Thursday, July 30, 2015

London museum report 6 -- National Gallery / Monet

I can't help it, I'm a sucker for Monet.  I know that Impressionism is so easy to love, requiring not much rigor, not much sophistication, but still I love it.  And Claude is my favorite of them all.  Yes, even more than Cezanne, although I'll lose art brownie points for admitting it.

So what a pleasure to find lots of Monets at the National Gallery in London.  Some seemed very familiar: water lilies, a train station, a Japanese bridge, boats on the Seine, snow on the countryside.  Because Monet so frequently painted long series of the same scene, exploring different conditions of light, you feel you're seeing old friends even if you've never come across this particular picture in person.

In particular, it felt like old home week to come upon a huge water lilies panel, on the same scale as those in the Orangerie in Paris (built specifically to house Monet's grand gift to the French people) and those at MOMA in New York.  I have spent a lot of time sitting in front of those lilies, drifting happily through that horizonless universe.  Sitting down with this one brought me back to that familiar reverie.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, after 1916

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, Setting Sun, ~1907

Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1899

Claude Monet, The Gare St-Lazare, 1877

Claude Monet, The Petit Bras of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1872

Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875

Claude Monet, Bathers at La Grenouillère, 1869

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sign of the week

Maybe we should raise taxes instead of selling space in the small-change trays.

Monday, July 27, 2015

London museum report 5 -- National Gallery / modernism

Close readers of my past museum reports know that while I appreciate the old masters, my blood really starts pulsing when we get to the 20th century and beyond.  I was intrigued to find, among the good old stuff at the National Gallery in London, some pictures that seemed modern beyond their years.

Let's start with Manet, famous from your art history class as one of the very earliest "modern" artists.  And perhaps your art history class talked in detail about this very painting.  It's the second of three versions of the same scene that Manet painted; the moment of total failure for French colonialist ambitions in Mexico.  The French puppet emperor Maximilian was overthrown and offed by Mexican  nationalists (a previous battle with the French, which the Mexicans also won, is remembered today as Cinco de Mayo).

Edouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1867-8

It's in pieces because Manet couldn't exhibit the work -- too politically explosive -- and it was damaged during years of poor storage in his studio.  Manet's son cut it into four bits, throwing away the bad parts of the canvas, and Edgar Degas rescued the pieces.  That's not even Max in the picture, just his left hand; the guy in the white shirt is one of his generals.

What makes it modern?  First off, a new take on history painting, with no obvious good guys vanquishing obvious bad guys; in fact, the vanquished is the representative of Manet's own government.  Second, the matter-of-fact attitude of the sergeant at right; he's not brandishing his sword but perhaps wondering how long it will be before lunch.  Manet is clearly appalled by the violence and immorality of the French adventure and its consequences, but he expresses it coolly.

The second painting that struck me as modern was very different -- a hyperrealistic depiction of a rearing stallion by George Stubbs, the great British painter of horses.

George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, ~1762

This guy is BIG -- life-size -- and absolutely dominates the room.  His tail almost escapes the frame.  To me, placing him in a blank universe instead of a grassy field or a racetrack seems very modern; there's nothing to distract us from the monumental presence of the horse.  Even the ornate frame seems to recede and let the stallion burst out.

More art from the National Gallery in later posts.  I hope you're enjoying your visit!

Friday, July 24, 2015

London museum report 4 -- National Gallery / Van Gogh

On Easter weekend London was packed with tourists, but apparently the great artwork at the National Gallery doesn't have as high a Q-score as the Rosetta Stone.  Although there were plenty of people there, we could actually walk around and see the art.  And what a bunch of art it was!  I'll have to take several posts to show you what I liked.

Today, Vincent Van Gogh.  A mix of familiar pictures and some I've never seen before, even in reproduction.  Who knew he liked crabs?  And hold that thought, because I'll be showing you some more crab art from another museum later on.

Van Gogh's Chair, 1888

Two Crabs, 1889

Sunflowers, 1888

Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890

A Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sign of the week

In the London Underground.  OK, OK, you've convinced me!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

London museum report 3 -- Kenwood House

I had the pleasure of visiting Margaret Cooter when we were in London, and she took me to Hampstead Heath, a huge park, almost as big as Central Park in New York, now surrounded by city in every direction.  It was lovely to walk across the heath on a beautiful spring day, but the best part of the expedition was Kenwood House, a 17th century "country house" on the heath, which has a magnificent collection of paintings and other stuff, displayed almost casually, without the uniformed guards and solemnity of the big museums.  People wander in and out from picnics outside on the lawn, or shlep toddlers in strollers in for a five-minute visit on their way to the parking lot.

The house had been owned by the Earls of Mansfield for centuries, but after World War I the family had to sell it -- to Lord Iveagh, the Guinness brewing heir, the second richest man in England (after the King).  He thought it needed some art on the walls, so he bought paintings by the truckload.

Here's a Vermeer!!  The Guitar Player

A Constable!!

A Turner!! Coast Scene With Fishermen

Many of the paintings depict royalty and court figures from the past, and I was intrigued to see that even rich aristocrats had to be frugal with their clothing.  I surmise that these two ladies are mother and daughter, maybe sisters, but they're definitely wearing the same dress!

Diana Cecil, Countess of Oxford (by William Larkin, 1615)

Anne Cecil, Countess of Stamford (by William Larkin, 1615)

And check out the dress -- apparently it's slashed to reveal an underlayer of white silk, and draped and tacked for a stunning 3-D effect.  Wouldn't be surprised to see that technique on a runway today.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hotel amenity I liked

The TV in our hotel room in London showed one program that we just had to look at.

It turned out to be a film of beautiful fish calmly swimming around to a sound track of innocuous music.  We kept it on for many hours as we sat in the room.

I liked it for the fish, of course, but also for its name.  No euphemism, no confusion.  It made me laugh every time I saw it on the menu screen.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sign of the week

at the waitress station

Thursday, July 16, 2015

London museum report 2 -- Jim Dine

The British Museum, on Easter weekend, was so crowded we could barely move, but we retreated to the remotest corner, inaccessible by elevator, far from the Rosetta Stone, and found a delightfully uninhabited exhibit of prints by the American pop artist Jim Dine.  They highlighted several of the images that Dine used repeatedly: bathrobes, tools, hearts and paintbrushes.  According to the curator notes:

"These motifs began as stand-ins for the artist, what he called an 'autobiography through objects', giving him the licence to do what he wanted in different improvisations.  'When I use objects, I see them as a vocabulary of feelings', he once declared."

Being a huge advocate of working in series, I am always delighted to find a bunch of artworks that demonstrate that practice by a famous artist.  It's particularly interesting to search out recurrences in printmaking, because you can sometimes see different states printed from the same plate.

Jim Dine, Five Paintbrushes (first state), 1972

Jim Dine, Five Paintbrushes (third state), 1973

Dine talks about the bathrobes:  "I found this advertisement in the New York Times, and it looked like I was in it.  It was an empty robe, and I thought, this is a good way to be a modern artist.  I don't have to draw my face.  So for a few years I used the bathrobe, and I kept calling them self-portraits."

Jim Dine, Self-Portrait: The Landscape, 1969

Jim Dine, Black and White Bathrobe, 1975

Jim Dine, The Woodcut Bathrobe, 1975

Jim Dine, The Tomato, 1973

Jim Dine, Saw, 1976

Jim Dine, Hearts and a Watercolor, 1969

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

London museum report 1 -- bark cloth

Things have been so busy here since I got home from Europe in April that I haven't had much chance to report on the museums and other sightseeing we did.  I'll try to catch up in the next couple of weeks.

The British Museum had an exhibit of grass cloth from the South Pacific, with fabulous patterns and apparently impeccable technique (I wished I could have felt the goods).

loincloth, Papua New Guinea, early 1900s

dancer's waist garment, Futuna Island, about 1900; the fringes accentuate dance movements.

waist garment, Futuna Island, 1840s; the triangle designs are common, according to the signs, but the three-spike motif is unique.

Although most of the items in the exhibit were old, there were a few contemporary pieces -- and it was difficult to tell them apart because the old ones are so well preserved.  Maybe the new ones were a bit whiter.

woman's skirt, Sarah Ugibari, Papua New Guinea, 2012,  depicting ancestral men's tattoo designs.  When missionaries arrived in many of the Pacific islands, they made the natives give up tattoos.  So about 100 years ago, the designs migrated to barkcloth.

wedding dress, Paula Chan Cheuk, Samoan working in New Zealand, 2014