Monday, January 28, 2013

National “Something” Month IV: Books

Basil Besler (1591–1629, Germany), Tulips, leaf from the book Garden of Eichstätt (hortus Eystettensis), 1613. Hand-colored engraving on paper, 47 x 39 cm (18 1/2" X 15 3/8"). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-595)

Rounding out our “national something month” is National Book Month. You can probably imagine that I would not feature just a run-of-the-mill book for this blog. I choose instead one of the fascinating “firsts” in art history: a book of plant studies.

Depictions of flowers and plants have long been a key subject matter in art.

Ancient Egypt, Blue Lotus Chalice, from Abydos, Tomb D115, ca. 1479–1353 bce. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-690)
Ahmad Lahori, Taj Mahal, marble wall, detail: flowers in high relief, 1632–1654. Agra, India. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-10114)
Xia Chang, Bamboo Under Spring Rain, ca. 1460. Ink on paper, mounted on handscroll, 53 x 947 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2741)

During the Renaissance (ca. 1400–1600) in Western Europe, the scientific study of plants was revived with new vigor, based largely on the revival of classical learning and the emphasis on a better knowledge of the physical world. Many artists specialized in botanically accurate depictions of flowers, much as John James Audubon (1785–1851, US) specialized in birds and animals of North America. Basil Besler was one such artist. He was a pharmacist in Nuremberg and was in charge of the bishop’s gardens at Eichstätt. In 1597 the bishop instructed him to create a botanical garden on the grounds of Willibaldsburg Castle.

Besler documented this huge garden in the first Western book dedicated to species of flora. The book depicts 349 German, 209 southern and southeastern European, 63 Asian, 9 African, and 23 American species. In 1613 it was the most comprehensive modern book on plants in existence. Because Besler was not a scientist, he gave informative literature pertaining to each plant, including both the German name and Latin. The book contained 1086 illustrations, most in the plant’s natural size. What makes the book unique is that the depictions of flowering plants focused on them as objects of beauty, and was greatly influential in floral still life painting during the Baroque period (1600–1750). His book deviated from the non-aesthetic representations of flowers from previous periods, and set the standard for flower books in the following centuries.

Studio activity: Nature sketch. In imitation of a print, experiment with pencils, markers, or crayons to create different types of lines. Do not worry about a balanced composition, or extreme detail in roots, etc. Simply try to capture the definitive shape of the flowers and leaves. Finish by coloring with watercolor or markers.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.20; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.2; Exploration in Art Grade 5: 4.19, 4.20; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 7

Monday, January 21, 2013

National “Something” Month III: Hot Tea

Japan, Tea bowl,1600s. Oribe (earthen) ware, height: 7 cm (2 3/4"). © Philadelphia Museumof Art. (PMA-2467)

I am sure most of you did not know that January is also National Hot Tea Month. Although the tea served in this bowl was most often cold by the time it was consumed, I feel that it is a beautiful tribute to the idea of TEA. What works of art can you think of that conjure up steak, or Brussels sprouts, or quinoa (and don’t tell me about plastic bulls on steak restaurants)? Certain works of art are synonymous with certain foods/beverages. For example, many ancient Greek vase shapes were meant to store specific food items, e.g., the kantharos was a drinking vessel for wine. I’m sure in Western art you can imagine an art form when I mention “tea.”

Joseph Albers (1888–1976, Germay/US); Bauhaus Metal Workshop (ca. 1919–1933, Dessau, Germany); Tea, Glass, Saucer, and Stirrer; 1925. Heat-resistant glass, porcelain, steel, and ebony; tea glass height: 5 cm, diameter: 9 cm. Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2013 the Estate of Joseph Albers / Artists Rights Society, New York. (MOMA-D0060abars)

The drinking of green tea has been known in China since the 300s ce. Tea planting began in Japan between 618 and 907 ce (Tang dynasty), the richest period of cultural exchanges between China and Japan. During the Nara period (710–794 ce), tea was consumed primarily by the wealthy and clergy as medicine. While tea drinking evolved from medicine to beverage in China during the Tang dynasty, it developed much later in Japan. Because tea was rare and valuable in Japan up until the 1200s, the Japanese formulated rules and formalities for its use, including the tea ceremony. Zen Buddhism was introduced into Japan around 1190 by a Japanese priest (Myoan Esai) who had studied in China. He is thought to have initiated the tea ceremony as a religious ritual. The strict rules of the tea ceremony are related to the Zen belief in paying attention to detail (in relation to being ready to receive enlightenment).

The tea bowl shape for the tea ceremony was quite different from those used for regular meals. Tea was ground into a powder before hot water was poured on it. It was then whisked in the cup with a bamboo whisk until froth appeared. By the end of the Muromachi period (1573), the tea ceremony had reached its peak of popularity with all classes in Japan. The typical space was small and sophisticated, devoid of decoration in order for concentration on the ceremony. Most often, one cup of tea was passed from one guest to another. There were even rules for the preferred type of tea bowl: typically simple in decoration with thick walls. The irregular rim speaks to the idea of spontaneity prevalent in Zen, in the sense that one never knows when enlightenment might come.

Studio activity: Create a personalized tea bowl. Using the pinch method, make a tea bowl that symbolizes personal values or likes. Take a ball of clay and press the thumb into the center. Keep turning the ball, pressing the clay from the bottom towards the top. Rotate the vessel with fingers on the outside and thumb on the inside to create the desired size bowl. Decorate either with applied clay designs or with slip painting.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Exploration in Art Grade 3: 6.35; Exploration in Art Grade 6: 4.22; A Personal Journey: 3.4; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 6; The Visual Experience: 10.6, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 4.4

Monday, January 14, 2013

National "Something" Month II: Soup

William Heath (1795–1840, Britain), Microcosm Dedicated to London WaterCompanies Brought Forth All Monstrous, All Prodigious Thigs (sic), Hydras, andGorgons, and Chimera Dire, Vide Milton (Paradise Lost)—Monster Soup, CommonlyCalled Thames Water, Being a Correct Presentation of that Precious Stuff DoledOut to Us, 1828. Hand-colored etching on paper, 29 x 40 cm (11 7/16" x15 3/4"). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-556)

 I bet you all did not know that January is National Soup Month. Well, instead of showing you a cozy, pre-1900s depiction of a cute rural child eating soup, or one Warhol’s endless depictions of Campbell’s Soup cans, I thought I would show you a different kind of soup. It’s interesting because it’s part of a genre of art that few people ever pay attention to, but one that is seminal to contemporary satire, newspaper cartoons, even New Yorker Magazine cartoons: the political cartoon.

The political cartoon evolved during the mid- to late-1700s in Western Europe, and quickly spread to America during the American Revolution (1775–1787). It was used for a variety of reasons: to mock the entrenched aristocracies of Western Europe, to parody fashion and social trends in rather cruel manners, and to address social problems in a humorous manner (although there was always a hint at criticism of government). It is generally acknowledged that the heyday of British satirical art began with William Hogarth in the mid-1700s and ended in the mid-1830s when Victoria took the throne with her stifling morality (she would not allow women in her court to wear hoop skirts because the ankles showed when they tipped). We see a much longer life for the genre in France in the work of artists such as Honoré Daumier (1808–1879).

This cartoon by William Heath falls into the “social problems” category. By the 1830s, London had one of its first major outbreaks of cholera due to the dumping of sewage (i.e. garbage, chamber pots, etc) into the Thames River. Typical of politicians, the British parliament did not act on sewer construction until 1858, the year of the “Great Stink” (when the stench of Thames water reached their noses in the Parliament building), and they hired architect Joseph Bazalgette (1819–1891) to design 5 major sewers to “save” London. Cholera was also a major problem in the US through the 1870s.

This image shows a London matron examining Thames water through (presumably) a microscope. An Anglican London cleric declared that “He who drinks a tumbler of London Water has literally in his stomach more animated beings than there are Men, Women and Children on the face of the Globe.” Thus, monster SOUP.

William Heath’s training is not known. Until 1820 he specialized in satirical prints of military subjects. After that he turned almost exclusively to satirical prints about society and politics. Some of the most humorous subjects of manners, morals, and fashion were etched personally by Heath.

Other political cartoonists from this period:

The Dying Patient, or, The Doctor’s Last Fee, 1786. Aquatint, 24 x 29 cm. © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-564)
Canvassing for Votes, 1757. Engraving, 43 x 56 cm. © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2013)
Monstrocities, 1822. Hand-colored etching, ca. 24.8 x 29.6 cm. © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-845)

Studio activity:  A cartoon depicting a current ecological problem: Using fine tipped markers, and colored pencils or color markers, create a cartoon that satirizes (makes fun of or mocks) a contemporary environmental problem. Choose from climate change, rainforest depletion, frakking for natural gas, massive oil spills, etc. Make sure to include text or dialogue that makes clear what the subject of the cartoon is, and be sure to make it humorous rather than deadly serious. 

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.19; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 3.14; Exploring Visual Design: 1; The Visual Experience: 9.4

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

National "Something" Month: Bath Safety

Nicholas Clayton, attributed to (1840–1916, US), Bathroom of Sweeney-Royston House, Galveston, TX, 1885 and 1900–1906. Photo © 2013 James Coberle. (8S-28577)

 January is National Bath Safety Month. To celebrate that, I’m showing you an image from the Sweeney-Royston House in Galveston, TX. Granted, it is not the epitome of safety, like a walk-in tub, but I think it’s absolutely priceless. It is in the historic Silk Stocking District of the city that features houses that date from the Civil War period (1860–1865) to World War I (1914–1918).  Although most of these houses had to be rebuilt after the hurricane of 1900, the neighborhood features a variety of historic late-1800s styles of domestic architecture. Can you think of a more charming bathroom than this, complete with chandelier? And how about this early version of the flush toilet? This is the siphon design that sends standing water in the tank to flush out the bowl, a design that was popular in the 1880s and is still used today in the UK.

Sweeney-Royston House, form Southeast (8S-28573)
This house, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by James Moreau Brown (1821–1895), as a wedding gift for his daughter Matilda (died 1926) and her husband Thomas Sweeney (died 1905). A Judge Royston and his two sisters lived in the house from 1911 until 1954. The house, variously labeled “Victorian Cottage,” “Eastlake,” and “Queen Anne” style, falls under the stylistic trend of late 1800s architecture that rejected the Gothic and Romanesque Revival styles that were so prevalent in the US at the time. Key elements of the style are projecting dormers with columns and pediment; cut out patterns on a prominent—often wrap-around—porch; and tall, thin chimney. Because of Galveston’s prominence as a seaport, this house includes a mariner’s wheel motif in the cutouts of the porch.

Nicholas Clayton was born in Galveston and became a well-known architect throughout the South. He is primarily known for his work on grand private residences, but also he also worked on schools, churches, and commercial buildings. Clayton’s preference was to combine decorative elements of several revival styles (see this blog post for more about revival styles). American architecture of the late 1800s mimicked great styles of the past. The revival styles reflected influences from Ancient Greece through Baroque architecture. This house was largely devastated during the hurricane of September, 1900, and was rebuilt under Clayton’s supervision in the same style. An interesting feature of this bathroom is the conveniently low, wide bath tub.

Studio activity: Using pencils to make a sketch and then crayons or colored pencils to fill in the shapes, design a bathroom with features that seem to make it a safe bathroom. Be aware of the size of the space being designed, and the convenience of features such as ramps, sliding doors, and rails for handicap accessibility. At the same time, try to design it so that it is colorful and inviting to use.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.11; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 6.34; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 3.15-16 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4.23; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 5; The Visual Experience: 11.4

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

Mary Petty (1899–1976,US), The New Year, cover illustration for The New Yorker magazine,published December 31, 1949. Watercolor and ink on paper, 43.2 x 31.5 cm (17"x 12 7/16"). Photo © Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-P1770)

Between the 1700s and early 1900s, women artists were not standouts in public exhibitions of art. They were, however, always front and center in painting miniatures, genre scenes, portraits, and illustrations, as well as creating textile and ceramic art. In fact, they were instrumental in producing illustrations for numerous magazines during the 1800s. Only in the early 1900s did they begin to assume a leading role in magazine illustration, getting credit for their work.

In the rich history of women illustrators in American art, Mary Petty is a true standout. The daughter of a professor of law and a schoolteacher in New Jersey, she painstakingly taught herself art. She concentrated on drawing from childhood, always displaying a satiric nature. In 1925 she met the New Yorker cartoonist Alan Dunn and he encouraged her to try to sell her work. With his encouragement— she eventually married him— she published her first drawing in The New Yorker in 1927.

Dunn published 1,915 illustrations for the prestigious New Yorker between 1926 and 1974. Although Petty was not as prolific as her husband, she managed to establish a distinctive style in comic illustration, just as he had. Petty is most famous for her depictions of Manhattan upper-middle class society, particularly the character seen here, the housemaid “Fay.”  Fay was seen as the American “every person,” one who worked hard for a living, but occasionally found time to bust out. Sometimes, Petty’s depictions of Fay’s life were poignant, as we see here: Fay blows a horn to celebrate New Year, albeit through the bars of her “below the stairs” reality. If this doesn’t speak to the disparity of income in the US in the 21st century, nothing will, and it’s over sixty years old!

While Petty’s work was compared to that of William Hogarth (1697–1764, Britain) and Honoré Daumier
(1807–1879, France), both political and social satirists, Petty’s work was much gentler in its subtle comments about American society in the mid-1900s. However, like Hogarth and Daumier, Petty’s works reflected the changing society in which she lived. In many ways, like Daumier’s and Hogarth’s prints, Petty’s covers for The New Yorker magazine reflected the last gasp of a social order that she witnessed changing before her eyes.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Fox Fires on New Year’s Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji, #188 from “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” 1857. Color woodcut, 34 x 22 cm. © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-836)
Honoré Daumier, The Janitor on His Round of Visit on New Year’s Day, plate #5 from the series Silhouettes. Lithograph, 33.65 x 26.35 cm. © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-2203)
Takahashi Karuka, Postcard: New Year’s Card with Airplane, 1920s. Color lithograph on card stock, 8.8 x 13.8 cm. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1070)

Studio activity: Draw a scene of everyday people celebrating the New Year. Establish a main character that embodies the ideals of everyday people, such as Fay. Make a drawing in pencil and modify it by erasing and adding elements, such as setting, costume, etc. Color the scene with markers or colored pencils, making sure that the colors suit the mood desired for the scene.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 2: 5.28, Explorations in Art Grade 3 1.3, Explorations in Art Grade 4 1.4, Explorations in Art Grade 5 1.2, A Community Connection: 2.3, Exploring Visual Design: 4