Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Abstractness, hieratism, and naive cursiveness of edge

Georges Seurat
Study for La Grande Jatte
1884
drawing
British Museum

Georges Seurat
Woman fishing - study for La Grande Jatte
1884
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Georges Seurat
Madame Seurat, the artist's Mother
ca. 1882-83
drawing
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

"And as for Seurat's drawings!  Seurat's abstractness, hieratism, and  naive cursiveness of edge . . ."

"Where in Seurat can one find two figures facing one another, let alone conversing?"

Georges Seurat
Woman Strolling (Une élégante)
ca. 1884
drawing
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Georges Seurat
Study for Poseuses
1886-87
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Georges Seurat
Study for Une baignade
1883
drawing
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

"All the aesthetic categories of the nineteenth century, including most of the modernist ones, disappeared down the black hole of Seurat's technique. A technique that pretended to be a technics – to engineer at last the "elocutory disappearance of the poet, who cedes the initiative to words  [Mallarmé]".

Geroges Seurat
Lighthouse at Honfleur
1886
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Georges Seurat
Poplars
1883-84
drawing
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Georges Seurat
Nurse with child's carriage
ca. 1882-84
drawing
Morgan Library, New York

"In Seurat, those moments collapsed into one another – they were equated, or duplicated, or ironized out of existence. Drawing (that is, separate identities) emerged from the wreckage as so much whispering of ghosts.  Ghosts of an endless, ignominious energy.  But not people – not objects of empathy or sympathy.  Not actors.  Not things with insides." 

Georges Seurat
The black bow
ca. 1882
drawing
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Georges Seurat
Landscape with houses
1881-82
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Georges Seurat
Peasants
ca. 1881-84
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Seurat was profoundly anarchism's painter: cruel and elusive and infinitely fond of the city's foibles and moments of freedom.  He operated at the point where an all-consuming aesthetic irony happens on a truly naive delight in other people.  Where negation is indistinguishable from utopia."

Georges Seurat
Courbevoie - Factories by moonlight
1882-83
drawing
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Georges Seurat
Portrait of Paul Signac
1890
drawing
private collection

 quoted passages are by T.J. Clark from his chapter on Camille Pissarro and anarchism in Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (Yale University Press, 1999)

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

attributed to Jean Clouet
Portrait of Marguerite de Navarre
ca. 1527
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Lucas Cranach the Elder
Nymph of the Fountain
1534
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool proudly refers to itself as "the National Gallery of the North" and boasts that the core of the collection has been on public display in the city for the past two centuries. The present temple-like building and the attached name "Walker" go back about 130 years to a defining series of high-Victorian backers (civic worthies, for the most part, rather than aristocrats). Their standards were evidently as high as anyone could wish, and the material at their disposal was often of staggering quality, as appears below.  

attributed to Nicholas Hilliard
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
1573
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Paulus Bor
Mary Magdalene
ca. 1635
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Godfrey Kneller
Portrait of King Charles II
ca. 1685
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

There are who lord it o'er their fellow-men
With most prevailing tinsel: who unpen
Their baaing vanities, to browse away
The comfortable green and juicy hay
From human pastures; or, O torturing fact!
Who, through an idiot blink, will see unpack'd 
Fire-branded foxes to sear up and singe
Our gold and ripe-ear'd hopes. With not one tinge
Of sanctuary splendour, not a sight
Able to face an owl's, they still are dight
By the blear-eyed nations in empurpled vests,
And crowns, and turbans. With unladen breasts
Save of blown self-applause, they proudly mount
To their spirit's perch, their being's high account,
Their tiptop nothings, their dull skies, their thrones  
Amid the fierce intoxicating tones
Of trumpets, shoutings, and belabour'd drums,
And sudden cannon. 

 from Endymion (1818) by John Keats

Francesco Solimena
Diana and Endymion
ca. 1705-10
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

William Hogarth
Portrait of David Garrick as King Richard III
ca. 1745
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Johan Zoffany
Family of Sir William Young
ca. 1767-69
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Thomas Gainsborough
Portrait of Isabella, Viscountess Molyneux
later Countess of Sefton

1769
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Léonard Defrance
Interior of a Foundry
1789
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Giovanni Tognolli
Finding of Aesculapius
ca. 1822-39
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Edward Burne-Jones
Study for The Sleeping Knights
ca. 1870
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

John Everett Millais
The Martyr of the Solway
ca. 1871
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Sir William Blake Richmond
Venus and Anchises
1889
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Anchises of Troy stood in such high favor with the goddess Venus that she bore his child, according to Ovid and Virgil. This child became the hero Aeneas. When Troy fell to the Greeks, Aeneas saved his father Anchises (who had by then become a feeble old man) by carrying him on his shoulders out of the burning city. This scene (including also Ascanius, little son of Aeneas) was represented countless times by Baroque sculptors and painters. They may or may not have idealized the participants, but they definitely relished the oddness of the piled-up figure-group.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Decorative Etchings from 18th-century Europe

Alexis Peyrotte
Acanthus-leaf Design
1740
etching
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Alexis Peyrotte
Winged Griffon on Rocaille Bracket
1745
etching
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

"Men that do not perversely use their Words, or on purpose set themselves to cavil, seldom mistake in any Language which they are acquainted with the Use and Signification of the names of simple Ideas. White and Street, Yellow and Bitter carry a very obvious meaning with them, which every one precisely comprehends, or easily perceives he is ignorant of, and seeks to be informed.  But what precise Collection of simple Ideas Modesty or Frugality stand for in another's use is not so certainly known.  And however we are apt to think we well enough know what is meant by Gold or Iron, yet the precise complex Idea others make them signs of, is not so certain:  And I believe it is very seldom that in Speaker and Hearer, they stand for exactly the same Collection."

Laurent Cars after Hyacinthe Rigaud
Portrait of artist Sébastien Bourdon
 1733
etching
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Jacques-Philippe Lebas after Gian Paolo Panini
Grecian Ruins
before 1783
etching
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Jean-Jacques Flipart
Competition for the French Acadamy Prize
for Studies of Heads and Expressions

1763
etching, engraving
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Johann August Corvinus
Firework display on the River Elbe
behind the Holländisches Palais

10 September 1719
etching
Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden

Daniel Marot
Library with Busts
1712
etching
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

"He that hath Names without Ideas wants meaning in his Words and speaks only empty Sounds.  He that hath complex Ideas without Names for them, wants Liberty and Dispatch in his Expressions, and is necessitated to use Periphrases.  He that uses his Words loosely and unsteadily will either be not minded, or not understood.  He that applies his Names to Ideas different from their common use wants Propriety in his Language, and speaks Gibberish.  And he that hath Ideas of Substances disagreeing with the real Existence of Things, so far wants the Materials of true Knowledge in his Understanding, and hath, instead thereof, Chimeras."

"In our notions concerning Substances, we are liable to all the former Inconveniencies – 1. He that uses the word Tarantula without having any Imagination or Idea of what it stands for, pronounces a good Word, but so long means nothing at all by it.  2. He that in a new-discovered Country shall see several sorts of Animals and Vegetables unknown to him before, may have as true Idea of them as of a Horse or a Stag, but can speak of them only by a description till he shall either take the Names the Natives call them by or give them Names himself.  3. He that uses the word Body sometimes for pure Extension and sometimes for Extension and Solidity together, will talk very fallaciously.  4. He that gives the Name Horse to that Idea which common usage calls Mule talks improperly and will not be understood.  5. He that thinks the Name Centaur stands for some real  Being imposes on himself and mistakes Words for Things."

Dominique Vivant-Denon
Nuptials of the Fifty Daughters of King Thespius
1793
etching
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Nymph and two Satyrs as Cameo in Landscape
1763
etching
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Jean-Antoine Pierron after Carlo Maratti
Allegory on artist Gerard de Lairesse
1791
etching
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Bernard Picart
Europa in a Library
1718
etching
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

"Names therefore, that stand for Collections of Ideas which the Mind makes at pleasure must needs be of doubtful signification when such Collections are nowhere to be found in Nature nor any Patterns to be shewn whereby Men may adjust them.  What the word Murther or Sacrilege signifies can never be known from Things themselves.  There be many of the parts of those complex Ideas which are not visible in the Action itself.  The intention of the Mind, or the Relation of holy Things, which make a part of Murther or Sacrilege, have no necessary connexion with the outward and visible Action of him that commits either.  And the pulling the Trigger of the Gun, with which the Murther is committed, and is all the Action that perhaps is visible, has no natural connexion with those other Ideas that make up the complex one named Murther.  They have their union and combination only from the Understanding which unites them under one Name: but uniting them without any Rule or Pattern, it cannot be but that the signification of the Name, that stands for such voluntary Collections, should be often various in the Minds of different Men, who have scarce any standing Rule to regulate themselves and their Notions by in such arbitrary Ideas."

Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki
Cecilia seated, with a man speaking to her
(illustration to Fanny Burney's novel)

1787
etching
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Caspar Luyken
The Poet
1711
etching
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Johannes Körnlein
Woman playing the clavecin
1767
soft-ground etching
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

 quoted passages are from the section called Imperfection of Words in An Essay concerning Human Understanding (4th edition, 1700) by John Locke

Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon
Butterflies
ca. 1910
oil on canvas
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Odilon Redon
Caliban
1881
drawing
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Odilon Redon
Pandora
before 1916
pastel
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

THE MATTER

   In it were the things a man kept, otherwise they were not in the box: a toy person with an arm missing; also a leg.
   Actually, both arms were missing.  And, as one leg was missing, so was the other; even the torso and the head.
   But, no matter, because in it was another toy person.  This one was also missing an arm and one of its legs.
   Actually, it had no arms at all; same with the legs, the torso and head.
   But, no matter, the box was full of armless and legless toys without torsos or heads.
   But again, no matter, because even the box was missing . . . And then even the man . . .
   In the end there was only an arrangement of words; and still, no matter . . .

Odilon Redon
Buddha
1904
oil on canvas
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Odilon Redon
Tears
1878
drawing
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Odilon Redon
The Trees 
1890s
drawing
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

OF THIS WORLD

   The old man definitely has wings.  You see them when the light is right.  They are attached to his faded overcoat, which once blue is turning brown.
   The wings are so delicate, so transparent, they don't seem the kind of wings an old man would have.  One would expect thick, woody feathers.
   Yet, still he wants his hot soup, and wants to sit near the fire and rub the hands, grown thick and stiff, of this life together, to feel the blood of this life in them. 
   When he takes off his overcoat to sit by the fire I look to see if the wings are still attached to it.  And of course they're not.  Now the wings are attached to the old sweater he wears.  When the fire blazes up the wings are suddenly there.  They droop from his sweater and hang down from his chair, the ends lightly crumpled on the floor. 
   He rubs his hands together gazing into the fire.  How he enjoys the fire of this world . . .  

Odilon Redon
Flower Clouds
ca. 1903
pastel
Art Institute of Chicago

Odilon Redon
Bell-Tower Keeper
ca. 1905-1910
oil on canvas
Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan

Odilon Redon
The Yellow Sail
ca. 1905
pastel
Indianapolis Museum of Art

from THE HUMAN CONDITION

   Can we depend on human intelligence to save itself? said Dr. Gas as he began pushing the horns of his mustache into his nostrils.
   From what, Dr. Gas?
   From itself, said Dr. Gas as he blew his mustache out into a handkerchief.
   But, Dr. Gas, how can an intelligence, not intelligent enough not to be a danger to itself, be intelligent enough to save itself?

Odilon Redon
Large Green Vase with Mixed Flowers
ca. 1910-12
pastel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Odilon Redon
Closed eyes
1889
oil on canvas
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Odilon Redon
Two Young Girls among Flowers
1912
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

THE PADDLERS' SONG

   . . . Paddling for twenty years against the current.  We haven't moved.  If anything, we've lost.
   But the river closes the wounds of our displacements with neither scar nor pit.
   The shore was always there.  We could have tied our boat and come as far.
   We might even have landed and put leaves together and had a roof, and watched the river with a pleasure grown aesthetic; the river that closes the wounds of our displacements with neither scar nor pit.
   We might have traveled inland to great cities to sit in drawing rooms; and against the mild baritone of the cellos heard clever persons so describe the human condition as a place on a river, where men drown in the soft sounds of rushing water; the river that closes all the wounds of our displacements with neither scar nor pit.
   We might even have flown (in the Twentieth Century men flew), to see the river of our struggle as one more thread from the great head of oceans . . . River that closes the wounds of our displacements with neither scar nor pit . . .

Odilon Redon
Woman in Gothic arcade and Woman with flowers
1905
oil on canvas
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Odilon Redon
Roger and Angelica
1910
pastel
Museum of Modern Art, New York

from YOU

   Out of nothing there comes a time called childhood, which is simply a path leading through an archway called adolescence.  A small town there, past the arch called youth.
   Soon, down the road, where one almost misses the life lived beyond the flower, is a small shack labeled, you.

 quoted poems and parts of poems by Russell Edson (1935-2014) as printed in The Wounded Breakfast  (Middletown, Connecticut : Wesleyan University Press, 1985)