and still new beauties for many miles around. It has not been, as yet, my privilege to enjoy many such excursions, nor have I sought it; there is enough immediately before me for present attention. Mount Washington, the leading feature of the scene when the weather is fine, a circumstance is too rare, rises in all his majesty, and with his contemporary patriots, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, bounds the view at the North. On either hand, subordinate mountains and ledges slope, or abruptly descend to the fertile plain that borders the Saco, stretching many miles southward, rich in varying tints of green fields and meadows, and beautifully interspersed with groves and scattered trees of graceful form and deepest verdure: rocks glitter in the sunshine among the dark forests that clothe the greater portion of the surrounding elevations; farmhouses peep out amidst the rich foliage below, and winding roads, with their warm-colored lines, aided by patches of richly tinted earth break up the monotony, if monotony it can be called, where every possible shade of green is harmoniously mingled. I have seen no scenery in this country presenting so great a variety in color. The bare summits of the higher mountains in sunny warmth, contrast beautifully with the purplish blue and russet hues that graduate from midway down their vast slopes to their forest bases, and the patches of cultivation which seldom venture but a short way up their sides, are rarely offensive through formality of outline, being always agreeably tinted with various colors. 
Such are the more obvious features of this locality, but these are not all. An irregular ship strip of table-land, skirting the bases of the eastern hills, including Mt. Kearsarge, lifts you from fifty to a hundred feet above the bed of the Saco. On this table land the village of North Conway is situated, and there the public road passes. In approaching the rich meadows which border the river, you descend a steep bank mostly studded with trees, but occasionally presenting a declivity of loose sand not unlike the ashy slope of Vesuvius, out of which often shoot up the shining stems of the white birch mingled with the drooping elm, and suddenly at the base you are surprised with the of a crystal streamlet winding its way among alders and overhanging trees of various kinds, birch, elm, and maple, to mingle with the Saco. 


Fairfield Porter is an American Vuillard, a master of intricately composed, beautifully colored, light-filled canvases. He was born in Winnetka, Illinois, graduated from Harvard and has had a long, distinguished career as art critic as well as painter. He is author of a book on Thomas Eakins, wrote award winning articles on art for The Nation, and has also  lectured widely on esthetics at universities. It is as an artist, however, that Porter has achieved his preeminent reputation. During the long post World-War II period when abstract-expressionism dominated American art, Porter was one of the few painters of landscape to enjoy critical approval. He lived in Southhampton, Long Island, but summered regularly in Maine.

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)
Interior With Dress Pattern
Oil on canvas
I like Maine very much but I do not always paint my best landscape there, because of something is beautiful in itself, that takes you away from making a painting. It makes you think of reproducing it. The painting...should be beautiful, not what the painting refers to. Light is what sets me off, the quality of light in nature. It's the light that's in the painting, finally, which counts.
There is one painting of mine where I feel the question of place is happily resolved. It's a picture of a living room in a house my father built on Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. My brothers and sisters built houses for themselves, so I inherited this one. I have painted that room very often, and it's Maine to me. I do not know if its an ugly room or notbut it has a very strong personality.
I do not look for places to paint. A place means a lot to me not because I decided that it did. It just does; I can't help it. The most important thing is the quality of love. Love means paying very close attention to something and you can only pay close attention to something because you can't help doing so.

Of all the books and poems I have read about places, those that meant most to me in this respect have been Russian novels and poems by Pasternak, Paustovsky, Tolstoy. These are recent. I can't remember so well earlier ones - except Beatrix Potter. On the whole, of books and poems in English, it is those by Americans that mean most to me in regard to the evocation of place: Sarah Orne Jewett, Hawthorne. The "places" in English Literature are not nearly so real to me as those in Russian books, or in Hawthorne, or Jane Bowles (Two Serious Ladies) or Elizabeth Bishop. In Jane Bowles' novel, I feel I know exactly where on Staten Island a part of the book takes place. It isn't that she directly describes it, either. It is, as in Russian books, very much the reality of the people for me that makes the place real. A Russian novel, at its best is like one's own life: an English novel is literary. A poem of Pasternak's about a rain storm and his prose descriptions of Siberia make me feel that I was there. Paustovsky and Elizabeth Bishop are directly visual: the writer was there, or is there, and I am helplessly drawn in. It does not follow that there is not other prose and poetry that does not move me just as much, only not in the visual sense, which is what I believe you are asking about.
I think the quality common to the places I would most like to go to but have never visited is that I can imagine in those places the relation between the pace and is human inhabitants so that it would be a place whose strangeness and interest came from my being able to feel that I have already lived there, different as it may be from what I have known.

Monday, 13 October 2014


The specialized sciences of our times are concentrating on the study of the three constants in life: the sexual instinct, the sentiment of death,  and the anguish of space-time.


According to Ballard, the uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which had dominated the 20th century has given birth to an increasingly surreal world. More and more, we see that the events of our own times make sense in terms of surrealism rather than in any other view - whether the grim facts of the death-camps. Hiroshima and Vietnam, or our far more ambiguous unease at organ transplant surgery and the extra-uterine foetus, the confusions of the media landscape with its emphasis on the glossy, lurid, and bizarre, its hunger for the irrational and sensational.
The art of Salvador Dali, an extreme metaphor at a time when only the extreme will do, constitutes a body of prophesy about ourselves unequalled in accuracy since Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents." Voyeurism, self-disgust, the infertile basis of our fears and longings, and our need to pursue our own psychopathologies as a game - these diseases of the psyche Dali  has diagnosed with dismaying accuracy. His paintings not only anticipate the psychic crisis which produced our glaucous paradise, but document the uncertain pleasures of living within it. The great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century - sex and paranoia - preside over his life, as over ours.
Painter, writer, engraver, illustrator, jeweler, personality - Daly's polymath genius is on a par with Leonardo's. With Max Ernst and William Burroughs he forms a trinity of men of genius prepared to place their art at the total disposal of the unconscious. However, where Ernst and Burroughs transmit their reports at midnight from the dark causeways of our spinal columns, Dali has chosen to face all the chimeras of our minds in the full glare of noon. Again, unlike Ernst and Burroughs, whose reclusive personality merge into the shadows around them, Dali's identity remains entirely his own. Don Quixote in a silk lounge suit, he rides eccentrically across a viscous and over lit desert, protected by nothing more than his furious mustaches.

"The quicksands of automatism and dreams vanish upon awakening. But the rocks of the imagination still remain."

For many people, it goes without saying, Dali has always been far too much his own man. In recent years, after long period in the wilderness, surrealism has enjoyed a sudden vogue, but to some extend Dali still remains excluded.

"At the age of 6 I wanted to be a cook. At 7 I waned to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since."

Dali's chosen public persona - part clown, part muezzin on his phallic tower crying out a hymn of gobbets of psychoanalysis and self-confession, part genius with all its even greater embarrassments - i snot one that can be fitted into any handy category. Surprisingly, though, Dali's background was conventional. He was born in Figueras, near Barcelona, on May 11, 1904, the second son of a well-to-do lawyer, and enjoyed a permissive and well-loved childhood populated with indulgent
governesses, eccentric art masters, old beggar-women and the like. At art school he developed his precociously brilliant personality, and discovered psychoanalysis.

At this time, the late 1920s, surrealism was already an established art. Chirico, Duchamp and Max Ernst were its elder statesmen. Dali, however, was the first surrealist to accept completely the logic of the Freudian age, and to describe the extraordinary world of the 20th century psyche in terms of the commonplace vocabulary of every day life - telephones, wristwatches, fried eggs, cupboards, beaches. What distinguishes Dali's work, above everything else, is hallucinatory naturalism of his Renaissance style.  For the most part the landscapes of Ernst, Tanguy and Magritte describe impossible or symbolic worlds - the events within them have occurred; but in metaphorical sense. The events in Dali's paintings are not far from our ordinary reality.

"After Freud it is the outer world, the world of physics, which will have to be eroticized and quantified."

This reflects Dali's total involvement in Freud's view of the unconscious as a narrative stage. Elements from the margins of one's mind - the gestures of minor domestic traffic, movements through doors, a glance across a balcony - become transformed into the materials of a bizarre and overlit drama. The Oedipal conflicts we have carried with us from childhood fuse with the polymorphic landscapes of the present to create a strange and ambiguous future. The contours of a woman's back, the significance of certain rectilinear forms, marry with our memories and desires. The roles of everything are switched. Christopher Colombus comes ashore, having just discovered a young woman's buttocks. A childhood governess still dominates the foreshore of one's life, windows let into her body as in the walls of one's nursery. Later, in the mature Dali, nuclear and fragmentary forms transcribe the postures of the Virgin, tachist explosions illuminate the cosmogony of the H-bomb, the images go atomic physics are recruited to represent a pietist icon of a Renaissance madonna. Given the extraordinary familiarity of Dali's paintings, it is surprising that so few people seem ever to have looked at them closely. If they remember them at all, it is in some kind of vague and uncomfortable way, which indicates that it is not only Oedipal and other unconscious symbols that frighten us, but any dislocation of our commonplace notions about reality. The latent significance of curvilinear as opposed to rectilinear forms, of soft as opposed to hard geometries, are topics that disturb us as much as any memory of a paternal ogre. Applying Freud's principle, we can see that reason safely rationalises reality for us. Dali pulls the fuses out of this comfortable system. To describe the landscapes of the 20th century, he uses its own techniques, its deliberate neuroticism and self-indulgence. Behind these, however, is an eye as sharp as a surgeon's.
In addition, Dali's technique of photographic realism, and the particular cinematic style he adopted, involve the spectator too closely for his own comfort. Where Ernst, Magritte, and Tanguy relied on a traditional narrative space, presenting the subject matter frontally and with a generalised time structure, Dali represents his paintings as if each was a single frame from a movie.  Filled with a disquieting light that is more electric than solar, his paintings are like stills from some elegant but unsentimental nesreel filmed inside our heads. Taken together, Dali's work shows a remarkable degree of homogeneity, an unfaltering freshness and power of imagination. Above all, Dale is faithful to his obsessions, holding nothing back, even an occasional sickness or absurdity. of Dali more than any other painter it can be said that the whole man is present in his art. This honesty marks him out as a  true modern. Tracing the development of his paintings, we see that they fall into a number of related groups:

1. The classic Freudin phase. These trauma of birth, as in the Lugubrious Game and the Persistence of Memory, the irreconcilable melancholy of the exposed embryo. 
The Lugubrious Game (or The Mournful Game, 1929. Salvador Dali. Private Collection. 
Salvador Dalí, 1931. Museum of Modern Art, New York City
This world of fused beaches and overheated light is that perceived by the isolated child. The nervous surfaces are wounds on the cerebral cortex. The people who populate this earliest period of Dali's surrealism, the Oedipal figures and marooned lovers, are those perceived through the glass of childhood and adolescence. The obsessions are the flaccid penis, excrement, anxiety, the timeless place, the threatening posture, the hallucinatory over-reality of tables and furniture, the disquieting geometry of rooms and stairways.

2. The metamorphic phase. A ploy-perverse period, a free-for-all  of image and identity. From this period, which began during the 1930s, come Dali's obsessions with Hitler (the milky breasts of the Fuehrer compressed by his leather belt) and with Lenin, as in Vision of Lenin, who is shown with buttock elongated like an immense sexual salami. Also most of the nightmare paintings such as Autumn Cannibalism, which anticipate not only World War II, but the metamorphic horrors of heart surgery and organ transplantants, the interchangeability and dissolving identities of our own bodies.

3. The religious phase. By the middle -1940s, after such paintings  as Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, came the end of what might be termed the period of explicit surrealism. For the next 20 years the great themes of Christianity preoccupied Dali, as in Christ of St. John of the Cross. After the small canvasses of the early surrealist period, with their often deserted terrains, Dali embarked on a series of enormous paintings, crowded with incident and detail, such as Oecumenical Council.
Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dalí, 1951.

"Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man" by Salvador Dali (1943)

The Ecumenical Council by Salvador Dalí, 1960.

4. The nuclear phase. Dali's marriage with the age of physics. In addition to his religious preoccupations, Dali was fascinated by new discoveries in atomic physics. Many of his most serene paintings, such as Raphaelesque Head Exploding, date from this period.

Exploding Raphaelesque Head by Salvador Dali, 1951.

Here the iconography of nuclear physics is used to invest his madonnas and religious heroes with the unseen powers of the universe. The strong element of humor in Dali's appraisal of himself and the world around him - an ironic, perverse but wholly serious serious commentary -reminds us of the generous and unflagging way in which he has entertained us for almost half a century, and in the face, moreover, of a usually hostile and derisory audience. But his place in the pantheon of master-artists of the 20th century is already secure, reserved from the moment he completed his first masterpiece, the classic Persistence of Memory, with its soft watches and flaccid embryo expiring on a fused beach. At their best, Dali's paintings reveal in the most powerful form the basic elements of the surrealist imagination: a series of equations for dealing with the extraordinary transformations of our age.

It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.

Salvador Dali.

Emigre Scholars

While much has been written of the contribution to American art-making of European exiles such as the surrealists, rather less has been written of the ways in which American art history and art making itself was reconceptualised during the 1930s and 1940s following the exodus of academics from Europe. John Rewald was one of several emigre scholars escaping conflict who was welcomed into the USA. Rewald's 1946 The History of Impressionism may seem a strange choice on writing about American art but it is relevant for several reasons. First published in 1946 with the support of MoMa New York and subsequently revised across five editions, it was a publishing phenomenon, although it was not published in Great Britain until 1973. There were sequels: in 1956 Post Impressionism From Van Gogh to Gauguin, again not published in Britain until 1978, and then Gauguin to Matisse, and numerous collections of letters by post-impressionists such as Cezanne and Gauguin. In a post-war period when publishing in many countries was still subject to rationing, Rewald's lavish book, 670 pages long, contained more than 600 illustration plates, over 80 in colour. The power and authority of the printed word should not be underestimated. If histories are written by victors, then art histories are validated through publishing. John Tebbel, writing the history of the American publishing industry, identified a post-war boom between 1940 and 1980: what he termed "a great change" to "substantial growth." He noted that the MET, New York and MoMa in particular expanded their publishing developments through extensive collaborations with commercial publishers, and thereby greatly extended their readership.

Rewald's book confirmed the centrality of Paris to the modern art: Harold Rosenberg's "cultural Klondike" and Walter Benjamin's "capital of the 19th century". The books also normalised, in the English languag, a mythologising approach to the modern artist: artistic defiance against established norms is in The History of Impressionism's opening sentence. It is followed by detailed accounts of the artist's struggle to gain critical and popular acceptance. Born in Germany, Rewald studied under the humanist art historian Erwin Panofsky in Hamburg and Fritz Saxl in Frankfurt and later in France. He was part of the Jewish diaspora arriving in America in 1941 under the sponsorship of Alfred Barr, MoMa's director. Rewald, a professor of art history in Chicago and New York until the mid-1980s, also created the foundation that served from oblivion Cezanne's studio at Aix-en-Provence, which became instead a place of homage.

Rewald's writing is notable for its intense concentration on the details of artists' lives. The books are illuminated with Rewald's photographs, showing where artists worked, their studios and favourite motifs (such as Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire). 
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902-04, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 3/16 inches / 73 x 91.9 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Empirical research around exhibitions together with the commentary of critics and public, numerous artists' quotes, diligently gleaned from letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and dealer's bids and interviews (with such luminaries as Matisse) are woven into a compelling story of official rejection and eventual artistic triumph. Citations are numerous, and part of Rewald's debt to the art-historical methodologies of the French historian Fustel de Coulanges, from whom he borrowed the notion that history is a pure science. Such a method:

consists of stating facts, in analyzing them, in drawing them together and in bringing out connections. The historian's only skill should consist in deducting from the documents all that is in them and in adding nothing they do not contain. The best historian is he who remains closest to his texts, who interprets them most fairly.   (Rewald, 1973.)

Under this methodology Rewald and others hopes to uncover a pre-existing story  interlocked in the lives of artists but separate from broader social and political considerations. In general, however, art historians of Rewald's generation rarely questioned the theoretical underpinning of their discipline. They operated within a hermetically sealed world of standards, defined by an elusive quality often designated to an art work through a trained eye conditioned by familiarity with the object of study. Early 20th century art history, like much of the 19th century, was also dominated by a methodology intent on tracing provenance and verifying authenticity via the lives of artists, and so the monograph and survey, such as Rewald's were staple scholarly devices. He did not seek an art history without names, but in Gombrichian mode argued that: "there is no art only artists." What is notable about Rewald's approach to art history is the lack of detailed reading of the artworks themselves in deference to the immediate "texts" that surrounded them. Nor did he engage in the psychoanalytical interpretations that feature strongly in more recent ways of writing about art. Rather he chose more general psycho-biography which often related the mental state of the artist  closely tot he artwork itself. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

CHARLES SHEELER (1883–1965) - American painter and photographer of industrial subjects

Charles SheelerRiver Rouge Plant, 1932. Oil on canvas, 20 × 24 1/8 in. (50.8 × 61.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
American painter and photographer of industrial subjects

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Charles Sheeler, one of America’s leading Modernists, found formal beauty in machinery, the principal emblem of modernity

Charles Sheeler, a central figure in American Realism and one of the most interesting and ambitious American artists, was known for producing compelling images of the Machine Age. During his prolific career, Sheeler employed machines, factory complexes near Detroit, New York skyscrapers, locomotive engines, power plants and barns as subjects for his pictures and used painting, drawing, and photography in his works, often in combination. Trained in Impressionist approaches to landscape themes, he experimented with painterly compositions before finding and mastering his outwardly depopulated landscape style, now often called precisionism. In this manner, Sheeler illustrated the beauty objects, even in the absence of people.

[Doylestown House—The Stove], 1917
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Gelatin silver print; 9 1/16 x 6 7/16 in. (23.1 x 16.3 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933 
© The Lane Collection

Water, 1945
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Oil on canvas; 24 x 29 1/8 in. (61 x 74 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1949 

Golden Gate, 1955
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Oil on canvas
H. 25 1/8 in. (63.8 cm), W. 34 7/8 in. (88.5 cm)
George A. Hearn Fund, 1955 

Delmonico Building, 1926
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Image: 9 3/4 x 6 3/4 in. (24.7 x 17.1 cm); sheet: 15 9/16 x 11 7/16 in. (39.5 x 29 cm)
John B. Turner, 1968.

Criss–Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company, 1927
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Gelatin silver print; 9 1/4 x 7 3/8 in. (23.5 x 18.8 cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987 
© The Lane Collection

The Open Door, 1932
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Conté crayon on paper, mounted on cardboard; H. 23 3/4 in. (60.3 cm), W. 18 in. (45.7 cm)
Edith and Milton Lowenthal Collection, Bequest of Edith Abrahamson Lowenthal, 1991 

Americana, 1931
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Oil on canvas; 48 x 35 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm)
Edith and Milton Lowenthal Collection, Bequest of Edith Abrahamson Lowenthal, 1991 

Upper Deck, ca. 1928
Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.3 x 20.2 cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Anonymous Gift and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005.
A native of Philadelphia, Charles Sheeler was born on July 16, 1883, the only child of Charles Rettew and Mary Cunningham Sheeler. He began his artistic training from 1900 to 1903 at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), where he was introduced “to the various orders of ornament, Greek, Egyptian, Romanesque and others, and the application of them as designs for carpets, wall-papers and other two-dimensional surfaces.”1 Sheeler spent the next three years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with William Merritt Chase, who taught Sheeler a fluid, Impressionistic style. He spent two summers in England while studying with Chase, then visited Holland in 1904 and Spain in 1905. During his visits to Europe, Sheeler acquired an admiration for Spanish motifs, in particular those of Velazquez, Goya and the Dutch painters whom the artist saw exhibited at the National Gallery of London. In 1908, accompanied by artist and friend Morton Schamberg, Sheeler traveled through northern Italy, where he saw works by the Italian masters. On a trip to Paris, he was drawn to the works of Matisse and the Cubists, particularly Picasso and Cézanne, finding in them a new direction for his art. He had a Cubist period in 1913, but his involvement with abstract forms was brief. From 1913 to 1916, he focused on painting landscapes.

Following his return from Paris, Sheeler shared a studio with Schamberg while also renting a house in Doylestown, Penn., where he turned to commercial photography as a way to support his attempts at Modern painting. For the next several years, he concentrated on photographs of buildings, taking pictures of farmhouses around Doylestown while continuing his experiments with Modernism.

After the untimely death of Schamberg in 1918, Sheeler moved to New York. The next year, he joined with Paul Strand, a photographer and filmmaker, on a novel short film, Manhatta, which interpreted the urban environment as a demonstration of human power and vision. The film focused on functionalism and industrial forms and is considered the first avant-garde film made in America. During the next decade, Sheeler continued working in his Manhattan studio as a freelance illustrator and advertising photographer. In 1927, he was commissioned to photograph the Ford Motor Company’s new River Rouge plant outside Detroit. He produced 20 photographs, two drawings and four oil paintings of the plant, helping to build his reputation as a machinery artist.

In 1929, Sheeler produced one of his best known works, Upper Deck, a portrayal of shipboard architecture, which, with its pristine, geometrical surfaces, launched the artist’s architectural phase. This phase continued for the rest of his career, with the artist focusing on conceptual contrasts such as “figure/ground, dark/light, object/void, inside/outside, personal/impersonal, and realism/abstraction … animated by a rich interplay of media.”2 Sheeler liked black, especially when it appeared next to white, as in Winter Window (1941) and The Open Door (1932).
In the mid-1940s, Sheeler’s style changed dramatically. He moved from detailed realism toward more abstract compositions, and his later oil paintings became considerably larger in scale. He worked mostly from images of architecture that were seen as overlapping and transparent forms, as from photographic double exposures. He moved away from soft, iridescent tones toward dazzling paint, and his favorite hues in these years were blues, maroon, rose and lavender, often used in subtle shades so that a barn or a factory wall would appear almost translucent.
The highlights of Sheeler’s oeuvre, both early and late in his career, combine silhouette and matter, the reminiscent and the newly seen. His paintings, with their photographic foundations, reflect “nature seen from the eyes outward [and] comprise nothing less than a fifty-year exploration of his understanding of reality.” 3

Sheeler died on May 7, 1965.

The following text comes from "The Black Book," a bound notebook in which artist, late in life, set down with characteristic economy his distilled ideas. 

The Miracle of Spring - the first leaf buds and with them the reassurance of the life making a new beginning. The trees in mid-summer with their opulence of celebration. This unbelievable swan-song of Autumn - the fragrance of burning leaves in the air. The man-made architecture inlaid in these environments to serve its several purposes. The look on the faces of human beings in accord with circumstance. 
These are among the experiences of artists from which their work derives.
Somewhere near the beginning of my career it was a practice to make excursions into the countryside, with a sketch-box, to record in the paint the thing seen. On one of these excursions, seated by the roadside before my subject, I was accosted by a man who, with permission asked, seated himself beside me. Some would designate his as a tramp, a convenient word for the dismissal of further consideration of him.
His occupation was that of an umbrella mender, a drop of solder on the pot of farmer's wife, in exchange for a bit of food and lodging for the night in the hayloft. As our conversation developed he quoted passages from Pope's "Essay on Man." Within my knowledge only the author understood it well. 
He also informed me in case I did not know. and I did not, that it was an especial experience to sleep among the cattle in an open field and to witness the arrival of a new day. Food must enter into the life of everyone. He had a basket on his arm, bread, tomatoes, scallions, and salt. All with the cares of the sun upon them. He invited me to share with him. It was a privilege. I do not have a name for him but I like to think of him as Adam. I also like to think of him, as well as the oak, as having come out of the earth, and that is reassuring. 
My work has continuously been based on a clue seen in Nature from which the subject of a picture may be projected. Nature, with its profound order, is an inexhaustible source of supply. Its many facets lend themselves freely to all who would help themselves for the particular needs. Each one may filter out for himself that which is essential to him. Our chief objective is to increase our capacity for perception. The degree of accomplishment determines the calibre of the Artist.
It is known that the amoeba is indispensable to the welfare of man. It is a hope that man is indispensable to the welfare of the amoeba. 
Old Zen Saying: To a man who knows nothing, Mountains are Mountains, Waters are Waters, and Trees are Trees. But when he has studied and knows a little, Mountains are no longer Mountains, Water are no longer Waters, and Trees are no longer Trees. But when he has thoroughly understood, Mountains are again Mountains, Waters are Waters, and Trees and Trees. 


Sheeler, Charles, The Black Book, reprinted in Charles Sheeler, published for the National Collection of Fine Arts by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. , 1968. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815) - America's First Old Master


John Singleton Copley was America's foremost painter of the 18th century. He was born in Boston, the son of Richard and Mary Copley, who had recently immigrated from Ireland. The death of young Copley's father and his mother's subsequent marriage to the English-trained engraver Peter Pelham in 1748 introduced the youth to an atmosphere where prints, paintings, and artist's supplies were familiar household accessories. Copley certainly receive dome training from his stepfather. The copies of old masters remaining in the studio at one time occupied by John Smibert gave him some idea of the traditions of European painting. 

Copley's earliest works, some of them copies after allegorical prints, date from 1753 and 1754; by 1755 he had established himself as a professional painter in Boston, turning out stiff but competent likeness in the manner of John Greenwood and Joseph Badger. The appearance of Joseph Blackburn in New England  in 1754 had an immediate effect on his style, and within a few years Copley had surprassed Blackburn's repetitive rococo formulas, probably causing the visiting foreigner to seek his fortune elsewhere. Like virtually all the colonial portraitists, Copley was influenced by the stock compositions readily available in the form of British mezzotints, but gradually he developed a personal and penetrating style, in which he effectively captured the character of the mercantile aristocracy of the pre-Revolutionary Boston.

From the outset of his career, despite his isolation in provincial Boston, Copley had been intensely interested in improving his work to meet international standards. Writing to West and Reynolds in London, he complained bitterly about the lack of interest in painting in America. "Was it not for preserving the resemblance of particular persons," he wrote, "painting would not be known in this place." Repeatedly, he sought advice from his English contemporaries, and, finally, in 1766, he nervously submitted his Boy with the Squirrel, a portrait of his half-brother Henry Pelham (private collection), to the Society of Artists in London, where, a friend of his reported , "it was universally allowed to be the best Picture of its kind that appeared on that occasion." With such evidence of Copley's ability, West and Reynolds urged him to study England before his "Manner and Taste were corrupted or fixed by working in...[his] little way at Boston."

Boy With a Squirrel by John Singleton Copley 1765.

Meanwhile, however, Copley's marriage in 1769 to the daughter of a prominent Boston merchant and his increasing prosperity in the provincial capital discouraged him from giving up the security of his well-planted roots in favor of the uncertain benefits of international study and travel. He temporarily abandoned plans to go to Europe, and with expanding reputation throughout the colonies, made arrangements for a painting trip to New York in 1771. A list of subscribers awaited his arrival and the enthusiasm with which he was greeted detained him in the city for six months.

 After several more years of feverish activity in Boston, Copley finally sailed for Europe in 1774. On the Continent he followed the traditional pilgrimage route of the traveling artist, visiting the great galleries to see the old masters and pausing briefly to execute an original painting or a copy. 

The Death of the Earl of Chatham by John Singleton Copley. c. 1779-1781.

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar. c.1782-83.

The Tribute Money, 1782.

The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781. c 1783.

Returning to England, where he was reunited with his family, who had fled from the Revolution at home, Copley soon became an important figure in the London art world. In 1776 he was elected an Associate for the Royal Academy, and in 1783 he became interested in history painting. To meet the increasing artistic demands of such projects as The Death of Chatham, The Siege of Gibraltar, The Tribute Money, and The Death of Major Pierson, he began to make a large number of preparatory drawings and oil sketches. His style of painting changed, too, and in place of the "liney" technique of his Boston portraits, he adopted a bolder and more vigorous brushstroke in the manner of his English and continental contemporaries. Although many of his later works have been severely criticized, some of them are of excellent quality and should not be condemned because of their departure from the more familiar and more intimate style of Copley's American portraits. Although always considered an American painter, Copley spent more than half his career in England working as a member of the British School. He died in London. 

The Return of Neptune, ca. 1754
The Return of Neptune

Three of Copley's earliest surviving works have mythological subjects derived from prints that he undoubtedly obtained from the shop of his painter-engraver stepfather, Peter Pelham. The Return of Neptune was based on an engraving of 1749 by Simon Francois Ravenet after a design by the Italian painter Andrea Casali. The subject is a stock cliche of Italian painting. The god of the sea, a bearded old man, moves over the waves of his watery domain in triumphal shallop drawn by a quadriga of sea horses. Neptune is attended by mermaids, tritons, and marine amorini all bearing the proper attributes - kelp, conch, trident globe, and crown - or at the very least, as in the case of the mermaids, wearing suitable expressions of satisfaction and marine prepotency. One triton is winding a blast of foghorn notes upon a conch shell to herald the approach of Neptune. These classic elements are all composed to make a correct and grandiose of trite scheme.

A comparison of this painting with a copy of the engraving shows how closely and correctly Copley followed the print, and where he used his own ideas to modify the picture. The sea horses' heads, for instance, look blocky and strange in the painting, but this is the result of his having copied the forms exactly as the engraver showed them. On the other hand, Copley supplied a horizon line and left our one or two touches that were unclear in the engraving. His main contribution, however, was in the color (presumably not indicated on the engraving), which is, even at this early stage, typical of much of his later work. Its stark primitive style, depending heavenly upon silhouette, suggests that this painting is probably earlier than Copley's Mars, Venus and Vulcan, dated 1754, and his Galatea, also generally dated 1754; it was probably painted in 1753, to which year the earliest portraits attributed to him have also been assigned. 
Brook Watson and the Shark, 1778. 

Brook Watson and the Shark

Copley's well known history painting, Brook Watson and the Shark, created a sensation when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1778. A critic for the London Morning Post numbered it among "the first performances" of the exhibition. "The softness of the coloring, the animation which is displayed in the countenances of the sailors, the efforts of the drowning boy, and the frightened appearance of the man assaulting the shark," he wrote, "constitute altogether a degree of excellence that reflects the highest honor on the composer." Although some critics thought that the postures of the figures were unconvincing, the shark was unreal, and the boat was not at a proper keel, most agreed with the General Advertiser  that the picture deserved "particularly to be praised."