Saturday, October 24, 2015

GrandPop of Pop

La femme au chat
Fernand Leger (1881-1955), La Femme Au Chat, 1955, o/c, 25 1/2 x 36 1/4"   

My recent romp through a few new tech gadgets put me in mind of the French artist Fernand Leger.  The Impressionists flirted with statements about technology, but Leger was one of, perhaps the first to directly address the human and social effects as well as the scientific understandings that accompanied it.  Along with several other French artists and painting colleagues at the 1910 Salon d' Automne Leger was definitely the first to introduce Cubism to the public eye.  A painting of a woman in blue 2

Over the years Leger's conical and tubular forms with patches of primary colors became more streamlined and figurative with (often playful and humourous) populist images.  So much so that he is now seen as the forerunner of Pop Art.

1  Sold at Christie's London, 18 June, 2007 fetching $2,702,084.
La Femme en Bleu(Woman in Blue), 1912, oil on canvas, 193 x 129.9 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel. Exhibited at the 1912Salon d'Automne, Paris

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Of Course He Doesn't

Someone recently got another of his serial 10 minutes of fame organizing a Renoir protest at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  It was a nothing event except that it has given Ciwt an excuse to revisit Pierre-Auguste Renoir.



3  4 5

To Ciwt's mind any artist who painted these happily colorful, warm, joyfully festive and loving canvases has earned a high place in the history of art.  Because of these works and others which warm her heart every time she encounters them - even in pictures - Ciwt is a fan of Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

But Renoir has many strong detractors who see his work as too sentimental, too pretty, purely decorative.  Or as one Renoir hater in Boston recently put it: The food equivalent of Renoir is a Twinkie.  Fluffy, empty calories that are way too sweet and ultimately bad for you.  Twinkies do not belong in our fine art museum.

Certainly Ciwt disagrees with the "Renoir Sucks at Painting" crowd about the works of Renoir's early maturity. These are the paintings pictures above whose colors Ciwt finds rich and warm rather than thinly pastel like the detractors.  And he painted the people - friends and family members - he genuinely loved enjoying the vibrant freedom and leisure that modernity - with its railroads, visits to the country, boating and bathhouses, had just opened to the lower classes. Renoir had begun as a porcelain painter, so he had and used great skill in the details of his works as well as judiciousness in the amount of purely decorative he allowed them.

But just after completing Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81), Renoir (who had been entirely too poor to travel up until this point) traveled to Italy where he was greatly impressed by the art of the classical old masters, particularly Raphael (1453-1520)Image result for raphael 6.  Compared with them, Renoir felt his style had become too loose and he began to separate himself from the Impressionists and look to the past for inspiration, painting in a tight carefully outlined way:  7.

At this middle point in his career, Ciwt begins to have some sympathy for the 'Renoir haters,' and by the end of his career, when he was painting fleshy, thinly brushed nude women one after another, her sympathy is quite complete.   8

On the other hand, there are coming to be many critics and artists who feel Renoir's late work is his most remarkable with its glorious outpouring of nude figures, beautiful young girls, and lush landscapes.  One of those artists was (Ciwt's love) Matisse who - Ciwt was amazed to read - declared Renoir's final work, The Bathers, "one of the most beautiful works ever painted."  9*

Agree with him or not, Ciwt defers to Matisse's eye for art and is looking again at Renoir's late period.  She also respects the many learned and discriminating art scholars in the nearly 100 years since Renoir's death who have consistently proclaimed Renoir a rich and imaginative genius and the fact that many of these men and women are also revisiting Renoir's late period.  Another way to look at Renoir's place in art history is the way his great-great granddaughter, Genevieve, does:  

1. Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876
2. Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81
3. Dance at Bougival, 1883
4. Jeanne Samary in a Low Necked Dress, 1876
5. Camille and Her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil, 1874
6. Raphael, The Three Graces, 1504-05, oil on canvas, 6.7" x 6.7"
7. The Umbrellas, ca 1885-6
8. Three Bathers, 1895
9. The Bathers, 1918-19

*The evident joy in painting and reverence for old master painters such as Titian and Rubens  displayed in 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Here It Begins (?)

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish 1746-1828), The Shooting of the Third of May, 1808 in Madrid,* 1814, 
Oil on Canvas, 8' 4 3/8" x 11' 3.7/8", Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Ciwt has not personally seen this famous painting by the equally famous Spanish artist, Goya, nor was she aware until recently of the historical circumstances it depicts*.  But The Third of May** (it goes by several titles) transcends its circumstances and is extremely moving even in pictures.  She can only imagine how she would feel if she stood face to face in its nearly 8.5' by 11.5' presence.

(Probably like she felt after writing her Sr. thesis on Picasso's Guernica (1937)from hundreds of images in art history books.  She had 'seen' and written about nearly every inch of the canvas and thought she 'knew' it until she encountered it in all its emotional enormity and outrage at MoMA.  She'd forgotten it was there, and nearly lost her breath when she looked up at its prominent position immediately upon entering MoMA)***

Guernica is absolutely related to The Third of May, 1808 - as an impassioned statement by a great Spanish artist about the abject bestial cruelty of war.  A Modern statement.  Like Guernica, The Third of May is acclaimed as one of the great paintings of all time.  But it stands alone as what many art experts have deemed the first modern painting.

The Third of May toppled many traditional art pillars.  One wonders if Guernica could have been received without The Third of May already being in the world. Goya's painting was not welcomed - might have even been hidden by the King of Spain rather than display a painting that fearlessly depicted the brutality and human suffering of war.  Up until this painting, it was traditional in Spanish painting to depict war as a bloodless affair with little emotional impact.  But here was a painting that, not only displayed blood but dared to mix Christian iconography with 'mere mortals' - common laborers at that.  (The lantern that is the sole source of light in the painting was traditionally associated with Jesus and the removed powers of the Church, and certainly the main figure is a crucifixion symbol - even including a nail hole in his right hand Image result for detail of hand in goya's third of may painting).

Just contemplating this groundbreaking artwork is a lot for Ciwt. So, more soon The Third of May, 1808  and the complex artist who painted it.

*Napoleon had tricked his way into Spain on the pretense of passing throug hin order to engage Portugal.  When he got his French troops across the border, he executed his original plan of occupying Spain and installing his older brother, Joseph, as King of Spain.  On May 2, 21.000 Spaniardsr ose up against the French military, but faced brutal and merciless retaliation the next day.  Goya painted both events within a six month period in 1814.

The Second of May, 1808, o/c, 105" x 132"

** The painting is also known as The Shootings of May 3, The Executions, The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid.

***Guernica was exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition and in 1939 was sent to New York on tour for the benefit of the Spanish Refugee Committee.  When World War II broke out later that year, Picaso requested that it and a number of his other works be held at MoMA on extended loan.  When the war ended, most of the works were returned to Europe, but Picasso asked that Guernica and its preliminary studies be kept by MoMA until 'reestablishment of public liberties.'  It was returned to Spain in 1982 under heavy guard; there is ongoing agitation about where its permanent exhibition home should be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793, 0il on canvas, 65"x52.5" (Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels)

Ciwt has four more episodes of Season Two left in her Ray Donovan binge, so she still has a mind for crime.  Or, in the case of The Death of Marat, murder.

The painting (or its image) is well-known and respected in art circles and beyond for many reasons: its size    Image result for the death of marat original, the quality of the brushwork in the softly painted but indeterminate background.  In contrast the foreground with its striking, horrendous and historically accurate details is deeply dramatic.  The details are all there, painted sparely, rationally.  Painted exceedingly rationally,  we see Marat in his tub, the wounds, the blood, the fatal knife, the letter sent by Charlotte Corday which gained her entry in order to murder him.  The tragedy of the death of this important leader of the French Revolution is made even more poignant by the simple spareness of his homely furnishings and body language that likens him to Michelangelo's Jesus in Pieta Image result for pieta . David clearly makes of Marat a secular martyr at the highest level.

Much more could be said of Death of Marat's technical triumphs; it is a truly great painting by a highly talented artist.  But what interests Ciwt today is its political aspects; first and foremost an image of propaganda promoting the democratic, secular ideals of the Jacobean revolutionaries.  David was a major force in this most zealous and violent overthrowing party. He came to act as its minister of propaganda and was commissioned by the new French Republic to commemorate Marat as a hero of the people's revolution.  As painted it is instantly obvious that Marat was a good, innocent, noble victim of a duplicitous, scheming woman. By extension noble too was all that Marat stood for: the New Republic, publishing, moving power into the rational hands of the democracy and away from the brutal and heedless aristocracy as well as the superstitious Church.

Clearly David, the artist, shows himself in this painting to be deeply engaged in  the principles and ideals of the Revolutionary party. But was he?  This is the question that interests some art historians and Ciwt.  It arises because nearly as soon as the New Republic failed and Napoleon became Emperor of France, David became Napoleon's court painter.  That is, within a matter of a couple of years, David went from being essentially Minister of Propaganda for the Revolutionaries to having that exact same position within Napoleon's Empire.  This is a truly shocking reversal and causes many to question whether David was at heart an artistic and political mercenary aligning himself with whoever was in control at the moment.

Ciwt thinks it is more probable that David was a survivor, and siding with Napoleon was the only way to ensure his life.

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793, oil on canvas, 65 x 50-1/2 inches (Royal Museums of Fin

e Arts