Monday, June 27, 2016

It’s Summer

It seems that every year it takes longer and longer for summer to get here. Then when it does get here, it’s gone in a flash! I can’t think of anything bad to say about summer, well, except when it’s so hot that the spotlight on my easel makes it too hot for me to paint. Speaking of art, here are some artworks with summer themes you may never have seen.

Thailand, Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, Bangkok, elephant topiary in gardens, 1872–1881. Image © Davis Art Images. (8S-10355)

Can you just feel the warmth of the sun illuminating the tops of these “elephants”? The Bang Pa-In was a summer palace for Thai kings built in the 1600s before Bangkok was the capital. It was rebuilt by King Rama V (1853–1910) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty.

The gardens were designed with moats and plantings influenced primarily by Versailles (by European landscape architects) because Rama V wanted to give his monarchy a Western image. However members of his court prevailed upon him to request some traditional Thai elements. The topiary elephants were one concession. Ironically, Thailand's empire in Southeast Asia (which included Cambodia, Laos and, parts of Indonesia) was severely reduced by European occupation (mostly British and French) by 1909.

European topiary dates from ancient Roman times. Topiary is the practice of training and clipping perennial plants to form shapes, either geometric or organic shapes, such as elephants. Japanese and Chinese topiary, on the other hand, was intended to represent natural elements such as clouds, mountains, or waves. The topiary garden at Bang Pa-in was carried out during a period of revival of architecture and landscape decoration in 1800s Europe influenced by Baroque (particularly Dutch) gardens, when topiary landscape architecture was particularly fashionable.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879, Britain), Summer Days, 1866. Albumen print on paper, 13 7/8" x 11 1/8" (35.3 x 28.2 cm). © National Gallery of Art, Washington. (NGA-P1068)

I’m not sure if the mopey faces on these models is just the way the British react to hot weather in summer, or if it’s because they had to sit through a long exposure (45 to 60 seconds). In any case, the languid poses are a perfect example of the “Art Photography” that was a popular pursuit within the genre during the 1800s.

In the mid-1800s, unlike painting and sculpture, photography did not require training in the academies, long apprenticeships, or lengthy practice. For these reasons, women were encouraged by photographic journals to use the medium. They would not need to be exposed to nude models in the academies, and they practice the art form from home, still considered the most "appropriate" place for women. In England, amateur photographers like Cameron believed that photography as art should deal with suitable and uplifting themes.

Cameron, born in Ceylon to a British official and educated in Britain, received her first camera in 1864 as a gift. She immediately began to pursue photography earnestly, selling her prints in London. In late 1865, she began using a larger camera that held a 15" x 12" glass negative, rather than the 12" x 10" negative of her first camera. The larger camera helped her create more compelling, up close compositions. She was well-versed in effectively posing her models, mostly neighbors and friends.

Ronald Bladen (1918-1988 US, born Canada), Double Summer, 1987. Aluminum and wood, 46 1/8" x 53 3/4" x 27 1/4" (117.1 x 136.5 x 69.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Estate of Ronald Bladen / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-S0595blvg)

In the work of Ron Bladen, I’m accustomed to seeing his huge, Primary Structures that take up whole plazas or gallery spaces. This piece is much more intimate, though. It follows his tendencies toward minimalism. In my mind it is titled Double Summer because it looks like two lawn chairs folded up on the beach. It’s either that or two of those folding reflectors with a mirrored surface people used to hold to get tan under their chin, in a handy frame? I’m pretty sure my musings are wrong, because it was titled by Bladen and his assistant Larry Deyab while they worked on it during the hot summer of 1987.

Bladen was born in Vancouver, BC to a British steelworker and landscape architect. He himself worked as a ship’s welder during World War II (1939–1945). This job helped him build his monumental Primary Structure pieces of the 1960s, such as his famous The X (1965). He studied both painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute. During the 1950s he produced gorgeous, non-objective paintings much in the action painting spirit of Abstract Expressionism.

By the early 1960s he was inclined toward the Minimalism phenomenon, which was a direct reaction against Abstract Expressionism’s emphasis on process. His gallery-size standing pieces of the 1960s became large wall installations during the 1980s, often with the addition of polished aluminum.

Kenneth Noland (1924–2010, US), Sounds in a Summer Night, 1962. Acrylic on canvas, 69 11/16" x 70" (177 x 178 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Kenneth Noland / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P2175novg)

I completely understand Noland’s choice of colors in this painting. It so reminds me of lying in bed on a summer night with a partial moon bathing everything in a bluish white light. I’m not certain but I think this piece is on unprimed canvas.

Born in the art colony town of Asheville, North Carolina, Noland studied at nearby Black Mountain College (1946–1948), working with Minimalist Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981) and geometric Color Field artist Josef Albers (1888–1976). After a year in Paris in 1948, he returned to the US, moving to Washington DC in 1949. His paintings at the time reflected the all-over painting abstractions of l'Art Informel, the European counterpart to Abstract Expressionism.

Noland met Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) and briefly experimented with staining entire, raw canvases. In Washington he encountered a group of painters known as the Washington Color School Painters, among them Morris Louis (1912–1962), who, like Frankenthaler, stained raw canvas with pure color.

Noland's first completely unique statements of Color Field lasted from the mid-1950s to about 1962, after he had discovered the center of the canvas as a focal point for his compositions. Ensuing were paintings where the principal image from concentric circles exactly centered on the square canvas.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (ca. 1527–1593, Italy), Summer, 1563. Oil on lindenwood, 26 3/8" x 20" (67 x 50.8 cm). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo © 2016 Dr Ronald Wiedenhoeft / Saskia, Ltd. (Lif-0004)

Every so often, when I look at Arcimboldo’s composite figures, they seem creepy to me, especially the lips. But, this bust of summer does present all the traditional (at the time) attributes of the season, primarily harvested foodstuffs. I guess a contemporary composite image of summer would consist of tubes of sunblock and UV-blocking sunglasses?

Arcimboldo, the son of a painter named Biagio, was born in Milan. His family was well connected with the nobility and church, and Arcimboldo had no trouble securing commissions for frescoes and stained glass in Milan Cathedral. His conventional portraits and religious subjects were apparently accomplished enough to secure him a job as court painter (1562) to the Holy Roman Hapsburg Emperors Ferdinand I (1503–1564) and Maximilian II (1527–1576) for whom he painted conventional portraits.

The Hapsburg court in Vienna was full of Renaissance scientists, philosophers, and eccentrics. It was in this milieu that Arcimboldo executed his series of figures composed of various organic and man-made objects about the Elements and the Seasons, of which this is part. These paintings were presented to Maximilian in 1569. Cleverly composing a figure of fruits, vegetables, and grains fit right in with the Renaissance fascination with witty puzzles, double entendre, and visual games. 

Hella Jongerius (designer, born 1963, Netherlands) and Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory (1747–present, Nymphenburg, Germany), “Summer” teapot  from the Four Seasons set, 2007. Hand painted porcelain, 10 1/2” x 6" (26.7 x 15.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Hella Jongerius. (PMA-6404)

Wrapping up this ode to summer is an artwork from another series dedicated to the Four Seasons, but decidedly less creepy than Arcimboldo…maybe. I’m not a big fan of anything Rococo, but, I think it’s awesome that you see a revival of the style in the 21st century, such an anachronism. Jongerius took the traditional approach of personification for her Four Seasons set: women for summer (teapot) and spring (hand mirror) and men for autumn (wine jug) and winter (candleholder). I like her work, particularly in porcelain, because she does a lot of the work by hand.

Jongerius is a Dutch industrial designer who works in Berlin. She graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. In the true spirit of Bauhaus, Jongerius has always emphasized fusing industry with art, high and low technology, and traditional imagery produced by industrial process infused with hand work. She works for other iconic brands such as Vitra and IKEA.

Europeans went nuts over porcelain when it was first imported during the 1500s. The secret to porcelain manufacturing (kaolin) was not discovered until the 1700s by a German chemist. Nymphenburg was one of the manufactories established (1747) to provide an alternative to expensive imported Chinese porcelain. Nymphenburg is perhaps most renowned for the porcelain figurines they produced of commedia dell’arte characters.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 3: 4.24, 6.35, 35-36; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 3.14; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4.24, 21-22, 23-24, 5.25; A Personal Journey: 3.1, 3.4, 7.4; A Community Connection: 7.2, 7.4, 8.4; A Global Pursuit: 4.4, 9.4; Focus on Photography: 2, 3, 5; Experience Clay: 3, 4; ; Exploring Painting: 12; Exploring Visual Design: 7, 9, 12; The Visual Experience: 9.3, 9.5, 10.4, 10.6, 10.14, 13.3, 15.9 16.4, 16.7, 16.8; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.5, 4.activity 1, 9.2, 12.4, 17.3

Monday, June 20, 2016


Ethel Schwabacher (1903–1984, US), Tempest, 1951. Oil on canvas, 30" x 36" (76.2 x 91.4 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6883)

I always like to be surprised, learning about an artist I know little or nothing about. I’m certain that the names that come to mind when the style “Abstract Expressionism” is mentioned are Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Gottlieb. Well, in my many many years as an art historian, I’ve discovered a lot of artists who hung out with the New York School “star artists,” who are never mentioned in art history texts as Abstract Expressionists. This is particularly true about the women. The whole Abstract Expressionist marketing machine was very loud about the male stars, but many of the women associated with the “group” did not receive affirmation of their art until the 1960s. It’s no wonder the Guerilla Girls had posters which intimated that the only way for women to be represented in a museum was as a nude model for a male artist! Well, I’ve found another artist associated with the Abstract Expressionists: Esther Schwabacher, and her work is Great!

As you know, there were many women who made important contributions to Abstraction Expressionism in the 1940s and 1950s in both the action painting and color field genres. Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989), Joan Mitchell (1925–1992), Grace Hartigan (1922–2008), and Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) are among the artists who gradually gained acclaim for their art in the 1960s after the “men’s club” ambience of the 1950s New York School faded. Ethel Schwabacher was part of this group of women artists. She, along with the above mentioned four and several other women are part of a show I really wish I could see at the Denver Art Museum, “Women of Abstract Expressionism.”

Ethel Schwabacher was born in New York. At the age of 5 her family moved to Pelham, where, as a child, she painted in the garden. At 15 she enrolled at the Art Students League of New York. She also studied sculpture at the National Academy until 1921. Her initial training was in sculpture, but she abandoned that in favor of painting in 1927 after she finished an apprenticeship with the academic-realist sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973).

Anna’s foundation in abstraction came when she studied under American Cubist Max Weber (1881–1961) at the Art Students League. It was further cemented by her friendship there with Arshile Gorky (1904–1948). At the time the soon-to-be Abstract Expressionist’s paintings were Cubist and figurative. After 6 years in Europe, during which time she studied the modernist experiment in Paris, she took independent study with Gorky in 1934 and 1936. At that time Gorky introduced her to the Surrealist idea of automatism, the act of painting without conscious control. She was inspired by the biomorphic Surrealist abstract forms of Gorky’s work. From that point on, Schwabacher became interested in expressing her subconscious in paintings. Like Tempest, her works are characterized by automatism in abstract forms, with many of her paintings referencing nature. This painting comes from the year of her husband’s death, and Tempest may have the dual intention of expressing her feelings of loss, anxiety, and separation.

This is typical of Gorky’s work around that period:
Arshile Gorky (1903–1984, US, born Armenia), Water of the Flowery Mill, 1944. Oil on canvas, 42 1/4" x 48 3/4" (107.3 x 123.8 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. © 2016 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (PRF-0006)

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25; A Community Connection: 6.2, 8.4; Exploring Painting: 12; The Visual Experience: 9.3, 16.7; Discovering Art History: 17.1

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Expanded Toulouse-Lautrec

Last week I was a jaded art historian. This week I am a socially responsible one. I always feel it is unfortunate when appreciators of art only know one genre of the work of a certain artist. Everyone knows that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was one of the pioneers of the “art poster” and did a lot of innovative graphic design. But many are only familiar for his works concerning the night club Le Moulin Rouge. He executed so many design jobs, I think it’s important for you to see a little bit of the breadth of his work.

Post-Impressionism stressed structure above scientific dissection of the visual impact of light on color. However, this interest in structure was combined with the Impressionist concern with documenting fleeting moments of everyday life. This included spontaneous movement and, to a great extent, the influence of Japanese prints that illustrated scenes of everyday life.

Toulouse-Lautrec excelled at drawing from a young age. He was much influenced by Degas's drawing style, which was grounded in his studies in great drawings by Renaissance and Baroque artists. In 1882 he moved to Paris and gravitated toward the Bohemian section of Montmartre because of the liveliness of that section of the city. He initially painted outdoors like the Impressionists, using oil paint thinned to transparency, which he executed in layers on cardboard. This technique "peinture á l'essence," allowed his sketchy brush work to show through.

Starting in the late 1880s, Toulouse-Lautrec began to create posters in the relatively new process of color lithography for some of the more popular nightspots in Montmartre. His lithography eventually was primarily inhabited by his studies of personages from the neighborhood, illustrations for theater programs, magazines, and novels. His technique was greatly influenced by Japanese prints in the vague, often skewed perspective, open composition, strong contour of shapes, and flat areas of color.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901, France), The Old Stories (Les Vielles Histoires), music sheet cover for collection of poems of Jean Goudeszki (1866–1934 France), 1893. Color lithograph on paper, 19 1/2" x 25 1/8" (49.5 x 64 cm). © Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-715)

Toulouse-Lautrec brilliantly used economy of line in his graphic design to emphasize the main point of the piece. His use of asymmetrical balance mirrors that seen in classic woodcut prints of Japanese Ukiyo-e. In this music sheet cover—of which several versions both colored and not colored were printed—the musician Désiré Dihau (1833–1909) leads the folkloric poet Goudeszki, caricatured as a bear, across the Pont des Arts in Paris.

Toulouse-Lautrec did music sheet covers for other songs of Dihau: The Old Butterflies (Les Vieux Papillons), Nursemaid (Berceuse), and Buy my Pretty Violets (Achetez mes Belles Violettes). Dihau was a famed bassoonist in Paris, who was immortalized in Edgar Degas’ (1834–1917) early work Orchestra of the Opera (1869, Museé d’Orsay, Paris). 

Sick Carnot (Carnot Malade!), music sheet cover for Songs from the Chat Noir (night club), 1893. Color lithograph on paper, 10 7/8" x 6 15/16" (27.6 x 17.6 cm). © Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-2086)

Because Toulouse-Lautrec spent so much of his time sketching everyday people, he was able to produce hundreds of humorous caricatures of important people quickly for publication. This advertisement is for a humorous monologue about the French Republic’s people’s fear of losing to illness a capable and immensely popular president, Carnot, after decades of political turmoil. Unfortunately, Marie François Sadi Carnot (president 1887–1894) was assassinated in 1894 by a nutty Italian anarchist. That historical fact makes this humorous monologue all the more ironic. 

A Gentleman and a Lady, theater program cover for the play “The Money” (“L’Argent”), at the Théâtre Libré, 1895. Color lithograph on paper, 12 1/2" x 9 7/16" (31.9 x 24 cm”). © Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-1565)

The diagonal, open composition of this program cover, with its simple masses of color and sparseness of detail, is certainly reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. It also shows the penchant of Post-Impressionist artists for reducing subject matter to the most elementary forms. Although it depicts an intimate every-day, casual moment, which was the mainstay of Impressionism, in all other respects it is as far from Impressionism as it can be. The forms in this lithograph remind me a lot of the work of Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940).

The Théâtre Libré was an experimental theater in Paris that operated between 1887 and 1896. It was the first non-commercial theater, and greatly influenced experimental theaters throughout Europe. Among the controversial psycho-realist playwrights whose works appeared there were Ibsen, Tolstoy, and Brieux. I’m not even sure if Toulouse-Lautrec was paid for this work, for the original owner of the theater André Antoine (1858–1943) gave it up as a financial loss in 1894 to another manager.  

Advertisement for the gothic novel The Alarm Bell (Le Tocsin), serialized in the publication “The Dispatch” (La Dépêche)”, 1895. Color lithograph on paper, 21 3/16" x 15 3/4" (53.7 x 40 cm). © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-582)

There’s nothing more Goth than some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s scarecrow-like figures. It’s particularly effective for an ad for a gothic novel. This advertisement was commissioned by Arthur Huc, editor of Toulouse’s (Toulouse-Lautrec’s home region) most influential newspaper La Dépêche de Toulouse, and a significant patron of the artist since 1891. On this print, also sometimes called The Keeper of the Castle (Chatelaine), Toulouse-Lautrec used the crachis (spatter) technique in which he created a mist of pigment that simulates airbrush by causing the brush to splatter. He first used that technique in his first poster, the famous Moulin Rouge Concert Bal tous les Soirs (1891).

Poster advertising P. Sescau, Photographer, 1896. Color lithograph on paper, 23 5/8" x 28 3/8" (60 x 72 cm). © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-D0757)

Toulouse-Lautrec also designed ads for businesses other than night clubs. This is the only known advertisement he did for the up-and-coming medium of photography. Ironically, in much of advertising in the 1900s, photography replaced lithography. Sescau took many portraits of Toulouse-Lautrec, including one whacky one where the painter was dressed as a Japanese nobleman complete with fan. Sescau popularized an early form of film called ciné roman, in which still photographs were accompanied by voice and music.

Toulouse-Lautrec also portrayed the photographer.

Portrait of Mr Paul Sescau, 1891. Oil and gouache on cardboard, 32 3/4" x 14 1/4" (83.2 x 36.2 cm ). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4885)

Poster advertising The Dawn Illustrated Revue, 1896. Color lithograph on paper, 23 13/16" x 31 11/16" (60.5 x 80.5 cm). © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-D0756)

L’Aube was an illustrated art review journal. Toulouse-Lautrec once again used the crachis technique to heighten the effect of early darkness in this poster. Although most of the denizens of the artist’s prints were considered the “underclass” (actors, prostitutes, dancers, artists, and the like), he rarely, if ever, showed the really poor people of Paris. The figures of these poor people attending a garbage cart remind me of the slope-shouldered poor in the prints of Daumier, or the paintings of Millet.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 3.17; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.27, 5.27-28 studio; A Personal Journey: 4.2, 4.3; A Community Connection: 1.2, 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.4; Communicating Through Graphic Design: 3, 6; Exploring Printmaking: 6; The Visual Experience: 9.4, 12.3, 12.7, 16.4; Discovering Art History: 13.2.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ode to the “June Bride”

It’s a jaded Art Historian who turns the traditional idea of the “June Bride” sideways. Here are works of art that sort of give a different perspective on the whole subject of weddings. 

Louise Nevelson (1899–1988, US, born Ukraine), Hanging Columns (Guests, from “Dawn’s Wedding Feast”), 1959. Painted wood, Left: 71 15/16" x 6 9/16" x 6 9/16" (182.8 x 16.7 x 16.7 cm), right: 71 15/16" x 10 1/8" x 10 1/8" (182.8 x 25.7 x 25.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-S0528nears)

Although Nevelson originally considered herself a painter, she turned to sculpture while teaching in the WPA from 1935 to 1939. This came after she had seen African and other non-Western sculpture on a visit to Paris in 1926. Her early sculptures were Cubist in conception, but during World War II (1939–1945) she came under the influence of Surrealism. It was at this time that she began collecting wood fragments and objects from the streets of New York. In 1943, she created the first complete room environment in the history of American art. It consisted of constructed and found objects. This established her as a pioneer of American abstract sculpture.

Nevelson had a decidedly jaded attitude toward marriage, emerging as she had from a divorce. Dawn’s Wedding Feast was part of an exhibition in 1959 at the Museum of Modern Art called Sixteen Americans. The original installation consisted of four wedding chapels, a cake, chest, mirror, pillow, several attendants and a bride and groom, all in white-painted, abstracted wooden forms. The installation did not sell because of its large scale so Nevelson broke it into sixteen stand-alone compositions

Hyman Bloom (1913–2009, US, born Latvia), The Bride, 1941. Oil on canvas, 20 1/8" x 49 7/8" (51.1 x 126.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-P1756)

Bloom’s family emigrated from Latvia to New York in 1920. As a teacher in the WPA from 1935 to 1940, he taught students to rely on memories to help them create expressive compositions. Many of his works are the result of his memories of his childhood in Latvia, Jewish folklore, and even the occult. His style has variously been called Boston Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism, because he exhibited with Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky. However, his works of the early 1940s show an abstract potential that would make him one of the earliest Abstract Expressionists.

Bloom achieved fame when he took part in the groundbreaking modernist exhibition Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States, from which show MOMA bought The Bride. The Bride is an example of his interweaving of dream and spiritual imagery into a narrative composition. The somewhat eerie figure of the bride is overwhelmed by feelings, hopes, and dreams in the form of symbolic objects such as flowers that completely enfold her. 

Nan Goldin (born 1953, US), The Parents’ Wedding Photo, Swampscott, Massachusetts, 1985/2006. Silver dye bleach print on paper, 11 9/16" x 23 1/8" (29.4 x 58.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Nan Goldin. (MOMA-P4569)

Goldin left home at the age of thirteen, and took up photography at the age of fifteen, eventually studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Alienated from her family, she hung out with other disaffected young people on Boston’s streets and documented the rough, often violent relationships, both friendships and romantic, from the late 1970s through the 1980s.

Her work evolved out of the Snapshot Aesthetic, a style that mimics the casual, amateur photos taken by people in public and private moments. Snapshots, taken out of love to recall people, places, and good times are also about creating a recorded personal history. Because of her many bad experiences in relationships, Goldin has a certain mistrust of the image projected of love, marriage, and family by American TV shows of the 1950s. This stark, isolated view of a wedding photo in an empty bedroom has a certain air of melancholy, although it is documenting a commonly cherished goal of many people.

United States, Double Wedding Ring Quilt, ca. 1930. Pieced cotton on cotton backing, 68 1/2" x 65 3/16" (174 x 165.7 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5156)

I’ve always considered quilts to be of the fiber arts medium. They were traditionally considered “woman’s work” until the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s effectively pointed out the contribution women have made to the arts of all media throughout history, quilting being one of them. The Wedding Ring and Double Wedding Ring quilt patterns have traditionally been made as wedding presents.

The pattern of interlocking rings may be as old as the 1400s or 1500s in Europe, but was first published as a quilt pattern in the US in 1928. The pattern had previously appeared on ceramics and coverlets of Pennsylvania German settlers as early as the 1600s. The history of many quilt patterns is usually obscure because they are created under a variety of different names such as Pincushion, Endless Chain and Friendship Knot. Of the many legends about Double Wedding Ring origin, the typical “romantic” version ascribes the pattern to couples who were too poor to afford wedding rings, and a good-hearted female relative supplied them with a quilt such as this so they would have them.

Dan Rakgoathe (1937–2004, South Africa), Moon Bride and Sun Bridegroom, 1973. Linoleum cut on paper, 16 1/2" x 25 9/16" (42 x 65 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-P0371)

Rakgoathe’s education as an artist in South Africa under Apartheid is a singularly inspiring example of an artist persisting in his effort to produce not only his own work, but encourage students he taught to become artists. He was a philosophical loner, with an interest in spirituality and mysticism. This is clearly visible in his prints, especially those produced between 1968 and 1976, when he taught art at the Jubliee Art Center in Johannesberg and the Mofolo Arts Center.

Like many of the artists who worked at the Rorke’s Drift art colony, Rakgoathe preferred the linoleum cut medium. He effectively translated the stylized figure style of African sculpture into these mystic subjects. The idea of a Moon Bride and Sun Bridegroom is a Judeo-Christian concept based on the archaic, misogynistic idea that the bride, like the moon does not give off its own light but reflects that of her husband, the sun. Yech.

Korea, Bride’s Robe, late 1800s to early 1900s. Embroidered silk panels, gold-wrapped silk thread embroidery, paper lining, sleeve width: 40 1/2" (103 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5206)

This is probably not the type of garment one would see on Say Yes to the Dress, but I think it’s a lot more interesting. It’s worn with a voluminous, high-waist dress. The volume of the dress helps the bride catch dates and chestnuts thrown to her by her in-laws, symbols of future offspring in her marriage. That’s in the second part of the traditional wedding ceremony at the groom’s parents’ house.

I never thought I’d believe something I saw on the TV show MASH, but I guess the first part of the traditional ceremony is simply the bride and groom drinking wine from a shared gourd. I guess the gourd is grown by the bride’s mother?

Ghana, Dyula bride wearing Fatia Fata Nkrumah type Kente cloth, 1970. Photo by Wilfred Owen. © 2016 Davis Art Images. (8S-11082)

The Ewe, Fante, and Asante cultures of Ghana all claim the origin of kente. Among the Asante, the women traditionally process the cotton and the men weave the cloth. The cloth is woven in 4" (10.2 cm) wide strips that are subsequently sewn together to form bolts of cloth. The loom used is a traditional wooden backstrap loom.

Originally made from white cotton with some indigo patterning, kente cloth evolved when silk arrived with Portuguese traders in the 1600s. Fabric samples were pulled apart for the silken thread, which was then woven into the kente cloth. Later, when skeins of silk became available, more sophisticated patterns were created—although the obscenely high cost of the imported silk meant they were only available to Asante royalty.

In the 1960s, the Kente Weavers of Ghana, led by the Adanwomase Weavers Association, honored the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (1960–1966) with a Kente cloth by name, Fatia Fata Nkrumah, in a colorful ceremony. This pattern has an especially complex pattern to weave. The colors in kente cloth are symbolic. Blue and purple symbolize, appropriately for a bride, peacefulness, harmony, good fortune, and love. 

Louis Godey (publisher, 1830–1898, Philadelphia), Wedding Fashions, “Godey’s Illustrated Lady’s Book,” volume 82, January 1871. Hand-colored lithograph on paper. © 2016 American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. (AAS-168)

Now these wedding dresses start to approach the big glamour of Say Yes to the Dress! I think the bustle looks a lot more appropriate on a wedding dress than it would on something to wear to work. In 1871, the hoop skirt (crinoline) of the 1860s had evolved into the sort of half-hoop skirt with a (collapsible) wire cage only in back—the bustle! It’s still a lot of material. I don’t think this fashion was meant for women in practical everyday lives, but I sure do love to see a room full of Miss Kitty’s from Gunsmoke!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Not Quite Bedhead, But…

Yesterday I woke up with a terrible case of “bedhead.” My hair seriously looked like it used to in the late 80s when I purposely got it to look that way with a can of Aquanet. That got me to thinking about the many busted hairdos of history that I’ve seen in works of art. Let’s subtitle this week’s posting “tidbits of fashion history—hairdos.”

Ancient Egypt, Head from a Female Sphinx, ca. 1876–1842 BCE. Schist, 15 5/16" x 13 1/8" x 13 15/16" (38.9 x 33.3 x 35.4 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1147)
I know that the Egyptians shaved their heads because of the heat and wore wigs on special occasions. Although, I think a buzzed head is cooler than a wig. Just my opinion. What’s interesting about this beautiful sculpture is that this artist chose to make sure no one would wonder if this was a wig an Egyptian woman would wear on this semi-divine creature. Sphinxes were traditionally lion bodies with a human, often female head. This one seems like a portrait. Her wig reminds me of how big my mother’s hair used to be in the mid-1970s.

Ancient Rome, Portrait Head of a Woman, 100–125 CE. Marble, height: 13 3/4" (35 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-552)
This hairdo appears on many portraits of wealthy Roman women during the Trajan-Hadrian era on ancient Rome (ca. 98–138 CE). For such an idealized face on this woman, the artists certainly took pains to reproduce her curls. I can’t even imagine how much work this look took every morning, or, perhaps, this style was reserved for special occasions. Flavian hairstyles such as this were achieved with padding and artificial curls to create height. The writer Juvenal (60–130 CE) commented that Roman women looked tall from the front but short from behind. 

Pakistan, Bust of a Bodhisattva, 100s–300s CE. Gray schist, 28 3/8" x 19 3/4" x 8 1/4" (72.073 x 50.17 x 20.95 cm). © Dallas Museum of Art. (DMA-20)
After Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, his conquests of Asia disintegrated into numerous contentious petty kingdoms run by his erstwhile generals. The Romans took over Alexander’s conquests eventually, establishing trade with China via the Silk Road that ran north of India/Pakistan. Indian artists were exposed to Greco-Roman sculpture that influenced some of the (thought-to-be) earliest images of the Buddha with decidedly Greek influence. I’m fascinated by this artist’s interpretation of Greek curls. I’m wondering if it was under the influence of Greek sculpture that the “ushnisha” (or “topknot”) came about in depictions of the Buddha, since it was never mentioned in accounts of his physical appearance. The ushnisha came to be a symbol of Buddha’s reliance on the spirit.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464, Flanders). Madonna and Child, ca. 1454–1464. Oil on wood, 12 9/16" x 9" (32 x 23 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-10)
Even though religion usually focuses on the life of the spirit, it’s amazing the visual symbols artists had to resort to in order to put a point across when realism was a concern. Rogier van der Weyden was one of the masters of the Northern Renaissance, where artists were the first in Europe to prefer oil paint to tempera. What’s compelling in his depictions of the Madonna is representing the medieval idea that a high forehead indicated wisdom. Apparently, some women at the time shaved their hairline back to look more “thoughty.”  I doubt such a trend would catch on nowadays.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464, Flanders), Portrait of Jean Gros, left wing of a diptych, 1460–1464. Oil on panel, 15 1/8" x 11 3/8" (38.5 x 28.8 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-389)
And, yes, at the same time, boy bangs were really popular. 

Nicholas Hilliard (ca. 1547–1619, Britain), Portrait Miniature of a Woman, ca. 1590–1595. Watercolor on vellum, 2" x 1 5/8" (5 x 4.3 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1165)
Queen Elizabeth I (died 1603) of England suffered from smallpox when she was 29. Not only did it damage her skin to the point where she supposedly used makeup of lead mixed with egg white, she also suffered hair loss. She wore wigs of curls exposing a high forehead (no longer, I guess, a sign of wisdom?). Needless to say, the women of her court imitated the fashion, because she was a much beloved ruler.

Jean-Jacques Caffieri (?) (1752–1792, France), Bust of the Sculptor Corneille van Cleve (1646–1732). Marble, height: 27 1/2" (70 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CM-361)
Since the 1500s, long hair for men was fashionable. The French powerhouse King Louis XIV (1638–1715) always prized his flowing locks. Unfortunately, starting in 1655, he began losing his mane. Thus was begun a fashion of wigs for men that endured until the late 1700s in Europe, as courtiers adopted wigs to soothe the ruler’s ego. Louis is reported to have hired 48 wig makers for his personal collection. This portrait of the sculptor Corneille van Cleve shows one of the most glamorous styles of men’s wigs. Is this where the term “bigwig” originated?

Joshua Johnson (ca. 1765–1830, US), Portrait of Edward Aisquith, ca. 1810. Oil on canvas, 22 1/2" x 18 3/8" (57.2 x 46.7 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2763)
During the height of fervor for classicism in the West (ca. 1780s to 1810s), all sorts of fashions were inspired by “antique” dress, including hairdos. Men’s hair was brushed forward to imitate the forehead curls of such ancient greats as Julius Caesar (100–45 BCE). In France the style was called “coups de vent,” literally “blows of the wind,” because, we all know such glamour is achieved merely by walking outdoors on a windy day. Nowadays, a look like this might be mistaken for a combover?

Gosotei Toyokuni II (1777–1835, Japan), Bust Portrait of a Courtesan, late 1820s. Color woodcut print on paper, 14 3/8" x 9 1/2" (36.5 x 24.2 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2741) 
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), Shinowara of the Tsuruya House. Color woodcut print on paper, 14 15/16" x 9 13/16" (38 x 25 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-942)

During the Edo Period (1615–1868) in Japan, the Ukiyo-e prints chronicled the latest fashions as worn by famous beauties in the entertainment districts of Japanese cities such as Tokyo (Edo) and Osaka. What started in the 1700s as understated elegance in hairpins shown in the work of artists such as Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), by the late Edo period became gaudy and overdone. Note the stunning poise of Gosotei’s model with the weighty hairpins. I especially appreciate the “X” framing her face with the delicately penciled in eyebrow situation. Gosotei was the most prolific and most copied artist of actor and beauty prints from Osaka. 

Paul Delaroche (1797–1856, France), Portrait of Madame de Therville, ca. 1830. Pastel and chalk on paper, 8 5/8" x 8 1/4" (22 x 21 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-350)
What succeeded the Neoclassical period was Romanticism. One would think that people would prefer the simple hairstyles of antiquity. But no, hair gradually grew in scale from the 1820s until it reached ridiculous complexity in the 1830s. Notice any similarity to the Flavian woman from Ancient Rome above (well, except for the dour look on this woman’s face)? These styles were often festooned with ribbons and flowers for really special occasions. Again puffs and pads helped achieve these up dos.

Papua New Guinea, Malagan mask, late 1800s. Wood, paint, opercula shells, lime plaster, plant fiber, rattan, 15 1/4" x 9 1/2" x 12" (38.7 x 24.1 x 30.5 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-614)
The Malagan was a ceremony to honor a deceased person or spirits of deceased ancestors. “Malagan” refers to both the ceremonies that occur after burial, and the masks, figures, and posts made for us in them. This mask used for the Malagan is called “tatanua” after the dance for which it is used. The mask is danced in pairs or in groups of dancers. The spirit of the deceased was traditionally thought to enter the mask. It is possible that such masks were “portraits” (stylized) of the ideal male. They were meant to honor the deceased, ward of malevolent intentions, and sever the deceased from possessions in the physical world. The feather part of the mask imitates the hairstyle worn by young men for Malagan ceremonies, in which the head was partly shaved and the hair stiffened with lime (healthier than Aquanet?). Learn more in my post from April 21st

Sylvia Sleigh (1916–2010, US born Wales), Annunciation: Paul Rosano, 1975. Oil on canvas, 90 3/16" x 51 15/16" (229 x 132 cm). Photo courtesy of the late artist. © 2016 Estate of Sylvia Sleigh. (8S-18364)
Yes, this hairdo has made a comeback in the 2010s. I love the work of Sylvia Sleigh because she turned the tradition of the “nude” on its head during the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s. Before that time, the word “nude” in art was almost always associated with a female model. Sleigh went one better with her male models—rather than idealizing the nude as was traditional—by delineating every hair on their bodies, if you know what I mean. 

Alex Katz (born 1927, US), Red Tie, 1979. Oil on canvas, 71 13/16" x 96 1/8" (182.5 x 244.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P1643kzvg)
Anyone who lived through the 1970s can appreciate the unique sophistication and elegance of men’s fashions from that period. All I can say about this painting is that at least they don’t have lumberjack beards and man buns.

KC, 1986
Speaking of glamour, poise, and sophistication, this is what the well-groomed art historian with an MA did with his hairdo in the mid-1980s. And yes, I did go to work on the subway in Chicago everyday looking like this!