Tag Archives: Painting

Precisionism and Max Weber’s Process of Rationalisation

24 Nov

The fate of our times is characterised by rationalisation, and intellectualisation, and above all, by the disenchantment of the world.”

(Max Weber)

Charles Demuth, Chimney and Water Tower, 1931

Precisionism was a distinctly American and distinctly modern art movement which first appeared in the early twentieth century in the paintings of Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and others. The favoured motives of Precisionist painters were the objects tied exclusively to the modern world; tall buildings, urban landscapes, industrial architecture and factories. Charles Demuth’s painting “Chimney and Water Tower” shows such a motif in its full glory. The painting is painted in tones of red and grey in its entirety, the lines are precise and clear. The red chimney stands tall and proud alongside the black water tower; they are painted in such a solemn and serious manner that they bring to mind the tall and awe-inspiring Gothic cathedrals.

The clear lines and the cold and impersonal aesthetic of these paintings bring to mind a process of Rationalisation introduced by the German sociologist Max Weber. Rationalisation is a process in which more and more aspects of life are undergoing calculation and prediction, the emphasis is on efficiency and productivity; a worker is a just a tiny piece of the machinery; anonymous and replaceable, and it this process is similar to Karl Marx’s concept of alienation. The world has lost its magic. Weber believed that Rationalisation is the main characteristic of modern society and therefore the art of Precisionism, with its frighteningly tall buildings of Manhattan and dehumanising machines of Detroit, is a product of its time and could not have been painted in earlier eras.

Charles Demuth, Modern Conveniences, 1921

Charles Sheeler, Classic Landscape, 1931

Charles Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1932

Francis Picabia, French painter active around the same time, also speaks of “machinery” being the “soul of the modern world”; “Since machinery is the soul of the modern world, and since the genius of machinery attains its highest expression in America, why is it not reasonable to believe that in America the art of the future will flower most brilliantly?” (1915) These industrial landscapes appear eerily silent, and if there is any sound, then it is the sound of the machines, not the bird song or a child’s laughter. If Kirchner’s paintings were screams of despair and revolt against the modern world, if Edward Hopper’s captured the alienating mood of the modern city, then the paintings of Demuth and Scheeler are finely crafted spaces of silence and precision where the human was at last eliminated, erased, wiped out.

Even though Precisionism was a uniquely American art movement, it did borrow from the art on the other side of the ocean. The Precisionists and Futurists share in common their admiration and emphasis on the technological triumph of man over nature, and of course the obsession with dividing space and objects into clear and precise geometrical forms is something that they borrowed from Cubism. Still, the subject matter is uniquely American; factories, machines and industrial spaces was hardly worth the attention of European avant-garde artists at the time. Traces of Cubism are more noticeable in the paintings of Charles Demuth and Sheeler, who was also a photographer, preferred the smooth surface and an almost photographic realism. Indeed, looking at his photographs and paintings, one can scarcely notice a difference in approach, save for the colour.

Charles Demuth, Aucassin and Nicolette, 1921

Sheeler painted and photographed not only factories, but also the vernacular architecture and his comment on the barns near his house give an insight into his perception of beauty: “Their builders weren’t building a work of art… If it’s beautiful to some of us afterward, it’s beautiful because it functioned.” Sheeler also loved the Quaker furniture which was simple in style and made to be useful and not pretty. This love of simplicity and utilitarianism spilled over in his paintings. In 1927, Sheeler was invited by the Ford Motor Company to capture their factory in River Rouge, Michigan; they were releasing a new Model A automobile and Sheeler’s visit was a part of the promotional campaign. You can see the paintings of the River Rouge factory bellow. Mass production of standardised products was connected with the Ford factory and this again is tied to Max Weber’s process of Rationalisation; every worker in Ford factory was working on a specific little thing and thus his work wasn’t very valued and wasn’t well paid. We know that workers existed in that Ford factory, but gazing at Sheeler’s paintings alone we might assume that the machine themselves produce all cars.

Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930

Charles Sheeler, Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company, 1927

Charles Demuth, End of the Parade: Coatesville, 1920

Charles Sheeler, Skyscrapers, 1922

Frans Masereel – Streetlights, Paris in the evening

22 Nov

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

(Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart)

Frans Masereel (Belgian, 1889-1972), Streetlights, Paris in the evening, 1939

Belgian painter Frans Masereel’s painting “Streetlights, Paris in the Evening” really captivated me these days. I just love it so much! The mood is so dark and strange and so fitting for these dreary late autumnal November days. The more I gaze at this painting, the more I am sinking in this atmosphere of isolation and gloom which are so alluring. The buildings, so tall and so dark, with countless soulless little windows, appear threatening and cold. They don’t look inviting and friendly, they look like big ghostly figures ready to swallow up the tiny figure of a man in a red shirt. The sharp, vertical lines serve the same purpose as in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings of Berlin streets; to create a sense of anxiety and looming threat. The light of the street lamps colours the pavement in warm yellow hues. The clouds, painted in dark blues and greys, look so robust and strong as if they could crush down the buildings underneath them. It seems the painter took great deal of time to paint the sky and it certainly adds to the mood of the painting. The sky in the distance is tinged with orange. Patches of red, yellow and blue on the otherwise drab facades give me goosebumps of joy because they break the icy coldness of the buildings’ appearance. Can you feel it?…. The cold, frosty breath of isolation blowing through the streets like autumnal wind. Perhaps the entire street scene is actually seen through the eyes of the man in red shirt, perhaps he is the focalizer of this painting and the reason why the street looks so alienating and empty, the buildings so threatening and gloomy, the sky heavy and dark and about to fall on him and crush him, is because he perceives the world around him that way. This is how the evening in Paris seems to this isolated small individual who is wandering the streets alone and lonely, with a mask of despair on his face and a sense of dread weighing his legs and slowing his walking pace. Every little window on every building is an abyss of darkness ready to swallow him in ….. he must hurry! Hurry before they get him.

Frans Masereel, La vespasienne sous le métro, 1926

Frans Masereel, Metro aerien (Hochbahn), 1926

To end, I decided to include these two paintings Masereel painted in 1926. I love all the bold black lines swirling and cutting the space in a very exciting way. The lines, along with the bright turquoise and yellow neon lights really create an atmosphere of a vibrant and chaotic nightlife. It’s interesting to compare the years in which the paintings were made and what was going on at the time; the roaring twenties were an exciting time and these paintings capture this excitement and glamour, and the painting above, with a very different mood, was painted in 1939; the year World War Two started.

Bonnard: Rooftops and Nostalgia for the Life of Others

8 Nov

“Nostalgia for the life of others. This is because, seen from the outside, another’s life forms a unit. Whereas ours, seen from the inside, seems broken up. We are still chasing after an illusion of unity.”

(Camus, Notebook IV (August/September, 1942)

Pierre Bonnard, Rooftops, 1897

The voyeur in me delights in these two paintings by a French Post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard. Gazing at the building, or a house, on the other side of the road, counting all the windows and balconies, wondering what secrets do the fancy facade and flimsy curtains hide, is there anything that awakens more curiosity and longing both at once? Painting “Rooftops” isn’t that exciting on its own; it just shows a roof of some Parisian building, roof windows and a little bit of blue sky. The scene would be much more exciting if it showed a woman undressing at the window, a couple kissing, or a murder taking place, but with the aid of our imagination we can fantasise about anything taking place in one of those flats. When I see a painting like this, I couldn’t care less about the architecture! My mind instantly starts fantasising about the people living there. Who are they and are their lives more exciting than mine? What secrets do the windows of their flats hide? What are they thinking about when they gaze at the other side of street? Gazing at other people’s windows, at the houses on the other side of the street reminds me of something that a character played by Daniel Auteuil tells a sad young girl Adele, played by Vanessa Paradis, in the film “La fille sur le pont”: “I’m going to tell you a story. Long ago, I lived on the even side of the street, at number 22. I gazed at the houses across the street thinking that people were happier, their rooms sunnier, their parties more fun. But in fact their rooms were darker and smaller. And they too gazed across the street. Because we always think that luck is what we don’t have.” Naturally, I have no curiosity or envy for the lives of people I know well because I know that their lives are as banal and boring as mine, but the mysterious faces whose names I know not, oh they are the ones about whom I can weave fantasies and project all my yearning and envy on.

Pierre Bonnard, Rue Tholozé (Montmartre in the Rain), 1897

Another Bonnard’s painting “Montmartre in the Rain”, painted in the same year as the “Rooftops”, also shows the buildings on the other side of the street with their glowing yellow windows. Each window holds a secret and even though the windows with the lights on are captivating and vibrant, the windows left in the darkness are even more mysterious; who is there in the darkness, a sad poet sitting on his bed, or secret lovers whispering secret words into each other’s ear? Bonnard must have been on a very high floor, third or fourth perhaps, to capture the scene in that perspective. I love the way Bonnard captured the magical atmosphere of glowing yellow lights and the wet pavements after rain. The strollers in the street bellow look like black blots. In “Rooftops” and “Montmartre at Night” Bonnard painted a view on the buildings on the other side of the street, but what about the inside of the flat and the people who live in it? Another Bonnard’s painting “Woman at the Window (Among the Seamstresses)”, painted in 1895, and a lovely pastel by Pissarro “At the Window, rue des Trois Frères”, painted in 1878, offer a view on what goes inside the flats, what secrets are hidden behind the curtains and windows. I bet the little girl in Pissarro’s painting would rather be exploring the parks and streets outside her house than be sitting there above the book, I bet she is eager to feel the sun and wind on her face and to taste life and not just read about it. And those drab, gloomy probably underpaid seamstresses in Bonnard’s paintings, I bet they would rather be strolling around free, roaming the streets and not sewing the dresses for evening parties that they will never attend, touching the silk fabric that they will never get to wear. They must be gazing longingly at those free passers by and wondering where they are going? And thus the circle continues, there is always the illusion, as the title of Milan Kundera’s novel says, that life is elsewhere….

Camille Pissarro, At the Window, rue des Trois Frères, 1878, Pastel on cream wove pastel paper

Pierre Bonnard, Woman at the Window (Among the Seamstresses), c. 1895

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Beautiful Corpses in Art: Part II

5 Nov

At last, the Part II of the post about interesting and beautiful female corpses in art. You can read the part I here.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, The Lady of Shalott, 1875

I finished the first part of this post with Walter Crane’s painting “Lady of Shalott” painted in 1862, and in this post I am continuing with the theme of a beautiful and doomed Lady of Shalott with a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Nature surrounding the poor, pale and dead Lady of Shalott seems mystical and dreamy, almost sepia coloured, like a primordial swamp with its dreamy distant trees, slow murky water and water lilies, all ready to take the poor Elaine to the castle where her knight in shining armour is. The trees tops cast shadows on the surface of the water and it creates a slightly surreal atmosphere where one doesn’t know what is real and what illusory, what is alive and what but a shadow. Grimshaw is more known for painting street scenes of towns in the Northern England where he brilliantly captured the atmosphere of wet and gloomy autumn. So this painting of Lady of Shalott is a very different theme for Grimshaw, but he painted it with equal emphasis on the atmosphere. Sweet dead Elaine looks lovely like a doll with yellow hair.

Gabriel von Max, The Anatomist, 1869

In comparison with Grimshaw’s dreamy portrayal of the Lady of Shalott floating slowly toward eternity in her little boat, painting “The Anatomist” shows a more realistic portrayal of a female corpse. The title “Anatomist” places the man in the centre; we see the world through his eyes, we see the dead woman’s pale body through his eyes. He has slowly removed the white sheet that covers her, exposing her breast, and he seems deep in thought. Behind him are skulls and books which remind us of transience and also of his scientific, intellectual occupations. She looks very still and serene, but is she really? Will she open her eyes, will her lips move and speak? I must say, that after gazing at this painting for some time, it brought to mind a short horror film called “Kissed” which I stumbled upon this summer. You can check it out here, it’s six minutes long.

 

William Frederick Yeames, The Death of Amy Robsart, 1877

In “The Death of Amy Robsart”, William Frederick Yeames took a real historic event and portrayed it in a romantic way. Poor dead body of a Elizabethan era lady Amy Robsart has just been discovered at he bottom of the stairs leading up to her bedroom; I assume because we can see the bed in the room upstairs and she is dressed in her informal attire. Amy is mostly remembered in history for being the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; the favourite of the Queen Elizabeth, and for dying in suspicious circumstances by falling down stairs. Victorian painter William Frederick Yeames has taken this historical event and portrayed it with a very Victorian sense for tragedy; we instantly feel pity for Amy, just as we do for the poor Lady Jane Grey or Joan of Arc in other Romantic and Victorian paintings which romanticise the historical tragedies. I love the way the creases of her nightgown are painted, in that lying pose she almost looks like a sculpture.

Claude Monet, Camille Monet on her Deathbed, 1879

This painting by Monet is a really intimate portrayal of a painful moment in the painter’s life: the death of his first wife Camille. It’s almost like a visual diary entry. The painting looks as if it is covered with a thin blueish gauze, a thin line which separated the real world . The painting reminds me of a passage from María Luisa Bombal’s novel “La amortajada” or “The Shrouded Woman” where the woman is dead but she can still see and hear everything, including her burial and she remembers her entire life throughout the novel: “And after it had gotten dark, her eyes opened. But just a little, very little. It was as if she wanted to look, while she was hidden behind her long eyelashes. At the flame of the tall candles that leaned over to keep watch on her, and to observe the cleanness and transparency of the border of the eye that death had not been able to cast a pall over. Respectfully dazzled, they leaned over, not knowing that She was able to see them. Because, in fact, She could both see and feel. And that is how she looked, motionless, lying face up on the spacious bed now covered with embroidered sheets that were scented with lavender—that were always kept under lock and key—and she is wrapped in that white satin robe that always made her look so graceful. Her hands can be seen, gently crossed over her chest, pressing on a crucifix; hands that had acquired the frivolous delicacy of two peaceful doves.

Enrique Simonet Lombardo, The Autopsy (Anatomy of the Heart; She had a Heart!), 1890

Enrique Simonet’s painting “She had a heart!” is as realistic as it is poignant. The dead woman’s body and the interior of the morgue are painted with finest precision, and yet the coroner’s gesture of holding the woman’s heart makes her more humane in his eyes and in our eyes. She is not just another dead body that he is doing an autopsy on, she was a real person with a beating heart eager to love and be loved in return. Simonet gained fame and recognition with this painting and he painted it whilst studying in Rome. We can conclude that the dead woman was a prostitute because of her lavish coppery hair, red hair being symbolic of moral weakness, and also, bodies of women found in the river Tiber usually belonged to prostitutes. The real model for the woman was a dead body of an actress who committed suicide because of a heartache. The real tragedy behind the painting also adds a poignant touch to the painting.

Walter Crane, The Journey to Eternity, 1902

I am finishing this post with another very beautiful painting by Walter Crane called “The Journey to Eternity” which shows a nude angel and a beautiful redhead dead young woman lying in the boat as they both glide towards eternity. A dead lady in a little boat adorned with lilies and roses is awfully similar to the theme of the Lady of Shalott. Everything has a blueish tinge in this painting and it really adds to the mystical mood. The water looks incredibly vibrant and is painted in many shades of blue, and the blue is echoed in the angel’s wings as well. Also, the Angel’s head is covering the full moon so it almost looks as if the moon is his halo. The dead lady is comfortable on a soft pillow, she is holding a pink rose in her right hand and her journey to eternity seems as romantical as it can get. If I could die that way and travel to eternity in a boat adorned with roses, I would gladly.

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

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Beautiful Corpses in Art: Part I

25 Oct

“The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world – and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved lover.”

(Edgar Allan Poe)

Paul Delaroche, The Young Martyr (La jeune martyre), 1853

American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe famously wrote that “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world”, and no one other writer devoted himself to writing about pale, ghostly maidens and beautiful dead women with such a feverish passion. When I think of Beauty, Love and Death in literature, I instantly think of Poe, but what about the visual arts? I envisaged this post as a part one of a little overview of dead or dying women captured not with ink on paper, but in colour on canvases. The first example I’ve chosen of a girl – beautiful, young and dead, the winning combination for the utmost beauty, is the painting “The Young Martyr” by a French painter Paul Delaroche. This is probably his most famous work and it is easy to see why; the painting’s romantical and mystical flair is just mesmerising. A young Christian martyr is floating on the surface of the river, her halo shines so strongly with such pure golden light that the gentle ripples of the water of Tiber are painted in its yellow glow. Her hands are bound with a rope and only a flimsy white gown is covering her body. Her hair looks like that of a mermaid, and as we gaze at her lovely pale face, we might believe for a moment that she is still alive. She looks angelically beautiful, without a doubt. Delaroche’s beloved, adored wife Louise died in 1845 at the age of thirty-one and the artist was deeply miserable about it, so there is a personal connection there as well.

John Everett Millais, The Artist Attending the Mourning of a Young Girl, 1847

The next example is very different in colours and style. “The Artist Attending the Mourning of a Young Girl” is a very early work by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. His famous “Ophelia” was painted only two years later and there is a stark contrast between those two artworks. This painting doesn’t have the intricate, lush details nor the gentle melancholy of Ophelia, and the colours are not vivid and clear but toned down. The shades of black and grey, along with the simple, almost bare composition, add to the realism of the painting. The now lost inscription on the back of the painting said: “The painting represents an incident in Millais’s own life when he was sent for by people unknown to him, but who knew him to be a young artist, to draw a portrait of a girl in her coffin before her burial. The scene moved him so much that when he got home he made this sketch showing himself being asked to draw the girl’s portrait.” This could explain the sketchy style of the painting; it was done from the memory, unlike Ophelia which was carefully and patiently crafted. The dead girl’s face looks like that of a doll; pale, sad doll wrapped in flimsy veils.

Found Drowned, George Frederic Watts, 1850

While Delaroche’s “The Young Martyr” was painstakingly romantical and mystical, this painting by George Frederich Watts, “Found Drowned” is all but romantic. Watts is sometimes associated with the Symbolist movement, but in this painting he focused on a social realism genre because this dead, young girl washed ashore on the murky waters of the Thames is clearly a working class girl who had committed suicide because life’s prospects were bleak and it seemed like the only option. Is she not a working class martyr then? The painting was inspired by the poem “The Bridge of Sighs by Thomas Hood, published in 1844 and here are a few appropriate verses:

One more Unfortunate
Weary of breath
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death!
Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly,
Young, and so fair!

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1852

Millais’ painting “Ophelia” is perhaps the visual archetype of a young and beautiful dead woman in art. No other painting quite surpasses the vibrant and melancholy beauty, intricacy and magic of Millais’ Ophelia. Even though the painting is static and flat, I can really see her sinking gently into the water, as in a dream, while the moss is sighing and the reed is murmuring. Ophelia is becoming one with nature, her hair will mingle with the river, tangle with the reed, and flowers all around her speak of bloom while she is experiencing her death. The model for Ophelia was Elizabeth Siddal, the moody anorexic redhead lover and muse of a fellow Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her red hair, the gesture of her hands, that shimmering white dress, and not to mention the expression of ecstasy on that face and those slightly parted lips, it all adds to the ethereal magic of the painting. Ophelia’s beauty is captured forever on this canvas; she will never grow old and have wrinkles, her cheeks are feverish and rosy from the eerie and hot kiss of the Death and she longs for nothing no more.

Walter Crane, Lady of Shalott, 1862

The last example for the Part One of this post is a painting “Lady of Shalott” by a fellow Pre-Raphaelite painter Walter Crane. Seen from the profile, lying in the boat, dressed in silvery robe, her long wavy brown hair spread around her, Lady of Shalott looks like the dreamiest corpse. Her face is so pale and her eyelids closed so tenderly, as if a gentle kiss from her beloved closed them, and not death. One can almost envy her serene peacefulness. Would you not to glide down the river, towards eternity, not seeing the tree tops and birds above you, but feeling them and hearing them as if through a mist, because your senses are fading and this world means nothing to you no more.

Carl Spitzweg – The Intercepted Love Letter

22 Oct

Carl Spitzweg, The Intercepted Love Letter, 1855

Carl Spitzweg is a very underrated German painter of Biedermeier period. His canvases are filled with the strangest people; from fiddlers, butterfly hunters and poor poets, to hermits, gnomes and bookworms, it is as if he had an eye for the strange and the eccentric individuals. “The Intercepted Love Letter”, painted in 1855 when Spitzweg was in his late forties, shows a comical romance scene in a picturesque little town. A young student on the second floor is using a thread to lower the sealed love letter to a young maiden on the floor bellow. He reminds me of the student in Oscar Wilde’s tale “The Nightingale and the Rose”, desperately in love with a haughty young girl, prepared to sacrifice everything to have her, only to conclude in the end that love is a miserable lie, and return to science, logic and his studies. This girl bellow doesn’t seem haughty though; she is lost in her needlework, oh the tragedy, and she doesn’t even notice that the letter is arriving her way! But the older woman who is beside her is clearly shocked by what she is seeing before her eyes. She’s probably an old spinster who hasn’t received a love letter in her life, and how could she understand the young student whose heart aches with love? Two pigeons on the roofs are also there to further remind us of the love that is in the air.

Carl Spitzweg, The Garrett, 1849

Spitzweg clearly had a sense of humour and knew how to transfer it into a painting. A Romantic painter would have painted two lovers throwing themselves off of the cliff, or dying from love, but Spitzweg sees the comical side of the situation. In another painting, “The Serenade”, painted in 1854, we see a romantic scene infused with humour again. I wrote about that painting already here. It shows a man climbing up the ladder to play violin to serenade the woman he loves, but he isn’t a young raven-haired Latino lover, he is just an average guy and the setting if far from romantical. Painting “The Garrett” shows a pompous looking old man watering his plants. A young girl on the other window bellow is eyeing him with curiosity. I bet he is the kind of strange eccentric neighbour that everyone has in their street. And I don’t think I really need to point out what is particularly humorous in the painting “The Poor Poet”; everything about that painting is comical. What I am trying to show here is that Carl Spitzweg’s art may appear as “nothing special” at first, it has a humorous touch that makes it stand above the average genre scenes and sentimental Biedermeier paintings.

 

Carl Spitzweg, The Poor Poet, 1839

Carl Spitzweg, The Serenade, 1854

Lilian Westcott Hale – Nancy and the Map of Europe

16 Oct

Lilian Westcott Hale, Nancy and the Map of Europe, 1919

American painter Lilian Westcott Hale’s paintings are a doorway to the gentle and secretive world of femininity as she mostly painted interiors with women and children. Lilian was in Connecticut, studied at the School of Fine Arts in Boston where one of her tutors was William Merritt Chase and also Philip Leslie Hale who later became her husband. She painted many delightful interiors with wistful girls, but painting “Nancy and the Map of Europe” is my faovurite at the moment because it is so very simple in composition, but very interesting and aesthetically pleasing. Nothing excessive clutters the scene; Nancy is sitting on the chair, dressed in a pretty blue gown, with a book in her lap. The little porcelain doll is sitting on the floor and is dressed in the matching blue gown. A map of Europe, painted in soothing pastel shades, covers nearly the entire wall and the entire background. The scene reminds me of those long, golden afternoons spent at school which were so sunny and bright and seemed never ending; the sun coming through the curtains would reveal the dust in the air and the shadows would dance on the map of the world on the wall. This sentence comes to mind “The late afternoon sunlight, warm as oil and sweet as childhood, slanted through the high, bright gymnasium windows.”, from Stephen King’s novel “Carrie”.

I use to spend many moments just gazing at maps; following the contours of the countries with my finger, whispering the names of the mountains and river, and imagining how beautiful all those places must be. The colours and the mood of this painting awake a certain nostalgia in me; for childhood, its simplicity, wonder and possibilities. Childhood, a time of hope, joy and possibilities. Nancy can be whoever she likes; all doors are open to her, she can visit all the countries that are shown on the map behind her. There is a mountain of books for Nancy yet to read, a plethora of experiences to gather. Nancy was eleven year old when this painting was painted, having been born in May 1908. She seems like a smart, dreamy and pretty girl in this painting, with her long hair, wistful gaze and that pretty dress. Who knows what dreams occupy her mind? What books fuels her fantasies? What secrets did she whisper to that doll on the floor? Little Nancy doesn’t yet know what a fascinating life she will have, even though the seeds of it were already planted. Nancy published her first story “The Key Glorious” at the age of eleven. A writing career,troubled marriages, emotional breakdowns, that is all ahead of her. In this lovely painting painted by her mother, Nancy is still a simple eleven year old and her head is filled with dreams.

Different Faces of Autumn; Groovy Landscapes and Wistful Faces

13 Oct

I love autumn for its richness, warm colours, falling leaves and its mystery, at the same time I loathe it because it’s the doorway to months of quiet, grey dreariness and winter’s misery. Whether you love autumn or hate it, I feel that no other season of the year has the power to touch us in such a peculiar and poignant way. Anguish of transience weighs on my soul as I gaze at the leaves falling down and the trees becoming more bare as each day passes. There’s something final about it, a sense of ending… No other season has such bittersweet duality; golden afternoons and dark overcast days, leaves rustling under foot and morbid silence of a hard, dry soil; the last ecstasy of colours and sights, and the most dreary sense of an end.

George Bellows, Romance of Autumn, 1916

George Bellows is mostly remembered in relation to the Ashcan group of artists and he was known for portraying the grim reality of the big city, but his painting “Romance of Autumn” is intensely vibrant and groovy and brings out this whimsical, warm side of autumn. The painting shows a woman in white and a man in blue climbing over the rocks and in front of their eyes a magical landscape painted int the most exquisite, intense, uplifting, electrifying magical colours; purples, electric blue, pink, orange and blue. Each colours shines and smiles as in a dream. The gesture of the girl holding the man’s hand seems symbolic; she is helping him climb up the rocks and see for himself the fantastical landscape that she is seeing, she is inviting him to step into the autumnal fantasy with her. This is the dream, this is the autumn seen through rose-tinted glasses.

O. Louis Guglielmi, Connecticut Autumn, 1937

Guglielmi was born in Cairo, spent his early childhood in Milano and Geneva, and in 1914 destiny took his over the ocean. His painting “Connecticut Autumn”, painted in the depressing decade of 1930s, shows a very different face of autumn; the face of desolation, decay and poverty. Despite of their warm orange and yellow colours, the buildings beside the road look desolate and abandoned. The whole scene reeks of alienation, as if no human foot had stepped there for a long time. Unused blocks of marble lie around idly, useless and forgotten just like the town itself. No one needs monuments any more, nothing to celebrate and glorify. The figure of the angel is the only figure out of all the marble blocks. The thin trees in the distant edges of the painting look dead and unreal, and the young boy is the only living thing in this desolate landscape. His childhood innocence and naivety are a shield from reality. Decay and depression of his surroundings cannot touch him. He is flying his kite under the mournful gaze of the forgotten marble angel. But again the hope and optimism are crushed, for his kite gets tangled in the power lines. The sky is darkening and the angel is motionless and silent.

Marco Calderini (Italian, 1850-1941), Gardens of the Palazzo Reale, Turin, c. 1890-1910

This painting by an Italian painter Marco Calderini quite realistically portrays the loneliness of parks in autumn; when rains descend, the trees are bare, the skies are grey, and you can’t even sit on a bench because it’s wet so you linger around the desolate park, like a ghost, circling the statues and avoiding the puddles, and you cannot help but fantasise of the days, not so long ago, when the grass was green, the flowers bloomed and golden sunlight was coming through the lush tree tops. You cannot help but think of mortality and transience when you see that the trees are wet, dark and bare and the air is cold as the grave. Born, lived and died in Turin, Calderini’s oeuvre is filled with romanticised landscapes with poetic moods. Painting “Gardens of the Palazzo Real” is at once realistic and poetic. This is exactly how parks and gardens look like after autumn rains, and yet no one can deny the romantic wistfulness and loneliness that the scene shows.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Regrets, 1882

John Atkinson Grimshaw was a master of portraying cold, lonely autumn streets where golden light of the street lamps falls on the damp pavements, wetness and mists. The painting “Autumn Regrets” perfectly portrays the wistfulness of autumn and that “what’s done is done” feeling. The woman is sitting on a bench, she is dressed in black and both her clothes and her pose speak of her deep thoughts and regrets. All around her the soil is being transformed into a golden-orange carpet of chestnut leaves. The wind seems to be whispering “This is the end, beautiful friend…” Regrets flood our hearts and minds so easily in autumn; we could have done more, and we could have done things better, or at least differently. But what is done is done, now the flowers bloom no more and every new leaf which falls from the tree is like a confirmation of the ending. Autumn has a way of getting under our skin, whether we like it or not. Autumn is a feeling, a state to be in, not just one of four seasons. And to end:

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away! —
The sun crawls along the mountain
And rises and rises
And rests with every step.
How the world became so withered!
Upon worn, strained threads
The wind plays its song.
Hope fled…

(Nietzsche, In the German November, 1884)

Ernst Ferdinand Oehme – Hohnstein Castle in Saxon Switzerland

2 Oct
"I wandered under the branches 

Alone with my despair; 
Touched with a host of memories 

I fell to dreaming there."
(Heinrich Heine)
Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, Hohnstein Castle in Saxon Switzerland, 1827

This painting by a German Romantic painter Ernst Ferdinand Oehme looks so dreamlike and unreal that one would assume it is a mirage or a scene from one’s reverie, but no, it indeed shows a real castle splendidly situated on the top of the hill, vast woodland bellow it and only sky stretching on and on above it. The castle seems dream-like, and yet its forms are vividly clear and tangible. Towers and roofs stand out clear and sharp against the dreamy yellow dusk sky tinged with lavender and soft blue. The Hohnstein castle is stretched playfully over the huge rocks and the scene looks like something out of a fairy tale. One can easily fall into wild and romantical reveries about knights, damsels and troubadours. The fairy tale beauty of the castle contrasts with the rugged, raw beauty of the large rocks; man’s made architecture meets the untamed beauty of nature. In March 1825 The Crown Prince Friedrich August of Saxony informed the painter that he had bought a little property near Dresden and that he wished to fill his gallery with patriotic landscapes that encapsulate the beauty of German nature and castles. The painting was exhibited in 1827 and was criticised for its “picturesque” quality. Certainly compared to Caspar David Friedrich’s sublime landscapes that capture a whole scope of feelings, from loneliness to transience, this simple painting by Oehme isn’t so special, but I love it. Something about it makes me daydream and I think that a painting that can make you daydream is a good painting.