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.