Books about town: by AHA alum Catriona Grant

Quick! Last chance to see the wonderful collection of book benches scattered around London as part of the collaboration between the National Literary Trust and Wild in Art.

War Horse bench


The project comes to a close on the 14th and 15th of September and it is certainly worth visiting a few of the literary pews before they disappear.


For the dedicated among you, there are 4 trails around parts of London – the City Trail, the Bloomsbury Trail, the Greenwich Trail, and the Riverside Trail. Some seats are tucked away in hidden venues, such as the Noughts and Crosses themed bench at Fen Court in the City, whilst others are in popular tourist spots or public thoroughfares such as Mary Poppins in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, or the Shakespearian homage plonked outside the Globe.


Noughts and Crosses at Fen Court
a detail from the Mary Poppins bench
Shakespeare at the Globe


Some benches are specifically tied to their location – a series of pastel motifs and character portraits commemorating Mrs Dalloway is to be found in Gordon Square Gardens, adjacent to Virginia Woolf’s former home in Bloomsbury – an endearing Wind in the Willows bench is placed at the steps of the Bank of England, where Kenneth Graham once worked, – and a lively depiction of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days featuring a mock newspaper front page detailing Fogg’s ambitious wager, is found in the basement of Stamfords, a well loved travel bookshop in Covent Garden.


Mrs Dalloway
Wind in the Willows
Around the World in Eighty Days


A variety of local artists produced the series, which will be auctioned off in October to raise money for the National Literary Trust charity. Do try and spot a few if you’re wandering through London – they are a beautiful contribution to the bustle of city life, in the same vein as the ever popular Art Everywhere project that stretched throughout the UK over the summer.


All photos courtesy of Fiona Grant.

Matisse: The Cut-Outs. A review and other thoughts by AHA tutor Richard Stemp

Starting, unconventionally, in Pittsburgh, Richard Stemp looks forward – and back – to Matisse’s Paper Cut-Outs on display at Tate Modern, and then looks forward again to living happily ever after.

I have been to Pittsburgh four or five times, more often, in fact, than I’ve been to Boston or Washington DC, and most Americans would ask, horrified, ‘Why?!’ It still hasn’t recovered from the reputation it gained in the early 20th Century as the soot-blackened, smog-ridden steel capital of the States. But when I first went, way back in 1986 (ah, how time flies), it had just been voted America’s Most Liveable City. Andy Warhol was from Pittsburgh, as was Henry Clay Frick, a coke and steel industrialist whose vast wealth (from all that pollution) allowed him to put together one of the greatest individual art collections, the Frick, which found its home in New York and is one of the highlights of any visit to that remarkable city. Andrew Carnegie, another Steel Magnate and philanthropist from Pittsburgh, is perhaps not as well known, but you can still find Carnegie Libraries across Britain. It is intriguing to think that in the early 20th Century an American thought that the British needed to read, but he was British – a Scottish émigré, in fact, from Dunfermline. He gave his name to Pittsburgh’s wonderful Carnegie Museum of Art, well worth a visit, and home to probably my favourite work by Matisse, a paper cut-out called The Thousand and One Nights.


The Thousand and One Nights (1950) Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

I know this image remarkably well. Having seen it several times in the late 1980s, it was still in my mind when I moved in the late 90s.  The new flat was in the basement, and had a long, narrow room underneath the ground floor entrance, ideal as a study. At the far end was a window, perfect for a coffee table and an armchair, so I could sit and read, work and relax at the same time (Matisse once said that art should be like a comfortable armchair). I thought The Thousand and One Nights would look perfect there, and planned to write to Pittsburgh to see if they did a poster. But before I got round to writing, I was forced to go to IKEA. That’s what love does – it makes you go to IKEA. It makes you go to Pittsburgh. True love means you don’t have to do these things if you don’t want to, and, a couple of exes later, I haven’t been to either for a long time now. But this was Kismet – a perfect concept, in this context – as IKEA actually did do a poster, and it fit perfectly on the wall by the window at the end of the study for four years. And, when I moved ten years ago (exes being what they are), it found a place above my bed.


I don’t always sleep very well (though better, I’m sure, than Matisse, who suffered terribly from insomnia), but The Thousand and One Nights is the perfect companion for a sleepless night, a great tale well told. Scheherazade knows that the King, angry at the infidelity of his first wife, has killed many subsequent wives after just one night of marriage. Nevertheless, she accepts his proposal, and to save her own life she tells him a story, keeping his attention throughout the night, and leaving off half way through as dawn breaks. She lives to see the day – and to tell the rest of the tale the following night. Only she never finishes. Well, not for a thousand nights, by which time he has fallen in love with her, and from the thousand and first night, we presume, they live happily ever after. Matisse tells his tale in separate sections, using five main ‘blocks’, which he developed separately and then joined together, chapters in a story. The first, a smoking lamp, as night falls, is followed by a stylised, blue female form: Scheherazade herself, perhaps, in obeisance before the King. Flashes of stars, and leaf-like forms take us through the night, which draws to a close with another, smokeless lamp. Day has dawned. And finally, a rich, round, red oval – the rising sun? The warm heart of the story? Or something more sensually direct? And then the image opens up, a red leaf crosses from the hard edge of the last ‘block’ and brings the white background into play, an open-ended, happy ending. Red and pink hearts trail along the bottom, and along the top, black hearts, which alternate with green, trail off into words: “…she saw the dawn appearing, and discreetly fell silent”.

The Dance (1932-33) The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.

I’ve always loved the cut-outs, and when I heard that Tate would hold a major retrospective this year I was very happy. Even more so when I heard that the Carnegie – who don’t always display The Thousand and One Nights, paper being so fragile – are lending it to this exhibition. It was remarkable to see it, like meeting an old friend, with whom you’ve been asleep for ten years, for the first time in twenty-five. It’s far larger than I remembered, and the colours far more subtle. Its physical presence, as a made object – not a machine tooled, flat plane of colour – is also essential for its understanding. The flatness of the printed versions of his cut-outs was something that disappointed Matisse himself, even though he developed them, in part, to avoid other disappointments of printing – the subtle shifts in colour, for example, between the preparatory maquette, or model, and the finished edition.


Two Dancers (1937-8) Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Initially, paper cut-outs were just a tool for him. He would use them while developing other works, a form of sketching, or drawing with colour. As such it was vital for the development of his mural, The Dance, of 1932-3, for another great American entrepreneur, Albert C. Barnes: the more-or-less vertical bars of pink, blue and black relate to cut-out elements in the preparatory stages. His interest in dance led to a commission to design the ballet, Rouge et Noir, for choreographer Léonide Massine. The stage curtain design is still held together with pins, the same colour as the paper, showing how the individual elements could be moved and adjusted to find the right combination of line and colour. But it was with Jazz – undoubtedly one of the most important artist’s books of the 20th Century – that he began to realise the full possibilities of the cut-out.


The Heart (1943), maquette for plate VII of Jazz (1947) Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Jazz is exhibited in its entirety in the Tate exhibition, and is one of the highlights. Indeed, it is exhibited twice, as the final, printed version is displayed alongside the original maquettes. Frustrated, as I have said, by the changes in colour from design to print, Matisse decided to cut into colour itself, using paper painted in exactly the same pigments as the printer’s ink. The original idea was to illustrate poems, but instead Matisse wrote notes about his ideas, his working practice and about the inspiration for the images. The text functions formally, a black and white breathing space between the brilliant intensity of the images. Already, with The Heart, we have the seed for the later tale of Scheherazade, with the same combination of black and green, pink and red, in adjacent blocks, and with the tell tale heart. This is by far one of the simplest of twenty vibrant images. It is wonderful to see them all together, and instructive, too: given the accuracy of the colour, Matisse was now disappointed by the flatness of the final image, and, of course, he was right. Side by side they are still glorious, but somehow lifeless, and later cut-outs were arranged together, loosely pinned to the wall so that cut leaves would wave in the breeze, as three-dimensional works. Different combinations of colours were tested against one another, much as Albers would focus on the square, or Riley on the line. Indeed, the undulating leaf forms so beloved of Matisse allow the maximum interaction between two different colours, in the same way that Riley uses long lines, straight or curving, to maximise the contact between the elements of her chosen palette.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952) Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Matisse used the technique to design book covers and posters, ceramic wall panels and stained glass, and even the decoration of an entire chapel (including the priest’s vestments) for the Dominican Nuns of Vence, in the South of France, one of whom had nursed him through a serious illness. But before long he realised that the paper cut-outs could be an end in themselves, they could live free of the restrictions of the canvas, and take up entire rooms. The Parakeet and the Mermaid, for example, was developed on the walls of his studio, and originally wrapped around a corner of the room, while the Oceania works developed, in part, as a way of covering marks on the dull and shabby walls of a room in Paris. As you go round this wonderful exhibition the works get steadily larger, his ideas become freer and you gradually find yourself encompassed by colour. If you do go – and you should – it will be the most positive, glorious and life-affirming thing you see this year – this decade, for that matter, or this millennium – and it will leave you happy, if not forever, at least for now.


Why a Gap Year? AHA alum and Berkeley student Lucy Sundelson on what the experience meant for her

On the day I left for my gap year trip with Art History Abroad, I felt terrified.  I cried while I sat in the terminal, waiting to board my flight.  I was on my way to Italy, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own.

I had been accepted to UC Berkeley for the spring semester, rather than the fall, when my sister and all my friends would be starting.   Gap years are common in Europe, but not many American students take one.  I was worried.  What would I be missing?  Would I feel left behind?

As soon as I arrived in Italy, however, I knew that my time there would give me just as much as a semester of college, if not more.  My gap year course was my first chance to see the world as an adult.  It would teach me to make friends with people from across the world, to take care of myself, and to discover new passions. Every day felt like an adventure, as we ate, laughed, and learned our way through a dozen Italian cities, and I felt more independent and excited than I ever did in high school. I learned how to take risks: to get lost in the alleys of Venice, to dance in a nightclub, to sit in front of a monument or a sculpture and try to sketch it, despite the belief that I had absolutely no artistic ability.

I think it’s exciting that more American students are now taking gap years. College has been challenging and exhilarating, but I know that my experience with AHA is the reason I’m getting so much out of it. On the trip, I began to discover a new, independent identity—an identity I continue to explore in college. When I started at Berkeley, I already knew how to take care of myself and how to challenge myself with new experiences. My Italian journey is the reason I’ve been able to make so many friends in college, and it’s the reason I’m studying Urban Design. I’ve found the perfect niche in a place I never expected to feel so comfortable. I’ll remember my trip as not only one of the most exciting experiences of my life, but as one that helped me learn who I am and what I can do.

For more thoughts on taking a Gap Year and its benefits, see this article by founder of the AGA (American Gap Association) Ethan Knight.


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…

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!


A little note from the Hills of Tuscany

With our pioneering Semester Students well into their last week in the Tuscan hilltown of Montepulciano, one of our tutors Alice Lindsay has jotted down a few of the best things about being there…


1)   Il Sasso school of Italian and its wonderful teachers.


2)   Drawing al fresco in the hills below Montepulciano.


3)   The caprese salad at La Pentolaccia.


4)   The kindness and hospitality of the two host families.


5)   Olive picking under the Tuscan sun.


6)   The gardens of La Foce.


7)   The stray cats to be found in every little alleyway of Montepulciano.


8)   Gregorian chants at the beautiful abbey of Sant’Antimo.


9)   Learning how to make gnocchi at ‘Casa Lilian’.


10) Our wonderful bus driver Ilario, “Il Postalino della Val d’Orcia”.


For news on the arts, Italy, our courses and much more follow us on Twitter @AHAcourses and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

AHA Semester: Autumn in London

WOOPEEE! Students arrived on Friday 14th September and there it all began...



Day 1: Orientation around Chelsea and South Kensington, the Saatchi Gallery, lunch in the Garden at the V&A museum...



....Followed by a stroll down the Southbank, film at the British Film institute, and stroll over Embankment bridge to admire the bright lights.



Day 2: a Sunday stroll through the delights of a local food market...



...and a sunny afternoon at Hampton Court with AHA tutor Rose Balston



Day 3: Monday morning, magnificent Westminster Abbey followed by 'Monarchy' at the National Gallery with AHA tutor Oliva Dobell



Day 4: A day trip to Windsor Castle, Victoria and the Empire...



Day 5: The Houses of Parliament followed by the banqueting house...



Day 7: after a day of romantic poetry in the beautiful suburb of Hampstead (day 6), back into the city proper with Rose for the Great Fire, Wren, and the City Churches.



In the afternoon, stepping back into the Middle Ages at Great St Bartholomew's church - monasteries and medecine




Day 8: Sunday Brunch at the Breakfast Club in Spittalfields followed by a trip to the famous Whitechapel Gallery...mmmm...




Day 9: A sneak look at the London Metal exchange from the galleries, a hearty lunch at one of London's oldest chop houses and a visit to the Inns of Court to talk about English Law




Day 10: Buckingham Palace and back to the National Gallery for more magnificent paintings





Day 11: A morning at the British Museum: 3 inches away from Michelangelo's drawing of Adam for the Sistine ceiling (!!), the Parthenon marbles and much much more...




Day 12: The spectacular Tate Modern collection - a real highlight of London




...And behind the scenes visits to 3 London Galleries and a private tour of Christie's by Zita Caldecott, of the Chairman's Office... WOW.




After a visit to the Tate Britain with AHA tutor Steve Nelson and well deserved day of rest, our AHA students packed their bags and headed to PARIS!



This is just a taste of all the wonderful things the students have been getting up to in London. There have been trips to the Globe theatre; comedy evenings; cosy suppers at tutors’ houses; film nights; trips to the Opera and much much more.

A HUGE thank you to Semester Student Jacqueline Langelier for her excellent photos (1,6,7,8,9,10,11,12) – a joy to see the course through her eyes.

For regular updates on our Semester this year follow us on Twitter (@AHAcourses, #ahasemester), and  \’Like\’ our Facebook Page. We’ll be posting more news from Paris soon!