The seven deadly sins | Otto Dix | 1933

•May 9, 2013 • 8 Comments
The seven deadly sins | Otto Dix | 1933

The seven deadly sins | Otto Dix | 1933

Otto Dix was born in Germany and began painting with his cousin. As a teenager, he joined the army to fight for his country in the First World War. After three years, he was discharged and awarded with an Iron Cross for bravery. His experiences in the front will influence the artist to paint the horrors of war.

From the moment he leaves the army, Dix begins to meet other painters and, over a period, he joins several artistic movements. He got close to the Expressionists, to the members of the Dresden Secession, to the Berlin Secession and, finally, in 1925, he joins the group of the Neue Sachlichkeit, the New Objectivity, which will be associated forever with the name of the artist.

The term New Objectivity, like American positivism, implied a practical, pragmatic relationship with the world. That is why they rejected the subjectivity and romanticism of expressionism. The New Objectivity movement was deeply critical of society: in those times of financial and political instability, where the gap between rich and poor increased; Dix will portrait the reality behind the curtain: the prostitutes, the unemployed and veterans of war.

But everything changed when Nazis seized power in 1933. Like many others, Dix was listed as a degenerate artist and many of his works were burned. He was also forced to join the Reich’s Chamber for Fine Arts, promising that he will only paint inoffensive landscapes. He did not.

In this period, Dix produced canvases that disguised critics to the Nazi ideals . The seven deadly sins is one of them. Here, the artist uses a medieval allegory to portrait the seven deadly sins of the Catholic tradition with the magic-realist style typical of the New Objectivity.

In the foreground, Envy, symbolized by a child wearing a mask, rides Greed, who takes the form of an old woman holding a bag of money. As you can imagine, the characteristic mustache of the Führer on the mask of the child was added after the war, when there was no danger of retaliation. Behind them appears Sloth, a person dressed as a skeleton with the heart removed, representing Death. The position of the members of this figure resembles the swastika. With this symbol, Dix criticized German society that allowed the rise of Hitler to power with its silence and conformity. Behind and to the left we see Lust, dancing and trying to breast-feed Death. To its right, Wrath is shown as a horned demon. Behind  the scythe, we see the head of Pride, which has an anus for mouth. And finally, Gluttony, on the far right corner of the painting, is symbolized by a figure with a pot on his head that holds two symbols: in its right hand, the symbol of infinity and, in his left, a rod with the symbol of the Christian fish.

Monastery | Ian Fairweather | 1961

•April 25, 2013 • 4 Comments
Monastery | Ian Fairweather | 1961

Monastery | Ian Fairweather | 1961

Ian Fairweather, considered one of the most important artists of Australia, lived an adventurous life, characterized by a constant search for new experiences.

While living in France, he joined the allied army and was captured by the Germans during the First World War. He spent four years as a prisoner of war. When the conflict ended, he studied art in several institutions in the Netherlands and in England.

Later he began to wander the world: he travelled thorugh Canada, China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. He established in Australia, the country in which he will develop the majority of his work and will become known as an artist.

In his old age, Fairweather went to Darwin, on the northern tip of the island, and decided to row across the Timor Sea with a canoe. After more than two weeks adrift, he reached the coast of Indonesia. Dehydrated, was immediately deported back to Australia. In Briebie Island, off the coast of Queensland, the artist built a hut with his own hands, and lived away from society for 20 years.

His experiences influenced his art. Although Fairweather may be considered an abstract artist; he was greatly influenced by Asian art, cubism and Australian primitive art.

His best known painting is Monastery. It is thought that this work illustrates his brief stay in a monastery near Beijing, China. According to the artist’s own words, at the moment he stayed in that place, he was impressed by the contrast between northern China’s cold, snowy winter; and the warm interior of the temple, where small candles burned at night. That’s why the tones of painting are white-grayish, combined by little strokes of yellow. In the canvas, circular figures appear in rectangular compartments, which resemble to people resting in their beds.

The artist, proud of his work, signs the canvas at the bottom-right corner with his initials, next to the Chinese ideogram “auspicious”.

A view down a corridor | Samuel van Hoogstraten | 1662

•April 19, 2013 • 6 Comments
A view down a corridor | Samuel van Hoogstraten | 1662

A view down a corridor | Samuel van Hoogstraten | 1662

After the death of his father, the artist moved to Amsterdam, where he joined Rembrandt’s school of art, in the middle of the Golden Age of Dutch painting.

In addition to his skill for the painting of interiors, Van Hoogstraten was very interested in art theory, especially in the writings of Leon Battista Alberti, one of the first art theorist of the Renaissance. Such was his interest that he even will write his own theoretical treatise.

His paintings will be based almost exclusively on the laws of perspective. In his city, he was known for his peepshows, rectangular wooden boxes painted inside according the anamorphic perspective where, through a lens, one could see a three-dimensional image, for example, the interior of a house.

A view down a corridor is a canvas the artist painted while he was living in England. The painting takes literally Alberti’s principle which states that works of art should be as convincing as if they were seen through a window. The point of view and the amount of details, confirm that the artist took very seriously Alberti’s ideas.

Hoogstraten's peepshow

Hoogstraten’s peepshow

In the scene, we see the main corridor of the house of Samuel Pepys, a British official, close friend of Van Hoogstraten. The corridor is long and the arches divide three rooms of the house. The elements placed in the foreground (like the broom and the dog), the floor with black and white tiles and the mirror’s reflection in the second room, increase the illusion of three-dimension and the feeling of depth.

Currently, this work is hanged at the end of a corridor in the Museum of Dyrham Park, England.

Deer scroll | Tawaraya Sotatsu and Honami Koetsu | Early 17th century

•April 12, 2013 • 7 Comments
Deer scroll | Tawaraya Sotatsu and Honami Koetsu | Early 17th century

Deer scroll | Tawaraya Sotatsu and Honami Koetsu | Early 17th century

Sotatsu and Koetsu formed one of the most important artistic collaborations in the history of Japan.

Koetsu belonged to a family of swords polishers (in Japan, different people forge, polish and sharpen a sword), who worked for the Imperial Court. The artist was considered a “renaissance man”, because he excelled in several different crafts, such as sculpture, tea ceremony (cha no yu), and, most importantly, Japanese calligraphy (shodo), for which he was know throughout the Empire.

Sotatsu, instead, was a manufacturer of decorative papers and also supplied the Imperial Court. He was known primarily for his paintings and was famous for a technique called “wet on wet” that allowed him to paint on top of another paint still fresh. The Japanese admired the spontaneity of his painting since they recognized the difficulty in controlling this technique.

Both artists will associate to create works of art that combine the disciplines of Japanese calligraphy and painting. They will illustrate classic poems and, for 15 years, they will produce countless works of art. Sotatsu and Koetsu will become the germ of the Rimpa art school, which will be consolidated by Ogata Korin.

The Deer scroll illustrates a series of 28 poems from the New Collection of Classical and Modern Japanese Poetry, an anthology that began to take shape in the year 905 and was completed in 1439.

The extract shown here is the beginning of the series. At first glace, we can see that the Deer scroll shows the characteristics typical of the paintings from the Edo period: a composition consisting of a single motif, where empty space has the same fundamental importance as the area covered.

The brushstrokes from Koetsu’s calligraphy are firm and confident; Sotatsu’s deer, by contrast, is delicate and fragile. The search for balance is shown throughout the whole scroll which, although extensive, flows like music.

In this link, you can access the full scroll to see all the details and translations of the poems:

Deer scroll

Standing male nude with a red loincloth | Egon Schiele | 1914

•April 5, 2013 • 2 Comments
Standing male nude with a red loincloth | Egon Schiele | 1914

Standing male nude with a red loincloth | Egon Schiele | 1914

Considering the insistence of the young Schiele, his poor school performance and inability to relate to his peers, his uncle authorizes him to move to Vienna to pursue a career in art. He is accepted in the Academy of Fine Arts of the city but he drops out before completing the first year, disappointed by the conservative teachings of the institution.

He then decides to find Gustav Klimt, an artist for whom he had the utmost respect and admiration. At that time, Klimt was already renowned, especially for being the leader of the Viennese Secession, a avant-garde collective that opposed the traditionalism of the Association of Austrian Artists. Klimt immediately acknowledges the skill of the teenager for the painting of portraits and becomes his teacher.

Schiele had a great ability for drawing: as many of the expressionists of the time, he painted each portrait quickly, without hesitating. He never corrected his work: if he was not satisfied with the result, he just discarded the sheet he was working on and began a new one. While at first his paintings resembled those of Klimt, as time passes, they become increasingly bizarre and grotesque. The extremely thin figures of his nudes are shown in extravagant and unnatural poses. Several of them, sexually explicit, caused a widespread rejection in the conservative Viennese society. The artist was even accused of corruption of minors and spent a short time in jail.

Schiele had an obsession with self-portraits. Standing male nude with a red loincloth is one of them and, like the rest, it has no background. The fact that the artist is isolated in his works speaks of the emptiness and isolation he experienced. Schiele’s body here appears distorted through firm and confident strokes, and his hands twist his head at an impossible angle. The bright-red loincloth covering his genitals is associated with the intensity of sexual impulses and interrupts the lack of color in the rest of the canvas. His more than a hundred self-portraits attest the narcissism of the artist who, through these paintings, explored his own self, his anguish and loneliness.

Summer | Giuseppe Arcimboldo | 1563

•March 22, 2013 • 2 Comments
Summer | Giuseppe Arcimboldo | 1563

Summer | Giuseppe Arcimboldo | 1563

The Arcimboldos were from southern Germany, but a branch of the family migrated to northern Italy. Giuseppe was raised in Milan and, as an adult, he joined his father in his job as a painter of frescoes in the cathedral of the city.

In 1551, Ferdinand of Bohemia traveled through Milan and commissioned the artist, already locally recognized, to paint five coats of arms of his family. The king was so impressed with his work that he insisted to hire him as the official painter of his court, but Arcimboldo refused and worked for a few years more in northern Italy. In 1562, he fulfills the request of the king, now turned into emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and began working in Vienna and Prague.

The artist, depicted as an eccentric with a great talent in the records of that time, makes portraits of the people of the court by compositions with inanimate objects. These portraits, of course, were not official, but catapulted his fame among the nobles of the sixteenth century.

But Arcimboldo also enjoyed painting just for the sake of it, and not just to get an economic return. Thus he began working on “The seasons”, a series of four paintings which portrait himself through compositions of different objects. In Summer, the most known painting, we can see his self-portrait composed by green leaves and ripe fruit, all representing the season that entitles the canvas.

But beyond the curiosity for his work, what we need to understand is that these paintings were completely experimental for the time. Until that time, the art was either religious or historical, but always realistic. Arcimboldo’s paintings, on the other hand, were something totally new. No one painted with a similar style for 300 years later.

Perhaps for this reason, his work will remain hidden until the twentieth century and will only be appreciated by the surrealists, especially Dalí, who found inspiration in the Italian master.

*The artist’s work is cataloged as late mannerist due to the “close relationship between men and nature.” However, from Silver and exact, we believe that this categorization is completely forced and purely based on a timeline. Arcimboldo’s art has absolutely nothing to do with mannerism, and anyone who says otherwise knows nothing about life.

Miss Cazenove on a Gray Hunter | Jacques-Laurent Agasse | Beginning of 19th Century

•March 8, 2013 • 9 Comments
Miss Cazenove on a Gray Hunter | Jacques-Laurent Agasse | Beginning of 19th Century

Miss Cazenove on a Gray Hunter | Jacques-Laurent Agasse | Beginning of 19th Century

Before his 20th birthday, Jacques-Laurent Agasse moved from Switzerland to France, with the idea of studying animal anatomy at a school of veterinary in Paris. He returned to his country and, around the year 1800, a wealthy Englishman asked him to paint a portrait of his dog, which had died recently. Agasse honored the commission and the Englishman, surprised by the quality of his work, takes him to London, where the artist will continue painting animal portraits. More specifically, equestrian portraits.

Miss Cazenove on a Grey Hunter shows us Miss Cazenove going to hunt. Without any doubt, the woman belongs to the British upper class, which enjoyed sport hunting. The “gray hunter” refers to the horse she is riding sideways gracefully. Below right, a hunting dog, also typical of this type of activity, runs along with them.

Looking at the painting, it is not hard to realize that, for Agasse, the main character is the horse, no matter the title of the canvas. While we see him galloping in a dignified posture, the woman loses prominence and seems to appear incidentally in the painting.

Note for Woman’s day: perhaps these are not the best painting or post for celebrating your day, but please know that it was purely coincidental! 😉