Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

MatisseGoldfish
Goldfish and Palette,oil on canvas, 57-3/4 x 44-1/4. Some sources give the date as 1914, others 1912-17.

Today is Henri Matiisse’s birthday. He was born December 31, 1868 in northern France, near the Belgian border and grew up in Bohain, where the main commerce was beets and weaving. His father owned a seed shop. When he was about fifteen, his mother gave him a paint set and he knew that he wanted to be a painter. Becoming a professional painter was out of the question since that was a disreputable occupation. He was sent to Paris to study law and worked as a law clerk for a while. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts, with Gustav Moreau, copied paintings at the Louvre to make money and lived in abject poverty with two roommates, also painters, who had one decent pair of pants between them.
He married in 1898, saying to his bride, “I love you mademoiselle, but I will always love painting more.”
Until his late thirties, his work met nothing but ridicule. When he visited his family in Bohain, the town folk called him “le sot Matisse” (the Matisse idiot). In Paris, when he exhibited his paintings at the Salon des Independents (non-juried shows) people congregated around his work in uproarious laughter. Matisse played the violin and had a reputation among friends as a ham actor, who did  satirical impressions. But about his work he was so serious that young artists called him “the Doctor.” His concentration on his work caused insomnia throughout his life. In 1903 he wrote to a friend “describing the state of misery and emotional numbness to which insomnia had reduced him, and which he feared might end in total disintegration.” (I, 250) He “approached the act of painting (with) a tension so extreme that those closest to him risked being sucked in with him to the verge of breakdown or vertigo.” (I,324)
In 1910 he had a one-man show at the Bernheim Gallery. “The critics responded with a dismissive brutality that even Matisse had scarcely encountered in this scale before. They accused him of vulgar excess, willful confusion and gratuitous barbarity. Even the more serious reviewers found him incapable of following any consistent line or evolving a style of his own. “(II, 41) The same year, the Bernheims tried to swindle him and Matisse fell ill. A doctor explained that “there was nothing clinically wrong with him, that black despair would inevitably follow bouts of such intense nervous pressure and emotional exhilaration, and that all he could do was learn to manage his condition by sticking to a regular work schedule and by being less exacting towards himself. “All artists have this particular make-up, that’s what makes them artists, but with me it’s a bit excessive,’ Matisse told his wife, adding optimistically, ‘perhaps that’s what gives their quality to my pictures.’” (II, 59)
matisse-f9d8dTowards the end of his life, Matisse was in a wheel chair and incapable of painting. He worked with scissors to make “cut-outs.” He did not buy the paper, he painted the paper he used for cutting. He worked with an assistant in placing the pieces. There was nothing restful about this work process. The current exhibit at the MoMA has people sitting in quiet contemplation of these often huge cut-outs. People generally perceive them as tranquil. The largest one is hundred and four feet long.

RecensieCutOuts1
About Goldfish and Palette, André Breton wrote: “I’ve examined this picture twenty times. In truth it possesses at once innovation, profound penetration of every object by the artist’s own life, magical colors, it has everything…I’m convinced Matisse has never put so much of himself into any other painting.” (II, 168)
(The quotes are from Hilary Sperling’s two-volume study of Matisse.)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
http://facefame.wordpress.com
http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
http://www.katherinehilden.com
http://www.khilden.com

Read Full Post »

MatisseOpenWindow

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.

MatisseWomanHat
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.
http://www.khilden.com
http://facefame.wordpress.com
http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
http://www.katherinehilden.com

Read Full Post »

PicassoSabineWomen

A friend sent me this postcard from Boston this summer:  Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Rape of the Sabine Women,”   1963.

It’s as unmistakably Picasso as “Guernica,” 1937.  Both paintings are from an artist who was a life-long renouncer of the insanities created by politics, war being pre-eminent among them.  He was an anarchist.

He had mastered the techniques of the Renaissance by the time he was fourteen and then set out to produce work that was distinctly anti-Renaissance.  As if to say, “sorry, folks, we took a wrong turn there; this stuff from the 15-16-17 hundreds is really enticing, but it’s all based on enslavement and torture of one group or another.”  He loved African art because, as he said, “it’s against everything.”  By “everything,” I think, he meant western civilization.

PicassoGuernicaHe painted “Guernica” as an outrage against the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.  He used his skill at distortion to get at the ineffable suffering and horror of that day.  The viewer stands before this work, mute, despairing.

While living in Paris as a young man, Picasso frequently visited the Louvre, where he certainly saw “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).  At age 82 and living in his villa in the south of France, Picasso takes up this theme. As in “Guernica” we see the assault and butchery of innocents. There are four figures: a woman crushed on the ground, a child screaming for help, a soldier on horseback wielding a spear and a soldier on foot with a sword. 

Again, the distortion of the figures is extreme.  This time, it seems, Picasso isn’t asking us to feel empathy and outrage.  Instead, it seems to me, this image is comical.  The comical effect comes from the facile lines.  Compare, for example, the slashed, broken hands in “Guernica” to the hands in “Sabine Women,” where we get loopy-doopy toes and gooey-oozy fingers. Here the lines are fast, facile and glib.  “Guernica” takes a long time to look at, even in reproduction.  Here, in his “Sabine Women,” the eye loops through the composition very quickly. These easy, fast lines do not convey suffering and do not evoke empathy.  Maybe Picasso at 82 is beyond outrage.  This painting seems to be a satire.  He has given up on us and can only show us how comical and testosterone-driven our world is.

PoussinRapeSabineLouvreAnd is the Poussin painting not comical?  In its day, war was glorious. Really?  Who thought war was glorious?  Must have been the kings.  They started those wars and thought they themselves were radiating glory.  But what about the artists, what did they think?  Oh, well, the artists worked for the kings and that whole crowd that benefited from wars.  Is this not a comical situation?  Well, we only broke the spell of the “glorious” in the 20th century.  One way, probably the best way, to break a spell is to make fun of it.  Draw some loopy-doopy lines to make the point that what used to be “glorious”  is really  hopelessly, pathetically laughable. 

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

www.khilden.com 

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

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.

www.khilden.com 

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

Without preliminary sketches, Karen produced this exquisite line drawing of a face. She drew without a model or an image. It’s her invention, probably a self-portrait after her disappointment with the earlier drawing project. (See the still life set up in the previous post.)

Picasso comes to mind.

I don’t know if Karen was paying homage to Picasso.  But I’ll venture a guess about her immediate source of inspiration: the red and blue paper mask-face that an after-schooler had left in our classroom.

What’s the connection to Picasso?

Picasso spent his teen age years, in the 1890’s, in Barcelona.  He was precocious as an artist and as a thinker.  The friends he hung out with (in a café called Els Quatre Gats)  were artists and writers, ten and fifteen years older than he.  Barcelona in that decade was a hotbed of anarchy.  Artists were outraged at the social injustice, poverty and bourgeois complacency they saw in the city. Central to anarchist beliefs was the faith in the power of art to alter the ways in which people thought, to change the consciousness of the age and thus to hasten the social revolution.

When Picasso moved to Paris in 1904, his friends were again artists and poets who debated the function of art in an urgently needed social and aesthetic revolution.

In Paris at the time, African and Oceanic  art could be bought on the cheap at flea markets.  Artists who worked in the modern vein all owned such masks and sculptures, including Picasso.  When Picasso visited the Ethological Museum (called the Trocadero at that time), he was smitten by the rawness of what was then called “primitive art.”  It was “against everything,” he said. Tribal artifacts, including the art of American Indians,  represented the antithesis of overly refined 19th century European art. Since this refined art documented the corruption and decadence of the society he rejected, he saw in “primitive” art a potential for total rebellion and therefore a hope of stirring the consciousness of his contemporaries.  The shock might wake them out of their comfortable bourgeois complacency and make them consider new social, political ideas and a new aesthetic.

Picasso famously drew the profile in the front view of a face, as for example in his Girl before a Mirror, 1932. (Detail shown here.) At right, a Kwakiutl mask from British Columbia.

Art students and art lovers can hardly get around Picasso.  There he is, the colossus of the 20th century.  It’s hard not to be influenced by some aspect of his many styles of working during his very long life.  Who can say what inspired Karen to make this fine drawing?  But there you are, I see Picasso in it.

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

www.khilden.com 

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »

Georges Seurat (1859-1891) worked on this his most famous painting for two years. No wonder.  It’s ten feet long and consists of dots of paint the size of a pin head.  Much of the avant-guard art at the time concerned itself with ocular issues:  the interaction of color, optical illusions involving color, retinal aftereffects of various colors.

Artists were radical in their use of color, certainly, but there’s more here than an experiment in color theory. These artists lived in late 19th century Paris and its civilization was not free of discontents.    Drawing from life and street scenes, artists contemplated social stratification and its incongruities.    The people in “La Grande Jatte” appear to be isolated, insular in their assigned societal roles.   It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, everybody is out enjoying some rest and leisure , but somehow this image manages to be uncomfortable.

The main character, the woman at the right, appears to be collaged onto the canvas.  She and her sliver of a companion occupy a dominant part of the canvas.  Seurat lets us know that she is a prostitute.  He conveys this information by drawing her with a monkey on a leash, a common prop for prostitutes at that time to attract clientele.

The colors are lovely and we are entranced by the mind-boggling detail of the tip-of-the-brush work.

What else?

When we flip the canvas left-right, it becomes apparent how tormented the social situation is.  When the prostitute is on the left, we empathize with her and that’s asking too much of us.  She has to be on the right to show how alien and isolated she is.  This, in a society where everybody had double standards  for women and wives knew what brothels their husbands frequented.  But the prostitute was still marginal, a thorn in the side of bourgeois culture, and here she is, the main attraction in this huge, in-your-retina painting.  The flipped version of the painting is painful to look at because we feel the character’s isolation all the more and because now the shore line goes down and therefore there’s no hope at all.

Other paintings by Seurat also draw the shore line going from upper left to lower right, and with good reason.  Later.

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

www.khilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

Read Full Post »