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! 😉

The Hülsenbeck children | Philipp Otto Runge | 1806

•February 28, 2013 • 4 Comments
The Hülsenbeck children | Philipp Otto Runge | 1806

The Hülsenbeck children | Philipp Otto Runge | 1806

For the Romantics of the early nineteenth century, art was not a means to earn a living; through it, they strived to capture the soul of the people they portrayed. Runge was one of them, a mystic who, through his work, he tried to express the harmony of the universe.

The artist worked his motifs from several perspectives. Many of his paintings have a religious quality, with symmetrical compositions that remind us the canvases of Raphael. Other times, his paintings resemble the mystic paintings by William Blake. And finally, we find those that are purely romantic, as the case of The Hülsenbeck children, in which he portrays children of a business associate.

In this painting, we see the garden of a house located in a semi rural area. The two eldest children, a girl and a boy, pull a wagon in which the younger child, a baby, is seated. While the boy stares at us while lifting a branch, the older girl turns and stretches her hand to get the baby’s attention, who is also staring at us. Each child has unique characteristics that set them apart, indicating Runge’s concern for the essence of the individuals, what makes us unique and different.

Runge uses several technical resources in the painting. Lots of details to give it realism; the use of light to give intensity; and the use of perspective, evident in the fence, to give the painting a sense of depth. But probably, the most interesting resource is the point of view, which is situated at the height of children and makes us part of the scene.

Infographic | Most expensive paintings ever sold

•February 6, 2013 • 6 Comments

I found this infographic in Pinterest and I thought it was interesting enough to share it with you.

Via OverstockArt

Flag | Jasper Johns | 1954

•February 1, 2013 • 3 Comments
Flag | Jasper Johns | 1954

Flag | Jasper Johns | 1954

Similar to the artist of our last post, Johns developed most of his work in the transition period between the abstract expressionism of the 40/50s and the pop art of the 60s in the United States. As a result, Johns’s paintings are neither purely abstract nor purely pop. Rather his style has elements of both movements.

The artist used iconographic motifs such as maps, letters and numbers, so that, in his abstraction, a figurative element remains. Although some of his paintings have muted and dark colors, he commonly chose a colorful palette.

Flag | Detail

Flag | Detail

One night in 1954, Johns dreams with an American flag, which inspires him to paint Flag. He will repeat this motif more than 40 times throughout his life, and it will become his personal brand. For the version of 1954, Johns portrays the American flag in force at the time, which does not include the states of Hawaii and Alaska, and that, therefore, only has 48 stars.

More than a painting, Flag is a collage, since the artist used newspapers of the time and covered them with encaustic and oil, achieving a highly textured work. But what I like the most is the fact that Flag ages with time because the newspapers underneath become increasingly yellowish.

West interior | Alex Katz | 1979

•January 18, 2013 • 7 Comments
West interior | Alex Katz | 1979

West interior | Alex Katz | 1979

Alex Katz went to The Cooper Union to study Modern Art theories and techniques. He completed his education in 1949, when the abstract expressionism was the dominant paradigm in the late 40s in New York. Artists like Pollock, Rothko and De Kooning were putting the focus of their art in the expression of the unconscious without depicting formal objects or living things.

However, Katz didn’t care to be in style and never sought leaving figurative painting. Gradually, he began to paint fields of flat colors in his canvases, a main characteristic of his style. Katz was ahead of his time as this technique was mimicked by the pop artists ten years after. In the late 50s, Katz devoted himself to portrait his family and friends, as in West interior, painting in which we can look at his wife Ada.

Judith I | Gustav Klimt | 1901

•January 11, 2013 • 6 Comments
Judith I | Gustav Klimt | 1901

Judith I | Gustav Klimt | 1901

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about Klimt, in which I introduced the artist and, therefore, is not necessary to do it again here.

Today’s post is more intimate. However, before getting to my comments, we need a brief explanation of the painting.

The story of Judith and Holofernes is described in the book of Judith, part of the canon of the Catholic Bible. Different artists, from Caravaggio to Goya, have portrayed parts of this book. Today we have more than 100 representations of the story, including paintings and sculptures and, therefore, this is one of the most cliché motifs of all time.

The plot unfolds in the middle of a Babylonian invasion to the town of Bethulia, located in modern Israel. Judith, a beautiful young widow of high class, dazzles Holofernes, the general of the Babylonian army. Using her beauty, she infiltrates the enemy’s ranks until she gets an audience with Holofernes, who invites her to dinner. During the meal, Judith gives Holofernes a lot to drink and, once in the bedroom, completely drunk, Holofernes falls into a deep sleep. At that time, Judith takes a sword and decapitates Holofernes; action that leaves the invading army without its leader and precipitates the victory of the Jewish people.

Judith I is the first work of Klimt’s “golden period”, in which the artist uses gold flakes in his canvases. The paintings of this period are easily recognizable because they look like Byzantine or Russian icons. The artist’s brother helped Klimt with Judith I’s framework, also covered with gold flakes, in which we can clearly read the original title of the work: Judith and Holofernes. However, this title is almost ironic as the painting does not show two people interacting; rather, Judith covers almost the entire composition and only part the Holofernes’ head is shown at the lower right corner.

The reason this painting has always been controversial is because Judith, portrayed as “virtuous woman” in the Bible itself, becomes a cruel murderer. And Klimt even goes further, portraying her with an expression of pleasure, almost sexual, while holding the head of her enemy.

As you know by some previous post, I recently had the opportunity to visit Central and Eastern Europe. And in Gallery Belvedere in Vienna, I saw exhibited many of the artist’s canvases, including Judith I.

The museum curators have a strange habit that I still do not quite understand: you can walk through several rooms full of indifferent works (if my subjectivity is allowed), and suddenly, you turn the corner and there is in a room in which all most valuable and relevant paintings of the museum are hanged together. The Belvedere Gallery was no exception and exhibits The kiss and Judith I altogether. Undoubtedly, Klimt’s most important canvases.

And what happens when you enter in the room is strange. All these works together become unbearable. As if all the meaning they bring weigh over your head and make you dizzy. I honestly wanted to look at each of the paintings with their details with patience, but I had little success. I stood in front of The kiss, but I could not focus as I wanted: Judith I, hanging in the right, fixed her eyes on me with arrogance. Delicately, but glaring at me. Not many paintings agitate me. But Judith I is one of them. The contrast of looking at the tenderness of The kiss next to the murderous madness of Judith I in the same room is definitely disturbing.

Kissing the relic | Joaquín Sorolla | 1893

•December 7, 2012 • 2 Comments
Kissing the relic | Joaquin Sorolla | 1893

Kissing the relic | Joaquin Sorolla | 1893

Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla was one of the most prolific painters of his country with a catalog of over 2000 paintings. During his training, he went through several stages that defined his mature paintings. From a realistic phase, to an impressionist, he reached his “luministic” phase, by which he is most widely recognized.

Early in his career, Sorolla took part in painting competitions, which implicitly required his works to be dramatic, with historical or mythological motifs. The artist won several competitions, even painting canvases that weren’t much of his liking.

In 1883 he won a medal for his work Defense of the Parque de Artillería of Monteleón. This year is recognized as the beginning of his realistic phase. In this time, Sorolla was deeply concerned about the social unrest in which he was immersed, and sought to show it in his paintings. One of these canvases was Kissing the relic.

In the painting, we see the interior of the Church of San Pablo, in Valencia, where humble people gather around the figure of a priest to kiss the relic he is holding in his hands. In these women and children, we can see sadness, grief and suffering in their faces. In contrast, the priest’s face shows a grim and strict expression. On the left, we see an altar boy selling prayer cards. In this painting, Sorolla is in complete control of his brushstrokes. He illuminates the right area of the composition by placing the focus on the headscarf of the woman kissing the relic, keeping the left area in darkness. Sorolla paints the scene with great detail but, simultaneously, with a loose brushstroke. Not as perfect as the neoclassicals but not as loose as the impressionists.