In 1957, almost 300 years after Diego Velazquez painted Las Meninas (1656), Picasso painted and sketched 44 interpretations of the masterpiece. Between August 16 and December 30, 1957 Picasso explored every aspect of the painting creating versions of the painting as well as almost daily sketches of the different characters in Las Meninas. While Velazquez’s Meninas was baroque with rich hues, Picasso’s black and white renditions, with their geometric shapes are true to his style.
Picasso saw a painting that was revered, and managed to hold mysteries even 300 years later, and perhaps wanted to leave something of himself in the painting. Or perhaps he wanted to analyze its details and analyze how they fit together into the composition. Perhaps he wanted to carry the painting forward by infusing it with his cubism, and perhaps he wanted to make it truly immortal by removing the humanity of its characters by replacing them with geometric shapes. Whatever the reason, Picasso worked on this, in solitude, for months towards the end of 1957 emerging with a total of 58 sketches – 44 interpretations and the rest of cubist pigeons that came to his balcony while he painted.
The interpretation was carried even further by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) in 1972 when he made an etching called Picasso’s Meninas to celebrate the artist’s 90th birthday. Here Velazquez’s composition and Picasso’s style are fused together – the temptation to paraphrase Velazquez in Picasso’s style was irresistible” (Hamilton). And in this paraphrasing, Hamilton did a truly fantastic job!!
In a true homage to Picasso, Hamilton covered all of Picasso’s artistic styles in this one etching – the Infanta is in Picasso’s Analytical Cubism of 1912. The meninas to the left of the Infanta is in the flat graphic language Picasso was using in the 1930s. The maid behind her is in Picasso’s neo-classical style of the early 1920s, whereas the male figure is drawn using spare lines and the vocabulary of African forms that Picasso was using around 1907. The female dwarf is a version of Picasso’s Seated Woman (1927). The harlequin from Picasso’s Rose period stands in place of Velazquez’s page, and the bull, from Picasso’s 1934 Dying Bull replaces the dog (Source, Tate Britain).
The rectangular paintings in the background are copies of Picasso’s surrealist paintings, L’Aubade, 1942 and Three Musicians, 1921. The mirror – which was the focal point of Las Meninas and showed a reflection of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Mariana, are replaced by Hamilton himself and the artist Rita Donagh, who later became his wife. They are rendered with a particular etching technique that was created by Picasso which made the two figures appear painted in the print. He replaced Velazquez’s self-portrait with Picasso in his etching and added a hammer and sickle on Picasso’s chest.
I think it’s fairly poetic that Hamilton, like Velazquez, managed to insert himself into the painting – that too in the focal point of the original painting – thereby paying homage through the etching not just to Picasso, but to Velazquez as well.
(Sources: pablopicasso.org. Tate Britain, Museo Picasso, Musée d’art moderne, Museum of Modern Art).
Last year at this time, I had done quite a few blogs on the Berlin Wall because it was the 30 years since the wall fell. I’m going to redo one of these blogs about a section of the wall with the word MADNESS written on it – with an exciting update!!
I am endlessly fascinated by the graffiti on the wall. It captures the essence of the 1980s and while a majority of the wall and graffiti are gone for good, the images from the 1980s have captured and preserved the essence of that raw, youthful energy forever. This was art on the streets being used as protest. It was the voice of a generation that used the wall as a canvas to reduce some of its horror and make it less threatening. In the words of Thierry Noir, who is the first artist to illegally paint large sections of the Berlin Wall, painting the wall, “subverted this iconic symbol of war into a symbol of hope, granting it real human significance.”
One of the remaining sections of the wall has the word MADNESS written in large black letters. It remains to this day in Berlin in the Topographie des Terrors Center and is visited by the millions of people that go to Berlin annually. It would appear to have been done by someone protesting the madness that was the Berlin Wall.
However, it turns out the graffiti was done by a member of the British Rock Band called Madness when they visited the wall in the early 80s. In his twitter feed, Dan Woody Woodgate (one of the band members) writes that in 1980 another band member, Graham Suggs McPherson, climbed on top of a van and wrote MADNESS on the Berlin Wall, which is the same one that exists today. I was thrilled to see the origin of this fascinating and meaningful word that remains to this day. While most people that see the remaining graffiti naturally conclude that it was a teenager’s commentary on what was going on with the wall and the East German regime, it was actually a band member of a popular 1980s band writing his group’s name on the wall.
In another fascinating find, as I was scouring Instagram for images of the wall, I actually found this word written on the wall from a 1980s image. What an interesting coincidence – first I found the origin of the word, and then I found an image of what appears to be the same writing from the 1980s. What do you think? Is it the same writing or another one?
I want it to be the same, but I see the differences in placement and letter sizes. So maybe not the exact same writing but still an interesting find.
A couple of weeks back I received the following image from the owner of the blog www.madnessontv.com, with a note that the graffiti in the second image was definitely done by the band, as proved by this image:
Madness were in Berlin in January 1980, and appeared on German TV “Musikladen” on January 10, 1980, and then on another TV show on January 17, 1980. Two of the bandmembers were active in the London graffiti scene before they joined the band. A great big thank you to madnesstv.com for sharing this picture with me!!
After sailing for eight weeks across the Atlantic, the Mayflower reached Plymouth Harbor.
…but at night the winde being contrary, we put round againe for the Bay of Cape Cod, and vpon the 11. of Nouember, we came to an anchor in the Bay, which is a good harbour and a pleafant Bay, circled round, except in the entrance which is about foure miles ouer from land to land, compaffed about to the very Sea with Okes, Pines, Iuniper, Saffafrasm and other fweet wood; it is a harbour wherein 1000 faile of Ships may fafely ride, there we relieued our felues with wood and water, and refrefhed our people, while our fhallop was fitted to coaft the Bay, to fearch for an inhabitation ; there was the greateft fhre of fowle that euer we faw.
Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Edward Winslow
This day before we came to harbour, obfeuring fome not well affected to vnitie and concord, but gaue fome appearbance of faction, it was thought good there fhould e an affociation and agreement, that we fhould combine together in one body, and to fubmit to fuch government and governors, as we fhould by common confent agree to make and chofe, and fet our hands to this that follows word for word.”
Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Edward Winslow
What followed and was signed on 11 November 1620 by 41 male passengers of the Mayflower came to be known as the The Mayflower Compact. The original version of the signed document was lost. The earliest known text of the document is found in Mourt’s Relation (1622) which provides an account of Plymouth settlement written by Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow and William Bradford.
What a difference a day can make. The morning of November 9, 1989 started like any other day for Berliners on both sides of the wall – but by the end of the day the barrier that stood between them had fallen. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Two nights ago, as the long-awaited (US) election results were announced, the sombre mood of the nation changed in one moment and celebrations broke out across the country.
In the words of Willy Brandt (1913-1992), German politician, mayor of West Berlin, and 1971 Nobel Peace Prize winner, “Now we are in a situation where what belongs together, will grow back together.”
(Images Courtesy: Guardian, Time Magazine, US News & World Report).
While I was looking up info for the wartime evacuation of paintings, I came across the really fascinating start to the Picture of the Month concept that was initiated by the National Gallery in London during wartime. The Gallery had just purchased and exhibited a Rembrandt painting in an otherwise empty museum. Following this exhibition, on January 3, 1942, a Mr. Charles Wheeler wrote a letter to the editor of the Times newspaper.
“because London’s face is scarred and bruised these days we need more than ever to see beautiful things. Like many another one hungry for aesthetic refreshment, I would welcome the opportunity of seeing a few of the hundreds of the nation’s masterpieces now stored in a safe place. Would the trustees of the National Gallery consider whether it were not wise and well to risk one picture for exhibition each week? Arrangements could be made to transfer it quickly to a strong room in case of an alert. Music-lovers are not denied their Beethoven, but picture-lovers are denied their Rembrandts just at a time when such beauty is most potent for good.”
In response, the trustees decided to show one picture every three weeks instead of one a week because they, “felt that many people could not spare time to visit the gallery so often and might be disappointed at missing a favorite picture.”
The first painting selected by the museum was Titian’s Nole me tangere. The picture with its biblical subject matter that invited contemplation and its themes of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, seemed like a perfect choice for a nation at war. The picture was selected on March 11, 1942 and was on display for three weeks.
I looked through many months of archives of the Times and could only find three more such notices.
What fun I’ve had with the research for this blog!! As always, I am amazed at the power of art to bring joy and to heal.
(Sources: Times archives and the National Gallery, London).
On August 23, 1939, in preparation for the impending war, the National Gallery in London closed its doors to the public and took down all its paintings. In addition to sending children away from London, the treasures in its museums inlcuding 1000s of years’ worth of historical documents like the Magna Carta, and its large collection of paintings had to be sent away for safekeeping.
Initially the paintings were spread-out all over England, in aristocratic homes and museums far away from London. After the Battle of Dunkirk in the summer of 1940 it became clear the German bombers would soon be targeting the entire island, and the current locations of the paintings would not be safe enough. For a while, the idea of sending everything to Canada was floated, but Churchill shot down the idea with an emphatic, “Hide them in caves and cellars but not one picture shall leave this island.”
In the end, that’s precisely what happened – the museum director Kenneth Clark sent the paintings to a large unused slate mine in Wales called the Manod Caverns for safekeeping. It was here that they spent the remainder of the war under the care of Andrew Davies, the chief curator who relocated to the Wales to be close to the paintings.
In France too, the Louvre closed its doors, officially for repair work, for three days on August 25, 1939. In three days, just 10 days before the German invasion, the treasures from the Louvre were moved to countryside chateaus and aristocratic homes all over France for safekeeping. The museum director, Jacques Jaujard, moved the paintings including the Mona Lisa in complete secrecy, so that when the Nazis entered the Louvre, they found only frames lining the walls. The details of where each painting went are still secret.
Jacques Jaujard was able to accomplish the herculean task of quickly moving 4000 pieces of Louvre’s collections because he was experienced at hiding paintings – having done it previously during the Spanish civil war in 1936 for Madrid’s Museo del Prado when the paintings were disbursed all over Spain. They were moved again in 1939, this time with the assistance of New York’s MOMA, the Louvre, and the National and Tate Galleries in London. With the support of these museums, in February 1939, the entire contents of the Prado including Las Meninas were transported to the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva for safekeeping.
The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands too closed its doors on August 25, 1939 to empty the museum under the guidance of Henricus Petrus Baard. He had started as a volunteer at the museum, and in 1939 was the museum’s scientific assistant of history. The museum’s treasures were sent to villages across the Netherlands: suddenly little villages found themselves responsible for the safekeeping of Vermeers and Rembrandts. But once the bombs started dropping, the paintings were shifted to newly constructed bomb-proof bunkers near the North Sea. The Night Watch shifted bunkers at least five times during the war.
None of the paintings that were transported and stored in mines and bunkers were damaged – each one returned to its rightful place at the end of the war. I think we owe an immense and unrepayable debt of gratitude to the museum directors and the people who helped to pack, transport, store, and care for these priceless treasures during the war.
(Images courtesy National Gallery (London), Musee de Louvre, Museo del Prado, Stedelijk Museum).
We are looking at a picture in which the painter is in turn looking at us. A mere confrontation, eyes catching one another’s glance, direct looks superimposing themselves upon one another as they cross. And yet, this slender line of reciprocal visibility embraces a whole complex network of uncertainties, exchanges, and feints. The painter is turning his eyes towards us only in so far as we happen to occupy the same position as his subject.
No gaze is stable, or rather, in the neutral furrow of the gaze piercing at right angle through the canvas, subject and object, the spectator and the model, reverse their role to infinity. And the great canvas with its back to us on the extreme left of the picture exercises its second function: stubbornly invisible, it prevents the relation of these gazes from ever being discoverable or definitely established. The opaque fixity that it establishes on one side renders forever unstable the play of metamorphoses established in the center between spectator and model.
As soon as they place the spectator in the field of their gaze, the painter’s eyes seize hold of him, force him to enter the picture, assign him a place at once privileged and inescapable, levy their luminous and visible tribute from him, and project it upon the inaccessible surface of the canvas within the picture. He sees his invisibility made visible to the painter and transposed into an image forever invisible to himself.
Your soul is a select landscape
Where charming masqueraders and
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.
All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,
With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.
Paul Verlaine, 1869
(Top image: Arkhip Kuindzhi Ivanovich, Moonlit Night on the Dneiper, 1882)(Images Courtesy: The State Tretyakov Gallery, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ohio)