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Madonna and Child With Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), by Rosso Fiorentino, 1518

Henri Matisse is supposed to have encountered someone who complained that the arm of a woman in one of his portraits was too long. “Madam, you are mistaken,” he replied. “This is not a woman, this is a painting.” She might have replied, “That’s not an argument, that’s attitude.” The painter’s bon mot is what E.H. Gombrich (to whose classic study Art and Illusion I owe the anecdote) called “one of the paradoxes with which modern artists and critics like to tease the long-suffering public.” Such paradoxes can be hard to avoid. Gombrich thought the development of pictorial illusionism—that is, of the European canon of realistic representation—“was stimulated by the dissatisfaction which certain periods of Western civilization felt with images that failed to look convincing.” The statement is itself paradoxical, because it ignores the question of who wants to be convinced by an image. Long before Matisse, the Italian artists of the sixteenth century who came to be known as Mannerists were willing to twist their figures out of proportion, and they did so to create not convincing images, but convincing paintings.

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Barry Schwabsky
The Nation

Henri Matisse - The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952 (detail)
Colour dances, and our eyes dance with it … detail from Matisse’s The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952). Photograph: © Stedelijk /© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014

Scissors, paper, pins – these were all it took for Matisse, in the last years of his life, often bedridden and feeling he was living on borrowed time, to create the works that now fill a suite of galleries at Tate Modern. What a joyous and fascinating exhibition this is. I eat it with my eyes and never feel sated.

Ravishing, filled with light and decoration, exuberance and a kind of violence, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is about more than just pleasure. It charts not simply the consummation of the artist’s long career but a kind of self-usurpation. In his last years, Matisse went beyond himself.

As well as the works themselves, there is film footage of the artist and his assistants at work, swatches of the hand-painted papers he used, and a wealth of photographic and other material to broaden our understanding.

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Adrian Searle
The Guardian

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A photograph by Dionisio González incorporating imagined skyscrapers and futuristic buildings in the city of Toledo, home to El Greco. Credit Dionisio González, via Ivorypress

When he arrived in Toledo in 1577, the artist Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco, never thought he would stay long. After he had been rejected by King Philip II as a court painter, he sought a lifeline in a city that was then Spain’s religious hub, building up a clientele among its clergy as well as noblemen, particularly for portraits and altarpieces.

But these altarpieces were expensive to produce and El Greco ended up fighting as many as nine separate lawsuits over payments. “He lived here deep in debt and circled by his creditors,” said Fernando Marías, an art historian and the curator of “The Greek of Toledo,” an exhibition that opened last month in the Museum of Santa Cruz here and is being presented as the largest-ever exhibition of the painter’s works.

Still, Spain is paying tribute this year to its adopted son with a multipart commemoration of the least Spanish of its great painters to mark the 400 years since his death, with several exhibitions, mostly held in Toledo but also in Madrid and Valladolid. In total, 125 works by El Greco will be on view in exhibitions across Toledo, in locations ranging from its magnificent cathedral to the private family chapel of Saint Joseph, which had never been opened to the public before. The painter is believed to have completed around 300 works.

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Raphael Minder
New York Times

Whistler The Artist's Mother
Detail from James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1, also called Portrait of the Artist’s Mother. Photograph: Francis G Mayer/Corbis.

It is one of the great unfairnesses in life that bad people sometimes produce great art. That is certainly true of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, about whom it is hard to think of anything nice to say. Vain, pugnacious, a rotten father and kind to his mother only because he was terrified of her, Whistler is not the sort of man you relish spending 400-plus pages with. But then you look at his Nocturnes – in which the industrial Thames becomes a serene, shimmering mystery – and you realise you could forgive him almost anything.

Living by the mantra of “art for art’s sake” meant, in Whistler’s case, not withdrawing from the world but hurling himself at it, fists flying. He called his autobiography The Gentle Art of Making Enemies and was careful to follow his own advice. Friends and rivals could reckon on being beaten up by the bantam scrapper, or else find themselves blackballed from their favourite members’ club on his say-so. Keeping a beady eye on his paintings’ prices, he accused anyone who sold or bought too low of personally picking his pocket. No stunt was too crass if it was good for trade: for his Arrangement in White and Yellow show at the Fine Art Society in 1883, visitors were told to arrive wearing cravats, kerchiefs and buttonholes the colour of egg yolk.

Up close and personal, Whistler was even more tiresome, practising the kind of effortful wit that gave young Oscar Wilde dangerous ideas. On one occasion when he accidently shot his host’s dog, Whistler declared: “It was a dog without artistic habits and had placed itself badly in relation to the landscape.” This was delivered in a voice that contemporaries described as “caustic nasal”, interrupted by a laugh like a peacock’s shriek. Then there was his startling streak of white hair, which was not technically his fault, yet still managed to seem like an affectation. Yet despite all this, he was impossible to dismiss. Any writer encountering him found themselves compelled to put him in a book, just to show everyone else what they’d missed. Proust, James, Wells, Du Maurier and WS Gilbert all did their version of the Yankee chancer whose claims of genius teetered between the preposterous and the plausible

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Kathryn Hughes
The Guardian

Stolen Gaugin and Bonnard paintings recovered
Police display Gauguin’s Fruits sur une able ou Nature au Petit Chien and Bonnard’s La femme aux Deux Fauteuils. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

In 1975 a worker at the car firm Fiat went along to an auction of lost property organised by the Italian national railway in Turin.

He paid 45,000 lira (£32 – equivalent to about £300 today) for two paintings that caught his eye – one a still life and one an image of a woman relaxing in her garden.

For almost 40 years, the man – whose name has not been made public – kept the pictures hanging in his kitchen. They accompanied him on his move, post-retirement, to Sicily. At no point until last year, believe Italian police, did he realise quite what a bargain his purchase had been.

Now it has emerged that the paintings are stolen works by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, and the first – a still life dating from 1869 – has an estimated value of between €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m). The second, entitled La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (woman with two armchairs) is believed to be worth around €600,000 (£497,000).

Stolen in London in 1970, reportedly from the widower of a daughter of one of the Marks & Spencer co-founders, they were unveiled on Wednesday to applause at the Italian culture ministry in Rome.

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Lizzy Davies
The Guardian

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A detail from Veronese’s The Family of Darius before Alexander. Courtesy of the National Gallery

To the contemporary viewer, Paolo Veronese, 1528‑1588, is a conundrum. How can one of the greatest of all painters not be a great artist, too? The answer was inadvertently suggested by one of his most ardent admirers, Henry James: “Never did an artist take a greater delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival,” he wrote. “He was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest pictures in the world.” Happiness is a trait that does not always play well now: we might prefer that Veronese displayed instead a hint of Michelangelo’s terribilità, Leonardo’s intellectual restlessness or Titian’s all-encompassing human sympathy.

To his contemporaries, however, the pomp and celebration to be found in his pictures were not defects but his distinguishing triumphs. Giorgio Vasari, the Florence-centric painter and artist-biographer, was sufficiently impressed by Veronese’s art and status to include the Venice-based painter in his second edition of The Lives of the Artists. He also attracted two near-contemporary biographers. Part of the reasoning behind the National Gallery’s new exhibition of 50 of Veronese’s paintings, the first ever large-scale show of his work here, is to gauge the true level of his merit and to ascertain whether he had depths to match his facility.

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Michael Prodger
The Guardian

The Ghent Altarpiece (Open) by Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck
Ghent Altarpiece (Photo: © Archivo Iconografico, SA/Corbis)

Just about everything bad that could happen to a painting has happened to Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (also known as the Ghent Altarpiece). It’s almost been destroyed in a fire, was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war, before being rescued by The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double-agents. The fact that it was the artwork the Nazis were most desperate to steal – Göring wanted it for his private collection, Hitler as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum – has only increased its renown.

It’s easy to argue that the artwork is the most influential painting ever made: it was the world’s first major oil painting, and is laced with Catholic mysticism. It’s almost an A to Z of Christianity – from the annunciation to the symbolic sacrifice of Christ, with the “mystic lamb” on an altar in a heavenly field, bleeding into the holy grail.

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Noah Charney
Guardian

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The “Beethoven Frieze” (1902), by Gustav Klimt, on view in Venice last year while on loan for an exhibition devoted to the artist.

Over the last decade, Austria has made significant progress in restoring art and property looted by the Nazis during World War II. Now the government’s commitment to that goal is facing a new test, with the filing of a claim on Tuesday for the return of one of the nation’s most celebrated artworks: the “Beethoven Frieze,” by Gustav Klimt.

This monumental 1902 work, which stands seven feet high, spans more than 112 feet and weighs four tons, is so well known that an image from the frieze was selected as the motif for a commemorative Austrian 100-euro coin. The work, part of a homage to the composer’s Ninth Symphony, is housed in the gold-domed 1902 Secession building in Vienna, where a climate-controlled room has been specially constructed for it.

The current dispute over the “Beethoven Frieze” does not hinge on wartime plundering, but rather on how stolen art was handled after the war ended, a common theme of restitution cases arising from Nazi looting.

The gold-painted frieze was owned by the Lederer family, wealthy Austrian Jews who were important patrons of Klimt’s. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, the family escaped to Switzerland, but its extensive art collection was seized and its once formidable industrial empire bankrupted. Many of the family’s valuable works, including 18 Klimts, were destroyed in the final days of the war.

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Patricia Cohen
New YOrk Times

A detail from Saying Farewell at Xunyang, by Qiu Ying
A detail from Saying Farewell at Xunyang, by Qiu Ying, c1500-50 Photograph: John Lamberton/Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

On 5 August 1473, a young artist drew the first ever landscape. The date is known precisely because Leonardo da Vinci wrote it on the sheet of paper, as if aware of the revolutionary nature of what he was doing. To look at mountains and trees just for themselves was unprecedented.

Or was it? The invention of landscape painting is one of the great moments of European art. Painting nature is a way to get inside yourself. To this day, people enjoy doing watercolours in the outdoors as a form of meditation. Leonardo’s discovery of the mystery of nature – which you see in all his paintings, with their dreamy rocks and pools – is the invention of a new kind of inner life.

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Jonathan Jones
Guardian

Sunset at Montmajour
Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rüger with Sunset at Montmajour after unveiling the painting in Amsterdam. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP

A stunning landscape that has spent much of its life unloved in a Norwegian attic has been revealed as a newly discovered masterpiece by Vincent Van Gogh.

Academics are nothing short of astonished, not least because it comes from the artist’s greatest period when he lived in Arles, southern France, and created works such as The Yellow House and The Sunflowers.

Writing in the Burlington Magazine, the three Dutch experts from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam responsible for the discovery call the work “absolutely sensational”.

Sunset at Montmajour was unveiled at a ceremony in the Dutch city. Axel Rüger, director of the museum, called it a “once in a lifetime experience”.

The picture was painted in 1888 and shows the wild and beautiful countryside near Arles with a ruined abbey on the hill of Montmajour.

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Mark Brown
The Guardian

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