31 August 2011

Blue Island: The Hydrangea in Art

"Their blue, is the blue that adorns the Azores on lipid days...this is a blue that is even more blue, the bunches of flowers of a colour more intense and more fresh. They are in every direction: rising along the roads and the fields forming hedges; they serve to divide the parcels and to cover the peaceful animals."

- Raul Brandão, As Ilhas Desconhecidas


The Portuguese writer Raul Brandão (1867-1930) was describing the blue hydrangeas that cover the island of Faial in the Archipelago of the Azores. The native flowering plant of southern and eastern Asia was introduced to the Portuguese island by explorers returning from Japan to the mainland. The acidic soil on Faial is what produces the blue color of the hydrangea and Brandão poetically called the island, Ilha Azul.


The blue flowers have also inspired artists. Agnes Goodsir (1864-1939) was an Australian painter who lived in Paris during the 1920's and '30's. Although remembered primarily for her portraits, her still life of blue hydrangeas with Tahitian pearls is enchanting. The Belle Époque painter Paul César Helleu (1859-1927) was also known for his portraits as in his pastel The Lioness with Blue Hydrangeas. English painter Augustus William Enness (1876-1948) specialized in landscapes of the Lake District but incorporated a bouquet of blue flowers into his From a Lakeland Window: Hydrangeas.



25 August 2011

Le Singe et le Chat: Bertrand and Raton

Currently Epoca San Francisco's inventory includes an enchanting set of French posters depicting the fables of Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) illustrated by Benjamin Rabier (1864-1939). One of the nine panels tells the story of Le Singe et le Chat (The Monkey and the Cat) in which Bertrand the monkey manipulates Raton the cat through flattery to retrieve roasting chestnuts from their master's burning hearth. As Raton reaches for the nuts she repeatedly singes her paw but manages to pull the bounty from the cinders. Bertrand had promised to share the chestnuts but instead he eats them all. When the master returns the pets are shooed away and Raton is left with a burnt paw and nothing to show for it. The moral of the story, the flatterer seeks some benefit at your expense. From the fable comes the English idiom a cat's paw meaning one used by another as a tool. For this reason it became a popular theme for political cartoons. One such satirical view reveals a French red uniformed monkey directing a blue uniformed cat in Bertrand avec Raton s'amusent à tirer les marrons du feu. A 1900 black and white children's book illustration by Percy J. Billinghurst shows the cunning Bertrand anticipating the hot delicacy that the gullible Raton grabs from the fire.


21 August 2011

Blue Melody: Forget-Me-Nots and Sapphires


Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of Heaven,

Blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Although it is still August, Porcelains and Peacocks is very excited about the approach of September. The flower for the month is the forget-me-not and the birthstone is the sapphire; both are blue, P & P's favorite color. Forget-me-nots have long been a symbol of true love and remembrance. A medieval legend tells the story of a knight strolling by a river with his lady. He stops to pick her a posy of small blue flowers but the weight of his armor causes him to fall into the water. As he is drowning he tosses the bouquet to his love saying, "Forget me not". Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803-1847) who is better known by the pseudonym of J. J. Grandville, depicts the forget-me- not in the guise of a woman tossing flowers into the river in the engraving from Les Fleurs Animées. Fellow Frenchman Louis-Aristide-Léon Constan (fl.1830's-1860's) shows a more academic approach to the flower in his chromolithograph Moyosotis azorica. Like the forget-me-not, the sapphire has symbolic associations. Its blue color is connected to the sky, heaven and angelic realm. An Art Nouveau brooch by Louis Zorra combines a cluster of sapphires with opal and pearl in an enamel and gold setting.

14 August 2011

Little Flowers: Babylon Baroque visits Bagdad by the Bay

Recently Porcelains and Peacocks had the pleasure of meeting Leonard Greco Jr. of the artfully esoteric blog Babylon Baroque, www.babylonbaroque.wordpress.com. He had come on his first visit to San Francisco along with his spouse, David and their four dogs. Len reminded P&P that Bagdad by the Bay was originally named for Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Francis was born
Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone (1181-1226) to a rich textile merchant in Assisi. He became known as Francesco perhaps because of his father's commercial success in France or in honor of his French mother. Early in life he enjoyed the pleasures of wealth and position. He gradually became disillusioned and abandoned it all to choose a life of poverty and the spirit. Francis is particularly remembered for his love of animals. Fioretti di San Francesco, Little Flowers of St. Francis tells the legends of the saint preaching to a flock of birds and convincing a lone wolf not to kill the people of Gubbio.

Russian painter and writer
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) who was influenced by both Western and Eastern cultures shows an Asian tinged Francis speaking to his winged friends. A Chiaroscuro styled saint is rendered by Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664). Like Zurbarán, Italian Baroque painter Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) was a follower of Caravaggio's strong contrasts between light and dark as depicted in his St. Francis and the Angel.