le Corbusier

Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965) was one of the most important and influential modern architects of the 20th Century, and is known for his works in the International Style – a style that crossed national boundaries post World War I in Europe.

Villa Savoye outside Paris is the icon of International Style and reflects le Corbusier’s “Purist ideals in its geometric design and avoidance of ornamentation” (Stokstad, Cothern). The house utilizes the 5 points of architecture considered essential for Modern architecture: 1)pilotis (free-standing posts)  that lift the building above the ground, 2)a flat roof that serves as a garden and terrace, 3)open plan interiors, 4)ribbon windows for light an ventilation, and5) a free façade independent of the load bearing structure.

Unite d’Habitation – Marseilles, France

The Cite Radieuse (Radiant City) in Marseilles was le Corbusier’s post World War II multi-family housing project designed under Unite d’ Habitation design principle. It is also the building that inspired brutalist architecture. Completed in 1952, this vertical city of two-story residences and a communal rooftoop garden was built of beton brut because of steel shortages post World War II. The building is considered highly influential in the world of architecture and is one of the most innovative responses to the acute housing shortages after the war.

The city within a city boasts a kindergarten gym, and paddling pool on the roof deck, as well as shops , medical facilities, and a hotel inside the building. In all le Corbusier designed and built five Unite’ d Habitation housing developments in a span of 15 years– in Marseilles, Reze, Berlin, Briey-en-Foret and Firminy. These all-inclusive housing complexes represented an extraordinary moment in the development of housing in the 20th century.

(Images courtesy le Corbusier foundation).

Chirico’s Shadows

Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico’s works from his highly influential metaphysical period lasted for a few brief years before World War I.

The Enigma of a Day

The works show empty, yet architecturally rich, city landscapes with mesmerizing late afternoon wintertime shadows. That hour of the day when the last remnants of the wintertime sun elongates shadows seems to invite contemplation about the passage of time. It happens during the last few minutes of daylight during the last few months of the year – perhaps it is that proximity to the end of a recrring cycle which invites contemplation – in this we see the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy in Chirico’s works.

His works are what paintings of dreams would look like- there are symmetrical arches and architectural details with a cubist bent, bright surfaces and dark spaces, empty landscapes with shadows of solitary people or statues of dead people, there is no sense of perspective, wind seems to appear only in certain sections of the painting – smoke from a steam engine billows upwards, but flags fly sideways – looking at his paintings seems to slow down time while one contemplates its passage. They are an enigma – perhaps why he himself named so many of them that way.

The Enigma of a Day

The metaphysical period of Chirico’s artistic career was brief – from 1911 to 1915 – after the war he drifted towards classical work. Yet, this brief period was highly influential in paving the way for surrealism and the works of Magritte and Dali – and Hopper’s empty landscapes – among others.

“Our Life” in Tiles

Art on buildings, among other public places, was a big thing for socialist countries – and in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz is one of the most iconic and largest of these artworks. It wraps around two floors of the East German Ministry of Education’s “House of the Teachers” building like a bandage.

Artist Walter Womacka (1925 – 2010) was chosen by the East German government to make this mural – and the large-scale socialist realism mosaic built in 1964 is now a protected landmark. Its popularity probably stems from the colorful folk-art vibe which is so much softer and fun than hardline socialist propaganda art.Womacka called his mural with 800,000 tiles “Our Life,” and that’s precisely what it depicted – various aspects of life in East Germany that the government wanted to showcase.

This section of the mural depicts worldwide friendship and harmony

(All images courtesy Instagram and Haus des Lehrers website).

Newton’s Tree

Much like the college students of the year 2020, Newton too was sent home from Cambridge University during the bubonic plague epidemic of 1666, and it was while he was home sitting under the apple tree in his garden that the apple fell to the ground – and the rest as they say is history.  It has been over 340 years since Newton had his epiphany, and almost 300 years since the death of Newton – and yet the tree lives on in his garden at the Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire England. It was planted at least 60 years before Newton was born – which makes it well over 400 years old.

A graft of the original tree was planted at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1954, and from this tree others have been grafted and planted at numerous universities and research institutes across the world. They can be found at found at MIT, Occidental College, Tokyo University, Clemson, University of Nebraska, and Stanford among others. Even research centers with hot and dry climate, like the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India build canopies and try to grow the tree.

Bearing fruit in Pune, India

The love for the tree is ironic – because Newton only went to Cambridge to study Physics because his mother thought he would not make a good farmer!!

Blue & Yellow Beauties

I first noticed the beauty of blue and yellow paintings in Dutch artist Willian van Aelst’s Still Life with Flowers (1664) with striking yellow lemons against the intense and deep blues of the tablecloth. I was so intrigued by the gorgeousness of these two colors together that I thought I would find some more – and as it turns out there are many striking blue and yellow paintings.

Willem Van Aelst (1627-1683), Still Life with Flower 1664

Apparently other people too like the blue and yellow combination – the untitled blue and yellow modern art by Mark Rothko sold for $46.5 million in 2015 (left). Mark Rothko is one of the most prominent American artists of the 20th Century who created “a new and impssioned form of abstract painting” (nga.gov). Two other 20th century artists with blue and yellow paintings are Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (center) and Russian artist and pioneer of abstract art Wassily Kandinski.

And coincindentally here are a blue and yellow cow and milkmaid by Warhol and Vermeer!!

Another stunning blue and yellow work is this painting by Henri Matisse.

Henri Matisse, Girl in Blue and Yellow with Guitar (1939).

And of course, no discussion on blue and yellow can be complete without Vincent Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890), Irises in a Vase (1890), and Cafe Terrace at Night (1888).

(Images courtesy Van Gogh Museuem, Met, MOMA, NGA, Toledo Museum, and Google Arts and Culture).

A Rose by any other name..

I am always intrigued by names and how they originate and get associated with things. I thought I’ll research a few of my favorite flowers and see how they got the name they did.

Tulip – this beautiful flower originated in Persia and Turkey and gets its name from the Turkish word for turbans. Men wore tulips on their turbans in this region, and Europeans thought the word tulip was for the name of the flower, and not the word for turban and started calling the beautiful flower tulip. It’s interesting because I also think the name looks like a turban – and some sources say that the name originated from the Turkish word for turban. Either way – it’s a perfect name for this much-loved flower.

Theofrastos Triantafyllidis (1881-1955), Still Life with gardenias and red book

Gardenia – this gorgeous white fragrant flower is named after physician and botanist Alexander Garden. It was named that not by Garden himself but Carl Linnaeus a Swedish botanist who formalized binomial nomenclature. Garden lived in Charleston, SC and had sent a magnolia to Linnaeus who felt the need to then name a flower after Garden and picked the cape jasmine and called it gardenia!!

Vincent Van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Iris – the name of this flower is from the Greek word – eiris – which is the name of the Greek Goddess of the rainbow. The flower is called that because it comes in all colors of the rainbow. It is also the flower that announces the arrival of spring by popping out of the ground sometimes through the snow.

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), Dahlias, 1874

Dahlia – these flowers symbolize summer – and are also very important for Mexico which is where they originated. They were some of the earlier flowers taken to Europe from the Americas and did well in the German and Swedish summers – and were named dahlia after a Swedish botanist Andres Dahl. The Germans wanted to name the flower Georgina after German botanist Johann Gottlieb Georgi – and called it Georgina through the 19th century until they finally gave in to the Swedes.

Mughal, 17th Century, unknown

Marigold – this deep yellow flower which grows profusely all year long seems to be revered in almost all religions. Its name derives from Mary’s Gold – so named after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Marigolds were taken to Europe from Mexico and Guatemala in the 16th century – in Spain they were placed at the altar of Mary which gave them their name. Marigolds are also used in all Hindu religious ceremonies.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Carnation Lily. Lily, Rose (1885)

Carnations – the name sounds like and is derived from the word coronation – these flowers were used in ancient Greek crowns from which they get their name. Today these flowers are used for solemn occasions.

Lily – lilies get their name from the Greek word leiron which was what they called the while lily. Lilies are the oldest cultivated flowers in the world and were grown by the Cretes as early as 1580 BCE.

So many flowers… I could go on and on !!

Braque and the Mural

While looking at mosaics and murals from the Socialist bloc countries, I came across a cropped image of this mural on a building in Halle-Neustadt, Germany. The first thing that struck me about the mural was that it reminded me of a Georges Braque cubist artwork – it has the same monochromatic color scheme, the same geometric shapes, and abstract appearance like many of Braque’s paintings.

The mural was made by Erich Enge in 1970-71 and can be found on the side facade of a housing block building inthe ex-East German city. It is titled “Er rührte an den schlaf der welt,” which translates to “He stirred the world’s slumber.” The mural is dedicated to Lenin and the impact he had on different aspects of Socialist life are depicted in the mural.

Georges Braque, Viloin and Candlestick, 1910.

Georges Braque (1882 – 1963) was a French artist who started as a Fauvist, but was so inspired by Picasso’s foray into analytical cubism with Demoiselles D’Avignon (1907), that he collaborated with Picasso and started experimenting with cubism. One of the first works as a result of this collaboration was Violin and Candlestick (1908) in which Braque knitted together the violin, sheet music, and other elements – all pushed close to the picture plane in monochromatic colors and cubist forms.

Georges Braque, The Portugese, 1910

Like the mural there is no slow progression to the surface or depth perception – natural shapes are lost and only representational motifs remain – more so in the Braque than the mural – but the similarities are striking and exciting. Another fragmented work – The Portugese (1911), shows the fractured forms of a musician and his guitar.

The amazing large-scale mural in Halle-Neustadt with its rectangular shapes, color scheme, and fragmented parts perhaps found inspiration in Braque’s works, just like Braque found inspiration in Picasso’s work.

(Images courtesy SFMOMA, Georgesbraque.net and Erich Enge’s website).


“In the woods, is perpetual youth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hippocrates – the father of medicine – is thought to have said, “Nature itself is the best medicine.” In his 1836 essay, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel nothing can befall me in life, –no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair.”

And in the 1980s, the Japanese agreed with the truth found in these statements and their own zen philosophies and started the practice of shinrin-yoku – or forest bathing.

Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin (1832 – 1898) – Walk in the Woods 1869

The simple act of meandering in a wooded forest, hearing the sounds it makes, or even its stillness, soaking in the sunlight as it filters through the canopy of green leaves silhouetted against the blue sky above, smelling the earthy, woody smells of the trees, and feeling the mossiness of their trunks – all of these are essential to our being. These are nature’s timeless elements that keep us grounded; and refresh our minds, bodies, and souls when we connect with them mindfully.

Shinrin-yoku started when it became apparent that technology, modernizaion, and urban landscapes themselves were causing the stress and depression found in city dwellers. But I wonder if it was just going back to our roots – to something we always did – something that we simply lost along the way and have found again.

(Images courtesy Cincinnati Museum, Rousseau.org, and Tate Gallery).

Flotsam and Jetsam

While most of us may relate to them as the twin eels in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, these two very interesting words originate from marine debris and are related to the items that were once on a ship but are now in the ocean.

Flotsam and Jetsam, 1908, John Singer Sargent, watercolor on paper

Flotsam is debris or rubbish that is found floating around in the ocean that got there because of a ship accident or wreck. It was never deliberately thrown into the ocean from the ship. The word flotsam comes from the French word floter which simply means to float. The rule of finder’s keepers does not apply to flotsam found by a passerby – the debris still belongs to the owners of the ship that met with the unfortunate accident that cause the flotsam.

Jetsam on the other hand is debris that was deliberately thrown from the ship into the ocean – either to lighten the ship before an accident or for some other reason. The important distinction is that it was deliberately thrown. The word is derived from the word jettison which means to throw something from a plane or a ship. Since they chose to throw the jetsam, the rule of finders keepers does apply in this case – and a passerby that comes across the jetsam can keep it.

The Shipwreck, 1772 Claude-Joseph Vernet, (1714-1780)

The two words are most often used together and have metaphorically come to mean odds and ends, or miscellaneous items –  as in –“the war refugees carried the flotsam and jetsam of their life on their backs as they walked across the continent searching for a safe haven.”

(Images courtesy, NGA DC, Portland Museum of Art, National Museuem of Norway, & Tate Gallery UK).

Percontation Point

Earlier this week I learned about another wonderful punctuation mark that seems to have fallen out of use – or I should say never really caught on – Percontation point or the Rhetorical Question mark. It might be used most appropriately in – are you crazy – where clearly the speaker is not expecting a response.

The backward question mark.

In the late 16th century, English printer Henry Denham was concerned that the unsavvy readers of English may not catch on to the fact that the question did not require a response and proposed the use of a backward question mark to indicate a rhetorical question. It didn’t really catch on and it fell out of use completely by the 17th century.

I can see it being quite useful on Twitter where one often doesn’t know whether a response is required or not. It also has found use in art work and tshirts.