30 March 2010

Loss of Innocence: Sleeping Beauty

The popular fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty has its originsin more sinister French, Italian and Norse stories. Elements of La Belleau Bois dormant can be seen in the French Histoire de Troïlus et de Zellandine of the Medieval romance Perceforest from the Low Countries. Theprince Troïlus rapes the beautiful naked Princess Zellandine during herenchanted sleep. While still comatoseshe gives birth to a child. The Italian Sun, Moon, and Taliaby Giambattista Basile (1575 –1632)has a similar theme. A marriedKing rapes the sleeping Talia who gives birth to twins, a boy and girl. Initially she remains in her enchantedsleep until the boy sucks the poisoned splinter flax splinter from herfinger. Upon awakening she namesthe children Sun and Moon. Sleeping Beauty can also be found in the thirteenth century Icelandic Volsunga Saga in which Brynhildr throws herself on Sigurðr's funeral pyre. Arthur Rackham (1867 –1939), the English illustrator shows Brünnhildesurrounded by flames from the Wagnerian version. French author CharlesPerrault (1628 – 1703) wrote the more subdued story where the couple liveshappily ever after. It is often a subject of art and illustration from the Pre-Raphaelite style of John Maler Collier (1850 –1934) to the fancifulwork of Errol Le Cain (1941–1989). But remnants of the older versionpersist; Gustav Klimt created Danaë in 1907. The sleeping princess is depicted being impregnated by King Zeus as a rain of gold.

Cap and Bells: The Journey of the Fool



The jester walked in the garden:
The garden had fallen still;
He bade his soul rise upward
And stand on her windowsill.

In the Tarot deck The Fool is often depicted on a journey wearing rags with only a knapsack happily unaware of the cliff he is about to fall off. Jacquemin Gringonneur’s fourteen-century deck for Charles VI shows a jester who although he has lost his pants and is being teased by children is still smiling. The Fool card urges us to follow our dreams despite our fears. Frans Hals (1580 –1666) the Dutch Baroque artist painted the fool as a court entertainer in Jester with a Lute. In the 1955 movie The Court Jester, Danny Kaye plays a hapless medieval performer “A jester unemployed is nobody's fool”. The fool continued to amuse us in the form of the Italian Harlequin whose motley costume is reminiscent of rags as in Paul Cézanne’s painting Harlequin of 1888.

I've cap and bells,' he pondered,
'I will send them to her and die.'
And as soon as the morn had whitened
He left them where she went by.
W.B. Yeats

20 March 2010

Felines and Females: The Art of Leonard Tsuguoharu Foujita












Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 – 1968) was a Tokyo born artist who moved to France in his youth and combined Japanese and French styles of art. The painter and engraver was eccentric and successful; wearing an ancient Egyptian hairstyle, Grecian tunics, earrings and an occasional lampshade as a hat. Living in the Bohemian LaRive Gauche during the early twentieth century he became friends with other artists, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Amedeo Modigliani and PabloPicasso. Foujita also took dancing lessons from modern dancer IsadoraDuncan. His apartment and studio had the rare bathtub with running hot water where he hosted many models including Man Ray’s lover Kiki de Montparnasse who he depicted in Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy. As much as Foujita loved women he adored cats; both subjects lookback at us with the same alluring “oriental” shaped eyes.

18 March 2010

The Arabian Nights: Golden Age of Illustration

Duringthe Islamic Golden Age folk tales were compiled for One Thousandand One Nights. Dating from the tenth to fourteenth century the stories are like a beautiful box that opens to reveal more nested boxes; much as the Persian Queen Scheherazade weaves intricate tales within tales each night to keep her husband Shahryār from executing her in the morning. Drawing on the cultures of Arabia, Persia, Egypt, and India the Occidental world soon became entranced by the stories. Translated into French during the early eighteenth century, English editions followed in the nineteenth century. The stories were a popular subject during the Golden Age of Illustration of the early twentieth century. American artist Maxfield Parrish (1870 -1966) illustrated The Arabian Nights in 1909 with his characteristic neo-classic style andsaturated colors. The French illustrator Edmund Dulac (1882 -1953) created fanciful images against impressionistic backgrounds in Stories from The Arabian Nights (1907). American Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931) had a brief but brilliant career. Diagnosed with tuberculosis at nineteen, her short life was spent in the West and Mid-West. Sterrett left us with exquisite images of the exotic Scheherazade and the world she spun out of words.

14 March 2010

Bloodlust: The Romance of the Vampire

Vampires have long held a fascination for us. Their popularity rose in the eighteenth century when the vampire legends of Eastern Europe became known to Western Europe. These mythological creatures that overcame death by sucking the blood from their sleeping victims were romanticized in the nineteenth century. Beginning with the short story The Vampyre by writer and physician John William Polidori (1795 – 1821), the vampire evolved in English literature from a folkloric to an aristocratic being. Polidori, the son of an Italian émigré scholar and an English governess, was the personal doctor of Lord Byron during a trip through Europe. While staying at TheVilla Diodati in Lake Geneva they were joined by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her fiancé Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was during this Year Without a Summer while forced inside by bad weather they shared ghost stories and laudanum. Mary Shelly would go on to write Frankenstein, Polidori who was paintedby F.G. Gainsford was not as successful. He died at the age of twenty-six an apparent suicide. He would never know his extremely talented niece and nephews: Christina Georgina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Michael Rossetti. Christina is remembered for her haunting poetry, Dante and William for their contributions to the Pre-Raphaelites. Sir Philip Burne-Jones, 2nd Baronet (1861–1926), son of Pre-Raphaeliteartist Sir Edward Burne-Jones painted a female vampire attacking an unconscious man. Whereas Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) painted a sleeping woman succumbing to her own vampiric nightmares.

07 March 2010

Rite of Spring: Estre, Freya and Christ

Easter the moveable Christian feast has its origins in pagan mythology. The name may come from the Teutonic Estre who was the goddess of spring. Spring is a season of renewal, fertility and birth after the cold dark days of winter. The goddess Estre was associated with the hare and egg both symbols of fertility. The Easter bunny and Easter egg are derived from her rituals. Johannes Gehrts (1855-1921) the German illustrator and painter shows the goddess flying through the air holding a floral staff bringing light, flora and fauna to the earth. Another goddess associated with spring, fertility and rebirth was the Norse Freja. She rode through the sky in a golden chariot drawn by two blue cats leaving sunlight and spring flowers behind her. The Swedish painter Anders Leonard Zorn (1860- 1920) depicts the goddess of love in her hall Sessrúmnir. Christ is celebrated at Easter for rising from the grave after his crucification bringing spiritual light to mankind in a time of darkness. The early Christians incorporated pagan symbols of new life into their own holiday. In the painting by Russian Symbolist painter Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862-1942), Christ is illuminated and surrounded by spring flowers.

04 March 2010

Celtic Revival: William Butler Yeats' Siblings

After the poston William Butler Yeats, Connor Fennessy reminded Porcelains and Peacocks of Yeats’brother the artist Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957). In addition to his brother being one ofthe major Irish painters of the twentieth century W.B.'s two sisters were alsotalented. Elizabeth Corbett Yeats (1868-1940) who had been a part of William Morris’ circle in London foundedthe Cuala Press in 1908. Originally started by Evelyn Gleeson who named it Dun Emer the press provided job training foryoung woman in arts and crafts. Lolly Yeats as she was called oversaw the book binding and printing while her sister Susan Mary Yeats (1866–1949) anembroiderer, dealt with theneedlework section. Lily as the other sister was known had worked for Morris' daughter May Morris. The sisters were a part of the Celtic Revival promoting the growth of Celtic art and traditions. Their brother Jack contributedillustrations to the press. He isbest known for his Expressionist oil paintings beginning in 1920. Like his siblings he chose to depict his Irish heritage through his art: its landscape and its people.

02 March 2010

Spirals and Knots: Celtic Insular Art in Ireland


The early art of Ireland was influenced by Celtic culture. Known as Insular art it was highly ornamentalwith spirals, knot work, key patterns, crosses and zoomorphic imagery. One of the greatestexamples of metalwork during the Christian era of Insular art is the Tara Brooch. The decorative pin dates from theeighth century and is fabricated from silver, gold and copper filigree with inlay of amber and glass beads. Created for a wealthy man, the design motif on front and back iscomposed of wolves heads and dragons faces. Named after the legendary Hillof Tara, seat of the High Kings ofIreland it was actually found in County Meath, Ireland during the mid nineteenthcentury. It is now displayedin the National Museum of Ireland inDublin. Also in Dublin is theilluminated manuscript The Book of Kells atOld Library at Trinity College. The masterpiece was produced at the beginning of theninth century either in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland or at Kells in County Meath by Celtic monks transcribing the Four Gospels. The ornamental calligraphic script was written on vellum by several artists who used as many as ten different rare and expensive dyes to render the intricate illustrations. Most famous and beautiful of the books pages is the Chi Ro page which has made people think the manuscript was the work of angels. Despite their artistic accomplishments the ancient Celts were often depicted as barbaric tribes as in the engraving by Flemish artist Lucas de Heere (1534 – 1584).

01 March 2010

I am of Ireland: William Butler Yeats



‘I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,’ cried she.
‘Come out of charity,
Come dance with me in Ireland.’

March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day when everyone is Irish. Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865 –1939) wrote the poem I am of Ireland. Yeats is remembered as one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the twentieth century. His father John Butler Yeats was a portrait artist and his son grew up in an artistic circle that included, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. American photographer Napoleon Sarony took the photo of Wilde and the American painter John Singer Sargent drew Yeats. The Nobel Prize winner was also an Irish Nationalist and participant in the Irish Literary Revival. His muse was the beautiful actress Maud Gonne (1866 -1953) who although English born was an Irish activist. Yeats dedicated the play The Countess Cathleen to her in which the landowner Countess Cathleen O’Shea sells her soul to feed her tenants during a famine. Along with Lady Augusta Gregory (1852 –1932) he wrote the nationalistic Cathleen Ní Houlihan as another theatrical vehicle for Gonne. Gregory and he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Yeats proposed to Gonne many times and she refused him; she lives on in his plays and poems like his mythic Irish dancer.