24 November 2023

Helen Torr: Little Boat

Where is the lambent light Long Island is fabled for? In Helen Torr's Houses on a Boat the sky  lowers over turbulent waters, possibly a reflection of the artist's own uncertain future.  Painted shortly before the catastrophic stock market crash that begat the Great Depression, five houses huddle precariously on a  boat that can barely contain them. Seeing them as a metaphor is irresistible; however, I should add that Torr had a predilection for dark colors in the 1920s so tread carefully around this metaphor.

Helen Torr (1886-1967), a student of William Merritt Chase, married  Arthur Dove who was friends with Georgia O'Keeffe. When Torr,  whose nickname was 'Red',  met Dove, both were married to others. But they soon  left their respective spouses and, in 1924, set up home on a houseboat off the north shore of Long Island at Halesite. Throughout their life together, the couple suffered extreme financial hardships, basically living from hand to mouth. 

Torr exhibited her work only twice, once at Alfred Stieglitz's American Place Gallery in 1933.  Torr stopped painting after Dove died in 1946.  Her wish to have her paintings destroyed after her death was ignored by her sister.

Image - Helen Torr - Houses on a Boat, 1929, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

13 November 2023

Diwali, Festival Of Candles And Light

"Even after all this time

the sun never says to the earth,

"You owe me."

Look what happens

a love like that

lights the whole sky."

 - Hafiz (1325-1390), Persian lyric poet

Image: Frantisek Kupka - Ordonnance sur verticales et jaune, 1913, oil on canvas, Pompidou Center, Paris.

31 October 2023

Larger Than Life: The Flowers of Santido Pereira

"There are too many waterfalls, here, the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea, 
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over in soft slow-motion
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes."
   - excerpt from "Questions of Travel" in Geogrpahy III by Elizabeth Bishop, written shortly after she moved to Brazil in 1951.

The Brazilian artist Santido Pereira (b.1996) calls his print technique "incision, cut, and fitting." You can see the results in the bromeliad at left; for the past five years he has focused on  the tropical plants of the Atlantic rain forests of northern Brazil. Bromeliads are said to symbolize thes human connection with nature, with its healing and regenerative qualities. Native to South America, they have stemless leaves and a deep calyx, and they are attractive to butterflies...

Composed of a wooden sheet and thick layers of paint, Pereira's engravings have spurred  a renaissance in Brazilian prints. At the same time, his work honors the scientific tradition of botanical illustration which developed on the 6th century. Plant species are placed at the center of the page, seen against a neutral back ground.

Born in Curral Comprido, in the northern state of Piaui, one of the country's poorest, Pereira spent  his early years in close companionship with nature; not surprisingly, his work is viewed through a lens of nostalgia.  He trained at the Acacia School in Sao Paulo.

Image: Santido Pereira in untitled (Bromeliad), wooden sheet offset with paint, dimensions estimated  as being about 4' x 3', Xippas Gallery, Paris.

15 October 2023

Two Women Crossing A Field: One Of van Gogh's Last Paintings

 Vincent van Gogh  died in July, 1890 at age thirty-seven. During his last few months van Gogh painted dozens upon dozens of landscapes. In July he wrote to his brother Theo that had immersed himself in "the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow."  The young green wheat fields of May enthralled him, "vast fields of wheat under turbulent skies." He averred that his "canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside." At the time he painted Women Crossing a Field, van Gogh had temporarily stilled the turbulence within him. There is a gentleness in his brush work, his chosen colors are harmonious, the scene is tranquil.

Image: Vincent van Gogh - Women Crossing a Field, 1890, oil on canvas, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio.

02 October 2023

Georgia O'Keeffe's Autumn Leaves

"The falling leaves drift by the window,
The autumn leaves of red and gold,"
     excerpt from  "Autumn Leaves," the English Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Hints of red and gold circle the center of this early (1924) painting by Georgia O'Keeffe. This one reminds me of some transitional works by Piet Mondrian, the familiar pared down to its most basic elements.

Twenty-one years later Joseph Kosma, a Hungarian emigre to France, under house arrest and forbidden to compose, teamed up with French poet Jacques Prevert to write Les Feuilles mortes, known in English as Autumn Leaves. It was recorded by Yves Montand and more than a thousand others, making it one of the most successful songs  of the twentieth century. Kosma also wrote the scores for a number of French films,  including Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939), regarded by many film critics as the greatest film of the century. A scathing satire of wealthy people oblivious to the clouds of war gathering on the horizon, its message was subversive so it was cloaked in a love story.

Image: Georgia O'Keeffe - Autumn Leaves - The Maple, 1924, O'Keefe Museum, Santa Fe.

21 September 2023

Helene Schjerfbeck: Through My Travels, I Found Myself

Paring its elements down to near abstraction, this moody landscape shows its  Nordic origins. Helene Schjerfbeck has been called "Finland's Munch" for her status as an early modernist. I fancy this as an autumnal scene, the colors muted by the retreat of the sun.

Best known for searching self-portraits, Schjerfbeck inhabited her landscapes with her pensive personality. A woman of  contradictions, she was reclusive and at the same time a knowing follower of fashion. 

Helene's father gave her a pencil and Helene began to draw at  the age of four while she was recovering from a broken hip...at eleven she won a drawing scholarship to the Finnish Art Society, the youngest student to ever attend the school.

A grant from the Finnish government enabled her to visit Paris, launching her on  extended  travels around Europe, from Pont-Aven, Concarmeau in Brittany to Florence, limited only by her lameness and associated health problems. 

In 1902 she moved to the village of Hyvvinka, twenty-five miles north of Helsinki.  She died in a sanatorium in Helsinki in 1946.

Image:  Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) - Landscape at Hyvvinka, 1914, oil paint and charcoal on canvas board, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

02 September 2023

Shaken, Not Stirred: The Retro Cocktail Hour

A heady mixture of gum-shoe jazz, space age  pop, B-movie soundtracks, bossa nova, and all manner of musical exotica, Retro Cocktail Hour is hip, arch, and cool from a place that few would apply these adjectives to - Kansas! The program describes itself as being the home of "incredibly strange music." Hosted by Darrell Brogdon and a sultry-sounding woman with a tiki torch who says, "I'm the designated driver on the highway of Cool." 
Every program begins with the sound of a cocktail shaker in action. Said cocktail shaker is a fixture of the Underground Martini Bunker where the martinis are always dry. 

When stereo was introduced in the 1950s, it had to be sold to a  public happy with the sound equipment they already had. Companies that sold both equipment and the records to play on it moved aggressively to promote it with in store demonstrations of sound moving from left to right and back. Stereo required to customers to buy new record players. A new musical genre was created to show off the new technology: RCA called its version "Living Stereo."   This movement began in the 1950s so there had to be an underground bunker in there somewhere.

Jazz musicians moonlighting under such bizarre names as the Waitiki Orchestra and the Italian Secret Service punctured any stuffed shirts who might wander in and also protected the reputations of the pseudonymous players,  Latin percussion played a prominent role via such musicians as Perez Prado, Juan Esquival,  and Tito Puente; it punctuated the fun while providing an antidote to the all too serious Cold War. Easily the most recognizable tune is the 1959 hit Quite Village by Martin Denny. Denny used almost entirely percussion instruments to exotic effect.

Contemporary practitioners of the genre include Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack and my personal favorites - Pink Martini.

Lately vinyl records are making an unexpected comeback, so everything retro is new again. Wonder where my Dual turntable is now.

You can listen to the Retro Cocktail Hour here.

Image: unidentified maker - Cocktail ensemble, Bamberger bequest, Newark Art Museum, Newark, NJ.

22 August 2023

Seongmin Ahn : An Artist Of The Diaspora

“In my paintings, by symbolic action and opening a drawer, two seemingly separate dimensions become integrated. It is a matter of how to find connection and openness.” -Seongmin Ahn

Like alchemy, chopsticks pull noodles out of the waves against a background of Taoist indeterminancy.

An immigrant, Ahn portrays the natural world, using Baroque ornamentation on familiar Asian  subject matter like the waves and mountains here in Aphrodisiac. Joining the two cultures, Ahn combines her artistic training in Korean black ink wash and color painting with Western influences from abstract art and conceptual art. In bold compositions and  areas of saturated color, her painting style also reflects the influence of  minhwa  Korean folk art that reached its greatest popularity during the 19th  century of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910).

Ahn was born in South Korea where she studied art at Seoul National University. She now lives in New York City, .

Image: Seongmin Ahn - Aphrodisiac,2019, ink, pigment, and wash on mulberry paper, Courtesy of the artist's website.

11 August 2023

Andre Devambez: Crepuscule

Procession at Dusk  is a pastel by  French artist Andre Devambez.  A twilight procession of monks is observed from afar as they move towards the lighted windows of the monastery. This scene is both solemn and poetic. Its composition emphasizes the glow of candles in the distance, looking like fireflies, while the setting sun is mirrored by the tree trunks in the foreground.  They contrast with the bluish tones of the evening landscape, rendered in sfumato. The summery cast of the landscape suggests a date  near the Feast of the Assumption.  It is possible that its conception dates from the time Devambez was  resident in Italy.

This work sheds a new light on Devambez's early career.  Known for his bird's-eye views and steep perspectives that earned him the nickname "painter of the 6th floor." However this pastel testifies to his predilection for gathering scenes that are observed in a detached mannerThis work is therefore unique in his oeuvre. 

André Devambez was born in Paris and grew up in the world of Maison Devambez, the family engraving and publishing business founded by his father. Andre showed an early interest in drawing and soon enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was awarded the Prix de Rome which allowed him to perfect hiscraft at the Villa Medici in Rome. On returning to Paris, Devambez his  bird's-eye views revealed his innovative framing. At the same time, he workedr as an illustrator for magazines such as Le Figaro illustré  and l'Illustration. In 1910, he was invited to create decorative panels for the new French Embassy in Vienna. A true jack-of-all-trades, painter, engraver and illustrator his work includes serious and light subjects.

Purchased last year from a private collector by the Musée d'Orsay, Procession at Dusk is a large pastel on canvas by  André Devambez (1867-1944). As one of the rare works from the beginning of the artist's career, this 1902 pastel  will be included in the exhibition 'Pastels. From Millet to Redon.'

Image: Andre Devambez - Procession at Twilight, 1902, pastel on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

23 July 2023

Ernest Chaplet: A Porcelain Life

"In  such a porcelain life, one like to be sure that all is well, lest one stumble upon one's hopes in a pile of broken pottery." - Emily Dickinson

In this marvelous vase designed by Ernest Chaplet (1835-1909) I see so much detail integrated so harmoniously. The  choice of blue for the flowers is unexpected. The vase is molded and glazed with colored highlights.  At center is a hen with her chicks and a cockerel incised into the sandstone. The design was taken from a series of Japanese woodblock prints Kacho sansui zushiki or Drawings of flowers, birds, and landscapes by Katsushika Isai (1821-1880), a pupil of  Hokusai. 

Cite de la ceramique, French museum of ceramics was founded in 1824, eleven years before Ernest Chaplet was born in Sevres. His parents  owned a cabaret and, by all accounts, the boy had a happy childhood. At  age thirteen, Ernest became an apprentice at the porcelain factory. Later he was put to work decorating everyday earthenware while doing his compulsory military service.

Chaplet would become the supervisor of Haviland et Cie in 1882. The Haviland Brothers, David and Daniel, founded their eponymous company in France to produce porcelain for export to America. The company, and specifically Ernest Chaplet, was instrumental in the revival of the use of stoneware in the late 19th century. Felix Bracquemond discovered a set of Isai's drawings at a painter's studio in Paris in 1865.  Two years later, after seeing the Exposition  Universelle in Paris, Chaplet opened an experimental studio in  the suburb of Auteuil where he put his friend Bracquemond in charge. This particular piece was the product of their long anf fruitful collaboration.

Image: Ernest Chaplet (1835-1909) - vase with japonisme decorations, circa 1883-1885, gray sandstone molded and engraved with gold, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

15 July 2023

August Morisot: Cathedral of the Pines

"I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you on the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.
What is it you call, pine tree, when the rains fall, when the winds
blow and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?
I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?"
 - "I Hear You Call, Pine Tree" by Yoni Noguchi

Half a century after Japonisme took tout Paris by storm, the artist August Morisot interpreted the woods of southwest France using what he had learned from ukiyo-e, "art of the floating world,' its flatness and the high stylization of its constituent elements. 

This is Le Grand Bois, the Meyriat Forest near Bourg-sur-Bresse where August Morisot summered with his family from 1904 to 1913. Deploying black ink with the precision of a goldsmith, he used shades of red and orange to pattern the leaves and  their complementary colors of blue and  purple for the shadows and forest undergrowth. Morisot's style has also been compared to Maurice Denis in its oscillation between the style of the Nabis and Art Nouveau.

August Morisot (1857-1951) excelled in several media: painting, engraving, textile design,  and even glass-making. A native of Burgundy, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon from 1880 to 1885. He taught at his alma mater from 1895 until 1933 when he  retired in 1933 and moved with his wife Pauline and his daughter Marcelle to Brussels. He died there in 1951.

Morisot was sent to the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela as part of a scientific investigation in 1886 by France's Ministry of Public Information; his job was to document the local flora and fauna. The effect light filtering through the canopy of tropical vegetation made a profound impression on Morisot, reminding him of Gothic windows. The journey was perilous and Morisot risked his life for it. He suffered violent fevers, resulting in a religious conversion. When he returned to France he converted to Catholicism. Jules Verne would use this expedition as the basis for his book Le Superbe Orenoque (1898). After 1900, his taste for symbolist literature led him to populate his forest landscapes with fairies; he wrote The Voices of the Forest about it.

Note: Yoni Noguchi ( 1875-1947) was the first Japanese poet to write poems in English.

Image: August Morisot - Le Grand Bois - circa 1917, watercolor, pen, black ink, and gouache on beige cardboard, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

02 July 2023

Mood Indigo: Firelei Baez

 "I started early - Took my dog - 
And visited the sea -
The Mermaids in the Basement 
Came out to look at me -"
     - Emily Dickinson

We can intuit what Firelei Baez had in mind in this painting by reading its title (see below, it's quite long). Women were largely absent from epic narratives of the Caribbean basin;  Baez has a repertoire of  Caribbean and African folklore for inspiration. As Baez's title illustrates, conceptual art asks the viewer to connect the dots; it only takes imagination to find an underwater world within. Are there mermaids lurking near those white speckles (bubbles)? Are those green splotches  underwater shadows reflecting light from above? Whatever we read into the paint daubs, they are rendered as scumbling as viewed  under a microscope. Baez has declared that, for her, the imagery comes out of the application of the paint to the canvas.

Firelei Baez was born in 1981 in the Dominican Republic and her family moved to Miami when Firelei was eight. She studied art at Hunter College and Cooper Union in New York City where she now lives in the Bronx.

Baez traces descent from Haiti and Dominica, two countries that share the island of Hispaniola.  Haiti, on the western side was colonized by France while the Dominican Republic was controlled by Spain so there is no single narrative that encompasses these two very different variants of colonization.  (Think of the contrast between the neighboring states of Georgia and Florida, the one settled by the British and the other colonized by the Spanish). The cultivation of  indigo  was key to the economic development of Haiti; tobacco and sugar were also extremely significant  exports.  The process to turn the plant into a dye was developed in West Africa, a history that Baez knows by heart. For her, the underwater world is blue, indigo blue.

Image: Firelei Baez  - Haitian Mermaid - Describing the West Indian Navigation from Hudson's Bay to the Amazonas, 2023, oil and acrylic on archival printed canvas, 73 7/8 x 60 7/8 in., James Conan Gallery, NYC.

23 June 2023

Adam Zagajewski: And That Is Why

 "And that is why I paced the corridors

Of those great museums

Gazing at paintings of a world

In which David is blameless as a boy scout

Goliath earned his shameful death

While eternal twilight dims Rembrandt's canvases,

The twilight of anxiety and attention

And I passed from hall to hall

Admiring portraits of cynical cardinal

In Roman crimson

Ecstatic peasant weddings

Avid players of cards or dice

Observing ships of war and momentary truces

And that is why we paced the corridors

Of those renowned museums those celestial palaces

Trying to grasps Isaac's sacrifice

Mary's sorrow and bright skies above the Seine

And I went back to a city street

Where madness pain and laughter persisted - 

Still unpainted."

 -"And That Is Why" by Adam Zagajewski, from True Life, New York, Farrar. Straus and Giroux: 2023.

For Adam Zagajewski, the past is always present in everyday life and, as this poem eloquently lays out, nowhere is this fact more visible than in museums. The past isn't dead; it may not even be past.

The poet Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021) was born in Poland and died in Poland; however he lived in Berlin, then  Germany, moved to France in 1982 and later taught at universities in the United States.

Image: Sophie Crespy - photograph of a gallery at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, courtesy of Grand Palais, Paris.

09 June 2023

Chatelaine: The Stories of Hilma Wolitzer

"Some women marry houses."

   -  excerpt from "Housewife" by Anne Sexton

The housewife as chatelaine, as mistress of an establishment, was the 20th century successor to the  woman who produced the goods and services needed to sustain the 19th century family, the one who was lionized by Catharine Beecher in her influential book The American Woman's Home written with her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1869. First published in 1883, Ladies' Home Journal would become one of the most successful magazines of 20th century America by appealing to newly affluent middle class wives who saw themselves as home managers and consumers.

These  are the women who populate the droll stories of Hilma Wolitzer, newly reissued as Today A Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket, published by Bloomsbury. But make no mistake, Wolitzer's gimlet eye misses none of the pitfalls and contradictions of the post-war housewife. About her own years as a domestic engineer, Wolitzer has said: "I made a lot of Jell-O."

Recurring characters Howard and Paulette "married in those dark ages before legalized abortion." When Paulette announces her pregnancy to Howard, "all I could really feel was the doombeat of his heart and the collapsing walls of his will." That's how it was then.  So, too, in "Photographs' Paulie, as Howard calls her, reflects, "The doctors in my life were of the old-fashioned tongue-depresser variety, who probably accepted kickbacks on unnecessary, but lawful, hysterectomies." That, too, is how it was.

The emotional complications and displacements of sex at mid-century even extend to retirement living. This from "The Sex Maniac: "Everybody said there was a sex maniac loose in the complex, and I thought - it's about time." There are many sightings but no actual encounters. "There had been an invasion of those widows lately as if old men were dying off in job lots."  The piercing gaze of Hilma Wolitzer remains as fresh as it was in 1970s and 1980s when most of these stories first appeared.

Susan Hall (b. 1943) is an American artist who was born in Port Reyes Station, California and attended the University of California, Berkeley.

Image; Susan Hall - New York Portrait, 1970, acrylic and graphite pencil on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC.

29 May 2023

Yvonne Jacquette: Up/Down/Inside/Out

The artist Yvonne Jacquette died on April 23 at the age of eighty-eight. She had participated in planning a new exhibition that combines early and recent work and is now on view at the D.C. Moore Gallery in New York City.

Jacquette's aerial views earned her the sobriquet "Canaletto of the skies" after the Venetian painter famed for his topographical views. Like Canaletto, The line between what is real and what is imaginary is shifting. Typically, she built layer over layer of shifting perspectives. 

Film Cans is a rare still life, an unusual subject for Jacquette, rendered from an oblique angle that evokes for me the works of Chinese artists of the past two millennia. Of course, the humble film can is usually dark gray but the addition of many other colors hints at the varied marvels witin.

Jaquette  depicted Manhattan from a rented airplane, circling the island; sometimes she worked from a perch on the upper floors  in the Empire State Building. 

Jacquette was married for four decades to Swiss filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt until his suicide in 1999.

Image: Yvonne Jacquette - Film Cans, 2020, oil on linen, D.C. Moore Gallery, NYC.

21 May 2023

Flowers Under a Tree: Paul Georges & Gustav Klimt

The American painter Paul Georges (1923-2002) studied with Fernand Leger in Paris from 1949 to 1952 While there he met his future wife Lisette Blumenfeld at the studio of Constantine Brancusi.

Before that, in 1947, he was one of a stellar class that studied with Hans Hoffmann at Provincetown. Jane Frielicher, Wolf Kahn, and Larry Rivers all became fast friends that summer.

Georges is better known for his allegories and self-portraits but I was taken with Calla Lilies by its echoes (deliberate or by chance) to a famous landscape by the Austrian Gustav Klimt. The composition is similar and so are the colors; here Georges has chosen more angular, spiky or, if you look aslant, abstract forms. 

Before that, in 1947, he was one of a stellar class that studied with Hans Hoffmann at Provincetown. That summer Jane Freilicher, Wolf Kahn, Larry Rivers, and Georges all became fast friends at the Cape Code summer school.

His paintings are in the collections of numerous major museums are color and sound the United States. Georges died at his home in Isigny-sur-Mer, Normandy. 

In Rose Bushes Under the Trees (1904-1905),  the focus is also on color and simplified forms, vibrant greens and flattened forms that mesmerize the viewer's eye with repeating decorative patterns. Klimt's brush work is fluid and circular, suggesting the invisible presence of a passing breeze. 

I like to think that Georges may have seen Klimt's painting, in reproduction if not in person.


1. Paul Georges - Calla Lilies, 1987-1989, oil on linen, Simon Lee Gallery, London.

2. Gustav Klimt - Rose Bushed Under the Trees, circa 1904-1905, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

13 May 2023

Albert Gleizes: Lazy Afternoon

"It's a lazy afternoon

And the beetle bugs are zooming

And the tulip tress are blooming

And there's not  another human in view"

    - Jerome Moross & John La Touche, lyrics for "Lazy Afternoon," a song written for the 1954 musical The Golden Apple.

Everything in Man in a Hammock means something, so there's a lot to decipher. Like every Cubist worthy of the name, Albert Gleizes plays fast and loose with traditional linear perspective - and it works brilliantly. The mobile perspective mimics the back and forth of a swinging hammock. A strong series of diagonals anchor the man to the moving hammock while, at the same time, merging him with the landscape. His right foot rests on a typical Parisian park chair. The eye is drawn to a small still life near his right hand -  a table holds a spoon, some lemons, and a glass. As he holds a book in that hand by Gleizes's friend Alexandre Mercereau, this may be a portrait of his fellow artist; so, we can intuit the town in the  background as Cretail. .

Albert  Gleizes (1881-1953) always insisted that he was the founder of Cubism. Unlike Braques and Picasso who used subdued colors in their Cubist works, Gleizes preferred to work in bright colors. Gleizes was inspired by the paintings of Alexandre Mercereau who exhibited his paintings in Moscow and Prague. The two men would collaborate in founding a utopian community a Abbaye de Cretail, a suburb of Paris.

Image: Albert Gleizes - L'homme au hamac (Man in a Hammock) 1913, oil on canvas, 56 x 67.75 inches, Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo.

01 May 2023

Winslow Homer: Working Girls

"He has chosen of the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization; he has resolutely treated them as if they were pictorial, as if they were every inch as good as Capri or Tangiers; and to reward his audacity, he has incontestably succeeded." - Henry James on Winslow Homer, from "Some Pictures Lately Exhibited." in Galaxy (July 1875)

I was taken with this farm girl's dress, its orderly rows of white dots dominating the center of the picture. The tools on the wall and the baskets and barrel form a pleasing diagonal line that opens the image out from the young girl at its center. And with what deftness the artist delineates the rooster in the lower right corner.  Fresh Eggs nicely illustrates the decorative quality that appeared in Homer's pictures in the 1870s.

Young girls, usually outdoors, working as shepherdesses or dreaming under sheltering trees. Young women, often school teachers, making their way in the post-Civil War world as it slowly opened its doors to female education and independence. Winslow Homer possessed an instinctive sympathy for them all, perhaps influenced by his close relationship with his mother, Henrietta Benson Homer, herself an amateur watercolorist and Homer's first teacher.

Image: Winslow Homer - Fresh Eggs, 1874, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on wove paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 

23 April 2023

Overhead at Villa Medici: Jacopo Zucchi

"How does he know
that spring has come to the world?

         within the cage
where he wakes from sleep at daybreak -
the sound of a warbler's call."

 - Shotetsu (1381-1459), translated from the Japanese by Stephen D. Carter, from Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, New York, Columbia University Press: 2010

Look up. Overhead is a garland of intertwined circles where a parliament of birds convenes. The artist Jacopo Zucchi designed a garden room for his patron Ferdinando de' Medici, crowning it with a frescoe above.  The ceiling is a delicate and charming vision of harmonious nature, a green and pleasant place inhabited by green birds, no less. Jacopo Zucchi (c. 1541 - c.  1590) was a Florentine painter who received his training in the studio of Giorgio Vasari, a author of Lives of the Painters

Renovations to the ancient villa began in 1576, the year that Ferdinando de' Medici, a Cardinal in the Church, purchased the property which is adjacent to the Borghese Gardens.  The palaces were  known as the Collus Hortulorum (the hill of gardens). The Cardinal was a scholar of the sciences and a collector of antiquities and cultivated a garden of rare botanical specimens.

Informally known as the bird room, at some point in  subsequent years the exquisite fresco was white  washed, only to be revealed when Geraldine Albers, a student of the French Academy at Rome, became curious about the vast white space, knowing that two other studios on the grounds were adorned with frescoes. These rooms allowed Cardinal de' Medici to withdrawn from the everyday into a place devoted to quiet contemplation.

Emily Dickinson famously described Hope as the thing with feathers but the metaphor could apply as well to poetry.  From the time of the Bayeux Tapestries and medieval bestiaries, down to contemporary poetry, birds have been a continuing object of human wonder. Shotetsu was a Japanese poet of the Muromachi period.

Image; Jacopo Zucchi  - photo by Florizel, Painted ceiling  frescoe of the garden room at Villa Medici in Rome, c.1576  - 1577, in situ, Rome, Italy

16 April 2023

Marjorie Hellman: Extinction Quartet

"(C)olor juxtapositions provide the illusion that shapes and forms appear transparent or translucent, creating ambiguous readings of space, structure, light and atmosphere." - Marjorie Hellman

Why Marjorie Hellman choose a short-lived ornamental tree as the material for Extinction Quartet is a curiosity. The birch tree thrives in cool, temperate climates and moist soils. It is not much of a stretch to think that the birch may become an endangered species. Before the 16th century, painting in Europe was typically executed on wooden panels or applied to frescoes; canvas was introduced in Venice and then was adopted in northern countries. 

Marjorie Hellman received an MFA from Syracuse University; she remained in Central New York for more than twenty-five years, teaching studio arts at the Munson-Williams- Proctor School of the Arts in nearby Utica.

Image: Marjorie Hellman, Extinction Quartet, oil on birch, 1989, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica.