Tag Archives: 1909

Book Review: Romaji Diary by Takuboku Ishikawa

27 Aug

“Alone and awake in the metropolis where the entire race of men was fast asleep, I realized, as I kept track of the breathing of others during that quiet spring night, how meaningless and trivial my life was in this narrow three and-a-half-mat room.”

Kasamatsu Shiro (1898-1991), Rainy Evening at Shinobazu Pond, Tokyo, 1938

In the beginning of August I finally started reading a book which intrigued me immensely: “Romaji Diary and Sad Toys” by Takuboku Ishikawa. A single quote compelled me to read the book because it spoke to me: “How I wished to go somewhere. I walked on with this thought in mind. I wanted to ride a train. That was my thought. I wanted to ride somewhere, anywhere, with no destination in mind and to a place I have never been before.” Takuboku Ishikawa (1886-1912) was a Japanese writer mostly remembered for his tanka and his free-style poems. He died in April 1912 from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six, tragically too soon, so we can’t know how his literary talents would flourish had he lived longer. The “Romaji Diary” is Ishikawa’s diary written in Japanese but in Latin script (in Japanese it’s called “romaji”) so his wife couldn’t understand it. Ishikawa continues the long literary tradition of keeping a diary which originated in the ninth century.

The diary starts on 7 April and ends on 16 June 1909. We are instantly in the mind of a young person in a big bustling city of Tokyo; a person who is alienated, brooding, slightly cynical, a tad melodramatic and completely honest with himself. Ishikawa’s thoughts and writing style made me think of both Osamu Dazai’s “No Longer Human” which isn’t a diary but is written in the first person, and Kafka, whose letters I have read and enjoyed. Kafka in Japan; Kafka amongst cherry blossoms. Nothingness and loneliness, bring to mind the early days of Manic Street Preachers and I am sure that Richey Edwards, who appreciated Japanese literature and brooding heroes, would appreciate the Romaji Diary as well. One of the recurring topics throughout the diary is the topic of his responsibility towards his family which conflicts with his literary aspirations; I would of course chose the latter and so I can easily empathise and understand how the family and the sentimentality around it can drag an artist down. I also enjoyed that Ishikawa mentions Russian writers and characters from Russian novels because I love some of them too. But now, let me speak no more, here are the quotes which I enjoyed the most and they will show you the style of the diary and Ishikawa’s thoughts:

Alone and awake in the metropolis where the entire race of men was fast asleep, I realized, as I kept track of the breathing of others during that quiet spring night, how meaningless and trivial my life was in this narrow three and- a-half-mat room.
What will I look like when, sleeping all alone in this narrow room, I am overcome by some indescribable exhaustion? The final discovery of man is that he is far from great. Such a long time in this narrow room, nursing a weary anxiety and a foolish desire to seek out, by force if necessary, something to interest me— more than two hundred days have come and gone. When will I be able to… No!
Lying in bed, I read Turgenev’s short stories.

Hiroshima Koho – Night View of Ohashi Bridge

When I clasp a warm hand and smell the powerfuI fragrance of a woman’s hair, I am not satisfied with that: I want to embrace a soft and warm and perfectly white body. Oh, the feeling of loneliness when I go back home without fulfilling that desire! It’s not merely a loneliness stemming from unfulfilled sexual desire; it’s a deep, terrible, despairing realization which forces me to see that I am unable to obtain anything I want.”

“I’m exhausted now. And I’m searching for freedom from care. That freedom from care, what’s it like? Where is it? I can’t, even in a hundred years, return to the innocent mind free from pain that I had long ago. Where is peace of mind?
“I want to be ill.”
(…) Oh, for a life of freedom, released from all responsibility! “I wish my family would die!” Even though I’ve desired that, no one dies. “I wish my friends would regard me as their enemy.” For that I wish too, but no one regards me seriously as their foe. All my friends pity me. God! Why am I loved by others? Why can’t I hate men with all my soul? To be loved is an unbearable insult! But I’m tired. I’m a weakling!”

“I ran my fingers over the strings of a samisen I found hanging on a wall, and the upshot was I took the instrument down and clowned around with it. Why had I done such a thing? Was I in high spirits? No! Somehow the feeling overwhelmed me that there wasn’t a place in the entire world for me. “I have a headache, so just for this one night I’ll enjoy myself.” These words weren’t true. So what was I searching for? A woman’s body? Saké? Probably neither. If not, what? I myself didn’t know. My self-consciousness made my mind sink even deeper. I didn’t want to fall into the terrible abyss. Nor did I want to return to my room: it was as if some disgusting thing were waiting for me there.”

Benkei Bridge – Tsuchiya Koitsu, early 20th century, Japan

“And though I can’t endure the pain of this life, I’m unable to do anything about that life. Everything is restraint, my responsibilities heavy. What am I to do? Hamlet said, “To be or not to be.” But the question of death in today’s world has become much more complicated than in his time.”

I know now that I have no confidence, that I have no aim, that from morning till night I’m driven by vacillation and anxiety. I have no fixed point in me. What will become of me? A useless key that does not fit! That’s me! Wherever I bring myself, I can’t find the keyhole that fits me!
Dying for a smoke!”

“Everything changes according to the way you look at it,” Obara had said. “People think that day by day they are shortening the fifty or sixty years allotted to them, but I believe life means adding one more new day after each succeeding day, so the passing of time doesn’t pain me in the least.”
“When all is said and done, the happy person is someone like you. A person like you can feel assured deceiving himself in such a way,” I had replied.

Alfons Karpinski – Jane With a Japanese Doll

5 May

Alfons Karpinski (1875-1961), Jane avec une Poupée Japonaise, 1909

I discovered this painting a few months ago and hesitated for some time before deciding to write about it, for I felt I had nothing much to say, but something just keeps luring me to gaze at it again and again…

Alfons Karpiński was a Polish painter, born in 1875, who studied in Krakow at the School of Fine Arts from 1891 to 1895, then in Munich from 1903 to 1907, and then he traveled to the city for artists at the time: Paris. Painting “Jane with a Japanese Doll” shows Karpiński’s favourite motif to paint: a beautiful woman. The closely cropped composition and the intimate, sensual mood is what instantly appeals to me in this painting and the scene also brings to mind the sensual scenes of Fragonard and Boucher. The model for the painting was a Parisian girl called Jane and this isn’t the only time Karpiński had painted her. Jane is dressed in her undergarments with pretty pink bows, over the knee stockings and brown boots; part of her little boot and her shoulder are cut off and overall little is seen of the space around her, only a floral wallpaper and a hint of the doors. Jane seems almost unaware of the artist’s presence or his inspecting gaze that is slowly transforming her from a vision before him to a painting on canvas. One gaze, one brushstroke and reality is turning into art. I can imagine her dangling her legs with nonchalance, but don’t let this nonchalance fool you; she knows very well she is the muse about to be captured for eternity. I just love how simultaneously she is the centre of the painting, the centre of the painter’s vision, and yet, at the same time she is amused by something else, playing with a Japanese doll, lost in her thoughts, aware of her loveliness yet completely nonchalant about it; she doesn’t even gaze at us.

The angle of the painting, the casually dressed lady and the soft, sensual and intimate mood all reminds me of the many 1970s photographs I’ve seen, especially those by the notorious David Hamilton. In my mind, this could be sweet Jane Birkin, coyly playing with a Japanese doll and singing a song in French with her cute accent…. Bellow you can see another portrait he painted of her in 1908, not as interesting as “Jane with a Japanese Doll” but certainly the blue and white stripes are visually exciting.

Alfons Karpinski, Model Jane, 1908

Egon Schiele – Sunflowers, 1909

3 Mar

Amidst those golden
Flowers of melancholy
The spirit is ruled
By silent darkness.

Egon Schiele, Sunflowers, 1909, oil on canvas, 150×30 cm (59×11 3/4)

The elongated format of this painting is very unusual and thrilling, but it isn’t the only thing which makes this painting fascinating. Vincent van Gogh is responsible for immortalising the motif of the sunflower in his wonderful paintings full of ecstatic yellow colour and rough brushstrokes, but Egon Schiele painted quite a few “portraits”of this flower as well. In Schiele’s paintings, the sunflower isn’t just a bright yellow flower, in fact it looks almost completely the opposite. Both Schiele’s nudes and sunflowers are skinny, fragile, melancholy, broken creatures. Despite the extremely vertical format of the painting, there still doesn’t seem to be enough room for the sunflower to grow. The space around the sunflower, although devoid of any background or ornamentation, appears restrictive, almost claustrophobic. There is no room to grow, no room to rise his head up towards the sun. It is hard to believe that such a thin, frail stem can hold such a large head of the flower, dark like the night and heavy with dreams. Trapped on that canvas with no fellow flowers for company, the sunflower is all alone, isolated and lonely. Schiele’s paintings of flowers are always psychological portraits. The mood, the form, the drab autumnal colours are pure poetry and speak more than words can. Despite the visual eloquence of Schiele’s painting, I would still like to share Georg Trakl’s poem “The Sunflowers”:

You golden sunflowers,
Feelingly bowed to die,
You humble sisters
In such silence
Ends Helian’s year
Of mountainous cool.
And the kisses
Make pale his drunken brow
Amidst those golden
Flowers of melancholy
The spirit is ruled
By silent darkness.

This is one of Schiele’s early works, painted at the age of nineteen maybe even eighteen, when he was still experimenting and finding his style. The vertical format is the only thing that connects him with Klimt and thus with Secession and Japonisme as well. The way Schiele uses colour and line is already unique and striking. Bellow is an example of Japanese art of the same vertical format because the format was taken from Japanese art. Interestingly, in Shunso’s artwork the leaves and branches of the tree give the impression that the space is stretching out, outside the bounds of the artwork. In Schiele’s painting the space seems to be closing in on the sunflower.

Hishida Shunso, Black Cat, a Meiji Silk Painting, 1910, colours on silk, 150×51 cm

Adrian Stokes – Sketches from Hungary

13 Jan

“Hungary is less frequented by foreign visitors than other great countries of Europe; still, it has charms beyond most In spite of modern development— in many directions—the romantic glamour of bygone times still clings about it, and the fascination of its peoples is peculiar to them.”

(Adrian Stokes, Hungary)

Adrian Stokes, View from our Windows in Vazsecz, 1905-09

As I said in my previous post about Marianne Stokes’ paintings of girls in traditional clothes, Adrian and Marianne were a painterly couple who loved to travel and in 1905 their travels took them to Hungary. While Adrian focused mostly on portraying the beauty of the landscapes, small cottages, meadows and poplar trees, his wife Marianne focused on capturing the local people with their interesting faces and vibrant traditional clothes. They returned to Hungary again in 1907 and 1908, and in October of 1909 Adrian published a book about their travels titled simply “Hungary” which is accompanied by the illustrations of both of them. Adrian Stokes’ paintings are not as interesting to me as those of Marianne Stokes because often portraits tend to delight me more than landscapes do, but in this instance, their paintings make a perfect pair because they unite the motifs of peasants and the villages they lived in. Here is a passage from the introduction to Stokes’ book “Hungary” which gives a little background information about the country:

Various races inhabit the land, but the Magyars — proud, intelligent, and full of vitality—dominate it. The entire population is about 20 millions, of which, approximately, 9 are Magyars ; 5, Slavs ; 3, Rumanians ; 2, Germans ; and 1, various others. Though these races are much interspersed, the richly fertile central plains have become the home of the Magyars ; Slavs occupy outlying parts of the country, and Croatia ; Rumanians, hills and mountains to the east and south-east; Germans, the lower slopes of the great Carpathians, a large part of Transylvania, and the neighbourhood of Styria and Lower Austria. Gipsies and Jews are to be met with nearly everywhere. The landscape is of great variety. Vast plains, bathed in hazy sunlight, where great rivers glide on their way to the East ; wooded hills and rushing streams ; lovely lakes ; sombre forests, from which grim mountains rear their huge grey shoulders in the clear air, are all to be found; and dotted about may be seen figures that recall the illustrations in an old-world Bible.

Adrian Stokes, Rumanian Cottages in Transylvania, c 1909

I enjoyed Adrian’s impressions of the travel perhaps even more than I enjoyed the paintings themselves. His writing is very poetic and he is observant for details and the world around him, both nature and interesting people. Travel from Transylvania to Tátra:

It was a long and tedious railway journey, lasting all one night and half the next day. I remember moonlit rivers and little whitewashed cots with tall thatched roofs, dark as sealskin, and here and there an orange light in a window, and, behind all, deeptoned mountains and the stars. A friendly fellow-passenger told us when we at last entered the Tatra, winding our way among hills richly wooded with beech and oak. We had passed Kassa and its beautiful Gothic church, and went on to Tatra Lomnicz, changing at Poprad, whence one can drive to the wondrous ice-caves of Dobschauer ; but, unfortunately, we did not do so. It was near Poprad that we had our first view of the mighty central range of Carpathians, rising grim and grey from a level plain. They stretch from east to west for about thirty miles, and lesser chains continue, or run parallel with them. (…)

In the Tatra the air is fresh and invigorating. Clearly defined clouds move across blue skies by day, and at sunset the great mountain formations stand sharply silhouetted against an intense light. The scent of pines is everywhere. To many of us pine-forests, with their long serrated edges, and individual trees, each very much resembling the rest, are at first unsympathetic, but by the dwellers in Central and Southern Europe they are beloved. For them they mean health and holidays. As the seaside and salt sea-breezes have from childhood been to us, so for them are pine-clad slopes and the delicious air of mountain regions.

Adrian Stokes, The Carpathian Mountains from Lucsivna-Fürdő, c 1905-1909

It is interesting how Adrian Stokes saw the nature and especially woods beneath the Carpathian Mountains as wild, untainted by civilisation; a primal heaven lost in the west, while at the same time people who lived there and experienced its isolation and harsh living conditions scarcely felt that mystical flair. Czech writer Karel Čapek’s novel “Hordubal” (1933), for example, is set in Carpathian Ruthenia and reading the novel you feel that apart from drinking there is absolutely nothing to do there because it’s such a desolate and poor area, far away from anything interesting or fun. These tall birches in Stokes’ painting above look awe inspiring and dreamy and in his book he explains the name “fürdő”:

The Hungarian word fürdő —meaning bath — seems to occur here of itself. It is usually affixed to the names of watering-places, as in Lucsivnafiirdo, a place near birch-woods, which we had seen from the train and decided to visit. We went one morning, and liked it so well that we made arrangements to stay there on leaving Vazsecz. But that was not yet to be.

Adrian Stokes, Menguszfalva, 1905-1909

Adrian Stokes, Harvest Time in Transylvania, c 1905-1909

Adrian Stokes, Haytime, Upper Hungary, c 1905-1909

Marianne Stokes, A Cottage at Zsdjar, 1905-1909

Marianne Stokes – Portraits of Girls in Traditional Clothing

8 Jan

Marianne Stokes, Young Girl of Zsdjar in Sunday Clothes, 1909

English painter Adrian Stokes and his Austrian-born wife Marianne Stokes (born as Marianne Preindlsberger) loved to paint and travel and in 1905 they made their first journey to Hungary, then part of the grand yet decaying Austria-Hungarian Empire. They traveled throughout the villages and wilderness, soaking in the beauty of nature and reveling in the richness and vibrancy of the diverse cultures in such a small geographical area. They used what they saw to fuel their artistic imagination and they captured the last shine of the Empire which collapsed soon afterwards, at the outbreak of the First World War.

While Adrian focused mostly on portraying the beauty of the landscapes, small cottages, meadows and poplar trees, his wife Marianne focused on capturing the local people with their interesting faces and vibrant traditional clothes. They returned to Hungary again in 1907 and 1908, and in October of 1909 Adrian published a book about their travels titled simply “Hungary” which is accompanied by the illustrations of both of them. The book was a fantastic read. It was truly a window into the lost world and forgotten world, veiled in nostalgia and dreams. I am not saying that Adrian romanticised their travels, no, he was quite perceptive and realistic, but in contrast to how things are today, I cherish the tradition that still existed in those days, a world before modernisation. Nowadays you couldn’t recongnise the people in the villages by the different clothes they wear, girls wouldn’t be dressed in those beautiful clothes, they would all be wearing jeans and t-shirt like the rest of the Europe.

Marianne Stokes, A Rumanian Bridesmaid, 1905

Marianne Stokes, Young Girl of Menguszfal Going to Church, 1909

Now let me give you a little outline of their journey so you can drew yourself a map in your head; they started in Marianne’s homeland Austria, travelled over Orsova to a Slovak village Vazsecz, Lucsivna-Furdo, a Hungarian cathedral town Kalocsa, across Croatia to a seaside town called Fiume, they also visited Zsdjar, Desze, Budapest, Bacs, Lake Balaton and of course Transylvania. Although people in the villages were generally nice to the painterly couple, it proved to be difficult to find peasants who would sit and be models for Marianne. How funny, in some instances it would be considered glamorous and desirable to be an artist’s model and muse, but these peasant girls couldn’t care less about it, they lead their own happy lives not even knowing what art movements are being made miles and miles away in Paris and Vienna. Here is what Adrian writes about this model-finding-problem:

Models being so difficult to obtain in Csorba-to, we determined to explore the villages down below —useless, everyone said, as it was quite impossible for civilized beings to stay there. However, we had tried the highly recommended places, from Lomnicz, * Pearl of the Tatra,’ onwards, without finding what we sought, and felt inclined to take the bit in our teeth and break away from convention on our own account. On learning our intention, the landlord most kindly gave us an introduction to three ladies living in the village of Vazsecz, and there we went on the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul. We arrived during service in the Calvinist church, and waited about to see the people leave. When they did we could hardly believe our eyes, so strange and charming were they. Had we been in China or Tibet, nothing more surprising could have appeared.

The women and girls, tall and slim, wore short, clinging, many-pleated skirts—generally of indigo colour, with a pale yellow pattern on them—which reached just below their knees ; top boots, black or white ; bright bodices ; and hugely puffed-out white linen sleeves. Their pretty caps were hidden under gaily coloured handkerchiefs, round their necks were multitudes of beads, and each carried a large prayer-book with metal clasps and a little nosegay of scented herbs. They stood in groups, amused that we should look at them, and then, like timid animals, ran away.

Marianne Stokes, Misko, 1909

I would love to know the background about the people that Marianne portrayed but unfortunately, most of these “exotic” and lovely girls remain mysterious and anonymous, their names, characters and lives were not recorded for the history even though their intricate clothes were captured on canvas, but here is a painting of an amiable blue-eyed boy called Misko and Adrian wrote a little bit about him in his book:

Among my wife’s models was a boy named Misko—a dear little fellow nine or ten years old. Babyhood seemed still to linger about his eyes and mouth, but in spirit he was a labourer and a politician, as the red feather in his hat proclaimed him. Misko was amiable when not asked to sit. He underwent the martyrdom of posing twice, but nothing would induce him to come again. He willingly consented, however, to be our guide for four or five miles over the hills to the Black Vag, where we were going for a day’s fishing, and a gallant little cavalier he was! He spread branches and leaves in wet places for my wife to walk over, and offered his help at every difficulty on her path. At lunch, when we had given him a share of our cold chicken, he remained quietly at a little distance until he had unwrapped his own food, consisting of bread and a thick piece of bacon. He then cut the best part out of the middle of the bacon and came to offer it to us. My wife found it a joy to be with him, and I was able to proceed with my fishing without feeling that she was neglected.

Marianne Stokes, Slovak Girl in Sunday Attire, 1909

Here’s another description of a Slovak girl and her attire: “How pleasingly different was the spotless appearance of the Slovak girl who burst into our room each morning without knocking, her feet bare, her neck glistening with beads, and in her hands wooden pails full of sparkling water! Every day it seemed a fresh surprise for her that we could not speak the language with which she was familiar, and she would show two rows of exquisitely white teeth in smiles which seemed to express pity combined with wonder.” All in all, I can say that Marianne beautifully captured the girls and their clothes in world now lost, and these paintings are not only an artistic achievement but are also valuable for ethnology. I must also note that the dates give to paintings are not entirely accurate, but more approximate, but that isn’t a problem in this case. I really love the “Rumanian Bridesmaid” girl painted from the profile and holding a candle, and the Rumanian girl with a garlic-necklace captivates me as well, probably because of her red hair. Which one is your favourite?

Marianne Stokes, A Rumanian Maiden, 1909

Marianne Stokes, Romania – Garlic Seller, 1909

Marianne Stokes Rumanian Children bringing Water to be Blessed in the Greek Church, Desze, 1909

Marianne Stokes, An Engaged Couple, ‘Misko and Maruska’ at Menguszfalva, 1909

Marianne Stokes, The Confirmation Wreath, 1909

Marianne Stokes, The Bridal Veil, 1909

Marianne Stokes, Slovak Woman Singing a Hymn, 1909

Marianne Stokes, A Slovak Woman at Prayer, Vazcecz, Hungary, 1907

Jakub Schikaneder – Dead Girl

27 Sep

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

(Tagore)

Jakub Schikaneder, Dead Girl, 1909

Czech painter Jakub Schikaneder’s paintings are full of figures of people miserable in one way or another. He painted the poor and the lonely, the forgotten and the downtrodden, old and frail, young and – dead. Motif of death appears often in Schikaneder’s art; from a scene of murder to a melancholy figure of a drowned young girl washed a shore and in this painting, “Dead Girl”, painted in 1909 the lightness and innocence of youth are touched and torn by death’s black claws. The scene is bared to the minimum, nothing unnecessary clutters the composition, just a chair and a bed made out of dark wood; the wood is solid, dark and hard, and the girl is frail and clad in white. A humble interior. A little room filled with sickness and death, stuffy from the coughs and the burning candle. That way, the painter placed our focus on the real essence of the painting; the girl and her death. Death is an invisible and pervading, solemn and mysterious character in this poignant scene. The simplicity adds to the sorrowful mood of the painting and the colour palette of different tones of grey, the colour of fog and ashes, because the world of colours, sounds and scents means nothing to her anymore. You are fading away, sweet child, and:

….You will no longer

Distinguish what rises or falls;

Colors are closed, and tones are empty,

And you won’t even know any longer

Who brings you all the flowers.

I also stumbled upon this photograph by a Polish photographer Laura Makabresku and it is obviously inspired by this painting and is equally melancholy and poignant. Edvard Munch also painted a sick child in bed and it seems that the motif of death and children go well together because they create a contrast which makes it especially poignant and sorrowful.

Photograph by Laura Makabresku

Jakub Schikaneder, By the Girl’s Bed, 1910

All of Jakub Schikaneder’s paintings have that particular mood which is hard to put in words, but rather brings to mind other imagery; the thick and impenetrable November fog, orange autumnal sunset tinged with sadness because it seems the sun will never rise again, a soil hardened by frost, an eerie yellowish light of the lantern on the street corner. Autumnal and announcing death and the end. Schikaneder also loved the motif of autumn and winter, and is not winter the death of nature? In another painting, “By the Girl’s Bed”, painted the following year Schikaneder explores the same motif; death of a young girl. In this painting the glow of the candle is overpowering, colouring the room in warm orange shades, as if the more frail and sickly the girl is, the more strength the candle possesses.

Egon Schiele and Klimt: Danaë

12 Jun

Wonderful and one of a kind Austrian artist Egon Schiele was born on this day in 1890. In this post we’ll take a look at one of his very early works “Danaë”, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s painting of the name.

Egon Schiele, Danaë, 1909

Although Egon Schiele died fairly young, in 1918 at the age of twenty eight, he left an oeuvre of mostly erotic drawings and paintings, which is as provocative and captivating nowadays as it was in his time. In 1909, Schiele was a confident, self-aware and handsome nineteen year old who had already started creating the image of his art as something extraordinary and something that the world would remember. He was truly following his own path and his art already started showing the characteristics that he would develop in later years in something unique. Still, in 1909 he was still in his experimental phase and very influenced by Gustav Klimt; both share a fascination with the body and the erotic component of art.

Schiele’s painting “Danaë” is a perfect example of this young artist looking up to the older one. It shows Danaë as a nude auburn haired girl hiding from what is suppose to be a lush shower of gold, though it doesn’t quite look golden here. She looks like a dreamy child of nature, surrounded by grass and woods, a shy rosebud in hiding. Her face is rosy-cheeked and sweet, but her body appears yellowish and flat, much like the way bodies look in Japanese Ukiyo-e prints that both Klimt and Schiele admired. In contrast to the minimalist approach to painting her body, Schiele painted her hand little and bony, the same way he would continue to paint his girls; fragile, all skin and bones.

Egon Schiele, Study for Danaë, 1909, watercolour, pencil and ink

Whereas Schiele was directly inspired by Klimt’s version of “Danaë” from 1907, Klimt on the other hand was merely following a painterly tradition of portraying the mythical woman Danaë that started with Grecian vases and reached its peak in the Renaissance with renditions painted by Correggio and Titian. Danaë was the princess of Peloponnese, daughter of the King Acrisius of Argos who unfortunately didn’t have an heir to his throne but the prophecy said that his daughter Danaë will have a son and the King would be murdered by Danaë’s son. The King did the only reasonable thing he could; imprisoned his daughter in a bronze tower with no doors or windows, with just a source of light instead of a roof. She spent a long time there until Zeus started desiring her. Zeus’s lust knew no boundaries and there are many stories from Greek mythology about the different ways he seduced beautiful young girls but the way he came to Danaë is surely a very magical one; he took form of the golden shower which fell down into the tower and left her with a child, a son named Perseus.

Schiele exhibited four works in the Kunstschau of 1909, one of which was the painting “Danaë” whose decorative and erotic elements showed a frank homage to Klimt, but Schiele’s painting isn’t a pure copy of Klimt’s style, for it shows the young artist’s personal touches, the shape of the body and a slight reluctance to excessive decorative background. Klimt’s version has more sensuality; Danaë’s body is portrayed as plump and accepting of the rich stream of gold which is flowing through the canvas. Her hair is red and seems alive, her lips are parted and her eyes closed, she seems to be enjoying the moment.

Gustav Klimt, Danaë, 1907

George Bellows – The Lone Tenement

22 Jan

The first thing I love about this painting is the title: The Lone Tenement. Doesn’t it sound so evocative of someone lonely, solitary, sad and abandoned? I say “someone” because both the title and the painting awake strong feelings in my heart; I almost want to hug the lonesome tenement and make its loneliness go away. I like to imagine that this is exactly what George Bellows did in his own way; by painting the tenement he preserved a memory of it for all times.

George Bellows, The Lone Tenement, December 1909

George Bellows’s painting shows a lonely building which stands as a relic surviving from an old neighbourhood block. The sight of the tall isolated building reminds me of a misunderstood, melancholy human figure from one of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. In a cold December twilight, the lonely building stands on the outskirts of New York City as the sad witness of the urban expansion and progress and the last relic of the old. Thickly, richly applied paint and those dazzling orange and lavender shades somewhat oppose the sombre subject. If there is an expression ‘Living in the moment’, than I’m calling this painting ‘Painting in the moment’ because this building stood there lonely and vulnerable in December 1909 when Bellows painted this, but perhaps if he’d waited a month longer it wouldn’t have been there at all. And a month earlier, two more buildings would have been there too. In this painting, Bellows turned an ugly sight that most people wouldn’t even notice into something beautiful, lyrical and able to awake strong emotions.

George Bellows (1882-1925) was an American painter connected with the group of painters called The Ashcan School who concentrated on portraying the everyday reality of the city that never sleeps: New York City. In his last years, Bellows focused on domestic scenes and portraits of his wife and two daughters, but early in his career he painted urban New York and some very well known boxing scenes. Bellows was the City’s greatest portraitist in the beginning of the twentieth century; he portrayed the disappearance of the old and intimate New York and scenes that interested him were the demolitions of old neighbourhoods, building of new bridges and train stations, construction sites, and places where the urban meets the wild nature surrounding the City. Each of his paintings has a distinct mood and if you concentrate you can almost hear the sounds in the distance and smell the air. Bellows observed and painted meticulously the City’s rapid change, its vivacious energy, its joys, sorrows and struggles for a sense of identity in a never ending flow of change. Here is a quote from the magazine Harper’s Weekly from 1869 in connection to Bellows’s portrayal of a culture that is always rushing and always changing: “In London or Paris you may see some relic of past centuries; these are reverenced and preserved as long as they endure, but New York is a series of experiments, and every thing which has lived its life and played its part is held to be dead, and is buried, and over it grows a new world.”

When I daydream of New York, my visions are pink and soft-edged like clouds and shaped by Lou Reed’s songs and the street-wise groovy rock ‘n’ roll of Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s romance as artists working side by side, Edie Sedgwick on one of the legendary parties wearing huge earrings and talking to Andy Warhol, Sid Vicious and Nancy kissing in an alleyway in the film “Sid and Nancy” (1986), Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane walking hand in hand with Katrina in the last scene of “The Sleepy Hollow” (1999) as snow starts falling gently… so being introduced to Bellows’s art and gazing through New York City through his eyes is just adding to the richness of my daydreams!

Rembrandt, The Mill, 1645-48

In connection to the sentiment of seeing the building in the full scale of emotions that you would see a human being with, I will mention Rembrandt’s darkly romantic and hauntingly beautiful “The Mill” which shows a scenery and a mill bursting with emotions. It’s more than a landscape and the Mill appears more like a melancholy loner than just a mill.

Gustav Klimt – Valley of the Dolls

5 Mar

In a transitional period from his ‘erotic-symbolist Golden phase’ to his highly decorative and vibrant Japanese inspired phase, Klimt painted these gorgeous and aloof femme fatales: a subject so popular in fin de siecle. These two ladies are not mythical creatures, they look like real Viennese women and they’re impatient, they’re waiting, wrapped in their fur, adorned with the finest Art Nouveau jewellery, they’re glancing at you with disdain, they’re throwing darts in the eyes of their lovers.

1909-gustav-klimt-lady-with-hat-and-feather-boa-1909-4Gustav Klimt, Lady with Hat and Feather Boa, 1909

End of the first decade of the twentieth century brought some changes for Klimt; his gorgeous studies in gold with intricate details and stylised forms were slowly becoming passé. Rise of the Expressionism denoted the end of his ‘golden phase’. In his paintings such as ‘The Kiss’, Klimt painted his figures in shining yellow fabrics, decorated with tiny golden leaves, against luminous golden backgrounds, floating in a highly decorative world of his imagination. This excessive decorative element in his art prevented him from delving into psychological depth and achieving the emotional intensity of the portrayed figure, and that’s something that painters like Schiele and Kokoschka did very well . In 1909, Klimt travelled to Paris where he discovered the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fauvists. These encounters with the new streams in the artistic world, as well as his friendship with the younger artist Schiele, all inspired him to reinvent his style.

La Belle Epoque fashion looks as if it was made for femme fatales – it’s exuberant, it’s glamorous; wide-brimmed hats with feathers, fur muffs, voluminous hairstyles, large choker necklaces, long flowing dresses with lace details… Klimt was very much in tune with the fashion of the day because his life companion Emilie Flöge happened to be a fashion designer. Klimt also helped in designing the dresses by making the patterns. In this transitional period, Klimt dressed his femme fatales not in gold but in lace and perfumes and jewels and rouge; he tamed them, he made them into fashionable little dolls who are impatiently waiting to be played with, to be admired. These creatures are vain and aloof but not as sinister and destructive as Franz Stuck’s dark female figures filled with lust and anxiety. Klimt also tamed his lust for excessive ornamentation by painting the background in one colour instead of the usual vibrant kaleidoscope of shapes and patterns.

Painting Lady with Hat and Feather Boa has a strangely dark colour palette, unusual for Klimt’s typical vibrant pinks, yellows and greens. The lady has an amazing face expression; her downward tilted eyes are fixated on something on her right which we can’t see, and her eyebrows are sharp and angry. Her face has been haunting me for weeks! And that peacock blue line on her hat, and the feathers, painted in swirling, near abstract motions. Her wild red hair, and gorgeous lips peeking from that feather boa, oh she’s a real femme fatale. You can imagine her getting out of the carriage, somewhere on the streets of Vienna, opening her parasol, blind to every eye she meets, with a gaze that says: ‘You’re not fit to polish my boots!’

1910-gustav-klimt-black-feature-hat-1910Gustav Klimt, Black Feather Hat (Lady with Feather Hat), 1910

On the other hand, Black Feather Hat (Lady with Feather Hat) is somewhat different in mood and style. Our redhead beauty above looks gorgeous and vivacious like Klimt’s women usually do, but this one looks a tad different – there’s a subtle nihilism in those white-grey shades, a hint of Egon Schiele and the fin de siecle nervousness. Look at her angular face and the way her hand is painted; it looks like something you’d see on Schiele’s paintings. Truth is, Schiele was initially inspired by Klimt, but Klimt also learner something from his young independent-minded pupil. Again we see this gorgeous La Belle Epoque fashion, and again this femme fatale is looking into the distance, we don’t know what occupied her attention, or whose face lingers on her mind.