09 March 2011

Otto Prutscher: Out Of Moser's Shadow

The checkered plant stand produced in 1903, the inaugural year of the Wiener Werkstatte, is a familiar image but its creator, Otto Prutscher (1880-1949) has been overshadowed by Koloman Moser, the man Josef Hoffmann called the man of a thousand ideas.  But it was left to Hoffmann and others to follow the ideas to various conclusions, enriching the vocabulary for decorative arts even today, in artists too numerous to mention, but one (or two) is Mackenzie-Childs of New York.
Blue and gold on white was a popular color scheme at the fin-de-siecle; Fernand Khnopff used it often, most notably in the design of his Brussels home Villa Khnopff.  Prutscher's designs, reproduced in Julius Hoffman's journal Der Moderne Stil (published monthly in Stuttgart  from 1899-1905), show the tug of war that took place even in individual artists as they reconciled the curvilinear lines of Art Nouveau with geometric designs and formats (think the Viennese journal Ver Sacrum).
Thanks to two friends - and collectors -  Serge Sabarksy and Ronald S. Lauder, Viennese arts of the early 20th century are now exhibited in an elegant and appropriate setting, a Beaux-Arts townhouse on Manhattan's upper east side, within sight of the Metropolitan Museum, making the Neue Galerie easy to find.   A note to bookworms, the library of the townhouse has been turned into a dual-language English/German bookstore where every aspect of fin-de-siecle Vienna is covered, including Otto Prutscher.
Like other members of the Wiener Werkstatte (Viennese Workshops), Prutscher worked in a variety of media but I am drawn to his glass work.  Here he applies geometric designs to curving surfaces in most convincing fashion.  Here the yin and yang become one, in a style as unforced as it is sophisticated.
Who knows, this could be the first of a series of posts, what with so many accomplished artits in the Wiener Wekstatte.

Images:1. Plant Stand for the Wiener Werkstatte, 1903, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.   2. Ornamental designs for Dekorative Vorbilder in Der Modern Stil, c.1900, New York Public Library.   3. Wine Glass, c. 1908, Neue Galerie, NYC.   4. Demitasse cup for the Wiener Werkstatte, 1907, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.   5. Goblet for the Wiener Werkstatte, 1905, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
Suggested reading : Wiener Werkstatte by Gabriel Fahr-Becker, London, Tashcen: 2008.

07 March 2011

L'Oiseau Nouveau

Long before the peacock became the oiseau nouveau of late 19th century Symbolist art, it was a source of  as many symbolic meanings as images.   Like so many objects that fascinate us, the symbols overlap and sometimes contradict.
The ancient Egyptians may have gotten in the first word - at least on the record.  They regarded the "eye" of the feather as an all-seeing and potentially evil spirit.  In ancient Ethiopia, pictures of the royal bird, although identified as ostriches, look like peacocks instead.
The Greeks dedicated the peacock to the goddess Juno, finding in the bird's golden circles an echo of her kingdom of stars and sky.
Pythagoras claimed the peacock as the reincarnation of the soul of the epic-maker Homer.  Later, the Christian mystic Augustine wrote that peacocks are a symbol of resurrection.
The peacock has the ability to eat serpents without any harm, leading the early Christians to believe  that peacock blood could dispel evil spirits.  They also believed that a pair of peacocks stand guard outside the gates of Paradise.  In contrast,  Byzantine tales asserted that peacocks had resided in paradise until expelled along with Adam and Eve.  Also, because the birds renew their feathers in the spring, they easily came to represent renewal. 

In the Orthodox view, an earthly paradise exists; thus the custom of the wealthy to have peacocks roam freely in their gardens.
Alchemists believed that the shimmer ing tail feathers of the peacock could transmute poisonous venom into solar radiance.  Peacock feathers were also believed to protect the person who wore them from witches.  In The Vows of the Peacock (c. 1312), Jacques de Longuyon made them part of the chivalric code of medieval times.
The peacock was a symbol of immortality among ancient civilizations whose peoples  believed that peacock flesh  did not decay after death.   As a corollary, the peacock  replaces its feathers annually, a visual symbol of renewal.

1. Chinese insignia, late 18th or early 19th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. 2 Carl Schmidt for Rookwood Pottery - vase, 1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
3. William French de Morgan - plate, c. 1855, Musee D'Orsay, Paris.
4. Japanese plate, Musee Guimet, Paris.
5Japanese inro, Musee Guimet, Paris.
6 Rene Lalique - pendant with gold, pearls, opals, diamonds, and enamel, 1901, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
7. Habib Allah - Concourse of the Birds, c. 1600, Metropolitan Museum of art, NYC.
8. Tunisian Ceramic Tile - early 20th century, Musee d'Art et d"Histoire du Judaisme, Paris.
9. Camille Martin - poster for Exposition of Decorative Arts, c.1900, Musee de Nancy.
10. Josef Maria Auchentaller - woman and peacock, Leopold Museum, Vienna.
11. Walter J. Morgan - Peacocks in a garden, late 19th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
Suggested reading:  A Dictionary of Symbols by J(uan)  E(duardo) Cirlot, 1962.

01 March 2011

Flying Fish

I have lived in many half-worlds myself …
 and so I know you.

I leaned at a deck rail watching a monotonous sea, the same circling birds and the same plunge of furrows carved by the plowing keel.

I leaned so … and you fluttered struggling between two waves in the air now … and then under the water and out again … a fish … a bird … a fin thing … a wing thing.

Child of water, child of air, fin thing and wing thing … I have lived in many half worlds myself … and so I know you.

 - Flying Fish by Carl Sandburg, from Smoke And Steel, New York, Harcourt Brace & Company : 1922.

Several of Sandburg's early poems have been likened to haiku, the Japanese influence coming to him through Ezra Pound's Imagist poems, circa 1913.  Think of Subway, Flux,  and Whitelight, for example
For an exploration of related ideas on poetic influences, visit David Ewick's fine website The Margins.
I've included in this little gallery wo of my personal favorite works that suggest the magical qualities of  'flying' fish: Charles Schneider's bubble-blowing vase and Seraphine Soudbinine's harp-fish.  I like to think that fish are able  hear harp-like sounds underwater, as I do.

1. Jennifer Bartlett - Five PM, 1993, Metropolitan Museum of Art. NYC.
2. Arthur Wesley Dow, Fish Leaping A Waterfall, c. 1895-1902, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
3. Tokyo Printing Company - At the Aquarium, early 20th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
4. Eugene Rousseau - Carp and Waves, c. 1873-1875, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

5. Fish plaque for the fountain at Hotel de Ville, 1893, Musee Andre Dubouche, Limoges.
6. Villeroy & Bosch - fish tile, c.1900, from 1000 Tiles: Ten Centuries of Decorative Ceramics, Chronicle Books, San Francisco: 2004.
7. Charles Schneider - pink glass vase, c. 1922-1925, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
8. Seraphine Soudbinine - ceramic fish stylized in the shape of a lyre, 1930s, National Ceramics Museum, Sevres.
9. Fujusa - fish tapestry - Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.