Tag Archives: Austrian painter

Darkness on the Edge of Town: Charles Burchfield and Egon Schiele

28 Jul

“You can tell her that I’m easily found
Tell her there’s a spot out ‘neath Abraham’s bridge, and tell her
There’s a darkness on the edge of town
There’s a darkness on the edge of town…..

…Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
With our lives on the line where dreams are found and lost…”

(Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town)

Charles Burchfield, New Moon, November 1917, watercolor and opaque watercolor with graphite

Egon Schiele is a painter whose artworks I have been in love with for many years now and Charles Burchfield is a painter whose work I only discovered two years ago but am getting more and more enthusiastic about. Both of these artists had a particular flair for capturing the houses and townscapes not as mere physical objects made out of wood, brick and mortar, but rather they captured their mood and character. And both artists preferred the medium of watercolour or gouache to the more traditional oil on canvas, and, as my readers here know, watercolour is my favourite medium. Charles Burchfield’s painting “New Moon” and Egon Schiele’s painting “Edge of Town (Krumau Town Crescent) are painted around the same time, in 1917 and 1918 respectively. Whilst Schiele’s painting shows the entire small town of Krumau with many houses crammed close together, Burchfield’s watercolour focuses solely on one house and a particular one indeed.

Burchfield’s watercolour “New Moon” shows a strange and twisted black wooden house which is very close to the road. There is a tree growing in front of the house and it visually disrupts the scene; the tree trunk is in the way of the scene and the black tree branches are thin and clawlike, stretching to scratch whichever intruder passes by it. The facade of the house is contorted in a surreal manner, almost as if it was laughing. A house with a grin and three windows with teeth in them. We can see only a part of the house next door on the left and it looks equally eerie. The sky is dusty pink and yellow and the colours match the blackness of the house. And we can’t even see much of that candy floss-vanilla sky because the house takes up most of the space on the paper; it domineers, almost swallows the space around it, making the scene look mysterious and claustrophobic. There is not space for anything but the house on that paper. I can only imagine what stranger Hawthorneesque characters might inhabit this Gothic abode.

Egon Schiele, Edge of Town (Krumau Town Crescent), 1918

On the other hand, Schiele focuses not on a single houses but on a cluster of houses which, strangely, seem to make up a living organism of its own, a unified skelet that would fall apart if one house was demolished. Schiele’s portrayal of the small and picturesque Czech town of Krumau (which, in Schiele’s life was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) is vibrant and dense. He uses thick brushstrokes of warm, heavy, earthy tones; brown, yellow, orange, warm purple, some muddy green. This combination of colours and brushstrokes makes the town appear old, uninviting and slightly claustrophobic. If you look up pictures of Krumau you will see that the town is as dreamy and fairytale like as can be, and this is definitely just Schiele’s vision of Krumau. This is Schiele’s portrait of the town, its character and mood and the way he perceives it. The town seems uninviting to me, and I can imagine a person walking down those narrow streets and the houses just getting closer and closer, obscuring the sky with their roofs and crushing the person to death. The town is melancholy and decaying but it doesn’t like someone to see it. In his portraits, Schiele usually focuses on the person and ignores the background, he doesn’t care to fill it with colour, but here he takes time to add brushstrokes and brushstrokes of thick, muddy brown.

Both of these artworks disturb me, but in a good way and when I hear Springsteen singing ‘darkness on the edge of town’ this is what comes to my mind… But also, seeing the way Burchfield and Schiele portrayed houses, streets and towns makes me look at houses and street with a pair of new eyes, it makes me notice the strangeness and the character that many houses and builings possess.

Raphael Kirchner: Geisha, Mikado, Santoy

23 Feb

“Blossoms at night

And the faces of people

Moved by music.”

(Kobayashi Issa)

Raphael Kirchner, Santoy, 1900

Earlier this month I wrote a post about the elements of Japonisme in Raphael Kirchner’s postcard-illustrations and today I am returning to the topic of Kirchner’s postcards but this time the motif of Japan is even more directly explored. In the postcards featured in my previous post the elements of Japonisme could be seen in many different compositional formats, in the flat surface, the stylised figures and vibrant colour, but in these postcard-illustrations we still have all those stylistic elements taken from Japanese Ukiyo-e prints but now the motives themselves are Japanese with pretty geisha-inspired girls with flowers in their hair, fans, parasols, and the motif of lanterns to set the Oriental tone.

Raphael Kirchner was born in Vienna on 5th May 1875. He took music lessons, attended Conservatoire in Vienna and from 1890 to 1894 he was a student at the Vienna school of Art. He began his art career by painting portraits but quickly switched to making illustrations for magazines and newspapers. In 1897 he started drawing illustrations for a woman’s magazine “Wiener Illustrirte”. In 1900 he moved to Paris, settled in Montmartre and it was during this time that he created the most beautiful, most vibrant and captivating artworks. These illustrations were in fact postcards printed in different series with different motifs; for example the “Perfume” series features pretty La Belle Epoque ladies as allegories for different perfume smells such as patchouli or white rose.

Kirchner made three Japanese inspired series in 1900 called “Geisha”, “Mikado” and “Santoy”. These series of postcards were inspired by the plays of the same name. “The Geisha, a story of a tea house” was an Edwardian musical comedy in two acts which opened in 1896 in Daly’s Theatre in London. “The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu” was a comic opera in two acts which openend on 14 March 1885 in London at the Savoy Theatre. “San Toy, or the Emperor’s Own” is a musical comedy in two acts first performed on 21 October 1899 at the Daly’s Theatre in London. All three comedies were inspired by the dreams of the distant Orient and were immensely popular with the audiences at the time. Probably my favourite illustration is the one above, from the Santoy series, because it is just so vibrant and exciting! The composition is interesting; it feels as if we are in the middle of the path and on both sides the cascade of pretty faces of pretty girls dressed in colourful printed dresses are gazing at us, smiling, holding their bright yellow lanterns. It brings to mind the joy of warm summer nights with fireflies as the only light and the rich fragrance of roses and jasmine that fills the air. I love the colours used; red, yellow purple; really pleasing to my eyes. Also, in all of these postcards you will notice the ornamental letters “Mikado” or “Geisha” shaped in a way that it looks Oriental and exciting to our Western eyes. The illustration has that festival mood and I found an appropriate little haiku poem that matches its mood, so here it is, by Isabel Caves, found on her wordpress site here:

“Spring lanterns –

colourful reincarnations

of the moon”

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

All Souls’ Day: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Franz Skarbina

2 Nov

Franz Skarbina, All Souls’ Day (Hedwig Cemetery), 1896

The graveyard comes alive on All Souls’ Day, candles and flowers for sure brighten up the otherwise grey and lonely landscape of the graveyards. I like to visit the graveyard these days, not for tradition but to enjoy the magical mood where the vibrancy of pink, orange and yellow chrysanthemums and the flickering light of the candles create a unique atmosphere which is half-eerie and half-carnival like. Carnival of souls, I can almost imagine them dancing ethereally between the tomb stones, and the last yellow leaves falling from the trees and joining them in their macabre dance. I found two interesting, but very different examples of this motif in art history; Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s painting “On All Souls’ Day”, painted in 1839, and Franz Skarbina’s more atmospheric portrayal of the theme painted in 1896.

Waldmüller’s painting shows two ladies, probably mother and daughter, dressed head to toe in black. Their pale round faces looks almost identical and doll-like, peeking under black bonnets adorned with black lace. The mother’s hands are clasped, as in a solemn prayer, while the daughter is reading a book, probably some verses from the Bible. The grave they are visiting, I assume it is that of the daughter’s father, is adorned with flowers, there’s even a flower wreath on the wooden cross. In comparison, the graves in the background appear cold and grey, like a modern apartment complex, alienated and somber. The ground around the graves is bare, no time had passed for new fresh grass to grow, and the mud everywhere is suffocating. The painting appears static and somewhat sentimental, the emphasis is on the women and their feelings, not on the overall graveyard mood.

Skarbina’s painting is much more vibrant and lively, the flickering candles and the murmuring trees, here and there a white cross arises from the background but it doesn’t appear eerie. The graves speak of eternity while the candles remind us of transience; their fragile lives can stop at each blow of the wind or a drop of rain. The little girl in black is using one candle to light the others while her mother is watching. The yellow light of the candles is warming their faces. The painting has depth and dynamics; we can see other people in the background, other graves are lively and candles are lighted everywhere, whereas in Waldmüller’s painting the focus is solely on that one grave and the others don’t matter. I’m not going to lie, Skarbina’s painting is the one I love more because it has that touch of magic and dreaminess. The mud on the Waldmüller’s painting seems ready to swallow another corpse and that horrid realism unsettles me. Skarbina’s painting is more romantic in spirit.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, On All Souls’ Day, 1839

Egon Schiele’s Nudes and Manic Street Preachers

9 Mar

Egon Schiele is known as the painter of anxiety, sexuality and death – a combination of which makes his paintings provocative, twisted, slightly morbid and trashy. Schiele was too radical for his contemporaries but later on he proved to be an inspiration for pop icons and rock stars from David Bowie to Manic Street Preachers.

NPG x87840; Manic Street Preachers (Richey James Edwards; Nicky Wire (Nick Jones)) by Kevin CumminsThe May 1991 NME cover of Nicky and Richey, photographed by Kevin Cummins

Many artists painted nudes, but Schiele’s nudes are certainty one of the most striking. Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Goya’s The Nude Maja, Manet’s Olympia – none of these masterpieces are as eye-catching, as disturbing or as decadent as any of Schiele’s nude or semi-nude women with pale skin, ribs sticking out, untamed pubic hair, dark circles underneath the eyes, overall unsettling appeal – Schiele defined ‘heroin chic’ look eighty years before it was trendy. And I’m sure Kate Moss would be more than welcomed to pose for him because Schiele’s ideal was a fragile and lean body.

Twisted body shapes and very sexualised poses typical for Schiele’s oeuvre raised the dust in conservative society of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poses, more than nudity, shocked the audience. His anti-academic tendencies and subjectiveness to the core drove him to explore human body and perspectives like no one else at the time. He captured his models in bizarre movements and weird, probably uncomfortable poses. Often, he’d step on the ladders and draw the model from above. The process of sketching is interesting as well. Schiele was very skilled in drawing, had a firm hand, never used a rubber, and if he did make a mistake, which was rare, he’d simply throw the paper away. Schiele’s paintings were based on lines, just like those of Ingres. He’d always colour his drawings in the absence of the model, working from the memory. This was probably good for the models because it meant that they didn’t have to spent a lot of time in those awkward poses – sketching was quickly done, and they could get their money and go home. About his fragile, world-weary figures Schiele said: ‘They were intended to look buckled under, the bodies of those who are tired of life, suicidal.

1917. Egon Schiele - UmarmungEgon Schiele, Pair Embracing, 1917

It’s easy to see the similarities between Schiele’s expressive, twisted body shapes and Kevin Cummins’ photo of Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers. Wire is in a leopard print shirt, Edwards in a black crocheted top; they both have make-up, this, along with the gold background certainly evokes the ‘trashy glam look’ that Cummins was aiming for. Still, the position of their bodies, their hands interwoven, along with love-bites and slogans written on their chests evoke a slightly nihilistic, anxious mood of Egon Schiele’s paintings. Also, with his angular face and messy hair, Edwards does look a bit like some poor girl Schiele would pick up from the streets and use as his model.

And now a bit about the Manic Street Preachers’ first ever NME cover shoot:

The May 1991 NME cover of Nicky and Richey was photographed by Kevin Cummins. ‘This was their first NME cover’, he says, ‘I bought the gold sari cloth to give it a trashy glam look – although it’s since drawn comparisons to the paintings of Egon Schiele, with the gold backdrop and the slightly twisted bodies‘. The cover image showed the two band members on their backs, gazing up at the camera. Wire has his right arm around Edwards’ shoulders and Edwards is pressing it to his chest. Both have panda-eyed make-up. Wire is in a leopard print shirt, open to below his nipple, while Edwards has a black crocheted top. Before the shot, they’d decided that they should both have a collection of love-bites on display and so the night before they had gone nightclubbing to try and get some. Wire succeeded but Edwards didn’t, much to his own disgust. In the photo studio, Kevin Cummins wrote ‘Culture Slut’ across Nicky Wire’s upper chest in lipstick. Edwards, upset about losing the love-bite competition, was determined not to be upstaged. He produced a school geometry compass and wandered over to a mirror, where he scratched ‘HIV’ into his upper chest. But he forgot he was looking at his reflection so what he actually wrote was ‘VIH’. It still made the cover.* (A Version of Reason: The Search for Richey Edwards, by Rob Jovanovic)

1917. Kneeling Girl, Resting on Both Elbows by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Kneeling Girl, Resting on Both Elbows, 1917

1910. Female Nude (Weiblicher Akt) by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Female Nude (Weiblicher Akt), 1910

1910. Squatting Female - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Squatting Female, 1910

1917. Woman - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Woman, 1917