Category Archives: Art History

Art-See: Romance

The Kiss by Klimt

The Kiss by Brancusi

Notice a trend? Forgive me, but I have weddings on the brain 15/7 (yeah it’s not quite to 24/7 yet, I do sleep and work and let my brain think about a few other things). Anyways, with a long-distance fiance and weekends spent planning out details for a day a year away (11/10/12!) I thought I’d put the romantic daydreams to some other use.

The Kiss by Brancusi is one of my favorite sculptures. Housed in the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, it’s a squatty plaster cast of the original stone carving. The two people seem to be carved from one stone, symbolizing to me how husband and wife become one in marriage. And I love it’s simplicity and how you can see all around them but not their most intimate kiss.

Klimt’s The Kiss is equally sweet and intimate. It’s also so sensual and lavish (I’ll take a gold cape wrapped around me every time I’m embraced, thank you very much).

La Mariee by Chagall

It’s hard to talk about daydreams and fantastical love without including Chagall, the king of floating bodies, dreamy scenes and flat out random subject matter. La Mariee imagines a bride being fitted with her veil by her groom. A church and small town linger beyond them, while a musician serenades them both. Oh, and there’s a cello-playing goat and a lobster playing the xylophone. Is this the Little Mermaid’s wedding? I’ll probably have some dream along these lines in the next year.

The Singing Butler by Vettriano

And maybe for our first dance we’ll have our maid and butler keep the rain away as we waltz around a beach. No? Well regardless, I’ve always loved The Singing Butler painting and found it lovely and whimsical. My favorite is the maid whose probably thinking, “Oh, these crazy people. Go dance inside.”

American Gothic by Grant Wood

To end on a more sobering note, Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Jonathan jokingly suggested that  this is “the way marriage really looks.” Ha. I know he was joking but I think it’s fair to group it with these artworks. Because every relationship is dreamy and intimate and lovely, but it’s also an everyday attitude of “we’re in this together, come what may.”

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A Work in Progress

Frederic Bazille, The Little Gardener, 1866-67

Sometimes the creative process is far more interesting to me than the end result. That’s why art history has always fascinated me. Even if I don’t particularly “like” a work of art, studying the back story of it, what the artist was thinking, what his or her influences were and how he or she painting the work give the work so much more meaning. And as someone who has never really found her inner artistic ability (try as I might, my drawings still look like a six-year-old drew them…) I love seeing artists’ sketches or preparatory studies.

Yesterday, my mom and I visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (bonus: free admission on Thursdays!). It’s really an impressive museum and it was my first time visiting. We only made it around the second floor of one building because we spent so much time awestruck by the amazing impressionist collection. I discovered so many artists I wasn’t familiar with (more on them in a later post) and smiled seeing works by favorites (van Gogh, Vuillard, Monet …).

This particular work by Frederic Bazille especially struck me, again, more for its backstory than its actual appearance. You see, it’s not finished. Bazille had only loosely sketched the kneeling person on the left and the tall pine tree, as well as several bushes. He died in the Franco-Prussian War, leaving many works unfinished. How sad, right? And also eery, because when I looked at that outlined body in the painting, it kind of took on a ghostly quality. But how interesting to see all the layers of the process coming together.

This bottom work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – the notable French artist who painted vivid and energetic cabaret scenes – is less work in progress as it is a simple caricature. In its simplicity, it’s still so interesting to me. Any caricaturists out there I can hire for my future dinner parties?

Henri du Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Table of Monsieur and Madame Natanson, 1898

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Alexander Calder, the King of Whimsy

In honor of Mr. Calder’s 113th birthday the creative folks at Google created this interactive mobile doodle.

Courtesy of Google & the Calder Foundation

Calder is one of my favorite artists, maybe because I like to think of him as a kid that never grew up, always tinkering with metal and objects and seeing how they balanced in mid air to create whimsical arrangements.

I wrote this pseudo news story about him on my tumblr page earlier this year. It’s how I like to imagine his creative process came together:

October 22, 1931/The baby won’t sleep. The moment I put her down she starts wailing. I thought babies were supposed to nap? I want to nap, why doesn’t she want to nap? I’m having a hard time getting much work done in the studio with constantly having to go in and out to check on her. Maybe I’ll just bring the crib in here. I know, I know babies and sharp metal sticking out everywhere don’t exactly go hand in hand. But I’m desperate here, OK? Sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed in Paris and joined the circus. People lovedCirque Calder; I could have been just as good in the real thing.

October 23, 1931/What do you know, the baby stopped crying. Turns out she loves my studio. I was working on my latest wire portrait when I decided maybe dangling a few up and down in front of her might calm her down a bit. I think I’ve discovered a new art form: the mobile. I know Duchamp messed with mobiles back in his day, but he made them all complicated with cranks and motors. Babies don’t need cranks and motors. They just need simple forms in front of their faces, mesmerizing them. And maybe if it can mesmerize her, it can mesmerize the public as well.

Snow Flurry, via the Calder Foundation

Finny Fish, via the Calder Foundation

Performing Seal, via the Calder Foundation

Goldfish Bowl, via the Calder Foundation

Go add a little childish whimsy to your day.

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Wish I Could Have Been There: the Great Exhibition

Perhaps the musical film Meet Me in St. Louis is to blame for my romanticized view of world fairs. The film, which chronicles the life of a St. Louis family the year leading up to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, is probably too cheesy for some, but I can’t help but love its songs, Victorian costumes and architecture and hopelessly optimistic characters. Plus, the excitement everyone has for the upcoming world’s fair is contagious.

Today marks the 160-year anniversary of the very first world’s fair. (Thank you, Google Doodle, for once again producing a brilliant illustration in honor of an architectural and cultural moment in history.)

The 160th anniversary of the first World's Fair.

In 1851 Joseph Paxton submitted the winning plan for a glass-and-iron building to house the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London (London is just all over the place this week).

The exhibition was organized to display works of industry and design from every nation. As an expert builder of greenhouses, Paxton was inspired by the design of giant lily pads in his construction of the Crystal Palace, as the building was named.

The ironwork of the palace was reminiscent of the latticed veins under the lily pad.

Not only was its design ingenious, but the fact that the entire building came together in six months was unheard of and due to the use of prefabricated parts. The large interior space housed enormous structures, from machines to fountains and even live trees.

Beautiful watercolors of several exhibition rooms (click for more pictures and info).

The palace was moved to the outskirts of London after the exhibition closed but was destroyed by a fire in 1936. However, if you’re driving down Stemmons Freeway in Dallas you might notice this almost exact replica.

The INFOMART building near downtown Dallas.

The next World’s Fair will be held in Yeosu, South Korea, in 2012 and Milan in 2015. I might not be making it to either of those, but I’ll keep daydreaming.

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Seasonal: The Last Supper

For centuries, art was associated with religion. From murals and frescoes to altar paintings, scripture was depicted throughout art. With Lent culminating at the end of this week with the celebration of Easter, I thought it fitting to compare three depictions of the ubiquitous Last Supper scene as painted by Andrea del Castagno, Tintoretto and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci to show how the same event can be portrayed so differently in mood and appearance.

Last Supper

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, fresco, Florence, Italy, 1447

This fresco (a painting done on wet plaster so it penetrates the wall as it dries) was fittingly painted in the dining hall of a convent in Florence (how would you like to be reminded of this scene every time you ate supper?) Besides focussing on the narrative, Castagno was also interested in showing a great deal of perspective in the painting. Exploring this painting technique was prevalent throughout 15th-century art. Now, religious art is chock full of symbolism and a pretty easy place to get one’s bearings in the art world. My go-to symbol in Last Supper paintings is Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus, so he’s not on my favorite people of the Bible list. But because of that role, it’s usually most interesting to see what the artist does with him. Here, Castagno doesn’t hide anything: Judas is bad, he doesn’t get to sit by anyone else, put him on the other side of the table. Simple.

Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, tempera on gesso, Milan, Italy, 1495-1498

Now, for one of the most reproduced paintings of all time, Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Roughly 15-by-29 feet, the work is truly huge. This painting is a study of balance and focus, with perspective only heightening the importance of certain elements. Namely, Jesus is clearly at the center of the event with all visible and spacial lines directed at him. Where’s our go-to Judas? He’s not as clearly the “bad guy” in Leonardo’s work, but fourth from the left, he’s still a little removed (in appearance and posture). We also can’t forget to observe John directly next to Jesus; in both these Last Supper scenes he’s swooning or fainting. It’s perhaps because he’s the youngest apostle (it’s also given historians plenty to study and wonder about for centuries). Do you see how we’re picking up drama in these paintings, though? To me Castagno’s work almost seems like they’re all sitting around at a local restaurant, just another day. Here, we see a bit of momentum; people are gesturing and gasping. They’re reacting. Which brings us to Tintoretto.

Last Supper 2

Tintoretto, Last Supper, oil on canvas, Venice, Italy, 1594

Wow. You would think this wasn’t even the same scene. To me, here the drama is palpable. There is no longer the balance and harmony of the previous two works. Jesus and the 12 apostles are not alone in a quiet space. The table is at a jaunting angle that immediately directs your eye to the central Jesus (if the illuminated halo didn’t do the trick). There’s dramatic lighting and shadows – not to mention celestial beings flying overhead – that play up the unfolding drama. I don’t even know where Judas is in all of this (although my best guess is that he’s the one guy kneeling down near Jesus without a halo). In the history of art, this painting is also a transition from the neutral lighting and clarity of space of the Renaissance to the dramatic chiaroscuro (an effect of contrasted light and shadow) of the approaching Baroque period.

Whose to say which work is the most “accurate.” They each highlight elements of a pivotal scene in the gospel, though, and collectively tell a greater story of the ultimate sacrifice.

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