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“The Bedroom,” Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, with its honey-yellow bed pressed into the corner of a cozy sky-blue room, is instantly recognizable to art lovers, with his signature contrasting hues. But does our experience of this painting change upon learning that van Gogh had originally depicted those walls in violet, not blue, or that he was less a painter wrestling with his demons and more of a deliberate, goal-oriented artist?
These questions are raised by a new analysis, eight years in the making, of hundreds of van Gogh’s canvases as well as his palette, pigments, letters and notebooks by scientists at Shell, the oil company, in collaboration with the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency and curators at the newly renovated Van Gogh Museum here, which owns the world’s largest collection of works by that Dutch Post Impressionist.
The research did not lead to “earth-shattering new insights” that rewrite van Gogh’s life story, said the director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, but it could shift the understanding of van Gogh’s temperament and personality. The results of that study will be revealed in an exhibition, “Van Gogh at Work,” which opens on Wednesday and features about 200 paintings and drawings, 150 of them by van Gogh and others by contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.
“You discover more clearly that van Gogh was a very methodical artist, which runs counter to the general myth that he was a manic, possibly slightly deranged man who just spontaneously threw paint at the canvas,” Mr. Rüger said. “He was actually someone who knew very well about the properties of the materials he used, how to use them, and also he created very deliberate compositions. In that sense it’s a major insight in that it gives us a better notion of van Gogh the artist. He was very goal-oriented.”
New York Times
After more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation Japan re-established diplomatic and trading relations with the outside world in 1854, during the last years of the shoguns. With the restoration of the rule of the Meiji emperor in 1868, Japan was opened up to an unstoppable flood of influence from the West.
Even during the period of isolation some artists were exposed to Chinese and Western art through the privileged port of Nagasaki. Chinese artists visited the city, which also acted as a conduit for Western books and prints, introducing techniques such as scientific perspective and chiaroscuro shading.
But the vast scale of Western inroads and the collapse of traditional patronage that followed the Meiji restoration threw Japanese art into a state of crisis. In the face of this, artists found themselves dividing into two broad schools: nihonga, which continued to use time-honored Japanese materials and techniques, and yoga, which adopted Western-style oil painting.
Nihonga artists are among the least known outside their home country of all the principal historic schools of Japanese painting, and are little represented in international collections. Two important exhibitions of nihonga paintings were held in Rome, in 1911 and 1930. The second event, showing 177 pieces by 79 artists, attracted 166,500 visitors.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of founding of the Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome and the 400th anniversary of the departure of the first official Japanese embassy for the Eternal City, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto has organized a dazzling and revelatory exhibition of 170 nihonga paintings and decorative art pieces from their own and more than 50 other collections around Japan.
Roderick Conway Morris
New York Times
In the Borghese Gallery, in Rome, when you first see Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo catch up with Daphne, you would swear that her flesh is turning into a tree, although both she and the tree are made of marble. An interlocking mosaic of carbonate crystals has become the medium for a metamorphosis, a tour de force of drama, like almost everything Bernini did. As a sculptor and setter of scenes, he made Rome the pace-setting city of Europe in the 17th century, the age of the Baroque. Materializing out of the marble, his popes, kings, horses, and women set the style for an era.
Then neoclassicism took over, and his renown was eclipsed for more than 200 years. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, with the most marvelous of all his horses, was still there in the Piazza Navona to delight all foreign visitors, but somehow their delight did not build him a reputation for genius. While he was alive and working, even his enemies thought he was a great man. During the next two centuries, almost nobody did. His luster was still on its way back when I was young in the late 1950s and saw his statuary photographed in black-and-white for the Phaidon album that bore his name. Years before I got to Italy and saw the actual objects, the pictures of them bowled me over.
It was the effect he wanted. Bowling people over was his aim in life, along with making money with which to raise the status of his large family to a princely level. The two goals were closely connected. Almost to the end of his life, a string of popes wanted his theatrical best from him, to swell the crowds of marveling visitors to Rome. Bernini could turn churches into histrionic events. Most of the drama in Saint Peter’s comes from various achievements by Bernini, headed by the Baldacchino, the enormous gilt-bronze edifice—the tent for the throne of Saint Peter—at the center of the church. Outside, those are his colonnades framing the piazza where people gather 100,000 at a time to hear the pope speak. Bernini had an organization of assistants to handle all the work, and they had to be paid. But still, by today’s standards, millions of dollars were left over for Bernini to put under his mattress.
Bernini’s new biographer, Franco Mormando, is good on the scholarship and the account books but less so on the dramatic detail… In a standard scholarly way, Mormando blames the rise of neoclassicism. But the same thing didn’t do much to diminish Michelangelo, whose fame has never faltered. A better explanation might be that Bernini was simply too good. His chisel could make marble flow like water, and much as we love the results, we tend to think that the sculptor’s talent had no merit, because it was too facile. When Donatello and Michelangelo sculpted David, they transmuted his rock-throwing dynamism to monumental potential. Bernini’s David actually swings the sling, his face all screwed up in concentration like yours or mine would be, with every little muscle picked out and straining. One tends to think there is a dimension missing, when in fact there is an extra dimension present: natural humanity.
Everyone was enjoying sex all the time in the 18th century, to judge by its art. The century of the American and French revolutions was also a time of open-minded, unstuffy attitudes to love and desire. News that a 1766 edition of a popular sex manual called Aristotle’s Masterpiece is to be auctioned next week in Edinburgh is incitement enough for us to explore some Enlightenment erotica.
The most important thing about Aristotle’s Masterpiece, first published in the 1680s, was its advice that women needed to experience sexual pleasure as part of the reproductive process. This argument for equality in bed chimes with images of the boudoir as a female domain in Rococo art. William Hogarth’s satirical depiction of an aristocratic bedroom from his series of paintings Marriage à la Mode shows a countess at her toilette surrounded by flunkeys (including a eunuch singing opera) while her lover suggests they meet later at a masked ball. Her bed is a pink curtained place of pleasure.
What Hogarth laughs at, French Rococo artists indulge. Antoine Watteau’s intimate painting of a woman naked in her bedroom is based on a sketch of one of his friends. But the most daring nude in 18th-century art is surely François Boucher’s portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy lying on her stomach on a divan. Mademoiselle O’Murphy, daughter of an Irish emigre and mistress of Louis XV, shows the artist her buttocks in a self-consciously sexy pose.
Early in 1939, Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist most famous for depicting the arid Southwest, suddenly decided to paint America’s diametrically opposite landscape — the lush tropical valleys of Hawaii. In an era when advertisers often hired fine artists to add a touch of class to their campaigns, the “least commercial artist in the U.S.” (as Time Magazine described her) was persuaded by the Dole pineapple company to visit the remote Pacific archipelago and produce two canvases. The offer came at a critical time in O’Keeffe’s life. She was 51, her career seemed to be stalling (critics were calling her focus on New Mexico limited, and branding her desert images “a kind of mass production”), and her marriage to Alfred Stieglitz was under serious strain.
Despite initial reservations about the project, her many letters back home show that her experience of the then little-known Territory of Hawaii was a revelation. O’Keeffe ended up spending nine weeks on different islands, of which by far the most productive and vivid period was on Maui, where she was given complete freedom to explore and paint. Back on Oahu, where she had first arrived, she had been incensed that Dole officials refused to let her stay on a working pineapple plantation because it was unseemly for a woman. When they delivered to her hotel a pineapple already peeled and sliced, she tossed it out in disgust. But on Maui she was able to seek out an unfiltered view of nature, and went directly to the most remote, wild and verdant corner of the island: the port of Hana.
She reported back to Stieglitz about Hana’s dark rain forests, exuberant flora, black sand beaches and lava washed into “sharp and fantastic shapes.” Staying on the Kaeleku sugar plantation, the notoriously prickly artist was given Patricia Jennings, the 12-year-old daughter of the plantation manager, as her private guide, and the two became unlikely friends; for 10 days the pair visited sea caves, ruins and beaches, and later, with Patricia’s father, made excursions to the dramatic Iao Valley and Haleakala Crater.
New York Times
This time last year, the Southern California art world was poised to open an unprecedented set of exhibitions: Pacific Standard Time, the $10-million Getty-funded initiative consisting of some 65 museum shows exploring the region’s art post-World War II.
The project’s organizers identified a handful of goals: encouraging scholarship about Southern California art history, preserving related archives, raising L.A’s profile as a cultural capital, stimulating cultural tourism and boosting museum attendance.
So what did it actually achieve?
On most counts, the project has been considered a fruitful and even enviable model for a regionwide arts collaboration. The exhibitions at museums from San Diego to Santa Barbara, each exploring a different facet of Southern California art history from 1945 to 1980, did draw international art-world attention and media coverage, from a special issue of Art in America magazine to reviews in German newspapers.
Several critics and curators have said that because of PST, textbook accounts of 20th century art history, which tend to be rich with innovations by New York artists but thin on their L.A. contemporaries, will need to be rewritten.
As Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, put it, “The shows made such a strong case for some [California] artists that you just can’t leave them out anymore.”
Los Angeles Times
It seems a layer of varnish added later to protect the work is in fact turning the yellow to a greyish-orange colour.
High-intensity X-ray studies described in Analytical Chemistry found compounds called oxalates were responsible.
But atoms from the original paint were also found in the varnish, which may therefore be left in place.
It is not the first time that the bright yellows that Van Gogh preferred have been examined with X-rays.
In 2011, an article in the same journal from a team led by the University of Antwerp’s Koen Janssens reported that a pigment Van Gogh favoured called chrome yellow degraded when other, chromium-containing pigments were present.
The new work was begun during a conservation treatment in 2009, when conservators found that the yellows in Flowers In A Blue Vase – this time from a pigment called cadmium yellow – had turned greyish and cracked.
Normally, cadmium yellow grows paler and less vibrant as it ages.
So the team again took tiny samples of the work to some of Europe’s largest sources of X-rays: the ESRF in France and Desy in Germany. Both use vast particle accelerators to speed up electrons, which spray out X-rays as they pass around the accelerators.
The purpose was to determine not only what was in the samples in terms of atoms and molecules, but also the precise structures in the interface layer between the original paint and the varnish.
That is where the team was shocked to find a compound called cadmium oxalate as the cause of the grey-orange pallor.
So what exactly was the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood? Forget the bodice-ripping TV drama Desperate Romantics, which belittled the pre-Raphaelites as sexual desperadoes. These were ardent, ambitious and serious artists and poets. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais were the leaders of the movement formed in 1848. The pre-Raphaelite brotherhood embodied protest. William Morris was later to describe it as a “really audacious attempt” to reject the prevailing academic forms of art in favour of truth to nature. It was an audacity that applied to literature as much as to painting and the decorative arts.
They called themselves pre-Raphaelites defiantly, taking up the purist values of pre-renaissance art of the period immediately before Raphael, drawing on the past to make their own mid 19th-century artistic revolution. We need to remember these were still very young men. Holman Hunt was 21, Rossetti only 20, Millais just 19. They formed a cohesive in-group, shutting out the unbelievers. Their dazzling manifesto on the true meaning of art proved terribly obscure to both the critics and the public.
They were clever and sardonic. Their irreverence still makes them seem curiously modern. Alison Smith, co-curator of the Tate exhibition, is surely right in seeing the pre-Raphaelites as the first modern art movement and in subtitling her show “Victorian Avant-Garde”. They were radical in their ways of looking, viewing their subjects with an intense psychological acumen. They were radical, too, in their techniques of painting. That pre-Raphaelite super-realism was achieved through meticulous attention to detail. The artists preferred painting outside the studio, the strange and often shocking candour of their vision exaggerated by the effects of natural light.
Could Vincent van Gogh’s acidic sense of color and preference for bright, clashing hues, long the province of the Fauves, be a result of colorblindness and not just an aesthetic judgment? An essay by Kazunori Asada, a Japanese medical scientist and poet, has recently come to the attention of science blogs drawn to its argument that the famous painter wasn’t so much an artistic revolutionary as he was visually impaired. Asada’s article was sparked by an experience in Hokkaido, Japan’s “Color Vision Experience Room,” an immersive simulator that makes it possible to perceive color the way people with different types of colorblindness might experience it. When Asada saw replicas of the artist’s canvases, he had a revelation.
Van Gogh’s paintings, Asada writes, became more beautiful and more natural in the filtered light. “The incongruity of color and roughness of line had quietly disappeared,” the scientist writes. “Each picture had changed into one of brilliance with very delicate lines and shades.” Asada went on to experiment with a piece of software that further simulates different variations of colorblindness, settling on a midrange spectrum deficiency that he felt best modified van Gogh’s work. The deficiency meant that van Gogh’s eyes had a moderate lack of receptors for the color red.
Poland’s long-lost masterpiece, attributed to Raphael and feared by many to have been destroyed, has been re-discovered in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.
Portrait of a Young Man, around 1513-1514, from the Czartoryski family collection in Crakow, was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Führermuseum, Linz. It disappeared in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War.
A spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office for the Restitution of Cultural Goods told the Polish media today (1 August) that he is confident the painting will be returned to Poland. “Most importantly, the work was not lost in the turmoil of the war. It has not been burnt or destroyed. It exists. It is safely waiting in a region of the world where the law favours us,” he said, declining to disclose in which country.
Portrait of a Young Man is Poland’s most important work that has been missing since the war. Attempts by the Czartoryski family to find the painting after 1945 were hampered by the fact that Poland was behind the Iron Curtain. In 1991, the family renewed its efforts to find the painting. Although unverified, many art historians believe the subject of the painting is Raphael himself. Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski bought the portrait in 1798 along with Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, around 1489-90.
The Art Newspaper