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Monday, October 20, 2014

Edward Burne-Jones

Sleeping Beauty The Rose Bower from the Legend of Briar Rose,
1880, Edward Burne-Jones 
Edward Burne-Jones, Self-portrait,
1898, painted by the artist from a
photo, shortly befor his death.
When we go to a movie or read a book we're seldom conscious of the fact that virtually every piece of fiction ever written has a long, interesting, often extremely convoluted history behind it. Take for instance, The Legend of the Briar Rose. I'd be greatly surprised if you've ever heard of it. I'd be almost as surprised if you've ever heard of the British artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones whose series of paintings from around 1880 was responsible for bringing, what was, even then, an old, old story, back to life, in effect, guaranteeing its continued popularity today. Since then the story Burne-Jones illustrated, not for a book, but for museum walls, has gone through many adaptations and variations. The tale dates to as far back as 1330, its heroine having gone through enough name changes to require a copy of Cliff's Notes for clarity and comprehension. She began as Little BriarvRose, later ;to be known as Talia, Briar Rose (apparently no being longer little), and Rosamond. Eventually, Walt Disney called here Aurora in his 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty.

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, 1881, Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin, 1874,
Edward Burne-Jones
Briar Rose wasn't the only saga to be brought to life by Edward Burne-Jones (top). He gave similar visual reality to Pygmalion, King Arthur, Merlin, the Canterbury Tales, Cupid, Psyche, and any number of historic mythological, even religious figures. His stained glass windows created in tandem with fellow artist William Morris highlight figures from the Old Testament and, indeed, Jesus Christ as well. His images of King Arthur, Guenevere, and Merlin may have influenced T.H. White's Once and Future King, and thus could well have been instrumental in bringing Camelot to the London Stage. Burne-Jones dwelling on Pygmalion probably did the same with regard to George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and thus My Fair Lady. Though she was quite British, there's no indication he had anything to do with Mary Poppins.

Edward Burne-Jones and
William Morris, 1874

Edward Burne Jones (the hyphen came later) was born in 1833 in the city of Birmingham (central England). His father was a Welsh frame maker, his mother died when he was six days old. Thus the boy was raised by a single father and a doting, but dull, housekeeper. Burne-Jones' first inclination was to become a minister, not an artist. He studied theology at Exeter College where he first met William Morris (right), later to become a major proponent of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters, but at the time, just another student like himself. They became life-long friends and eventually business partners. They both appreciated the art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, liked to read poetry (Ruskin and Tennyson), and visit Medieval churches. Sounds like a fun group!

The Council Chamber, Buscot Park, 1872-92, Edward Burne-Jones.

The Golden Stairs, 1880, Edward Burne-Jones
In the mid-1850s, both men got to meet their idol, Rossetti This kingpin of the Pre-Raphaelites made quite an impression on them. Burne-Jones gave up theology to study art while Morris reaffirmed his desire to paint, though few of his works survive (he was interminably slow and meticulous in painting). Moreover, Morris had too many other interests to allow him much time to paint. He was, however, in love with the Pre-Raphaelites to a degree not shared by his friend, Burne-Jones. Though Burne-Jones painting style resembles that of he Pre-Raphaelites in some ways, as seen in his Council Chamber, Buscot Park (above) painted in the 1870s, the artist found the group to be sexually pomiscuous and intolerably fussy. Rossetti was a strong influence, but he was not God. But then, neither was Burne-Jones. His work, all his life, was controversial, not so much for what he painted but how he painted it. The British Victorians liked their painting to be straight-forward and realistic. To the Ruskin-reading Brits at the time, Burne-Jones was neither. Although to our eyes, the element of realism may be reasonable enough, it in no way matched their admiration for the Pre-Raphaelites. The illustrative qualities of Burne-Jones' The Golden Stairs (right) was especially ill-received.

David's Charge to Solomon, 1882, Trinity Church, Boston, Burne-Jones and Morris.
During the early 1860s Burne-Jones first partnered with William Morris and others in the latter's stained glass company, designing quite a number of windows for churches all over England and as far away as Boston where David's Charge to Solomon (above), dating from 1882, can be found. Later the company began producing tapestries. Burne-Jones was their in-house designer. He was also involved in creating illustrations, many of which were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. Ironically, though he was not one, their influence over his work helped bring the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic style into the mainstream of British culture. Despite this, Burne-Jones differed fundamentally from the Pre-Raphaelites who considered the content of the paintning and its hyper-realistic rendering to be all important. For Burne-Jones, the concept of beauty was all-important, the painting having intrinsic value in its own right apart from any message, moral, or mystical meaning it might convey.

The Star of Bethlehem, 1890, Edward Burne-Jones
As quite often happens, Edward Burne-Jones outlived his fame. Art changed. He didn't. By the time of his death in 1898, his reputation was already in steep decline and it didn't improve at all during most of the 20th-century as Modern Art came to dominate virtually every aspect of the art world. Yet Burne-Jones' thinking as to art, beauty, and their intrinsic value were not far removed from that of Manet, Monet, Renoir, and his other French counterparts who were to lay the groundwork for Modern Art. Burne-Jones was not without influence in the arts, but it tended to be literary, writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling (who was his wife's cousin) and others mentioned above...and apparently Walt Disney too.


Edward Burne-Jones' first Pygmalion series (below) seems almost like a stop-action movie as he explores the progression of love from infatuation to consummation. All date from the 1870's and 80s.

The Hand Refrains
The Heart Desires
The Soul Attains

The Godhead Fires


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jacques Raymond Brascassat

Odette, a Maltese on an Embroidered Cushion, Jacques Raymond Brascassat              
Jacques Raymond Brascassat Self-portrait
Some of the most beloved portraits we have today do not involve human subjects. Human portraits are considered valuable only if the subject is famous, or the artist is famous, or if there is a historic factor involved. Otherwise, once those who remember the individual have all died, the portrait becomes "just another pretty face"...or not, depending on the face. There is too much sameness to most portraiture for the painting to be considered outstanding art in its own right. Of course, exceptions abound, Sargent's Madame X, for instance, Gainsborough's Blue Boy and others come to mind but such paintings are rare. However, portraits of animals are often revered long, long after the portrait's subject has passed away. The early 19th-century French artist, Jacques Raymond Brascassat, painted prime examples of what I mean. In effect, the portrait of a once beloved pet remains a pet, with the added advantage of no longer needing to be fed, bathed, and allowed access to the outdoors to "do its business." (Don't you just love euphemisms?)
A Bull in a Landscape, Jacques Brascassat
As his self-portrait (above) indicates, Jacques Brascassat could paint people as well as the next thousand or so French portrait painters of his time (he was born in 1804). On the other hand, he painted cows, cats, chickens, and dogs considerably better than most. As his A Bull in a Landscape (above, suggests, he did okay painting bulls too). Any kid at a county fair would be proud to parade such a magnificent, noble-looking animal. (I'm about to have a Big Mac attack.) Thanks to Brascassat, we can voice our appreciation of such a painting long after it's subject has had his fun in the sun and succumbed to the bun.
A View of Bordeaux, 1822, Jacques Brascassat--not a grapevine in sight.
Brascassat, as his name suggests, was French, a native of the Bordeaux region, which is about as French as one can be. He didn't start out to be a bull-painter but began by painting unexceptional landscapes. He studied in Paris, probably at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, judging by the fact he won the 1825 Prix de Rome allowing him a free trip to the Italian art mecca and what came to be eight years studying antiquities and how to paint them while rendering quite a number of highly prized (and praised) Italian landscape. Italian landscapes were seen as more romantic than French landscape for some stupid reason. Who knows why.
A Bull Fight, 1855, Jacques Bascassat--where's the matador?
White Bull and Other Animal,
Jacques Brascassat
When Brascassat returned home in 1835 he displayed his landscapes in Paris and was probably rather chagrined to find that what appealed most to buyers were the animals he'd pretty much randomly included in his work. So, in seeing a golden opportunity, he seized it; enlarging the importance (and size) of his landscape animals to the point the landscape part became a largely inconsequential background to the real action, such as his most famous work, The Bull Fight (above) from 1837. His Cows Attacked by Wolves (below) from 1845, is just as dramatic. The French love their cows, apparently more than Italian landscapes. In any case, Brascassat became extremely good at what he did not to mention rich and famous, the most important animal painter in mid-century France.
Cows Attacked by Wolves, 1845, Jacques Brascassat
Greyhound Resting in a Chair, 1836,
Jacques Brascassat
But Brascassat's talent for painting animals did not begin or end with livestock. He also became popular for painting pets, which was almost as important an art specialty then as it is now (lots more people have pets now than then). His sweetly elegant Maltese, Odetta (top) and his sleek, slender Greyhound Resting in a Chair,painted in 1836, shortly after his return to Paris, demonstrates the appeal of his work to both French genders. He even managed to combine one of his canine subjects with the French admiration of a well-rendered still-life as seen in his Spaniel with a Still-life of Dead Game, from 1837--perfect for the 19th-century French man-cave.
Spaniel with a Still Life of Dead Game, 1837, Jacques Brascassat
Giraffe Crossing, 1827, Jacques Brascassat
Though no where nearly as popular as dogs, Brascassat also knew how to paint cute kittycats as well (bottom), not to mention giraffes (as seen in his Giraffe Crossing, (left) perhaps painted at the Rome zoo during his student days in that city around 1827). His repertoire also included sheep and goats with the occasional shepherd and sometimes a pretty mademoiselle for human interest. Jacques Raymond Brascassat died relatively young, in 1867 at the age of sixty-three, before having to deal with the revolutionary changes coming to French art with the advent of Impressionim. Portraits of him, by himself and others, are about as vacant looking as portraits are allowed to be. Even the museums which own them probably don't display them much. However, his animal portraits have a timeless charm that few would find bland or boring. And, they don't bark when someone comes to visit.

A Small Family, Jacques Brascassat. Best of all, his sweet, playful little kittens never become Brascassat CATS.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Emile Claus

The Beet Harvest, 1890, Emile Claus
(Unlike most of his others, this one was quite massive in size.)
Emile Claus, Self-portrait, 1873
There is today the misconception among many painters that in order to gain notice and be successful they need to create grand paintings on a grand scale. There's nothing really new about this, artists have been doing it since Michelangelo first climbed up the scaffolding in Julius II's private chapel. Of course, it worked for Michelangelo, and I suppose, there was a time for a few centuries thereafter when there may have been an element of truth in such an assumption. Today, such egomaniacal scale simply isn't necessary nor necessarily desirable. Just look at what had happened to the size and scope of museums of contemporary art. Today, if an artist painted a 747, they could probably find room for it. That might be a slight exaggeration but in visiting a contemporary art wing of LACMA in Los Angeles, I stepped onto a passenger elevator big enough to hoist a car. An artist such as Emile Claus probably wouldn't get very far today.
Poverty, (no date), Emil Claus--something he knew well and strove to avoid.

The Cockfight, 1890, Emile Claus
Emile Claus did not paint many gigantic museum pieces. Most were modest sized canvases most of us could find a place for on our living room walls. Likewise, his content was not in any way controversial nor high minded, but simple portraits, genre, and landscapes. There were no religious pieces, no Greek mythology, no indecipherable allegories. He was, in every way, a pretty down-to-earth fellow. Like many young men of his day (he was born in 1849) he had to struggle to become an artist. His father, a grocer, was more than willing to pay for drawing lessons for his young son at the local art school. And even though he graduated with a gold medal, the elder Claus balked at any thought that his teenage son should attend the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts in his native Belgium. Instead, he insisted the boy train as a baker, and later, as the boy rebelled, as a railway clerk.
On the Way to School, Emile Claus. The artist claimed to have walked
three kilometers to school each day (probably up hill both ways).
Claus in his studio (after 1900).
Young Claus was nothing if not persistent (stubborn?). He enlisted the aid of a professional artist friend of the family, Peter Benoit, to help his persuade his father to allow him to further his studies in art. With no small amount of reluctance, his father agreed, provided the boy pay his own way. Whether he thought that would deter his son or not, it didn't. He learned to paint, graduated, then set up his studio in Antwerp, apparently doing quite well for himself. By the time he was thirty-four, he could afford to buy a house on the coast where he lived, worked, and spent the rest of his life, dying there in 1924 at the age of seventy-five.

Ice Birds, 1890, Emile Claus (my favorite of all his paintings).
Lady in the Garden, 1924,
one of Claus' final paintings.
Every major artist creates during his lifetime one or two works deemed by art historians to be critical masterpieces. Claus' came in 1890, his The Beet Harvest (top). It's important in that it provides a starting point from which we can watch as the man's style and content evolved in the ensuing years. It is unabashedly an example of academic Realism. All his painting above were from this period. Although not what we'd today consider wealthy, Claus was sufficiently well-off as a result of his portraits and teaching to allow him to travel broadly all over Europe wherever his paintings were being exhibited. It was also sufficient to attract the attention and life-long devotion of an attractive female student, Jenny Montigny, who was twenty-six years younger than he. Claus' success and travels allowed him to meet and learn from French artists such as Auguste Rodin, Emile Zola, and Claude Monet. Primarily he was influenced by Monet to the point he took up Impressionism (long after it was fashionable to do so), even going so far as to imitate his new-found idol almost to the point that his work might easily be mistaken for Monet's.

Haystacks in the Snow, (after 1900), Emile Claus--Monet-ish.

Waterloo Bridge, 1918, Emile Claus
Then, in 1914, amid his international success, the war came and Claus and his young artist companion fled to London where he took to painting the city impressionistically just as Monet had done in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War came to his doorstep. Here we can see Claus' evolution, his versatility, or some my say his inconsistency of style. His paintings of London's Waterloo Bridge (below) vary a great deal from only slightly impressionist to near abstraction. His Waterloo Bridge in the Sun (below) from around 1917 appears more like the work of the English painter, John Constable, than that of Claude Monet. However his Waterloo Bridge (right), dating from 1918, is pure Monet, perhaps even beyond Impressionism to a James McNeill Whistler type bridge.

Waterloo Bridge in the Sun, ca. 1917, Emile Claus
Water Lily, Emile Claus.
After the war, Claus returned home to his house by the sea in Belgium only to realize what many artists have discovered after a few years of absence, that fame is fleeting. The era of Modern Art had begun in earnest. His signature Luminism style was all but forgotten. Picasso was "in." Claude Monet was "out." Impressionism was seen as old fashioned, and the Surrealism of his fellow young countryman, Rene Magritte left him totally mystified. After a 1921 "last hurrah" show in Brussels, Claus died at his home in Astene, muttering the words, “Bloemen, bloemen, bloemen…” (flowers, flowers, flowers.)

Cows crossing the Leie, 1899, Emile Claus
--a riot of color and activity flirting with Impressionism. 


Friday, October 17, 2014

Tourist Artists

San Marcos, 1881, Auguste Renoir. The "oil sketches" of the Impressionists
fortunately sped up the painting process in a busy piazza like San Marcos.
There was a time when, if an artist became relatively successful, his or her first inclination was to go hopscotching around the world, loaded down with paints, easel, canvases and all the other baggage any respectable painter could accumulate and reasonably expect to use in order to capture the local color of the places visited. As one of those artists today, I'm quite grateful that those times have long passed. By and large, the pocket camera, and especially digital pocket cameras have eliminated, not the urge to travel, but the travails of being a tourist artist. Moreover, the pace of modern-day travel is simply too rapid to allow an artist even a fraction of the time needed to paint such international landmarks. A couple years ago we lavished two whole consecutive days on the city of Venice. Had I decided to paint San Marcos, sitting up folding chair, canvas, easel, paints, and umbrella to ward off both sun and rain (this gets more laughable by the moment), I wouldn't have had time to see even the inside of the church, much less anything more than a quick, baggage-laden glimpse of any other part of that wonderfully colorful city. Had I decided to set up and paint in the middle of San Marcos Piazza, I would, in fact, have become a tourist attraction myself. I wonder if Renoir felt that way when he painted the church in 1881 (above).
The Peterhof Grand Cascade, 1901-17, Alexander Benois.
Yet, dozens of famous artists down through history have done just that, not just in Venice but in virtually every city in Europe. I'm quite grateful they braved the elements and the stares of fellow tourists to do so. I love seeing such painted landmarks and comparing them to what I saw, and the photos I've taken so as not to have to go through what they went through. Sometime between 1901 and 1917, the Russian painter, Alexander Benois set up his canvas upon an easel at the base of the Peterhof Palace Grand Cascade to paint the dramatic man-made waterfall above. With far less effort, I took a couple digital shots, combined them, to create the painting below.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Peterhof Cascade, 2012, Jim Lane (The frame leaks a little.)
Several years ago I visited the tiny Sicilian town of Taormina with it's centuries of historic architecture and genuine Sicilian ambiance. I wasn't, of course, the first artist to do so, though in searching for the work of other artists also captivated by the picturesque Piazza Del Duomo, I found that the place is in no danger of overexposure. The image (below, left) is a watercolor by an unknown artist. The one (below, right) is an acrylic painting titled Picture Taormina (2010) by an almost unknown artist--me.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Picture Taormina, 2010, Jim Lane
Piazza del Duomo, Taormina.
Fishing Harbor, Capri, 1928,
Constantin Gorbatov.

Another favorite painting locale of mine is the Isle of Capri. I've done three or four paintings based upon scenes I've captured with my pocket Canon. A painting by Konstantin Gorbatov, Fishing Harbor, Capri, (left, 1928) captures the look and feel of the place as it was over eighty years ago, possibly painted from a photo, but more likely on location. My two versions of the Gorbatov's "fishing village," which is, in fact, the island's Marina Grande (the red brick building in the center is a local landmark) are seen below, each viewing the port from opposite directions. My two paintings were drawn from several photos (my own and from the Internet) and painted with a palette knife. They were designed to be hung one over the other as a pair. My photos were apparently taken at low tide.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Marina Grande, Capri, 2010, Jim Lane
Copyright, Jim Lane
Marina Grande, Capri, 2011, Jim Lane
Villefranche-sur-Mer, ca. 1920, Jacques Weismann
On the southern coast of France, what we've come to know as the French Riviera, is a small touristy town called Villefranche-sur-Mer, neatly lodged between Nice and Monaco. That's a very expensive, prime piece of real estate, though you many never have heard of the place. From a painter's point of view, unlike Capri and Taormina, it's definitely overexposed. It does have an excellent (though shallow) harbor. Cruise ships love it. Jacques Weismann undoubtedly was not the first artist to paint this lively, colorful harbor in 1920 (left) but, in comparing it to my two views (below), it's surprising how little the scene has changed in over ninety years.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Villefranche Harbor, 2001, Jim Lane

Copyright, Jim Lane
Villefranche Street, 2001, Jim Lane

Finally, on this side of the pond, this past spring, I joined a long, historic line of artists who have trekked to our Grand Canyon, situated on the Colorado River, which has engraved its magnificent vistas into the landscape of three western states (Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona). Although quite a number of gorgeous paintings by artists such has Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt have indelibly imprinted our minds with its stark, rugged beauty, I found it quite hard to do justice to it with my puny little Canon. It's simply too damned BIG. Even stitching together a panorama from several shots doesn't help much unless you want a painting five times wider than it is tall. So, rather than try to imitate the great American landscape artists of the past, I chose to bring to mind the final, climactic scene of a great American movie in which two high-flying, liberated women choose to visit the Grand Canyon up close and very personal. My version isn't as breathtakingly beautiful as Moran's but it is "breathtaking" in its own way. In all fairness, keep in mind that Moran painted his version in 1904 before the place was littered with 1966 Thunderbirds.

Grand Canyon ,1904, Thomas B. Moran
Copyright, Jim Lane
A Grand Canyon Visit, 2014, Jim Lane