28 June 2010

Saudade: José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior and Amadeo de Souza Cardoso

Saudade is the Portuguese word of longing for someone or something that is missing or gone. It is unique to Portugal and Portuguese-speaking people. A maritime culture during Portugal’s Golden Age, explorers and sailors left their families behind not knowing if they would see each other again. During the colonization of Asia, Africa and South America many Portuguese left their homeland behind never to return. This is reflected in their art. Brazilian Realist painter José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior (1850 -1899) depicted a solitary woman reading a letter and called it Saudade. His pensive self-portrait perhaps hints at his own fate; the husband of his mistress stabbed him to death. Amadeo de Souza Cardoso (1887- 1918) studied in Lisbon and Paris and became one of the first modern Portuguese artists as seen is his, Menina dos Cravos, Carnation Girl. The handsome man in the photograph died at the age of thirty-one from Spanish Flu. He left behind a wife and an artistic legacy.

25 June 2010

The Cambion: The Myth of Merlin

Merlin, the mythical enchanter was the product of a union between a demonic spirit and a spiritual nun. The half human or cambion provided a bridge between new Christian beliefs and the old Celtic world. He first appears in Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth’s (1100 –1155) Historia Regum Britanniae. The book, which chronicled the lives of the Kings of the Britons, depicted the legendary King Arthur and the sorcerer who mentored him. The figure of Merlin was a composite of the imagined Myrddin Wyllt, a Welsh prophet of the sixth century and the real Aurelius Ambrosius, a Romano-Briton war leader of the fifth century. Arthurian Romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries credit the wizard with uniting a fractured Britain. An Italian manuscript page of the fourteenth century represents Merlin Tutoring Arthur. Howard Pyle (1853-1911) an American illustrator, wrote and illustrated King Arthur and his Knights showing The Enchanter Merlin. Scottish Symbolist painter John McKirdy Duncan (1866 -1945) was a part of the Celtic Revival. He chose many of the Arthurian legends as subjects for his paintings including Merlin and the Fairy Queen.

21 June 2010

Symphony in White: Thank you The Style Saloniste

Many thanks to prolific interior design author Diane Dorrans Saeks for mentioning Porcelains and Peacocks in SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE, The Talk. Ms. Saeks who also writes the wonderfully esoteric blog The Style Saloniste (www.thestylesaloniste.com) recently penned the column Design blogs for people who don’t read Dwell in which she notes her favorite style blogs in the Bay Area. You can find her recommendations in the July issue of the magazine or on line at www.sanfranmag.com. In lieu of the white flowers that Ms. Saeks favors I offer the image of Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 -1903). The subject of the painting was Joanna Hiffernan (1843-after 1903), an Irish model who was romantically involved with Whistler. Hiffernan also posed for French Realist Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) in the painting Portrait of Jo (La belle Irlandaise). Whistler’s early work was influenced by his friendship with Courbet as can be seen in his self-portrait, Portrait of Whistler with Hat. It is believed that Hiffernan was the model for Courbet's erotic L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) ending the friendship between the two painters.

20 June 2010

Purity and Peace: The Allure of Pearls

The goddess Juno wore pearl earrings; the month of June is dedicated to her and the pearl is its birthstone. Known as the Queen of Gems, natural pearls are produced by the invasion of a minute parasite which is covered with nacre. Found in oyster beds they were so rare that only the noble and very rich could afford them. From ancient times they were associated with purity and peace but the life of the pearl hunter was difficult and dangerous. Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531-1588) was a Spanish Renaissance painter who pioneered the tradition of Spanish portrait painting. He became the court painter for Philip II of Spain where he painted the thirteen-year-old Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia encrusted with pearls. Venetian Rococo painter Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) was from the lower middle class and began her career doing miniature portraits on ivory for the lids of snuffboxes. She eventually became a popular portrait painter using the technique of pastel. The portrait of renowned Venetian beauty Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo is attributed to Carriera, it shows her wearing a single-strand pearl collar and pendant pearl earrings. The iridescence and luster of the pearl was also appealing to men especially the Maharajas of India. With the development of cultured pearls and pearl farming in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the jewel became available to more people with less risk.

14 June 2010

Catherine of Braganza and Charles II: The Custom of Drinking Tea in England

Tea was first imported to continental Europe from Asia in the sixteenth century. Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) brought the Portuguese custom of drinking tea to England in 1662. The infanta who is shown in the portrait by the Dutch Baroque painter Dirck Stoop (1610-1686) married King Charles II of England and replaced wine, ale and spirits with tea as the court drink. Previously tea in England was reserved to apothecaries where it was sold for medicinal purposes or a few coffee houses, which were frequented by men only. Catherine made the beverage and its service pieces popular among women in England. Not only was tea carried on merchant ships from China but also porcelains for serving it. Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten (1630-1700) was one of the Dutch painters who settled in London and specialized in “showy” still life’s that realistically depicted luxury objects. The painting above is attributed to his circle and displays a Chinese export teapot and cup. Another Dutch artist painted Charles as a young man; Adriaen Hanneman (1603-1671) was a part of the Dutch Golden Age and best known for his portraits of the exiled British royal court. The restored king was much more hedonistic than his reserved tea drinking queen, having twelve illegitimate children from seven different mistresses.

09 June 2010

The Three Faces of Eve: Pandora, Lulu and Hope

In Greek mythology Pandora was the first woman who was given a “box” actually an urn containing death and suffering. Although she was instructed not to open it, out of curiosity she does releasing evil to the world leaving only hope behind. John William Waterhouse (1849- 1917) the English Pre-Raphaelite shows Pandora whose name means “all gifts” tentatively opening a beautiful gold coffer unaware of the consequences. German Expressionist director Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s silent film Pandora’s Box (1929) depicts American actress Louise Brooks as Lulu, an alluring woman who innocently brings destruction to those around her and eventually herself. Not only does the classical world explain the existence of evil with the actions of a woman but also the bible with the figure of Eve. Although she was warned not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil the serpent tempts her by suggesting that eating the forbidden fruit would make one wise. German Renaissance artist Hans Baldung Grien (1480–1545) portrays the fallen woman with a lascivious Adam. Symbolist English painter George Frederic Watts (1817 -1904) saw the image of woman more positively as an allegorical figure of Hope. She sits atop the world blindfolded holding a lyre with a single string, which she plucks listening hopefully to the sound.

05 June 2010

Safe Passage: Charon and the Underworld

In Greek mythology Charon was the ferryman who conveyed the souls of the dead to the god Hades over the river Akheron or Styx. Under the tongue of the dead a coin was placed to pay the boatman for their safe journey into the Underworld. Hermes acted as psychopomp guiding the deceased to Charon. In art the oarsman was often depicted as an old man as in Flemish painter Joachim Patinir’s (1480 -1524) Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx. The soul in his boat must decide between the brilliant blue green Heaven on one side and a blackened Hell on the other. By contrast French painter Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) in his Charon Ferries Shades shows the boatman as a naked virile young man transporting shrouded souls. Swiss Symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) did five versions of his Isle of the Dead. The painter described the first one as a “dream picture”. Viewers interpreted the series as Charon conducting a soul to the afterlife. The paintings may have been influenced by the deaths of eight of Böcklin’s fourteen children. Ironically Adolf Hitler would eventually purchase the third of the series.

01 June 2010

The Beginnings of German Modernism: The Munich Secession

Before there was the Vienna and Berlin Secession there was the Munich Secession. Formed in 1892, this diverse artistic movement rejected the traditional Academic Art of the time and broke away from the crowded exhibition style of the nineteenth century. In Munich Secessionism the beginnings of twentieth century Modernism can be seen. It also introduced a modern way of presenting art where paintings were shown against a light wall and hung at eye level with space between them. Tyrolean born Leo Putz (1869-1940) joined the Secessionists and painted in an Impressionistic style that helped lead the way to Expressionism as shown in his en plein air Summer Dreams. Oskar Zwintscher (1870 -1916) painted with Symbolist starkness in The Dead Man by the Sea. Impressionistic painter and illustrator Max Slevogt (1868 - 1932) was best known for his landscapes but provides us with a figural study in The Wrestling School. Images are from The Munich Secession and America.