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.

05 December 2009

Henri Riviere at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

If you are in Paris now, and looking for something to see while many museums are closed, you might check out the recent gift of Henri Riviere's personal collection to Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The Riviere collection includes, along with his lithographs, watercolors, the artist's notebooks and preparatory drawings, and illustrated calendars. His personal collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints runs to more than 700, and BNF considers it an essential tool for the study of Japanese influence on French art, equal to that of l'Art Nouveau Bing.
Among the highlights of Riviere's own work are the series of fourteen drawings Light on the Copse at Longivy (1898), last displayed at the Musee D'Orsay in 1988 and another series, The Enchanted Hours (1901-1902).

Although Impressionism was the dominant movement of his time, Riviere's only brush with it seems to have been his friendship with fellow artists Paul Signac.

Henri Rivière (1864-1951) never visited Japan but created his own personal Japan in Brittany, finding in its landscape echoes of Japanese prints.

Archetypal Breton subjects – fishing and the ever present sea, rural agriculture and antique peasant burial rites become, in Riviere's works, if not universal, then trans-continental. The pared down, decorative style creates an extraodrinary effect. Rivière recreated the ukiyo-e style, down to his monogram, without compromising the Breton geography, its vegetation and topography. Like the Japanese masters, Rivière's work shows a sensitivity to the time of day and the weather as integral parts of his subjects.

Also, from Japanese print makers Rivere took the idea of series of works organized around a theme. If Hokusai composed Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, then Riviere made Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower, a magnificent series of lithographs in beige and peach tones. This may have inspired the comic strip Tin Tin. Did Hergé know Riviere's work?
Riviere’s watercolors are less well known than his lithographs. While watercolors are often full of washed-out tones and fuzzy forms, Riviere’s are more precise, a taste carried over.
Tree in the Snow strikes a seasonal note, reminiscent, oddly enough, of the work of the early 19th century German romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich.
Images: works by Henri Riviere and Katsushika Hokusai are from the Henri Riviere Collection at the Bibiliotheque Nationle de France in Paris. Visit http://bnf.fr/ for more information.
Addendum: There is much more of Henri Riviere's work here.

01 December 2009

Etienne Clementel: Photographing Giverny

Claude Monet and his lily pond. Surely one of the most recognizable images from 20th century art. Now on display until 12 April 2010, Monet's waterlilies make their first visit to the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
These photos of Monet's gardens at his home in Giverny are often uncredited, but were taken by his friend Etienne Clementel. Giverny lies about fifty miles west and north of Paris on the right bank of the Seine. In a mark of modernity, Monet first spotted his eventual home while riding on a train. At first the artist could only rent the house, buying it outright in 1890. It wasn't until November, 1901, that the Town Council granted Monet permission to divert water from the nearby Epte River to create his lily pond.
Etienne Clementel (1864-1936) was a French government official with a portfolio in economics and also a close friend of Prime minister Georges Clemenceau. It was Clemenceau who took the lead in 1914, encouraging Monet to paint several large Water Lily panels to be donated to the State. When Clemenceau visited Giverny in 1918 to choose the panels that were to be installed in the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris, it may be that Clementel accompanied him and took the pictures you see here. The advanced state of the plantings suggests as much.
One of Clementel’s passions was photography. He used the autochrome to take several views of Monet’s gardens. The spruces are there, but Monet already had installed arches for his roses. Despite the opposition of Alice who wanted to preserve the trees, Monet would not delay topping off the conifers. One gets an idea of the shadows that reigned in the avenue, an echo of a forest path. Monet was aiming for a tunnel view starting in front of the house by a pergola, and continuing under the arches of the grand allee. While on the other side road was the lily pond with a Japanese bridge covered with a glycine finish, sheltered by bamboo and red beech trees.
Clementel became fascinated by the arts as a boy, studying at the School of Fine Arts in his native Clermont-Ferrand. And so he remained for the rest of his life, frequenting the Tuesday salons of poet Stephane Mallarme. Clementel also played a decisive role in the creation of another museum, the Rodin Museum, in 1916.
Images are from the collection of the Musee D'Orsay, Paris.