29 November 2009

The Lure of the Exotic: Orientalism in Europe





The Occidental world's fascination with Orientalism began in the 16th century with Turquerie, the imitation of Turkish art and culture. Europe's Age of Discovery had provided access to the commodities and products from the Ottoman Empire and their art, textiles, costumes, interiors and architecture all became popular in the West. In the 18th and 19th centuries the European tastes expanded to the Arabian Peninsula, Northern Africa and Western Asia. French artists such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Jean-Léon Gérôme depicted sensual visions of fantasy odalisques in seraglios and European women in "oriental" costume. Moorish style continued into the 20th century with the design and decorative arts of Italian Carlo Bugatti. Using geometric and organic shapes executed in vellum, white and yellow metals, light and ebony woods, he created unique furniture fit for any harem.

26 November 2009

The Age of Discovery: Manueline Architecture and Decorative Arts






Beginning in the 15th century, Portugal the small seafaring nation at the edge of Europe looked outward to the ocean for its growth and expansion. From Prince Henry the Navigator sending small caravels out to explore the unknown African coast to Manuel I's explorations of Brazil and the Far East in the 16th century, Portugal became a world power. Rich from the foreign trade of spices and slaves, Manueline architecture was a reflection of this wealth. The late Gothic style incorporated maritime elements in carved stone such as armillary spheres, twisted rope, anchors, seashells and pearls. It also balanced symbols of Christianity, the Cross of the Order of Christ with Islamic style filigree. Although lasting a brief period of time (1490 to 1521), Manueline architecture went on to influence Portuguese art and decorative arts including blue and white export porcelain brought back from Macau. Beauty and wealth can be ephemeral. The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, resulting tsunami and fires destroyed most of the elegant city including palaces, churches, libraries, and the Opera House killing 10,000 to 100,000 people. As a result the country was crippled; the remaining examples of Manueline architecture recall Portugal's past glory.

23 November 2009

Scottish Visionary: Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a Glasgow born architect, designer and painter. He and his artist wife Margaret MacDonald were a part of "The Four" that defined the Glasgow Style, a distinctive blend of Scottish, Japanese, English Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau visual styles. An accomplished architect, Mackintosh felt that architecture should encompass interior design. For his client, Glasgow businesswoman Catherine Cranston Cochrane he created both the exterior facade and interior architecture of her Willow Tearooms. Mackintosh along with his wife designed all of the interior appointments including furniture, light fixtures, cutlery, menus and the waitresses' uniforms. The willow tree was used as the design motif with MacDonald’s flowing style complementing her husband’s more angular work. Towards the end of his life, Mackintosh turned to designing textiles and painting watercolors of botanical studies and landscapes. During his lifetime Mackintosh influenced the Viennese Secessionists and today he is remembered as one of the most important architects and designers of the early 20th century.



20 November 2009

Death and Eroticism: Symbolism in Art





Moving away from Naturalism and Realism and in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the Symbolist painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century dealt with the darker Romantic subjects of mystery, eroticism and death. The movement, which began in France and spread through Europe, looked to literature and poetry for material including the works of American Edgar Allan Poe. Images from dreams, mythology and the bible were also incorporated into their art. Among these esoteric artists were the French Gustave Moreau, Austrian Gustav Klimt, Belgian James Ensor and Edvard Munch from Norway. Their work and that of other Symbolist artists went on to influence the later movements of Expressionism and Surrealism. They had much in common with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic Movement.

19 November 2009

In Black and White Stone: Calçada Portuguesa



Comprised of small black basalt and white limestone cobbles Calçada Portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement can be found throughout Portugal’s plazas and walkways. The mosaics often reflect their maritime history with stylized ships, waves and sea creatures. Originating in the Middle East and brought to ancient Greece and Rome, the craft was exported beyond Portugal’s mainland. In the Azorean archipelago, the volcanic islands were rich with basalt but limestone had to be imported. This resulted in a black field with white pattern whereas on the mainland it was reversed. Examples of Calçada Portuguesa can also be found in the former colonies such as Brazil and Macau. The future of the art and existing mosaics is uncertain as very few calceteiros or craftsmen are left and materials are scarce.

17 November 2009

Victorian Avant Garde: Pre-Raphaelites and Their Influence



The Pre-Raphaelites developed in the mid 19th century as a reaction to the sentimental art of the time and the soulless nature of the Industrial Revolution. The original founders met at the Royal Academy and included the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and illustrator John Everett Millais, and painter William Holman Hunt. They were championed by art critic John Ruskin for their use of realism depicting serious scenes from poetry, literature and religion. Later followers included architect, artist, furniture and textile designer William Morris and the artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones who both shared Rossetti's fascination for medieval themes. Hunt and Millais were more concerned with realism. Pre-Raphaelite influence continued through the nineteenth century and can be seen in the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements in Britain as well as the work of many European artists such as Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt.

15 November 2009

Beautiful Decadence: The Illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley


Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) the English artist, illustrator and writer may be most remembered for his erotic work. Influenced by the sexually explicit Japanese woodblock prints known as Shuga he illustrated the classical play Lysistrata. Through Beardsley's friendship with the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones he met Oscar Wilde who commissioned him to illustrate his scandalous play Salome.

More restrained images included his Pre-Raphaelite inspired drawings of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur and cosmopolitan illustrations for The Yellow Book and The Savoy. Suffering from tuberculosis Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism the year before he died and begged his publisher Leonard Smithers to destroy what he now considered obscene work. Fortunately Smithers ignored him and the artist died at the age of twenty-six leaving behind the legacy of his creative genius.

10 November 2009

The Floating World: Japonism in the West


Western Japonism began in the mid-nineteenth century with the French passion for Japanese art. Especially popular were the Ukiyo-e or "pictures of the floating world" woodblocks depicting an ethereal world of beauty. Many European and British artists became influenced by the ephemeral landscapes and scenes of entertainment including the ex-patriot American artist James McNeill Whistler.

Kitagawa Utamaro known for his Bijinga, studies of beautiful women, Katsushika Hokusai with his iconic depictions of Mount Fiji, and Utagawa Hiroshige's bold colors were particularly admired. Their works were collected by many of the Impressionists, and would eventually inspire Art Nouveau and Cubism. Japonism also extended to the decorative arts of furniture and textile design.

08 November 2009

Harmony in Blue and Green: The Peacock in Decorative Arts

The Indian Blue Peacock with its iridescent blue-green plumage has long provided a decorative motif in art and interiors. As the national bird of India they were often depicted in architecture. The Mor Chowk (peacock courtyard) is in the City Palace Udaipur built by Maharana Udai Singh in the sixteenth century. The glass tile mosaics were added in the nineteenth century to embellish the”Venice of the East”. Originally the rarity and beauty of the peacock made them available to only the wealthy in Europe. Perhaps this is why they were so popular as decoration among designers of The Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. Liberty of London created the exotic “peacock feather” fabric in 1887 using a royal blue cotton ground with shades of green, blue and yellow. The motif extended to America with Louis Comfort Tiffany's Peacock Vase in 1896.


06 November 2009

White Gold: The Story of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain in Europe




In 1517 during the Age of Discovery the Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in China by sea. They returned to Lisbon with precious pieces of "white gold"; magical hard-paste porcelain of translucent milky glaze detailed in cobalt blue. The late Ming Dynasty china decorated with fanciful scenes of landscapes of birds, insects and animals were a contrast to the dreary gray pottery used in Europe at the time. Rare and expensive they became the coveted choice of the Portuguese royalty and aristocracy who often embellished them with gold and silver mountings.


In 1602 and 1604 the Dutch captured two of Portugal's trading carracks that were laden with blue and white porcelains. The white gold was auctioned off to buyers including the kings of France and England. Trade with China was established by other European powers most specifically the Dutch East India Company who continued to import Ming porcelain until the fall of the dynasty in 1644. The desire for blue and white porcelain resulted in Europe expanding their trade to Japan. During the Kangxi period 1662-1772, China was again able to export their porcelain to Europe.