Little Giovanni Antonio Canal – “Canaletto”

Canaletto, Venice, Google Cultural Institute
Bucentaur’s return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale

(click here to see this painting in very high resolution thanks to the Google Cultural Institute)

Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, was the supreme master of vedute, the painted or drawn views which reached the peak of their popularity in the eighteenth century.  Born to a family of theatrical scene-painters, Canaletto depicted his native Venice as an atmospheric backdrop to a colourful cast of merchants, ambassadors and seafarers, and his portraits of the great city, La Serenissima, have evoked its charm for over two hundred years.

Canaletto, London, Lord Mayor's, Westminster Bridge
London: Westminster Bridge from the North on Lord Mayor’s Day

And if the barge looks familiar …

barge, Thames, Queen's
“Gloriana” The Queen’s Row Barge

… that’s because we’re still using them.  This one will start this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show by carrying the new Lord Mayor from Westminster to St Katherine’s dock.

Little is known of Canaletto’s early apprenticeship, although by 1720 he was entered as a member of the Venetian painter’s guild; and by this time he had already visited Rome.  From the first documented commission, four views for Stefano Conti of Lucca, the artist’s pristine treatment of the architecture and detail and his strong contrasts of light and shade were in evidence.  His work was especially prized by foreign visitors on the Grand Tour (the original, nothing to do with Jeremy Clarkson) – around the centres of classical and Renaissance civilization – who ordered paintings as souvenirs of their travels.  Prominent among these patrons were member of the English aristocracy, and among others Canaletto collaborated with the enterprising Owen McSwiney, who secured the interest of the Duke of Richmond, and the collector and agent Joseph Smith.

Canaletto, Venice, stonemason
The Stonemason’s Yard, painted 1726 – 30

Canaletto paid an extended visit to England between 1746 and 1756, where he produced compelling views of the Thames and its skyline, and capriccios or architectural fantasies.  Surprisingly he found it difficult to secure an equivalent reputation in England, where it was even alleged that he was “not the veritable Canalleti (sic) of Venice”.  For an unusual but fascinating view of his English period read this recent abstract “Canaletto’s Colours” from British Art Studies.  To counter these accusations the artist invited doubters to inspect his painting of St. James’s Park for reassurance.  Canaletto’s sojourn abroad eventually cast its influence on English topographical painters, and many private collection still hold examples of this work.

Canaletto’s paintings are a byword for clarity and realism, achieved in part by his occasional use of the camera obscura device, and in part by his brilliant shorthand delineation of figures.  Sadly, when he died in 1768 he left almost nothing; twenty-eight unsold paintings, a single bed, two bed covers and, as the executor of his will described them, “some old cloths.”  In contrast, the record price paid at auction for a Canaletto is £18.6 million for “View of the Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi to the Rialto”, set at Sotheby’s in London in July 2005.

A Day in Venice – By New Venetian Resident and AHA Alum, Anna Fothergill

As part of my studies in History of Art at the University of Warwick, there comes the opportunity to spend the autumn term of my third year in one of the greatest, and most unique, artistic centres of the world. This term abroad is the reason I choose Warwick and two years have flown by. I am now officially living and working in Venice for ten weeks and of course this fantastic and rare chance had to be documented for AHA readers.

Sunset over Santa Maria de Salute - Own photo

I have survived a full week in this watery paradise and I can safely say there is no fear I will run out of things to do, nor will I ever get bored of the stunning canal views over every bridge. Over the next ten week I hope to share some of the beauty of the city, the best places to eat and drink and some of the oddities that are only noticed one you live in a place.

Typically, a day might start by being woken up by the clanging of bells across the city (at first rather magical, but the midnight bell tolls are proving irritating). Since I am up, there is the need for coffee, so I stroll sleepily down the road, over the canal to my local coffee bar, where I use my limited (but improving) Italian to ask for a caffe latte. In true Italian fashion, I stand at the bar sipping away, enjoying the rapid chatting around me, a chorus of “Ciao”’s and “Buongiorno”’s. Once I have fuelled up on coffee, its time to get ready for the day.

Own Photo
A morning necessity - Own photo

With some free time in the morning, it is time for touristing. When I initially arrived, I wanted to go and see and do everything in the first week. I have decided to pace myself a bit more, once the full realisation that I am here for ten weeks sunk in. So I allow myself to get a bit lost in the crowds and find new routes. Despite being October, it is really warm and sunny here and there are still hundreds of tourist flooding in everyday. One quickly learns the winding back streets and shortcuts of Venice, and in fact the best shops, restaurants and friendliest people are often found off the beaten track.

Being a History of Art student, naturally I hit the galleries, the Guggenheim in particular. It has been one of my favourite galleries since visiting with AHA, due to the layout as well as the content, and a free day can easily be spent there admiring Peggy Guggenheim’s extensive collection.

Guggenheim - Own photos

In the afternoon, I usually have seminars and this particular aspect of being here certainly bring back memories of my AHA tour. We have seminars on site, awkwardly and eagerly writing down information whilst standing in front of our topic. The experience of seeing the live work as it is explained to you is a far more engaging method than powerpoint and a classroom and I am thoroughly enjoying getting to experience it again.

Evening approaches and life slows down a bit. From about 4 o’clock onwards, people will be sitting in cafes with a spritz aperol and bruschettas, chatting and taking it easy. So of course I join in, having always a weakness for prosecco. This is a wonderful time of day.

Aperitifs - Own Photo

After an aperitif and a bowl of pasta for dinner, it is an easy walk to Campo Margherita, the resident student piazza, where the is prosecco is cheap, the company great and the pizza slices substantial. Usually the rest of the Warwick course end up here for a few laughs and catch up about what they have discovered in Venice that day. A great place to get to know the Venice students and meet the locals before heading home to bed, eagerly to bring on the next day in Venezia.

Look out for more blogs about Anna in Venice soon.

 

 

Own Image

 

 

 

 

Twenty-four hours in Seville – by AHA alum Helena Roy

If ever a city was primed for the stereotypical ‘city break’, it was Seville. Packed with a perfect cocktail of culture, sun (essential), and great food, it is walk-able, explore-able and exudes a warm comfort and curiosity from its sandy Moorish architecture. From a couple of visits, here is a haphazard checklist of what to do, see, taste and take note of in 24 hours in the city…

1. Don’t go in summer

The hardest thing to organise about a trip to Seville the temperature. Believe it or not, summer is ‘low season’. If you manage to get sunburnt in Cornwall (as I do) – don’t attempt to disprove this. September through to April is prime time to visit – when I visited in January, it was 23 degrees Celsius.

Snippets from Seville in January...

2. Don’t take a map

Seville’s winding medieval streets are sights in themselves. Be ready to get lost – you will stumble across a multitude of squares and churches that are all the more beautiful in the surprise of discovering them.

Random figures around Seville's squares
A skyline view of Seville's sprawling layout

3. Visit the Cathedral and Palace

Dead centre in the main square lies the famed Seville cathedral. It is huge and majestic, containing an eclectic mix of art and Christopher Columbus’ tomb amongst other wonders. Built mostly in the fifteenth century atop the twelfth-century Almohad mosque, the mosque’s minaret (the Giralda) still towers beside it. Climb the bell tower for stunning views of the river, the neighbouring palace and the cathedral’s Gaudi-esque roof. The Moorish fortified palace, adapted by later Christian kings, is an impressive building in itself, but explore the plush and peaceful gardens, which really steal the show.

Views from inside the cathdral

 

 

Views from la Giralda

 

 

4. Try Sangria and tapas

If you’re looking for tapas, just south of the cathedral is Casablanca – apparently a favourite of the King and Queen of Spain. Be brave and ask for a selection of the best traditional favourites. Seville’s streets come alive at night. Wander through the bustle and grab some sangria (there is a winter variety) from one of the bars tucked away in corners between tottering layered apartments.

5. Look out for festivals

Wandering around in January we came across celebrations for the three kings. This included music in the main square, and a parade of huge cars decorated as an assortment of ships, clouds, and fantastical shapes gliding through town with children throwing sweets from the roofs. Read up beforehand and explore at night, and you may find yourself caught up in similarly unexpected festivities.

6. Explore by bike

Seville’s equivalent of Boris bikes are available to rent and allow you to whiz round the more remote locations. The mammoth terracotta Plaza de Espana was built for the Ibero-American exposition in 1929. Intricate towers and balconies shield a tiled stream with small bridges leaping over it. Rent tiny wooden bucket-y boats and race around the square at sunset, when music starts playing out of the adjoining park as well.

Plaza de Espana at sunset

7. Fit in a long stroll by the river

Lining the banks of the Guadalquivir are famed orange trees (don’t try them – they’re marmalade oranges and give a new meaning to the word ‘sour’), and an explosive wall of street art. Better than any indoor gallery, they’re packed with colour, references to a multitude of artists (including some brilliant Picasso imitations) and creative panache.

Street art on the banks of Rio Guadalquivir
Street art on the banks of Rio Guadalquivir

All photos are the author’s own.

Under a Tuscan Sky: AHA alum Anna Fothergill reviews Tuscany’s lesser know treasures.

During my AHA experience, back when I was a young bright Gap Year student, drinking in the wonders of Italy (as well as the prosecco), the days we spent in Florence and Siena secured themselves a special place in my Italian Romance. And for so many others, the lure of Tuscany is undoubtedly present. This summer, I was fortunate enough to return to the land of pencil cedars, rhythmic hills and Medici fortunes. And I soon realised, that while Florence and Sienna might be the most famous gems of Tuscany, the surrounding region has ancient villages atop every hill, and endless landscapes to fill any camera.

 

View from San Gimignano - Own photo

So if you are drawn back to the heat and beauty of Tuscany, here are some places to consider visiting if you want a taste of real Italian life.

1) San Gimignano. A name which you may have heard, but know little about. I spent one gelato-meltingly hot day there, and was awestruck by the quiet beauty of it. Be warned that most of your time will be spent walking around looking skyward to the 14 remaining “power-towers”, which give San Gimignano it’s distinctive skyline. The town appeared to me like a 14th century Manhattan, with each stone skyscraper attempting to tower over its neighbour. There is a gelateria that claims to be the World Ice Cream Champion, and of course I sampled it to assure you all that it lives up to its title. If you wander into the Duomo, first being wrapped in Crete paper to protect your modesty, the church is illuminated with wall to wall frescos that for me were reminiscent of those in Giotto’s Area Chapel in their colour brilliance and animated expressions. The hellish portrayal of gluttony was particularly descriptive.

 

Sam Gimignano

 

Frescos in San Gimignano Duomo

Should you leave San Gimignano in search of new adventures, a place for a true taste of local Tuscan life is Montepulciano, a town where they have their own version of the Palio…trading the horses for barrel rolling. The town has wide, movie set streets and bars resting on sloped paved roads, any number of which will serve for apperitvi, before you head to the viewpoint to take in the sweeping countryside. A highlight of this town for me was the atmospheric Ristorante sotto L’arche, a pizzeria which seated you under a canopy of a lighted arch, the owner greets you as his own family and live music accompanied every bite of the unforgettable pizza (the real Italian stuff, not your standard Dominoes). The meal was loud with laughter and music, the manger himself as concerned with performing an aria as he was dutiful to his customers. Definitely  worth a visit.

Primi Piatti - Own photo

For those who wish for rest and relaxation, an escape from the endless supply of cultural wonders, it can be found at the villas of La Foce. The massive estate has a fascinating history as well as breathtaking views. Built on the volcanic lands of Val del’Orcia, it has served as a farming estate, was taken over by Nazis, secretly fed artisans during WW2, and today one can tour the gardens, relax by the pool and even attend olive oil tastings – the golden syrup is grown right beside your villa. The whole complex radiates with the smell of cedars, lavender and olives. the coolness and calm of La Foce is an oasis in the dry Tuscan heat.

La Foce

Sunset over La Foce -own photo

These are just a few of the things I was fortunate enough to discover in only a week. This is what amazed me about Tuscany. How there can be so much to do if you desire to do things, yet such an emphasis on Italian lifestyle. On enjoying eating and drinking, taking hours over meals, feeling no pressure to go to any 14th century town today because it will still be there tomorrow. If you are in Tuscany in the next year, know that you can see as much or as little as you want, and it will still be a wonderful Italian holiday. Of course, there is always Florence.

Firenze -own photograph

 

Pick of the week: 13 high octane Instagrammers by AHA alum Helena Roy

Instagram may seem unoriginal and spammed with selfies, but the tainted jewel of an app has the potential to inject some artistic colour into the palm of your hand. Instagram’s artistic stars are overrun with photographers and street artists, whose rapid style suit Instagram’s pop aesthetic; but the plethora of visual bites from around the world paints a creative description of day-to-day life…

Best artists

Ai Weiwei (@aiww) – this Chinese artist is on nearly every channel of social media known to man. His feed is a mess of photographs, snaps of artistic process and excitable pictures of everyday life.

Sara Rahbar (@sara_rahbar_) – contemporary mixed media artist, born in Tehran, living in New York. Heavily political, her feed is littered with bullets, flags, limbs and relics of war. Confusing and brutal fusion of East and West.

'Land of Opportunity' by Sara Rahbar

Tanya Ling (@tanya_ling) – A fashion-illustrator-cross- Instragram-whiz, British Tanya Ling creates art in grid form to move and mesh with Instagram’s format. Using multiple snaps to build the bigger picture, look out for clever manipulation of the social media site and microscopic perspectives.

Tanya Ling's picture puzzle Instagram feed

Best for street art

BeirutPost – grafspace (@grafspace) – a charming window into the burgeoning world of street art in the Lebanese capital, occasionally roaming beyond its borders.

Street art in Beirut by grafspace

Gaia (@gaiastreetart) – This prolific street artist is known for his oversized, curious and creature-like concoctions on the street. Thrown in are energetic admirations from similar artists across the globe.

Patternity (@patternity) – Finding order out of chaos, Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham scour the streets and burst off them looking for natural repetitions that inspire materialistic motifs.

Best for virtual travel

Art History Abroad (@ahacourses) – couldn’t slip by without a mention! Follow to live a virtual life of architecture, art, and food in the heart of Italy.

Corners of Italy snapped by Art History Abroad

Sam Horine (@samhorine) – Photographer based in NYC who makes photographs ‘on the go’. Shoots the skyline to the sofa, showing New York in majestic, lit-up and downtown detail.

Borojaguchi (@borojaguchi) – Tokyo-based, globe-trotting web director, snaps the tourist-y to the kitsche in an endearing fashion. Follow to notice things you never knew were there.

Best photography

National Geographic (@natgeo) – without a doubt the most stunning Instagram feed there is, National Geographic collates world observations from an army of adventurous, insane and genius photographers. Shows a side of humanity and the environment rarely seen or noticed, from the Amazon to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Paul Nicklen for National Geographic

Hawkeye Huey (@hawkeyehuey) – 4-year-old analog photographer, depressingly (or unwittingly) talented. Account maintained by father and National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey, who started it all by noticing his son’s playful shots. Follow for the first-time discoveries and Polaroid perspectives of a child.

Hawkeye Huey camera-ready

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (@nasagoddard) – When this world gets boring, move from National Geographic to NASA. Kaleidoscope views from space are an escape from the constant food-grams of someone else’s chocolate pudding.

Free-air gravity map of the moon by NASA

Simone Bramante (@brahmino) – surrealist photographer making use of fantastically filtered natural props and mundane habitats to bring storytelling to photography.

With thanks to Sara Rahbar, Tanya Ling, BeirutPost grafspace, Paul Nicklen for National Geographic, Hawkeye Huey, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Instagram for photography

 

Cable Cars, Copley, and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores San Francisco

San Francisco, California, the second stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 

 

San Francisco, California, has a much more complete world-view than my previous stop, Los Angeles. The feeling here is that San Francisco, leaning out into the Pacific, would rather find itself in Europe than the West Coast of the USA. The excellent Chinese food and surprising availability of decent tea marks this as an international city.

 

The entrance to Chinatown in central San Francisco

 

Where LA’s culture is reduced to its dominant industry, SF is alive with a variety of museums, ranging in subject from Japanese to Jewish culture. The latter was what I explored on a blustery, autumnal day (I am told every day is so in San Francisco). The Contemporary Jewish Museum was, as many of its kind are, quiet and bleak. It was not a weekend day, so its lack of business was excusable, but entering the white silence of the building was uncomfortable. If this was the purpose of the architect, it was crushingly effective, especially for someone visiting alone. The exhibitions themselves were interesting, with the Allen Ginsberg Beat Memories gallery revealing some poignant work, and the Beyond Belief pieces well-organised and emotionally captivating. However, I left both without buying post cards, which I see as the mark of an unsuccessful museum trip.

 

Photograph of Jack Kerouac taken by Allen Ginsberg in 1953

 

Despite the engaging photographs and wide range of spiritually inspired work, I think the use of space in the museum was designed in such a way that it was hard not to feel tense about any exhibition. This was the only building, apart from the distant Alcatraz, that made me feel this way in the city.

 

Our view of Alcatraz from the sea front in northern San Francisco

 

The rest of SF lived up to my considerable expectations. The architecture shows off its international origins, the tram (cable car) system was just as romantically dangerous as I had hoped (clinging to a railing and hoping not to crash into passing cars), and the city, renowned for its hippy culture, seems to indulge in art for the sake of fun.

 

A San Francisco cable car - romantically dangerous

 

Without the glorious weather that the rest of the state enjoys, the street art and places like Lombard Street (see below) shine instead. San Francisco has had a history of crime and difficulty, but having been scrubbed up by generations of hippies and hipsters, it is now not only safe but also alone in the happy atmosphere that may or may not have something to do with the city’s marijuana leniency.

 

Lombard Street, San Francisco

 

Examples of street art and architecture in San Francisco

Photographs thanks to The Contemporary Jewish Museum and my brother, Theodore Price

 

Cable Cars, Copley and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores Los Angeles

 

Los Angeles, California, the first stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 

Junction of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in central LA

 

It’s very odd not to feel foreign in a place you have never been to, on a side of the planet you have never touched. In the case of Los Angeles, California, everyone thinks they know what they expect from this place and everyone is right. It’s glamorous and grotty, expansive and cramped, and you really do see the rich and famous everywhere if you know how to look. It’s a little like a work of art that is viscerally ugly but has a truth and complexity that is essentially winning. It’s America via Cannes. This is my first experience of California, and I really thought I would be disturbed by its vulgarity. However, after the initial shock of the shimmer and dust of this fake world faded, the vulgarity turned to charm.

 

Poolside at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel

 

The architecture is diverse and interesting, particularly stylish in comparison to the Mexican-inspired sprawl that makes up a great deal of this part of the world. One area in particular that shone from an artistic perspective was Silver Lake. It is widely known as the Hipster area, and although I could not presume to be one of that crowd, the brightly painted buildings, each with at least one stunning graffito, were the main site of our celebrity-spotting. Within the run-down and apparently unloved exteriors, there are stylish restaurants which all have things like kale and samphire on the menu. After my brother had his photo taken with Kate Mara, everyone in our small party felt much more likely to instagram our food or get an alternative piercing.  This, I think, is the effect of LA. Like London, it has a magnetism which draws people in and allows them to find their place in the mess of studios, 24hr gyms and vegan juice bars. However, LA also brands you with it’s style, even if your visit is only two days long. I would have seen more of the architectural gems of the city, had my stop there been longer, but the Getty Center was sacrificed for the live announcement of the 12th Doctor on BBC America, and before I knew it we were driving down the freeway to Burbank with film studios on both sides.

 

View of a freeway heading into LA

 

In retrospect, one of the features of this city that struck me, other than its size and style, was its arrogance. It is a one-industry town in which everyone is acting, from those I passed in hangars, cameras on them, to each sweetly-polite and sickeningly attractive shop assistant. The permanent “what if?” that hangs over the city (what if this person I am serving is a casting director? What if this is my chance to make it big? – this is, after all, the American Dream) makes it self-centred and indifferent to the outside world. Expecting this attitude to create hostility, I was pleasantly surprised, finding that it added to its integrity. However, writing this from the plane, I have higher expectations of my next stop, San Francisco.

 

Photos thanks to my brother, Theodore Price, and downrightred.com

 

Why Study Art History? Economics student Helena Roy discusses…

In July 2012, I went to northern Italy with AHA to study Art History for two weeks (I had never studied it before). After a gap year, I have now started university… studying Economics. Some may dismiss my trip as contrary, perhaps unnecessary; but there is an intrinsic value to studying Art History even if your speciality lies in another subject.

Art History gives you a sense of perspective you can’t gain anywhere else. Aristotle argued that ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’. Art uncovers that significance in the myriad of political, social and religious thoughts it conveys. Where literature offers fictional allegory, art offers visual symbolism – Orwell analyses the class system through animal fables, whereas Lowry does through paint.

The social state of the working class in Britain’s Industrial Revolution, as shown by LS Lowry in 'Oldfield Road Dwellings, Salford', (1927)

An obvious benefit (the clue is in the name) is that art reveals a plethora of historical sources. Dry statistics can only teach you so much: art can communicate emotional details about events. Who has not been moved – even if disgusted – by Picasso’s Guernica and the chaotic destruction it depicts? That the bombing of Guernica caused 41 fatalities per ton of bombs is informative, but in a wholly different way.

Picasso’s 'Guernica', (1937) – conveying the terror and intensity of war

My enthusiasm for the subject stems from the two weeks in Italy. Art History is the most fantastic travel companion. Appreciating and seeking it out facilitates deeper understanding of a place’s culture – how better to see consumerism in 20th century America than in Andy Warhol’s work, or understand the power of Catholicism in Italy in Baroque altarpieces?

Andy Warhol’s 'Campbell’s Soup Cans' (1962), the epitome of post-WWII American consumerism, on display the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Nothing beats viewing art in its contextual setting… 'The Inspiration of St Matthew' (1602) by Caravaggio – part of a cycle of paintings situated in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome

In a time of dire employment prospects, students are turning to lucrative and traditional professions, allowing these to consume all facets of their interest as a means to realising that place on that bank’s graduate programme. But becoming a one-trick pony saps the energy and novel viewpoint someone can bring to the workplace. Work can only be balanced by hobbies you enjoy: study Art History, and you can benefit from it infinitely. (Picasso once said that ‘the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.’) Besides, it is relevant to countless professions in itself – journalism, consultancy, law, marketing and branding to name a few – and vital to Britain’s economic health (the sector accounted for 1% of GDP in 2011, and pays on average 5% more than the UK median salary).

Ultimately, studying Art History engenders a broader attitude to life. Art is something everyone can relate to. It is the impetus for conversation and debate, and introduces you to a new sphere of people. To understand Art you need to understand its political and social history. Art is painted against a backdrop of archaeology, anthropology, literature, design, science, geography – and innumerable other subjects. This interdisciplinary approach gives you a mammoth diversity of perspective.

In an era that relies so heavily on visual literacy, Art History offers invaluable lessons in the study of civilization. We are surrounded by things that demand our vision – film, advertising, architecture. Kafka said that ‘anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.’ Art History offers the broadest education possible in analysing what you see, and discovering beauty in unexpected places.

I went to study Art History after a friend did an AHA trip and spoke of nothing else for the summer – she is now studying Chemistry at university. Art History need not be esoteric – it is there for everyone to enjoy. It’s easy, but mistaken, to doubt Art History’s significance without trying – so find your nearest gallery, visit churches or museums while abroad, or just start here!

With thanks to Wikipedia for photos.

Picasso’s Catalonia: AHA alum Helena Roy looks at the artist’s work in France and Spain…

On a recent trip to Barcelona, the recommendation constantly being thrown at me was to visit the Museu Picasso, in the city’s rambling Gothic district.
Clichéd that may be, but wrong it was not. The museum plunges you deep into Picasso’s style, life and artistic development – taking you on a journey through both Barcelona’s history and the inspiration it provided him with. This year it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary – half a century of displaying a mammoth but memorable collection of the famed artist’s work.
But first, a disclaimer: I am a novice when it comes to Picasso and much of the period he worked in. But while this may not be an accurate review, it is an enthusiastic account of seeing Picasso through new eyes.
Perhaps the museum’s greatest success is showing so clearly the artist’s development. Earlier rooms show soft charcoal academic studies of classical sculpture with a subtlety of form absent in later works. A portrait of Picasso’s father is tender, all tradition and tertiary colours; while seascapes are unadventurous and calm. Picasso soaked up his surroundings. There are richly expressive oil paintings, depicting Catalonia’s mountainous terracotta landscapes, and Monet-like renditions of Barceloneta. Sensitive religious works capture ceremonies such as ‘First Communion’ (1896) in a beautifully innocent way – the peaceful antithesis of a historic painting such as Delaroche’s ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’.
'The artist's father' (1896)
'First Communion' (1896)
But Picasso quickly moved on from safe, traditional material. ‘Science and Charity’ (1897) was painted at the height of social realism, juxtaposing the themes of religion and medicine. It boosted Picasso’s artistic presence: signalling his power to show uncomfortable social tensions harmoniously. More morbid social realism was to follow: a stillborn; a sick woman’s bedside; a fantastical kiss of death; and the bedside of a dead man.
'Science and Charity' (1897)
The iconic Picasso comes through from 1900 – his first trip to Paris gave birth to a harsher, intense style. ‘Still Life’ (1901) is vibrant and in-your-face; a mash of colours artfully splashed to form a table saturated with taste. His female subjects become sensual but unrealistic; ‘Waiting Margot’ (1901) complete with rouged lips and a bohemian turban against a green and yelow splattered background; ‘Old woman, seated’ (1903) is embryonic and scientific, while another female nude is encased in a deep cobalt womb-like oval.
There is a sense of violence pushing through Picasso’s work at this point: first with colour or distorted form – only later do the two combine. ‘Gored horse’ (1917) seems an isolated predecessor to ‘Guernica’ (1937) – the contorted pain represented in dead grey, as life withdraws to the earthy background. In fact, from this year he seems to have become ostentatiously more cubist – losing all realism from his younger works. This comes to the fore in his multiple studies of Diego Veláquez‘s ‘Las Meninas’ (1957). They have all the robust, grotesque confidence of ‘Guernica’, but are more innocent and composed in their subject. Picasso is stubbornly angular in his reshaping of the information he was confronted with – mixing flat black with blank primaries to emphasise this.
'Gored horse' (1917)
'Las Meninas' (1957)
It is brilliant to see Picasso’s work in the Catalan setting that so inspired him. There are recurring images of the balconies and windows that cascade onto the streets of Barcelona; nighttime in the city is portrayed with modernistic blue rooftops. A favourite of mine was the unfinished ‘Woman with mantila’ (1917): Picasso’s later vibrancy is scaled down to detailed dots here, to form a stunning female embodiment of Barcelona – all old and new, beauty and exuberance. Nor is he the only artist to be inspired by Catalonia: Salvador Dalí’s house is in the coastel Cadaqués, and the Dalí museum is located in nearby Figueres. Picasso also painted one or two works in Céret, just across the French border. Most obviously, that Barcelona inspired Gaudí is evidenced all over the city: from Parc Güell to the Sagrada Família.
'Woman with mantila' (1917)
Museum Picasso is, above all, personal. A tenderly distorted ‘Portrait of Jaume Sarbatés with ruff and hat’ (1939) introduces the man who donated many of the works which make up the museum, and was Picasso’s great friend. The artist himself gave many works – thus ensuring a fantastic legacy for himself. You come across famous styles, and more unique pieces; ‘Minotauromachy’ (1935) reveals less-seen mystical forms with heavy shading compromised of tiny lines – none of the colour and shading Picasso is so synonymous with.
'Minotauromachy' (1935)
The temporary exhibition I visited was a series of self-portraits by the artist. Heavy line drawings of his youthful self are seen next to his scrawling, expressive, alternative signature – hints of the explosion of creative force to come. We see Picasso through all his confused styles – his development both physically and creatively. Heightened distortion correlates to the ageing process (as in ‘Self-portrait’, 1972). Wild experimentation is present with a photomaton photograph with added gouache – showing Picasso in reality with his ultra-modern non-reality creeping in. The star piece is ‘Self-portrait’ (1907): it is rough and earthy, angular and staring – the eyes of the artist seeing you in a way no one else could. Museu Picasso reveals the multitude of tension both in the artist’s work, and himself. His subjects are varied – but so is he. Though clearly a museum for one artist, the visitor comes away having seen a myriad of facets of artistic interpretation. Technique, style, subject and message is constantly conflicted.
'Self-portrait' (1907)
It was once said of Joseph Heller‘s Catch-22 that it gave ‘the impression of having been shouted onto the paper’. But Heller by no means lacked classical training – this was the intended effect. Picasso strikes me as much the same. His most idiosyncratic works are a carefully composed shout – drawing on a plenthora of traditions, but inimitable in their modernism and innovation. Picasso once said ‘Painting isn’t a question of sensitivity; we need to take the place of nature instead of depending on the information she offers us.’ Picasso warped the information imparted on him by his surroundings; but though his work was not sensitive to reality, it was to meaning and message. To some, this museum may seem to bombarde the visitor with works to prove try and prove that thesis; but for a novice, it is the most intense way to nurture an understanding of one of the most studied artists.
For more information, visit http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en/. With thanks to Museu Picasso and Wikipedia for photos.

Raw Inspiration: Marrakesh, the Sahara and Fes in 4 Days – by Helena Roy

Following an impromptu decision, I decided to head to Morocco in late June. The trip was to be just as spontaneous as its impetus – travelling haphazardly through Marrakesh, onto the edge of the Sahara, and finally Fes.

The view in the morning from the overnight train to Marrakesh

Marrakesh assaults the senses. It remains one of those fantastic cities that is itself an exhibition. Snaking through the medina on foot exposes you to a strangely harmonious multitude of tensions and fusions. Life remains steeped in history but constantly developing – donkeys pull carts of a myriad of spices (supporting ancient culinary culture) past bright red Coca-Cola parasols in cafes full of people jabbering on mobiles.

A water-seller in Marrakesh
Fresh fruit on sale in Marrakesh
Intricate henna tattoos in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh
Spices in Marrakesh
Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh
The Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh

The colours are vibrant to the point of chaos. Fruit, market stalls, adverts – bright primaries are mixed with metallic tones, making a mosaic out of the city that mirrors the intricate tiling of its ancient Islamic architecture. A highlight of Marrakesh is the Jardin Majorelle – home of Yves Saint Laurent. A serene oasis just outside of the medina, it chooses the brightest of Marrakesh colours and emphasises them in horticulture and architecture. Visiting the garden provides material evidence of the torrent of inspiration Marrakesh imparts.

Cactus in the Jardin Majorelle
Flowers in the Jardin Majorelle
Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle

The contrast between Moroccan cities and the desert could not be starker. Travelling through Morocco, the landscape offers itself as a gallery. Canyons, mountains and dunes offer colours, contours and contrasts as inspiring as the greatest painted masterpiece.

Driving through the Atlas Mountains
A canyon close to the Draa Valley
Endless dunes in the Sahara
Dwarfed by the dunes in the Sahara

After arriving at Fes around 3am, taxi drivers promptly explained that no car can go in the medina. The maze of street feels, at night, like Venice without the water: ancient alleys, constant turns and signs pointing in opposite directions. In the morning, the ancient city – grittier than Marrakesh – is bathed with sunlight, and the compressed medina rooftops hint at the confusion below. The tanneries in Fes offer a glimpse of ancient, hard life – tubs of dyes are filled with people colouring leather, whilst canary yellow hides dry in the sun.

Canary yellow hides drying in Fes
The multicoloured tubs dying leather in Fes

I didn’t visit galleries or intensely study art in Morocco, but it is a place that offers inspiration. It gives a greater understanding of landscape and colour, and adds a new dimension to admiring paintings and architecture. Take Yves Saint Laurent as an example – I did not analyse his prints or fashion, but viewing the source of his inspiration has made it infinitely easier to appreciate and relate to his work. Experiencing the raw source of inspiration for artists can open up a whole new world of understanding relating to their material work.

Four days does not do Morocco justice, but it is indubitably an experience. Nor does this post adequately describe all there is to see and do. Never having visited North Africa, I was hoping for a quick and intense shot of the culture. If there is one place to go for such a varied and concentrated experience, it is Morocco. My only sufficient advice can be: visit it. I can assure you, it will always leave you wanting more.