Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Félix Vallotton, The Red Room

Félix Vallotton, The Red Room, 1898

Félix Edouard Vallotton (1865-1925) was a Swiss/French painter and printmaker.  He was a member of the group of artists known as Les Nabis, who followed the Impressionists, and used highly stylized forms and colors to explore the emotionality of their subjects.  Born in Switzerland, Vallotton moved to Paris in 1882 to study at the Académie Julian.  He spent much of his time studying the old masters at the Louvre, and his earliest works are rather academic.  His first self-portrait received honorable mention at the Salon of 1886.  In the following decade, Vallotton developed his painting and began creating woodcut portraits of prominent figures, beginning with Paul Verlaine.  He was instrumental in the revival of the woodcut as an artistic medium.  His painting encompasses a wide variety of styles and subjects, including landscapeportraits, and genre scenes.  The Red Room is a powerful example of Vallotton's style and skill.  We see the angularity of his forms and the intensity of his colors.  The composition is incredibly potent here: the man and woman are both standing in the doorway, thus far leaving the sedate room uninterrupted.  However the tension between them is palpable, and it pervades the picture space and this sharp, vibrant room becomes taut with tension as well.  Vallotton increases this effect with stark shadows and angles.  The red of the chamber becomes the red of the couple's sexual tension.  The shadows of the doorway, meanwhile, nearly swallow the couple so that they are barely visible.  The effect suggests that they can only be fully realized by entering this bright room, and if they move in the other direction, if they retreat from their passion, they will cease to exist.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chris Martin, Griffin

Chris Martin, Griffin, 1980

Chris Martin (b.1954) is a contemporary artist based in Brooklyn.  Martin is a very interesting painter who incorporates mixed media materials into his painting, such as refuse and foodstuffs. He has stated that these things find their way into his work after he uses them in his life, giving his paintings and organic and visceral quality.  His work is varied, and generally uses bright colors and abstract shapes to express the absurdity in society and humanity.  Many of his pieces have a luminosity, populated by balls of light, that makes his work quite engaging and bright. Griffin is an earlier work of Martin's, painted soon after he left Yale to pursue his art.  The stark contrast in colors in this painting makes it instantly arresting.  We can see a long-legged animal here, perhaps the griffin of the title, but the geometric forms in this piece are quite prominent.  The canvas is partitioned in an asymmetrical manner that makes it slightly unsettling. A conflict is created in the rich green and orange, which both clash with and complement each other.  Martin turns an animal into geometry and natural forms into bright unnatural colors.  This painting is quite effective because it communicates a deep understanding of form, color, and space.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

David Brett, Low TIde

David Brett, Low Tide, 2013

Another photograph of my own, presented without comment.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Julian Onderdonk, Bluebonnet Landscape with Cacti, Road, and Mountain Laurel

Julian Onderdonk, Bluebonnet Landscape with Cacti, Road, and Mountain Laurel

Robert Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) was an American painter who was very important in the advancement of an art movement in Texas.  Born in San Antonio, his father was also a painter and Julian grew up drawing and painting.  He began studying seriously as a teenager, and at age nineteen his father sent him to Long Island to study with William Merritt Chase.  Onderdonk lived in New York for a few years before moving back to Texas.  He worked mostly in landscape, and usually painted en plein air.  Much of his work has a distinct vibrancy, wherein the color of one element, such as the yellow sky, seems to tinge the coloration of the entire scene.  He is best known for his bluebonnet paintings, and he painted these flowers repeatedly and in many different scenes.  The painting I have featured is a beautiful expanse of the flowers that turns the whole painting a brilliant blue.  The color of the flowers here is somewhat brighter than in some of the other pieces, an effect that is enhanced by the sheer volume of flowers.  The composition here is quite skillful, with the road crossing the canvas at a diagonal and the mountain laurels framing the scene.  The recession of space gives the viewer a strong sense of place, showing us what it feels like to stand on that spot and gaze out over this beautiful and vast flower field.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Théodore Chassériau, Apollo and Daphne

Théodore Chassériau, Apollo and Daphne, 1845

Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856) was a French romantic painter who worked in a number of genres.  Chassériau was born in Santo Domingo (now Dominican Republic) to a French adventurer and statesman and the daughter of a mulatto landowner.  The family moved to Paris in 1821, and Chassériau soon developed exceptional drawing schools.  At age eleven, he was accepted into the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who came to regard him as his favorite pupil and truest disciple.  However, when Ingres moved to Rome in 1834, Chassériau fell under the influence of Ingres's great rival, Eugène Delacroix.  In Chassériau's work we can see the attempt to combine Ingres's Classicism with Delacroix's Romanticism.  Chassériau became known for his history painting, depicting mythological, religioushistorical, and literary subjects. Like Delacroix, he also took up Orientalism.  Perhaps his most famous painting is The Toilette of Esther (1841). Apollo and Daphne of course depicts the Greek myth of the same name.  Apollo fell in love with the nymph Daphne (in some versions due to a retaliatory arrow from Cupid), and Daphne flees from the god.  She preys to her father, a river god, for help and he transforms her into the first laurel tree on the spot.  Thereafter, his love never waning, laurel leaves became sacred to Apollo. This myth is a particular favorite of artists (the two most famous versions perhaps being Bernini's statue and John William Waterhouse's painting).  Chassériau's version is a beautiful rendition of the story.  One noteworthy difference is that Chassériau depicts Daphne's transformation beginning with her feet becoming roots and trunk, whereas most portrayals begin the transformation at the top with her hair and fingers.  Chassériau seized on the part of the myth where Daphne becomes rooted to the spot.  However, what is extraordinary about this decision is that he nevertheless depicts her body like a tree.  Daphne's arms stretch above her head like branches, her hair blows in the breeze like leaves, and her body curves and sways like a tree trunk.  This transformation is not merely an external one, but also takes place within Daphne; she becomes the tree in every way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Elisabetta Sirani, Portia Wounding Her Thigh

Elisabetta Sirani, Portia Wounding Her Thigh, 1664
39.8 x 54.3 in.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) was an Italian Baroque painter and printmaker.  She was quite successful in her short life; she was the most famous woman artist in Bologna, and founded an academy for women artists.  Sirani was trained by her father, who had been a student of Guido Reni and was an established painter in the Bologna school.  When her father became incapacitated, she took over his workshop and studio at age sixteen.  She immediately became immensely successful.  Her success was made easier by the fact that Bologna was more progressive than other Italian cities and readily welcomed women artists.  In addition to success with her own paintings, she trained a number of other painters, including some men and over a dozen women (including her younger sisters).  Sirani painted, among other works, beautiful portraits, religious paintings, including the popular story of Judith and Holofernes, and a self portrait showing herself as the allegory of painting.  Portia Wounding Her Thigh is a scene from Roman history.  Portia Catonis was the wife of Brutus and some scholars believe she may have been involved in the plot to kill Julius Caesar, or at the very least was the only woman to know about it beforehand.  The scene illustrated here comes from Plutarch, who writes that she came upon her husband pondering the assassination but he would not confide his troubles to her, for fear that she would reveal the plot under torture.  To prove her ability to withstand physical pain, Portia cut her thigh and suffered in silence for a day (despite chills and fever).  She then returned to her husband with proof that she could keep her secrets.  This is a powerful painting, with strong and clear brushstrokes and forceful colors.  Portia is shown in a position of power; her pose conveys her strength and resolution.  The blood on her thigh contrasts effectively with her pale skin, but matches her red dress (the clothing of Sirani's day, not Portia's).  Portia is separated from the other women by her task and decision, essentially drawing her own blood to enter into the world of men.  This was a political painting for Sirani, meant to show the lengths women must go to in order to be taken seriously.  The painting is quite effective and rendered beautifully to tell us about both Portia's and Sirani's characters, their determination and intelligence.  Like Portia, Sirani surely felt she bled for her art.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Vivian Maier, Untitled

Vivian Maier, Untitled, date unknown

Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was an American street photographer.  She spent most of her life as a nanny, and took photographs in her spare time.  She was completely unknown and unpublished during her life, and she didn't even develop many many of her negatives.  Around 2007, boxes of her prints and negatives were purchased at auction, and the multiple buyers were greatly shocked at what they discovered.  They published the photographs online over the next couple of years and Maier's work went viral in October of 2009, six months after her death.  In the years since, Maier has generated significant interest and has been exhibited all over the world.  Most of her photographs are black and white street scenes, though she also began to work in color in the 70s. Her work shows people from every walk of life and expresses the vastness and vibrancy of city life.  She took pictures all over the country, as well as some internationally, particularly in ChicagoNew York, and Los Angeles.  She took pictures of children in Canada, and demonstrated often social consciousness.  She also took a significant number of self-portraits. The photograph I chose to feature just struck me as odd and engaging.  To see this young man riding a horse under a bridge is a somewhat jarring sight, and I find the photograph thoroughly fascinating, though it is difficult to say why.  With her high contrasts and crisp lines, Maier made every image effective and captures the viewer's attention.  While research into Maier herself is still ongoing, it is clear that, with the quality of her art and the sheer output she produced (nearly 150,000 negatives), Maier is one of the most important street photographers of the twentieth century.

Much of her work can be viewed here: http://www.vivianmaier.com/

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Charles Baugniet, The Letter

Charles Baugniet, The Letter, c1870

Charles-Louis Baugniet (1814-1886) was a Belgian painter and lithographer.  Baugniet studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, initially training in lithography and moving into painting later.  He became quite a successful lithographer in his lifetime, producing portraits of prominent figures in Belgium, France, and England, such as Charles Dickens and Hector Berlioz. Baugniet also found success as a painter, and after being asked to paint portraits of the Belgian royal family, he was appointed court painter.  Although he painted some landscapes, most of his paintings are genre scenes showing women and families in their homes, engaged in various activities.  Baugniet's style is fairly traditional, but he always shows a keen interest in his subjects, conveying the importance of these scenes and activities.  The Letter is an interesting piece, showing a bit more intrigue than most of his works.  This woman has paused in the act of sealing her letter; we can see her holding the red sealing wax which she will heat in the candle as a sealant.  However she appears to be waiting, surprised by something.  Perhaps she has heard noises in the house and does not want to be caught with this letter.  Perhaps it is to a lover or some other forbidden correspondent.  Her is alert and cautious.  Stylistically, this painting is meticulously executed.  The great detail applied to the room itself, its floor and furnishings, is exceptional.  The curtains and chair are particularly intricate, and Baugniet even included two paintings hanging one the wall.  However the visual star of the composition is undoubtedly this red dress.  It draws the eye and focuses the painting.  The dress itself is beautifully rendered, both in color and texture, and also serves to hold the viewer's interest.  We become engaged in the activities of this woman in this intense dress.  Part of the effect of the painting is that we are suspended in this moment of unease.  We cannot know whether someone enters the room and interrupts her or if she seals the letter and sends it without incident.  We are left hovering, like her sealing wax, poised between the flame and envelope.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kazuo Shiraga, Ton

Kazuo Shiraga, Ton, 1999

Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) was a Japanese painter whose large abstract paintings incorporated elements of performance art.  Shiraga attended Kyoto City University of the Arts where he studied traditional Japanese painting, graduating in 1948.  He was inspired by western techniques and began to explore modernism and avant-garde.  His chosen method of paint application was to lay many different paints on a large canvas without shape or deliberation.  He would then hang from ropes suspended from the ceiling and move the paint with his feet.  This technique was very physical and exhausting, and produced works where we can see the presence of the artist and his body.  While he created other types of compositions as well, most of his pieces are in a similar vein of these large, abstract swirls.  He shows the chaotic grandeur of the universe and the intense motion of his pieces is palpable.  Ton is a beautiful example of Shiraga's work, showing that he continued the technique for his entire life.  This painting looks very natural to me, as though these are the swirls of a forest or a lake.  This is largely due to the palette, but there is also an organic quality that runs through Shiraga's paintings.  They have an immediacy and a presence that makes them very powerful and effective.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Xavier J. Barile, 42nd St. Nocturne

Xavier J. Barile, 42nd St. Nocturne, 1953

Xavier Barile (1891-1981) was an Italian-American artist and member of the Ashcan school. Born in Italy, he moved to Queens with his family in 1907.  He learned English quickly and began studying at Cooper Union.  Barile got work as a cartoon illustrator for magazines and newspapers to pay for school.  After graduating Copper Union, he went on to study at the Art Students League where he met Ashcan artists like John Sloan.  Like other Ashcan painters, Barile was committed to using art to express, not just beauty, but the truth of social and political issues that came with modernity in the twentieth century.  He also opened his own school and was committed to furthering art education.  As his career progressed, Barile became particularly well regarded for his portraits, which were praised for his ability to portray the subject's individual human character with sympathy and emotion.  He also worked in landscape and genre.  Among his best regarded works is Reclining Nude (1930).  42nd St. Nocturne is a wonderful painting that shows the character of a New York City night at the time.  Barile conveys the tension and excitement that runs through the crowd.  While the people's faces are not depicted, there is great attention to their characters, achieved through their clothing, pose, and position.  Each person stands out as an individual. Barile went to great lengths to accurately render a real street scene, even putting a real movie on the marquee.  There is great warmth in this painting, achieved through the warm yellow lighting and the patch of velvety blue sky, where a perfect crescent moon hangs over the city.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

John Joseph Enneking, Venice at Night

John Joseph Enneking, Venice at Night, 1874

John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916) was an American Impressionist painter.  Born in Ohio, he was orphaned at a young age and began painting when he was five.  He went to college in Cincinnati before serving in the Civil War.  After the war he studied in New York and Boston but abandoned it due to eye problems.  He attempted to be a tinsmith but returned to painting after failing in that endeavor.  He traveled to Europe, studying in Munich and Paris.  While in Paris he met the Impressionists and painted with Renoir, Pissarro, and Monet.  He spent time with Monet at his gardens in Argenteuil, where he painted Monet's wife Camille and their son.  When he returned to the United States, Enneking became instrumental in the promotion of modern French art in this country.  He encouraged learning from the Impressionists and was responsible for a new surge in young American artists traveling to Paris.  Enneking became one of the most sought after landscape painters in the United States, known for his stunning portrayals of sights all over the northeast.  Many of his paintings have a very realistic feel to them, as though we can see the movement of a brook, feel the breeze, or smell the forest.  I was hesitant to write about such an American painter, yet feature a piece he painted in Europe.  However this is the painting that struck my interest and I think it is a magnificent example of Enneking's skill.  The particular choice of colors in Venice at Night is especially beautiful to me, a shade of red that illuminates everything around it.  The reflection in the water is beautifully handled and the dock and small figures are rendered with great care.  The element I find most interesting is the way the whole scene is suffused with the glow of the setting sun.  It colors the sand a rich reddish brown and tinges the clouds with pink and purple.  Nevertheless, a small glimpse of bright yellow light remains at the tope of the clouds.  To my eye this is a masterful rendition of a standard subject, effectively portrayed with Enneking's particular skill and eye.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus

Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, c1620
49.6 x 39.8 in.

Guido Reni (1575-1642) was an Italian painter and one of the great artists of the Baroque period. Born in Bologna, his family was mostly made up of musicians, but they nurtured his visual skills and at age nine he was apprenticed to the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert who was working in Bologna.  Although Reni's style mostly adheres to the Italianate style, there is still some visible Flemish influence from his first master.  Eventually Reni moved to Rome, where he was one of the leaders of a strong Bolognese art contingent there.  Like most artists of the time, he drew on biblical and Classical subjects and painted works that adhere strongly to his academic training. Many of his pieces are rather sculptural and resemble Mannerism, but he also painted more intense works of high drama and emotion.  He also successfully reconciled these aspects of his style to produce fascinating paintings that explore the deeper emotionality of these canonical stories.  St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus is one such painting, which, in my opinion, is perhaps is most beautiful work.  Reni produced two other renditions of St. Joseph, both quite beautiful, but neither quite approaches the heights of this piece.  Before this period, Joseph had often been depicted as a peripheral figure in the story of Jesus and Mary.  He was usually passive, or even asleep at the edge of the scene.  Baroque painters completely upended that tradition.  Reni paints Joseph as a fully engaged parent, who holds Jesus tenderly and looks at him with deep love. Reni's skill is on display in every aspect of this painting, from the beautiful but simple surroundings to the fine drapery of Joseph's garment.  With each hair on both figures and every line on Joseph's face so carefully rendered, this painting feels quite real.  Reni shows us this tender moment so effectively as Joseph takes on his role of guidance and protection for this beautiful child.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872
22 x 18.1 in.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a major French painter and a core member of the Impressionists, participating in their first exhibition in 1874.  Born in Bourges, France, Morisot's mother was the great-niece of the great Rococo painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  Her family was well off, her father being the prefect of the region, so Berthe and her two older sisters all received art education, as was the practice.  They had a traditional education, receiving private lessons and then learning to copy the masters on display at the Louvre.  While her sisters withdrew from painting to get married and start families, Berthe continued to pursue her art.  She met the landscape painter Camille Corot while copying at the Louvre.  At his encouragement she began painting outdoors (en plein air) in 1860, a core Impressionist technique that Morisot embraced several years before her colleagues in the group.  Her earliest landscapes shown at the Salon where they were well received.  As I mentioned yesterday, Morisot developed a close friendship with Manet after they met in 1868.  They had a reciprocal professional relationship, frequently painting and encouraging each other.  Morisot persuaded Manet to take up en plein air painting and introduced him to the other Impressionists.  In 1874 she married Manet's brother, Eugene and had one daughter with him.  Both her husband and daughter, Julie, were frequent subjects for the artist.  Morisot's work often focused on domestic life, but she also continued to explore landscape and nudes.  Like all Impressionists Morisot demonstrated in interest in the changing nature of modern life.  She also painted fascinating explorations of space and color.  Often considered her most famous work, The Cradle shows Morisot's older sister, Edma, watching her baby daughter Blanche sleep.  It is the first image of motherhood in Morisot's oeuvre, which became a favorite subject later on.  The painting shows extremely skillful composition, particularly in the diagonals formed by the curtain and canopy that are mirrored in Edma's arms.  The most important part of the painting is Edma's face, which shows great love and determination as she gazes at her child.  There is a distinct peacefulness in the scene, that contributes to its power and engaging effect.  The bond between mother and child that Morisot conveys is palpable in this beautiful masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Édouard Manet, The Repose

Édouard Manet, The Repose, 1870
58.27 x 43.7 in.

Édouard Manet (1832-1883) was one of the most influential painters of the nineteenth century.  A forerunner of Impressionism, Manet was one of the first artists to focus on modern life in his work and was pivotal in the shift from Realism to Impressionism.  Born in Paris, Manet's aptitude for art was particularly encouraged by his uncle, and after some initial resistance from his father, he began a traditional art education.  He studied under an academic painter and traveled Europe to see the works of the old masters.  Manet's early works are generally in a Realist style, but he soon began to develop beyond that trend.  In 1863 Manet produced two of his best known works, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) and Olympia.  Both were inspired by Renaissance paintings, transposed to the context of modernity.  Luncheon on the Grass was rejected by the Salon, but Olympia was accepted.  Nevertheless, Manet was considered a rebel and it was clear that a new movement was starting.  The last major work in his short life was Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) which is a fascinating and beautiful exploration of modern life and the way people relate to each other and their world.  The Repose is a portrait of the great painter Berthe Morisot, who was married to Manet's brother and sat for him multiple times (and whom I will be featuring tomorrow).  Manet never exhibited with the Impressionists and was therefore never an official part of the group, but he became acquainted with them through Morisot, who was an official member of the group.  When first exhibited, The Repose (like many of Manet's works) caused something of a stir.  The pose was considered too laid back and casual, lacking the formality that young ladies usually demonstrated in their portraits.  Of course the equally loose brushwork was also deemed unacceptable.  To my eye, Morisot does not appear especially laid back; she is casual certainly, but thoroughly engaged in her surroundings.  To me this is suggested by her pose, for she is relating to the couch she is sitting on and her visible foot suggests action and mobility.  Even more important is the rendering of Morisot's face.  Manet depicts her with a keen expression, her jaw is set and she is engaged in deep thought.  One of the things Manet manages to convey is the great mutual respect between subject and painter. This piece is a collaboration between the two artists and they achieved a painting of great beauty and interest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wenzel Hablik, Starry Sky, Attempt

Wenzel Hablik, Starry Sky, Attempt, 1909
78.74 x 78.74 in.

Wenzel Hablik (1881-1934) was a painter, architect, and graphic designer who became part of German Expressionism.  Born in Bohemia, now Czech Republic, Hablik trained in Vienna and Prague, initially as a cabinet maker.  His earliest work is generally a Surrealist/Expressionist take on landscape, where the personal impressions of the artist, in this case intensely colorful vistas, take precedence over adherence to objective reality.  Hablik's paintings explore colors and geometry in a thoroughly original way; many of these works were inspired by a crystal fragment he found as a boy.  We can see the universe fracture like glass, only for Hablik to put it together again to show the luminosity and intensity within.  Some of his paintings are downright psychedelic and seem decades ahead of their time.  Starry Sky, Attempt is another piece that seems ahead of its time, but in a very different way.  I think the "attempt" in the title is quite telling; Hablik is alerting us to the fact that this is a mere attempt to capture the majesty and awe-inspiring heavens.  Hablik populates this sky with innumerable stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.  This painting seems to presage so much science fiction imagery that came after it, as well as the actual images of deep space that we have now seen.  That Hablik saw so much that was still decades (and lightyears) away is astounding.  In this large painting, with its dense composition and mind-blowing colors, Hablik shows the true splendor of the natural world.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Francesco Hayez, Self-Portrait with Tiger and Lion

Francesco Hayez, Self-Portrait with Tiger and Lion, 1830

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882) was an Italian painter and a leader of Romanticism, particularly in Milan.  Born to a poor Venetian family, he was the youngest of five sons, and was sent to live with his mother's sister.  Hayez displayed an aptitude for drawing from a young age and his uncle secured him an apprenticeship with an art restorer.  After studying with a painter for three years, he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice and also studied in Rome after winning a competition.  Known for his large history paintings, his first major work was Ulysses in the Court of Alcinous (1814-15).  In the following years, he painted a number of scenes from history, literature, and myth, as was the tradition for history painters, but he began to insert an intense drama that pushed his work past Neoclassicism and into Romanticism.  Like many painters of the period he explored Orientalism and became a respected portrait painter.  Perhaps his most celebrated painting is The Kiss (1859), which emphasizes the passion of Romanticism.  This self-portrait is a fascinating study of the artist and the way he relates to his world.  He demonstrates his skill in the beautiful rendering of the lion and tiger, which glow with life and texture.  He inserts himself into the scene almost as an afterthought, a casual onlooker who appears surprised to fins himself captured in this company.  The painting places the artist on the same level as these great cats, powerful and dominating.  He has even mastered the felines, first by painting them at all and then by showing them in a cage.  While the painter and the tiger gaze directly out at the viewer, the lion looks toward Hayez, the true master of the scene, in total control of his own world.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nicolai Abildgaard, Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth

Nicolai Abildgaard, Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth, 1780-89
15.6 x 24 in.

Nicolai Abildgaard (1743-1809) was a Danish Neoclassical painter.  He was a history painter, sculptor, and architect, as well as a professor at the New Royal Danish Academy of Art, where he taught mythology, painting, and anatomy.  Born in Copenhagen, Abildgaard attended the academy himself and had an apprenticeship there, before moving to Rome to continue his studies. Abildgaard was quite successful as an academic painter, and was appointed royal history painter around 1780.  He was commissioned to do large-scale works that glorified the history of Denmark, and that included allegories to flatter the government.  Despite this outward support, Abildgaard was a critic of both the government and state church.  He favored extensive political reforms, such as the emancipation of farmers.  Eventually, his dissent was no longer tolerated, and, after the exhibition of Jupiter Weighs the Fate of Mankind in 1794, he was politically isolated and prohibited from public debate.  This event, and a devastating fire at Christianborg Palace that destroyed many of his works, proved detrimental to his career. However, both his career and personal life were revitalized in the final years of his life, with a series of new commissions and a second marriage that resulted in three children.  Throughout his career, Abildgaard often painted Classical myths, as well as British legend and literature.  The painting I have featured is based on Shakespeare's RIchard III.  It depicts the king the night before the Battle of Bosworth field, which result is his deposition and death, as well as the end of the War of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty.  Abildgaard had preciously painted Richard III in quite a heroic manner, with little or not trace of the deformities that marked him.  In this piece, the figure looks the same, with a beautiful face and Classical heroic body, but the pose alters the impression significantly.  By showing RIchard splayed on the bed like that, his body twisted around, Abildgaard does suggest the characteristic hump.  The entire painting is about his impending death; his repose could easily be the sleep of death, the spirits (presumably meant to be those of everyone he killed to gain the throne) gesture menacingly and beckon him the next world, and finally the sword points into his wrist as though poised to kill him on the spot.  This is a powerful painting that in many ways recalls depictions of Roman heroes.  The tragic deaths of so many people are balanced with the demise of the tyrant.  With his sculptural forms and vivid colors, Abildgaard renders the scene quite effectively and compellingly.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Yves Tanguy, Storm (Black Landscape)

Yves Tanguy, Storm (Black Landscape), 1926
31.6 x 25.75 in.

Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) was a French surrealist painter.  In 1918 he joined the merchant navy and was then drafted into the army.  When he finished his service in 1922, Tanguy returned to Paris and worked various jobs.  By chance he saw a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, and was so moved that he decided to become a painter on the spot.  Although he had never studied painting at all, he set to work and became incredibly engrossed in his paintings.  In 1924, he met André Breton and became a member of his Surrealism circle.  This proved a fertile environment for the young artist, and he soon developed his own unique style, and had his first solo show in 1927. The bohemian lifestyle that Tanguy embraced in the 1930s led to the dissolution of his first marriage.  In 1938 he began a relationship with artist Kay Sage after seeing her work.  When World War II broke out, Tanguy followed Sage back to her native New York, where the two married in 1940.  The couple moved to Connecticut where they each had a studio.  Sadly, Tanguy died of a sudden stroke in 1955.  His paintings typically show vast abstract landscapes, populated by strange, surreal shapes and figures.  Among his most celebrated works is Mama, Papa is Wounded (1927).  Storm is somewhat different from most of Tanguy's works.  It is not as sparsely populated as they usually are and appears to be set underwater, rather than on a desert-like plane. The lifeforms that swim across the canvas bear some resemblance to real animals like squid or jelly fish.  The power of the painting largely comes from the way these forms seem to flash bright in the darkness, set against this extremely black background.  The inky density of the background does suggest the deep ocean, as well as the deep recesses of the psyche.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jessie Boswell, The Three Windows

Jessie Boswell, The Three Windows (The Plain from the Tower), 1924

Jessie Boswell (1881-1956) was an English painter who spent most of her life in Italy.  Born in Leeds, she moved to Turin in 1906, originally to join her sister, Gertrude, who had married an Italian man.  However, she soon fell in with a community of Turin artists.  In 1929 she became a founder of the Turin Group of Six, and its only female member.  The group was an artistic group, as well as a theoretical group, and they were actively opposed to Fascism and Fascist art.  They achieved rapid and widespread success with both their modernist art and ideas, so naturally they were banned in 1931.  Boswell remained in Italy for the rest of her life.  Her work mostly consisted of landscape and interiors, as well as some portraiture and cityscapes.  Some of her most interesting works, such as The Three Windows, explore the relationship of interior and exterior. This painting is fascinating in its balance of presence and absence.  The landscape outside is vast and majestic, but it is viewed through the barrier of this highly spartan room.  With the two chairs facing the windows, there is a strong feeling that someone should be sitting there, and the viewer is left feeling this absence, slightly bereft.  With the subtitle's mention of a tower, there is some suggestion of imprisonment, and that this is the only view of the countryside available to the captive.  Although the views are small, Boswell put great care and detail into the glimpses of the landscape.  She also shows the vastness of the sky beyond this room.  Despite the somewhat cold absence that pervades this interior space, it is important to note that the windows are thrown open, so the breeze and fresh air waft through this tower room, invigorating its occupant, but offering only a small taste of the breadth of the outside world.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

George Henry Boughton, Winter Twilight Near Albany

George Henry Boughton, Winter Twilight Near Albany, 1858
16.1 x 24.21 in.

George Henry Boughton (1833-1905) was an American and English painter, known for his landscapes and genre paintings.  Born in Norfolk, England, his family emigrated to the United States in 1835 and he grew up near Albany.  Boughton demonstrated a natural talent began his career as a self-taught artist.  At age nineteen he was already recognized as a successful landscape painter.  He returned to England in 1853 to study for six months and sketch the English countryside.  After a few years back in New York, during which he exhibited repeatedly across the Northeast (and toward the end of which WInter Twilight Near Albany was painted), Boughton decided to move to Europe.  He studied in Paris for two years, then opened a studio in London in 1861.  Despite living in England, Boughton frequently painted scenes of American colonial history. Among his most celebrated paintings is Godspeed! Pilgrims Setting Out for Canterbury. Boughton also painted scenes of everyday life, which show thoughtfulness and depth.  Winter Twilight Near Albany is a beautiful example of Boughton's skill with landscape.  He conveys the still and quiet character of this cold evening by a frozen pond. Much of the painting's power comes from the narrow palette.  All the colors are repeated.  The brown of the lifeless trees and shrubs is also in the boy's coat and the distant barn.  The gradient of white to grey that colors the snow is continued in the sky's icy clouds.  Most prominently, the yellow of the sunset is reflected in the pond.  This gives the peace spatial symmetry, as well as emotional resonance. With such a small figure trudging through the winter landscape, we feel expanse of this frozen field and the beauty of this crisp, chill winter twilight.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

František Kupka, Study in Verticals (The Cathedral)

František Kupka, Study in Verticals (The Cathedral), 1912
16 x 8.875 in.

František Kupka (1871-1957) was a Czech painter and graphic artist and a pioneer of abstract art. Born in Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Kupka studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. While there, he painted historical and patriotic subjects.  He then enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he worked with symbolic and allegorical subjects.  He had his first exhibition while in Vienna, and it was around this time that he developed an interest in Eastern Philosophy and theosophy, which would have some degree of influence on his work for the rest of his life.  In 1894 he moved to Paris where he spent much of his life.  While his earliest works are realistic, Kupka soon progressed to fantastical and surreal imagery.  Kupka began to explore abstraction, and developed a unique style which developed into what the poet Gustave Apollinaire called (for unclear reasons) Orphic cubism.   In addition to his work with vertical lines and cubism, Kupka delved into a pure abstraction that favored round shapes, as in his Discs of Newton.  Study in Verticals is one of multiple cubist explorations of a cathedral.  It is easy to see how the subject appealed to Kupka, with high ceilings and strong vertical windows and construction.  His paintings of the cathedral show the intricate relationship of light and space, as he eliminates the realistic space of the building and instead substitutes the shapes they make. Study in Verticals is simultaneously darkened and illuminated.  The light from the stained glass casts its glow over the stone walls and creates a scene where the light dances on every surface. It is somewhat surprising that Kupka did not create works like this one and then develop his purely abstract style, but instead worked in both modes at the same time.  What we see from that knowledge and from this painting, is the Kupka revealed the abstract elements of our everyday world.  What becomes important in this painting, is not that it is a cathedral, but that light and shapes interact to create great beauty, regardless of the setting or subject.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

William Sidney Mount, The Power of Music

William Sidney Mount, The Power of Music, 1847
17.1 x 21.1 in.

William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was an American painter from Setauket, Long Island.  He studied at the National Academy of Design where he initially studied history painting, but he found success when he transitioned to genre scenes.  One of his talents was to show both images of an American pastoral ideal as well as social commentary.  He was committed to painting the realities of rural life.  Mount also painted a number of portraits, in which he successfully portrays the character and feelings of his subjects.  Two of his best known paintings are Bargaining for a Horse (1835) and Dance of the Haymakers (1845), which takes place in the same barn as the painting I have featured.  The Power of Music is an effective exploration of the lives of these men. We see the three men inside the barn playing the fiddle and enjoying the music, while the African American laborer listens from outside.  He has taken a break from his work to listen, for we can see his axe leaning against the barn door.  We can see from his expression how much this man loves the music; he listens intently and he is truly moved.  All four men are united by their love of music, but the worker is separated from the others by his social position.  Mount expresses this distance quite literally with the barrier of the barn door, but we should also keep in mind that he may need to listen in secret, behind the protection of the door.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Giotto, Lamentation of Christ

Giotto, Lamentation of Christ, Scrovegni Chapel, c1305

Giotto di Bondone (1266/7-1337) was one of the most important Italian painters and a major pioneer of the Renaissance.  I featured him in my Christmas post, and decided to write a full post now.  Very little is known about Giotto's life.  He was born near Florence and spent most of his life there.  One possibly apocryphal story tells that he was discovered by the great painter Cimabue, simply drawing on a rock, and Cimabue was so taken with the young boy's lifelike representations that he immediately took him as his apprentice.  Whether this story is true or not, it is accurate to say that Giotto's greatest innovation was to draw his figures from real observation.  Though this had been practiced in the past, it had not been the convention in European painting for a few centuries.  Giotto was also an architect and designed the tower of the Florence Cathedral.  His most important work is the large fresco series in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (commonly known as the Arena Chapel).  The series contains two distinct cycles on each side, depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and the life of Christ.  In addition to more realistic figures, the series shows complex use of architecture, the ability to convey depth, dynamic movement, and integration of figures and nature.  I chose to feature the Lamentation, because in many ways it encompasses all of these revolutionary features.  We see the realistic portrayal of Christ's bodies and the active poses of the mourners.  There is intense emotion on these faces, rendered with great depth of feeling.  Giotto's creation of the crowd on the left is quite skillful, and balances the composition with the rock and tree on the right.  It is also a fine example of his rich use of color, particularly the rich blue (which was particularly expensive at the time) that pervades the series to give a real sense of the sky, allowing the viewer to more viscerally identify with the setting.  This is a masterpiece of the early Renaissance, and Giotto's work essentially gave rise to all the western art that followed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Clara Rilke Westhoff

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Clara Rilke Westhoff, 1905

Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) was a groundbreaking German painter and a pioneer of Expressionism.  She has been called the first Modernist woman painter and is possibly the first woman to paint female nudes, including a self-portrait.  Paula Becker was born in Dresden and raised in an intellectual household.  While visiting an aunt in London, she received her first drawing instruction and began receiving private and museum instruction when she returned to Germany. In 1899 she also studied in Paris.  While there, she met her husband, Otto Modersohn. Modersohn-Becker's work explores many aspects of the lives of women, from the loneliness of childhood to the trials of aged poverty.  She portrays all of these scenes with great sensitivity and deep emotion.  One of her most celebrated paintings shows the bond between mother and child. The portrait I am featuring is of Modersohn-Becker's close friend Clara Westhoff, a sculptor in her own right, with whom she traveled to Paris.  Westhoff married the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke (whom Modersohn-Becker also painted). Modersohn-Becker shows her in great contemplation, the pose of a fellow artist and intellectual.  Westhoff holds a rose, indicating her own love of beauty, which also highlights the hands she used to make her own art.  Although she often employed bright colors, for this portrait Modersohn-Becker chose a muted palette, which gives the piece a very serious tone.  The simple, naturalistic colors are also somewhat sculptural, again alluding to the subject's own art.  Modersohn-Becker employs large, expressive brushstrokes throughout her work, adding to the rich emotionality of her paintings.  During her short life, Modersohn-Becker was recognized for her talent and vision, and is known to have had an influence on Picasso.  In November of 1907 she gave birth to a daughter, Mathilde, however she developed and embolism in her leg and sadly died at age thirty-one.  Today, her significant contributions are fairly well recognized and the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum was the first museum in the world to be dedicated to a female painter.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

José Campeche, Clouds over a coastal Puerto Rican Town

José Campeche, Clouds over a coastal Puerto Rican Town, 1809

José Campeche y Jordán (1751-1809) was a Puerto Rican painter, generally considered the first known (or named) Puerto Rican visual artists and a master of Rococo.  Born in San Juan, Campeche's father was a freed slave, a painter and restorer of religious statues, and his mother was a native of the Canary Islands.  Campeche studied with an exiled Spanish painter named Luis Paret y Alcázar who instructed him in European styles and the Rococo aesthetic. Campeche took up these traditions, but did not adhere to the European conventions, particularly evident in his self-portrait.  In addition to his portraits and sedate religious paintings, Campeche had a certain flair for the dramatic, painting several highly dynamic scenes.  This painting of a Puerto Rican vista that I have chosen to feature is rather different from most of Campeche's works.  He tended to favor figure painting and did few landscapes.  This late piece is very simple, expressing the artist's love of the view depicted.  With his soft touch and muted colors, the piece is a quiet contemplation of the landscape.  We see the beauty and intricacy of the land itself, as the aerial view affords us a survey of the complex shapes the land makes.  The blue of the water and sky are somewhat understated, but their clarity and depth are effectively portrayed.  The intricate layout of the town itself mimics the patterns of the land, which, along with its complexity, speaks to the way we live alongside nature in a manner simultaneously organic and contrived. The clouds of the title, meanwhile, over the scene like wisps of breath that will be blown onward at any moment.

Friday, March 6, 2015

John James Audubon, Louisiana Heron

John James Audubon, Louisiana Heron, 1827-1838
25.75 x 20.75 in.

John James Audubon (1785-1851) is well known as an American painter, ornithologist and naturalist, as well as the namesake of the National Audubon Society.  Audubon was committed to painting American birds in their natural habitats was revolutionary and his book, Birds of America, is still considered one of the great examples of nature painting and book art.  Published in sections between 1827 and 1838, the book contains hand-colored, large-scale depictions of a wide variety of birds, including six now extinct birds.  He also discovered twenty-five new species and twelve subspecies.  Audubon's contributions to understandings of bird anatomy and behavior have been monumental.  The book includes over four hundred plates, such as the Wild Turkey, the American Flamingo, and the Great Grey Owl.  He also painted some studies of other animals. Audubon's paintings are not only scientifically important, but artistically remarkable.  His commitment to accurate portrayals of these animals resulted in fascinating and beautiful images that convey a great deal about the subjects.  The painting of the Louisiana Heron was actually chosen as the original cover for the book, and remains so on many editions.  This piece is especially effective at communicating the habitat and character of this bird.  The heron (now called the tricolor heron) appears majestic, yet simple.  The richness of Audubon's colors and the deftness of his brushwork are on display here.  He devotes as much careful attention to the ground, water, and foliage as he does to the bird itself.  With many small, precise brushstrokes, Audubon successfully depicts the bird's deep blue plumage and musculature.  The bird seems to be looking right at us with its piercing orange eye, making it seem present and alert.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Régis François Gignoux, Lake George at Sunset

Régis François Gignoux, Lake George at Sunset, 1862

Régis François Gignoux (1816-1882) was a French landscape painter who spent much of his life in the United States.  Born in Lyon, he was educated at the École des Beaux-Arts under Paul Delaroche.  Gignoux moved to the United States in 1840 and opened a studio in Brooklyn, and later in Manhattan.  He achieved significant success here, becoming a member of the National Academy of Design, a founding member of the Tenth Street Studio, and the first president of the Brooklyn Art Academy.  Gignoux painted many landscapes of the Northeast (although his work occasionally extended to other regions) and was a member of the Hudson River School, specializing in snow scenes.  He is perhaps most famous for his multiple views of Niagara Falls.  Gignoux returned to France in 1870 and remained in Paris until his death.  His work now hangs in many major collections throughout the country.  This rendition of Lake George is a beautiful example of Gignoux's skill and sensitivity.  Trained in traditional academic landscape painting, his work exhibits many of these traits, and unsurprisingly tends more toward that tradition than other Hudson River School artists.  However, he also has the great love of the landscape that so pervades the Hudson River School.  Gignoux combined the academicism of French landscape with the emotional engagement of American landscape.  This painting offers an idyllic view of the lake, each element portrayed to show its greatest beauty.  The lake shows the perfect reflection of the mountain, while a small boat crosses its waters.  The stand of trees juts out into the water, creating interesting shapes and another reflection.  The trees themselves are perfectly rendered to show the dense but delicate foliage.  The sun is perfectly placed to preside over the scene, offering beautiful light and illuminating the clouds, but remaining subtle somewhat concealed behind a mountain.  Gignoux's brushwork is somewhat looser than one might expect, but this reveals his loving hand and adds to the immediacy of the painting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mostafa Dashti, Untitled

Mostafa Dashti, Untitled, 2007

Mostafa Dashti (b.1960) is a contemporary Iranian painter who lives and works in Tehran.  He has had significant success in Iran as well as international recognition.  He had his first solo exhibition in Tehran in 1988, and since then has shown steadily in Tehran and throughout Iran. Dashti's early work consists mostly of desert scenes, exploring the relationship between people and landscape, an interest that persists in his work.  Throughout the 90s, Dashti's work became gradually more abstract, but retained a strong connection to the natural world.  These paintings often contain clear visual referents, for example to a storm or volcano, but also sometimes tend more toward pure abstraction.  One of the most prominent aspects of Dashti's work is a powerfully visceral effect.  We feel Dashti's hand in these works and his intensity.  Many of these pieces are made with the artist's hands, swirling and pushing these large globs of paint without the mediation of a brush.  These are large canvases with very thick application of paint; they feel very present. Dashti also favors dark colors, which adds to the emotional impact of his work.  The painting I chose to feature is one of the more abstract pieces.  Although it does not depict anything specific, there is still some suggestion of the sand, or a storm cloud, or the sun.  There is a sense of light and dark melting into each other, as the black and grey mix with the white and yellow.  It may appear as though the dark colors are overtaking the light, dripping in front, but the white is actually the outermost layer and the vertical strip of yellow greatly affects the brightness of the painting. This is a piece where the elements are very much in balance with each other, and the complex relationship of light and dark is brought to the fore.

I don't normally feature two paintings, but I had a lot of difficulty choosing which work to use.  So I've decided to include a second rather similar painting from the same year.  Here the brightness is overpowering, and the sun seems to be sweeping across the canvas.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

William H. Weisman, Pioneers at Sunset

William H. Weisman, Pioneers at Sunset, c1870
29.75 x 49.5 in.

William H. Weisman (1840-1922) was an American painter who created many beautiful renditions of the New England landscape. After minor success as an opera singer, Weismann turned to landscape painting. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the National Academy of Design. After his education, he moved to Franconia, New Hampshire, where the Weismann Brook is named for him. There he painted views of the white mountains and often traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts to paint seascapes. Weisman's work is often quite dramatic, bringing a romantic intensity to the New England scenes. Pioneers at Sunset is unusual within Weisman's oeuvre, set outside New England on the Western frontier. One of the most prominent characteristics of this piece is the open space of the piece. Weisman doesn't constrain the scene with natural elements (as is the convention in academic landscape painting), no trees frame the canvas and no mountains rise up in the distance. Instead, the vastness of the frontier becomes the subject. This effect is underlined by the inclusion of the two pioneer figures. The appear minuscule within this landscape, and even their tent and wagon are dwarfed by the tree behind them and land around them. Weisman includes great detail in his rendition of the land itself, with the many rocks and diverse plants carefully articulated. The most striking element of the work, though, is the impressive sky with the sunset. Like the land, the sky appears wide and open, its vastness stretching over the land and the scene. The clouds appear quite majestic encircling the sun, which shines through to cast the golden glow over the scene.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Paul Klee, Rising Sun

Paul Klee, Rising Sun, 1907
12 x 9.6 in.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was an extremely influential Swiss German painter who was a pioneer of Modernism.  Born in Switzerland to two musicians, he studied music as well until his teen years when he switched to visual arts, partly out of rebellion and partly because modern music did not speak to him.  As a musician, he was bound to past tradition, but as an artist he was excited by the radical and avant-garde.  Klee studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and, like many artists and other young men of the period, traveled Europe extensively.  He was particularly moved by his visit to Rome, responding deeply to the colors of Italy.  In 1911, Klee met August Macke, Franz Marc, and Wassily Kandinsky, founders of the German Modernist group, Der Blaue Reiter.  Klee joined the group and exhibited at their second exhibition.  He formed a particularly strong friendship with Kandinsky, and they paved the way for much of modern art.  Like Kandinsky, Klee wrote extensively about art, and his notebooks have been invaluable for the study of his work and the ideas of the time.  Throughout his career, Klee explored many different aspects of color and shape.  His work combines many different styles, using expressionism, cubism, and surrealism, as well as exploring Orientalism.  In part because of his stylistic eclecticism, and in part because of the unusual methods he employed, Klee's work is difficult to classify.  He often alludes to poetry and music, as well as implying deep philosophical contemplation.  Rising Sun is an early work, painted in Bern when Klee was recently married and his art career was moving slowly.  It is rather different from his matures work, showing a softer hand and certainly a less clear intent and direction.  However that gives the piece some of its appeal; it is free and unconstrained by ideology, simply a pure expression of line and color.  There is a haphazardness here (which stands opposed to the grid-like structure that characterizes many of his works), with everything at odd angles.  There is also something almost tribal about the painting; the symbolic nature of the sun is fascinating and gives the painting a visceral intensity. While it differs significantly from Klee's mature works, this small painting is a beautiful expression of the young man's mind and spirit, and an early indication of the great work to come.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Theophrastos Triantafyllidis, Flea Market

Theophrastos Triantafyllidis, Flea Market, 1943

Theophrastos Triantafyllidis (1881-1955) was a Greek painter whose style shows the influence of Impressionism, but his work progresses to Expressionism and his own brand of Modernism. Born in the Anatolian city of Izmir, Triantafyllidis studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts and spent time studying in both Munich and Paris.  His early work bears a resemblance to Post-Impressionists like Gauguin and Cezanne, with soft forms and impassioned presentation of his subjects.  As he progressed into the 1930s, his work became more abstracted and unique.  Flea Market is perhaps the most fully realized (or most extreme) example of this style.  With blank faces and vague outlines of the figures, the scene could easily be lost in abstraction, but Triantafyllidis manages to keep all the elements distinct and present.  The background fades into a haze, with only the merest suggestion of the buildings, but it also remains discernible.  With rich colors and interesting shapes, this painting is surprisingly compelling.  The piece shows the crowded street with an air of intrigue, thanks mostly to the indistinct nature of the scene.  While we can certainly make out particular people on the street, identify a buyer and seller on the left for example, the overall impression of the scene is of a mass of people, swarming and packed together.  Again, Triantafyllidis creates this effect with his abstraction.  A flea market is the perfect scene for this style; Triantafyllidis was able to take advantage of his style to create the particular effects of the setting.  The painting also has philosophical tension, portraying the traditional scene of a street market in a highly modern painting style.  To my eye juxtaposition is quite effective.