15 June 2019

Georges Braque: Eole, or a Lesser God

"The poem's tempo
failed to keep up,
despite a following wind:

with the young storks
flying across the sky
pure and effortless.

and could only attempt
to mimic their beat

But the sluggish pace
of the poem
stalled and stopped:

the lagging engine,
fingers beneath the wing - 
the underside

tearing, with tearing,
the supple air
of the leaf - "
  - "Fleeting thought" by Ana Luisa Amaral,  from What's In A Name translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, New York, New Directions: 2019.

"I have always been very much engaged and preoccupied by the material, because there is as much sensibility in the technique as in the rest of the picture." - Georges Braque

"Their flight is knowledge, space is their alienation." - St. John Perse, from "Birds"

Aeolus (Eole in French) was such a minor god in the Greek pantheon that it is unclear whether he had one guise or three.  The four winds were the children of Aeolus, keeper of the winds and Eos, the goddess of the dawn, daughter of Hyperion and Theia so, combined, they may have formed Aeolus.  In Greek the word denotes one who is nimble.  Aeolus, who guarded the four winds, lived on a rocky island off the coast of Sicily where he the four winds imprisoned in a cave.  He only loosed them when ordered to by a greater god. 

Braque created his Eole as a sequence of forms: a triangular form is the neck, topped by a spherical head with a crescent (moon) for the god's face in profile at the end of an elongated neck. Hair flows out to the right, as though wind-blown.  Stars in the lower left hand corner also suggest that Aeolus is airborne.  Enclosed forms (triangle, crescent,etc.) surge to the left, creating streams of air in their wake.

Portuguese poet Ana Luisa Amaral is known for reinventing familiar stories in mythology and religion.  Lot's Wife wonders about her namelessness in a bible abounding in names; Amaral's  Ariadne would rather sit in a cafe on the island of Crete chatting with a dinosaur than spinning the thread that will allow Theseus to return to safety after slaying the Minotaur.

Ana Luisa Amaral was born in Lisbon in 1956.  Her first book of poetry  Minha Senhora de Que (Mistress of What) was published in 1990. She has published ten more volumes since and has been included in several anthologies of international poetry and translated into Spanish, Castilian, French, Dutch, Bulgarian, and Croatian.  What's In A Name translated by Margaret Jull Costa is her second collection to appear in English.  Amaral is herself a translator, having translated Emily Dickinson into Portuguese: she received her PhD. in literature on Dickinson's poems.

For further reading: What's In A Name by Ana Luisa Amaral, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, New York, New Directions: 2019.

Image: Georges Braque - Eole, 1939, bronze relief, Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica.

06 June 2019

The Double-Goers: Zachary Schomburg

"I would become, say, Lake Michigan and she, Ontario.  Huron was scoffed at.  Any lake but Huron, she said.  As we threw it around a bit, I changed my answer.  Lake Michigan was clearly the wrong choice for me.  It's a bit too urban, I said, perhaps too likely a choice.

A little later she described our dialogue about Great Lakes as futile and a bit nauseating.  She became upset, knowing we'd probably never become Great Lakes.  She was right, but weeks later I did become a forest somewhere near Saginaw and she became a lovely washer-dryer combination."
  "If Great Lakes" by Zachary Schomburg, from The Man Suit,  Boston, Black Ocean: 2007

A bad aura sometimes attaches to Surrealism: there are those who assert that the writers are incapable of making sense and the artists can't draw.  In general, surrealism works best when it suggests previously un-imagined connections.  Nonsense has a short shelf life for humans; we are designed to search for meaning.   Schomburg has been called  "a sincere surrealist" and praised by James Tate (1943-2015) who was himself a comic absurdist in verse with serious intent.

A doppelganger is the double of a living person, maybe a ghost, and in Zachary Schomberg's poems there are doubles in the most unlikely guises.  A girl dressed as a wedding cake meets her match in a man dressed as an avocado.

Just as Dante had his Beatrice and Petrarch had his Laura so Schomburg's man has Marlene - muse, sometime companion, and always oddly evasive, evasion being part of the charm of a muse for the sort of man who writes poetry.  There is even a poem "Far From Marlene" including with a character with a bird's nest in his hair that seems to have wandered in from a neighboring fairy tale.

From the first poem  "The Monster House" death is present, often as a non sequitur or an absurd joke.   The monster  tells jokes but wants to kill the audience - literally. When he refuses to reform he is replaced by a gorilla dressed as a man who plays a Wurlitzer organ. Schomburg hints subversively that strange things happen whenever one puts on a man suit.

"Black Telephone, White Telephone" is a sequence of poems charting the parallel adventures of two telephones; they may be commenting on each other's exploits or maybe not, but their juxtapositions are suggestive in unexpected ways.  Maybe ordinary life is mysterious after all.

In two poems, both titled "What I Found In The Forest," there are mythic surprises, hollowed trees and handsome woodsmen.

"I found a group
of inappropriately dressed
women inside

a hollowed-out tree.
They all had hidden agendas"

and again from the second poem:

"I found a group
of sharply dressed lumberjacks

a large section of trees.
They were all singing Italian opera."

There is something new in Schomburg's surrealism, an acknowledgement of loneliness and a sense of history that looks back to "Abraham Lincoln's Death SCene" and forward to an emerging ecological consciousness.

Arthur Dove - Lake Afternoon, 1935, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

31 May 2019

Eva Besnyo: Photojournalism as Art

What is it about Budapest and photographers?  For most of his life, the Budapest native Andre Kertesz (1894-1981), now lauded as the father of photojournalism, was known as "the unknown soldier" of modern photography even though he was the first to receive  a solo exhibition of his work (at Galerie au Sacre du Printemps, Paris) in 1927.  And then there is Eva Besnyo (1910-2003).  It was not until 2012 that her work was the subject of a retrospective in Paris at Jeu de Paume (L'image sensible).  One of the few times Besnyo's work has been shown in the United States was when a single picture was included in the hugely successful exhibition (and accompanying book) The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in  1955.  Curated by Edward Steichen, it was sentimental mishmash and brought little attention to the Hungarian/Dutch Besnyo which was a missed opportunity for American viewers.

For her work as a pioneer of photojournalism recognition was long in coming.  In the Depression days of the 1930s when Besnyo was starting her career, her nearest American counterpart, Dorothea Lange, was up to something entirely different.  Besnyo's objectivity and lack of romanticism in images do not manipulate the viewer's emotions as Lange intended hers to do.  Taken on vacation in the summer of 1931, Besnyo's little gypsy boy, an outcast in Hungarian society, carries the battered cello that earns his subsistence across his back (note the diagonals, a ptominent feature in Besnyo's work).  We may interpret his carrying a burden larger than he is as a commentary on his prospects in life but that is our interpretation.  Besnyo observes.

The Besnyos of Budapest changed their name from Blumengrund to make it easier for the father, a lawyer, to succeed professionally in the anti-Semitic climate of Hungary.  Her father gave Eva her first camera, a Kodak Brownie, when the girl was fifteen.  It was Eva who encouraged the boy next store to try photography; he did and went on to become famous under his new name - Robert Capa.  Both would raise photojournalism to an art form: neither were attracted to the pictorialism  popularized through Alfred Stieglitz's journal Camera Work.

Rather than attend university like her sisters as their father wished, Eva apprenticed herself to photographer Josef Pecsi.   At his studio from 1928 to 1930 she learned about micro-photography (see the work of French photographer Laure-Albin Guillot). But it was the gift of a book from her friend Gyorgy Kepes that changed her life, she later said.  The book was The World is Beautiful (Die Welt ist Schon) by a German avant-garde photographer Albert Renger-Patszch and it introduced her to the movement New Objectivity that influenced her future course.

Bela Besnyo would have preferred his daughter move to Paris than to the Sodom-and-Gomorrah that was Weimar Berlin.  "Paris is romantic," Eva admitted, "but you can learn so much in Berlin."  So Berlin it would be and when Besnyo arrived there in 1930 with her new Rolliflex she found work at Rene Ahrle's advertising agency and then a job as a photojournalist with Neofot, a picture agency similar to the Bonney Agency in Paris..   In a further bid for independence Besnyo opened her own studio the next year, becoming part of a generation of women who achieved economic and personal freedom through photojournalism.  Making street life their subject they legitimized their presence in public life.

When Hitler came to power in 1932 life in Germany became stressful for Jews.  Nazi brown-shirts roamed the streets, attacking people with impunity.  Besnyo was early to recognize the need to plan for a way out. She eventually married John Fernhout, a Dutch cameraman who was the son of a well known artist Charley Toorop.  Even when the relationship ended Besnyo remained close to her mother-in-law who helped her find her way professionally in her adopted country.  After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940 Besnyo was forbidden to work openly so she subsisted on the few private commissions she was able to scrape.  Eventually she went underground, using forged identity papers.  Her beloved father was killed at Auschwitz in 1944 while the rest of her family survived.  Her photographic archives were destroyed by aerial bombing.

Giving birth to a son in 1945 and a daughter in 1948, Besnyo had experienced the difficulties of working and being a parent and so was immediately sympathetic to the Dutch feminist movement, Dolle Mina in the 1970s.   Her work at this time became more socially engaged and her wit and humor,  previously in the background of her work came to the forefront. You get an inkling of it from her photograph of a garage sale in 1950s Amsterdam; a jumble sale does resemble the layers of an onion opening to the viewer/buyer.
Besnyo's great strength as a photographer may work against her visibility, it is that she has no signature style. From Budapest to Berlin to the Netherlands where her works have been memorialized in a series of stamps there is always another revelation around the corner. 

Images: Eva Besnyo, photographs courtesy of Maria Arthuria Instituut, Amsterdam.
1. Eva with Rene Ahrle, Berlin, 1931.
2, Roma boy with cello at Lake Balaton, summer of 1931.
3. Interior of Dutch Haka consumer cooperative at Jutphaas, 1934.
4. Yard sale at Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, 1950s.

23 May 2019

"It's Good to be Modern if You Can Stand it"

She was born in Brooklyn in 1924 and died in downtown Manhattan in 2014.  He was born in Rochester New York in 1927 and died in Hudson, New York in 1917.  She painted witty and subtly approachable pictures, beginning her career at the high tide of the heroic phase of post-war abstract expressionism.  He wrote poetry that garnered many awards beginning with the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1956 even as he acquired a reputation for being difficult to understand.

When they met in the early summer of 1949, Ashbery, a recent Harvard graduate had reluctantly moved to the city where Columbia University had accepted him for graduate school.  His friend Kenneth Kochput him up in his shabby loft on Third Avenue at Sixteenth Street.  Freilicher, who had earned her Master's the year before at Columbia under Meyer Schapiro, was living and painting in downtown Manhattan.  Koch often amused himself by  donning a rubber gorilla mask and staring ut his window at the trains passing on the El (short for elevated, New York's overhead railroad).  Both were about to change their methods radically in the coming decade. Freilicher was forthright and satirical where Ashbery was shy and diffident.  He changed more over the decades than she did: writing about painting as his fellow poets (and friends) Kennoch Koch, and Frank O'Hara did increased his confidence in his opinions.  Freilicher was chided for being accessible in contrast to abstraction in her early works and Ashbery has often been taken to task for hermeticism.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of art history can tussle with claims Ashbery makes in :commotion of the Birds."
The Painter's Table (1954) shows a metal table that Freilicher used in her cold-water flat in the east Village.  Ashbery tells us that little in the apartment was eye-catching, that the pictures were animated by potted plants, cut flowers, and the occasional Persian print bedspread although the walls were nondescript. But painter makes use of what is at hand and invents the rest as need be. Ashbery called her style "rumpled realism."  In another picture  a vase of iris  on a windowsill at night shows the belching smokestacks of a Con Ed plant in the background.  The metal tabletop slants in a Cezanne-ish way and we make of that what we can. Side by side a gold tin from the 17th century Dutch and a large blue turpentine can marinates her brush  in its resins.  A smile seems to emanate from the artist's brush.

Reading "Commotion of the Birds" we come in on history already in progress; Ashbery plans to exclude  art before the global expansion of trade that brought new art objects to an insular Europe.  The Europeans themselves were stimulated into a heightened sense of movement and light,  a phenomenon that became known as the Baroque.  Ashbery skates past the political and religious ferment roiling the continent but takes the measure of the decadence attending the monarchy's power grab at the expense of the Church and the ascendant middle class.  Ashbery browses among ideas, like a rabbit nibbling on tasty green shoots. ("Often it's a question of seeming rather than being modern.Seeming is almost as good as being, sometimes, and occasionally just as good")
Yes, It's good to be modern if you can stand it.

We're moving right along through the seventeenth century.
The latter part is fine, much more modern
than the earlier part,  Now we have Restoration comedy.
Webster and Corneille and Shakespeare were fine
for their time but not modern enough,
though an improvement over the sixteenth century,
of Henry VIII, Lassus and Petrus Christus, who, paradoxically,
seem more modern than their immediate successors,
Tynedale, Moroni, and Luca Marenzio among them.
Often it's a question of seeming rather than being modern.
Seeming is almost as good as being, sometimes,
and occasionally just as good.  Whether it can ever be better
is a question best left to the philosophers
and others of their ilk, who know things
in a way others cannot, even though the things
are often almost the same as the things we know.
We know, for instance, how Carissmi influenced Charpentier,
measured propensities with a loop at the end of them
that brings things back to the beginning, only a little
higher up.  The loop is Italian,
imported to the court of France and first despised,
then accepted without any acknowledgement of where
it came from, as the French are wont to do.
It may be that some recognize it
in its new guise - that can be put off
till another century, when historians
will claim it all happened normally, as a result of history.
(The baroque has a way of tumbling out at us
when we though it had been safely stowed away.
The classical ignores it, or doesn't mind too much.
It has other things on its mind, of lesser import,
it turns out.) Still, we are right to grow with it,
looking forward impatiently to modernism, when
everything will work out for the better, somehow.
Until then it's better to indulge our tastes
in whatever feels right for them: this shoe,
hat strap, will come to seem useful one day
when modernism's thoughtful prescience is installed
all around, like the remnants of a construction project.
It's good to be modern if you can stand it.
It's like being left out in the rain, and coming
to understand that you were always this way: modern,
wet, abandoned, though with that special intuition
that makes you realize you weren't meant to be
somebody else, for whom the makers
of modernism will stand inspection
even as they wither and fade in today's glare.
 - "Commotion of the Birds"  by John Ashbery, New York, Ecco Press: 2017

Image Jane Freilicher - The Painter's Table, 1954, oil on canvas, collection of John Ashbery, courtesy of Fischbach Gallery, NYC.

16 May 2019

A New Theory of Light

"...the sun instead of revealing things would hide them with light..."
     - Clarice Lispector, from The Besieged City, translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz, New York, New Directions:  2019 (1949).

There have been many ingenious and even fanciful ideas about the source and significance of light.  I like this one from Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) who drew on Jewish Kabbaleh and mysticism more generally in her work of receptive illumination.  Light does conceal sometimes, a  phenomenon that frustrated early critics of French Impressionist paintings who wanted final answers.  What were those disconnected daubs of color doing there ?  Introducing the aspect of light seen through frozen water only intensifies the headache of uncertainty.  And this particular uncertainty has a long history.

Light can be both wave and particle as we now know thanks to the synthesis known as quantum theory put forward by Max Planck in 1900.  Technically, Planks' theorum posited that light is an electromagnetic wave that is emitted in quanta (packets) of radiation.  A few years later Planck delivered the opinion that "science proceeds one funeral at a time."  Given the circuitous path that detoured some of the greatest thinkers of earlier times and their sometimes diffidence toward each other, Planck knew what he was talking about.  Pythagorus, Empedocles, Epicurus, and Euclid, to drop a few names, all got entangled in thickets of their own making

Other theories of light, even if superseded, have their charms. Although ancient Greeks are credited for the ray theory of light  mostly they got themselves hung up on the mechanisms of the eye as the source of light. It was Ibn-al-Haytham, (born in what is now modern Basra, Iraq)  who in 1038 correctly defined vision as the passive reflection of light rays.  For this achievement  the title of "father of modern optics" was bestowed on him.

The year 1690 saw the publication of competing theories, from the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens whose theory that light traveled in long waves was parried by Isaac Newton 's that light was emitted from its source as small particles. Newton argued that light could not be a wave because we can heard sound originating from behind an object but we cannot see it. Since light can travel through a vacuum as sound cannot Huygens then asserted that light traveled through a substance he called "aether."

Image: Vittorio Gianella - Glacon gelee (Frozen Ice, color positive print, circa 2010-2014, Alinari Archives, Florence.

08 May 2019

Artists of Souls: Peter Altenberg & Oskar Kokoschka

"There are only two things that can destroy a healthy man: love trouble, ambition, and financial catastrophe. And that's already three things and there are a lot more."

Say "urban flaneur" and think of Charles Baudelaire stalking life through the streets of Paris. Baudelaire, the inveterate walker, and Peter Altenberg who preferred to watch the world go by from a table in a Viennese cafe were compatriots of the pen.

Prone to melancholy as he was, Altenberg became dependent on alcohol and a variety of other drugs. He also suffered from insomnia, having no reason to keep regular hours.  After being committed to mental institutions four times  during the period 1909-13, his pessimism only increased with the outbreak of the Great War. At a time when many regarded Austria as a charming asylum, Altenberg actually ended his days in one, dying there of pneumonia in 1919.
"Do you recognize that stack of empty slivovitz bottles?!?  Indeed I know, they're mine - " In ebullient punctuation and succinctness,  Altenberg is our contemporary.  As does his gimlet eye for social cruelties and his unseemly relishing of pretty young girls.

 Altenberg reveals himself to be conflicted in ways familiar to us.  A man who praises the pastoral life, yet  never deserts cafes  and their creature comforts, a Nietschean believer in the primacy of the aesthetic, yet a  champion of the rights of  working people who finds beauty in humble things disdained by his peers. Unusually for a man of his time and place, Altenberg displays empathy for  women, children and servants.  In The People Don't Always Feel Altogether Social Democratic we find him arguing for equality as his carriage driver upholds class distinctions. He brushed the extreme social stratification of his time aside like a annoying cobweb.  If this contradicts what I just wrote in the previous paragraph, well, that's Peter Altenberg for you.

In his writing as in hs life, Altenberg elided the contradictions between bourgeois respectability and sexual expression, frequently consorting with prostitutes and demimondaines while maintaining a Romantic's attitude to women.  When a young woman he was wooing protested that his interest in her was only sexual, he replied "What's so only?" Persecution Complex is Altenberg's argument with Sigmund Freud and the radical new "science" of psychoanalysis.  Altenberg  himself had been diagnosed with "over-excitation of the nervous system", resulting in an "incapacity for gainful employment," a diagnosis  that left him free to pursue the bohemian life he preferred. This did not prevent him from portraying his psychiatrist as a humorless stuffed shirt in Sanitorium for the Mentally Imbalanced

He may  not  be well known to non-German readers, but Altenberg has always been a favorite of other writers. Thomas Mann  recalled his reading of Altenberg as "love at first sound." His friend, the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, dubbed Altenberg a "professional neurotic" but was eager to steal his ideas. Franz Kafka described Altenberg's talent for  "finding the splendours of the world like cigarette butts in the ashtrays of coffee houses."   Altenberg and Schnitzler were nominated to be co-recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1914 but no prize was awarded that year.

Who was Peter Altenberg?  Born in 1859 to a prosperous Jewish family that supported him throughout his life, Altenberg's finances were also supplemented through the patronage of admiring friends.  Altenberg showed no inclination to pursue a career as motivation was never a strong point with him; he failed his high school composition examinations even though he was a talented writer. Nevertheless, Altenberg published eleven books whilet never managing a living from them;  Camping out in a series of cheap hotel rooms, Altenberg's real life was lived in the cafes where he spent most of his time, absorbing atmosphere, intuiting the psychic states of those around him, and writing everything down. He was a self-described "little pocket mirror" that reflected the world as he found it  "(I) loathe and revile people yet can;t live without them." 

Altenberg also wrote poetry on the backs of the postcards he collected, postcards having been a  recent Austrian invention (1869).  This habit inspired his friend Alban Berg to compose Five Songs On Postcards with lyrics by Altenberg.  Berg was a composer of the Second Viennese School, meaning he combined romantic lyricism with the arbitrary rigor of the twelve-tone row. When the piece premiered in 1913, the audience rioted and the piece was withdrawn, not to be performed again until 1952. At the time, people said that within a week, half the audience had taken themselves to the couch of Dr. Freud.

Altenberg's "telegrams" written on the fly and published in newspapers. They belong to a genre called the feuilleton,  a term  from French suggesting at once sheets of paper and the flutter of little leaves.  They appeared in such popular publications of the day as Ver SacrumSimplississmus, PanJugendWendingen  and Die Bombe (The Bomb). He also wrote poetry on the backs of the postcards he collected, postcards being a recent Austian invention (1869).  This habit inspired his friend Alban Berg to compose Five Songs On Postcards with lyrics by Altenberg. When the music premiered in 1913, the audience rioted and the piece was withdrawn, not to be performed again until 1952. At the time, people said that within a week, half the audience had taken themselves to the couch of Dr. Freud!

As the  Habsburg Empire slid ever closer to political instability, Vienna remained a charming place to escape the exigencies of daily life. The educated class had come to regard political activity as futile, so narcissism was a ready escape. The writer Theodore Herzl, only nineteen 1879, identified the neurotic personality of his time as one "falling in love with his own spirit, and thus of losing any standard of judgment." If this sounds to our own preoccupations, then reason enough to pay attention to Altenberg now

Oskar Koksochka (1886-1980) wrote poetry and plays but his portraits and landscapes are the embodiment of expressionist. Kokoschka said that when he painted portraits he painted the soul of his sitter and not their likeness or, as he wrote in his autobiography, "the distillation of a human being that would survive in my memory."  Kokoschka's Altenberg, balding and mustachioed,  reveals angst in every fiber of his face and hands. One sitter, Adolf Loos, was so taken with the artist's version of himself that he said "This picture is more like me than I am."

In Telegrams of the Soul Peter Altenberg is well-served by his translator Peter Wortsman (Brooklyn, Archipelago Books: 2005).

1. Oskar Kokoschka - Portrait of Peter Altenberg, 1909, oil on canvas,  private collection, New York.
2. Ludwig von Zumbach  - cover art for Jugend magazine, 1896, Albertina Museum, Vienna.

30 April 2019

Equinox Bracelets

It's a spring tradition in Utica, New York.  Every class of  sculpture students at the Munson-Williams-Proctor  Institute Art School gets to participate in the making of the Equinox Bracelets, following a style of work laid down at the Bauhaus in 1920s Germany.  The students begin work on the project while they are freshmen and complete the fabrication during their sophomore year. The project is a joyful yet serious meditation on the recurring cycle of the seasons  and the symbiotic relationship between darkness and light.  The Equinox Bracelets will be on exhibit on the grounds of the Munson-Williams- Proctor Art Museum for two months following the vernal equinox.

The circles are constructed out of bent plywood left over from another project and stand ten feet high.  The colored lights are set inside  holes drilled into the wood.  The geodesic dome which holds the sculpture together was also built by the students.  Part of the frisson of working on the project comes from students working on discrete parts and then watching the work take shape as they put them together.

I have more about the city of Utica and the Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute and some of their artworks by Arthur CarlesNorman Lewis, Henry Lee McFee,  and Bob Thompson

Participating artists: Colette Bernard, Carolina de Pontes,Claus Dicovskiy, Diana Kichuk, Rebecca Johnson, Natalie van Oyen, and MWP Sculpture Technician Erik Nilson.

Image: unidentified photographer - Equinox Bracelets, 2019, mixed media,  courtesy of Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institue, Utica, NY.

27 April 2019

Joan of Arc: Juana Romani & Anna Hyatt Huntington

This Joan of Arc is not the thirteen year old peasant girl who heard angelic voices urging her to lead an army in battle during the Hundred Years' War.  Yet she is magnificent and possessed of a sense of  her destiny as Joan certainly was.

Superficially  then,  a typical Academic portrait of a historical figure in the tradition that brought us  George Washington as a toga-clad Roman figure wreathed in a crown of laurels.  Her heart-shaped face and sloe-eyed stare, the sumptuous gilt and velvet robe, are the stuff of Pre-Raphaelite fancy.  Her dark cloud of hair blends into an amorphous background punctuated by bits of religious symbols. But look closer at the robe she wears, painted with a hint of japonisme by way of French Impressionism.  Gilt at collar and cuff is set off by equally brilliant turquoise, separated from the third primary color, (here blood) red by inky thick blackness. Through her virtuoso display of textures Romani reveals her encounters with the early Impressionist techniques. Romani's style also harmonized elements of Aestheticism with her classical academic training.  A medieval- looking robe of red velvet   scored with designs of tiny flowers and fleur de lys (flower of lily) is both a symbol of French royalty and was also worn by Catholic saints.

Juana Romani wat born Carolina Giovanna  Carlesimo in Velletri, Italy in 1867.  When her mother's affair with a prominent local landowner, Temistocle Romani, was discovered, Carolina's father burnt down one of Romani's stables and was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  Taking the girl, the lovers  fled to Paris, settling in the Latin Quarter in 1877.  In time the little family was impoverished and young Carrolina began to model for many of the artists in the quarter.  In 1882 she posed for Alexandre Falguiere, a friend of Ana Hyatt Huntington about Huntington, more below).  ONe was Jean-Jacques Henner with whom she had  a brief affair.  At nineteen having seen enough of the art world, Carolina decided to become an artist herself and changed her name to Juana, the Spanish equivalent of her middle name.  Filippo Colarossi Founder invited her to study at Academie Colarossi, one of the few schools at the to admit women.  When she exhibited at the International Exposition of 1889 in Paris, Romani was awarded a silver medal.

Romani became friends with Antoine Lumiere when she taught him to paint, an his sons, Auguste and Louis accompanied her when she visited Velletri in 1901.  The brothers generously donated one of their movie projectors to the city, which returned the compliment by naming their first cinema Cinematograpgo Lumiere in honor of the pioneering movie camera the brothers had patented in 1895. On this same visit Romani donated a sum of 5,000 lire to the art school to support an annual prize for a deserving student.  The school was renamed  the Juana Romani School of Art in 1905.

From artistic success, Romani's life began a downward slide, prejudice against female artists, savage reviews, and her mental frailties led to her commitment to an asylum in Pars where she died in 1924.

Around the corner in the Shaffer Art Galley from Juana Romani's portrait of Joan of Arc stands Anna Hyatt Huntington's bronze statue of the little warrior saint.  The original has stood at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Ninety-Third Street in Manhattan since its dedication in 1915.  The marble pedestal contains fragments from the cell in Rouen where Joan awaited her execution in 1431.

Huuntington's Joan is an austere, prayerful figure, with cropped hair.  Much closer to what the historical record suggests and certainly familiar to viewers of  Renee Jeanne Falconetti's mesmerizing performance as Joan in the 1928  film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, a landmark in film, silent or otherwise.  Falconetti was filmed from the neck up only, a sculptural gesture intensifying our sense of her spiritual struggle.  Huntington's bronze captures something of that in stop-time.  Whether we  think that restoring Charles VII of the House of Valois to the throne of France was a mission from God or worth the life of a remarkable young woman we can admire her for staring down the destiny she chose.
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was one of the foremost sculptors of her day, recognized internationally, with a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from France and the Grand Cross of Alfonso XII in Spain to her credit.  Anna Hyatt married Archer Milton Huntington, poet. philanthropist and translator of the medieval  Spanish epic El Cid Campeador in 1923. Huntington had founded the Hispanic Museum of New York City and the couple made its expansion their joint adventure.

1. Juana Romani  - Joan of Arc, circa 1900, oil on panel, 39.5 x 31.5 inches, Shaffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University.
2. Elihu Vedder  - View at Velletri - circa 1868, oil on canvas, Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica, NY.
3. Anna Hyatt Huntington - Joan of Arc, 1922, bronze, 63 inches, Shaffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University.

23 April 2019

I Have the Room Above Her: Oscar Hammerstein II & Jerome Kern

I have the room above her
She doesn't know I love her
How could she know I love her

Sitting in her room below?
Sitting in her room below
How could she know
How far a dream could go?

Sometimes she meets we smile
And oh, her smile's divine
It's such a treat to hear her say
Hasn't the weather been fine?"

I blush and stammer badly
My heart is beating madly
The she goes into her room
And I go sadly up to mine

A lover more impetuous than I
Would say his say and know the reason why
when I get my chance
I let my chance go by.
 - lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II, to music by Jerome Kern

I. Appraising the 1993 revival of Showboat, John Lahr wrote in the New Yorker that it had been nothing less than a revelation of just how "a radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness" it had been when it debuted in 1927, how unlike the romantic comedies, operettas, and variety shows that were the usual Broadway fare then.  Based on a best-selling novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, Showboat was a musical that delved deeply into the lives of the denizens of a Mississippi river boat, their loves and their tragedies, even taking aim at  the taboo subject of racial prejudice.  Critics of the time recognized the transformative affect this would have on American musical theater.

When Universal Pictures commenced shooting  a film version in 1936 they asked Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, II  to provide three new songs; in the event  only one - I Have the Room Above Her -  was used. An utterly lovely ballad, it was undeservedly overshadowed by well known songs from the original Broadway production including Ol' Man River, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, and Bill.

I Have the Room Above Her received its due in 2004  as the title track on Paul Motian's ECM release of that name.  The drummer was joined by guitarist Bill Frissell and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Recorded with neither a piano nor a bass, the melody is at the forefront with Motian's cymbals underline each change.

II. Gail Albert Halaban is a photographer who was born in Washington, D.C. in 1970.  She received her MFA in Photography from Yale University School of Art.  After living in Los Angeles she moved to New York City in 2007 and began the series Out My Window.   The project was inspired by something that happened on the day of her daughter's first birthday; she received a gist of balloons and flowers from someone she did not know who lived nearby and had seen the party through the apartment window. ... series represented the ordinary daily routines of  urban apartment living against a background that appears cinematic in comparison. While it might seem voyeuristic, Halaban  obtains permission from her subjects before photographing them.  From the neighborhoods of New York City, Halaban then extended the series to Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires  and other cities between.
I saw Gail Albert Halaban: Out My Window, the exhibition, at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York in August 2018.

Image: Gail Albert Halaban, photographer - from the series Out My Window (New York City), 2007, courtesy of George Eastman House, Rochester.

17 April 2019

When the Wind was Green

When the wind was green at the start of spring
When the wind was green like a living thing
It was on my lips and its kiss was fair
You were there

When the wind was red like a summer wine
When the wind was red like your lips on mine
It caressed my face and it tossed my hair
You were there

The came the fall and all of love
came tumbling, stumbling down
Like leaves that lost to frost and found
They were flying, crying
In a brown wind dying

But the winter's come and we both should know
That the wind is white like the swirling snow
And we'll never see all the wonderful things to be seen
When the wind was green.
 - "When the Wind was Green" by Donald Henry Stinson

Some songs don't stand the test of time.  They are of their time and should be allowed to stay there.  Some jazz songs manage to stand the test by shedding their lyrics, a skin no longer needed that sets the music itself free to metamorphose as new generations of musicians take its measure.  And then there is a type of song that I have held close, since I was very young and then as a jazz radio programmer, where I got the kick of doing something about it.

I have wanted to write about When the Wind was Green for a long time  but shirked the responsibility of doing so because it feels presumptuous to elaborate on lyrics that stand so beautifully on their own.  Originally composed as an instrumental by Donald Henry Stinson with lyrics added for vocalist Chris Connor's debut album, the conceit around which the lyric layers its images suggest other worlds than that of a love song.

When the Wind was Green was recorded in  1950 by the David Rose Orchestra.  Chris Connor recorded the first vocal version in 1956 on her debut release, the first jazz album from Atlantic Records.  Founded in 1947 by the Ertegun brothers, Nesuhi became the president and Ahmet the A & R (artists and repertoire) man.   His confidence in the smoky-voiced Connor, led to pairing her with pianist  John Lewis, bassists Oscar Pettiford and Milt Hinton, drummer Connie Kay, and a ten-piece band led by saxophonist Zoot Sims, all jazz royalty, then and now.

I first heard the song on a 1995 RCA Victor cd When the Wind was Cool from Dominique Eade, a tribute to Chris Connor and other cool jazz singers.  Eade's was a well-traveled childhood. Born in London, England, her father was an Air Force officer and the family moved fequently.  After spending her teenage years in Germany, Eade studied English at Vassar College and then attended the New England Conservatory of music. A singer who played both piano and guitar, Eade arranged several of the songs for her major label debut.  She also had her share of illustrious accompanists including tenor saxophonist  Benny Golson  and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.  A vocalist of uncommon agility, Eade can encompass toughness and intimacy in a single interpretation. Her most recent release is Open from Sunnyside Records (2017).

Donald Henry Stinson published his songs under several pseudonyms, even representing himself as a duo on the credits for When the Winds Was Green.  Information about Stinson is sketchy but the best resource online is Discogs.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was an America artist whose paintings belong to the style Color Field.   I was delighted to fin that Tableau vert waspainted in 1952, of the period when Stinson was working on his song.

Ellsworth Kelley - Tableau vert (Green Painting), 1952, oil on wood, Art Institute of Chicago.

09 April 2019

A Lesson from Abstraction: William Palmer's Autoroute

In William Palmer's Route 5 - Morning abstraction does not conceal so much as reveal a new viewpoint: this is how landscape looks from the road, from a car.   It is, coincidentally, how farmland looks from the air.   Agriculture may be the oldest profession but the automobile has existed for the blink of an eye, historically.  Palmer's choice of the panoramic view seems exactly right for his subject, suggesting movement and his choice of purple, complementary color to green, an apt choice  to suggest passing clouds reflected on the ground.

The origins of this particular route date from the post-glacial age.  First as narrow foot paths trod by the Mohawk and Iroquois peoples, then as trails for horses and oxcarts to carry European settlers westward.  When traffic reached a critical mass, New York State turned the roads over to speculators and the era of the turnpike toll road began.

By 1793 the Mohawk Turnpike reached from Albany to Utica where the Genesee Turnpike continued through Central New York (now known as Route 5).  With the arrival of the Erie Canal  in 1825 and the railroads in the 1850s, turnpikes became poor investments for speculators  fell into neglect.  With the invention of the automobile, rutted paths and corduroy roads had to be replaced by hard surfaces.  A new east-west toll road was proposed in the 1940s and the first section of the New York State Thruway opened in 1954 between Utica and Rochester.

You may not know his name but the imprint of William C. Palmer (1906-1987) is all around  the art world of  upstate New York.  Palmer was the first professor of studio art at Hamilton College in Clinton and the founder of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute School of Art at Utica where he served as director from 1941 to 1973.  His murals  grace post offices from Massachusetts to Iowa and hospitals in Queens; his paintings are in the collections of the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and, of course,  Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute.

Palmer studied at the Art Students League in New York  with Thomas hart Benton and then learned fresco painting at L'Ecole des Beuax-Arts in Fontainbleau.  He returned from France in 1927 to earn his living by painting murals for the WPA Arts Project during the Depression in New York.  President Franklin Roosevelt choose a Palmer painting Manhattan from the Jersey Meadows for the White House art collection; it is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.  After his retirement Palmer lived in nearby Clinton, NY until his death.  The moods and atmosphere of the upstate countryside were often the subject of Palmer's late semi-abstract landscape paintings and Route 5 - Morning is among Palmer's best.

William C. Palmer - Route 5 - Morning, 1949,  oil on canvas, Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Uiica, NY.

01 April 2019

Mariano Fortuny: The Perfect Moment:

From the corner where you sit,
Look out at the light,
The grass and trees and mossy
Stone in the arbor

That measures time in the sun,
And the water lilies, tufts
O f dream on the motionless
Water of the fountain.

Above you, the translucent
Folds and pleats of the leaves,
The pale blue of the sky,
White clouds.

A blackbird sings
Sweetly, as if the voice
Of the garden were to speak to you.
In such a still hour

Use your eyes well, look
As if you gently touched
Each thing.  You owe thanks -
For such pure calm

Free from pleasure or pain -
To the light, for soon.
It will go, as you will.
In the distance you hear

The deceptive treed
Of time, moving
Toward the winter. Then
Both your meditation and this

Garden you contemplate,
Transfixed by the light,
Must lie down in a long
Sleep, mute and dark.
 - "A Garden" by Luis Cernuda from Selected Poems, translated from the Spanish by Reginald Gibbons, Berkeley, University of California Press: 1977.

The longer you look at this seemingly modest painting the more amazing it becomes.  Cecilia de Madrazo is a portrait of the wife of the artist, recording a quiet moment of domestic life - but with what panache. The clarity of the composition is breathtaking: the woman sits facing left with a chair and the curving line of a tall potted rose bush bracketing her figure. Her white blouse as the setting for her head is muted in contrast the artfully executed billows of her striped skirt, evidence of Fortuny's masterly draftsmanship. The background is rendered in delicate washes of watercolor;  Fortuny was the pre-eminent water-colorist of his day.  The richness of a small perfect moment is captured, lest we overlook life's sweetness in our hurry from one moment to the next.

In August 1874, three months before he died, Mariano Fortuny wrote, "Now I can paint for myself, the way I like, as I please...It is what gives me the hope of showing myself as I really am."  The Spanish artist and his family were spending the summer in Portici, a beach town near Naples when Fortuny contracted malaria.  He died in Rome from a stomach ulcer that hemorrhaged.  Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874) was only thirty-six years old but he was already an artist with an international reputation, his works in museums and private collections across Europe and North America.  His admirers sensed that he was on the brink of doing some great new thing when he died.  Today his reputation has been overshadowed by that of his son Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Venetian textile designer but a renewed interest in Spanish art is the occasion for another look.

His contemporaries adored Fortuny's work, Vincent Van Gogh and the Americans John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins notable among them.  Pablo Picasso, a fellow Catalan, admired Fortuny for patriotic reasons as well.  Fortuny was a collector of art and fearlessly hung his collection in his studio, interspersing works of the past with his own  to create a personal aesthetic environment.

Mariano Fortuny  was orphaned at the age of six and thereafter raised by his grandfather who supported the boy's artistic talent through a small stipend from the local church.  Antonio Bassa, a silversmith and painter of miniatures taught Fortuny the value of thoroughness in art.  His grandfather accompanied him to Barcelona where Fortuny began his formal art studies in 1852. Then, in 1858, he won the coveted Prix de Rome, an award that changed his life.

In Paris, center of the art world in the late 19th century and home to a growing and influential bourgeoisie, Fortuny achieved fame.  Writer and critic Theophile Gauthier's praise of Fortuny's work  opened doors to the young Spaniard,  leading to an exclusive contract with the renowned art dealer Adolphe Goupil. Fortuny had recently married Cecilia de Madrazo, daughter of the director of the Prado on Madrid and together they made an impressive couple.

The bourgeoisie fell in love with Fortuny, the scholarship boy from Tarragona, a self-made artist who rose from humble beginnings to achieve worldly success.  In his good fortune they saw their own values reaffirmed, their social virtue in allowing  him to succeed validated their conformism and negated their narrow-mindedness. The grandson of a cabinet maker was lauded by the international art world as a complete artist -  his virtuosity with oil paint revealed new ways to portray light on canvas, his agile draftsmanship was the foundation for his self-assured handling of watercolor that renewed the medium in Spain, France, and Italy, and his compatriots considered Fortuny the finest intaglio print-maker since Goya.

Popularity had its drawbacks: Fortuny grew tired of painting the formulaic orientalist works that were all the rage at the time, work that he found increasingly shallow.  And if we look at those pictures now we can  see his wisdom that they  were blocking his development as a painter.  Fortuny also felt hemmed in by  very narrative that made him so attractive to many patrons.  With some relief, the couple moved to Granada in 1868 where they settled in the Washington Irving Hotel at the Alhambra.  The importance of the Alhambra in garden history would be  hard to exaggerate. For Fortuny it was truly a heaven on earth.

The gardens of Spain are richl in history, combining designs from ancient Persian and Roman gardens with more recent Islamic additions from the time of Moorish Spain and Andalusia.  The 'paradise garden' is organized around a central axis with paths radiating out in the four cardinal directions. Sun and heat, the basic elements of the Spanish climate, are tempered by the coolness and humidity of fountains and watercourses.  Fortuny painted it all with clarity and spontaneity, no small feat.  You have only to compare his work with that of another Catalan painter Santiago Rusinol (1861-1931) whose vivid landscapes are relatively stiff and unconvincing.

Fortuny's late landscapes are anything but stiff, they brim with light and color. Beach at Portici, unfinished at the time of his death, was so highly regarded that it was hung prominently in the American Pavilion at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Alexander Turney Stewart, a New York collector, had purchased the painting in 1875, knowing it a work in progress.  The concentration of detail in the background trees and beach juxtaposed with the free brush work of the foliage in the foreground could hardly be improved on for overall effect.  The wall nicely defines the space around the human figures enjoying their leisure on a sunny day.  An unusually large painting for Fortuny, its relatively broad canvas provided scope for his extraordinary capacity for expressing the beauty of the ordinary.

In the United States Fortuny's paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Walters  Art Museum in Baltimore, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.

The poem "A Garden"  is exemplary of Luis Cernuda's writing.  For him, the natural world was indivisible from the human perceiving it, not anthropomorphism but something more subtle.  In the same fashion, the speaker in the poems, the "I," was Cernuda the observer, not the ego.
Luis Cernuda (1902-1968) was the most cosmopolitan of modern Spanish poets; he immersed himself in the French surrealist poets, the English Romantics by way of Goethe, and American literature.  Cernuda was born is Seville but moved to Madrid, the center of Spanish literary culture.  By contrast, the Catalan city of Barcelona where Fortuny had gravitated as a young man was the birthplace of modern Spanish art.

Social life in early 20th century Spain was a melancholy spectacle,  constricting, valuing conformity above all other values.  Cernuda could be fearsome in his denunciations of the bourgeoisie, as in these. lines from "Remorse in Black Tie:" ("A gray man walks the foggy street./No one suspects.  An empty body,/ empty as plains or sea or wind:/ Harsh deserts under unrelenting sky.")

Cernuda lived  most of his adult life in exile, a poete maudit, whose songs went unheard in the wilderness. Solitary, anti-religious, and homosexual, Cernuda preached against the church while employing their own symbolism to mock them.   He rejected their rigid morality in hope of a more organic one. I hope this taste of the flavor of Cernuda's work encourages readers to search out his poetry.

Fortuny:a retrospective was held at the Prado in Madrid from 11/21/2017 to 02/21/2018.

1. Mariano Fortuny  - Portrait of the artist's wife Cecilia  de Madrazo, 1874, watercolor and gouache on blue-ish paper, British Museum, London.
2. Mariano Fortuny - Young girl in the garden of the artist's studio - Granada, after 1868.
3, Mariano Fortuny - The Beach at Portici (unfinished), 1874, Meadows Museum, Dallas.

25 March 2019

Refugees: Antoni Clave

Scenes of puzzlement and distress are often captured with the simplest artistic tools - crayon, pen or pencil, and paper.  Reflecting on this eighty year old work by a now forgotten Spanish artist I find its poignancy sadly familiar.  Without the title to guide us, we recognize these people as refugees; their self-protective postures and worried faces tell us so.  The downward-slanting lines tell of a rainy night that drains the color from their faces and their clothing and the hazy neither-here-nor-thereness of the pastels supplies an inspired correlative to their uncertainty.   What awaits them is as mysterious to us as it is to them.

In February 1939, the Spanish artist Antoni Clave fled from his home in  Barcelona to escape the  carnage of the Spanish Civil War.  Unfortunately, soon after he crossed the border Clave was detained at a military camp  near Perpignan in southern France.  While Clave cooled his heels waiting and hoping to be released he turned his tools, pastels and ink, to record daily rounds of the keepers and the involuntary guests at the camp. After his release which was arranged by the future curator of Perpignan's Museum of Fine Arts, Clave moved to Paris.

Antoni Clave (1913-2005) had a long artistic career that began in swirls of baroque detail and was gradually stripped of ornamentation, becoming simpler and more modern, eventually arrived at pure abstraction.  Beyond painting he began to work with stage and costume design, and was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1952 for Art Direction and Costume Design. He died at Saint-Tropez at the age of ninety-two.

For more about Antoni Clave ( a bit of a rough translation from the French)

Antoni Clave - The Exodus, 1939, pastel and ink on paper, private collection, courtesy of Musee Hyancinthe Rigaud, Perpignan.

18 March 2019

Rosemary In Thought: Raphael Soyer

"If art is to survive, it must describe and express people, their lives and times. It must communicate."
      - Raphael Soyer

A deeply unfashionable sentiment at times, yet it served Raphael Soyer well.  Early in his career as a painter he received acclaim for his detailed, sensitive portrayals of unemployed women and men struggling to keep their dignity and feed their families after the stock market crash of 1929.  When abstract expressionism triumphed in the post-war years, Soyer's art went out of style.  Nevertheless, he continued his explorations of the many faces around hi, particularly artists and writers of his acquaintance.

With that in mind, who is Rosemary?  I haven't been able to identify her but Soyer's portrait and its title indicate his interest in the process of thought.  Her eyes focus inward, distinct from averted away from the artist and, by extension, the viewer.  It's unlikely that she is thinking about her current occupation as sitter.   Her pursed lips and arched brows suggest a satirical bent to her thoughts.  Her crossed arms portend the possibility of dark clouds resulting from any conclusion.  Although she wears ordinary street clothes and sits on a straight- backed chair she wraps herself and the artist also wraps her in dignity.  This portrait is, if it has anything in common with photography, an exercise in time-lapse vision.  Brown, blue, and grey colors that predominate in the portraits of women by the British painter Gwen John (1876-1939) are used by Soyer to effect a similar subdued atmosphere.  As the son of a Hebrew scholar, Soyer was raised to value  signs of human ratiocination.

Raphael Soyer (1899-1987) was one of six children; both Raphael and his twin brother Moses would grow to become artists.   Born in provincial southern Russia, the family was forced to emigrate in 1912 as turmoil engulfed pre-Revolutionary life for poor Jews.  The family emigrated to the United States where they settled in the Bronx.   He studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, and later taught at both institutions.  He chose to paint in a realistic and humane style even when abstract expressionism was the reigning orthodoxy in the New York art world.

Raphael Soyer - Rosemary in Thought , 1975, oil on canvas, Smithsonian Museum of American Att, Washington, D.C.

12 March 2019

An American Cezanne

The spirit that suffuses this portrait of a young boy by  Henry Lee McFee is that of Paul Cezanne.  McFee (1886-1953) was an American artist whose works are included in the collections of major museums although his name has faded unjustly, I think, with the passing decades.  The Metropolitan, the Whitney, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York alone, are joined by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery, the Cleveland Museum - and the Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute in Utica, New York, where Boy is currently on display.
Although we think of landscapes of Aix-en-Provence, Cezanne painted some memorable portraits  including Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair (c.1877), now considered a milestone of modernism.

The quiet intimacy of this painting derives as much from the harmony of its elements as it does  from the eye contact between sitter and artist.  In reproduction McFee's careful use of glazing techniques is not easy to discern but makes its contribution based on his study of European art generally. The boy looks sweetly solemn and there is something noble in the vulnerability of his young face and his good clothes.  A pensive sense of occasion emanates from his posture.  That harmonious coloration that unites the  boy, his clothing and the chair he sits in and the wallpaper behind, support the emotional weight that, in a more conventional portrait, would be borne by the sitter.   This is the balance that Cezanne's portraits struck so forcefully,the innovation that caused McFee to credit Cezanne as the influence on his own style.

McFee was born in St. Louis and moved to Woodstock, New York in 1908 to study landscape with the Tonalist painter Lowell Birge Harrison.  He soon began to work independently with Andrew Dasburg who became his lifelong friend and his guide to European art, from the Renaissance to Cubism.  An inheritance allowed McFee to pursue his studies but by 1937, as the Great Depression dragged on, he was compelled to take a series of teaching positions that brought him to southern California, where he influenced a generation of students at the Chouinard School and Scripps College.  McFee died of pneumonia in Altadena in 1953.  An impressive artist with a restless temperament, McFee's exhibited that same restlessness in his personal life.  After being married to Aileen Fletcher Jones for twenty years, he ran off with her niece Eleanor Brown Gitsell in 1936.

Henry Lee McFee - Boy, 1932,  oil on canvas, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica.
2. Paul Cezanne - Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair, c.1877,  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

03 March 2019


For how hard it is
to understand the landscape
as you pass in a train
from here to there
and mutely it
watches you vanish.

A colony of allotments
uphill into the fall.
Dead leaves swept
into heaps.
Soon - on Saturday -
a man will
set them alight.

Smoke will stir
no more, no more
evening closes
on the colors of the village.
And end is come
to the workings of shadow.
The response of the landscape
expects no answer.

 -  poems from "Poemtrees".in Across the Land and Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Ian Galbraith, New York, Random House: 2006.

John Ruskin annointed him  heir to the great British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, when Hercule Brabazon Brabazon accompanied the illustrious critic on a sketching tour around Amiens and Somme in northern France during the summer of 1880.  A generation younger,  John Singer Sargent saw  Brabazon's work as startlingly modern.

Hercules Brabazon Sharpe was born in Paris to Irish parents in 1821.  When Hercules was eleven, the Sharpe family relocated to a home in Sussex.  He studied mathematics at Cambridge and, like many aspiring painters before and since, he earned the wrath of his father  - and a reduced allowance - by refusing to read law.  The young man managed to get himself to Rome where he studied art and music happily and eventually changed his name to Hercules Brabazon Brabazon.   Apparently he began to paint seriously in his forties and although he considered himself an amateur water-colorist, Ruskin was the first to say not so.  Later Sargent would aver that it was Brabazon who inspired his own interest in watercolor.  Brabazon died in 1906 and his work is included in several galleries in England, and also the collection of the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

W.G. Sebald (1944-2001) was a German writer who emigrated to England and taught at the University of East Anglia until his death in an automobile accident.  Sebald had been suggested as a future Nobel Literature laureate before his untimely death.

Hercules Brabazon Brabazon - Autumn, Sussex, c. 1850-1906, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.