Art, Religion and the Smartphone: The Selfie by AHA Tutor Freddie Mason

When people take pictures of famous paintings in galleries, these pictures are often selfies: ‘this is me in the Louvre, pointing at and smiling next to the Mona Lisa’. It is the ‘me’ and the ‘next to’ that the selfie really cares about; people want to watermark their own original version of the painting with that thing that is indisputably their own: their face.

Someone taking a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa

 

What we are now able to do with Smartphones is put ourselves in the same picture as the Mona Lisa. We can enter the same frame as her. We can place our face into the same visual context as the most iconic face in existence. We can change ourselves slightly. We can get something new about ourselves to take back across that mysterious threshold between art and life.

For the cultured ‘art-lover’ there is nothing more embarrassing than the selfie. There are those that take selfies in front of Leonardos and there are those art-lovers that look on in despair.

Why is this?

I think this opposition between different kinds of gallery-goers has a lot to do with the theological oppositions between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Let me make a crude summary:

One of the things that particularly annoyed the new modes of protestant faith that developed during the Reformation was the worship of holy objects, relics. The worship of relics involves a very bodily orientated kind of faith: it is all about your physical proximity to the holy object. This catholic mode of worship is an externalised kind of religious being that is based upon the arrangement of people and things within space. In some cases, religious objects are even touched, a ritual act I’ve always found exquisitely dramatic.

 

A nail from the 'True Cross'

Protestantism, on the other hand, is much more internalised. It requires the individual to contemplate, in the solitude of prayer, their own fallen existence: faith and faith alone. One should not need the bones of the saints or a bit of the true cross to help absolve sins, only your own intense relationship with the word of God.

But, what has this got to do with selfies?

The tourist that sidles up alongside a Caravaggio to take a selfie is really interested in this Catholic belief in proximity. The tourist is not ‘learning to look’ as the exasperated art history tutors that surround them would like. What’s really important is that they were there, here, near, right next to the divine presence of the ‘original work of art’. In the world of art experience this pertains to a very Catholic set of values. ‘I was physically there. Next to this! The actual one!’

The desire to affirm physical presence in relation to the original artwork with a selfie is, I think, related to that mysterious, much more ancient impulse to physically touch works of art or religious objects.

Some artists have noticed this desire, creating works that ask you to break the rules. Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Objet’, for instance, cries out to be touched.

Meret Oppenheim, Objet, 1936, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

On the other end of the spectrum of gallery-goers is the good student who keeps their Smartphone switched off in their bag, listens attentively to the tutor and looks carefully in the hope that they might one day ‘learn how to look’ properly at art. For the good student, the whole affair is much more internalised. For them, proximity to the original is part of an individualised learning process through which they might gain a private aesthetic sensibility. With regards to their experience of art, they are acting like a Protestant might.

A sign in a gallery

 

Max Weber’s ‘protestant work ethic’ perhaps applies here: does one have to work to understand Caravaggio? Or is being there, having made the journey, the pilgrimage, enough?

I do not want to say something boring about which kind of gallery-goer is more or less superior. Instead, I think we can learn something about our historical position by observing this opposition. This is: however much we think society has become secularised, our ‘secular’ activities are structured by impulses that have their origins in religious ritual or dogma.

 

 

 

Kaleidoscope Landscapes and Playful Goats: John Craxton, by AHA alum Anna Fothergill

John Craxton. The name many have little significance to the British public, but his recent exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge (which closed at the end of last month) served to change the fact.  And with just cause. The British-born, Mediterranean-bred artist, produced some of the most vibrant and beautiful work I have encountered in a while. Despite the small scale of the exhibition, it demonstrated the evolution and diversity of Craxton’s work, from delicate line drawings, to geometric landscapes.

Pastoral for P.W, 1948, Oil on canvas

Inspiration from artists like William Blake, Picasso and Samuel Palmer is clear throughout his oeuvre. His friendship and teaching from Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud also found its way into the young man’s work. He was also appreciated as a good companion as well as an artist and the variety of his art testifies to his colourful character.

Lucian Freud, 1946, Conte pencil
Portrait of Sonia, 1948-57, Oil on Canvas

 

It was Craxton’s first visit to Greece in 1946 that  inspired him with light, food, landscape and nature. His work shed the slight gloom of his youth and took on the romanticism of the Mediterranean, where he spent the majority of his adult life. He demonstrated a unique ability to capture the easy pace of these sunny regions and the unique characters he encountered there. Many of his larger scale works are of pastoral scenes and the use of block colours, effective layering and intentional compositions work in harmony to  give an impression of an exotic culture – one that any traveller to Greece or Sicily will be familiar with. There is no doubt that his landscapes are seeking to create arcadia with their serene shepherds, chromatic light and whimsical goats.

Landscape with derelict Windmill, 1958, Oil on board

Still Life with Three Sailors, 1980-85. Tempera on Canvas

However, the most interesting aspect of Craxton’s work did not occur to me until after I had stood enjoying Landscape with the Elements, a monumental kaleidoscopic work. Craxton was producing works such as these in the aftermath of the Second World War, wanting to project a joyful, energetic picture of life – life in Europe that was continuing despite the years of loss they had suffered. To this end, he painted images of thriving landscapes, flourishing feasts and animated locals. Because he chose to remain in Greece for the remainder of his life, his work was not celebrated by the British art world for many years. Thankfully, it is now possible to view Craxton in the context of history and see him as a joyous contrast to the horrors occurring during his lifetime.

 

Landscape with the Elements, 1973, Oil on board

His paintings have a personal sensitivity to them and also capture the fullness of a life lived. He will amaze you with his talent, complexity, simplicity and emotional narrative. And his goats really are humorous too.

Study for Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape, 1950,

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.

The Joy of Discovering Lost Art, by AHA alum Charlie Whelton

“This is a very, very special morning and you’re seeing a very, very happy director in front of you”.

These were the words of the Van Gogh museum’s Axel Rueger when he confirmed the authenticity of Sunset at Montmajour, the first full-size Van Gogh to be discovered in 85 years. Mr Rueger was not alone in his elation. I certainly felt a surge of joy on hearing the news, and I am sure I was not the only one to feel excited from afar. It is an odd type of happiness that accompanies the discovery of a lost or unknown artwork, however, and one that varies depending on the details of the case.

Sunset at Montmajour, for example, was not really ‘lost’ in the literal sense, but rather misattributed. The piece was long believed to be a fake, and so remained in the attic of a Norwegian collector for decades before it could finally be declared genuine. In a situation like this, the long road to verification leaves one feeling happy for the artist himself – authentication being a posthumous vindication of a work long misunderstood. In a similar vein, Pablo Picasso’s Seated Woman With Red Hat was ‘lost’ for years in the basement of a museum – mislabelled, unappreciated and kept from public eyes until it was tracked down by the head of an auction house. This type of discovery of lost art is satisfying, because it appeals to our sense of justice. Not only has the world been blessed with a ‘new’ Van Gogh piece, but a beautiful artwork is also finally getting the credit and exposure it deserves.

 

Picasso, Seated Woman with Red Hat

This being said, it is certainly more romantic when a lost artwork is discovered hanging on the wall of a modest family home, rather than the basement of a museum. The story of the recovery of Martin Johnson Heade’s Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth is a wonderful example of this. A man from Indiana bought the 19th century work for ‘next to nothing’ to cover a hole in his wall, where it stayed until he noticed the similarity between it and a painting in the art board game Masterpiece. After verification, he sold the work for $1.25 million.

This type of story resonates in a different manner to the Van Gogh authentication. We like it when a potential Michelangelo is found down the back of a sofa in Buffalo because it feeds into a common fantasy we have of being plucked from obscurity and catapulted to stardom. It says not to take things at face value, that the strange $5 painting bought from a thrift shop could be a Jackson Pollock, and that the ugly plaster statue of Buddha could be solid gold underneath. If the joy of the Van Gogh discovery is in the justice of verification, with these stories it is in the romance of speculation. The beauty of possibility.

The Golden Buddha reminds us that discovery of lost art takes many forms. The chance discovery of the 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings by four boys and a dog in 1940 seems a world away from the sophisticated verification of Sunset at Montmajour, for example. Likewise, the Venus de Milo, one of the most famous sculptures in the world, was found by accident by a peasant digging in his field on a Greek island in 1820. More recent is the excavation of the sunken city of Heracleion. Lost for 1,200 years, it was considered legend for centuries, before being rediscovered in 2000. The images demonstrate how magical the rediscovery of long-lost treasure can be.

 

A diver at the excavating at the lost city of Heracleion

While this article has mainly dealt with the thrill of discovery or the justice of proper attribution, this overlooks the (admittedly geeky) joy of the detective work inherent in finding and verifying an important work. The popularity of The Da Vinci Code has certainly added to interest in locating Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari, believed to be hidden behind a Giorgio Vasari fresco in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. While this search, with cryptic clues, endoscopic cameras and hidden cavities continues, the recent discoveries of works entitled La Bella Principessa and Salvator Mundi appear to offer a greater chance of authenticating a genuine lost Da Vinci artwork. While the debate over these works is less ‘Dan Brown’ than the search for the Battle of Anghiari, an array of books, articles and lectures arguing both sides have been produced in the pursuit of verification. The desire to figure out the final piece of the puzzle is strong in human nature, and the potential discovery of lost works by great artists offers the perfect opportunity.

Leonardo's 'La Bella Principessa' and 'Salvator Mundi'

 

Whether the particular joy of the recovery of a lost piece of art comes from the justice of attribution, the improbability of the discovery or the puzzle of verification, there is always one common factor: that a work of beauty once lost, is now found. Having written for this blog before on artworks being stolen and defaced, it restores hope to witness what is essentially the opposite happening in Amsterdam right now.

An Internship in Cape Town: AHA alum Caz St Quinton spends the summer in South Africa

Cape Town is a city bursting with expressive design. It seems the city has had to house and display this range of creativity almost overnight, resulting in streets of art galleries appearing in the city bowl. Because of this, attaining an internship at a Gallery proved astonishingly easy. During snowy January in Durham I decided to email a handful of Galleries that I had found online. To my delight I received quite a few offers. Choosing which one to accept looked a daunting prospect, but then I discovered that one of my offers, the ‘Mogalakwena Craft Art Gallery’, was running an exhibition called ‘A Glimpse: Dress and Fashion in Africa’ and so the decision suddenly became an easy one for me to make.

 

Mogalakwena Exhibition Brochure

I did slightly wonder what I had got myself in for when on my first morning I was immediately shown the electronic buzzer for the metal gate door and the panic button! However, after realising that this was simply a precaution which most shops take in Cape Town I began to relax and focus on work.

 

I had a couple of days to learn about the Gallery before I had to take tours through the ‘Dress and Fashion’ Exhibition. I found myself discussing the missionaries influence on Namibian clothing and dye techniques of the Bamileke people from Cameroon. These were things that a few days previously I had never even imagined existed and all of a sudden I was explaining them to other tourists. The highlight for many visitors was a pair of high heels painted with a chicken feather by the famous South African artist, Esther Mashlangu.

 

Esther Mashlangu Shoes

I loved showing visitors the room full of 18 embroidered self portraits by the Mogalakwena craft artists. Each woman had to do a self portrait using embroidery because it is the medium they are most comfortable with using. They were asked to depict themselves in their favourite outfit. Many of them dressed up in their traditional clothes which they save for church and other special occasions. They were then photographed and interviewed about dress and fashion topics, a favourite subject was trousers and how women shouldn’t wear them.

Embroidered Self Portraits

Whenever I wasn’t taking tours through the Gallery I had lots of other things to be getting on with. The most exciting was helping the owner curate a new room. We began to transform the old store room into a marine themed space. I was also busy with a proposal for the exhibition space at the five star hotel around the corner. I had the time of my life interning in Cape Town and couldn’t be more thankful for that cold, miserable, January that encouraged me to send off my applications.

The Gallery

 

Coppola-coloured: is there really so much difference between film and painting? AHA alum Julia Turner explores

If Sofia Coppola were a Renaissance painter, she would be Titian. Or maybe Tintoretto:  two painters whose mastery of colour and light were crucial to their artistic output. Their approach to painting represented the Venetian school’s insistence that colorito (colour), rather than Florentine disegno (drawing), was the key to recreating the essence of nature. Impossible though it may be, therefore, I think that if the two men were to watch Coppola’s Marie Antoinette over a bowl of pop-corn, they would nod in approval at her pistachio greens, duck egg blues, and accents of deep crimson and plum.

Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559

 

Tintoretto, St Mark Working Many Miracles, 1562-1566

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, 2006

Coppola’s debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides, paid equal attention to production design and light in creating a sense of theatricality, not dissimilar to Tim Walker’s fantastical photographs.

Tim Walker, Lily Cole, for Vogue UK, 2010

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, 1999

Another director who I love for his use of colour is Wes Anderson. His use of paint-box colours make his works instantly recognisable. In fact, Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic style inspired artist Beth Matthews to produce her own work, the Wes Anderson Film Colour Palette, in which she pulled together the colour treatments used across six of his feature films.

Poster Image for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, 2012

That said, Coppola’s films, also capture design or ‘disegno’. Since directors are able to use a camera to capture nature directly, they arguably have the ‘design’ box automatically checked before they even begin. What’s more, the photographic aspect of cinema can provide an opportunity for directors to focus especially on the composition of their frames. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles used monochrome to create kaleidoscopic, architectural shots that could stand alone as striking photographs.

Still from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane

On the other hand, through his symmetrical compositions Anderson’s use of colour becomes most evident and most efficient in balancing his frames. Similarly, both colour and design are put to work in Somewhere, Coppola’s meandering portrait of a famous actor living in the Chateau Marmont, whose life happens to him rather than the other way around. Curved and straight lines, repeating patterns, and clean-fishbowl-hues build up a considered portrayal of a place that almost feels like the set of a movie itself: somewhere with lots of charm but no personality.

Still from Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited, 2007
Still from Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, 2006

I suppose in this way, film could resolve another Renaissance debate: whether painting or sculpture is the better art form. Michelangelo was able to master both and this is one of the reasons he was so celebrated. Not only can film offer both colour and a three-dimensional perspective on the figures, but it can go one step further, by introducing soundtrack and dialogue to flesh out the characters and add texture and tone to the piece such as with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony capturing the sweeping majesty of Tadzio’s beauty and von Aschenbach’s loneliness in Visconti’s Death in Venice or French rock band Phoenix’s cool nonchalance pervading Coppola’s Somewhere.

Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Visconti's Death in Venice, 1971

So really, the medium that is most associated with modernity – the moving image of the Nineteenth Century, the talkies of the 1930s, and the music videos and blockbusters that dominate youtube and facebook feeds today – are actually involved in fulfilling a very traditional aim:

to capture the spirit, the sense, the essence of a thought, a feeling or a truth.

 

Notes from Venice: A summer student talks about one leg of the Northern II trip

My trip to Venice with Art History Abroad was glorious! The location of the hotel introduced me to a new and exciting area of Venice with which I was unfamiliar, allowing me to become delightfully lost in Venice’s intimate streets. For a large part of the group the aim was to become lost: you can only really appreciate Venice when you are in a state of mild desperation when the map has abandoned you and your bearings have failed.

 

Days in Venice were fascinating, visiting various Churches that boasted works by artists such as Titian, Bellini and Carpaccio. One of my favourite afternoons in Venice was my visit to the Accademia. The display of Gothic art in contrast to the later developed Renaissance Art was remarkable and with the help of the tutors this transition in art was explained effortlessly. However the teaching role was not always left to the tutors: student pairs were formed with the instruction to choose a curious painting to explore in front of the rest of the group. For my pair, ‘The Crucifixion of Ten Thousand Martyrs’ by Carpaccio was sufficiently curious to allow for a thorough exploration. Despite our ignorance of the event and having little knowledge of the artist, we were able to give a short presentation on our reaction to the painting.

Our evening lecture -told with glasses of ‘fragolinos’ in hand- allowed the group to fully appreciate our day ventures by associating the transitions in the style of art with the time period.

The Venice Biennale was a delightful contrast as a display of contemporary art. Meandering around the ‘Giardini de Venezia’ was wonderful; stumbling across the various countries’ entries and enjoying the cool shade provided by the trees. The group had different interpretations to the countries’ entries, allowing for good conversation on our thoughts. Despite differing interpretations on the exhibitions, the enjoyment of the morning at the Biennale was shared between all.

 

 

Our free afternoon after the Biennale allowed the group to branch out into all parts of Venetian life: some benefited from a relaxing time at the Lido, whilst others took advantage of the current Manet expedition held at the Doge’s Palace.

One of the highlights for me was our visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum on the final day in Venice. Its location on the Grand Canal made the group green with envy and the Modern Art was quite a contrast to the works we had seen before; yet there seemed to be themes running through, as if art was cyclical in nature. I loved their decision to display Peggy Guggenheim’s works of art alongside pictures of her in the house when she lived there.

 

On our last night the tutors arranged a picnic supper on the Punta della Dogana. The view of Venice at twilight was gorgeous. It was a great time to relax and reminisce (with hints of nostalgia) on the trip so far, while also feeling excitement for the next two cities.

Everyone loved our Venice stay; how could we not? The magnificent art, the charming city, the relaxed nature of the visit and the good nature of everyone involved meant that enjoying ourselves was simply inevitable!

 

With thanks to Helen Elston for putting together her memories of Venice, Summer 2013…

Melon Ice-cream and Travertine: A student’s impression of Rome

The capital of Italy was our final and busiest city visit. Before I get to the art, I’m going to have to mention a couple of the most amazing things that happened in Rome. First of all: Melon Ice Cream (ever tried it?), this is best when made by ‘GROM’ and if you ever have the pleasure of going to Italy, your trip will be incomplete without this life-changing substance. Secondly, travertine stone – I admit – I originally thought this quasi-sedimentary calcium carbonate was rather boring – but Helen Oakden’s enthusiasm eventually had our whole group caressing a travertine stone in the centre of Rome. We ignored the slightly startled passers by.

GROM...

Melon and Travertine aside, the art in Rome was beyond belief. The Colosseum and Forum let us dive beyond the world of the Renaissance and appreciate the ancient Rome that was beneath our feet and The Vatican City certainly lived up to expectations. A short tan-top-up for the girls as we queued outside lead us to the most incredible frescos, sculptures, architecture and paintings I’ve yet had the pleasure to see.

The Glorious Basilica of St Peter

 

Michelangelo's incredibly moving Pieta

St Peter’s Basilica was incomprehensibly large – the small letters around the base of the dome interior were in fact, we learned, each 2m high… and finished nearly 400 years ago. Not only is this place the largest church in the world, but also it is also home to Michelangelo’s genuinely moving Pieta. I had never seen my favourite fresco, Raphael’s The School of Athens (best fresco in existence), in the flesh, but when I saw it in the Vatican Palace for the first time I really did feel like I was meeting an old friend.

Raphael's 'School of Athens' in the Vatican Palace
Amazement at seeing the School of Athens, finally...

The two weeks had been good enough already, but it made them all the more worthwhile. To top the day off we had also seen some mind-blowing classical sculpture. Us boys in the group did feel jealous upon seeing the Belvedere torso…!

The Belvedere Torso in all is muscular glory

Of course it wasn’t all go – we did have some down time; the ever-knowledgeable tutors took us out to supper to a roof terrace restaurant which was great fun albeit bittersweet as we knew we were coming to the end of our trip.

Bernini's David in the Borghese Gallery
Outside the Borghese Gallery on our last day...

Our final day was in a similar vein; while we were all soaking up the atmosphere and some incredible sculpture (Berlini’s David is both very emotive and unfortunately overshadowed by Michelangelo’s) in the villa Borghese, everyone was sad to be saying goodbye to such an atmospheric city, and of course to each other. Rome, in the true sense of the word, was awesome, and I know that all of us will want to go back very soon.

With thanks to Hugo Dunn, student on our Northern II summer course 2013.

The Importance of being an Aesthete by AHA tutor and actor, Richard Stemp

I realised, rather late, that one of the great compliments that Robert Woodward could pay was when he turned to you, a slightly wicked glint in his eye, and say, ‘Richard, you seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure’. It is a quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest, which I am currently touring with London Classic Theatre, and for that matter from several other works by Oscar Wilde: the man who, on entering the United States said, ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’, was fond of quoting, if not actively plagiarising, his own work. Robert, the founder of Art History Abroad, was devoted to Oscar Wilde, and I remember him enthusing about the play, pointing out that even in the second line Wilde subverts the niceties of social convention, and starts a game, playing with paradox, and using contradiction to find out deeper truths.  Robert had made what he considered an ill-judged investment in the Channel Tunnel, but that at least rewarded him with return tickets to Paris once a year, allowing an annual pilgrimage to Wilde’s Tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery. There he would lay a green carnation – a flower ‘invented’, Wilde said, by himself, and worn by himself and others of his circle at the first ever performance of The Importance of Being Earnest at the now-defunct St James’s Theatre on 14 February 1895.

Jacob Epstein, Study for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde, 1909-11

Wilde’s genius was declared to the Americans on a lecture tour in 1882, a tour which had relatively little to do with Wilde himself, and more to do with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, an operetta satirising the Aesthetic Movement. The main character, the poet Bunthorne, was a very shallowly disguised version of Wilde himself, and the producers thought it would be a good idea to introduce the original to the American public, so that they would understand what precisely was being satirised. You could almost see it as a 19th Century equivalent of those reality T.V. shows which are used to cast – and therefore publicize – West End musicals. That Wilde was well-known enough in England to be the subject of satire was in itself remarkable: he was 28 and had, as yet, achieved nothing except notoriety. His most important work would not be written until the last decade of his relatively short life:  he died in 1900 at the age of 46, with Earnest as his last, and arguably greatest, success. The play could also be seen as marking the pinnacle, and end, of the Aesthetic Movement itself.

The movement developed from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, that short-lived confraternity of young idealists whose work continued long after the initially tight grouping split and was diluted by newly introduced artists. These included Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, who met at Exeter College, Oxford, and who remained friends and collaborators until Morris’s death in 1896. They left Oxford without graduating in 1856, having sought out Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom they saw as the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. By then Rossetti’s painting had moved away from the depiction of literary subjects, and from the inspiration which the Pre-Raphaelites had found in the works of Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible. No longer would art be the ‘handmaid of religion’, as John Ruskin would have had it, and Rossetti, together with Burne-Jones, and others including James MacNeill Whistler and Frederick Leighton, began to celebrate beauty, pure and simple, with no other aim: ‘Art for Art’s sake’. As Oscar Wilde said in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey, ‘All art is quite useless’.

William Morris, The Strawberry Thief, 1883

In this, Wilde was at odds with William Morris, who famously encouraged the beauty of functionality: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Nevertheless, the Aesthetic Movement and the Arts and Crafts Movement, fostered by Morris, go hand in hand. ‘The House Beautiful’ was one of the major concerns of both – and indeed the title of one of Wilde’s lectures during his 1882 tour of America. It was this which led Kerry Bradley, designer of London Classic’s Earnest, to use Morris fabrics for the furniture used by the ‘younger generation’ in our production. For example Jack’s chair is upholstered with a print called The Strawberry Thief designed by Morris in 1883. The cushion on Algernon’s chair has the same pattern, in a different colourway (the technical term used to describe the fact that the design is the same, but with a different combination of colours). I would like to think that there is a reason within the play why the same design is used for cushion and chair, but it may just be coincidence. And another coincidence: we are currently playing The Everyman, Cork (we opened on 29 January to a full house and rapturous applause!) and the auditorium is hung with Morris’s Windrush wallpaper. Like The Strawberry Thief this was also designed in 1883. It was first printed at Merton Abbey Mills, where I once performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and which is only half a mile or so from our rehearsal room for Earnest in Colliers Wood. I’d like to think there is beauty even in coincidence…

William Morris, Windrush, 1883

Remembering Robert’s eulogy on the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest as we started rehearsals – I now get to say that second line – I regret not having had the chance to take the conversation further and talk about the rest of the play: there was never enough time to spend with Robert.  He was such a great enthusiast, and had, in his own way, learnt to see Beauty in everything. I remember him saying, shortly before he died, ‘I can’t find it in myself to dislike anything any more’.

It is a wonderful play – do come along! We are in Cork until 9 February, in Ireland until 3 March and then touring Britain until June 15 – the full schedule is on the London Classic Theatre website:

http://www.londonclassictheatre.co.uk/index.php/2012/07/the-importance-of-being-earnest/

And if you come, stay for a drink, say ‘Hello’. It seems to me we will be living entirely for pleasure.

Paris: AHA semester student Rebecca Asoulin reminisces about their two weeks en France

When I unpacked my bag in Tuscany after taking a sleeper train from Paris (decidedly unlike the ones in the movies!), I found Paris Metro tickets had found their way into everything I own: in the bottom of my shoes, in the pockets of coats I didn’t know had pockets in, and at one point I swear they were multiplying. These tickets are a testament to how much we saw and did in our two weeks Paris.
Our first day in Paris we went to the Louvre with Lavinia and focused on the history of French art: from massive history paintings to delicate Rococo paintings. Our full day at the Louvre was pretty reflective about what the rest of our Paris trip would be like: Harpreet almost fainted when she saw the “Winged Victory”,  we spent half an hour looking for a toilet because there are literally TWO in the entire Louvre (bad museum planning), and a swarm of Brazilian tourists descended upon us as we were looking at Da Vinci’s “Virgin and Child with St Anne” (Emma promptly started talking to them in Portuguese).

 

Tourists scramble for a look at Antonio Canova's 'Psyche revived by Eros' Kiss'

Some other highlights of the trip included an Impressionist walk around Paris in which Olivia showed us the places that impressionist artists had painted, lived and exhibited their work. We stood on the same street that Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” depicts and we saw a comparison to the painting using a handy AHA iPad.

Caillebotte, Paris Street, A Rainy Day

That night we also had our first Paris crepes at Page 35 which was both delicious and cheap! Other food related deliciousness included Cafe Angelina (Emma’s suggestion) which had the most thick and yummy hot chocolate. Jackie’s dining suggestion led us to L’entrecote, a steak place with magic sauce for Jackie and endless french fries for Harpreet.

We also visited Versailles on a beautiful rainy day to learn about French history with Olivia, visited the Musee d’Orsay where we learned about Realism and Impressionism and visited both the Auguste Rodin and Gustave Moreau House Museums. We learned about modernist architecture by seeing THE modernist building–la Villa Savoy with Lavinia and saw fantastic street signs and bits and pieces of history like recreated rooms, furniture, and royal hair at the Musee Carnavalet.

Steve arrived at the end of the second week to teach us all about modern and contemporary art and with him we learned about Piccasso and Braque as well as how modern movements are related and built from each other.  In fact, Paris was so excited for Steve to come that a fire erupted one block up from us and what seemed like every fireman in Paris came to greet him (!) The last few days of the trip, we went to the Musee de Tokyo and climbed on some interactive artwork and visited the Cartier foundation where we experienced art outside of the canon from places like Brazil and Japan.

By far my favorite experience in Paris was the culmination of two different days. The first in Giverny, outiside of Paris, where we saw Monet’s garden and water lilies and a few days later at the Orangerie Museum in Paris where we saw his eight massive water lily paintings. Being able to see Monet’s water lilies and then see his paintings the next day makes both more alive and meaningful. I enjoyed it so much even my spectacular fall (ouch) and consequent cut didn’t put me off Monet’s wonderful garden.

Yesterday, Emma made up a song and an awesome dance about how lucky we are to
not be in school sitting exams but rather to be experiencing art and food and
life. Being able to be in places and touch and see the world that produces the
art we look at is an incredible experience.

Now back to Italian class!

Ciao