Tag Archives: Renoir

Natsume Soseki: Spring makes one drowsy…

26 Apr

One of my all time favourite novels is Natsume Soseki’s “The Three-Cornered World” originally published in 1906. It is an oasis of calmness, wisdom and meditative thoughts on nature and art. The story is told in the first person by the main character, a nameless thirty-year old artist, a poet and a painter, who one day sets out on a journey to the mountains, in search of Beauty and the true meaning of art. I already wrote a book review for this novel and also a post about the Beauty in every day life in relation to the narrator’s thoughts, but today, on this wonderful, warm, green April afternoon, I wanted to share a passage from the first chapter in which the narrator speaks of the beauties of spring, seeing the world from the poet’s point of view, sadness and sensitivity as related to being a poet. I also love the point that detaching yourself from the situation makes you see the true Beauty of it, if you observe your life from a detached point of view, it turns into a poetic experience, I do this all the time and it’s wonderful. And to accompany this spring mood, a few lovely paintings by Renoir.

Scene from Marie Antoinette (2006)

“Spring makes one drowsy. The cat forgets to chase the mouse; humans forget that they owe money. At times the presence of the soul itself is forgotten, and one sinks into a deep haze. But when I behold that distant field of mustard blossom, my eyes spring awake. When I hear the skylark’s voice, my soul grows clear and vivid within me. It is with its whole soul that the skylark sings, not merely with its throat. Surely there’s no expression of the soul’s motion in voice more vivacious and spirited than this. Ah, joy! And to think these thoughts, to taste this joy – this is poetry.

Renoir, Girls Picking Flowers in a Meadow, about 1890

“Shelley’s poem about the skylark immediately leaps to my mind. I try reciting it to myself, but I can remember only two or three verses. One of them goes

“We look before and after

And pine for what is not:

Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught;

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Yes indeed, no matter how joyful the poet may be, he cannot hope to sing his joy as the skylark does, with such passionate wholeheartedness, oblivious to all thought of before and after. In Chinese poetry one often finds suffering expressed as, for instance, “a hundredweight of sorrows,” and similar expressions can be seen in Western poetry too of course, but for the non-poet, the poet’s hundredweight may well be a mere dram or so. It strikes me now that poets are great sufferers; they seem to have more than double the nervous sensitivity of the average person. They may experience exceptional joys, but their sorrows too are boundless. This being the case, it’s worth thinking twice before you become a poet….

Sorrows may be the poet’s unavoidable dark companion, but the spirit with which he listens to the skylark’s song holds not one jot of suffering. At the sight of the mustard blossoms too, the heart simply dances with delight. Likewise with dandelions, or cherry blossoms—but now I suddenly realize that in fact the cherries have disappeared from sight. Yes, here among these mountains, in immediate contact with the phenomena of the natural world, everything I see and hear is intriguing for me. No special suffering can arise from simply being beguiled like this—at worst, surely, it is tired legs and the fact that I can’t eat fine food.”

Renoir, Young Woman with a Japanese Umbrella, 1876

“But why is there no suffering here? Simply because I see this scenery as a picture; I read it as a set of poems. Seeing it thus, as painting or poetry, I have no desire to acquire the land and cultivate it, or to put a railway through it and make a profit. This scenery—scenery that adds nothing to the belly or the pocket—fills the heart with pleasure simply as scenery, and this is surely why there is neither suffering nor anxiety in the experience. This is why the power of nature is precious to us. Nature instantly forges the spirit to a pristine purity and elevates it to the realm of pure poetry. Love may be beautiful, filial piety may be a splendid thing, loyalty and patriotism may all be very fine. But when you yourself are in one of these positions, you find yourself sucked into the maelstrom of the situation’s complex pros and cons—blind to any beauty or fineness, you cannot perceive where the poetry of the situation may lie.

To grasp this, you must put yourself in the disinterested position of an outside observer, who has the leisurely perspective to be able to comprehend it. A play is interesting, a novel is appealing, precisely because you are a third-person observer of the drama. The person whose interest is engaged by a play or novel has left self-interest temporarily behind. For the space of time that he reads or watches, he is himself a poet.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Girls in the Grass Arranging a Bouquet, 1890

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Girl in the Garden at Mezy, 1891

Girl with a Hat – Hommage à Renoir by John Corbet

6 Apr

“Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, he lost his marvelous sense of unreality and he ended up recommending to all of them that they leave, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, (…), and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

(Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

John Corbet, Hommage à Renoir, watercolour on paper, 2020

This lovely watercolour has been haunting me ever since I first laid my eyes on it. The warm vibrant colours and all the swirls and free, playful and spontaneous brushstrokes touch my heart. Like opening a box in the attic filled with trinkets and toys from childhood or listening to a song that brings a world back to life, this watercolour awakes all these rich feelings and memories. At once bitter and sweet, like a memory that aches and warms your heart at the same time but you can never relive it, memory of flowers and sunsets, laughter, birdsong and sea waves, the distant dreamy world that is beyond reach, the paradise lost, now only the echoes of laughter and songs remain, the memory of sunbeams dancing on the sea waves but not the hot, burning sun itself. Almost tangible, but still a memory. Memories always have that dim, rosy, foggy quality, that warmth and sugary sweet essence with just a tinge of peppermint-flavored sadness. In your thoughts, you run and run through colourful hazy corridors of memories, you follow the music that awakes them, you want to live in the chambers of happier times, but you cannot. A dried flowers cannot bring the spring back, and the old theatre ticket cannot bring back that performance. And you live and you walk and you talk in this real tangible life, but all around you the memories float like symbols, like shells and flowers in Odilon Redon’s paintings, mystic and dreamy, it touches something inside you that reason wants to suppress.

These are the thoughts that flood my mind as I gaze at this watercolour inspired by Renoir’s lovely paintings of girls in hats, but this watercolour has more ecstatic colours, more grooviness, something dreamy that Renoir’s girls do not possess. Look at her rosy face, rosy because it’s coloured by the last rays of sun in the dusk of the day, the dreamy hour of the day when shadows and colours tremble and breathe. Her eyes are closed to the real world around her, she wants to forget, she wants to be the part of the Dream world that is alive all around her. I imagine her spinning and floating on the breeze of that dreamland, rising from the ground and traveling, like Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to that distant place of poppies and cactuses, warm sands and fragrant flowers, winds that whispers poems in your ear, and pink sunsets skies that are infinite and promising…

Something about this watercolour makes me feel so nostalgic… for everything. It makes me feel deeply the line from Márquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”: “the past was a line, memory has no return, and every spring gone by could never be recovered.” Bring me violins that makes the heart bleed, a sad accordion that makes the tears flow, because when I gaze at this watercolour I feel melancholy for what was and will never be, I think of blooming apple trees that suddenly lose their blossom and turn all green, magnolia blossoms and freshly cut grass, crickets chirping and seasons passing, changes that cannot be stopped, words that cannot be unspoken, escapism into domains of one’s dream and memory land. The way she closes her eyes and sensually allows herself to be kissed by the sun, there’s something so innocent and indulgent about allowing oneself such simple pleasure. Close your eyes to the world, look within and another world awaits you, one which is infinitely better. The colours have something sixties about them, orange and mauves. A touch of violet and orange on her shirt, her rosy face and wine-coloured hair, moss green painted in swirls in the background, I am seduced by these colours. This watercolour has the Beauty that makes my heart burst like a ripe fig in the Mediterranean sun.

Renoir, Etude de femme avec chapeau – fragment, date unknown

John Corbet is a contemporary artist whose wonderful, whimsical and dreamy pastels and watercolours you should definitely check out here. We are so fortunate that he is sharing these beautiful artworks, sharing little fragments of his imagination and beauty with the word. I have already written about his ghostly pastels last year, but his work continues to surprise me, it’s getting more vibrant and more lovely and I am delighted to see that he is doing more and more watercolours, exploring and experimenting without neglecting his love for pastels. Formally, this is a Hommage to Renoir, but on a spiritual level, the mood of Corbet’s watercolour is more dreamy and mystical and it brings to mind the mood of Odilon Redon and Gauguin’s paintings.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Young Girl with Hat (Jeune fille au chapeau), c. 1883

Renoir, Young Girl in a Flowered Hat, 1900-05

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Two Young Girls Reading, 1890-91

Renoir, Two Sisters, 1890

Renoir, The Little Reader (Little Girl in Blue), 1890

Pretty Edwardian Girls: Hats, Bows and White Dresses

14 Apr

On this rainy, idle and grey Sunday afternoon, I am dreaming of sunnier, warmer and prettier places; of slow walks by the river, picking flowers and wearing straw hats, of first strawberries and little snails in the dew-drenched morning grass, of blooming roses, neat gardens and little houses of idyllic streets, of gentle green weeping willow leaves, lily ponds, romantic cottages, play of sunlight on the river, pink sunsets, picnics, picking fragrant wild flowers, blowing soap balloons, reading a book under a shade of a tree, life en plein air, like an Impressionist, breathing in the blueness of the sky! Free, happy and oblivious to the passing of time. This idyllic vision of life reminds me of Impressionist paintings and turn of the century, 1890s and Edwardian era, photographs. This is where my thoughts wander these days, and I found a lot of pretty pictures that mostly feature girls wearing white dresses, often with lace details, straw hats or bows in their long voluminous hair, Evelyn Nesbit for one had gorgeous hair.

“I felt like sleeping and dreaming in the grass.”

(Jack Kerouac,  Dharma Bums)

Olga Nikolaevna & Anastasia Nikolaevna in the Finnish Skerries, summer 1910

A lot of these girls are actually the Romanov sisters; Olga (1895-1918), Tatiana (1897-1918), Maria (1899-1918) and Anastasia (1901-1918), whose day to day life before the war and the revolution was pretty carefree and simple, which is unusual for the life at court. I found all the pictures of Romanov sister on this tumblr and there’s plenty to see, I just chose the pics that I found the prettiest. I love Edwardian fashion for girls; unlike grown up women, girls would wear their dresses shorter, reaching the knees, and their hair down, decorated with a bow or two perhaps, and I think this look is more than wearable nowadays too. It’s cute, charming and not unattainable! And the pictures all seem to tell a story. The past seems tangible and real. The girls are seen laughing, playing, hugging, drawing, celebrating birthdays or name days, and it makes me feel that they were girls just as I am, and I wanna join them in their pursuits.

Russian girl, c 1910.

“Sauvage, sad, silent,
as timid as the sylvan doe,
in her own family
she seemed a strangeling.”

(Pushkin, Eugene Onegin)

Anne of Green Gables, by John Corbet.

Really love this beach pic! The Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga Nikolaevna of Russia with Anna Vyrubova at the beach of the Black Sea near Livadia, 1909

Maria Nikolaevna with a bouquet of roses on her birthday, Peterhof 14th June 1907

Maria Nikolaevna painting a flower vase in the classroom at the Livadia Palace, 1912

Maria Nikolaevna at the Lower Dacha in Peterhof, 1911

Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanova

Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia with a cousin

Maria, Olga & Tatiana Nikolaevna at the Livadia Palace, 1912

Evelyn Nesbit (1913)

Pic found here.

Evelyn Nesbit photographed by Otto Sarony, 1901

Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova of Russia seagazing.

Anastasia Nikolaevna & Alexandra Tegleva in Tsarskoe Selo, 1911

Edwardian little girl, pic by Andy Kraushaar found here.

Maria Nikolaevna in Crimea, 1912

Tatiana Nikolaevna onboard the “Marevo”, 1906

Olga Nikolaevna in the Finnish Skerries, June – October 1908

Olga Nikolaevna holding a bouquet of roses surrounded by her sisters onboard the Standart, 11th July 1912, found here.

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna in Tsarskoe Selo, spring 1909

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna at the old palace in Livadia, September-October 1909

Renoir – The Umbrellas

10 Mar

‘Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.’ – Bob Marley

1883. Pierre Auguste Renoir - Umbrellas1881-86. The Umbrellas

This afternoon, while casually listening to the song Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers for the hundredth time, the opening scene with James Dean Bradfield singing in the rain, under neon loneliness, in a Tokyo street crowded with people and umbrellas reminded me of Renoir’s painting The Umbrellas. Bustling street, in the rain, dark coloured umbrellas permeated with melancholy, and the feeling of alienation in the city, themes the painting and the song share in common,  have all alluringly drawn me into the story that lies behind Renoir’s magnificent painting The Umbrellas.

This paintings is very interesting for many reasons. Firstly, it was painted in two different stages, the right part indicating the Impressionistic style with its loose brushstrokes and slightly brighter colour palette, while the left portion, featuring a lady dressed in a dreary grey dress, was painted around 1885-86, the dress style indicating the precise years. In the middle of the 1880s Renoir became disillusioned with the Impressionism and sought inspiration in the works of Courbet and Manet, admiring their realistic approach, and also in the works of old masters such as Antoine Watteau and Francois Boucher, the sentimentality of whose paintings had always been deep-rooted into Renoir’s works. That so intriguing female figure on the left is actually a modiste or a milliner’s assistant, modeled by Renoir’s lover Suzanne Valadon, a very rebellious, passionate and seductive young lady, not even twenty years old when the painting was started. Bleak grey shades of her dress and those realistically sad brush strokes are the best legacy of Renoir’s change of style. The figure that he had so unhesitatingly repainted originally wore a white dress with lots of lace and frills and a lavishing hat. By changing her dress, Renoir changed her position in society, from an upper class lady, this figure became a grisette; a coquettish and flirtatious working class girl. The composition is quite unusual too; instead of a central composition one would expect, Renoir emphasised the left part of the canvas giving the figure of modiste even more depth and meaning. Behind the lady we see a vigorous young gentleman, a student or a dandy perhaps, that is about to engage her, maybe offer her shelter under his umbrella. She is not even remotely interested, instead she gazed longingly at the viewer. While her face appears rosy and innocent, her eyes are filled with melancholy, despair, and wistful reconciliation.

Renoir in general wanted to capture the mood of modern Paris; the bohemianism, the nonchalance, the laughter; an aim he fulfilled in works such as ‘Le Moulin de la Galette‘, but in the painting The Umbrellas, Renoir presented a rather different view on modern Paris, emphasising its isolation. The scene itself is very dynamic, the sky is almost hidden away by all the umbrellas, but the crowd of people are barely having any contact with each other. Apart from the gentleman on the left, all the other characters are rushing in their own ways, fairly uninterested for one another. It’s a rainy day and Parisian streets are busy, who has time for chatter!?

Essentially, isn’t it the same, the feeling of estrangement in the city, whether it is the 19th century Paris seen through the eyes of Renoir or the late 20th century alienation that Richey Edwards has so eloquently expressed, the feeling of being lost, isolated and trapped in a big city is universal.

Gustav Klimt – Beechwood Forest

5 Mar

Syd Barrett’s keen eye introduced me to Klimt’s painting ‘Beechwood Forest‘, thereby introducing me to Klimt’s landscapes; magical worlds where trees become femme fatales, sensual creatures of nature.

gustav klimt beechwood forest1902. Buchenwald I

Gustav Klimt is best known for his sensual and sinister femme fatales, but at the same time he enjoyed painting landscapes, which were usually created in moments of contemplation, peace and relaxation. Although he had been drawing numerous sketches for his portraits and allegorical scenes before painting them on canvas, Klimt painted nature while residing in it, painting flowers and trees without previous sketches, portraying nature in the most natural way.

Klimt found peace in painting landscapes, the same way Renoir had found it earlier, painting flowers with colours that were left after painting portraits. From 1897. Klimt had been spending his summer days in Litzlberg at Lake Attersee, enjoying the warm, sunny days with his life companion Emilie Flöge. He was known for starting his holiday days early, around 6 o’clock, with long strolls in the woods which prompted locals to call him ‘Waldschrat‘; someone who lives in the woods on his own. I can’t resist adding a few verses from Syd Barrett’s song ‘Octopus’; ‘Isn’t it good to be lost in the wood/Isn’t it bad so quiet there, in the wood.‘ Gustav Klimt undoubtedly drew inspiration from these long walks, connecting his soul to nature, breathing the fresh air. I wonder are the trees that he touched still there?

Beechwood Forest (Buchenwald, 1902) is one of my favourite landscape paintings by Klimt, along with The Swamp (1900). These two paintings are significant as one of the earliest examples of Klimt’s landscapes, daringly combining styles of Impressionism and Symbolism. Brush strokes evoke the painting style typical for Impressionism, while the simplified and symbolic treatment of surface, along with the influence of the Orient, make these paintings typical for Art Nouveau. Still, Gustav Klimt was never interested in the game of light and shadow, his landscapes, the same as his portraits, display his interest in allegories. The Swamp was painted on the shore of one of the ice ponds near Litzlberg. Paintings such as ‘Beechwood Forest‘ or ‘The Swamp‘ resemble a tapestry, filled with patterns that could easily be found on a dress of one of his femme fatales. Sensible trembling of his landscapes enhances their ornamentation and symbolic meaning. In ‘Beechwood Forest‘ dense beech trees blot the sky, and each leaf is captured in one golden brush stroke; such paintings were appealing to Syd’s Cantabrigian sensibilities.

1900. Gustav Klimt - The Swamp1900. The Swamp

Klimt approached painting landscapes the same way he painted women, with visible sensuality and liveliness. The absence of people in all of his landscapes suggest that Klimt perceived the landscape as a living being, mystical pantheism was always prevalent. The nature, in all its greenness, freshness and mystery, was a beautiful woman for Klimt.