24 October 2011

In Vienna. The Glasgow School

How  the group of artists known as the Glasgow School became the talk of the Eighth Secession is also a story of Josef Hoffmann.   The Viennese architect produced  the exhibitions of the Vienna Secession in its early years and, although we may not realize it, he invented the "designed" exhibition. What better way to show the work of a group of artists than through a multi-media installation?

The Glasgow School had designed several  stylish tearooms, spaces where women could socialize in public.  Margaret Macdonald, Frances Macdonald,  Charles Rennie Mackintosh,  and Herbert McNair , two sisters and their  husbands, were known collectively as 'The Four.'   The Mackintoshs were the leaders, Margaret specialized in painting and glass art; Charles was an architect.

 Several times Josef Hoffmann had visited England to study the Arts & Crafts  design and it was his invitation that brought the Glasgow group to Vienna.  The tearoom installation at the Eighth Secession used furniture designs from their Argyle Street Tearoom, including the Mackintosh 'rose' high-backed chair.  Critics and the public agreed in their praise of its airy charms  and, as happened with Fernand Khnopff's work  in 1898, local museums and collectors bought.  Interestingly, The Seven Princesses - after Maurice Maeterlinck now in the Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna predates Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh's masterly  Mysterious Garden (Scottish National Gallery).

Critics are still debating how much the visiting Scots influenced Viennese modernism but by 1900 the curvilinear style had become  like the child who doesn't realize how tired she is and keeps on running around until she drops.  The salutary effects of applied geometry were ready to make things new again.  This time to be mixed with elements of  medieval revival and recently discovered  Japanese arts of the floating world.

1.Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh - frieze for Argyle Street tearoom, c.1898, Hunterian Gallery, University of Glasgow.
2. unidentified photographer - tearoom installation, 1900, Vienna, Hunterian Gallery, University of Glasgow.
3. Charles Rennie Mackintosh - chair, c.1898, Hunterian Gallery, University of Glasgow.
4. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh - Junirose, 1898, Osterreisches Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
5. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh - The Seven Princesses - after Maurice Maerterlinck, 1906, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
6. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh - The White Rose and the Red Rose, 1902, Waerendorfer Collection, Vienna.
7. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh -    Deustche Kunst und Dekoration - cover, May 1902, Heidelberg University Digital Library.

22 October 2011

In Vienna. Fernand Khnopff

The last time we looked at Fernand Khnopff's In Fosset. Still Waters, (January 31, 2011) I mentioned the impact the painting made when it was shown at the Vienna Secession in 1898.   Another Khnopff landscape, In Fosset. Under The Trees has had an even longer half-life.  Gustav Klimt made several pcitures under the influence of its stylized vertical tree trunks, notably Birch Forest. Buchenwald I (1901, Dresden Gemmaldegalerie) and the photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch became obsessed .   Philippe Roberts-Jones, like Khnopff a Belgian, was the first to point out  the similarity between Khnopff's forest and Rene Magritte's Leader of the Pack (1955),  dominated by an impossibly large, nut-collecting squirrel.  

The ideas in Fernand Khnopff's paintings were often presented like Zen Koans, in a form inaccessible to the rational mind. Paradoxically, this held true even when, as he often did, Khnopff created and named his images for the works of writers he admired.

Khnopff's work was the star of the first Viennese Secession in March of 1898, which also included mixed-media sculptures like the Head of a Young Englishwoman which was bought by Adolphe Stoclet,  a Belgian engineer,  in Vienna to supervise some railroad construction.  Stoclet, who came from an artistic family, (he was a nephew of painter Alfred Stevens) met architect Josef Hoffmann on that trip.   Today Stoclet's name is remembered for his commission of Hoffmann to design a new home in Brussels - the Palais Stoclet.
Another Khnopff sculpture, Vivien, stayed in Vienna, purchased by the Belvedere Galerie.  It depicts a character who is a thief of hearts,  embodying  two of the artist's preoccupations - Anglophilia and woman as femmes fatales.  Lilie Mauqet, who modeled for Diffidence, was one of three sisters from Glasgow whose Pre-Raphaelite looks appealed strongly to Khnopff.   The Anglophile Khnopff even went so far as to rearrange the branches on his family tree to give greater prominence to the English in his background.

 Listening to Flowers was already familiar to German-speaking audiences; it had been published in the journal Pan in 1895.  Taking inspiration from a poem by Stephane Mallarme, it was an early example of another type of mixed-media work by Khnopff -  a combination of pastel and photography.  Khnopff was  a pioneer in this type of mixing, taking  a keen interest in the new medium and purchasing photographic paraphernalia for various experiments. at home  Some of the artist's friends were surprised after his death, when these items were found in his studio; the artist was accustomed to keeping his own counsel on most matters related to his art.  
Public attacks on his work at the beginning of his career probably only reinforced Khnopff's reticence.  In 1885, he had illustrated the cover of the novel The Supreme Vice.  Khnopff knew its author, Sar Josephin Pelaldon, through their shared interest in Rosicrucianism.  Peladon was a controversial character who  dabbled in occultism and alchemy, and claimed to be the reincarnation of an ancient Babylonian king.

Unfortunately for Khnopff, his cover outraged the opera singer Rose Caron whose portrait he had recently painted.  She claimed, whether sincerely or for the sake of pulbicity,  that Khnopff had used her image in making the cover.  The young artist was so upset that he ripped up the original pastel and threw it at Caron's feet.  The Belgian press was thrilled to promote the scandal.
Three years later, another Peladon work Istar was the occasion for one of Khnopff's most disturbing works.  The image shows a woman with her arms raised (possibly bound?) above her head.  Meanwhile, serpent-like vegetation binds her legs and claws at her genitals.

The Viennese magazine Ver Sacrum devoted its issue of December 1898 to honor Khnopff's work. All the works illustrated here were included among the twenty-one that Khnopff chose for  Secession exhibition.

“(W)e who seem to desire one another, my sister, we recognize each other. 
Yes, you are my sister since you recite softly the hymns of the unreal that I chant at the top of my voice.  Yes, you are my sister, because you have not hearkened to the mortal stammerers of love and the gross jolts of women…
Sisterhood, incest, virtue or sin, assumption or fall, whatever shall be the fate of our love, new born that it may raise over us a mystical aurora…
Be my sister…If incest one day comes to join our mouths, we will have at least made the effort of a grand fate, and we will have fought, before our downfall, against the earth and instinctive force…” - excerpt from Istar.

Attempts to understand Khnopff's intentions  always remain incomplete.  When Khnopff was interviewed in Vienna by Ludwig Hevesi in March, 1898, he complained that "everyone classified me as a Symbolist, they claimed to find a hidden meaning behind everything I made."  A disingenuous comment from an unreliable narrator.  From Charles Baudelaire, a poet admired by Khnopff, these lines that serve to get at the fascination Khnopff's work continues to exert.

" We cannot but arrive at this truth that everything is hieroglyphic...Well, what is a poet - I take this word in its widest sense - if not a translator, a decipherer?"

What does With Verhaeren. An Angel  look like from this perspective?  There is an angel od androgynous appearance, a Wagnerian figure with strong features and a closed ecstatic expression.  Interpreting Khnopff can be a tricky business.

In Fernand Khnopff, the Viennese found much to admire.  His quixotic mixing of sacred  imagery,  symbolic decadence, and an unsettled attraction to modernity was just what their new movement was looking for.  For Khnopff, the triumph must have been especially sweet;  his family had been raised to the aristocracy by the Hapsburg Emperor in 1621.

1. In Fosset. Still Water, 1894, Osterreisches Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
2. In Fosset. Under the Trees, 1894, Belgian Royal Museum of Art, Brussels.
3. cover of Ver Sacrum, December 1898, Heidelberg University Digital Archive.
4. Head of a Young Woman, 1898, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
5. Vivien, 1896, Osterreisches Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
6. Diffidence, 1893, private collection, Belgium.
7. Listening to Flowers,  1892, private collection, Belgium.
8. After Josephin Peladon. The Supreme Vice, 1885, private collection, Belgium.
9. Istar, 1888, private collection, Belgium.
10. Soltiude, 18981, Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Art, Brussels.
11. With Verhaeren. An Angel, c.1898, Belgian Royal Museum of Art, Brussels.

18 October 2011

California Landscapeland

Landscape,  the aesthetic version of the natural world, has a long history in art, dating back to the Renaissance, when it began to emerge from the background of  religious subjects.  It fell out of favor with early 20th century  Modernists.  Only recently, exhibitions devoted to the landscapes of Gustav Klimt, who died in 1918, have come as a revelation.  It was left to photographers and the makers of prints, flying under the radar.  They knew what Virgil had written in The Golden Age Returns from the fourth Eclogue:

"...faint traces of our former wickedness will linger on, to make us venture on the seas in ships, build walls around our cities, and plow the soil."

California, growing exponentially at the same time, was a veritable landscapeland, with Sequoia forests and barren depths of the aptly named Death Valley.   Pedro de Lemos, (1882-1954)  director of the Stanford Museum, and William Rice, (1873 – 1963) s an early  teacher of woodcut techniques, created  atmospheric landscapes in  color woodcuts

Unhampered by the limelight, woodblock printers tried on borrowed styles from Japan and Mexico in their works. The diverse imagery of extremes of topography was united by a shared technique which, in turn,
 inspired several distinctive art movements.   Women gained a powerful and early voice in this medium, as did the labor movement and Latino artists. 
Several  artists went directly to the source and traveled to Japan to study printmaking techniques and aesthetics.  Bertha Lum (1869 – 1954) went so far as to spend her honeymoon studying in Japan.  Helen Hyde (1868 – 1919) grew up in San Francisco but was introduced to Japanese printmaking when she studied in Paris with the collector Felix Regamey.(You'll find both Hyde and Regamey elsewhere on this site.)  Hyde moved to Japan in 1899, later returning to live in Pasadena.

Anders Aldrin (1889-1970) immigrated from Sweden to the American midwest as a young man but found his vocation and his subject in southern California.  Attracted to subjects with romantic names - Echo Park, Silver Lake - he probably appreciated the symbolism that attaches to Zabriskie Point.
Other immigrant artists are more obscure, like Carl Langheim (1872-1941) whose work suggests the influence of by Symbolism and the Nabis.  The Wood could easily be paired something by Charles Lacoste, for instance.

Another transplanted artist, Elizabeth Norton (1887-1985)  moved to San Francisco from Chicago.  An example of a recognizable California urban landscape is her Berkeley stadium (1926). An autumn football game becomes a landscape by virtue of human absence.
The California Labor School in  San Francisco became a center of woodblock printing and, today, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts has a large collection of color woodcuts.
1. William S. Rice - Twilight - East Oakland, 1920s, San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts.
2. William S. Rice - The Adobe House, c. 1920-1935, San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts.
3. William S. Rioce - Eucalyptus Grove, c1920-35, Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco.
4. Pedro de Lemos - Hillside Harvest, C 1919, Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco.
5. Bessie Ella Hazen (1881-1946) - Carmel Cypresses, undated, San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts.
6. Bertha Lum - Point Lobos, 1929< Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
7. Helen Hyde - Church in Cuernavaca, 1912, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
8. Anders Aldrin - Zabriskie Point - Death Valley, undated, San Francisco Museum of Fine Ary.
9. Carl Langheim - The Wood, 1896, San Francisco museum of Fine Art.
10. Elizabeth Norton - U.C. Stadium, 1926,  San Francisco museum of Fine Arts.