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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hendrik Goltzius

Lot Being Seduced by his Daughters, 1616, Hendrik Goltzius
Hendrik Goltzius Self-portrait, 1590-92
Very often in writing about western art, I've made mention of the so-called Dutch Golden Age of painting, which roughly coincides with the 17th century following the Eighty Years War and the establishment of the Dutch Republic in 1581. Within less than a generation, what we now term the "low countries" united to become the most prosperous nation in Europe. As I've often noted, but it bears repeating, peace begets prosperity and prosperity begets art. But what about the art and artist who came just before the Golden Age, who, in effect, trained the artists of the Golden Age. We don't much talk about them. One of them we don't much talk about is Hendrik Goltzius (right).
The Physician as God, 1587, Hendrik Goltzius, the first of a series of four intaglio prints
depicting the various incarnations of a doctor. The second and third depict an angel and an ordinary man, while the fourth (below) depicts the doctor as the devil collecting his fee.

The engraver's tools
Hendrik Goltzius was born in 1558 in the Netherlands near the German border. About a hundred years earlier, the Germans had invented a method of printmaking called intaglio (pronounced: in-TAL-eo). Why the Germans gave it an Italian name, no one seems to know. For those not familiar with the term, the method involves the coating of a zinc or copper plate with an acid-resistant resin (usually wax or tar). Once that surface is dry, the artist uses a burin (a pointed metal stylus) to scratch into the surface coating the image he or she wishes to print. It's a long, tedious process, but suffice to say, once the image suits the artist, the plate is submerged in a nitric acid bath which "bites" into the exposed metal of the etched lines to create a groove in the plate.
Inscribing the image into the
resin coating of the plate.
Once the groove is deep enough, the plate is removed, washed, and the resin coating dissolved. The plate is then polished with talc then covered with an oil-based ink. The ink is then wiped from the surface (absolutely no fun at all) leaving a tiny amount in the grooves. The plate is then printed using a heavy, damp paper under the high pressure of a crude printing press. The paper is forced down into the grooves of the plate where it picks up the ink remaining there. The image is thus transferred to the paper. If the artist is not satisfied, the whole process begins again as more etching (and a darker print) ensues (called proofing). The artist may also work over the plate without the coating and etching steps in a technique called "dry-point." Intaglio is the exact opposite of relief printing and far more intricate than this, but to make a long story short, Hendrik Goltzius was an expert engraver.
The Physician as Satan (in collecting his fee), 1587, Hendrik Goltzius
Study of a Hand, Hendrik Goltzius
(his own).
When young Hendrik was a child of three, his right hand was severely burned, causing a deformity that that later was to severely handicapped his ability to hold and manipulate the all-important burin. Despite this, over the course of the first forty-two years of his life, Goltzius is credited with having created some 388 prints, with a further 574 more etched by other printmakers after his designs. His engravings cover the whole range of common subject matter of his time from religious works to mythology, portraits, history, and genre, even household pets. The complex, time-consuming etching and printing process dictated that artists made prints the emerging Dutch middle-class could and would buy. Although engraving was a highly respected artists' profession, painting was considered the ultimate art. So, around 1600, at the age of forty-two, Hendrik Goltzius gave up printmaking in favor of painting.
The Sleeping Danae Being Prepared to Receive Jupiter, 1603, Hendrik Goltzius
Hercules and Cacus, 1613.
Hendrik Goltzius
As might be expected, Goltzius' first paintings were a bit rough but as his 1590-92 self-portrait (top, right) attests, he had the knack. Basically, his subject matter changed little as he changed media. He tended toward mythology and biblical stories such as his Lot Being Seduced by his Daughters (top), from 1616. His most famous work was his 1603 The Sleeping Danae Being Prepared to Receive Jupiter (above). Apparently mythological eroticism was a big seller too. His Hercules and Cacus (left) seems to have been painted first without the head of Hercules, which was added later, possibly copied from a painted portrait. The flesh tones seem mismatch, as is the angle of the head. The daughter on the left side of Goltzius' Lot Being Seduced by his Daughters (top) has a similar problem, except it appears too small for the body. It contrasts sharply with the portrait-like detail of the other two faces in the painting.

The Fall of Man, 1616, Hendrik Goltzius. Notice, the snake in the tree has
a female face (as did that of Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling snake).
The Fall of Man (detail), the cat is nude too.
Likewise, both heads in Goltzius' The Fall of Man (above), from 1616, seem slightly out of proportion with the massive nude figures. Each of the animals depicted are said to have an allegorical meaning regarding the scene but if so, any such meaning would seem to be a thin, moral rationale attempting to justify the painting of socially acceptable nude figures during that era. I do like the cat, though.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Taliesin--Spring Green, Wisconsin

Copyright, Jim Lane
Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin, grew from the brow of Wright's favorite boyhood knoll.
Freezing, thawing, tree roots, aging
limestone, and simply poor
construction demand a constant 
emphasis on preservation.
A week or so ago I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West both here and in real life. Taliesin West, located near Scottsdale, Arizona, was Wright's winter home, also the winter campus of his Taliesin Fellowship. Just a few days ago, I visited the original Taliesin, located outside Spring Green, Wisconsin. This was Wright's original home from about 1911 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. The two places are comparable, but not very. The original Taliesin shows the wear and tear derived from nearly one-hundred years of harsh Wisconsin winters and Wright's constant "fiddling" with it (not to mention the ravages of fire on two separate occasions). The weather in Scottsdale is also rather harsh, but on the whole, the dry summer heat tends to be preservative in nature rather than degenerative. Like its Wisconsin namesake, Taliesin West bears the marks of Wright's penchant for experimentation, but by the 1930s, Wright was more sure of himself. There was sprawl, but not without the unity of design so lacking in Wisconsin.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The current entrance to the Taliesin living quarters, the last of several over the years
(Wright kept moving them).
The entrance to the fellowship
living space.
The name, Taliesin, is Welsh meaning "shining brow." Whereas other architects, now and then, would have been tempted to build atop their favorite boyhood retreat, Wright, instead, built along the gentle slop of a hill (its brow) on three sides of the central knoll creating a sort of "courtyard" effect which, with its dark wood and stone appears to have grown naturally from the hill itself. The house itself (despite the two fires) has always occupied the north wing (facing west on the outward side) while the other two sides of the "U" evolved from stables and livestock areas into garages, service quarters, and guest accommodations. Later, and still today, these areas became living quarters for Taliesin Fellowship members and their families.

The Taliesin Fellowship popular
image--the master promulgates.
The Taliesin Fellowship, much
closer to reality during the 1930s.

Under Wright's nearly constant habitation, Taliesin took on the qualities of a living being, a laboratory for architectural experimentation, and, as money permitted and circumstances demanded, the center of the commune-like architectural school Wright and his third wife, Olga, developed, as a vital means of survival during the lean days of the early 1930s. Apprentices sought out Wright and Taliesin solely on the basis of the man's reputation which, even so, was at something of a low ebb at that point. Times were tough. Would-be architects often found themselves hoeing corn, cooking, cleaning, and repairing roofs with barely a glimpse, much less instruction from their architect idol.

Wright's office and the Taliesin "work room" during the 1930s. 
Here is where Fallingwater first took shape on paper.
Then came Fallingwater. The Kauffman hunting lodge in southwestern Pennsylvania took form first in Wright's mind, where it remained for almost a year until a visit to Taliesin by his client in 1936 propelled Wright and his hard-pressed apprentices into a 24-hour drawing frenzy. The final elevations were completed by them as Wright and his wealthy client had lunch. Fallingwater took final form on paper at Taliesin and propelled Wright to the top of his profession. The success of the Taliesin Fellowship was never again in doubt as Wright and his futuristic concrete, stone, and glass masterpiece landed on the cover of Time magazine even before the house was finished.

Despite the popular image of clean, lines and simple textures often associated
with Wright's interiors, as the living room at Taliesin demonstrates,
his personal space was far from simple or uncluttered
Today Taliesin is a mixture of refined hominess and historic symbolism. Here, Wright freed domestic architecture from "the box," yet it never ceases to amaze me how long it took him to finally embrace the curve (as seen in New York's Guggenheim Museum, his final work completed only after his death). Long, low, lean, and horizontal with the occasional accenting vertical or diagonal line, Wright perfected his organic architecture and demonstrated its versatility at Taliesin. At the same time, he and his wife perfected a means of guaranteeing his theories, style, and vision of the future would survive through his writings and teachings for perhaps hundreds of years after his death.

The Taliesin Fellowship studio today, having taken over the remodeled
turn-of-the-century boarding school Wright designed for two of his aunts around 1901.

Fu Baoshi

Fu Baoshi Memorial Hall, Xinyu, China
Fu Baoshi
When I write, I like to think I know something of what I'm "talking" about. By necessity that means I seldom write about oriental art or artists from any era. First of all, the culture is, to me at least, so...inscrutable...and the art, in fact the entire aesthetic behind it, so completely foreign and enigmatic as to force me WAAY out of my comfort zone. On top of that, there's the mysteries of the Chinese languages (all three of them). Be that as it may, today I came upon the work of the Chinese painter, Fu Baoshi (remember, the last name comes first in Chinese). Actually I first came upon his impressive looking museum (above) which spurred me on to check him out. I mean, any artist honored with his own museum is worth a second look. Right?

Illustrations for a book of poems by Mao Zedong, Fu Baoshi
I fully expected the usual delicate, calligraphic, nearly monochromatic watercolor and ink images stereotypically associated with Chinese art. There was, of course, some of that in Fu Baoshi's work. He was Chinese, after all. But he was also something of what we'd call in the Western vernacular, a "mover and shaker" in the long tradition of Chinese painting. In short, the more I looked, the more I liked--not everything, but suffice to say, half or more of the man's life's work. About this time two years ago (winter of 2012) the Met in New York introduced Fu Baoshi's work to Americans in a show titled: "Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution." That pretty well sums up the story of the man, the times in which he lived, and his impact on traditional Chinese painting.

Pink and Green, (after 1945), Fu Baoshi.
Fu Baoshi was born in 1904 in Jiangxi Province (East-Central China). Unlike most Chinese artists, Fu Baoshi studied both in China and Japan (1933), developing cultural skills sufficient to translate books between the two languages.  He also translated paintings from one Oriental culture to another, adding various Japanese influences to his work. Though he painted figures from time to time, it was his landscapes which gained him public acclaim. He was also a writer and researcher, at an early age becoming an expert on the history of Chinese art. He published his first thesis at the age of twenty-five.

Power Lines, 1954, Fu Baoshi
When the Japanese invaded China in 1939, Fu Baoshi retreated with his family back to his hometown of Xinyu to sit out the war, studying and copying famous works of art. After the war, with the advent of Communist rule in 1949, Fu Baoshi moved back to Nanchang where he stepped into various academic leadership positions and began promoting the so-called "New Chinese Painting Movement" aimed at updating ancient, traditional painting styles and traditions, adding new, more modern content, a greater use of color (which remained fairly restrained, by Western standards), and a movement away from the emphasis on calligraphy, all of which can be seen in his post-war work. During the 1950s and 60s, Fu Baoshi's prestige in the academic art world of China enabled him to travel with a foreign exchange groups to Czechoslovakia and other Communist countries where he added to his repertoire Power Lines (above), factories, freeways, coal mines (below), and other scenes of 20th century industrialization (rare in China at the time). Thus he began creating watercolor landscapes that, while appearing to be Chinese in style, seemed anything but in terms of subject matter.

A Glimpse of the Coal Capital, 1961, Fu Baoshi
Fu Baoshi's most impressive work came over a three-year-period, 1959-62, in which he and Guan Shanyue collaborated on a giant watercolor painting for Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Normally when we encounter Chinese art it's in the form of extremely horizontal scroll-like formats. At the vary least, it's restrained by the limitations imposed by the manufacture of watercolor paper. Until the advent of Communist propaganda, murals simply didn't exist in Chinese art (if you can call such work art). After a series of four preliminary drawings over a period of more than a year, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue put together thirty sheets of paper (nearly 550 square feet). This they mounted inside a frame measuring roughly 19 feet by 28 feet to create their epic work, Red Sun Rising (below). Chairman Mao personally added to the top of the painting the words: "This Land So Rich in Beauty" (seen at bottom). Fu Baoshi died in 1965. Guan Shanyue lived until 2000 at the age of eighty-eight.

Red Sun Rising, 1962, Great Hall of the People, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue,
though often referred to by the title affixed by Mao, "This Land so Rich in Beauty."

Red Son Rising, 1962, Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Paul Gustave Fischer

The Artist Painting En Plein Air, 1890, Paul Gustave Fischer
Paul Gustave Fischer,
Nytorv in Winter, 1909
When we visited Copenhagen a couple years ago, I came to love the Danish. And why not, they gave us...well, the Danish (the pastry, I mean). What's not to love about that? Cherry is my personal favorite. They also invented the wire recorder (forerunner to the tape recorder), the loud speaker, the dry cell battery, Insulin, and who could forget their greatest invention of all, Legos?! Norway has also produced quite a list of outstanding artists, starting with The Screaming Edvard Munch, but also including Peter Nicolai Arbo, Nikolai Astrup, Harriet Backer, Peder Balke, Hans Dahl, and my favorite, Paul Gustave Fischer. It's hard to classify Fischer, virtually everything he tried he did so well, you can't simply say he was an outstanding portrait artist, or congratulate him for his cityscapes of Paris and Copenhagen, or laud him for his female naturist beauties. In his latter years he was excellent at genre painting and even tried his hand at history painting a time or two.

 Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1891, Paul Gustave Fischer 
An Evening at the Royal Theater,
1888-89, Paul Gustave Fischer
Paul Gustave Fischer was born in Copenhagen in 1860 into a fourth generation Polish-Jewish family. His father had been a painter then found there to be more money in making paints then in using them. Fischer began painting quite young, influenced by the French Realists Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, though mostly guided and instructed by his father. He spent only two years studying at the Danish Royal Academy. His natural talent was such that his father sent him to several major cities in Europe to study, learn, and paint, including Paris where some of his best cityscapes originated. His 1891 Place de la Concorde, Paris (above) is among them. His Evening at the Royal Theater (left) dates from his slightly earlier student days in Copenhagen. Even then, there was little he could not handle with exceptional technical skill and compositional clarity.

Nude Bathers on the Beach, 1916, Paul Gustave Fischer
Portrait of a Young Girl, 1903, Paul
Gustave Fischer--such a sweet Danish.
Perhaps not surprisingly, however, Paul Gustave Fischer is best known for his strikingly natural sunbathers. His Nude Bathers on the Beach (above) from 1916 demonstrates why. (This being near the Baltic, the water is probably too cold to swim.) There are only about a dozen or so such works painted over a number of years, but his luscious, breathtaking, bathing beauties blend so beautifully with the sands of the beach one is hardly aware of any nascent erotic overtones. Except for a few portraits, most of Fischer's paintings are populated with those of the feminine gender, though he seems quite at home painting young girls as attractive older ones. His touching Portrait of a Young Girl (right) is from 1903.

Snow sled ride in Sondermarken, Copenhagen, Paul Gustave Fischer.
Skiing in those long dresses must have been an interesting spectacle.
In the Train, 1927, Paul Gustave Fischer
As a genre painter, Fischer was without equal during his long career of seventy four years (he died in 1934). Although Fisher seemed to enjoy painting outdoors, as illustrated by his The Artist Painting En Plein Air from 1890, this was Denmark, after all. Summers are short, winters are long, and spring and fall hardly invite hours bundled against the seasonal chill painting outdoors. So, my view is Fischer could and did paint from photos with great skill and confidence. Judging from his work, I'm guessing he was as good with a camera (such as they were back then) as with a brush. By the 1920s, Fischer's genre paintings take on a thoroughly modern look, his camera allowing him to capture scenes of everyday life few artists of his time were attempting. In the Train (left) seems to predate Norman Rockwell by twenty years. His Fire Engine (bottom) is obviously from an earlier era, but the forthright style is quite similar.

The Fire Engine, (probably 1890s), Paul Gustave Fisher--not the type scene an artist would sketch on location or try painting from memory. 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alexandre Falquiere

Tarcisius, 1868, Alexandre Falquiere
Even though I'm a painter, whenever I go to a major museum I find myself far more drawn to the sculpture displayed than the paintings. I guess at least part of the reason for that is that I'm already familiar with a lot of the paintings, but far less so when it comes to the sculpture. That's not good, because unfortunately, that's also the case with most artists and art lovers. Paintings rule! The mallet and chisel has always taken a backseat to the brush and palette in the minds of art enthusiasts. Moreover, one can look on the Internet and find virtually every painting ever painted; and because they're two-dimensional, experience something approximating the same joy and enlightenment as seeing paintings in a museum. That, however, is definitely not the case with sculpture. Being three-dimensional, no digitized image, even those moving around the piece, can begin to capture the reality of existing in the same space as the sculptor's creation. For example, when you think of 19th century sculptors what artist first and foremost comes to mind? Rodin, right? If you think a little harder, Bartholdi, Borglum, Calder, and maybe French might float to the surface. That's pathetic.

Lafayette and Washington, Washington, D.C., 1890-91, Alexandre Falquiere
Alexandre, Falquiere
There are hundreds that should be added to that list. Okay, let me start by suggesting a good candidate for inclusion, the French sculptor, Alexandre Falquiere (pronounced FAL-see-air). If you've ever taken a stroll through Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. (north side of the White House), you'll see a very good example of the type of work Falquiere did. In one corner of the park you'll find the monument to Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette. Although Lafayette stands alone at the top, to me, Washington and Lafayette standing together alongside the plinth are by far the most outstanding of all the bronze figures around and atop the monument. Their camaraderie is palpable. This is precisely the greatest strength of this under appreciated artist--the interactions of his figures.

Victor of the Cockfight, 1864, Alexandre Falquiere
The Dancers, Musee Orsay,
Alexandre Falquiere
Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière was born in Toulouse in 1831. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, winning the coveted Prix de Rome in 1859 followed nine years later by the Medal of Honor at the 1868 Paris Salon. His Tarcisius, the Christian Boy-martyr (top) won him the medal, while in a completely different vein, we see his 1864 Victor of the Cockfight (above) which cemented his reputation as one of Paris' foremost sculptors. His The Dancers, now prominently displayed in Paris' Musee Orsay, are lyrically typical of Falquiere's mature style and modeling skills.

Wrestlers, 1875,
Alexandre Falquiere
Falquiere was also a painter, though only infrequently and inadequately. His Wrestlers (left) from 1875 seems to have been an attempt to broaden his skills and reputation. The old saying about "keeping ones day job" comes to mind. Falquiere died in 1900, and judging from the number of outstanding works started shortly before his death, one suspects he may have worked himself to death.

Monument to Louis Pasteur,
1900-1904, Alexandre Falquiere
Falquiere's strongest and most elaborate monument from the latter years was his homage to Louis Pasteur (right) completed after his death. Situated in Paris' Place de Breteuil, the work is reminiscent of the Lafayette Monument in Washington only more elaborate. It features a seated figure of Pasteur atop a larger plinth than the Lafayette piece with four high relief scenes carved from marble, glorifying the benefits of Pasteur's medical discoveries. Two entablatures feature farm animals and their peasant boy attendants while the other two depict the dreaded death spiral associated with Smallpox, and the social well-being in the elimination of the dreaded disease.

The bucolic peace of the naturally immune farm workers.
The Smallpox vaccine was derived from the much milder, Cowpox.

The peasant milk-maid who led to Pasteur's success.

The grim reaper peeks around the corner while his would-be victims suffer.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Max Ernst

L'Ange_du_Foyeur (Angel of the Hearth), 1937, Max Ernst--your worst nightmare.
Max Ernst Self-portrait, 1909
Every so often I come upon an artist of some importance whom I thought I'd already written on only to find in my search efforts that I've merely mentioned several times. One such artist who falls into that category is the German painter, Max Ernst. In studying the life of Mr. Ernst, it's difficult to decide which was the most colorful, the man or his art. Born near Cologne, Germany, in 1891, the third of nine children, Ernst was inspired as a child by his father, who was an amateur painter. His father was a strict disciplinarian. Young Max was strictly undisciplined, defying his father at every turn. Ernst first studied in Bonn, exploring a variety of academic disciplines before eventually settling on perhaps the least disciplined of the disciplines--art. His early influences include Picasso, Gauguin, and van Gogh as well as the art of those in mental institutions (one and the same in the case of van Gogh). In 1914, Ernst began a long friendship with fellow German artist Hans Arp (who was also French and Alsatian). Together, the two of them began a long friendship with Dada.
Rendezvous of Friends, 1922, Max Ernst.
The Surrealists: l to r in front row: René Crevel, Max Ernst (sitting on Dostoyevsky’s knee), Theodor Fraenkel, Jean Paulhan, Benjamin Péret, Johannes Baargeld, Robert Desnos. Back row: Philippe Soupault, Hans Arp, Max Morise, Raffaele Sanzio, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon (with wreath around his hips), André Breton, Giorgio de Chirico, Gala Eluard (the only Surrealist group portrait ever painted)..
Illustration to a Week of Kindness,
Max Ernst.
After WW I (in which Ernst drew maps for Germany) Ernst met and married the art journalist, Luise Straus his first of three wives (the wealthy heiress, Peggy Guggenheim was the second, the American painter, Dorothea Tanning his third). He also met Paul Klee and the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. Ernst's Dada paintings and collages are both fun and funny, his touch much lighter than that of his colleagues (right and bottom). As the Dada movement devoured itself, Ernst met and married Andre Breton's fledging Surrealist movement in the early 1920s. Here his paintings were anything but fun or funny. They take on a dark, sinister look. If Surrealism is all about painting dreams, Ernst made it about painting nightmares. Ernst is sometimes compared to Salvador Dali, but where Dali is eerie and ethereal, Ernst's paintings from this period are earthy and frightening, even terrifying. His Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (below, left) from 1924, only hints at this element of fear while in his L'Ange_du_Foyeur (top), from 1937, the terror bursts forth, realizing the worst in fears.

Oedipus Rex, 1922, Max Ernst
Two Children are Threatened by a
Nightingale, 1924, Max Ernst.
Later in his career, Max Ernst was also a sculptor, though Surrealism, if it played a part in this period at all, was more one of labeling than fact. Surrealism demands illusions, sculpture destroys illusions. It is real, concrete, three-dimensional. Whereas Ernst's 1922 Oedipus Rex (above) seems to presage the Pop movement, his bronze sculpture, Capricorn, from 1937, is Modernist--any fright is slight. Ernsts' years in Paris during the 1920s were among the most productive and creative of his whole career. His love life was likewise on the creative side, as he became involved in the marriage of his Surrealist friend, the poet, Paul Eluard, and his wife, Gala, in what amounted to a three-way marriage or "ménage a trois." Gala, whose sex drive was reputed to be quite strong, later married another member of the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dali.

Capricorn, 1947, Max Ernst

I couldn't resist including this painting by Ernst, The Virgin Correcting the Child Jesus, 1926. Sacrilegious? Perhaps, but also rather amusing and thought provoking.
(Note the three figures in the background window.)