The Fauvist and the Fish

Fauvist paintings were first exhibited in 1905 in the Salon D’Automne, in direct response to the official Salon that took place in Paris every spring. The major Fauve artists were Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, and Rouault. The name Fauve – wild beast – was first used for their work by art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who said of a Roman sculpture in the Salon D’Automne, “Donatello among the wild beast.”

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) started his art career by painting in the traditional school, but by the early 1900s he had transitioned to near abstract painting style, loose brush strokes, and bold and intense colors that came to characterize Fauvism. The Fauves used vibrant bold colors to react against photography which was the new art form. Fauvists used colors and shapes to express emotion: achieving harmony by focusing on composition and colors that came together. Fauvism lasted as a unified art movement for a mere five years.

The Goldfish is a series of still-life paintings that Matisse painted of goldfish in a bowl. On a trip to Morocco, he had seen people staring at goldfish, and found the whole idea very relaxing. The function of the Goldfish painting was to evoke an emotional response, as well as to paint something that would provide contemplative relaxation to the viewer.

Matisse did not try to recreate reality, rather this is his pictorial reality – his version of a tranquil paradise with bright, bold colors, tilted tabletops, and multiple viewpoints.

Postcards from Venice

The most amazing thing about these stunningly beautiful paintings is that they were purchased as souvenirs by the well-heeled travelers of the 18th century. And the second most amazing thing is that these scenes of Venetian canals were made by Canaletto – was there ever a more befitting name!!

Canaletto, Rialto Bridge 1942
Canaletto, Grand Canal in Venice 1738
Canaletto, The Entrance to the Grand Canal 1730

Canaletto (meaning little Canal of Canal Jr.) was the nickname of Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768). He was a landscape artist of vedute or view paintings which were purchased by wealthy travelers who did the Grand Tour in the 18th Century. This was a cultural tour that young men from upper class aristocratic families would undertake – spending as much as three or four years in Europe, particularly Greece and Italy. Canaletto catered to the aristocrats and his paintings were some of the most prized souvenirs from these Tours.

Canaletto, The Grand canal from San Vio 1723-24
Canaletto, Grand Canal from Ca ‘ Balbi 1721 -23

Suddenly my two Venetian masks (which were probably made in China) that I bought as souvenirs from my 2-day trip to Venice don’t seem that great anymore!!

What’s on your walls?

When I was looking at Paul Gauguin’s Still Life with Peonies (1884), I noticed something interesting – there’s an Edgar Degas ballerina painting in the background. What is the other painting in the background? I think it’s a Cezanne painting, but I haven’t been able to find the exact painting yet. I noticed Gauguin does this a lot – in many of his still life paintings, there is another painting in the background – almost like an homage to an artist friend or an artist he admired.

Nature Morte aux Tomatoes (1883) – with a Van Gogh in the background, the brushstrokes are characteristic of Van Gogh

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903), the French Post-Impressionist artist is most well known for the paintings he made while living in Tahiti. Gauguin was a friend of Camille Pissaro, Paul Cezanne, Degas, and even Van Gogh – with Cezanne having the biggest influence on him. He collected artworks of both Degas and Cezanne, many of which appear in the background of his works.

Woman in Front of a Still Life by Cezanne (1890) – this one is titled with the background painting
This is Hope (1901) shows two paintings in the background. The top one is French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’s (1824 – 1898) painting titled Hope. The bottom one is an etching by Edgar Degas.

Still Life with Japanese Print, and, Still Life with Head-Shaped Vase and Japanese Woodcut – both have a Japanese print in the background. Interestingly, the painting on the left in the background, at first glance looked like a Gustav Klimt painting to me!!

Maurice Denis, Homage to Cezanne (1900)

In an interesting turn of events, French artist Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943) pays homage to Cezanne and indirectly to Gauguin and Renior in this painting. The painting in the front easel is Cezanne’s Fruit Bowl, Glass, and Apples (1879) which was owned by Gauguin. Hanging on the back wall of the gallery are a Gauguin and a Renoir painting

(Images courtesy Google Arts & Culture &National Museum of Australia)

Roses are red, Violets are…blue?

I really enjoyed writing about the origins of flower names in a previous blog, “A Rose by any Other Name“, and since there are so many flowers with such pretty names I thought I would do one more.

Violets – We’ve all heard the Valentine rhyme with roses and violets, but violets aren’t really blue – they are violet!! Interestingly, the color came after the flower in this case – the flower is named after the Latin viola or a little violin.  The valentine poem we are all so familiar was first found in Gammer Gurton’s Garland which was a 1784 collection of nursey rhymes:

The rose is red, the violet's blue
The honey's sweet, and so are you 
Ilya Mashkov, Still Life with Camellia (1913)

Camellia  – When Carl Linnaeus standardized plant names in 1753, he named these flowers after Father Georg Joseph Kamel (1161–1706), a Jesuit missionary and naturalist. Father Kamel was a missionary to the Philippines where he became a plant specialist of the Philippine islands. Camellias are native to Japan and China, where they are known to exist since 2737 BCE. The flower is called Tsubaki in Japanese and symbolizes the divine.

Peony – this beautiful flower symbolizing romance and prosperity is named after Paeon who in Greek mythology was the physician to the Greek Gods. Paeon was a student of Asclepius, the God of medicine and healing. Asclepius was jealous of Paeon and threatened to kill him. Zeus turned Paeon into a flower to save him from Asclepius – and that’s how this flower got its name. Peonies are the national flower of China and are known as the king of flowers in China.

Pete Mondrian, Red Amaryllis with Blue Background (1907)

Amaryllis  – this flowers is named after a shepherdess in Latin poet Virgil’s work called the Eclogues which are a collection of 10 unconnected pastoral poems that he composed between 42 and 37 BCE. Amaryllis was in love with Alteo, and to get his attention she pierced her heart daily with a golden arrow for a month. The blood that dropped from her heart was red like the flower which came to be known as Amaryllis. Perhaps also because of the red color, the Amaryllis plays a starring role at Christmas time.

At the threshold

Recently, I had done a series of blogs on the representation of African Americans in art. It seems incomplete without including the sensitive post-Civil War works of Winslow Homer in which he depicts African Americans standing at the threshold between slavery and freedom. Homer (1836-1910) is regarded as one of the greatest American artists of the 19th century.

Near Andersonville, 1875

Andersonville (Camp Sumter) was a brutal civil war camp where 10s of thousands of Union soldiers died. In this poetic painting a woman stands at the threshold  between slavery and freedom – darkness and light.

A Visit from the Mistress, 1876

In A Visit from the Mistress, 1876, the old mistress visits the Afrcan American women who are warmed by the glow of the fireplace, while the old mistress looks cold and angular. The body posture and the rather stiff visit all give a sense on underlying hostility, and a sense that despite the radical shift not much has changed in reality.

The Bright Side, 1865

This painting is the subject of considerable debate as to Homer’s meaning. Whatever the interpretation – the men here are taking a well-deserved break after hard work in the army and exude dignity and a sense of calm.

Weaning the Calf, 1875

What at first glance appears to be an idyllic childhood scene, is in reality a depiction of post-Civil war reality. The young boy in the front, and the one under the tree are doing all the work, while the other two boys look at the action and offer no assistance. Homer’s work here seems to be speaking volumes for the difficult future that lies ahead.

(Images courtesy MFA Boston, NC Museum, Google Arts & Culture).

Photo Day – Sunday Seven

Earlier this week was World Photograpy Day – celebrated on this day in honor of the invention of the daguerreotype, a photography process invented by louis Daguerre on August 19, 1893. Instead of photography, I wanted to showcase hyperrealism art, which – for me – is a roundabout way of appreciating photography – anyway here are this week’s amazing Sunday Seven!!

Gioacchino Passini
Jason de Graaf
Omar Ortiz

(All images courtesy artist Instagram accounts).

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).

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).

Mosaics of Labor

I find these monumental Soviet era mosaics very attractive and thought provoking – the bright colors, the immense detail in the work, and of course the stories they tell of an era that has ended. They are of course propaganda mosaics – but if we can set that aside for a minute and just appreciate the intricate work that has gone into making them – they really are quite remarkable. Ex-USSR countries like Georgia and Ukraine seem to be filled with these mosaics, though many are in a dilapidated state.

Most of these are celebrating labor since working class people were supposed to be the ruling class according to Karl Marx. These mosaics were public art and decorated the exterior walls of school, factories, government building, and residential blocks, and celebrated the everyday working-class heroes on a larger than life scale. Much of this public art and cultural heritage of an era has been destroyed after the end of communism – but the ones that remain serve as a testament to that era.

(Images courtesy Socialist Realism Art websites & Instagram)