Monday, July 27, 2015

A Neglected Japanese Printmaking Master

Gosōtei Hirosada (ca. 1819–1864), Middle sheet of triptych: Onoe Tamizō as Soma Tarō (right), Arashi Rikaku II as UtōYasukata (center), and Mimasu Daigorō IV as Takeichi Buemon (left) from the Play “The Story of Tarō, Scion of the Soma Clan,” in the Wakadayu Theater in Osaka, 1850. Color woodcut triptych on paper, 9 13/16" x 20 15/16" (24.8 x  53.4 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-5816)
Gosōtei Hirosada (ca. 1819-1864), Onoe Tamizō as Soma Tarō (right), Arashi Rikaku II as UtōYasukata (center), and Mimasu Daigorō IV as Takeichi Buemon (left) from the Play “The Story of Tarō, Scion of the Soma Clan,” in the Wakadayu Theater in Osaka, 1850. Color woodcut triptych on paper, 9 13/16" x 20 15/16" (24.8 x  53.4 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-5466)

I’m pretty sure there’s generally a misconception about the Ukiyo-e phenomenon in Japanese art. It is certainly one I had until I recently came across hundreds of gorgeous woodblock prints by a relatively obscure Ukiyo-e master, but master he was! The misconception, my misconception, is that the Ukiyo-e style was an Edo (Tokyo) art movement. The style name, “pictures of the floating world,” refers to the transient pleasures of life, primarily those in the pleasure districts (Yoshiwara) of cities. This was where Kabuki theater, brothels, restaurants with Geisha entertainment, and fancy teahouses were located. I never thought about the fact that most Japanese cities probably had Yoshiwara and, thus, the appeal of documenting the glittering fashions and events of those locales in multiple-woodblock prints. I have subsequently learned about the thriving print scene in the city of Osaka, and its active theater district, of which Hirosada was a major player.

There is no doubt that in the Ukiyo-e genre of printmaking, Edo (Tokyo) set the fashion not only in subject matter, but also stylistically starting in the late 1700s. Prints of the Kabuki theater evolved at that time, popularized by Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769–1825), who is equally famous for his actor portraits and interior views of Kabuki theaters. Toyokuni I established the Utagawa “school,” literally artists schooled by him who later adopted his surname Utagawa. These artists included the famous landscape artist Hiroshige (1797–1858), Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), and Kunisada (1786–1864, who also went by the moniker Toyokuni III). Many Osaka print artists studied under the Utagawa artists, and transmitted the fervor for Kabuki prints to that city from Edo. Notable aspects from Edo prints were the oban format (large prints), triptychs of actors set against theatrical backgrounds, and the large head prints (okubi-e). Within these Edo stylistic traits, however, the Osaka prints have a certain provincialism that informs the drawing style composition. Additionally, Edo prints were home of the aggressive Kabuki style (aragato, or, wild acting), which stressed universal ideas of heroism, fighting and display. I think this Kunisada aptly demonstrates that preference.

Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III, 1786–1864), Ichikawa Danjūrō as Unno Kotarō Yukjuji (Disguised as Yamagatsu Buō) in the play “The Barrier Gate” at the Ichimuraza Theater in Edo, 1828. Color woodcut on paper, 8 1/4" x 7 7/16" (21 x 18.9 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2671)
Osaka artists preferred the wagoto style, which emphasized speech and gesture. It was a more thoughtful and self-effacing style, which focused on individual human interaction rather than bombastic universal concepts. Little is known about Hirosada, save that he is thought to have apprenticed to an Utagawa school artist of Osaka, and studied alongside that artist in Edo with Kunisada. Hirosada is undoubtedly the most prolific of the Ukiyo-e print artists during the late flourishing of the art, which took place after the Tenpo Reforms of 1842, morals laws that banned Kabuki theater and prostitution and prints of those pleasures. By 1847 the laws had relaxed, but many artists, like Hirosada, started the practice of making exclusive sets of prints for discriminating clients. The prints from this period were jewel-like, printed in bright, enamel-like colors on thick paper.

Hirosada pioneered formats in Osaka such as the triptychs of large head prints, in which the characters interact with one another as they do the full-length characters in triptychs. Look at the gorgeous color in the ghost scene above. It is conceivable that Hirosada obtained his format of large head prints from Kunisada, but his prints are much more mannered, and the drawing is a little less sophisticated in the features. I am no expert on the subject, but I have never seen a large head print from the Ukiyo-e genre in which the figure busts the picture plane as the actor does in the center of this large head triptych. Don’t even ask me how that is achieved.

Gosōtei Hirosada (ca. 1819-1864), Nakamura Tomijurō II as Toki Hime (right), Onoe Tamizō II as Sasaki Takatsuna (center), and Arash Rikaku II as Miuranosuke (left) in the Play “A Chronicle of Three Generations in Kamakura” at the Minami Theater in Kyoto, 1849. Color woodcut triptych, 9 3/4" x 20 15/16" (24.8 x 53.4 cm)  © Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA-5610)
Hirosada’s work is a wonderful example of the last flourishing of a remarkable genre of printmaking lasting from the late 1840s to the late 1860s. The Osaka school of printmaking never really achieved such a rich and vibrant school of prints during the Meiji period (1868–1912), and it certainly never attained a greater print artist than Hirosada.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.9; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2, 1.1-2 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.4; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1, 1.4, 1.1-2 studio; A Personal Journey 1.3, 4.2; A Community Connection: 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Experience Printmaking: 3, 4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 12; The Visual Experience: 3.5, 9.4, 9.12, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.4

Monday, July 13, 2015

Horse Worship

Benjamin Marshall (1768–1835, Britain), Favorite Hunter of Lady Frances Stephens, 1799. Oil on canvas, 24 5/8" x 29 1/2" (62.6 x 74.9 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1261)
I recently became reacquainted with the British painting mania for horse portraits and hunting scenes that flowered between the late 1600s (in both Holland and Britain) and early 1800s. In the 1700s, this fad became so widespread among those with lots o’ money (who could afford to own a horse and go hunting), that a whole school of “horse and sporting” painters developed in Britain. George Stubbs (1724–1806) was the king of the horse painters, and published a book in 1758 on horse anatomy that is still referenced today, “The Anatomy of the Horse.” This whole genre is really an example of how the horse has been idolized throughout the history of humankind, since they were referenced in cave painting over 35,000 years ago. I can’t think of any animal that has served humankind in so many vital capacities as the horse. Truly, after the dog, human’s best friend!

The “animal and sporting” painters did not limit their work to animals, but were also skilled portrait painters of people. Most often the people portraits were part of the portrait of their most cherished horse or hunting dogs. In Britain, the cultivation of fine horses was definitely an upper-class pursuit, so that horse portraits such as Favorite Hunter of Lady Frances Stephen were obviously status symbols. One has to admire the fidelity to the textures of the horse’s hair accentuating the musculature accurately, and the noble air Benjamin Marshall’s portrait has given the horse. Marshall was a student of Stubbs. Since the demand for horse portraits was so great, Marshall concentrated on animals as a large part of his body of work, both painted and engraved. Another aspect of the horse and sporting paintings was portraits of race horses, often with their owners. Marshall spent most of his career living in Newmarket, London, near a race track.

Nicholas W.S. Leighton (1847–1898, US), Two Horses by a Wayside Trough, 1883. Oil on canvas, 7" x 9 1/8" (17.8 x 23.2 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3608)
Because American painting was heavily influenced by British painting during our early history, horse portraits became a moderately popular genre in the US as well. However, American horses were usually working horses from farms that had won county fair competitions, rather than pampered horses reserved for hunting or racing.

Ancient Greece, Horse, ca. 1750–725 bce. Bronze, 2 7/8" x 3" (7.3 x 7.7 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-860)
As in Britain, horses in ancient Greece represented wealth. Good pasture was expensive and very little money came from the government for their upkeep in time of war when they were used in the cavalry. They were used essentially for upper-class pastimes such as hunting and racing. Horseracing was such a big sport that it was incorporated into ancient Olympic games. Another major source of the love of horses came from religious stories of the gods traveling in chariots and of course from the famous winged horse Pegasus. Praises of the gods’ virtues always included their excellent horse skills. It was a common practice for people to make offerings at temples of small votive figures of horses such as this.

China, Horse, 618–907 ce. Glazed earthenware, 17 3/4" x 18 1/2" x 5 7/8" (45.1 x 47 x 15 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4900)
Throughout China's long history, no animal has played such a significant role in both society and art as the horse. Since its domestication about 5000 years ago, it became a vital way with which the Chinese defended and extended their kingdom. During the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1528–1028 bce), horses and their vehicles were buried with their owners to serve them in the afterlife. The Western Zhou period (1027–771 bce) measured military strength by the number of chariots available to a kingdom. During the Han Dynasty (206 bce–220 ce), the Chinese spent vast sums of money to import better quality horse from the West. During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 ce), horses were improved with better breeding practices, and through the importation of Arabic-style horses from the Middle East. From the Zhou Dynasty (1027–256 bce) through the Song Dynasty (960–1279 ce), the human and horse sacrifices were replaced by ceramic figures such as this glazed earthenware piece, as well as figures of familiar human attendants. The Han and Tang Dynasties are most renowned for the tomb figures of horses. The horse, like the dragon, was also an important religious symbol for the Chinese. Like the dragon, horses were thought to be able to fly. They were believed to be able, like the dragon, to carry the deceased to the home of the immortals (the afterlife). 

Deborah Butterfield (born 1949, US), Horse (Standing), 1977. Mud-fiberglass mixture with branches, 77 15/16" x 97 5/8" x 33 13/16" (198 x 248 x 86 cm). Photo Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago. © 2015 Deborah Butterfield / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (8S-21581bfvg)
Butterfield is renowned for her remarkably intuitive depiction of horses in a variety of found objects, and in found objects that are cast into more durable metal parts. She was born the same day as the Kentucky Derby, and attributes that auspicious birth date with her affinity for horses and the horse as subject matter. Although early on she had thought of studying to be a veterinarian, she instead decided to study sculpture. The horse became her primary theme from the very beginning of her career in the 1970s. She alternates her time between a horse ranch in Bozeman, MT and a studio in Hawaii. Butterfield does not make sketches for her horse sculptures, but rather “draws” the outlines of the animal with her found objects. She prefers to portray horses at rest rather than in motion, because she feels that at rest the gesture or movement are contained within her forms due to the materials she uses. Some recent works are constructed of metal casts of tree branches. Butterfield’s sculptures capture the essence of horses as faithfully as do Marshall’s paintings.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.connections, 4.23-24 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.connections; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.connections; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.9-10 studio; A Personal Journey: 5.6; A Community Connection: 3.2, 5.4; A Global Pursuit: 6.4; Beginning Sculpture: 4, 6, 2; Discovering Drawing: 9; Experience Clay: 3; The Visual Experience: 9.3, 10.2, 13.4, 15.4, 16.3, 16.7; Discovering Art History: 4.3, 6.2, 17.5

Monday, July 6, 2015

Happy Fourth of July Week

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828, France), Bust of Benjamin Franklin, 1779. Marble, 21" x 13 1/2" x 10" (53.3 x 34.3 x 25.4 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2761)

I would really have liked to have been around when George Washington was our first president! That must have been such an exciting (and challenging, to be sure) period in which to live. Everything about the new country was, well, new. Considering that Neoclassicism was a rising star art style in Europe at the time of our Revolution (spurred on by the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii in 1748), it’s no wonder that Americans embraced the style after our victory in the Revolution. What more perfect style—a harking back to the ancient democracy of Greece—to adorn the new country? On an art historical note (of course), one of the pioneers of Neoclassicism was intimately, as an artist, connected with the new United States: Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Houdon grew up in an art academy near Versailles, where his father was caretaker. At 15 he studied sculpture under the prominent sculptor Michel Ange Slodtz (1705–1764), an artist whose classicism was infused with Baroque drama. After receiving a scholarship for the French Academy in Paris, he studied under Carle Vanloo (1705–1765), a painter who specialized in genre scenes that were informed both by Bourgeois Baroque and Rococo sensibilities, and Francois Dandre-Bardon (1700–1785), whose scenes of classical history were infused with Baroque intensity. From 1764 to 1768 he studied in Rome, a time when the excavation of Pompeii excited new study of classical art. His study of ancient Roman art, and anatomy with a surgeon, banished the Rococo style from the direction of his personal style into one of classicism and physical realism.
Although his work was well received on his return to Paris, he never secured royal patronage. His patrons were mostly intellectuals, wealthy middle class, and foreigners. The Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784) admired his work and set him on the path to major commissions among German nobles, which landed him subsequent work in countries across Europe.
Houdon first met and befriended Ben Franklin when he joined the Masons in 1778, while Franklin was negotiating France's help for the American Revolution. Houdon did several versions of Franklin, in both marble and terra cotta. They are all busts, reminiscent of the ancient Roman penchant for memorializing ancestors, especially in the aspect of the incisive, unvarnished realism. Though a couple—in which Franklin is clothed in ancient garb—have a slight idealization, Houdon's mastery of anatomy produced a sensitive, revealing portrait that exudes intelligence, as well as gentleness.

Life mask of George Washington, ca. 1785. Plaster, 12" x 9" x 4" (30.5 x 22.9 x 10.2 cm). © Library Company of Philadelphia. (LCP-55)

Houdon’s friendship with Franklin led to commissions of prominent men of the new republic. In 1781 he executed a bust of John Paul Jones (1747–1792), the American naval hero of the Revolution, and, in the same year, a portrait of Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette (1757–1834), the French aristocrat who fought for the United States. In 1785, the state of Virginia wanted a commemorative sculpture of Washington, and Houdon sailed to America in September, returning to France in December. While here, he spent two weeks at Mount Vernon. Imagine our humble, reserved future first president getting life masks made of his face and having his arms, legs and chest measured by Houdon! This plaster version comes from that life mask. Doesn’t look like our dollar bill, does it?

George Washington, 1788–1791/1792. Marble, height: 74 1/2" (189.23 cm). Virginia State Capitol, Richmond. © 2015 Historic American Buildings Survey, National Parks Service. (APAH-104)

Aside from this regal portrait of our first president, Houdon also executed many busts of Washington, some with pseudo-classical raiment. Other early American notables Houdon sculpted were our third president Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and engineer/steamboat inventor Robert Fulton (1765–1815). Ironically, the artist who pursued Neoclassicism with such aesthetic integrity saw his career flag after the French Revolution (1787–1799), when the political opportunist/art dictator Jacques-Louis David (1748–1826) took over the French Academy during the Revolution and under Napoleon’s dictatorship. David’s idea of classicism was grand history painting that somehow edified the French government. He hounded Houdon out of many commissions, even accusing him of being a “counterrevolutionary” at one point. The French Revolution, which was supposed to instate American-type democracy, instead installed an emperor, and the greatest of Neoclassical sculptors saw his career dwindle in his later years.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.7; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.1, 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2, 2.7; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1, 1-2 studio, 3-4 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1; A Community Connection: 3.2; A Global Pursuit: 6.4; Beginning Sculpture: 5; The Visual Experience: 10.2, 16.3; Discovering Art History: 12.1