16 December 2009

Angels We Have Heard On High

At this time of year, remember the Parisi, the original settlers of Paris and environs, who were Celts. This heritage helps to explain the distinctive sound of French Chirtsmas carols. Il est né le divin enfant, Minuit Chrétien, Un Flambeau Jeannette Isabelle, and Les Anges dans nos campagnes or Angels We Have Heard On High are readily distinguishable from English and German carols for their sprightly rhythms and celebratory mood.













Although Stefan Lochner (c. 1405-c.1452) who painted Angels Adoring Baby Jesus was a German Gothic artist, I think his angels are the ones we imagine when we hear the angel carol. Lochner's curly-headed angel children are anything but saccharine. Notice the little hand reaching over the picture frame, the moving eyes. Each child an individual personality within the group. They are children, children who like to have fun, just the ones to invite to a celebration.

Note: Stefan Lochner's work is in the Bavarian State Museum, collection of Old Paintings, Munich, Germany.

30 September 2009

How To Take A Bath


Recently, I was looking at a photograph of the Emperor's salle de bains (bathroom, like so many words, sounds more impressive in French) in Napoleon's grand apartment at the Chateau Fontainebleau. The striated white marble walls and black-and-white diamond patterned tile floors looked familiar. Even the bidet, although not a standard fixture in American homes, was self-explanatory. The galvanized tub on its raised platform, edged with an organdy ruffle, did look a bit like a baby's bassinet but the four chairs arranged along the walls brought me up short: the Emperor didn't bathe alone.





As a child, I learned from my mother that, if there is one thing a busy modern woman craves in her bath time, it is near monastic solitude. June liked nothing better than to close the door and sink into a fragrant bubble bath with a good book. (There was a southern window in our bathroom that provided plenty of light.) If a child knocked on the door, she called out her usual advice: "Go read your book."
There are other ideas on how to take a bath. The caricature (at right) was included in a letter from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Jane Morris, wife of architect William Morris. It shows Jane in the bath tub, apparently drinking a glass of wine, as her husband reads to her. Rossetti captioned it: "To drink bath water is better than to listen Morris read the 7 volumes of his new book The Earthly Paradise." (1868) The glasses lined up by the tub look inviting, though.
The two well-muscled 'mer-men' holding up Aphrodite look charming in Georges Barbier's illustration for the book, Aphrodite: Antiques Moers (1928 edition) by Pierre Louys, but it takes a goddess to relax so imperviously, above it all. I'll take the solitary bubble bath.

Image: Leonardo Cremonini - Les Parenthese de l'Eaux, 1968, Pompidou Center, Paris.

21 September 2009

The Continuing Question Of Carl Moll

Looking at these unfamiliar  paintings from a realm between impressionism and realism, suggests a question: why don't we recognize them and know  who made them?  There must be a back story here.
Vienna in 1886 had more young artists in one place than any other European city than Paris. Its energy, edginess, and enervation made for a heady mix, but one of every six residents of Vienna came from the poor outposts of the Hapsburg Empire and lacked a permit to live there.  You can't see them in The View from Schindler's Window.


Carl Moll (1861-1945) painted the scene at left scene from a window in the home of his teacher, Emil Schindler, that same year. Soon after Schindler died in 1892, Moll married Schindler's widow Anna. In marrying Anna Schindler, Moll became the stepfather of seven year-old Alma, who would grow into the beautiful, temperamental, and much-married Alma Schindler Mahler Werfel Gropius.




Among his contemporaries, Moll was noted for his foresightedness. Hel was an early member of the Vienna Secession in 1897, and he seceded from the group in 1905, along with Gustav Klimt.  He promoted Klimt's art and introduced the Viennese to Vincent Van Gogh's paintings. He later became an early supporter  of Hitler's National Socialism in the 1920s. Fast forward to 1945, when  Carl Moll committed suicide, together with his daughter and son-in-law, as the Soviet Army entered Vienna.  We begin to see things that are not obvious in Moll's paintings.

Of course, we see none of this in The View From Schindler's Window. When looking at Moll's self-portrait (1906) or the view of his snow-covered studio from the outside (c. 1905) we see a world of calm introspection, of a new aesthetic in painting masterfully applied. His use of diagonals and bird's eye views allows a subtle lightness in his landscapes, an aesthetic of  verisimilitude, resembling something, but not the thing itself, rather like the Schindler-Moll family perhaps.



There is some flattening of the picture plane, as in the work of other Secessionists, although not in the interiors; they pull us into the Finance Ministry chambers and a domestic interior through a series of diagonals created by open doors.

Many of Moll's paintings hang in Viennese museums, but his work is often absent from retrospectives of his generation because his personal history is unpalatable in so many ways.  He assumed the mantle of all that had been Schindler's as his by right. His supplanting of  Emil Schindler in his family and his art world never sat well.   He was not enthusiastic about having Gustav Mahler join the family, unwelcome on at least two counts as a Jew and as a rival artist.


Far from being a great man, Moll (whose name translates from the German as 'minor') was far from a minor artist. But the work remains, waiting for a time when it will win out over history, as beautiful work always does.







Images:
1.  The View From Schindler's Window, 1886, Essl Collection, Austria.
2. Verschneites Studio on Theriesiengasse, c. 1905, Dichaud Collection, Austria.
3. The Artist In His Studio, 1906, Akademie der Bilder Kunst, Gemaldgalerie, Vienna.
4. Winter In Preibach, 1904, private collection, Vienna




 
5.
6. Winter Scene -Heiligenstadt, c.1904.
7.  View Of Heilligenstadt, 1906, Dichaud Collection, Austria.
8. The Interior Of The Ambassador's Residence.
9.  Twilight, c. 1900, Osterresiches Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.



01 August 2009

Winslow Homer At Houghton Farm












Opening on August 18 and running through October 11, at the Lowe Art Gallery at Syracuse University, Winslow Homer’s New York State: Houghton Farm And Beyond, curated by Homer specialist David Tatham brings together a group of watercolors and prints, centered around the summer of 1878, a summer that saw Homer spending long periods of time in Orange County, New York, a summer of exuberant artistic productivity.

Houghton Farm belonged to Lawson Valentine, a successful businessman, whose paint and varnish company created the boat protector Valspar, still used by mariners today. Winslow Homer (1836-1910) and his older brother Charles had been boyhood friends with the Valentine family in Boston. When Homer moved to New York City in 1859, he renewed his connection with Lawson and Charles, a chemist, worked with Lawson Valentine.




Located in a narrow valley near Mountainville, south of Newburgh on the west side of the Hudson River, the 1,000+ acre farm purchased by Valentine purchased it in 1876 served the dual purpose of summer residence away from the New York City heat and a location for Valentine's agricultural research station, one of the first in the United States. From the farmhouse veranda a panoramic view of the valley, Woodbury Creek, the lower Catskills to the wets, and the Erie Railroad line provided a variety of potential subjects for an artist. Today, only the original farmhouse survives; the other buildings and most of the acreage made way for the construction of the New York State Thruway circa 1950.

What these pictures illustrate is that Homer was one of the earliest and most sympathetic painters of the American girl. Homer was familiar with Manet’s credo that “the most important person in any picture is the light”. To this, Homer brought his strong decorative sense, stimulated by his recent membership in the Tile Club. It had not been until 1873 that Homer had taken up watercolor, a medium then associated with amateurs. Through watercolor, Homer explored the boundary between reopresentation and abstraction, as he also lightened his palette. Success in selling the watercolors encouraged him to continue. When Lawson Valentine invited Homer to stay at Houghton Farm, it was in his dual role as friend of Charles Homer and patron of Winslow.

Pastoral scenes of sheep grazing on gently rolling hills, attended by the daughters of local farmers, inspired the artist to envision Arcadian shepherdesses but not before an initial misunderstanding was resolved. When Homer asked the daughter of a poor mountaineer to pose for him, she appeared proudly in her best clothes for him. Crestfallen that the artist wanted her to change into her shabby work clothes, Homer came up with the idea to use some 18th century costumes that he had previously used for props and, so, a charming conceit was born of their collaboration. Somewhat to Homer's surprise, the public was charmed by these images.

The horizontal plane is dominant in most of Homer's Houghton Farm paintings. Even in the preliminary sketches, facial expressions are fully worked out without the sentimentality common to images of children. You can almost hear the rustling and buzzing sounds of the earth at work as you look at Homer's virtuoso displays of light and shadow. And in recognition of the work and economic value of sheep herding, the faces of the sheep are realistic, too.
Although Homer finished some of his paintings from Houghton Farm the next year, he went on to other places and other subjects, making this the record of a distinct period in the artist's work.