Impressionism – Monet and Renoir, La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond), 1869

 

Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869
Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869

In the summer of 1869 Monet was living in conditions of extreme hardship with his family at Saint-Michel, a hamlet near Bougival, west of Paris. The two works he had submitted to the Paris Salon that year (The Magpie and  Fishing Boats at Sea) had been rejected, and he was keen to paint a ‘tableau’ (living picture) to submit to the Salon in 1870 that might find fresh mass appeal.

Renoir, also desperately poor at the time,  was staying in the vicinity with his parents, and he and Monet painted together at La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond) a popular meeting place on the river near Bougival, which was easily accessible by train. Here people met to swim, dance and drink.

The restaurant at La Grenouillére, which was located on a barge, was a fashionable place for the emerging middle class to enjoy the new pleasures of suburban Paris.  The small island next to the restaurant, with a weeping willow at its centre, was known as Pot de fluers ( flowerpot) or ‘ the camembert‘.  Accessible by gang planks,  people would meet and talk before progressing to the bar of La Grenouillére.

The name La Grenouillére was based on its double meaning.  It’s not only the French term for frog pond, but it was also used colloquially to describe women who were, as Renoir’s son in his memoir of his father put it, “not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene [at the time], changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a  mansion on the Champs-Elyseés to a garret in the Batignolles“.

He continued, “Among that group Renoir got a great many of his volunteer models. According to him, the grenouilles, or ‘frogs’ were often ‘very good sorts’. Because the French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class also patronised the… restaurant”.

August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869
August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869

Both Monet and Renoir were living a ‘hand to mouth existence’.  Monet would literally paint until he ran out of colour, then take up sketching in preparation for the next time he could pull together a few francs from his friends in order to continue.  Renoir was being supported by his family. Thankfully the owner of La Grenouillére, Monsieur Fournaise, accepted some of their paintings in exchange for food.

They painted scenes of boats and swimmers and of couples strolling along the water’s edge or crossing the gangplanks. Painting many views of the same scene quickly, they captured the changes in light and atmosphere as the day progressed. In their surviving works from that summer, it is clear that they usually painted alongside each other.

In experimenting with techniques for painting outdoors, they developed a method for capturing the play of light on water. They painted rapidly with short, comma like brushstrokes, and they juxtaposed sharply contrasting, unmixed colours which brought a shimmering life to water. It enabled them to portray the transitory effects of light and atmosphere – goals they had been pursuing for years. Both came to value the sketchy, unfinished quality of the work.

Renoir’s paintings

Details from Renoir’s paintings

Renoir painted huddles of people on the camembert, experimenting with little patches or taches (French for ‘spots’) which were indistinct wiggling strokes which he applied by putting one mark next to another, creating subtle colour variations. He also dashed off bright white impasto (thick paint straight out of the tube) across the water, suggesting reflections of bright light and the movement of the water created by the bathers and the boats.

Monet’s Paintings

(It’s considered that the lost painting of La Grenouillére,  photographed above, was his ‘tableau’ which he submitted to the Salon in 1870, but was rejected.)

Details from Monet’s paintings

Monet was also experimenting with new ways of reflecting water – using huge broad strokes of brown, white and blue. His preference for treating forms in bold masses, juxtaposing patches of colour and suppressing unnecessary detail echoed Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts. (It appears that he began collecting Japanese woodblock prints as early as 1864–65 and owned volumes of work by Hokusai.)

Monet may have incorporated the innovations into his paintings the most boldly, but it is not possible to say who was the key initiator of the changes they made to their painting styles. However, the discoveries Claude Monet and  Pierre-Auguste Renior made that summer from painting together and sharing ideas, and the techniques they developed, clearly influenced the evolving Impressionist style.

 Photos of La Grenouillére

(See more information about Monet’s painting techniques and his use of complementary colours in the free trial section of my e-course.)

(Also,  you’ll find detailed information about 19th Century Painting Inventions and how they influenced  the painting style of Monet, and other Impressionists,  in the full e-course.)


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art,  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism  through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

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Raoul Dufy and the Colour Blue

If there is one thing that’s distinctive about artist Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953) it is his use of the colour blue, and I was treated to many of his works at an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art at Le Havre in France.

Dufy stated;

Blue is the only colour that holds onto its individuality in all its shades. Take the various tones of blue, from the darkest to the lightest and they will still be blue; whereas yellow goes black in the shadows and it vanishes at its lightest; dark red turns into brown and red diluted with white isn’t red, but pink – a different colour“.

Raoul Dufy, Pink Bridge and Railway, c 1935
Raoul Dufy, still life with fish and fruit, 1920-22

I think the paintings above are easily recognised as the work of Dufy, with his simple lines and beautifully deep shades of blue.


Raoul Dufy was born in Havre in 1877 where he later trained as an artist, and the colour blue predominates in even his earlier works – not surprisingly as he painted the coast around Le Havre, but you can see that these paintings are subtle and traditional in style.

Raoul Dufy, Le Quai De l’Ile, 1898
Raoul Dufy, Honfluer , 1898

Raoul Dufy, Le Havre, The Docks, 1898

“The unique setting of Le Havre is what made me the artist I am. It was there that I worked with Lhullier, who was an excellent teacher, but it was also where as a 17-year-old employed by an import firm, I supervised dockers. I spent all my time on the decks of ships: it is an ideal training for a painter. I breathed all the perfumes that wafted from the holds. I knew by smell whether a boat came from Texas, the Indies or the Azures, and it fired my imagination. I was transported by the miraculous light of the estuaries, the like of which I’ve only found in Syracuse. Until about 20th August it is radiant; then it takes on increasingly Silver tones. “

From Rene Barotte,with Raoul Duffy on his return to Paris, Comedia, 5 February, 1944

Dufy’s development and Influences

Dufy studied at the Ecole Nationaledes Beaux-Arts in Paris but returned frequently to Le Havre where he was able to see the extensive works of Eugene Boudin at the Le Havre Museum. Like Boudin, Monet and others, he focused on seaside imagery. Impressionism was still the primary artistic movement in France in the early 20th Century, so Dufy’s focus was on rendering the shifting light effects and shimmering air. However, you can see how Dufy’s painting are more strongly outlined, with a frequent use of black.

It was during this phase that his work became less structured, with longer brush strokes, and a freer hand.

Raoul Dufy, Le Havre Beach, 1904

“I had done the beaches in the manner of Impressionists, and I had reached a point of saturation… On day, unable to bear it any longer, I went out with just my box of paints and a sheet of paper. When I came to a beach subject, I set out my equipment and started looking at my tubes of paint and my brushes. How, using this, could I succeed in rendering not what I see, but what it, what exists for me, my reality? … From that day forth, it was impossible for me to go back to my sterile tussles with the elements that offered themselves to my gaze.”

It was not long after this that he saw a Fauvist painting by Henri Matisse, Luxury, Calm and Pleasure, at the Salon des Independants in March 1905 – and this was a revelation for him.

Henri Matisse, Luxury, Calm and Pleasure, 1904

In front of that picture … I understood all the new reasons to paint, and Impressionist realism lost its charm for me as I contemplated the miracle wrought by introducing the imagination into drawing and colour. I instantly understood the new pictorial mechanics.”

Raoul Dufy, Le Havre Beach, 1906
Raoul Dufy, 14 July in Le Havre, 1906
Raoul Dufy, The Yacht Harbour in The Bassin du Commerce in Le Havre, 1905-6

Until 1907 Dufy experimented with Fauvism, painting in Le Havre and other areas within Normandy.

With his friend Albert Marquet, he painted the harbour, streets decorated with flags for the 14th of July, boats moored on the quay, the pier and beaches. His drawings become even freer at this point and he works more with stronger colours and more chaotic brushstrokes. And the colour blue is still strongly featured.

Paul Cezanne, Chateau Noir, c1904 (inset)

In 1907, a retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work was shown in Paris, and this had a profound effect on a number of painters, including Picasso and Braque, and which was a key factor in the development of Cubism.

Cézanne stated ” Treat nature via the cylinder, the sphere and the cone, and use perspective so that each side of an object or a plane leads towards a central point”.

Dufy was clearly influenced by Cézanne and in 1908 worked alongside Georges Braque at L’Estague, painting landscapes with a strong focus on structure, in a cubist manner. When he returned to Le Havre, he painted panoramas of the beach, the casino and fishing.

Raoul Dufy, Fishermen with Shrimp Nets in Le Havre, 1910
Raoul Dufy, Sainte-Adresse Beach, 1912
Raoul Dufy, The Old Port of Mareille and Notre Dame de la Garde, 1908

In these paintings, he is focused on introducing more density, space and geometry – using vertical planes which lead to an unusually high horizon with only a small amount of sky.

You can also see that his colours are influenced by Cézanne and cubism as this time – with more oranges, greens and browns, but still with his signature use of blues.

This influence is still obvious in his sea bather series in the 1910s.

I am working on my big canvas [which is] entirely covered by a woman bather in her ever-so-modern navy blue bathing costume with white edging and embroidered anchors around the neck and the usual little waterproof bathing cap … As a backdrop, the charming slope of Saint-Adresse with its terraced greenery and its red brick houses with round and square turrets”.

Letter from Dufy to Fernand Fleuret, 8 June 1913

Raoul Dufy, Large Woman Bather, 1914

Dufy produced numerous variations on this work during his career, reflecting a relaxed Le Havre lifestyle.


It’s after this time that Dufy’s work becomes distinctively his own, creating paintings which are more playful, colourful, and with a freer hand.

Raoul Dufy, The English Squadron’s Visit to Le Havre, c1935
Raoul Dufy, The Pier and the Beach in Le Havre, c1926

Raoul Dufy, Strollers in front of the Casino de la Jetee in Nice, 1948

Raoul Dufy, Regatta Boats Setting Sail in Deauville, c 1835 – 36

I’ve added another couple of strongly coloured pictures, without the blue focus but very strong paintings, with red and black.

Raoul Dufy, The Studio in Venice, 1945

Raoul Dufy, The Red Violin, 1949

Dufy moved to the South of France for heath reasons during the Second World War and remained there until his death in 1953, returning only briefly to Le Havre.

He used Le Havre and Saint Adresse as the backdrop for his final series of paintings, using cargo ships as his subject.

He wrote

” The sun at its zenith is black. You are dazzled; you can no longer see anything in front of you. The dominant impression is of black. You have to take black as your starting point [for] … a composition that finds brightness in the contrasts between colours.”

Raoul Dufy, The Black Cargo Ship, C1948-52

Raoul Dufy, The Black Cargo Ship, c 1948-52


Although Dufy uses large swatches of black convincingly in these paintings, it will always be his vivid use of blues that will come to mind whenever I think of this artist.

Primary Source: The Museum of Modern Art, Le Havre.

http://www.muma-lehavre.fr/en/exhibitions/raoul-dufy-le-havre

Eugène Boudin – Inspiration to Monet

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I’m in Honfleur, which is a beautiful old town on the coast in Normandy in France, for few days. Its just the beginning of my 2019 European holiday and I’m excited as my mother’s family are from Normandy.

I did a little research before I left to find any galleries in the area, and discovered an artist named Eugène Boudin, after whom the local art museum is named.

Boudin was born in 1824 in Honfleur where his father operated a ferry service across the Seine estuary between Honfleur and Le Havre.

Following an accident on the ferry when he fell almost drowned, his mother sent him to school. Boudin’s abilities were recognised and he was encouraged to develop his artistic talent.

His family moved across the river to Le Havre in 1835,  where his father started a picture framing and stationery business. (Although the research I did was a little contradictory, it is likely that Eugène also had a share in this business.)

During Boudin’s lifetime the Channel coast between France and England was transformed by tourism. By the 1830s some small fishing villages were accommodating visitors from both countries. This included tourists in search of the healthful benefits of sea water and air, as well as artists who took the opportunity to paint scenic locales and peasant life.

Both Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75), a founding members of the French Barbizon School of landscape painting, and Constant Troyon (1810- 65) sold their paintings at the Boudin family shop, and Eugène was able to study their works, and talk such to artists as miniature painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767–1855) and the history painter Thomas Couture (1815–79).

However, his art hero at the time was Dutch landscape master Johan Jongkind (1819-1891).

Louis Gabriel Isabey, Low Ebb Tide, 1861
Johan Barthold Jongkind, Quay in Honfluer, 1866

In 1846 Boudin started painting full-time.

Sponsored by former artist clients of the framing business, Boudin went to Paris to study and copy in the Louvre, and in 1851 the town of Le Havre awarded him a three-year scholarship to support his study. In Paris he developed an interest in the paintings of Realist painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

In 1857 Boudin met the young Claude Monet (who also lived in Le Havre) who spent several months working with him in his studio. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence.

Drawing of Monet, presumed to be by Boudin
Drawing of Monet, presumed to be by Boudin

Monet later commented,

If I have become a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin.”

Claude Monet, Winter Sun, Lavacourt, c1879-80

By the middle of the 1850s, plein-air painting was becoming an established tradition. Painting styles were changing and artists began to paint nature with a spontaneous approach. Boudin, together with Camille Corot, was a strong influence on young Impressionist painters.

Boudin wrote:

anything painted directly, on the spot, always has a strength, a power, a lively touch that is lost in the studio. Your first impression is the right one. Stick to it and refuse to budge.

Boudin made his debut at the Paris Salon in 1859, and continued to exhibit with the Salon for years. (He participated in the Impressionist’s first exhibition of 1874, but not in any subsequent exhibitions, preferring instead to exhibit within the Salon system.)

He began to paint tourist scenes in 1862; at about the same time as a new rail line opened from Paris to Trouville-Deauville, making travel to these resorts much easier. Beach vacationers were unconventional subjects for artists at that time. They had leisure time and money to spend, and were the patrons as well as the subjects of his art.

(Prior to this, paintings of seascapes, if they had figures, they were more typically of fishermen or peasant washerwomen.)

Also, by this time it was much easier to paint out doors portable with easels being available, as well as oil paint  in tubes.

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Boudin quickly established the pattern he would follow throughout his career: in summer he traveled to paint outdoor sketches that he would complete in his Paris studio over the winter. He stayed along the Channel coast, mostly in Normandy and Brittany.

Boudin’s growing reputation enabled him to travel extensively in the 1870s. He visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice. He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons, receiving a third place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Legion d’honneur.

He died in 1898 in Deauville, not far from Honfleur, at the age of 74.


It was against this background that I visited the Eugène Boudin Museum in Honfleur – unfortunately I couldn’t take photos in the gallery so the ones below are some I found online which are representative of works I saw there.


 

Eugène Boudin, Concert at the Casino of Deauville, 1865, oil on canvas
Eugène Boudin, On the Jetty, c. 1869 1870, oil on wood
Eugène Boudin, Bathing Time at Deauville, 1865, oil on wood

I think they are nice little tourist paintings, but my real surprise came when I visited the Museum of Modern Art at Le Havre the following day and found many more of his artworks. 

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You can see from his use of colour, light and his loose brushstrokes why he would have been such an influence on Claude Monet and other Impressionists  – these artworks capture the time and place beautifully, and are wonderfully modern paintings.

Boudin was nicknamed the “king of the skies” by Camille Carot, and the images above demonstrate why he earned this nickname.

Eugène Boudin was a wonderfully talented artist whom I was delighted to discover, and it’s a shame that he isn’t more well known. Again, another reason why I love to visit galleries when I travel – there are always wonderful surprises.


Sources include:

The Eugène Boudin Gallery in Honfleur

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

MuMA d’art Modern Andre Malraux

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Analytic Cubism – Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie 1911-12

Analytical Cubism  was the early phase of cubism  (from about 1908-12) which was  characterised by the pronounced use of geometric shapes, fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and monochromatic use of colour.

Paintings produced at this time were often more detailed than later cubist works, with images often gathered tightly toward the centre of the painting, growing sparser toward the edges. Although figures and objects were dissected or “analysed” into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled in a different format to evoke those same figures or objects.

An excellent example of Analytical Cubism is a work by Pablo Picasso called Ma Jolie.

The name Ma Jolie, (My pretty girl) came from a popular song performed at a Parisian music hall. It was also Picasso’s nickname for his lover Marcelle Humbert (also known as Eva Gouel). So, we can assume that the painting would reference both a woman, probably Eva, and music.

Picasso composed the figure into different planes, angles, lines, and shadings, completely abstracting the face of the woman.

Pablo Picasso, Ma Jolie, 1911-12

Before looking at the other images and reading the rest of the article, please look at the overall picture and examine it to see what shapes you can identify  – look for both musical references and the figure of a woman.

I can see a woman’s head in the large triangular shape on a 45 degree angle in the top right quarter, just above the centre. Straight lines (running diagonally from near top left towards the lower right)  represent her shoulders, with a slim neck at the centre. The sharp angle at the top of the left shoulder line suggests an elbow, and what could be the right arm (in cream) coming from below the shoulder and then bent back towards the shape of a musical instrument, possibly a guitar, as if she is holding it.

 

 

This is what I interpret to be her face. There seems to be two images here. One of the larger triangular face, and within this, a softer more traditional drawing of a woman’s face, with a clearly identifiable eye on the left, and part of an eye on the right, with a lopsided smile. Perhaps the dashes above the forward are her hair, or a hat.

 

In this section, below the woman’s shoulders I can see her fingers (quite thick cylindrical shapes) on the left, strumming the guitar – you can see the vertical strings of the instrument.

Here Picasso has given us the clue as to what the image is about. We have the play on words of Ma Jolie, and the treble clef to let us know that this is image contains both a musical reference and a reference to his lover.

 

This is a photo of Eva – I think you can see the similarity in the profile in this photo and the faint drawing of her face in Ma Jolie.

Picasso was devastated by her early death in 1915.

 

 


Does this picture work for you as a faceted (broken up) image which combines both a women’s face and music? What other clues can you find which might tell us more about what Picasso was attempting to show us?


If you would like to know more about Cubism, or any other style of Modern Art, visit my website, Introduction to Modern European Art.

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Eileen Mayo – Painter, Printmaker and Designer

While visiting the Christchurch gallery in New Zealand earlier this year, I came across a wonderful exhibition of the work of Eileen Mayo (1909 – 1994). 

Even though she lived  in Australia from the early 1950s until the early 1960’s, I didn’t know much about her. The work in the exhibition consisted mainly of prints and postage stamps, and it wasn’t until I did some further research that I discovered what a diverse artist Mayo was.

Eileen Mayo, Lobster Pot, Tempera on Board, early 1940s

She worked in almost every medium available to her during her career – oil painting (including murals), tempura, prints (including lithographs, linocuts, wood engraving and silkscreens). She was also an author of several nature books and had an interest in calligraphy.

As well, Mayo executed a number of designs for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes.

She was particularly highly regarded for her book illustrations,  as well as poster, postage stamp, book plate, diorama, tapestry and coin design.

Earlier in her career May also worked as a model to some of the best-known British artists of the day, including Laura Knight, Dod Proctor, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. (It was through Knight that she received her first major commission, which started her very successful career as an illustrator.)

Mayo actively demonstrated the Arts and Crafts movement’s belief that applied arts was of the same value as fine arts  – largely as an outcome of her training at the Slade School of Fine Arts at the University of London andat the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London (where she studied lithography, calligraphy and wood engraving).  Like other artists of the time her aim was to bring her talents into people’s home and workplaces and to make a living doing so.

She described an artist as ” … a work[er] who designs and/or makes things of our ordinary lives as beautiful as they can be“.[i] She argued that any division between ‘fine’ art and other art forms was illusory.

Equally, Mayo believed that painting was a craft to be mastered. In her review of M. Maroger’s, The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters (1949), she wrote, “We are so obsessed with the idea of painting being an ART that we forget, or even deliberately deny, that of its very nature (since it is not abstract but concrete) it is also a craft[ii].

 

A legacy  from her study at the Slade was a pictorial logic to her work based on the geometry of Piero della Francesca and the linear draughtsmanship of  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.


According to biographer Jillian Cassidy, as a child Mayo was pre-occupied with drawing from nature, and had “anxious perfectionism and a predilection for making every task as difficult as possible in order to prove both her personal integrity as well as her artistic worth both to herself and to those around her[iii].

This focus on perfectionism remained with her throughout her career and as she took on new media, she went to great lengths to study her craft. For example, she was famously instructed by Claude Flight over the telephone on how to make a linocut.

In the 1930s she studied at Chelsea Polytechnic with Robert Medley, Henry Moore and Harold James, as well as studying lithography at Horsham School of Art with Vincent Lines.  In the 1940s Mayo travelled to France where she undertook a study of the historic tapestries at Cluny and Angers and studied tapestry design at the Tabard Ateliers at Aubusson.  She was taught the art of tapestry designing at St Céré by Jean Lurcat, the master of contemporary tapestry design.

Mayo also attended life drawing classes in France with Fernard Legér[iv].

Mayo also applied her perfectionism to her oil painting. She stated “I am especially concerned about the texture of paint. I like to think that if a small piece were removed from any part of a picture it would be interesting in itself“.[v]

Eileen Mayo, Still Life with a Painting of the Dancer Karsavina, c1920

(However, she was later to identify that painting was not her greatest strength.)

From the late in 1920s her work began to be commissioned for book illustrations and she produced linocuts, lithographs and wood engravings.

In the mid 1930s Mayo travelled by cargo ship to Durban, South Africa, where she made numerous drawings of the Zulu people as well as the  local fauna and flora, which she developed into paintings and prints on her return to England.

She produced her first book, commissioned by Waverly Book Company, in 1944, The Story of Living Things and their Evolution. It contained 300 pages of text and over 1,000 illustrations. Shells and How They Live was published the same year.

In 1945 Mayo wrote and illustrated two more books: Little Animals of the Countryside and Larger Animals of the Countryside, amongst others produced during her career.

Also in 1945 she exhibited her work for the first time at the Royal Academy. It was a lithograph titled Squirrel.

Eileen Mayo, The Squirrel, c1932, National Gallery of Victoria

By 1950 her prints were being more widely exhibited, including at Victoria and Albert Museum and at the Leicester Galleries. (The Victoria and Albert Museum currently holds 89 of her works in their collection.)

It was at this time that she began teaching lithography and illustration at Sir John Cass College and drawing at St Martin’s School of Art, and exhibiting at the Society of Women Artists at the Royal Institute Gallery and with the Royal British Artists.

In 1951, her tapestry Echinoderms was among three contemporary works selected for the exhibition English Tapestries shown during the Festival of Britain.

It was against this background, with her marriage over, that Mayo left England for Australia in 1952.


Eileen Mayo in Australia

Mayo arrived in Sydney suffering from depression and feeling guilty about the breakdown of her marriage.  She had made the move because her youngest sister was already living in Sydney, as were her friends Carol and George Foote.

With her substantial background in printmaking in particular, Mayo made a significant contribution to art in Australia, particularly as printmaking was enjoying a resurgence in interest during the 1960s.

She very quickly became friendly with Hal Missingham  (also a printmaker) who was the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Elizabeth Pope from the Australian Museum, Douglas and Dorothy Dundas from the Australian Art School as well as Sir Daryl Lindsay (Director) and Dr Ursula Hoff (Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings) from the National Gallery of Victoria.

She exhibited in galleries across Australia and her prints were received with acclaim – only a year after her arrival she won the Albany Prize for printmaking  and her Woman and Siamese Cat (1952) won the Ku ring gai prize for prints in 1960. Her print Pumpkin won a prize in Adelaide in 1962. One major difficulty she faced in producing lithographs in Sydney at that time was the limited number of lithographic presses.

Mayo’s major focus while she lived in Australia was on earning a living through teaching (at East Sydney Technical College) and design commissions.

Overseas tourist travel during the war was almost nonexistent, but by the 1950s it was again becoming popular, and the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) was commissioning innovative posters to promote tourism.

Three of Mayo’s poster designs were included in the 1955-57 edition of Modern Publicity which was a worldwide advertising journal. These designs were Discover Australia, Cockatoo and Banksia, and Koalas. Her Desert Pea design appeared in the 1958-59 edition and Great Barrier Reef in the subsequent edition. (Mayo wasn’t a newcomer to postermaking, having designed them since the 1930s.)

In 1957 she submitted several stamp designs to the Stamp Advisory Committee of the Postmaster General’s Department, in Melbourne. Although they weren’t considered to be suitable she was commissioned (at the suggestion of Daryl Lindsay) to prepare six possible stamps, each depicting an Australian animal  (such as the kangaroo, koala, opossum, Tasmanian tiger, banded anteater and bandicoot) which could be engraved for recess printing.

As with any work she undertook, she undertook thorough research. “My sources of information are whatever I can get and wherever I can find them.[vi]” This included museum specimens, photographs, colour slides, book illustrations and a visit to Taronga Park Zoo.

Although biologically correct, Mayo’s stamps were stylised decorative drawings, rather than photographic representations of the animals.  She considered that  ” … their design [should be] striking, simple and up to date without being gimmicky, which makes them old fashioned in a year or two[vii]“.



Such was the success of her designs, six Animals stamps were issued between 1959 and 1962, and Stamp Collecting Annual (UK) selected three Mayo designed stamps for the world’s top ten stamps of the year during three consecutive years[viii].

In 1964 when the French Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications invited the Australian Post Office to participate in an International Philatelic Exhibition in Paris, the Australian Post-Master General extended an invitation to Mayo to represent the country at the exhibition. “In view of your recent work for this Department, I would therefore like to offer you the opportunity of participating in this International Exhibition”. [ix]

From the late 1950s Mayo undertook mural painting commissions, including the Tree of the Invertebrates (which consisted of fifty-five panels) for the Australian Museum, Sydney in 1959 and a mural for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 1961.

The Invertebrate Tree was organised to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species. Measuring nine metres by two metres, over 20 people completed the mural over a period of 19 months. Mayo’s contribution consisted of 55 paintings of scientifically accurate enlargements of animals (such as insects, spiders, snails, jellyfish, scorpions, seashells, sea urchins and anemones) normally too small to be seen by the naked eye.

Unfortunately this mural no longer exists.

Her work for the CSIRO was for the main foyer for the building, however, as it was still under construction, Mayo executed the work in synthetic resin “applied by an old kitchen knife and a fine sable brush on panels of marine ply wood in her garage at Neutral Bay[x].

According to her great niece, the CSIRO mural did survive. “When the old CSIRO building was demolished, they were able to relocate it to their new one, as the mural had been painted on large boards (in Eileen’s garage in Neutral Bay)[xi] .

Mayo also had a number of smaller commissions. She worked for the Display Department at David Jones, between August 1953 and April 1954. Her diaries record the designing of advertisements for knitting machines, sun tan lotions and promotions for ‘Lower Ground Floor Bargains’. She also painted panels of birds and animals for a window display.

Another commission was to work on colour combinations for Claudio Alcorso of Silks and Textiles Printers Pty Ltd in Hobart in 1957. Mayo’s role  was to make colourways for the designs produced by the various artists, often five or six of them to preserve the tone values. Although offered a full time position, she was just beginning to establish good design contacts in Sydney and there was also the prospect of full-time teaching at the East Sydney Technical College.

Mayo also designed the decoration for a dinner set for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Board Room in Melbourne. Although the Board appear to have approved her wild flower motif drawn between narrow brown bands, the dinner set was not produced.

Mayo moved to New Zealand to be with her mother and sister Margery in 1962, and she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1994 New Year Honours one week before her death at the age of 87.


Eileen Mayo was driven not only by a sense of perfectionism, but also one of self doubt, during her long and successful career.

She was an artist who fully believed that fine art and arts and crafts were of the same value, and also believed in the importance of indepth study to develop technique. This meant that she placed no limitations on her art practices.

She amply demonstrated her abilities across a range of media, particularly in design, illustrations, various forms of printmaking and tempera painting.

I’m so pleased to have visited Christchurch gallery and discovered this wonderful artist, and the contribution she made to art in Australia, as well in New Zealand and the UK.


[i] Barbara R. Mueller, “The Stamp of the Artist,” Western Stamp Collector, 21 July, 1962, p 3.

[ii] Art News & Review, Vol. I, no. 6, 1947, p. 7.

[iii] Margaret Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000. p23-24

[iv] ibid, p12.

[v] Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24, No1 p 17-22

[vi] Correspondence, Mayo to Mueller, 15 August I 961

[vii] Correspondence, Mayo to Gil Docking, Director of the City of Auckland Art Gallery, 28 April 1965.

[viii] https://shop.auspost.com.au/INTERSHOP/static/WFS/AusPost-Shop-Site/-/AusPost-Shop/en_AU/assets/document/1292363962-bulletin308_high.pdf

[ix] Correspondence, Australian Postmaster General to Mayo, 1964

[x] Cassidy, Shifting Boundaries, p 162

[xi] Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo


Sources

Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000

Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24,

Design and Art Australia online

Independent Obituary: Dame Eileen Mayo, JOHN GAINSBOROUGH, Wednesday 5 January 1994

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Victoria and Albert Museum

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Australia Post

Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo

Cubism – A Brief Introduction

Georges Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910
Georges Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910

Cubism was a short-lived Modern art movement from around 1908 – 1922, which has had an enduring impact on artists and painting styles.

Cubist painters re-examined and challenged the concept that art should copy nature, and also challenged the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling and foreshortening.

In cubist works the artists combined a large range of viewpoints (multiple perspectives) in one picture and broke down the natural forms of subjects into geometric shapes.

This style of painting was largely influenced by Paul Cezanne, following a commemorative exhibition of his work in Paris in 1907.  In particular, the exhibition demonstrated Cezanne’s

  • use of geometric shapes,
  • build-up of small brushstrokes,
  • flattened perspective, and
  • way of viewing his subject from shifting positions.

You’ll also see that early cubist works contained similar colours to many works by Cezanne, that is beige, creams, greys, black, greens and browns.

Another key influence was African art, with its vibrant expressive qualities and simplification of forms as planes or facets. A number of cubist artists purchased African tribal masks, which were common and cheap in Paris curio shops.   However, they were not interested in the true religious or social symbolism of these cultural objects, but valued them for their expressive style. Similarly, artists were also influenced by Iberian sculpture.

The birth of Cubism is attributed to Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, who collaborated closely for some years from 1907, after being introduced by Art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who promoted Cubism from its inception. They were joined by a number of other artists from about 1910, including Fernand Léger, Sonia Delauney, Robert de la Fresnaye, Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, and Marie Vorobieff (Marevna).

In 1908,  Henri Matisse labelled Braque’s work “les petites cubes,” leading the critic Louis Vauxcelles to coin the term Cubism.

 

 

paul cézanne the bibémus quarry c 1895 c
Paul Cézanne The Bibémus Quarry c.1895

georges braque viaduct at l'estaque 1908
Georges Braque, Viaduct at L’Estaque 1908

mask
Picasso would have seen 9th century sculpture similar in style to this in Paris

pablo picasso head of a sleeping woman 1907
Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman, 1907

Cubist art can be identified by the following features:

  • Geometric shapes;

  • Multiple viewpoints

  • Influence of African masks and Iberian sculpture;

  • Monochromatic colours in early phase;

  • Every day subject matter;

  • Collage, Papier Collé and Assemblage.

 

Cubist Styles

Cubism is generally divided into two stages;

 

Analytical Cubism  – the early phase of cubism  (from about 1908-12) is chiefly characterised by the pronounced use of geometric shapes, fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and monochromatic use of colour.

 

Paintings produced at this time were often more detailed than later cubist works, with images often gathered tightly toward the centre of the painting, growing sparser toward the edges. Although figures and objects were dissected or “analysed” into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects.

 

 

Synthetic cubism refers to the later cubist works (from about 1912-1922)  in which the artists synthesised or combined forms, creating three new art techniques.

  • One was collage, using pre-existing materials or objects pasted (or otherwise adhered) to a two-dimensional surface. The artists used collage to further challenge the viewer’s understanding of reality and representation.

  • The second was papier collé, or cut-and-pasted paper including words, graphics and patterns, to achieve a desired thematic result.

  • The third is assemblage, or a three-dimensional collage.  Assemblage was a major breakthrough in sculpture. For the first time in Western art, sculpture was not modelled in clay, cast in plaster and metal, or carved of stone or another material. This would pave the way for other artists to assemble found objects up to the present day.

 

During this period colours were much brighter, geometric forms were more distinct, and textures began to emerge with additives like sand, paper or gesso.

 

Pablo Picasso Still-life with Mask  4 March 1937.PNG
Pablo Picasso, Still-life with Mask, 4 March 1937

 

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso –  The beginnings of Cubism

 

In 1908, Braque completed a number of landscapes in the French fishing village of L’Estaque  (see above) that reduced everything to geometric patterns, (or cubes, according to Matisse). By this time, Picasso had already finished his painting Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) which also incorporated the use of geometry, as well as African art. (read more about this painting in Introduction to Modern European Art)

 

pablo picasso les demoiselles d'avignon 1907
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

The two artists began working together in 1909, spending much time together talking about, as much as painting, this new style of art. It is clear that they were enjoying experimenting with geometry, perspective, and representing three dimensions in a two dimensional space (the canvas).  They wanted to introduce the idea of ‘relativity’ – how the artist perceives and selects elements from the subject, fusing both their observations and memories into the one concentrated image. To do this they spent some time considering the way that people actually see. 

 

They felt that when you look at an object your eye scans it, stopping to register certain details before moving on to the next point of interest, and so on.  A viewer can also change their viewpoint in relation to an object by looking at it from above, below or from the side. As a result they proposed that ‘seeing’ an object is the sum of many different viewpoints,  and your memory of an object is constructed  from many angles depending on your line of sight and your movement. For Braque and Picasso the whole idea of space was reconfigured: the front, back and sides of the subject become interchangeable elements in the design of the work.

 

They began to fracture (break up) the objects they were painting into a large number of sharp-angled shapes, known as facets, all painted from different perspectives. During 1909 – 1911 their multi perspectives became more radical. The facets were drawn from different angles, and often appeared to overlap. The result could be somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle, with the pieces deliberately mixed up, so that they viewer has some clues as to what they were seeing, but could interpret different sections of an artwork differently.

 

Both Braque and Picasso helped the viewer with their interpretation by generally using traditional and neutral subjects (often musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, playing cards, and the human face and figure), but often a line or shape could be seen to perhaps be several different things, or facing in different directions.

 

Because the artists deliberately wanted to avoid the expressive nature of colour, they used a monochromatic palette (ochre, beige, black, and white). Often their work was so similar when they painted side by side it was difficult to tell who was the artist.

 

Braque and Picasso painted together until the first World War commenced in 1914. During the war Braque suffered a serious head wound and after he returned home his work became less angular and featured subtle muted colours and a more realistic interpretation of nature. At the same time, Picasso was also moving in new directions.

 

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The Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.



It’s wonderful to discover artworks that you haven’t seen before and the Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum provided me with another opportunity to do just that.


The Heidi Horton Collection contains more than 170 works spanning a hundred years from Expressionisn through to pop art.

Heidi Goesse-Horton has been expanding her collection since the 1990s and has built one of the most impressive private collections in Europe. It contains over 500 paintings, graphic works and sculptures.

You can see more more about the Collection at http://www.hortencollection.com and http://www.leopoldmuseum.org

Luckily the exhibition had been extended from the end of July to early September or I would have missed it. 

The standout pieces for me included the Rothko I saw as I entered the exhibition,


A beautiful Joseph Albers demonstrating his use of colours and design (the photo doesn’t do it justice),


a simple Matisse drawing,


This Kees von Dongen, with its controlled design and muted palette,

and another Expressionist work, this time by August Macke.

And finally a work by Michelangelo Pisteletto, simply because of its creativity (a mirror with two figures appearing to look over a railing). 

Surprised at the Leopold

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

Today I am in Vienna for my first ever visit. One of my priorities has been to visit the Leopold Museum to see an exhibition of a well known artist – and I am surprised by his beautiful early works which I hadn’t seen before.

I wonder if you know who the artist is from looking at these pics? 


The artist is Gustav Klimt and I think that these beautiful examples demonstrate the depth and breadth of his abilities. 

After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt opened an independent studio in 1883 specialising in mural paintings.

His early work had a classical style that was typical of late 19th-century academic painting.

In 1897 Klimt’s mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau.

Klimt’s most successful works include The Kiss (1908–09) and a series of portraits of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as Fritza Riedler (1906) and Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). In these works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, brilliantly composed areas of decoration. Source: Britannica.com

As stated in the Britannia bio above, it appeared that his style began to change from the style shown above to his more recognised style from the late 1890s. The first one below was completed in 1907.



This exhibition was a wonderful surprise, and the surprises kept coming as I discovered the Heidi Horton collection, also at the Leopold Museum – see pics in next blog.

Postscript: here are some photos of the paintings that Klimt was commissioned to do for the Kunsthishistorisches Museum in Vienna which I discovered during my visit.

 

 

 

 

Carrieres De Lumieres

The next in my 2018 Holiday series.

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I thought our afternoon tour was just to the small town of St Remy in Provence, passing by the local countryside and quarry.

I didn’t realise the treasures to be found in the quarry – a fantastic and immersive light and sound show (can you imagine the acoustics), this time of Pablo Picasso.

The name of the space is Carrieres De Lumieres and I urge you not to miss it if you are in Provence.

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I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and encourage you to look at the website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red, White and Blue, and Yellow

The next in my 2018 European holiday series – 15 July

Like the French Soccer team, I am on a mission today. I am looking for the Yellow house, at least where it used to stand before it was bombed by the Allies (accidentally) in May 1945. It is the house that Vincent Van Gogh rented and painted in 1888, hoping to start an artist commune in Arles. Paul Gauguin visited for a short time, but this proved to be an unhappy experience for both of them.

VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888
VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888

He rented four rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, on the right wing of the nearest building in the painting. The two ground floor rooms were used for a studio and a kitchen. The upstairs corner room was the guest room for Gauguin, while the one next to it (with one shutter closed) was Van Gogh’s bedroom – the one later painted with the chair and pipe. At a later point, he rented two more rooms upstairs at the back of the house.

On 16 September 1888 Vincent wrote to his sister Wilhelmina describing the house, and his contentment at finding a place where he felt he could think and paint:

“…Also a sketch of a 30 square canvas representing the house and its setting under a sulphur sun under a pure cobalt sky. The theme is a hard one! But that is exactly why I want to conquer it. Because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun and also the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground is yellow too. I will soon send you a better drawing of it than this sketch out of my head.

The house on the left is pink with green shutters. It’s the one that is shaded by a tree. This is the restaurant where I go to dine every day. My friend the factor is at the end of the street on the left, between the two bridges of the railroad. The night café that I painted is not in the picture, it is on the left of the restaurant.”

– Letter to Theo (543) dated 28 September 1888

I left the boat and set off for the old section of town – the very helpful Cruise Director had marked the spot that she thought it had been on the map.  However when I found the little square I couldn’t find any plaque or reference to the house, so I asked  a local tour guide who simply laughed and said ‘but it doesn’t exist any more!’ and turned back to her tour participants.

So then with my less than trusty map, I set off to find signs of the house. I firstly came across  a cafe which he painted (where I paid a ridiculous amount for a soft drink).LRG_DSC04573

I then found a small garden where Van Gogh painted  (also now heavily commercialised ) next to the hospital where he had been admitted in Arles.

 

Then to the local museum which houses several of his works.

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Included in the photos below are some close ups of the canvas so you can see how he applied the paint..

 

 

 

 

After leaving the museum and heading back towards the boat, I found the information centre where another very helpful person produced a new map, and placed a new X – which was about 50 metres from where the boat was moored! I had walked close by when I’d set out on my walk about two hours beforehand.

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I also realised that one of his starry night paintings would likely have been done in the vicinity of the boat mooring.

 

 

(On route to our adventure of the afternoon – please do check this blog –  we also saw the sunflowers where Vincent would have painted, the hospital at St Remy where he stayed, and the monastery where he painted.)

 

 

 

 

So, like the French soccer players, mission accomplised, and a great reason to celebrate!

 


And just to finish, a few pics of the area.

 

 

 

Cezanne and Provence

The next in my 2018 European holiday series 

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It may seem small thing, but today included a bucket list event.

On the  bus heading towards Arles where I was to join the cruise we drove past Mount Sainte-Victoire, which Cezanne painted so many times. The bus also stopped  for a rest break where the mountain was still in full sight, so I had the opportunity to take a number of photos, even though it was interesting trying to block out the various signs and structures of the petrol station and I’ve used my iPad to take the pics!

Cezanne is one of my favourite artists because  he was so inspired, and his experiments with shape, form and colour significantly influenced the Modern artists and art styles to follow.  I don’t think that pictures of his work really do him justice, but if you have ever seen his work in the gallery you can see the depth and the relationships between colour and form in a way that will give you many ‘aha’ moments.

In the catalogue for the 1910 London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, the art critic and curator Roger Fry wrote that Cézanne ‘showed how it was possible to pass from the complexity of the appearance of things to the geometrical simplicity which design demands’.

So whilst Cézanne focused mainly on the landscape around his home town, he turns this landscape into a study of form and colour.

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Whereas the Impressionists painted with thick, short brushstrokes, shimmering colours and no outlines, Cézanne used blocks of strong colour, prominently outlining forms such as the tree trunk and the fields in dark blue.

His interest in form and line is emphasised in the shape of the branches and the way in which they perfectly echo the outline of the mountain behind.

Cézanne’s simplification of the landscape could be interpreted as a return to an era of balanced, harmonious form rather than complex ornamentation, as well as a leap towards Modernism: the structured parallel brushstrokes that fragment the surface of the composition, as well as the bold colours, appealed to younger artists and paved the way towards abstraction. (source: Courtauld  Museum)

Rising to 1011 metres, the massive limestone peak of Mount Sainte-Victoire dominates the countryside around Aix, and the oeuvre of Cézanne.

The artist produced at least thirty canvases and many watercolours, unifying the forms and rhythms of the landscape with short diagonal brushstrokes and patches of colour. In his vast panoramas of the early 1880s he contrasts the mountain and foreground vegetation, exploring ways for Mount Sainte-Victoire to become the compositional focus. In later works, the mountain dominates the entire scene, often merging into the sky. By limiting his palette to greens, blues, grey-violet and cream, Cézanne emphasises the grandeur and gravity of the landscape.

Despite the artist’s constant moves—he only settled permanently in Aix in 1897—and the difficulty of dating many works, Mount Sainte-Victoire imposes a geological consistency and series-like fidelity on Cézanne’s oeuvre. In this painting and others of the first series—Mount Sainte-Victoire and the viaduct of the Arc Valley 1882–85 (p.37) and Mount Sainte-Victoire with large pine c. 1887 being two of the most famous—Cézanne shows details of his sister- and brother-in-law’s property, the walls, fields and neighbouring farmhouses, the Arc River and railway viaduct. He uses the architectural elements to enhance the landscape, as though to ‘contrast the wayward and irregular forms of the natural world with the more orderly geometric shapes of man’s own devising’. By changing his position slightly, Cézanne creates subtle variations in the geometric relationship between the landscape and built environment.

In the early paintings, Cézanne employs trees to frame or interrupt his composition; later, as he ‘subtracts’ these elements, the relationship between mountain and its surrounds is examined in other ways. The wall in the extreme foreground of this painting is a traditional repoussoir device, framing the composition and providing an entrée for the viewer; it forms a parallel with the aqueduct in the valley below, and counterpoint to the pyramid-like mountain. The corner of the wall also announces the point at which the foliage sweeps back, like imaginary theatre curtains, to reveal the grandeur of Mount Sainte-Victoire beyond. Rather than applying the same cross-hatching technique to the whole canvas, as he does in the later series, Cézanne adjusts the direction of his brushstrokes to his forms. The canvas is visible between the spare, quickly worked brushwork. As the artist wrote to his first biographer, Joachim Gasquet:

the blue smell of the pines … must be married to the green smell of the plains which are refreshed every morning, with the smell of stones, the perfume of distant marble from Sainte-Victoire. I have not expressed it. It must be done. And by colours, not literature.

Source : Lucinda Ward  National Gallery of Australia, (NGA)Canberra 2009


And to finish this post, some more pics of our bus trip (still taken on iPad from the window on the bus) and a photo of an amazing sunset, taken on the boat on the first evening – what a great start, and great to meet other passengers including two sisters, also from Australia, in the room next door.

 

Max Ernst – Cannes

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Today it’s Bastille Day,  the 14 of July, and I’m in Cannes. Those few drops of rain were very welcome as it is still very hot and humid. Best to avoid the esplanade and enjoy wandering through the back streets.

It’s fortunate that at least one gallery is open today and I enjoy seeing an exhibition of Max Ernst and his surrealist works.

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It’s a lovely little exhibition with works dating from 1929 to around 1972, and I particularly loved his quirky little sculptures, similar to the one below.

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Max Ernst was born on April 2, 1891, in Brühl, Germany. He enrolled in the University at Bonn in 1909 to study philosophy, but soon abandoned this pursuit to concentrate on art. At this time he was interested in psychology and the art of the mentally ill. In 1911 Ernst became a friend of August Macke and joined the Rheinische Expressionisten group in Bonn. Ernst showed for the first time in 1912 at the Galerie Feldman in Cologne. At the Sonderbund exhibition of that year in Cologne he saw the work of Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. In 1913 he met Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay and traveled to Paris. Ernst participated that same year in the Erste deutsche Herbstsalon. In 1914 he met Jean Arp, who was to become a lifelong friend.

Despite military service throughout World War I, Ernst was able to continue painting and to exhibit in Berlin at Der Sturm in 1916. He returned to Cologne in 1918. The next year he produced his first collages and founded the short-lived Cologne Dada movement with Johannes Theodor Baargeld; they were joined by Arp and others. In 1921 Ernst exhibited for the first time in Paris, at the Galerie au Sans Pareil. He was involved in Surrealist activities in the early 1920s with Paul Eluard and André Breton. In 1925 Ernst executed his first frottages; a series of frottages was published in his book Histoire naturelle in 1926. He collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev that same year. The first of his collage-novels, La Femme 100 têtes, was published in 1929. The following year the artist collaborated with Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel on the film L’Age d’or.

His first American show was held at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1932. In 1936 Ernst was represented in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1939 he was interned in France as an enemy alien. Two years later Ernst fled to the United States with Peggy Guggenheim, whom he married early in 1942. After their divorce he married Dorothea Tanning and in 1953 resettled in France. Ernst received the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in 1954, and in 1975 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum gave him a major retrospective, which traveled in modified form to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1975. He died on April 1, 1976, in Paris. (Source: Guggenheim Museum).

Below are a few examples of the style of work in the gallery.

 

 


Of course, I thought I should also include a photo of the Cannes festival theatre as well as a few local pics.

 

This evening I start my cruise along the Rhône river.

Picasso Museum – Antibes

E6146851-AF11-46D8-8094-6C6048C11D97Over the next  few weeks I’ll be sharing with you some images from the galleries that I visit during my European holiday.  Please forgive the fact that I haven’t attempted to edit most the photos in any way..2510C766-6940-47CB-8E4F-B0094355D706

After leaving a very wintry Sydney with heaters turned up high, I arrived in Nice where it was 30° and so  humid I showered three times on the first day!

One of my favourite places in France is Nice,  and I had a fantastic apartment in place Massena which is so central to both the beach and the old section.

As well as visiting old family friends the highlight of my visit this time was a trip to Antibes, about 15  minutes from Nice, and in particular to the Picasso Museum.

Musee Picasso Antibes
Musee Picasso Antibes

According to Antibes– Juen-les-Pins, Musée Picasso is founded on the ancient acropolis of the Greek city of Antipolis, Roman castrum, which was the residence of the bishops in the Middle Ages (from 442 to 1385).

A castle was built on the site in 1385 by the Monegasque family who gave it its name of the Grimaldi castle. It later became the residence of the governor  and then the town hall from 1792. In 1820 it became a military barracks  before being established as a museum by Professor Romuald Dor de la Souchere in 1923.

Professor of French, Greek and Latin at Lycée Carnot in Cannes, Romuald Dor Souchère began his archaeological research in Antibes in 1923. In 1924, he created the Friends of the Museum of Antibes, in order to found a Historical and Archaeological Museum and to display the history  of the region.

In 1925, the Grimaldi castle was bought by the city of Antibes and became the Grimaldi museum, with Romuald Dor de la Souchère as its first curator.

According to this website, Picasso visited the Museum in September 1945 (just a few months after the end of the Second World War) and stayed until sometime in 1946 when  Dor de la Souchère offered him the use of part of the castle as a studio.

 

Picasso, enthusiastic, worked at the castle and created many works, drawings and paintings. Following his stay in 1946, Pablo Picasso left 23 paintings and 44 drawings in the city of Antibes.

 

September 22, 1947 saw the official inauguration of the Picasso room on the first floor, accompanied by a first hanging of the works of Antibes. On September 7, 1948, an exhibition was extended to include 78 ceramics made at the Madoura workshop in Vallauris. On September 13, 1949, on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition “French tapestries”, new rooms dedicated to Picasso’s paintings, ceramics and drawings were opened to the public.
And on December 27, 1966, the city of Antibes paid homage to Pablo Picasso and the Grimaldi castle  when it officially became the Picasso museum – the first museum dedicated to the artist. Finally, in 1991, the Jacqueline Picasso authorised extensions to the Picasso collection.
To my absolute delight I turned into a room of ceramics. Some years ago I bought pictures of these ceramics so it was fantastic to see two walls of these great works.

 

 

 

To finish with, just a few more photos of the gallery space and Antibes …
(You might also enjoy this article by the Guardian)

Fauvism – ‘The art of wild beasts’

A major event in twentieth century art was the 1905 Salon d’Autumne  with its scandalous ‘Fauve’ paintings.

The paintings were considered by most to be irredeemably ugly with their bold dashes of colour, which bore little resemblance to the actual colours of their subjects.

One painting in particular, Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat, caused the same level of controversy as Edouard Manet’s Olympia had years before.

However, painter Maurice Denis described the exhibition in the following way,

When one enters the gallery devoted to their work, at the sight of these landscapes, these figure studies, these simple designs, all of them violent in colour, one prepares to examine their intentions, to learn their theories; and one feels completely in the realm of abstraction. Of course, as in the most extreme departures of van Gogh, something still remains of the original feeling of nature.

But here one finds, above all in the work of Matisse paintings outside every contingency, painting in itself, the act of pure painting.

All the qualities of the picture other than the contrasts of line and colour, everything which the rational mind of the painter has not controlled, everything which comes from our instinct and from nature, finally all the factors of representation and of feeling are excluded from the work of art.

Here is, in fact, a search for the absolute. Yet, strange contradiction, this absolute is limited by the one thing in the world that is most relative: individual emotion.”

source: Russell T Clement, Les Fauves, A Sourcebook, 1994

However, the scandal caused by the works of the Fauves ( ‘wild beasts’ in French) at the 1905 Salon d’Automne turned into tremendous success,  which consolidated their identity as a group and encouraged them to continue exploring this new way of painting, to suit their individual personalities and styles. Fauvism continued as a recognised style until about 1908.

(The name Fauves was coined by the critic Louis Vauxcelles who, pointing to a quattrocento1-like sculpture in the middle of that same gallery exclaimed: ” Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (Donatello among the wild beasts), and the name fauves stuck.  source: John Rewald, Les Fauves, MoMA.

The group  included;

  • Henri Matisse 1869 – 1954
  • André Derain 1880 – 1954
  • Maurice de Vlaminck 1876 – 1958
  • Jean Puy 1876 – 1960
  • Albert Marquet 1875 – 1947
  • Raoul Dufy 1877 – 1953
  • Émilie Charmy 1878 – 1974
  • Kees van Dongen 1877-1968
  • Georges Roualt 1871 – 1958
  • Georges Braque 1882 – 1963 
  • Charles Camoin 1879 – 1965
  • Othon Friesz 1879 – 1949

The key features of their art during this period were:

  • Bright and bold colours;
  • Non-naturalistic colour used expressively;
  • Flattened planes and perspective;
  • Traditional subjects;
  • Simplified scenes;
  • Colour to express emotion; and
  • Omission of  detail.

Fauvism caused shockwaves because there was often no relationship between the colour used for a subject and its actual colour.  The Fauve painters also broke with older, traditional methods of perception, and details were omitted in favour of simplified scenes, featuring flat areas of pigment.

The Fauves were interested in the scientific colour theories that were being developed during the 1800s – particularly those relating to complementary colours. (Complementary colours are pairs of colours appear opposite each other on scientific models such as the colour wheel, and when used side-by-side in a painting make each other look brighter.)

The Fauves also generally returned to the more traditional subjects preferred by the Impressionists, such as landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes of middle class leisure. However, whilst this subject matter is still obvious in their art, you can see an early shift towards abstraction in some works.

Key Influences

Gustave Moreau, Orpheus, 1865
Gustave Moreau, Orpheus, 1865

The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau was the movement’s first inspirational teacher; as a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris his students included Henri Matisse and George Roualt, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin and Charles Camoin.

Moreau was a liberal teacher who didn’t interfere with the individuality of his students, encouraging them to look at nature and paint outdoors, and to visit museums, such as the Louvre, frequently.

Matisse said of him,

He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.” “With him one was able to discover the sort of work most suited to one’s temperament.”

With the death of Moreau, the group moved to a free academy, where they were joined by Jean Puy and André Derain.

In 1896, Matisse, still an unknown art student, visited the Australian Impressionist artist John Peter Russell on the island of Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany. The next year he returned as Russell’s student and abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright Impressionist colours, later stating, “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me“. Russell had also been a close friend of Vincent van Gogh and gave Matisse one of his 12 Van Gogh drawings,  something that he had never done before, and would never do again, which “suggests that he found in no one else the depth and strength of Matisse’s response”. Source: Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, Volume 1, pp352-553

John Peter Russell

Vincent van Gogh

Matisse was also attracted to Pointillist Paul Signac‘s and Georges Seurat‘s  ideas about colour and composition, and in 1904 the he spent time with him and Henri-Edmond Cross in St Tropez where Signac had a studio. Although he briefly experimented with a pointillist style, Matisse and other fauves  were more interested in the expressive potential of colour.

Henri-Edmond Cross, Paul Signac, Henri Matisse

Space was also a defining characteristic of Fauvism, influenced by Post-Impressionists such as Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh. In 1899 Matisse purchased a Cezanne Bathers painting and between 1899 and 1901 his painting style evolved based on the lessons he learnt from both these artists.

Paul Cézanne

Matisse sought to incorporate Cézanne’s  “merit of wanting the tones to be forces in a painting” and instead of trying to show space as three-dimensional, Matisse focused on flattening out the space, working in planes rather than depth and using colour to define space.

Henri Matisse, Open Window, 1905
Henri Matisse, Open Window, 1905

Matisse, in particular, whose early development as an artist is almost synonymous with the development of the Fauvism movement, was largely preoccupied with colour as a means of personal expression – colour in its pure and unmixed state composed in the artist’s mind a form of pure expression. A sky could be orange, a tree crimson red, a face any combination of seemingly clashing colours. However, Matisse was most particular about the colours he used, and how they worked together – based on colour theory. Throughout his career he was highly regarded as a colourist.

 

Also influenced by van Gogh, whose work he’d seen in 1901, Fauve artist Maurice Vlaminck’s technique included the rough handling of paint, and squeezing paint directly onto the canvas from the tube – demonstrating his more impetuous approach to painting.

Maurice de Vlaminck, The River Seine at Chatou, 1906
Maurice de Vlaminck, The River Seine at Chatou, 1906

Paul Derain met with Maurice Vlaminck in 1901 and painted outdoors with him in the areas around Paris, where he introduced him to Matisse.

 

Andre Derain and Henri Matisse

Derain later joined Henri Matisse in Collioure in July 1905, and it was there Derain discovered the light of the Mediterranean, which greatly influenced his painting. This was significant learning period for them both – similar to the experience of Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir when the painted together at La Grenouillére in 1869.

During this time both artists overcame the rigid Pointillist style of Signac, which had marked their work throughout the previous year, in favour of greater pictorial freedom.

 

Matisse and Derain also studied the work of Paul Gauguin, and their works shared the latter’s emphasis on broad areas of colour.

The “primitive” art of Gauguin and his stress on pure and non-naturalistic colour provided impetuous for the Fauvists’ interest in non-Western art and the expressive potential of hues.

At the turn of the Century, the admiration for primitive traditions extended to their aesthetic creations, entirely apart from the context of the creation. Matisse, an inveterate museum browser, had probably encountered African sculptures at the Trocadéro museum with de Vlaminck, before visiting North Africa in 1906.

After returning that summer, Matisse painted two versions of The Young Sailor  in which he replaced the first version’s naturalistically contoured facial features with a more rigidly abstract visage reminiscent of a mask.

The sitter of this picture is an 18 year old fisherman, Germain Augustin Barthélémy Montargès, from the small Mediterranean village of Collioure near the Spanish border. Against the flat, bright pink background, Germain wears typical fisherman’s garb; a navy blue cap, a pullover over a white undershirt and blue-and-pink striped jersey, baggy green pants, green-and-white checked socks, and sturdy, laced-up shoes with rubber soles. His broad face is flat and mask-like, and the contours of his rounded limbs are crisp and defined, creating a sharp contrast to the loose brushstrokes that constitute them.

The Fauves included three artists from Le Havre: George Braque, Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz.

George Braque, The Great Trees, L Estaque, 1906–07, Museum of Modern Art
George Braque, The Great Trees, L Estaque, 1906–07, Museum of Modern Art

After giving up work as a decorator to pursue painting full-time, Georges Braque  became briefly interested in Fauvism  – experimenting with loose brushwork, and vibrant, eye-catching colours and flattening out of planes. (Together with Pablo Picasso, he was instrumental in leading the cubist style, also strongly influenced by Cezanne, which followed shortly after Fauvism.)

Raoul Dufy, Bathers, 1908
Raoul Dufy, Bathers, 1908

Raoul Dufy was a furniture designer who also became a painter and print maker, and early in his career he was interested in Fauvism, being influenced by Matisse. Like Matisse, he painted a Cezanne inspired painting of bathers. His distinctive style remained light hearted throughout his career.

Othon Friesz, Autumn Work, 1907, State Heritage Museum
Othon Friesz, Autumn Work, 1907,

Together with Braque and Dufy, Othon Friesz studied in Le Havre. First influenced by the Impressionists, then by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin and Matisse’s high colour techniques,  his work as included at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.  His paintings  were composed of fluid strokes – using colour in the place of form and line – although his colours weren’t as violent or saturated as other fauves.

Emilie Charmy, Still Life, c1904
Emilie Charmy, Still Life, c1904

The most well known female fauvist was Émilie  de Charmy.  She commonly painted more daring subjects such as brothel interiors and prostitutes,  using intense colours, thickly applied paint, seemingly crude brushwork and a tendency towards abstraction. that would persist throughout her career. She began exhibiting with the Fauves at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Autumne.

Marguerite Zorach, Man among the Redwoods, 1912
Marguerite Zorach, Man among the Redwoods, 1912

Another woman associated with Fauvism was American artist, Marguerite Zorach, who exhibited at the 1910 Société des Artistes Indépendants, and the 1911 Salon d’Automne, after meeting with Matisse and others. She had a highly successful career when she returned to the U.S.

Fauvism was short lived, and by the end of the decade, artists in the group had developed their individual styles. For most of the artists, Fauvism was a transitional, learning stage. More Matisse in particular, it was critical in his understanding in the use and power of colour.  Fauvism was significant in developing Modernism by bringing together influences of such artists as Cezanne, Russell, Signac, van Gogh and Gauguin.  The use of intense colour as a vehicle for denoting space, as well as for expression, was an important precursor to Cubism and a move towards abstraction.

1 Quattrocentois the Italian term that means “four hundred” for the years belonging to the fifteenth century. It was one of the most important periods of European art and culture.

This blog is an excerpt from my on-line e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art – you can find access to a free trial on the site. 


ecourse icon    Australian Art History


 

Käthe Kollwitz – Expressionist Printer and Sculptor

Kathe Kollowitz, Self Portrait with hand against cheek, 1906Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was one of the most prolific – and political – graphic artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Raised in a politically progressive middle-class family who supported her artistic ambitions, she was keenly interested in the conditions of the poor and the working class.

She studied art in both Munich and Berlin before marrying Dr Karl Kollwitz in 1891, who opened a clinic in Prenzlauer Berg, one of the poorest parts of Berlin.

Though she had studied both painting and printmaking, she turned almost exclusively to printing etchings, lithography and woodcuts in the early 1890s.  Influenced by fellow German artist Max Klinger, she saw the potential of  prints for social commentary as they could be reproduced in large numbers inexpensively, giving her work a wider audience. She often mixed her printing techniques to achieve a desired image, and increasingly simplified her visual language over time. Even though the majority of her prints were black and white, a significant number of them also reveal her interest in colour.

In 1898, she gained early recognition with the publication A Weavers’ Uprising  which consisted of six works on paper based on Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers. The play recounted the dramatic failure of the Silesian Weavers strike of 1844 and she began working on this series inspired by their rebellion, choosing to highlight its most dramatic moments and  infusing the harsh reality of the weavers’ story with symbolic meaning.

She gained early recognition through this series, although she was refused a a gold medal in the official Great Berlin Art Exhibition at the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin in 1898, as it was judged by  Emperor Wilhelm II’s judgment to  “gutter art.” He is reported as saying “Orders and symbols of honor belong to the chest of deserved men1.

The success of the series, however, led to her appointment to teach at the Berlin School of Arts for Women.   (She later became the first woman elected and appointed professor to the Prussian Arts Academy in 1919 and subsequently co-founded and became director of the Women’s Art Association, an organisation dedicated to exhibiting women’s art.)

Kollowitz  also produced several other key print series (cycles) including Peasant War (1902–08), War (Krieg) Cycle (1921–22) and  Death Series, 1934.

She was an intensely passionate individual, in personal relationships and politics, an artist who pushed hard in the direction of equality for women in all walks of life. Her emphasis was often on what was distinctive about women’s experience, including the fundamental nature and potency of maternal love.  She undertook a number of projects that addressed challenging women’s issues, including abortion rights, alcoholism and domestic abuse, labour rights for women, and even breastmilk sharing.

Initially, her husband’s working-class patients were her models and subjects.

A number of Kollwitz’s works portray the mother-child relationship, which was often cut short in Germany’s impoverished working-class neighbourhoods, where child-mortality rates were high.

Much of her subject matter was drawn from both World Wars. In 1919 she commenced  a series of woodcuts expressing her response to WWI. In The Sacrifice a new mother offers up her infant as a sacrifice to the cause. In The Widow II a woman and her baby lie in a heap, perhaps dead from starvation. Volunteers is the only print to show combatants. In it, Kollwitz’s son Peter takes his place next to Death, who leads a band of young men in an ecstatic procession off to war.

Peter had been killed in action two months after joining the military, in 1914, a loss from which Kollwitz never fully recovered. She also lost a grandson in WWII.

Two months after the death of her son,  Kollwitz decided to create a personal memorial for him. But, as she explained in her diary, she also wished to impart a greater and more universal importance to his death: “I want to honor the death of all you young war volunteers through your [Peter’s] embodiment. In iron or bronze will it be cast and remain for centuries.”2. 

Kathe Kollowitz, sculpture.PNG

Never completely satisfied with the result, it took her until 1931 to complete the sculptures titled The Grieving Parents. The life-sized sculptures of Käthe and her husband Karl in mourning – each owning their  own grief – grace the edge of the Vladslow cemetery in Dixmuiden Belgium. Their son is buried among thousands of fellow soldiers, close to the place where they fell during the war.

During her final years, Kollwitz produced bronze and stone sculpture embodying the same types of subjects and aesthetic values as her prints.

In 1933, the Nazi government forced Kollwitz to resign her position as professor at the Prussian Academy and soon after she was forbidden to exhibit her art.

Much of her art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943. After her home was destroyed by bombing, she was evacuated to Moritzburg, a town just outside Dresden, where she died two years later, in April 1945, just a few days before the end of the war.

When I was drawing I cried along with the fearful children, I felt the burden I was carrying. I felt that I could not withdraw from the task to be an advocate. I shall speak up about the suffering of people, which never ends, and which is mountainous. I have the task but it is not easy to fulfill. One says that one’s load is lightened by taking on this task, but does it offer relief when people still daily die of hunger in Vienna despite my posters? When I am aware of this? Did I feel relief when I was drawing the War series and knew that the war continues? Certainly not. Tranquility and relief have only come to me when I was working on one thing: Peter’s great work. There I had peace and was with him.” Kollwitz

1. Kito Nedo, July 18, 2017

2. Smith College of Museum and Art.

3. ibid

Primary sources: MoMA; Smith College of Museum and Art.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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Learning to Appreciate Art – My Accidental Journey

Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon's Transparent Might, 1896
Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might, 1896

I grew up in just outside a country town in NSW in Australia in the 1960s – no galleries nearby, few art books and no conversations about art at the dinner table.

On our walls we had quite lovely, but predictable, paintings of landscapes (usually with rivers – see the Streeton above as an example). I remember that in my shared bedroom there were also two prints; one of an oriental lady in muted green and orange, and a brightly coloured clown.  I don’t remember paying them much attention as I was much more interested in playing outside on the farm, or reading books, and more books.

My first visit to a gallery was when I was about 12 when my French grandmother (who was then living in Sydney) took me to the Art Gallery of NSW. Sadly, about all I recall other than perhaps more landscapes, was being approached by a boy about my own age who wanted to know the time. As he was wearing a watch, it was clear that he wasn’t much interested in art at that age either.

At my high school you had a couple of choices – you followed the academic stream or the not so academic stream (which included such subjects as woodwork, home economics and art). Bookish me followed the academic stream, so I had no exposure to art – except for obligatory prints of the Queen in full regalia, and landscapes by Hans Heysen and aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira, which hung prominently near the Principal’s office.

Then after school it was more study (Professional Writing), marriage, children and work as a career public servant in Canberra.

So I remained blissfully unaware of the joy of art until just before I turned 40.

When my parents sold the farm and retired into town I borrowed a camera and took photos for future memories. Lots of photos of paddocks, trees and gardens, fence lines, outbuildings and the interior of our home (sadly now mostly filed away somewhere ‘safely’).

Beaufort c1990
“Beaufort” c1990

I had by then discovered that I had an interest in DYI and woodwork, and decided that rather than buying expensive frames I would either do up old ones, which was great fun, or make them myself, so off to the hardware store for timber, saws and router. I developed such a love of framing that I began framing for friends (later in life I left the public service for a year and  bought a framing business and learnt professionally).

early framing
Early restoration framing

Taking photographs and framing taught me how to “see” pictures. I learnt about composition and colour by looking carefully at how I could best present a scene in front of me, or the bring out the best in a picture I was framing. Over time, I found I could tell when a picture appeared balanced, how it drew the eye in and around, whether the colours were harmonious or didn’t appear to work together. I could work out how to crop a photo so that it didn’t contain elements that didn’t add to the overall effect. I was learning intuitively;  it was trial and error.

Although I’ve tried from time to time, I’ve discovered that I have no talent whatsoever for drawing or painting artworks (although I’ve pretty good at painting walls) so I am much happier just working ‘around the edges’ of visual art.

Not surprisingly by my 40s I was interested in visiting galleries. Like most ‘new comers’ to art appreciation I was primarily interested in pictures I could relate to and which appeared to be ‘easy on the eye’ so mostly landscapes, and Australian landscapes. Bookish me has always loved learning so it was with much enthusiasm that I read as much as I could about the Heidelberg School and Impressionism in Melbourne – Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and  Frederick McCubin (there wasn’t anything much written about the female Impressionist artists that I can recall, although in fact there were several prominent ones such as Clara Southern, Jane Sutherland and Alice Bale).

I also worked for a number of years at the Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian collection to be seen in offices throughout the campus was amazing and eclectic. So now I was starting to look at Modern and Contemporary art – intrigued, but not really understanding it, and this led to my search to appreciate what I was seeing in earnest.

Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962
Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962

 

I’m indebted to Roy Forward who conducted a number of evening adult education programs on art appreciation at the uni. I absolutely lapped up all the information he had to give and my eyes were really opened by the range of paintings he showed. So many ‘a ha’ moments!

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending the Stairs 1912
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending the Stairs, 1912

Another watershed moment. My eldest son, Michael, was living in London in the early 2000s, and as a birthday present he gave me a ticket to travel overseas to visit him. So, travelling with a friend from art appreciation class, I set off for Italy, France and England. I don’t remember how many galleries we visited, but can you imagine going to Rome, Florence, and Venice  for the first time and seeing centuries old paintings that we simply have no access to in Australia.  It was a sensory overload, and we were awestruck. We saw religious iconography, beautiful portraits with luscious colours, heroic painting of battles, idyllic scenes, workers toiling in the fields – masterpiece after masterpiece. Our first stop was Rome and it was perfect for setting the historical context for what was to follow. One artist that I particularly recall seeing at the Florence Uffizi was Bronzino – the detail in the costumes he painted in the 1500s was incredible.

Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni
Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni

And then to Paris. Now we were standing in front of the actual paintings we’d seen in Roy’s classes – soft pretty impressions, cubist shapes, explosions of bold colours, distorted faces and objects.

Degas, Little Dancer
Degas, Little Dancer

In London, on my own, I visited an exhibition and remember the disdain of a fellow visitor when I remarked on Degas’ beautiful little dancer sculpture (see more images in the link), mispronouncing his name, but I couldn’t help but express my delight at seeing this exquisite work, with a real fabric tutu and bow around her hair. I personally think it’s great when you are standing next to some-one at a gallery who is just so impressed by what they are seeing that they need to tell a fellow enthusiast (and mostly they are forgiving if you aren’t sure about pronunciation).

At the Tate Modern I stood in absolute awe for about five minutes in front of a Rothko painting – it was a really large painting and almost totally black. I had to tell the young student next to me how the paint layers created the most beautiful lights and shadows. I’m so pleased that he did stop and look before racing off to find his friends.

Having fallen in love with all the places I’d visited, it was time to start saving for future trips, and I also started to collect art on my visits, not many paintings because they were too expensive, but beautiful and unusual prints. My French grandmother and her sister had both been both fashion designers and Tante Jeanne worked for Gallery Lafayette in Paris for most of her career, so over time my collecting extended to French fashion design from the early 1900s – these beautiful prints I mostly found on-line.

Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921 No 3 Plate IX Costume, de Worth c
Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921

What was still missing in my discovery was a clear understanding of art history and how and why one art style progressed from the ones before and who influenced whom. Though Roy’s classes I  had realised that it was Modern Art (the period between the late 1800s and mid 1900s) that I was most drawn to, but his primary focus had been on artists and individual images. Just like my need to understand Australian Impressionism, I started reading as much as I could to put what I was seeing in context.

And it was also time to find an on-line art history program. I found one run by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and it all started to click into place. I could now understand the progression from Romantic art in Europe through to Abstract art.  I was also learning so much more about the personal stories of the artists and their interrelationships. Their lives and loves are as interesting as any of the ‘celebs’ you might read about today.

I’ve mentioned that I had begun to collect art, and also that I loved picture framing, so as I was nearing “retirement” from my professional career, I decided I would open my own small gallery. But firstly, more study. This time in Museum Studies at Deakin University, where I learnt about art museums, curating, the importance of conservation and responding to audience needs.

chris and I
Kiama Art Gallery, with my son Chris

Having the gallery in a coastal town in NSW opened up a whole new world in art for me. I met lots of local artists (whose work I also included in the gallery) and became involved in the local arts scene. I was invited to judge several art shows, served on the local art society committee, established the local arts trail, co-conveyed a major arts festival to celebrate iconic Australian artist Lloyd Rees, and co-project managed a major arts restoration project – again, it was all more learning and very rewarding!

Back in my early public service days, I had conducted lots of management training programs, so I knew about adult learning  and I enjoyed giving presentations, so now I was able to start conducting my own art appreciation programs through local art and community bodies – both on Modern European art and Australian Impressionism. My approach was different from Roy’s at ANU – as I combined art appreciation with art history.

Because I enjoy writing, the next logical step was to turn my eight week evening European course in to an on-line e course –  and I set myself the goal of equalling or bettering the quality of the MoMA program I’d completed.

I knew what I wanted to achieve. I want my readers to have the ‘a ha’ moments I had had when I did Roy Forward’s classes so many years before, combined with the social, political and economic context for the evolution of art, plus some information on the elements of art, that might assist in critical ‘seeing’ and evaluation of paintings.

I had learnt through my research, not surprisingly, that artists are products of their time. The social, political, industrial and economic circumstances had a huge impact on the styles that artists adopted, as did scientific discoveries. As a simple example, Impressionism largely occurred when it did because artists were able to travel by train to the country side, with portal easels and paint in paint tubes.

Revolutions and wars encouraged artists to rebel against norms and express their responses to the political turmoil, to the extent that they needed to find new ways to present their artworks, which were entirely unsuitable to be displayed in the established exhibitions such as the Paris Salon.

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869
Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869

Also, generally, artists don’t work alone; they meet, discuss art, share theories and make discoveries together, in the same way that we all tend to move in and out of communities at different points in our lives.  For example, I think that Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir had a major influence on how artists reflect the light after they painted together at La Grenouillére.

Many of the avant-garde artists were attempting to present their theories, or manifestos through their art, such as Wassily Kandinsky who sought to explore the relationship between visual art and music, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who developed the Futurist Manifesto in 1909. He also declared that “Art […] can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”  Futurism disappeared after the first World War, as artists decided they’d had enough of violence.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Art is also intimately linked to an artist’s emotional state, and perhaps one of the best example of that is van Gogh, or Edvard Munch (the Scream).

Part of the challenge of writing the course has been to put aside knowledge of artist’s personal life and focus on the quality of the work that they produced – Gauguin is one such artist whose relationship with his family and then later natives in Tahiti left a lot to be desired.  It’s always led to an interesting debate in class when I’ve questioned whether knowing about  an artist’s personal life affects the appreciation of their art.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902

Whilst the visual impact of paintings must persuade us of their merits in order for them to endure, I’ve found that understanding where they sit in history adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of my favourite works.

It took me over a year to do sufficient research and writing to finalise Introduction to Modern European Art. I knew I had come a long way in my art appreciation journey when I read statements on-line and knew they just weren’t correct.

If you’ve ever done serious research on the internet you will have very quickly realised that there are a lot of contradictory ‘facts’, so I found that the most reliable sources were art museum (gallery) websites, hardcopy texts (what a wonderful excuse to visit bookshops),  and a few art websites that appeared to be consistently accurate. I had also been accumulating some early 1900 periodicals that had some particularly articles of their time. As well, I included a few visits to gallery libraries.

Writing the program not only expanded my knowledge and appreciation of art, I also discovered I needed to know about designing websites, SEO, social media, YouTube, marketing … the list goes on and on.

And then, when the course was finally completed, I was advised that a particularly useful way to advertise it was to start ‘blogging’ and this has lead to my series Stories about Modern Art which has proved to be pretty popular. I’ve included snippets from the course in my blog, but re-written them slightly so that each subject is a stand-alone story.

Is that the end of my art appreciation journey?

No, I’m keen to start on my next e-course soon, and not surprisingly it will be about Australian art. (postcript – please see link to this website)

An additional challenge for both programs is the inclusion of women artists, as they have largely been excluded from so many texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist, or that their work wasn’t worthy of being recorded, it’s simply a reflection of what was important to (mostly male) art historians at the time. I just have to dig deeper into historical records so that I can share their work and stories. So, I hope my journey will never end.

Funny to think that it all began with a borrowed camera, a handful of photos, and some handmade picture frames. Now I wonder how different my art appreciation journey might just have been if I’d chosen to study art as school as well!

Andrea Hope

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Australian Art History

 

What has been your art appreciation journey and what has influenced you most in the way you learn?

 

German Expressionism – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Berlin Street Scenes

Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913
Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913

The early 20th century was a period of great discovery, and this included experimentation with new forms of art.  In Paris, this led to Fauvism and Cubism,  with both of these styles  beginning to explore the elements of design for their own sake.

In Germany, the response was more introspective – with many artists seeking subjective inspiration in creating art, which art historian Paul Fetcher referred to as “the emotional experience in its most intense and concentrated formulation“.  These artists used symbolic colour and linear distortion to express the “visual truth” of an inner life.  Their artistic style became known as Expressionism.

Van Gogh was a significant influence on Expressionism with his use of strong colour and brushstrokes, which express a real sense of emotion and tension.

Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888
Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888

Emergence of Expressionism – Die Brücke

In 1905, a group of artists known as Die Brücke (The Bridge)  comprised Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl, who were architectural students in Dresden, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. They were joined by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and the Swiss artist Cuno Amiet in 1906, and by Otto Muller in 1910.

By late 1911, the principal artists of Die Brücke had moved from the relatively genteel city of Dresden to the teeming metropolis of Berlin, which by then was the third largest city in Europe, following London and Paris.

 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner  (1880 – 1938) was perhaps the most original and dynamic of the group – certainly the most prolific, creating over 2,400 prints, as well as paintings, water colours, tapestry designs and countless drawings.

kirchner photo

More than any other artist in the group, he was aware of the innate capabilities of a particular medium, and worked consistently within its limitations.

As an artist, he was largely self taught. Initially interested in art nouveau, he visited museums where he studied old German masters and discovered the art of the South Seas and Africa.  He was also influenced by van Gogh, Matisse (at that time a leader of Fauvism) and Edvard Munch. He sketched on the streets and evolved a rapid form of drawing –  and by about 1911 he had perfected his own style.

 Kirchner was highly productive until the outbreak of the war, and then again between 1917 – 1924.

He was self-centred and completely dedicated to his art. He had little regard for his subject matter as such, it was merely a framework to make visible his inner conception. However, his primary subjects were city life, street scenes, dancers and nudes.

Kirchner was enthralled by what he called “the symphony of the great city,” and responded to the intensity of the street life he found in Berlin by recording the urban spectacle around him.

In 1937, the year before his death, he wrote ” My goal was always to express emotion and experience with large form and simple colours, and it is my goal today… I wanted to express the richness and joy of living, to paint humanity at work and play in its reactions and inter-reactions, and to express love as well as hatred“.

Street Scenes 

His renowned Street Scenes series, created between 1913 and 1915 in Berlin, is considered by many to be the highpoint of Kirchner’s career.

 

These scenes of city streets and nightlife, in particular the familiar presence of prostitutes, convey a characteristic feeling of Berlin prior to the war, which no other artist achieved.

Kirchner’s scenarios are theatrical – but they reflect the character of city. Women  dressed in elaborate fur coats and hats with plumage are transformed by the green glow of a streetlamp. Black outlines, unusual colour palates, distorted figures, strong vertical lines and acute angles create atmosphere, energy and tension. In particular, note how well he uses small amounts of red so effectively in many of his works.

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Unlike the other Street Scene paintings, where usual signs of city life are kept at the periphery, the monumental Potsdamer Platz (1914) is set in a recognisable spot in early 20th century Berlin—specifically Potsdamer Platz, as identified by the red train station and rounded building housing a café seen in the background. The primary figures of Potsdamer Platz, standing on a traffic island, are reminiscent of mannequins in store windows. (There is a photo of Potsdamer Platz in the Berlin photos above.)

Considering the large number of works on paper related to the Street Scene paintings, it is clear that Kirchner held high ambitions for this series.  As well, the series includes drawings in ink, pastel, and charcoal, along with prints and sketchbook studies.

As he later said: “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.”

As part of his working process, Kirchner experimented with patterns of light and dark, combinations of colours, and various surface rhythms achieved through hatching pen strokes, gouges in woodblock, and scratches on etching plates.

In  woodcuts, Five Cocottes (1914) and Women on Potsdamer Platz (1914), Kirchner seems to have closely followed the compositions of the related paintings. But there are significant differences, indicating that printmaking played an important role in Kirchner’s evolving imagery. His woodcuts were not translations of drawings into wood – for Kirchner the concept and the form of the print were closely welded, and the result developed organically as he was working.

Overall, it is Kirchner’s strong sense of the here and now, and his reflection of Berlin at that particular moment in history,  that makes his work for this series so invaluable.

 Later, when speaking of the Street Scenes, Kirchner said: “They originated…in one of the loneliest times of my life, during which an agonizing restlessness drove me out onto the streets day and night, which were filled with people and cars.”

Unfortunately Kirchner committed suicide in July 1938, when he became increasingly upset with the situation in Germany and the rise of the Nazis. Like many of his contemporaries, his work was denigrated as being degenerate,  and all of his artwork in public museums was confiscated.

Sources Include: MoMA, Zigrosser, Carl; The Expressionists, A Survey of their Graphic Art, George Braziller, New York, 1957.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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German Expressionism – A Brief Introduction

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914

Although most of the modern art movements were centred in France in the early 1900s, one movement which was particularly reflective of the feelings of young artists at this time arose in Germany.

German Expression can be identified by the following features:

  • Focus on inner response to the world;
  • Expression of the human condition;
  • Extreme angles;
  • Flattened forms;
  • Garish or unnatural colours;
  • Distorted views;
  • Great use of print media, particularly woodcuts;
  • Exposure of pain, suffering and immorality of World War I.

The years before World War I (WWI) had seen rapid change across Europe, with the industrialisation of cities, and, as railways began to cross the continent, greater movement within and across countries. Electricity was being installed and other new inventions such as the automobile, gramophone, radio transmission, moving pictures and powered flight were introduced. It was also a period of widespread political change, increased access to education, a breakdown of traditional social classes and the beginnings of women seeking greater independence, including the right to vote.

As a result, many young artists wanted to completely change the meaning and purpose of art.

Around 1904  a group of  student artists in Dresden, including Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff,  Fitz Bleyl, and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner launched the first German expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge). They believed that art could express the truth of the human condition.

They declared in their manifesto “We want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established older powers. Anyone who renders his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us”.

Die Brücke felt it wasn’t important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter,  but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions.

 

Several years later, in 1911, a second group in Munich,  Der Blaue Reiter, (The Blue Rider) was established by Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter and Franc Marc.  This group placed more emphasis on mysticism and created work in a more lyrical style. They also shared an interest in abstracted forms and prismatic colours, which they felt had spiritual values that could counteract the corruption and materialism of their age.

The name “blue rider” refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider, which was for him a symbol of moving beyond realistic representation. The horse was also prominent in Marc’s work, which centred on animals as symbols of rebirth.

The artists who most influenced the Expressionists were Edvard Munch (for example The Scream), Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, who also sought to express their emotions through their art. However, for the Expressionists, the emotional strength of their subjects was as important at the colour. A number of the artists had also seen Henri Matisse’s Fauvist work, and they sought to incorporate his ideas about colour. You can also see echoes of cubism in some of Kirchner’s angular paintings of city streets.

Other influences were “primitivistic” art and “naive”  Bavarian folk art and the abstracting tendencies of the bold, poster-like forms and flat patterning in Jugendstil (literally, the “young style”) design (the German equivalent of Art Nouveau).

Most of the German Expressionists were interested in print making, and made prolific use of the three leading print mediums of the time – the woodcut, etching and lithograph. In particular, they were attracted to the woodcut’s long tradition in German history (for example, by Albrecht Durer).

The graphic techniques also offered a less expensive, more immediate way of developing their art than painting. The boldness and flatness that they developed in their woodcuts, in particular, helped them clarify their reductive style in painting. Their simplified or distorted forms and unusually strong, unnatural colours were meant to jolt the viewer and provoke an emotional response.

The Expressionists were most active until the outbreak of WWI. A number of both the Die Brücke and Die Brücke were either killed, injured or deeply affected by the fighting.  As the war progressed, artists reflected their responses to the carnage in their art. For example, Käthe Kollwitz was a prolific printmaker who lost a son in the war, and many of her woodcuts showed the impact on families, particularly women and children.

A third group, Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity) was a pseudo-Expressionist movement founded in Germany in the aftermath of the war. Many of the artists were anti-war. It was characterised by a realistic style combined with a cynical, socially critical philosophical stance.

Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckman were the key artists who aggressively attacked and satirised the evils of society and those in power. They demonstrated in harsh terms the devastating effects of WWI on society,  the general population and the physical damage to individuals.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

In this e-course, you’ll find a full module on German Expressionism.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you are interested in German Expressionist prints, you can find a selection of 1957 reproductions at Kiama Art Gallery.


 

 

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Representations of Venus – 1480 to 1980

This blog is based on a lecture I prepared for art students studying the human figure.

Venus was the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus became widely referenced as the embodiment of love and sexuality.

In c1486 Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli, gave birth to the painted Venus (the statue on which she was modelled dates back to the 1st Century).

Here she is, the goddess of love, standing demurely in a seashell, and being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, is ready with a cape to clothe the newborn (the shell represents her birth) deity which will transform her into the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846
Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846

It was painted at the time of the Renaissance, when the Italians tried so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome and classical mythology had become popular.  The mythology of the Greeks and Romans represented a “superior form of truth and wisdom”. It is highly likely that the member of the powerful Medici family who commissioned the work provided the original source of inspiration, and explained the ancient myth of Venus rising from the sea.

Early in the next century there were at several more representations of Venus.

Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus
Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus

Giorgione painted his Sleeping Venus (also known as the Dresden Venus), in around 1510. This version of Venus is more sensual than that of Botticelli – here Venus denotes not the act of love but the recollection of it. Giorgione’s intention appears to be the expression of remoteness and unselfconscious beauty in this majestic and ideally conceived figure.

The contemplative attitude toward nature and beauty of the figure is typical of Giorgione.  He put a great deal of effort into painting the background details and shadows.

The landscape mimics the curves of the woman’s body and this, in turn, relates the human body back to being a natural, organic object.

The task of completing  the landscape background  after his death fell to Titian who later painted his own version of Venus, Venus of Urbino, in 1538. It was painted for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere as a gift to his bride.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538
Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit. Devoid as it is of any classical or allegorical trappings – Venus displays none of the attributes of the goddess she is supposed to represent – the painting is sensual, perhaps unapologetically erotic.

There are two other painting which we can compare from the 1500s, both of which place Venus back sleeping in the countryside – Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus painted in 1520, and Bordone’s Venus with Cupid, 1540.

Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520
Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520

Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538
Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538

Girolamo da Treviso was an Italian Renaissance painter who worked in the style of Giorgione.

Paris Bordone worked with Titian for a short period of time. His Venus is sleeping, but he has introduced Cupid into the scene.

Cupid remains in several painting of Venus in the 1600s such as Guido Reni’s, Reclining Venus with Cupid, 1639, and Diego Velaquez’s, Venus at Her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus), 1650. In both these pictures Venus is awake and appears more playful.

Artemisia Gentileschi has also included cupid, but his Venus looks heavily asleep in his Sleeping Venus of 1625.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625
Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625

Annibale Carracci decided to include numerous cupids in his idyllic scene of Venus Sleeping painted in 1625.

Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602
Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602

In the late 1800s, Francisco de Goya presented a much more confrontational Venus,  The Nude Maja, (“the naked mistress”) painted in 1792. It was probably commissioned by the then Spanish prime minister Manuel de Godoy to hang in his private collection.

Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792
Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792

French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres began working on a version of Botticelli’s standing version of Venus in 1808, and he made several changes to the work, Venus Anadyomene, before completing it in 1848. Later that year the painting was sold to Frédéric Reiset, curator of drawings at the Louvre Museum. It was exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it was seen by the poet Charles Baudelaire – he argued that the head was inspired by classical sculpture, the narrow torso by medieval sculpture and the head by Raphael.

Edgar Degas, who owned 37 paintings by Ingres, had a great love of his work based on the science of design and selection, rooted in classical tradition. His drawing, Venus (nach Botticelli) show the influence of both Botticelli and Ingres.

In 1863, there were at least two paintings of Venus exhibited in Paris.

Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863
Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863

Alexandre Cabanel has returned Venus to the sea, in this classically composed painting, The Birth of Venus. His painting, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1863, embodies the ideals of academic art with its silky brushwork and mythological subject – it was purchased by Napoleon III for his personal collection.

At the same exhibition, Edouard Manet entered this painting.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

The painting, Olympia, was described as “Venus with a Cat” by some critics. Even though Manet thought he was honouring the tradition of painting Venus, whilst giving her a modern treatment, the painting was considered to be ugly and inappropriately composed – here Venus is pictured as a prostitute who is more than a demure figure to be viewed at the pleasure of the observer – she is looking right back at them.

Paul Cezanne painted his Modern Olympia in 1873-4.

Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4
Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4

 At that time Cézanne’s style was moving towards Impressionism. It was during his stay with Doctor Gachet at Auvers-sur-Oise that, in the heat of a discussion, Cézanne picked up his paintbrush and produced this coloured sketch, thus creating a much more daring interpretation of Manet’s subject. The contrast of the nudity of the woman, uncovered by her black servant, with the elegant attire of the man in black, who looks strangely like Cézanne, and who watches her like a spectator, all contribute to the erotic and theatrical character of the scene. This effect is further accentuated by the presence of a curtain hanging on the left of the picture.

During the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, this somewhat incredible evocation was scorned by both public and critics. In the review L’artiste on 1 May 1874, Marc de Montifaud wrote: “like a voluptuous vision, this artificial corner of paradise has left even the most courageous gasping for breath…. and Mr Cézanne merely gives the impression of being a sort of madman, painting in a state of delirium tremens “.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Picasso has also portrayed Venus in 1905, which clearly references Botticelli’s painting.

Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905
Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905

But of course, being Picasso, he created several images of Venus, including Venus and Cupid in 1949 and then Venus and Cupid, (after Lucas Cranach  the Elder) in 1957.

 

Venus doesn’t appear as a subject for many female artists but she was painted by Romaine Brooks, whose best known images depict androgynous women in desolate landscapes or monochromatic interiors, their protagonists undeterred by our presence, either staring relentlessly at us or gazing nonchalantly past. Her subjects during the early 1900s time included anonymous models, aristocrats, lovers and friends, all portrayed in her signature ashen palette.

In 1910, Romaine Brooks painted White Azaleas, which elicited comparisons to Francisco Goya’s Naked Maja and Edouard Manet’s Olympia.

Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910
Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910

 

She also painted Weeping Venus in 1917 in  response to the atrocities of World War I – she wrote: ‘Who other than Ida Rubinstein with her fragile and androgynous beauty could suggest the passing away of familiar gods?’. (Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein was a friend and lover of Books.)

Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917
Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917

In the mid 1900s Henri Matisse gave Venus another makeover, in his cut out style. By this stage in his career he was largely bedridden and unable to paint, but he still created masterpieces using large coloured (painted by an assistant) pieces of paper which he cut into shapes.

Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952
Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952

In 1986 Andy Warhol also portrayed Venus in Shell in his iconic photographic series.

Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986
Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986

And then, to finish this series, another of Warhol’s works  Andy Warhol’s, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus,1482), 1984.

Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venuse, 1482), 1984
Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482), 1984

Over the past 500 years the mythology of Venus has been interpreted in many ways – she has been portrayed as an innocent and the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation. She has also been portrayed as the goddess of love, eroticism and fertility. She’s been alluring, playful and suffering, and in all cases nude. We normally find her in either an outdoor idyllic setting, or in a boudoir, and in most instances she has attendants – either playful cupids or assistants to help her to robe, or disrobe.

Venus has been a woman of her time, with each century seeing changes to the way in which she is portrayed, mainly reflecting both the perception of beauty for that period, or the way in which artists seek to deviate from the norm to express their personal artistic development.

In many of her paintings, she is either asleep, or her eyes are demurely averted from the viewer, which invites their uninterrupted gaze. In only a few works does Venus look directly as the viewer, as these are generally perceived to be more unattractive and/or visually confronting.

Since her initial creation as a statue she has been painted in oils, watercolours, and inks. She’s been drawn, cutout and photographed. Her body shape has changed significantly, but she’s remained young.

Because of the nature of Venus, she will always remain appealing to artists as a source of inspiration, and an opportunity for interpretation.


You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Lucie Cousturier and Grace Cossington Smith – Post Impressionist bonds.

I’d like to introduce two artists, one from Paris and one from Sydney, whose work I consider to show remarkable Post Impressionist similarity.  The artists are Lucie Cousturier (1876 – 1925) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892 – 1984).

 

In researching French artist and writer, Lucie Cousturier¹,  for my art history e-course, I came across a painting, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, that immediately reminded me of an iconic Australian painting, The Sock Knitter, painted in 1915 by Grace Cossington Smith.

Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915
Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915

Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908
Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908

 

The Sock Knitter is considered by many to be the first Australian truly Modernist (Post Impressionist) painting because of the bold forms and use of colour. It’s perhaps all the more remarkable because although she has been drawing for many years, when Cossington Smith painted this at the age of 23, she has only been painting for a year. The painting is of her sister, Madge, and shows her knitting socks for the war effort for the first World War.

My immediate question was, Could Grace Cossington Smith have seen the painting by Lucie Cousturier and been influenced by it?

Lucie Cousturier was born in Paris and became interested in painting at the age of fourteen, and studied under Post Impressionists Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. She was also a close friend of the pointillist Georges Seurat. It’s also obvious from looking at her range of paintings  that she was influenced by Cezanne.

Cousturier first exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in 1901, and was to exhibit three to eight oil paintings at the Salon every year until 1920. She exhibited at other exhibitions in Brussels and Berlin, and at the end of 1906 gave her first solo exhibition in Paris. By 1907 she had mastered her technique and use of  colour. In her later paintings, particularly outdoors scenes, her style became increasingly fluid and free, with warm and lively colours. Her work was also exhibited at the Berheim-Juene Gallery in Paris.

As well as painting, Cousturier was an accomplished writer – writing biographies of other pointillist artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross, as well as books about Senegalese soldiers in France and her travel to Africa.  In October 1923, 164 of her drawings and watercolours from her African journey were included in an exhibition at the Galerie de Bruxelles, together with  works by Paul Signac.

The painting which caught my eye, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, was painted around 1908.

You can see a strong similarity in style between the two paintings – both young women in silent contemplation as they go about their craft – both dominate the picture plane. Both paintings are Post Impressionist – Cousturier’s being more in style of Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross with her use of Divisionist brush strokes and Cossington Smith’s being more in the style of van Gogh, with her use of broader choppy brushstrokes to delineate form.  (You can see how she has used a similar technique in her self portrait painted a year later.)

What I do appreciate about the two paintings is that they both reflect a moment in time – Cousturier’s being painted in France in warmer months prior to the first world war, and Cossingston Smith’s being painted in colder months in Australia, not long after the war commenced. Even the colours used in the paintings reflect the mood and relative temperatures.

Both artists have also worked in patterns, and geometry plays a strong part in their composition.

Was there any connection between the two artists?

At this early stage in her career, Cossington Smith was looking to learn as much as she could from European artists.

So, given that she hadn’t travelled to Paris before her painting was completed, is there any way that Cossington Smith would have seen a reproduction of Cousturier’s work?

We know that Cossington Smith travelled to London in 1912, where she had lessons at the Winchester School of Art, and that she also travelled to Germany. Although there isn’t a record of the exhibitions she attended between 1912 and 1914, which is when she returned to Australia, she did state that she was a little disappointed by the Impressionist works she had seen whilst overseas².

In Sydney, Cossington Smith studied art under Dattilo Rubbo.  Rubbo has a great feeling for the colour of the  Impressionists and Post Impressionists including van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissaro, Sisley, Gauguin, Vuillard, Seurat and Italian artist Giovanni Segantini³. He placed reproductions of works by these artists in his studio, following a trip he took to Europe for several months in 1906 (before the work by Cousturier was exhibited), and these reproductions certainly did influence his students.

One of these students, Norah Simpson, also travelled to England in 1912-13, and she also brought back a number of reproductions of the Post Impressionists from both England and Europe, which she showed with great enthusiasm to Rubbo’s students.  She and Cossington Smith spoke a great deal about what she had seen whilst she was overseas, and it was only a year later that Cossington Smith began work on The Sock Knitter.

Is it possible that Norah Simpson brought back a reproduction of the work by Lucie Cousturier?  Was the painting included in any of the catalogues for the exhibitions in which her work was shown – for example at the Salon of the Society of Independent Artists, in Paris in 1909, which Simpson may have acquired whilst overseas?

Rubbo also had a practice of inviting artists to talk to his students during their lunch break, so it may have been that a guest speaker introduced the students to the work of Cousturier.

Whether or not Cossington Smith was influenced by Lucie Cousturier, or other artists in her circle, or the similarities are just co-incidental as Cossington Smith sought to develop her own modern style, remains a is a tantalizing mystery, which is a great part of my fascination with art history.


¹ Roger Little, Lucie Cousturier, les tirailleurs sénégalais et la question colonial,  Paris, L’Harmattan2009. ISBN 9782296073487

²Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p10

³Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p11

 


 

You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

icon-ecourse    icons-visit-gallery

 

 

Symbolism – Odilon Redon; Night and Day

French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916) wrote in his journal in 1903;  “I love nature in all her forms … the humble flower, tree, ground and rocks, up to the majestic peaks of mountains … I also shiver deeply at the mystery of solitude.”

A painter, lithographer, and etcher of considerable poetic sensitivity and imagination, his work developed along two divergent lines. Initially his (mostly monochrome) prints explored haunted, often macabre, themes of fantasy. However, in about 1890 he turned to painting vibrant dreamscapes in colour.