I didn’t go to Paris for these, but Vancouver, B.C. I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery for their exhibition “French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950” in March this year. Here’s a description from their poster:
The works in French Moderns exemplify the avant-garde movements that defined Modern art from the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries, tracing a formal and conceptual shift from depicting the pictorial to evoking the idea, from a focus on naturalism to the ascendance of abstraction.
Before the art, there’s the architecture and interior, an art piece in itself:
Some of the works with their description:
Claude Monet, Rising Tide at Pourville, 1882. Along the Normandy coast.
Eugène Louis Boudin, mentor of Monet. Sur les bords de la Touques, 1895.
Berthe Morisot, Madame Boursier and Her Daughter, c. 1873.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Still Life with Blue Cup, c. 1900
Camille Jacob Pissarro, The Climb, Rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, 1875.
Henri Matisse, Flowers, 1906
Gabriele Münter, Nightfall in Saint-Cloud, 1906. (Don’t you wish nightfall is like this?)
Paul Cézanne, The Village of Gardanne, 1885-86.
I like this one the most:
Marc Chagall, The Musician, c. 1912-14
This is my last post for Paris in July, 2019, hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea.
This captivating documentary is the second installment of the ‘Exhibition: Great Art On Screen’ series with host Tim Marlow. An ‘event film’, the term refers to this kind of doc focusing on a special occasion, here, the 150th year of the renowned Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch’s birthday (1863-1944). To celebrate, a comprehensive exhibition of Munch’s works is being held in two venues in Oslo from June to October, 2013, the National Museum and the Munch Museum. The film captures the highlights of this exhibition.
I soon learned too that the theatre charged more for the experience. However, the $17 ticket is acceptable. Short of seeing the actual paintings at the two venues and being free to walk around, I’ve saved a hefty plane ticket to Oslo, and I get to see the works magnified clearly on the big screen and hear expert commentary so I can appreciate even the minute brushstrokes up close. Sure, I can always wear a headphone, if it’s available, to hear the commentary while walking through the exhibition. But it’s a refreshing experience to look at the paintings enlarged on a giant screen, hearing in-depth analysis juxtaposed with dramatized biopic vignettes as I sit back and eat popcorn in a dark, air-conditioned theatre on a hot summer day.
The film Munch 150 has aptly taken advantage of the medium of the cinema. Unlike the previous film in this series, Manet: Portraying Life, which ironically, is devoid of life, Munch 150 has presented to the viewer what such a medium can best do. The camera as a guide and magnifying glass, projecting onto the big screen images larger than life, accompanied by insights from curators and host Tim Marlow, an audio-visual experience. Yes, I’ve mentioned ‘big screen’ several times. That is essentially the benefit that the TV screen or your computer monitor would not suffice.
Edvard Munch (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈmuŋk], in English, something like ‘Moonk’ with a glottal sound on the ‘n’) was born in 1863 in a small Norwegian village. His family moved to Kristiania (now Oslo) the next year. From an early age, Munch was haunted by death and illness. He first saw his mother die of tuberculosis when he was five, and later, his beloved older sister Sophie tormented and died of the same illness when he was fourteen. He himself was plagued by frequent sickness, and at one time was near death with tuberculosis. Physically struggling with poor health, inwardly, Munch was often stricken by desires and guilt. Nihilistic thoughts added burning fuel to an already troubled soul. These all led to alcoholism, depression and breakdown later in life.
Writing and painting became his outlets. Journals allowed him to spill his thoughts, and the canvas was the visceral medium for him to release deep, psychological turmoils. His fears and anguish, all angst and pains found expression in his art.
The Sick Child
I was particularly impressed by his early work The Sick Child (1885-86), depicting the trauma he had experienced as he watched his beloved, ailing sister Sophie lay in bed frail with tuberculosis. A grieving woman holding her hand, head bowed in sorrow. It was a disturbing scene, and yet I’d appreciated the colours and brushstrokes that seemed as if they were just rendered in a free and haphazard way. From the commentary, I felt the poignancy.
The camera and commentator guided me to see the scratches left on the canvas, most noticeably on the pillow near Sophie’s face, something which I wouldn’t have noticed if I just walked by it in the museum. These scratches were troubling to look at, probably made by a pallette knife, or a hard brush. They were marks of anguish and frustration, the outburst of emotions during what must have been a painful process. Munch always left ‘blemishes’ on his paintings. Here, the scratches and patchy layers of paints on paints showed raw emotions unleashed. That was the reason the work was met with criticisms and rejections in his day. It was not pretty and neat as his predecessors had done. He was, literally, painting outside the lines.
The Frieze of Life
Many of Munch’s more well known works are in the series called TheFrieze of Life—A Poem about Life, Love and Death. The Munch Museum in Oslo exhibits the paintings as a series on four white walls in a room — and here’s the unconventional — without frames. The curator commented that this was what Munch would have intended. Without the distractions of the frames, the paintings speak out loud and clear. In The Frieze of Life, Munch explored the very essence of being human, the frameless, existential experience that is universal.
The Scream (1893)
The Scream is in the section of The Frieze of Life categorized as ‘Angst’. It is the most well-known of Munch’s paintings. A deathlike skull-face devoid of gender, hands covering the ears and screaming out into the void. Munch painted this after an actual experience while he was walking in the woods, hearing a huge scream inside him. He was overcome with fear. After that episode, he painted The Scream. In it is a figure that has since become the epitome of existential angst. I’d appreciated the comment in the film stating that ‘it’s an icon, not a cliché.’
The Scream made history just last May. It had set an auction record for a piece of art work, fetching $119.9 million (£74m) at Sotheby’s in New York. Almost seventy years after his death, Munch’s works still scream.
The Girls on the Bridge (1901)
A more delightful painting, The Girls on the Bridge is fresh, bright, and colourful, exuding a summer spirit. But even in this work, Munch depicted the struggles between innocence (white dress) and desire (red). And while we see the green clump of a tree, full of life, we also see its ominous, dark reflection on the water. In the midst of life, we are in death. Munch seemed like a party pooper, but maybe that’s why he needed to scream. Or else we wouldn’t have heard him.
In December 1994, a small team of cave explorers came upon a cave near the valley of the Ardèche River in southern France. They were awestruck as they went inside. Since named after the team leader Jean-Marie Chauvet, the Chauvet Cave had provided the natural canvas for prehistoric paintings dating back 32,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic period, twice as old as those previously found in Lascaux. These are the earliest paintings ever discovered.
The Chauvet Cave is located near the natural limestone bridge over the Ardèche River, the Pont d’Arc, which has been noted to be half a million years old:
The acclaimed documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog was granted special permission endorsed by the French Ministry of Culture to go into the Chauvet Cave to film the rock paintings in situ. The result is this mesmerizing documentary.
Following a restricted 2-foot wide pathway, and limited only to a film crew of four, with no heat-emitting lights and only hand-held camera, Herzog made a spellbinding document of epic historical significance. A team of archeologist, paleontologist, art historian and geologist formed the quiet, unobtrusive entourage into this pristine trove of treasures.
Surrounded by pink calcite columns like icicles with glittering crystals, the rock paintings depict a myriad of animals including cave bears, ibexes, deers, owls, mammoths…
Action-packed panels of bisons, horses, and rhinos locking horns:
Lions hunting bisons:
A panther and hyenna surprisingly in friendly mood:
From the film, archeologists and an art historian inform us that a single artist created most of these works. He had a crooked little finger, and his palm prints could be seen from crouching position to a height of 6 ft. They are now the oldest human handprints:
There are animal fossils but no human remains in the cave, suggesting that it was not used for human dwelling but maybe just for painting. A prehistoric art studio? The artist had utilized the curvatures and ridges of the rocks to create fascinating renderings of animals charged with life and energy.
This is where I’d wholeheartedly endorse the 3D technology. Director Herzog, after some hesitations, decided to use a 3D camera to capture the vivid renderings. With the 3D advantage, we can see how the artist utilized the contours of the rocks to depict the animals in a most realistic way.
In the film, we also see multi-legged bisons, like those in cartoon strips or frames in animated films, suggesting movements.
Many of the animals are depicted in perspectives:
and in layered renderings like this showing lions without manes:
A few of the paintings are dated to some 5,000 years later, about 27,000 to 25,000 ago, indicating another period of artistic activities there. But since that newer date, no human traces were left. The cave had remained untouched until the recent discovery in 1994.
In the vicinity of the cave, remnants of musical instruments are found, evidence of another form of artistic pursuit. In the film, we hear one of the researcher playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” on what looks like a tiny twig with equally-spaced holes. It would be another extraordinary find if we could discover the pop tunes of the day.
Now, a note about watching this film in 3D. I admit as someone with an acute built-in motion sensor, I had to leave the theatre half way through the film when I first saw it in 3D. The roving camera plus the 3D effects had proven to be worse than being tossed at sea.
But I’m fortunate to be given a second chance. The film is now screened in another theatre without the 3D technology. I knew I must see the rest of it, so I returned for a second viewing. And this time, I stayed till the end.
December 26 is Boxing Day in Canada. Like Black Friday in the US, that’s the time to pick up bargains, and pay half the price you did just two days before. And like Black Friday, it’s the time for legitimate self indulgence for the common good, our economy.
In recent years I’ve avoided shopping on Boxing Day. I know some people getting up at 5 am to line up for a store opening at 6. My own experience of the Boxing Day craze had been standing 3 or 4 people deep, stretched out my arm to the sale table and grabbed whatever I could out of it, hopefully something I needed.
Out of curiosity, I gave it a try again this time around… and sure glad I ventured out. I didn’t have to fight the crowds, and waited just a bit longer in line-ups . But well worth it. Here are some of the gifts I got for myself at half price: wall calendars which I won’t be hanging up.
I have seen two of the paintings in the calendar, The Lacemaker (1669) and The Geographer (1668-69), both at The Louvre. Interesting that the calendar prints are about the same size as the originals, or maybe even a tad bigger, for The Lacemaker. Here are my photos of them hanging on the wall in the Louvre:
But the July print stands out, the only one that has an exterior view. It’s my favorite of all the twelve months. The Little Street (1658):
Edward Hopper 16-Month 2011 Calendar
I have 16 prints of some of my favorite Hopper paintings. A few of them I’ve posted before, asking readers’ opinion on them. Here are a couple more that I’d like to elicit your views:
People In The Sun (1960)
Chop Suey (1929)
The cover is the Belgian artist’s work in 1953, Golconda. Just wondering… is this the origin of the term “rain man”? Or, are the men going up like balloons?
René Magritte was born just 16 years after Hopper, and died the same year, 1967. So contemporaries they had been for some years, but a world of difference in terms of style. I like the realism and existential elements hidden in Hopper’s works, but I also enjoy Magritte’s surrealist and whimsical images, openly challenging our sense of reality:
The Treachery of Images (1929)
Ceci n’est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe. Your take on this?
The Interpretation of Dreams (1935)
In the past years, I’ve saved up a lot of visuals just like these calendars, as teaching materials for adult ESL. But this one definitely cannot be used for vocabulary building. Just hang on… that may well be what Magritte is saying: ‘In a dream world, a horse can be a door, a jug a bird…’ And for that matter, how do you know you’re not dreaming right now? Mmm… just wondering, has the movie Inception included Magritte in the credits?
While Paris has her cultured beauty and sophistication, I’d appreciated the change of scenery and warmer weather as I headed south to Provence. Three hours via the TGV took us to the historic City of Avignon, site of the Papal Palace before the Vatican. We stayed in Avignon for three days, taking daily excursions out to nearby towns. Arles was a must-see on my list.
Van Gogh moved to Arles from Paris in 1888, seeking the tranquility that was so elusive to him in the big city. In his letter to his brother Theo upon arrival to Arles, he wrote:
It seems to me almost impossible to be able to work in Paris, unless you have a refuge in which to recover and regain your peace of mind and self-composure. Without that, you’d be bound to get utterly numbed.” — Tuesday, Feb. 21, 1888.
The fresher and more colourful palette is apparent during this most prolific period of the artist’s life. Bright yellows, blues, shorter and swirling brush strokes established his signature style. As for me, I was a bit disappointed to see the sunflowers have already withered in late August. Fields of yellow were now massive brown. They would be harvested at a later time for their oil, a good reminder that, for tourists, it’s the view, but for those living here, it’s their livelihood. The lavenders on the Luberon mountains too had long passed the season. Note to myself: Early to Mid July is best if I ever come this way again.
But all was not lost. I was gratified to follow some of Van Gogh’s footsteps as I explored the clearly posted Van Gogh sites in the town, the scenes and locales where the artist so vividly captured in his paintings.
Arles is a Roman town. What more prominent to reflect its past glory than the Roman Arena in the town centre. Why all the arches? The free flow of pedestrian traffic. The full seating capacity, 20,000 people, could exit the Arena in 7 minutes.
Used by gladiators in ancient time, the Arena is still the venue for bullfights:
But Van Gogh’s interest was not so much on the violent action of bullfighting than on the people, as his painting Spectators In The Arena At Arles (December, 1888) clearly shows:
The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum was his hang-out, renamed Café Van Gogh now. The yellow building upon the backdrop of the blue, starry night had deeply inspired the artist:
Café Terrace At Night (September, 1888):
Van Gogh had wanted to make Arles a hub for fellow artists. Upon his urging, Gauguin came to join him in October, 1888. The two painters frequented the Café Terrace many a night but only for two short months. What happened on December 23rd was reported by the local paper the next day:
At 11:30 pm., Vincent Vaugogh [sic], painter from Holland, appeared at the brothel at no. 1, asked for Rachel, and gave her his cut-off earlobe, saying, ‘Treasure this precious object.’ Then he vanished.
After this incident, Van Gogh was admitted to a local hospital, now the Espace Van Gogh in Arles, a cultural centre:
In January, 1889, Van Gogh returned home to the Yellow House, but for the next few months, suffered onslaughts of hallucinations and delusions. His view of his own condition nevertheless was lucid and even progressive for his time. His letter to Theo is poignant, as he openly faced his predicament and earnestly sought a solution:
And for the time being I wish to remain confined, as much for my own tranquillity as for that of others.
What consoles me a little is that I’m beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other and accept the thing as it is, while during the actual crises it seemed to me that everything I was imagining was reality.”
— Sunday, April 21, 1889.
On May 8, 1889, he checked himself into the Saint Paul de Mausole, the mental hospital at St-Rémy-de-Provence. Under the care of his doctor Théophile Peyron, the artist’s condition improved and he thrived in the idyllic environment there. Art therapy had brought healing and prolific output. Van Gogh stayed there for a year and created more than 150 paintings.
Dr. Théophile Peyron out at the front garden:
The olive grove outside St. Paul hospital:
To his brother Theo, he wrote on Sunday, May 11, 1890:
At the moment the improvement is continuing, the whole horrible crisis has disappeared like a thunderstorm, and I’m working here with calm, unremitting ardour to give a last stroke of the brush. I’m working on a canvas of roses on bright green background and two canvases of large bouquets of violet Irises…
My Van Gogh trip ended at St. Rémy, and so be it. I’ve seen the sites wherein the artist was at his most prolific. I’ve seen the town and surroundings where he found inspiration. I’ve seen his final solace where he attained some stability and painted with passion. I’d like to keep these as memories of my travel to Provence. I could hardly bear to think of his last days, discharged from St. Rémy just a few days after the above letter, headed north to Auvers-sur-Oise on the outskirt of Paris, and in just two short months, succumbed to the recurrence of his illness. He shot himself in the chest with a revolver on July 27, 1890, and died of his wound two days later.
Back to the thoughts I wrote about in my last post: How do we keep art from turning into a cliché? I think it takes a certain awareness of the artist as a person, plus a measure of empathy and respect for the struggle to live and create… and realizing that the beautiful works are often triumphs in spite of life’s overwhelming adversities, rather than the natural products of bliss and fortune.
To wrap up my travel posts, and taking the risk of turning it into a cliché albeit my motive is pure, here’s the YouTube clip again, Don McLean’s tribute to Vincent:
I’m just having so much fun discovering the immense influence of Vermeer on his posterior that I must post some more. Here are a few interesting samples that I’ve found.
Holland has long been renowned for its natural light, and Vermeer has long been credited with his keen sensitivity in capturing that. Here’s his View of Delft (ca. 1660), which Marcel Proust called “the most beautiful painting in the world”:
Visiting the Netherlands in 1886, Claude Monet adopted Vermeer’s point of view in observing the light of Holland in his painting of tulip fields and a farmhouse near Leiden:
Look at this famous Vermeer painting entitled Woman in Blue (ca. 1663):
Van Gogh commented in 1888 on the exquisite artistry of Vermeer’s colors in the painting, “…blue, lemon-yellow, pearl-gray, black and white… the whole gamut of colors.” He must have really liked Vermeer’s palette:
Vermeer loved his subjects by the window. Here’s another well known painting Girl Reading A Letter At An Open Window (1658), and below, Salvador Dali’s parody, homage, to Vermeer’s signature pose entitled Disappearing Image (1938). Like Hitchcock, Dali liked to put himself in the picture:
Now here’s a more contemporary example. UK artist Tom Hunter, the first photographer to have a one-man show at the National Gallery of London, won the Kobal Photographic Portrait Award in 1998 with this poignant picture of a squatter, entitled Woman Reading a Possession Letter:
How about this from American realist painter Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952):
Director Peter Weir has created some ‘Vermeer scenes’ in his highly acclaimed 1985 movie ‘Witness’, with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. I can’t find pictures of the scene where the young Amish woman Rachel Lapp (McGillis) tending the wounded detective John Book (Ford) in the attic of her Amish house. That is signature Vermeer. But this one by the window can give you a glimpse. Look at the contrast between the light and shadow on the two characters, the innocent and cloistered Rachel Lapp and the street-smart and gun wielding John Book:
Vancouver Art Gallery’s premier summer kick-off is the impressive exhibition: Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art. The exclusive show of masterpieces from Amsterdam’s renowned Rijksmuseum includes paintings, drawings, and decorative arts from 17th century Holland. After five hours at the Gallery, I left hungry for more Vermeer. Overall it was gratifying, but I was expecting just a few more glimpses of the great master.
Of all the 128 pieces of art work, there’s just one Vermeer painting. Placed at the end of the exhibit, apparently the highlight and climax of the show, is Vermeer’s Love Letter (1669). From his signature point of view, peeking through a partial opening of pulled-back curtain, we look into another room and see a maid just handed her mistress a letter. By the exchange of their glances, it seems they’re sharing a secret understanding. This is another one of Vermeer’s works that’s full of potential stories and rich in subtexts. Actually anyone of them is a novel to be written, not less dramatic as Girl With A Pearl Earring.
Love Letter by Vermeer (1669-70)
17th century Holland was a new Republic that had just gained independence from Spanish rule. The beginning of the exhibits sets the stage depicting a young nation with great maritime power. Domestically, it was a country marked by a vibrant economy and a rising middle class, as well as the flowering of arts and science, architecture and urban planning.
In the midst of such affluence and fresh hope, some of the artists spoke with their brushes as prophets of their time. Among paintings of naval glory and conquests, as well as glimpses of domestic life of the rich, there are also the quiet displays of still life. I must have seen them before. Why have I not noticed their significance previously?
They are paintings of withered blossoms, burnt out candles, hourglasses, books and musical instruments, and most prominently, skulls, eerie arrays of them, decaying bones and teeth. Why all these objects? The audio commentary confirms that they are Vanitas still life, the term rooted in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities.” And obviously, they are symbols of the fleeting nature of life, the callous passage of time, the transience of knowledge and human achievements:
Pieter Claesz: Vanitas Still Life (1628)
Aelbert Jansz van der Schoor: Skulls on a Table (1660)
On the piece of writing crumpled up is one last word, Finis, The End:
Jan Davidsz de Heem, Still Life with Books (1625-29)
It’s commendable that the rich and powerful were willing to be reminded thus, considering these were once paintings adorning the walls of their affluent homes, a nagging presence they could not ignore. And they must have paid to have them painted.
One of my favorites in the exhibition is Nicolaes Maes’ Old Woman in Prayer. Maes, a student of Rembrandt, had captured the simple piety of the old woman of lowly means: her earnest concentration, wrinkled face and hardened hands, the earthen wares and simple meal, and above all, her meager possessions on the ledge, an open Bible, a lamp, an hourglass and a prayer book. The warm light on her face almost makes her look divine. Maes did not forget to include a comic relief, her cat at the lower right bottom must have known what’s for dinner: