Posts Tagged ‘Gertrude Stein’


Amélie Parayre married Henri Matisse in January 1898. Part of her family came from Corsica. Since Henri’s career wasn’t going too well in freezing Paris, they spent their honeymoon in sunny Corsica. For Matisse it was work as usual. He produced fifty-five paintings in those five months. What’s important is not the prodigious output, but that he GOT COLOR: “Soon there came to me, like a revelation, the love of materials for their own sake. I felt growing within me a passion for color.”
Well, you might say, he was twenty-eight, what took him so long? We take it for granted that not only painting but our daily lives are filled with color and we assume that it was ever thus. The sky’s been blue, the grass green and flowers in flowery colors since the dinosaurs. That’s true, but cloth for clothing and furnishings was dreary and drab until very recently, januaryducDuBerryspecifically the second half of the 19th century, when analine dyes were invented. Prior to that only king and gods could afford color. Everyone else slogged around in browns and grays.
We can see this reflected in the illuminations of the 14th and 15th century and in Renaissance paintings, which depict only the rich and divine and therefore give us color to enjoy. But there was also a tradition of painting that honored the browns and considered them noble, RobertHubertdignified, stately, eternal. The Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Salon and their powerful judges looked down on color. In drawing classes, for example, color was expressly forbidden. So was working from nature. Students worked strictly from plaster casts and en grisaille (in shades of gray).
Matisse grew up in the north of France, in Bohain, a drab, cold, confining town where the main industry was weaving textiles and growing beets. After he dabbled with the little paint set his mother had given him, he knew that he wanted to become a painter. At twenty he went to Paris, where he abandoned his law studies and struggled for fifteen years before anyone bought a painting from him. His Corsica “revelation” about color was reinforced by an older artist living in the south, Paul Signac, who worked in a style called Divisionism, later known as Pointilism. Lucky for us, Matisse stuck with it.
In 1905 he worked for a few month in Collioure in the foothills of the Pyrenees. That fall he submitted to the Salon d’Automne exhibit two paintings made in that southern light. They were hung in the then infamous Salle VII, where visitors gestured obscenely and doubled over in derisive laughter. The critic Louis Vauxcelles noticed a couple of conventional, academic sculpture in the room and made the now famous wisecrack: “a Donatello among the wild beasts.” Fauves, French for wild beasts, became the nickname for a group of artists, including Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck. Matisse liked the name: “Frankly, it was admirable. The name of Fauve could hardly have been better suited to our frame of mind.” They were artists who felt that art made of shades of brown and gray was passé. They didn’t know where their experiments would lead, but they knew it was time for a revolution that would replace the worn out pictorial language of the 19th century.

One of those two Matisse paintings sold. Woman with a Hat was priced at 500 francs and an offer came in for 300. Henri and Amélie Matisse were flat broke. They had three children, who needed  winter coats. Amélie wouldn’t accept the 300. They waited. The prospective buyer agreed to pay the full 500. He was Leo Stein, brother of Gertrude Stein from San Francisco.
The Steins thought the new pictorial language might just be the next big thing and might be worth investing in. By investing in it, they made it happen.
Stay tuned.

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954. The Open Window, Collioure, 1905.  Woman with a Hat, 1905.

Paul Signac, 1863-1935Robert Hubert, 1733-1808 Les très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1416

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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The Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, founded in the early 17th century, became the training ground and the standard for fine art in Europe.  Starting in the 18th century its graduates showed their work in an official exhibit, called the Salon.  The Salon was a celebrated, standard-setting event and it was huge. The paintings covered the walls from floor to ceiling.

When you hang works one above the other, that’s called the Salon style.  That sounds elegant, but the effect is what we would now call cluttered.   Clutter was not a problem for the Victorians and certainly not for the 18th and 17th century.  For our venerable ancestors, it was all about more is better.  Restraint and understatement come with Modernism.  That’s because the modern sensibility wants an experience.  Well, you might ask, what else would anyone want?  We take it for granted that art is about experience.  But ‘twas not ever thus, apparently.

People used to go to public events because it was the thing to do—a social and civic exercise–not because they expected a transforming experience.  We moderns go in search of an experience.  Therefore, we want to see one painting at a time, at eye level, thank you, so that we can have a one-on-one.  We want to look up close at the brush strokes, step back for a different take, immerse ourselves, introspect, observe our reaction, register surprise or delight, grab a little aesthetic experience.  One at a time is called the Gallery Style.

The Wilmette Library Show is hung Salon Style. When you go to see it you’re not wearing a top hat or a bustle, because you’re a Modern and so the show looks cluttered.  The experience you go in search of does not happen.

Gertrude Stein hoarded works by Picasso and Matisse in the early decades of the 20th century and she hung her collection Salon Style.  She was a quintessential Modern, but she was also a hoarder who lived in a Parisian apartment with limited closet space.  What to do? Can’t stop collecting.  Go Salon Style.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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In 1910 in an ornate little church in Borja, a village in northeastern Spain,  a local painter named  Elias García Martínez filled a narrow white wall space with a little fresco called “Ecce Homo.”  It shows a scroll on which the suffering thorn-crowned Jesus-head is turning its eyes skyward.  Over the years the fresco deteriorated and Mrs. Cecilia Giménez (below), with the permission of the priest, set out to restore it to its original, of which she had a photo to work from.

The news broke last Friday and over the weekend little Borja was overrun with hundreds of tourists who were eager to see what was universally called a “botched restoration.”   One tourist, interviewed on Spanish TV, said that the original was nice, but this she really likes.

Now what?  What can the church and the town do?

1) Paint over the fresco with white paint and forget about it.

2) Hire a competent painter to duplicate the original and forget about the temporary embarrassment.

3) Leave it as it is now, the “botched restoration,” the “monkey face.”

The first two options seem to be out.  The organizer of the town’s patron festival is already happy about the new fame of Borja.  On the web, 18,000 people have signed a petition stating that the fresco should stay as it is now. A Facebook page, called “Señoras que restauran Cristos de Borja” has 38,874 fans and 58,048 followers (as of this writing), many of whom have created their own versions of the fresco. Here’s one, inspired by Rafael.  For more,  see https://www.facebook.com/SenorasQueRestauranCristosDeBorja

Let’s consider option #3.  The face as it is now is a confrontation with modernism.  The modern mind is rooted in the 17th century, when Leeuwenhoek first saw microbes through his microscope’s lens, Montaigne (a little earlier)  introspected and doubted, Descartes doubted himself to exhaustion and John Mill studied various translations of the Bible and said, whoa, we have 30,000 problems here. To name just a few of the people who showed us that things are not what they appear to be and that the mind makes stuff up.

Mrs. Giménez, in her mid-80’s, is now world famous.  She is notorious.  How could she do such a thing?  She’s apparently surprised at the results of her effort.  Is she crazy? Couldn’t she see what she was doing?  She may be asked to have her head examined and her introspection and free-associations would be interesting, but not as interesting as the FACT that we now have this image she made up.

That’s what’s important:  she made it up.  And another thing: the original fresco from 1910 by whatshisname was also made up.   Let’s see, what else can we name that’s been made up:  Michelangelo’s David, Michelangelo’s Adam, Rafael’s madonnas, Leonaro’s Last Supper;  Klimt’s Kiss, Munch’s Scream;   Egyptians invented Isis and Osiris, the Greeks invented Zeus and Athena, and so on and so forth.

The human imagination makes stuff up. You won’t find that statement anywhere in the 12th century.  The clerics who are ringing their hands over this fresco problem haven’t traveled through the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th, when Picasso and others blew the roof off our skulls.

When Picasso painted Gertrude Stein 1905 and 1906, she sat for him an estimated eighty-plus times.  Towards the end of 1906 he got stuck, dissatisfied with how he had painted the face.  We can only wish we had a documentation of that stage of the work. (We know Picasso owned a camera.)  In the fall of 1906 he went to Spain and when he came back he painted over the face. Giving into his fascination with African, Oceanic and early Iberian art, he now turned Gertrude’s face into a mask.  In other words, he invented.  He made it up.  We look at this painting at the Met and think it looks like Gertrude Stein—after all, that’s the title on the wall label—but at the same time we know IT’S ALL MADE UP.  It’s this awareness that makes us modern.

Picasso would have loved this “botched restoration.”




All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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