Friday Feast – Humans of New York by Faith Whitehouse

Every city in the world has a vibrant landscape of people that form that place and every city has people with a story to tell and an exciting life behind their eyes. One artist exploring this idea in New York unique is Brandon Stanton – a photographer walking the streets of the city, capturing the citizens and unfolding their lives to mix image and text on his blog called ‘Humans of New York’.

The blog has a following of over a million, all scrolling through the intriguing images of people on the streets in New York. Every photo taken at a different angle, in a different location, with different lighting and every photo telling a story or a snippet about a person. It makes for compulsive viewing.

Stanton began the blog in the Summer of 2010 with the goal of “photographing 10,000 New Yorkers and plotting their photos on a map”. Over time, this transformed from a conventional photography blog into a storytelling census of the Big Apple.

The blog is enriched with the culture of New York and is visually-striking to look at.  It is interesting to read the stories behind the photographs and grasp what the people are about. There are many stand-out stories on the blog that show the truth about the city.

Each image is unique and tells a different story behind it. Each image is eye-catching and encourages one to uncover the meaning behind the photo.

With thanks to Brandon Stanton and the Humans of New York project for photographs and inspiration!! CHECK IT OUT:  http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/featured

 

Embrace the winter mood with these wintry paintings – by Faith Whitehouse

Here are four of my favourite representations of winter:

Casper David Friedrich, ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ 1818

When I first saw Freidrich’s landscape paintings, I was struck by their dramatic and epic romance. His style is wonderfully represented in his 1818 painting ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’, in which an isolated man with his back to the viewer, contemplates the enormity of nature before him. Here, nature dominates the canvas in all its wintery glory.

Fancisco Goya, ‘The Snowstorm’ 1786

During my A-level Art History course, I was frequently shown Goya’s twisted, weird and sometimes emotional paintings, so it came as a shock to me when I came across this winter scene. Painted shortly after he became the King’s artist in residence, ‘The Snowstorm’ depicts a small group of travellers trudging through the snow; perhaps a snapshot of poverty  to encourage his rich patrons to spare a thought about the poor.

Abraham Hondius, ‘Frozen Thames’ 1677

Between the sixteenth century and nineteenth century, London experienced many cold spells, even causing the Thames to freeze over. In this painting the artist captures that extraordinary event.

Piet Mondrian, ‘The Grey Tree’ 1911


One of Mondrian’s earliest paintings and part of his ‘tree’ series. The painting is a contrast to his modern, colourful pieces. The feel of icey winter consumes the canvas with its spindly branches that twist over each other. The tree is dark and feels bleak; a truly chilling winter painting.

 

 

A Weekend in Durham – Pick of the week by Catriona Grant

In preparation for a paper I am taking this term on Romanesque Art and Architecture, I travelled up to Durham for a weekend to see some of the finest surviving examples of Norman architecture in Britain.

Durham Castle

We started at the castle, now an amalgam of architectural styles due to years of modifications and extensions.  It is now the home of students of University College – a very grand setting for student digs! Beneath the castle is a Norman chamber – most likely a chapel (though this is debated). The quirky capitals feature animals, plants, figures, and vignettes from stories such as the story of St Eustace. Eustace was a Roman general, who whilst hunting a stag in a forest, saw a vision of the crucifix between the animal’s antlers, and instantly converted to Christianity. By alluding to this story in the chapel,  whoever built it was sending a message to the laity that Christianity was accessible, and paradise was within reach of all who believed in Christ.

The Norman Chapel

The nearby cathedral is a spectacular feat of Medieval engineering. It is a hugely impressive space, with ornate decoration and some of the first rib vaulting in Europe. Principally it was built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, whose body was brought from Lindisfarne, a holy island attached to the coast of Northumberland by a causeway, and cut off at high tide. The Cathedral also houses the tomb of the Venerable Bede, a doctor of the Roman Catholic church and a hugely important early theological historian.

Durham Cathedral

The cathedral is of great artistic importance as the earliest surviving example of stone vaulting on such a large scale. The development of the stone vault can be seen within the architectural scheme itself, from the semi-circular arches, to the pointed arches which allowed stonemasons to build higher, spreading the weight and strain of the stone more efficiently.

Stone vaulting in the Cathedral

Some of the marble used for the columns is beautifully patterned with ancient corals. These scattered fossils incased within the stone pre-date the dinosaurs! Also worth noting are the beautiful stained glass windows throughout the cathedral – some contemporary interpretations of Biblical narrative, others stunning Medieval stories. A window close to the great entrance commemorates the night Durham was saved from bombings during the Second World War. Hitler had planned on destroying much of Durham during a large attack on the north of England, but that night a grey mist descended and shrouded the city, preventing the bombs from dropping.

 

Our final view of Durham comprised of a long walk along the river bank opposite the cathedral on a chilly but beautifully sunny Sunday morning. The path gave a spectacular view of the cathedral on the edge of the hill, silhouetted against the bright blue skyline, and emphasized the achievements of 12th-century builders in such a grand feat of engineering.

A view across to the Cathedral

To anyone who hasn’t been, Durham is definitely worth a visit – its a lovely town of winding passages, cobbled hills and bridges, as well as stunning historic architecture and examples of medieval art, stonework, stained glass and manuscripts.

 

Images courtesy of http://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/ and http://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk

 

Visions of Paris: Helena Roy reviews Daumier at the Royal Academy

Today we have become so used to the unadulterated mocking of politicians, that direct insults and impersonations are unabashed and abundant. What we find less and less is fantastical caricature and unreal analogy. Daumier’s notorious political satire – currently on display at the Royal Academy – offers a soaring vision of the origins of satirical portraiture, through his uncompromising caricatures of the political elite and bourgeoisie.

Daumier chronicled every day life in nineteenth century Paris with shameless precision – pushing every grimy detail into the spectator’s view. The stars of his portraits come from the margins of society: laundresses, street entertainers, farm workers. He reduced Paris from its dreamy, stony architectural grandeur to its viscous, sordid streets. Working from memory, his figures are harrowingly blurred and distorted – with warm pastels overrun with ribbon-like outlines.

‘The Third-Class Railway Carriage’ (1862-64) was (according to a contemporary commentator) ‘a profoundly expressed observation of working class patience and fortitude.’
'The Laundress' (1861-63)

An unexpected idiosyncrasy is Daumier’s brilliant skill in portraying contemplation, and isolation. Amidst the bustle of city scenes there are voids – blank windows, shadows or walls – which bring out the paradoxical solitariness of city life. Lone figures are common: at the end of the exhibition, there is a peaceful portrayal of artistic beginnings, with light streaming through a window onto a canvas to suggest creative potential (‘The Artist Facing his Work’, 1860-63).

'A Man Reading in a Garden' (1866-68)

The political elite, by contrast, were satirised in a fantastical, grotesque world; mimicking their own misunderstanding of the reality they presided over. Daumier’s process began with cartoonish sculptures in seedy tertiary colours, from which is modelled his distorted figurines. He aimed for high-profile targets; his lithographs moving with all the violence and changeable nature of politics at the time. Monarchy is detailed as a corpse in a coffin, with the sarcastic caption ‘Meanwhile, they keep insisting she has never been better.’ (1872). By the 1870s his satire was intense, powerful and prescient: censorship laws had by now relaxed with the fall of authoritarian rule.

'Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834' portrays a father crushing the corpse of his little child in a cold, poor attic - all silence and death. Daumier thus condensed the events of riots 13-14 April 1834, where protesters were massacred by government troops.

Faces are gaunt – with pale pink flesh cut under black bone structures. Appalling realities such as cholera epidemics are analogized to fairytale figures. Raw violence is shown in gaunt form. ‘Madame is moving, transferring from the cemeteries. Hurray! The dead are going fast!’ (1867) is an instance of the recurring theme of mortality towards the end of Daumier’s life. Rejected by the censor three times, it is Tim-Burton-esque, correlating the death (the Grim Reaper) with industry (a steam engine) and military armament.

Les Divorceuses (1848)

Daumier separates these two sides of Paris – the laughable and the horribly real – but meshes the mediums and styles in ‘Ecce Homo’ (1849-1852). Daumier was opposed to religion, and though this scene is biblical, it is more a general depiction of protest than an outright illustration of the moment Jesus is condemned to crucifixion. It offers a traditional way of demonstrating the easy manipulation of crowds. Though unfinished, its size is exceptional, its movement animated but skeletal.

‘Ecce Homo’ (1849-1852)

The editor Pierre Véron commented ‘I could never understand how Daumier, so assertive, so revolutionary when holding a pencil could be so shy in everyday life.’ Perhaps he made up for a reclusive personality with an inimitable intensity in his art and its message. He refused to pursue more lucrative mediums such as portraiture, landscape and book illustration, but the truth and skill in his work inspired artists from Picasso to Francis Bacon and Quentin Blake. Daumier thrived on his political indignation. His visions of Paris are – whether fantastical or deleteriously real – as truthful and moving a portrait of an era as can be found.

‘Daumier: Visions of Paris, 1808-1879’ is on at the Royal Academy until 26th January 2014. For more details, visit http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/daumier/.

The Body in Art: Latest exhibition to open at The Herbert Art Gallery

Throughout art history, the body has been manipulated, idealized and explored by artists. There is a fascination as to the way it works, how one unified form can come in so many shapes, both beautiful and ugly. I found I was no stranger to this fascination after going to see the latest exhibition to open at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, which combines a range of artist’s studies of the human form. The exhibition’s focal inspiration is the story of Pygmalion from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the tale of an artist who sculpted a woman in ivory who was so beautiful that he fell in love with her and asked Venus to breathe life into the work.

Pygmalion - Edward Burne-Jones 1878

This story opens up complicated ideas about the relationship between the artist and their work and the exhibition brilliantly elaborates on this idea. Can an artist create something so perfect that we mistake it for reality? Should art depict total reality, or seek to rise above human imperfection? Portrayals of the body are used to remember, study and document the delicate and complex way our forms work. For this particular exhibition, although the area where it is held is small, the arrangement of space, and progression of works means the viewer is taken through the narrative of the body. Traditionally, the creation of the “ideal” body was seen as one of the highest achievements an artist can strive for and much of the art of Classical and Renaissance Periods sought to show the strength, agility and idealized perfection of the body. Indeed, the show’s earliest work by Durer is a print of the strong, overly muscled Hercules.

 

Hercules at the Crossroads - Albrecht Durer 1498

While these versions of perfection are of course beautiful, I found that the most striking and interesting study of the body was when the artist made no effort to hide the flaws of their subject. We see idealized Venues and luminous nudes in so much of the art of Western culture, but as you wandered through the history of the exhibition, the focus moves away from this archetypal form to real studies of blemished body. Perhaps the reasons this exhibition inspires such interest is the fact that it does not simply use the beauty from the Pygmalion story, but gives us, who are indeed imperfect bodies, a relatable experience. This is why the piece I found most striking from the exhibition, and I encourage you to look out for it, if you happen to visit, is Freud’s Woman with an Arm Tattoo, the latest work in the collection.

Woman with an Arm Tattoo 1996 by Lucian Freud 1922-2011

This image, drawn in black ink, is pretty hideous. There is no effort to flatter the sitter, with her bulging arms and way her hand is almost lost in her greasy hair in her despairing pose. She is no beauty. But the drawing is so unusual that I found it led me to question the traditional way I have regarded the body in art before.

The exhibition also includes works from Ford Maddox Brown, Francis Bacon, Gillian Wearing and a variety of others and each present new and dynamic ideas. It is running until the 31st April and I would highly recommend you pop in and have a wander around if you get the chance.

Lily Cole by Gillian Wearing 2009

 

“With an apple I will astonish Paris.” AHA alum Helena Roy looks at the legacy of Paul Cézanne in the year of his 175th birthday…

On 19 January, it would have been Paul Cézanne’s 175th birthday. The Post-Impressionist painter bridged the gap between 19th century Impressionism and 20th century Cubism, and his inimitably idiosyncratic style is still a source of inspiration today. The portraits, landscapes and still-lifes that dominate his repertoire are iconic – prized by famous museums the world over. In celebration of a matchless artist, here is a concentrated retrospective of his life and work…

Cézanne’s life forever had a backdrop of culture and wealth: he absorbed the influences of Courbet and Manet in his early years; was friends with Emile Zola from childhood (breaking promptly when Zola based an unflattering character on him in the 1880s); and had a strong bond (eventually a collaborative relationship) with Camille Pissarro. His father was a successful banker, affording him a financial security most artists of his time did not receive. (His father’s imposing portrait was one of his earliest works, painted in 1865.)

The Painter's Father, Louis-Auguste Cézanne, 1865 – a work which now hangs in the National Gallery

His early years in Paris (1861-1870) were characterised by murky colours and domineering black – garnering the epithet the ‘dark period’. Cézanne’s work was violently expressive – depicting murder and rape – and he experimented with the use of a palette knife to paint (he later disparaged this technique, telling Renoir it took him twenty years to realise painting was not sculpture). Cézanne started with an edge of Caravaggio’s gloomy shading, as seen in Portrait of Uncle Dominique, (1865–1867).

The Murder, (1867-1868), painted during Cézanne’s ‘dark period’ – which refers to both his style, subject matter and, it is said, his personality at the time
Portrait of Uncle Dominique, 1865–1867, a work of Cézanne’s ‘dark period’, which is now displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

An Impressionist stage followed (1870-1878), during which he flitted between Provence and Paris. Under Pissarro’s influence he abandoned darker hues, shifting to light and airy landscapes. A mature period in Provence (1878-1890), comfortably continued this, encompassing his renowned paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a mountain in southern France overlooking Aix-en-Provence.

Jas de Bouffan, 1876, painted during Cézanne’s Impressionist period, where lighter shades became predominant
Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1887), displayed at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Cézanne painted many pictures of this subject during his mature years
Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier, (1893-1894), painted during Cézanne’s twilight years, is the most expensive still life ever to sell at an auction. This painting was sold at Sotheby's, New York on 10 May 1999 for $60,502,500.

Cézanne created some of his most iconic works in his twilight years (1890-1905), including The Card Players (1892) and Les Grandes Baigneuses (1898-1905). Deceptively simple paintings conceal a myriad of subtle shading – but his shapes and colours aren’t realistically detailed. Cézanne used heavy hues, creases and shades to emphasise the contours he found so appealing – giving his ‘impression’ of an object, not the veritable image. He once said ‘painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realising one’s sensations.’ He simplified natural forms to their geometric fundamentals, giving an architectural structure to the nature he portrayed. What you see is not the exact picture, but Cézanne’s feelings – he painted a weighty, thick surface over reality, giving us his ethereal sensation instead.

The Card Players, Fifth Version, (1894-1895) – a work in Cézanne’s iconic series, seen by many as a prelude to the genius work of his final years
Les Grandes Baigneuses (1898-1905), a painting from Cézanne’s renowned series, which hangs in the National Gallery.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, (1907), by Pablo Picasso. Painted a few years after Cézanne’s 'Les Grandes Baigneuses', they show the heavy influence the French artist had on Picasso’s work.

As his life became onset with troubles, recognition of mortality crept into his work. A devout Roman Catholic, his faith drew forward in his work as his age slowly got the better of him. He had commented previously : ‘When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.’

Pyramid of Skulls, (1901) – painted during Cézanne’s ‘final period’ in Provence, when he began to focus more on death and mortality. He painted several still lifes of skulls during his final years.
An Old Woman with a Rosary, (1895-1896) - evidence of Cézanne’s growing dependence on Catholicism during his final years. The painting is displayed at the National Gallery.

Cézanne once said ‘We live in a rainbow of chaos’. He incomparably captured that confusion and beauty, so present in nature, and inspired the colourful works of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, to name but a couple. In a way, his artistic trajectory is cyclical, mirroring life as he experienced it – confused angst and darkness moving into light, and returning to shades of mortality in his final years. His innovation in art is now timeless. Cézanne paved the way for ground-breaking art – allowing future artists to be fearless in bucking trends. His unique visual contribution to history of art just outmatches the attitudes he shaped towards it, which allowed so many after him to try to be different.

With thanks to Wikipedia, the Courtauld Institute and the National Gallery for photos.

 

What Can We Learn From The Parliamentary Portraits?

An Evening Standard Freedom of Information request has revealed that £250,000 has been spent on portraits of parliamentarians since 1995. It is certainly a strong and provocative headline, but perhaps a little misleading in its attack on ‘expensive vanity portraits’.  £250,000 sounds like a lot of taxpayer money, and certainly some of the more bombastic headlines have screamed that “YOU” have paid a quarter of a million pounds for paintings of people you probably don’t like. Of course, spread £250,000 over 19 years and it begins to look more reasonable. Divide that sum up by Britain’s approximately 30 million taxpayers and it becomes nearly insignificant. It may not make a very good headline, but the portraits have actually cost “YOU” a grand total of £0.0004 a year. At that rate, it won’t be until 2020 that you’ve paid a single penny.

If we remove the issue of the cost from the equation, we are left with the more interesting questions behind this story – why get these portraits done at all? And what do they tell us about the subjects?

Portraiture is an artistic genre that carries with it a set of potent associations. The history of portrait painting is one filled with depictions of great leaders who have left their mark on the world. Commissioned portraits (rather than those of an artist’s model) throughout history have captured kings and popes, military generals and secular leaders who shaped the landscape of their time. In return, through patronage, they allowed our greatest artists to practice their craft and produce their masterpieces. This relationship, in which great artists produce great paintings of great men, has led the statesman’s portrait to assume a status higher than may be immediately apparent. It is not just a painting that you receive when you sit; it is a position in a long and distinguished tradition.

With this in mind, the reason for the parliamentary portraits seems a little clearer. Politicians have rarely been reluctant to attempt to place themselves within a tradition of great rulers, after all. Consider also the fact that British politicians are often mocked and seldom liked. The vast majority of the time they see themselves artistically depicted is in satirical newspaper cartoons. The opportunity to sit for a flattering portrait after a long career of being drawn as a spineless weasel or horned demon is understandably attractive.

When you get past the outrage of their being commissioned, the portraits speak volumes about the subjects, and the manner in which they wish to be seen. The bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher that stands in the Members Lobby of the House of Commons depicts her apparently in mid-speech. The dynamism of the pose is in-keeping with the more positive aspects of her image, and she is shown with a pointing finger, extended as if to lead her MPs forward, even now. Diane Abbott is depicted head on, in close-up and seemingly nude – an uncompromising and open position from the left-wing backbencher. The implication is that she lays her principles bare and refuses to retreat from them – an interpretation supported by her history of rebelling against her own government on defence policy and tuition fees.

Thatcher and Abbott’s portraits try to accentuate certain qualities that they are known for, but in others, the opposite is the case. Michael Howard’s in particular seems to be an attempt at correcting the way in which he is usually seen. Howard, the former leader of the Conservative Party, has often been regarded as sinister and unsettling. Fellow Tory Ann Widdecome famously remarked there was ‘something of the night about him’. Perhaps with this in mind, his portrait features him smiling sweetly, casting a soft look out from the canvas.

The point of their career in which the subjects sat is also reflected in the paintings. Compare the portraits of Iain Duncan Smith and Tony Blair below. Iain Duncan Smith was painted in 2004, the year after he was replaced as leader of the Conservative Party after losing a vote of no confidence. He is shown bullish and defiant, with hands on hips as if to project resilience at a time that he was being labelled a spent force. Tony Blair, by contrast, is shown looking vulnerable and tired. The 2008 painting captures him having just stepped down from a premiership tainted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The portrait shows a statesman who was presented with tough decisions and feels keenly the pain and suffering of those affected by them. Incidentally, this is the view of himself that he attempted to put forward in his memoir two years later.

Unpacked then, the story takes on a different feel. This is not a scandal like that over MPs’ expenses (the cost in fact is just half of what Sinn Fein MPs claimed while refusing to turn up to Westminster), but something quite different. For £0.0004 a year, the taxpayer has purchased a better understanding of some of the most prominent figures of contemporary British politics. The result, far from being the ‘vanity portraits’ of the screaming headlines, is actually quite sad – a series of anxious eyes towards future history, pleading that they will not be remembered as an irrelevance or a joke, a sinister figure or a callous warmonger, but as something more. How successful they will be in this, of course, only time will tell.

Secession and the City: Portraits in Vienna 1900, by Lucy Speelman

Vienna 1900 – the result of revolution.  As an imperial capital of Austria-Hungary, the city was politically and socially volatile to its core.  It was an avant-garde powerhouse of creativity and radical ideas about taste, aesthetics and multiculturalism.  But just beneath this facade of modernity, the age-old insecurities about social status and national identity still thrived.  Prior to 1900, the city’s liberal climate had attracted immigrants from across the whole Empire, many of whom became successful, wealthy and cultured members of the middle classes.  These citizens were the ‘New Viennese’.  But the liberalism that had drawn them to Vienna was short-lived.

Nationalism, conservatism and anti-Semitism increased with the foundation of the Austrian Christian Social Party under Karl Lueger, who was then elected mayor of Vienna in 1897.  The diversity that previously had been embraced was suddenly rejected, and the newly established middle classes had somehow to prove themselves and defend their position.

 

'Portrait of an Unidentified Seated Girl in a White Satin Dress', Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1839

The New Viennese turned to portraiture, in a city where modern art was flourishing.  The National Gallery’s Facing the Modern exhibition addresses these political twists and turns very effectively.  It illustrates how the ambitious middle classes reacted against anti-liberalism using portraiture and theatricality as tools to assert themselves, and how their social instability resulted in a sense of alienation that permeated their whole world.  The first room, titled ‘The Old Viennese’, highlights the significance of the Miethke Gallery’s 1905 exhibition of portraits from the first half of the 19th century.  These portraits were intended to anchor the present to the past; to identify a lineage between the new and old that would pacify the middle classes’ anxieties about their social standing.  The stylistic traits of the works, based on the Biedermeier tradition, also provide an effective point of comparison for the later Secession works.

'Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl', Gustav Klimt, 1917-18
'Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder', Egon Schiele, 1912

The Secessionists took their name from the verb ‘to secede’, meaning ‘to withdraw’.  Like the Impressionists, they rejected the strict values of the academies and embraced the avant-garde, the different and the modern.  The portraits exhibited in this exhibition displayed the vitality and powerful expressivity of the Secessionist painters.  The ‘Big 3’ were represented (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka) in haunting and stunning works like Klimt’s unfinished Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl and Schiele’s expressive and immediate Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder, but there were also some real gems to be found in some of the lesser known artists.  Isidor Kauffman’s Young Rabbi from N. is a poignant statement about what it meant to be Jewish in an anti-Semitic political climate.  This beautiful portrait defends Judaism and its place in Vienna, yet proudly owns its differences.

'Young Rabbi from N.', Isidor Kaufmann, c.1910

The second room reflected the reformed face of domestic values and what constitutes a family portrait; Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality posed serious questions for family life.  The portraits on display here demonstrated a sense of vulnerability, and once again, anxiety.  Schiele’s unsettling work The Family (Self Portrait) from 1918 shows how much family portraits had changed since the work of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, for example.  Another room focused on the self-portrait and how self-definition was paramount, and another on women artists and their position within the artistic infrastructure.  Broncia Koller’s Nude Portrait of Marietta from 1907 represents a model as both a studio nude and a portrait, and is strikingly beautiful in its sophisticated simplicity.

'Nude Portrait of Marietta', Broncia Koller, 1907

The penultimate space was dedicated to death and Vienna’s morbid fascinations.  Posthumous and deathbed portraiture were very popular (as were death masks), and while this may seem rather pessimistic to current viewers, these works were often celebratory a well as commemorative.  The idea of the ‘beautiful corpse’ (schöne Leich) embodies this juxtaposition of beauty and dignity in life with beauty after death.  Klimt’s portrait of Ria Munk on her Deathbed (1912) is a perfect example of this kind of celebration.  Her head resting on a pillow, surrounded by flowers, the young woman could be mistaken for a literary maiden asleep, vulnerable yet beautiful, rather than the tragic reality of a young woman who shot herself in the heart.

'Ria Munk on her Deathbed', Gustav Klimt, 1912

Despite scathing reviews from the Guardian, in my opinion Gemma Blackshaw curated a show which informatively and enjoyably combined the old with the new and demonstrates the expressive power of the portrait.  Having just returned from Vienna myself, I can testify to its current magnificence and beauty.  Sadly, much of it is a reconstruction, having been torn apart by war.  But seeing this exhibition before I arrived helped me to imagine what an incredibly diverse and complex climate had occupied the city about a century ago; a radical age of theatricality, wonder, constant change and most importantly, anxiety.

'Portrait of a Lady in Black', Gustav Klimt, c.1894

 

With thanks to the National Gallery.  For more information, please see their website and the exhibition catalogue.

Introducing Pick of the Week: this week by Annie Gregoire

Every Monday on AHA’s blog you will now find Pick of the Week – our recommendations of things you can do to spice up the week ahead, be it with art, music, theatre, travelling, food or anything else! We will review the best exhibitions on show that week, note exciting upcoming events, and maybe inspire you to take a visit somewhere different or try something new – across the UK and the globe.

Pick of the Week will tell you the things to look out for and incorporate into your week, discuss people and places that inspire, or introduce interesting ideas and matters that will offer something to think about in the following days.

There is loads to look forward to to in 2014. In the coming fortnight don’t miss the V&A’s exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900’, on until 19th Jan. You can even join us for a lecture, lunch and exhibition day for this show on Thursday. There will be opportunity to experience more of the country’s unbelievably rich cultural history – which most of us know embarrassingly little about – and learn about a pivotal period of world history in the British Museum’s ‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ exhibition that opens in September. With a range of some of the finest and most intriguing objects you will have ever seen on display, it promises to be a sensational show.

A 15th Century Ming Cloisonée Jar © Trustees of the British Museum

Feminist issues remain incredibly important in the modern day but in all the discussion have we forgotten about the men? Grayson Perry, Jon Snow and Billy Bragg, among others, will be at the Southbank Centre’s ‘Being A Man’ festival at the end of the month, where they will be talking about just that. This look to be an exciting event and a platform for the important discussion of what often remains undiscussed. (Being A Man events taking place at Southbank Centre Fri 31 Jan- Sun 2 Feb)

Brazil will be talked about a lot this year and Roche Court arts centre and sculpture park in Wiltshire (a hidden gem of the south) will host an exhibition of new work by David Batchelor – bold and colourful sculpture that reveals his interest in Brazilian concrete art. (David Batchelor: Concretos, 8 Feb – 16 March 2014, Roche Court, Wilts)

Visit the blog on Mondays from now on to discover something to excite and enliven each week!

David Batchelor, "Contretos" at Roche Court. Photo: sculpture.uk.com.

Nostalgia for China: Helena Roy reviews ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700-1900’, at the V&A

The twenty-first century has been heralded as the century of the East. Asia is rising exponentially on the global stage, while Western dominance is undeniably waning. The star of this exotic movement is China. Impossible to pin down and infinitely mysterious, growing interest in China is currently evident in the V&A’s exhibition, ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700-1900’.

Inside the exhibition at the V&A

From tiny intimate works by monks, to huge 14-foot scrolls by the literati, the exhibition charts the evolution of style and subject in Chinese art over a 1200-year period – with many paintings never seen before in the UK. Videos show the artistic process of painting on silk; and in the dark exhibition rooms, pale-lit scrolls are eerily luminous. Chinese paintings were not made for permanent display (with the exception of murals), but were treasured possessions, often stored away in boxes to be observed for set special periods. Subjects are portrayed on scrolls, banners and fans – all very tangible objects that act as alternative canvases.

The display starts with painting for religious purposes in the Tang and Five Dynasties period (700-950). A selection of Buddhist banners and deities are adorned with intense colour; tigers with gleaming eyes prowl around monks clad in red and orange robes. Monks are cluttered with swirling clothes and excessive, ribbon-like detail while their portraits are encased in circles offering serenity. Stories are laid out on scrolls, to be read like a book, allowing subjects to develop in a way traditional Western painting does not.

With the Song Dynasty there was a quest for reality (950-1250). Gone was the exuberance of the Buddhist era: artistic impetus was now for a momentous, monochrome aesthetic – against light brown silk scrolls, scenes are painted with porcelain precision. Guo Xi, a landscape painter, commented in 1117 that ‘without leaving your room you may sit to your heart’s content among streams and valleys. The glow of the mountain and the colours of the waters will dazzle your eyes glitteringly. Could this fail to quicken your interest and thoroughly capture your heart?’ Mountains drape gracefully into lakes and streams (the Chinese word for ‘landscape’ means ‘mountain and water’), with trees tripping down the edges of cliffs. Dragons and seas are meshed, appearing in the form of smoke as charcoal-like ink is waved across silk.

'Nine Dragons' (detail) by Chen Rong (1244)
Yan Wengui's 'Landscape with Pavillions' (10th century)

Monks and scholars later embraced solitude (1250-1400), uniting calligraphy, painting and poetry in a contemplative manner. During this period, the Chinese saw poetry as painting without image; painting as wordless poetry. Art became laden with literary, philosophical and political meaning. Stark black ink on white paper became the means of expressing creative solitude. Lone blossom, trees and orchids symbolised endurance and regret of the lost past.

'Two Chan Patriarchs Harmonising their Minds', attributed to Shi Ke (13th century)

Stability and prosperity during the Ming Dynasty led to an enthusiastic artistic explosion (1400-1600). Paintings became status symbols; with romanticism and decoration taking over, and instances of portraiture rising. Roosters were portrayed as elaborate birds of paradise, flowers enlarged and women’s gowns elaborated. From 1600-1900, art challenged the past and increasingly looked to the West; artistic rivalry festered, and the slow seeping of European influence into China took effect on painting too. Jesuit missionaries introduced western styles in the late 16th century, importing greater linear perspective, realism in portraits and chiaroscuro.

'Saying Farewell at Xunyang' (detail) by Qiu Ying 1494-1552
'Portrait of Gao Yongzhi as Calligrapher-Beggar' by Ren Yi (1887)

Much of the art in the exhibition is anonymous. This groups the pieces, giving them a unified national identity that dominates over its artistic identity. Though the painting is beautiful, it is overrun by the study of China. Though not necessarily a negative, this makes it less an exhibition of art, and more a study of history and a nation. Interesting nonetheless, but possibly not what the artists would have wanted.

‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700-1900’ runs at the V&A until 19th January 2014. For more information visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/masterpieces-of-chinese-painting/.

Art History Abroad are running a Dilettante Lecture, lunch and Exhibition day on Thursday 16th January for which there  are a few places left. Click here or contact Charlie Winton at charlie@arthistoryabroad for more details or to sign up.


With thanks to the V&A for photographs.