Tag Archives: 1912

The Night When Modigliani Stole a Stone…

5 Feb

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman’s Head, 1912, limestone

There is a beautiful bohemian chapter in André Salmon’s book about Modigliani (original title: “La Vie passionnée de Modigliani”) where the devilishly handsome sculptor and painter Amedeo goes out one night to steal a stone that he needs for his statue. The theft wasn’t a one night thing, for Amedeo had often ventured into the blue Parisian nights to steal a stone from a store or a warehouse, guided by the light of the shining stars. He dared to steal only after midnight, and often went with a friend, usually with the fellow painter Emmanuel Gondouin. What a sight the two artists must have been, roaming the empty streets: Amedeo with his raven “hair of a rebellious angel and fiery eyes”, as Salmon describes him, and Gondouin who was of robust built and whose appearance was similar to that of Beethoven. Gondouin would help him carry the heavy stone.

But that night Modigliani was alone… It wasn’t wise to go to the stone theft alone, all sorts of thoughts roamed his pretty head… but he had to carve, he had to create, nor his hands nor his mind would be at peace if he didn’t have that stone… Perhaps the night would be peaceful and the stars forgiving at this poor melancholy angel?… And so he went – alone. “I will get caught… I will end up in prison”, he thought as the darkness of the night shrouded him softly. After he stole the beautiful piece of limestone from someone’s shed, still in a haze from the alcohol and hashish of those glorious nights of Montparnasse, he carried it out and hid around the corner trying to catch his breath. His weak body, plagued with years of alcohol and illnesses, couldn’t keep up with the blazing passion of his spirit. Amedeo, at long last beholding his beauty, glanced at the stone. The beautiful piece of white limestone answered to Amedeo’s loud heartbeats with a smile and whispered promises of inspiration. It was happy to be in loving arms, at last. Then, he heard someone’s footsteps… Could it be the police? Drops of sweat slid down his forehead… No?… Good. It was a man, an anarchist and a nocturnal wanderer who worked at the Halles market, and whose intentions have proved to be kind. He helped Amedeo with the stone and chatted until they arrived to his atelier where they parted.

Modigliani would say that it doesn’t matter if the stone is soft, as long as it gives the illusion of marble. The photo above shows one of his sculptures. It is stylistically very similar to the paintings which followed; an elongated face, long slender neck and large almond-shaped eyes; eyes that seem to gaze into eternity, a face that echoes the sadness of the world, a neck of a swan, so fragile and breakable…

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Egon Schiele – Neuelengbach Affair – Martyr for the Cause of Art: Part I

21 Apr

This is the first out of two posts which will explore Egon Schiele’s artistic endeavours in a small town of Neulengbach and his time spent in prison for his erotic drawings.

Egon Schiele, Nude against coloured background, 1911

As I already wrote in my post about Egon Schiele’s Krumau Scenes, small towns and suburbs held a particular charm for this artist, and even before coming to Krumau in May 1910, just a month shy of his twentieth birthday, he’d dreamt of an artistic paradise in some small town where he could afford to rent a cheap studio and be surrounded by nature all day long. Also, he wanted to escape the dark city full of shadows – Vienna, or that is at least how he saw it. Krumau was the birthplace of his mother and that’s why it caught his attention. He first visited the place with his painter-friends; Anton Peschka and Ervin Osen, and then, in May 1911, he settled in a little house near the river Vltava (Moldau) with his new model, lover and a muse – Wally Neuzil. He painted her in the studio, and he also painted a lot of landscapes, capturing the densely situated colourful houses, emphasising their decaying mood, and sunflowers too.

Need I mention that the inhabitants of this little, dreamy, provincial town weren’t really pleased with having a cocky artist living in sin with his pretty little red-haired muse? Town had its charm indeed and Schiele produced some good paintings there, but their heaven came to an end sometime in July 1911, when he wrote to Roessler: “You know how much I like to be in Krumau and now life is made impossible. People boycott us simply because we’re red. Of course I could defend myself, even against all 7,000 of them, but I don’t have the time and why should I bother?” Term ‘red’ was used for a person not going to church. And so Schiele and Wally returned to Vienna.

Egon Schiele, The Self Seers (Death and Man), 1911

Schiele’s longing for a peaceful and creative mood of a small town or a village is so naive in my eyes. Yes, nature is beautiful, but the mood of a small town, the provincial claustrophobia, the judgemental and simple-minded people, there’s no beauty in that, and I should know. People of Krumau, in Schiele’s time, were a bunch of intolerant, simple-minded fools who probably couldn’t understand his art if their lives depended on it, but wait till you hear what happened in Neulengbach.

Schiele spent only a month in Vienna and already started looking for a new rural paradise where his art would thrive, and he found it very near Vienna, just 35 km away or a short train ride, a town of Neulengbach. Paintings that he made there are very interesting; dark, disturbing, painted with thick heavy brushstrokes in scarce, murky colours they are heavily influenced by the late nineteenth century Symbolist paintings. Just reading the titles of his paintings from these years, such as ‘Dead Mother’, ‘Prophet’ or ‘Pregnant Woman and Death’, gives us a sense of dark times and some serious questioning of life and meaning of existence, and while that may be true to a point, I can’t know what was in his head, his time in Neulengbach was actually a rather happy and productive time.

Painting The Self-Seers is a good example of things that he painted in Neulengbach, and it unites Schiele’s obsession with himself and his interest in morbid themes. Did I mention that he was immensely fascinated with himself? He painted many self-portraits; in some he presented himself in a wild embrace with death, in others – simply masturbating, but in this rather sinister self-portrait he painted himself with his Doppelgänger, the person’s exact double, and a very popular motif in German literature of Romanticism, but also in works of Shelley and Poe. Colours of mud, face expressions unsettling, fingers in a strange position, brushstrokes heavy; like the fingers of a corpse scratching its way from the coffin through the moist loam. While his drawings ooze lightness and colourfulness, his paintings are dark and distorted, like they grew from the muddy, scarce, infertile soil after the rain.

Egon Schiele, The Artist’s Room in Neulengbach, 1911

Perhaps the most important and most interesting of Schiele’s works created in Neulengbach is the painting The Artist’s Room in Neulengbach which obviously took inspiration from Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles painted in 1888. In both cases, artists painted the bedrooms of their artistic havens. People of Arles and Neulengbach ought to have been privileged that an artist came to live and work in their town, but needless to say that they weren’t.

We can’t help notice the sombre and claustrophobic mood of his bedroom; high viewpoint, the usual palette of browns, black, a bit of yellow and muted red, all intensify the tense and static mood of the room which doesn’t seem that much different to that of a prison cell. Schiele again presents us with his nihilistic vision of the world, and his bedroom, no matter what it looked like in reality, is presented here looking as drab and miserable as the bedroom of Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s Metamorphosis must have looked like. In comparison, Van Gogh’s bedroom bursts with colour and frenzy. Ah, you know what it’s like, bright sun of Arles and some absinthe, and the world appears before your eyes in colours of a rainbow! In van Gogh – it’s passion and vigour, in Schiele – it’s death and decay.

While van Gogh’s room is oil on canvas, Schiele’s painting was made on a smooth piece of wood with colour being applied in many thin layers producing a kind of enamel effect. He made several paintings in this technique, and he called them ‘Bretterl’ or ‘little boards’.

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1888

In the following post you’ll find out why he was imprisoned and the effect his time in prison had on his art and the cult of him as a provocative artist. To be continued 🙂

Pablo Picasso – Oh, Those Guitars!

27 Jan

Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting people have to understand. If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity, that he himself is only a trifling bit of the world, and that no more importance should be attached to him than to plenty of other things which please us in the world, though we can’t explain them. People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.‘ (Pablo Picasso)*

1921-pablo-picasso-still-life-with-guitar-1921Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Guitar, 1921

I’m not a particular fan of Picasso, but earlier this month I found myself absolutely besotted by his collages and guitars. Oh, those guitars! I was so inspired by them that I started making collages myself, with guitars and cut-out pieces of newspapers. Despite their seeming simplicity, I feel a strong creative energy from them and that’s why I like them.

Picasso’s art can be clearly divided into periods, some by colours he used, others by the specific motifs and themes he painted repeatedly: in his melancholic ‘blue phase’ he was interested in beggars, the homeless, prostitutes, drunk people, in his ‘rose period’ it was all about joy, carnivals and harlequins. Then, inspired by Cezanne’s theory that everything in nature and world around us can be divided into geometric objects, Picasso, along with Braque, delved into Analytical Cubism which resulted in rather confusing, dark and distorted paintings. Their alteration of reality is almost psychedelic, which is kind of cool. What followed is known as Synthetic Cubism or Crystal Cubism which followed the idea that a painter’s job is not to ‘copy’ world around him, but to ‘construct’, and so they did, discovering at the same time the power of collage as a technique. Instead of breaking an object into its essential pieces, they built objects using contrasting colours, pieces of newspapers, fragments of their own sketches. Picasso’s painting Guitar, Sheet Music, Glass made in autumn of 1912, is usually considered the first example of Synthetic Cubism. It’s so simple yet so striking. The background is actually a wallpaper, and then there’s a piece of blue paper, and a piece of black paper, all very simple, and then, out of nowhere, a piece of sheet music and a charcoal drawing of a glass made in the style of the previous Analitical Cubism. The most interesting of all, a cut out piece of newspaper with half a title showing ‘Le Jou’, shortened from ‘Le Journal’  meaning ‘Newspapers’. Picasso is playing a word game with us here, ‘le jou’ means ‘game’. Below that it says ‘Le Bataille s’est engage’ which means ‘The battle has begun’ alluding to the raging wars on Balkan, when Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro fought for the independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, this is usually interpreted not just as Picasso’s awareness of the political situation of Europe, but is seen as symbolic for the battle of Cubism and collage as new styles and methods in art.

I hate it when people say something like: ‘Oh, everyone could do that, what’s so revolutionary about it?’ My art teacher in grammar school had a good answer to these ignorant remarks, she said: ‘ Well, yes, everyone could cut out a piece of newspaper and glue it on paper, but the fact that no one did it before, that no artist dared to do it before, that’s what makes it avant-garde and revolutionary!’ This can well be applied to many more artists, like Matisse, Miro, Malevich, Mondrian, Rothko, even Pollock.

1912-pablo-picasso-guitar-sheet-music-glass-paris-autumn-1912-papers-and-newsprint-le-journal-18-november-1912-pasted-gouache-and-charcoal-on-paperPablo Picasso, Guitar, Sheet Music, Glass, Paris, autumn, 1912. Papers and newsprint (Le Journal, 18 November 1912) pasted, gouache and charcoal on paper

1921-pablo-picasso-musicians-with-masksPablo Picasso, Musicians with masks, 1921

1916-the-guitar-pablo-picasso-synthetic-cubismPablo Picasso, The Guitar, 1916, Synthetic Cubism

1924-pablo-picasso-mandolin-and-guitar-mandoline-et-guitarePablo Picasso, Mandolin and Guitar (Mandoline et guitare), 1924

Federico Lorca – Cordoba, Distant and Lonely

16 Dec

Warm earthy colours, soft silvery transitions, and hints of blue. A woman, a horse, and a vase. Broken fragments are tickling our imagination. The mood of this painting goes well with Lorca’s poem ‘The Horseman’s Song’, at least for me. Both artworks are pure avant-garde; Jean Metzinger was considered the forerunner of Cubism, and Lorca nurtured a style that combined modernistic tendencies in European poetry with tradition of his homeland Andalusia. In ‘The Horseman’s Song’, he repeats certain motifs – olives, horseman, Cordoba, Moon, wind and road – developing the mood of anxiety and mystery. Who is the horseman? And why won’t he see his beloved Cordoba again?The utter strangeness of this poem and its mood of desolation and death endlessly captivate me.

1911-12-jean-metzinger-1911-1912-la-femme-au-cheval-woman-with-a-horse-oil-on-canvasJean Metzinger, La Femme au Cheval (Woman with a horse), 1911-12, oil on canvas

The Horseman’s Song
‘Córdoba
Distant and lonely.

Black steed, big moon,
and olives in my saddlebag.
Although I know the roads
I will never reach Córdoba.

Across the plain, through the wind
Black steed, red moon.
Death is staring at me
from the towers of Córdoba.
Oh, how long the road is!
Oh, my valiant steed!
Oh, death awaits me,
before I reach Córdoba.

Córdoba.
Distant and lonely.’

There was a full moon (in Gemini) last two nights. If you go out for a walk, or just move your curtains, say hello to the moon, and think of Lorca this evening, the strange beauty of his poetry deserves it.

City Scenes – Comparison: Impressionism and Expressionism

9 Sep

Diversities of people and cultures, sense of anonymity and optimistic yet fleeting feeling that everything is possible, along with vibrancy of the landscape are some of the things that attracted artists to European capitals. Specific mood and appearance of cities, in this case Paris and Berlin, affected artists who chose to either capture the city’s spirit on canvas, or express feelings which the city triggered.

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightCamille Pissarro, Montmartre Boulevard at Night, 1897

Although stylistically and atmospherically different, both paintings represent city scenes. Pissarro painted the ‘Montmartre Boulevard at Night’ in a true impressionistic manner with small and thin, yet visible brushstrokes, and created a sense of flickering excitement. On the other hand, painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is a good example of Kirchner’s typical wild, passionate, almost angry brushstrokes which are responsible for the overall feeling of dynamism. Elements on Pissarro’s painting such as carriages, trees and streetlamps make it an appealing one, specially for modern viewers and their visions of romantic Paris. Pissarro painted a lively and bustling Parisian night – lights are shining, carriages are arriving, people are having fun.

Kirchner’s painting radiates a completely different atmosphere. Starting with the unusual composition in a shape of an X, Kirchner creates a distorted and deformed space. Accentuated contour lines and dramatic choice of colours only deepen the unease a viewer can feel while looking at the painting. Elements that Kirchner chose to portray, Strassenbahns and tall, undefined buildings created a certain coldness and alienation. While Pissarro’s passers-by that occupy the pavement are barely visible, painted in soft and blurry shades of grey and purple, Kirchner’s characters resemble shadows, tall, black and deprived of any individuality, they stroll the streets of decadent Berlin, isolated from themselves and their surroundings, suffocated by the modern architecture around them. A suitable background for this painting would be the song ‘Kollaps’ by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Similarities between these two city scenes can be found in colours, but noticing this similarity again brings us to a great difference that is truly due to the art movements these two artworks belong to. Both Pissarro and Kirchner used blue and yellow in abundance. Whereas Pissarro’s blue is deep and soothing, Kirchner’s is cold, occasionally exceeding into shades of grey. Yellow that appears like a soft flickering light on Pissarro’s painting, on Kirchner’s painting it looks solid and exaggerated, its shade is almost sickly, at parts turning to bleak green shades, framed by solid brushstrokes of black. However, both paintings are ‘portraits’ of cities at a specific moment; vivacious Fin de siècle Paris and decadent catastrophic pre-Weimar Berlin. Still, as an Impressionist, Pissarro was interested in outward appearance and he captured the spirit of Paris at that specific moment, while Kirchner, as an Expressionist, presented us his own feelings and state of mind, using reality merely as an encouragement for expressing artistic experience.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz, 1912