Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Painting Shakespeare

 The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1849, Sir John Gilbert
Most people have seen all or parts of a Shakespearean play, probably not on stage, but on TV or perhaps as a movie. However, long before there was TV or the movies...I almost added, long before there was Shakespeare...but certainly less than a century after there was Shakespeare, artists were presenting on canvas and as etched illustrations in books, scenes from some of his plays. The first of these were published about 1709 with the first edition of Shakespeare's collected works. That's only ninety-three years after the playwright died of unknown causes in 1616.

Until recently, Shakespeare appearance was based upon the etching above. Since 2006, most Shakespearean scholars have come to accept the painting at the top by an unknown Jacobean artist as the only authentic portrait of Shakespeare, also the basis of the etching.
Before Pages House.
The Merry Wives of
Windsor, Act I, Scene I.
Robert Smirke, R. A.
The first major effort in creating paintings of Shakespeare’s characters was the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, which operated in London from 1789 to 1805. This major project enlisted artists to interpret scenes from Shakespeare’s plays as well as imagining some of the scenes he described. The choice of characters and moments from the plays are often the most popular on stage: the ghost appearing to Hamlet, Falstaff being bundled into the buck basket. But sometimes the artists responded to Shakespeare’s descriptions of events such as the murder of the princes in Richard III and the horseback entrance into London of Richard II and Bolingbroke. Each of John Boydell's illustrations were based upon a painted image--all 167 of them.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V, Scene IV. A Forest, Angelica Kauffmann, R. A.--the only woman artist involved
in Boydell's Shakespearean enterprise.

Shakespeare Attended by
Painting and Poetry,
c. 1789, Thomas Banks
William Shakespeare penned some thirty-eight plays, with Henry VI (Part 2) being the first, dating from about 1591. He would have been twenty-seven at the time. Henry VI (Parts 1 and 3 also date from 1591 but were not written in chronological order). As tricky as it is to attach definite dates to Shake-speare's plays, ascertaining even approx-imate dates of paintings and etching by dozens of artists based upon them is near impossible. Boydell's collection of published etchings was put together over a period of ten or twelve years. Many of the artists were among the most outstanding England had to offer. However, many others were not. They were hurriedly commissioned to flesh out the lesser plays and were far below par. Critics took notice. As a result, Boydell's private art museum and publishing effort became insol-vent in 1803.

The lower image by Stothard from around 1800, does
not depict a particular scene but was one of the first
to depict Shakespeare's characters. The upper
image is from the 19th-century.
Macbeth Consulting the
Vision of the Armed Head,
1793, Henry Fuseli
In the years following Shakespeare's death, his literary stature grew, but the popularity of his work declined for most of the 18th-century. Boydell's misguided ef-fort, along with the paintings of artists he employed, such a Sir Joshua Reynold, and Angelica Kauffmann, helped to revive Shakespeare's reputation, not to mention the demand for Shakespearean art. How-ever it mostly through the efforts of the man below, actor/producer/playwright/po-et, David Garrick that Shakespeare's plays and their popularity endured. Be-sides the lead role in Richard III, Garrick also took on Shakespeare's King Lear, and in 1743 added Hamlet to his re-pertoire. Then In 1769, Garrick staged the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a major focal point in cementing Shakespeare as England's national poet. The festival involved a number of events held in the town to celebrate (five years too late) 200 years since Shakespeare's birth. Ironically, no Shakespeare plays were performed during the Ju-bilee, and heavy rain forced a Shakespeare Pageant to be called off. The Pageant was later staged at the Drury Lane Theatre under the title, The Jubilee. It proved successful through some 90 performances.

William Hogarth's portrait of David Garrick as Richard III dates from 1745.
Children acting the play scene
from Hamlet, 1863, Charles Hunt

Falstaff in the Laundry Basket,
John Henry Fuseli



Monday, June 26, 2017

Garage Art

Garage door art. Yes, those are portraits.
Over the past several months I've discussed interior design elements for nearly every room in most homes...except one. Perhaps that's because most people hardly consider their garage a "room." Very often, they don't even think of their garage as a place to store their car. Instead, it's a place for storing virtually everything but the car. And alas, it's not often people plan the décor of their storage room. Look below. Which garage "décor" most looks like your own?
You know it's time to clean out the garage when
your neighbors take up a collection
to pay your moving expenses.
As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to clean out the garage before you even consider redecorating it. As a general rule too, men usually consider the garage as the last vestige of their ruling domestic domain. The strange thing is, we spend tens of thousand of dollars decking out the basement as an opulent "man-cave" while risking life and limb just to wedge their automobile into an overstuffed garage. We consider the garage simply as little more than a place to toss the empty boxes from which came the 70-inch HDTV, stereo, recliner, and wet bar used to outfit the man-café.
Time for a garage sale.
Only if the alpha male is into auto mechanics, woodworking, or antique car restoration does the garage become the center of his world; and even if that's the case, most such men are far more concerned with their vehicle and tools than the décor amidst which they exists. Their reasoning boils down to: "If I straighten up the garage, I won't be able to find anything when I need it." Or: "Why bother? A week from now it'll just need to be cleaned up again."
Hope your neighbors have a sense of humor too.
Once the area is tidy, unleashing ones creative "juices" on a garage begins not in the garage itself, but with the garage door. It's an excellent place to tease the eyes of the neighbors by creating a fool-the-eye painting or applying a graphic similar to those above. As an artist with a modicum of drawing skill and some degree of painting expertise, the possibilities are limited only by good taste. (You wouldn't want the neighbors throwing raw eggs at your version of a nude Mona Lisa perched on the hood of a fake Thunderbird, now would you?)
I'm not sure I'd recommend a white floor in any garage, but
beyond that, any of the above would be an improvement
over the junkyard annex look.
There's no rule that says a garage can't be as attractive as any other room in the house. If there is a rule, it's simply, let the décor follow the room's function (never vice-versa). As eye-catching as it might be, there's no point in trying to decorate a garage like a 1950s malt shop. Men, indulge your personality. If you're obsessive compulsive, go for the neat, clean, minimalist look (upper image). If you're into the antique, there's no reason a garage can't become a sort of museum...up to a point, at least. Above all, exercise your freedom of choice. It's YOUR garage. You can do things with it your wife wouldn't even consider anywhere else in the house. Color your world bright red, or steel blue if you daring.
Call it the Museum of Modern Autos (MoMA).
And finally, as an artist, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that very often garages have "acres" of bare walls (even it they're concrete blocks). Paint them a dull, solid color, then turn your garage into an art gallery. Choose a theme...transportation perhaps, or only cars, old "filling" stations, even abstract expressionism. Fernand Leger would look good in any garage. Below are a couple automotive paintings I still have (reasonably priced) while below them are offerings of other painters with a vehicular bent. (That's "bent," not dent.)
A couple of my more postmodern efforts (acrylics on wood). Both works have about a half-inch of depth.
Garage art, from carscapes, to sexscapes, to landscapes.
This would General Lee be appropriate
for most garages.

Wearable garage art.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Francis Danby

Shipwreck, Francis Danby
Very few creative individuals choose to become artists. Still fewer do so for the money (try to restrain your laughter). Although the money may be a part of any such incentive, the more common reason is a deep-seated personal need to create. Other motives may involve a hope for praise and recognition of ones work, and perhaps some degree of fame (which, of course, is the least likely of all to be realized). Anyone choosing to become a professional artist who doesn't ponder these career factors is quite naïve and almost certainly destined for failure. Relying on natural talent, seeking academic training in some art form, and exhibiting a dogged persistence in the face of adversity are all important. But taken alone, none of these advantages and attributes are sufficient to guarantee success. I think I can safely say that the most important item in an artists lifetime success is simply, daring to be different...VERY...different.
A View in Wales, 1826, Francis Danby
Every day I search through dozens of biographies of artists of every era and type. Again and again I see this one, single, personal attribute (or its lacking) standing apart as the key element as to where an artist resides in the pantheon of greatness. Those lacking it get trod under foot on the front steps--a law of nature, as it were, carved in the stone of those temple steps. Moreover, it's not enough to simply be "different." Most artist are a little odd, either personally or through their work. The glue that binds talent, training, hard work, and all the other artistic success factors together resides in the one word boldly printed above--VERY.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Real America, 1970, Jim Lane. Different, yes, but not VERY different.
Dutch Windmill, 1828,
Francis Danby
The British painter of the early 19th century named Francis Danby, despite his best efforts, was one of the steps leading to the art pantheon who was trod under foot for the very reason I mentioned above. I must confess, I re-present one of those well-worn steps as well. I like to think my work has been both technically proficient and creatively "different." However, for various rea-sons, some due to my own lacking and some not, my work has not been different enough. It has not been VERY different. Danby was mostly a landscape painter painting in a Rom-antic style, but of insufficient means to be able to ignore his family's financial needs in order to break free from the norm as did his far more successful peers, J.M.W Turner, John Constable, John Everett Millais, and those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who were VERY different, each in his own way.

The Delivery of Israel--Pharaoh and his Hosts
overwhelmed in the Red Sea, 1825, Francis Danby

Francis Danby, 1860
Francis Danby was Irish, born in Killinick, County Wexford, in 1793. He moved with his family to Dublin during the 1798 Wexford Uprising. After being left penniless by the death of his father in 1807, he went on to study land-scape painting at the Royal Dublin Society art schools. At the age of 20, he visited the Royal Academy Exhib-ition in London with his artist friends George Petrie and James Arthur O'Connor, and was much impressed with Frosty Morning by J.M.W. Turner. However, this expedition was under-taken with such inadequate funds, it quickly came to an end. The three ended up having to walk back to Bristol. They paused at Bristol when Danby found they were unable to pay for a single night's lodging. Danby managed to raise the cost of their room and board by selling two sketches of the Wicklow mountains for eight shillings. Later, he continued to get trifling sums for watercolor his drawings. He remained there working diligently, sending to the London several exhibitions pictures of some importance. There his large pictures in oil The Delivery of the Israelites (above) from 1828 quickly attracted attention. In fact, it and others gained him election as an associate of the Royal Academy. He left Bristol and moved to London in 1828. Danby was well on his way to greatness. His work was different, though not VERY different from that of other landscape painters of the era.

View of a Lake in Norway, Francis Danby
Francis Danby suddenly left London around 1829, declaring that he would never live there again. For one reason or another Danby felt that the Academy, instead of aiding him, had used him badly (the exact details have never been made known). Then an insurmountable domestic difficulty overtook him (his wife ran off with the painter, Paul Falconer Poole). For the next eleven or twelve years Danby lived an impoverished Bohemian lifestyle in Switzerland on Lake Geneva painting only now and then. He returned to England in 1840, when his sons were growing up. Danby exhibited his powerful (15-foot-wide), The Deluge (below) that year with great success, which served to revitalize his reputation and career.

The Deluge, 1840, Francis Danby
Considered to be one of the great Irish artists of the 19th Century, Danby spent the last 15 years of his life in Devon, where he died an unhappy man, aggrieved by a life of financial insecurity and lack of acclaim. Both of Danby's sons became landscape painters. The elder, James Francis Danby, exhibited at the Royal Academy. Like his father, he excelled in depicting sunrises and sunsets. The younger son, Thomas Danby, specialized in watercolors of Welsh scenes. In 1866, the latter was nominated as an Associate of the Royal Academy, but missed election by one vote. Francis Danby died at his home in Exmouth in 1861 at the age of sixty-seven. As a man Danby lived and died under a cloud, made deeper because the imputations against him were never made public. It is doubtful, however, if he would have gained much by publicity. The steps leading to a pantheon, are largely anonymous.

Shipwreck, 1858, Francis Danby.
A symbolic self-portrait perhaps?


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Daniel Ridgway Knight

Chrysanthemums, Daniel Ridgway Knight--pretty, but so irrelevant.
Generally speaking, I don't much like Victorian art. Like its counterparts in architecture, fashion, furniture design, and interior décor, I find it the ultimate in fussiness. Moreover, I'm not crazy about decoration for the sake of decoration, nor the pseudo-morality often seen in Victorian painting content. I do find it interesting for the social milieu it reflects, but to me, that way of life, that uptight, overdressed, "prettiness" is so far removed from 21st-century living as to be uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst. Even worse (if that's possible) are the eclectic compromises made by those who treasure this era in trying to accommodate Victorian antiquarianism into modern-day living. Inevitably, they fail to authentically follow through. It's pretentious to mentally embrace a dollhouse perfection, by pretending to be living in the late 19th-century.
The Harvesters Resting, Daniel Ridgway Knight. Millet would have (and did) paint his field hands hard at work.
Now, having imparted that diatribe, let me say that in the case of a few Victorian painters (damned few) I can make exceptions, forgetting about my distastes for the life and times in which they lived, as I admire their quiet, provincial depictions of honest, unpretentious, peasant existence. Perhaps the most typical of that type of painter would be the American artist, Daniel Ridgway Knight. For one thing, though an American, his aesthetic roots were lodged deep in the French soil along the banks of the Siene. Chrysanthemums (top) is a prime example of what I mean. Yes, it's a pretty picture, a pretty maiden, pretty flowers, and a lovely flowing river (undoubtedly the Siene). But it is neither fussy nor pretentious. In 1874, while painting in Barbizon, Knight went to visit the French Realist painter, Jean-François Millet, whose work he admired. However, Knight found Millet's view of peasant life to be too fatalistic. As opposed to Millet, Knight focused on depicting the rural classes in their happier moments.
Knight shows off his innovative, for its time (1885-90) glass studio.
Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania. He studied and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a classmate of Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins. In 1861, as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, Knight went to Paris to study at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel. Later he apprenticed in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyere (both Victorian academics). In 1863, not one to shrug off his patriotic duties, Knight returned to Philadelphia to serve in the Union Army. During the war, he practiced sketching facial expressions and capturing human emotion in his work. He also sketched battle scenes, recording the war for history.
The Burning of Chambersburg, 1867, Daniel Ridgway Knight
After the war, Knight founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works that dealt with the Civil War. A Chambersburg citizen and a Union soldier, Knight decided to pay tribute to the Confederate burning of his city some three years before. By that time he had left the army and set up his studio in Philadelphia. Knight chose not to represent the violence itself, but the effects of it, with the result being a memorable history painting. On July 28, Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland demanded a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency to save the city from being burned to the ground. However, the skeptical town leaders refused to pay it. So two days later, the Confederates fulfilled their threat, although some southern soldiers refused to participate, considering it to be barbaric. The Burning of Chambersburg depicts exhausted Chambersburg civilians who had fled for safety from their burning city in 1864.

Wash Day, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1871 Knight married, and after the wedding, began working as a portrait painter in order to earn enough money to return to France. Nine years after returning to the U.S., Knight had saved enough to buy two steamer tickets back to France. Once settled near Paris, Knight befriended Renoir, Sisley, and Wordsworth, all of whom influenced his work. He also enjoyed a close relationship with Meissonier. In 1875 Knight painted Wash Day after a sketch by Meissonier for which Knight received much critical acclaim.

Food in the fields...
Knight's works during the 1870's and 1880's focused on the peasant at work in the field's or doing the day's chores--collecting water or washing clothes at the riverside. Around the mid-1890's, Knight established a home in Rolleboise, some forty miles west of Paris. There he began to paint the scenes that have made him famous and his work so sought-after by contemporary collectors. His home had a beautiful garden terrace that overlooked the Seine--a view he often used in his paintings. Coffee in the Garden (below) is typical of his works during this period. Collectors from around the world vied for these works which featured attractive local girls in his garden.

Coffee in the Garden, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1889 Knight was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition and was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, becoming an officer in 1914. In 1896 he received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Daniel R. Knight died in Paris in 1924 at the age of eighty-four.

Preparing the Meal, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Elegant Figures in an Interior,
Daniel Ridgway Knight--Victorian
living looks like oh so much fun,
doesn't it?


Friday, June 23, 2017

Matthijs Naiveu

Carnival Scene, Mathijs, Naiveu

Surgery, Matthijs Naiveu
If you mention genre painting to most people today you'd probably be met with a blank stare. And even those who know the general definition of "genre," likely wouldn't have a clue as to what it means as applied to painting. However, they'd probably be too embarrassed to ask simply, "What's that?" For the ben-efit of such individuals, generally speaking, genre is a system of clas-sifying items or qualities that bear similar features (a sports car is a genre of the automobile). Taking it from there, the word "genre" can be applied to various and sundry types of art. But it's usually not (for the reasons I've just mentioned). Usually it's applied to only one type of art; that depicting scenes from common, everyday life such as a visit to the doctor similar to the one at right (the actual title is Interior of a Surgery with a Surgeon Treating a Wound in the Arm of a Man, with a Boy and Five Other Figures). Other genre scenes depict the calling upon a newborn baby, playing cards, people enjoying a community festival (above), etc. Taking that into account, you don't much see genre painting anymore. Unfortunately, it has largely been replaced by genre photography (or perhaps genre TV, as in sitcoms).

Candle Lit Interior, Matthijs Naiveu
Although genre painting probably existed to some degree earlier, it was the Dutch, during their "Golden Age," (the 17th- century) who have been credited with first popularizing it. Genre draws from various other types of painting--history painting, portraits, landscapes, even still-life--though it's probably most closely related to history painting. History painting deals with the triumphs, trials, and tribulations of national leaders in the act of leading. Genre is, in effect, the history of the lower and middle classes--nothing earthshattering--but important as a visual record of how the "common man" (women and children too) actually lived their lives of small joys and quiet desperation.

A genre scene that hasn't changed much in four-hundred
years--except for disposable diapers.
Zelfportret Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu was one of the better Dutch genre painters. By that I mean he was better than average but far from the level to have left a glowing legacy of unforgettable works. Although genre painters were well down the status ladder from history paint-ers, art took virtually all the same skills and demanded a technical virtuosity and compositional sense nearly as well defined. Naiveu was born in 1647 and died in 1726 at the age of seventy-nine. The artist was born in Leiden (eastern) Holland, and died in Amsterdam. Naiveu was probably trained in drawing by Abraham To-orenvliet, a glass painter and drawing instructor. His painting skills he picked up in studying under Gerrit Dou. Until the advent of color printing genre painting was often far from a full-time job. Quite likely Naiveu made his living from his numerous portraits such as seen below. Unlike most Dutch Golden Age artist Naiveu also had a "day job" as a hop inspector for Amsterdam brewers.

Double Portraits Of A Married Couple, Matthijs Naiveu
Matthijs Naiveu's largest work was a Seven Works of Mercy, which the art historian, Arnold Houbraken found to be his best work as well. In 1671 Naiveu entered the Leiden Guild of St. Luke and was highly productive. As a painter of signed work, his earliest dated painting is from 1668, while his last was from 1721. I should note that the reference I came upon to Seven Works of Mercy (listed below) was new to me. In researching it further I found the list to be a Roman Catholic theme (I'm not Catholic); and that it was actually two lists, one corporeal, one spiritual. While not exactly a common theme among artist, there were other examples mentioned. Unfortunately I could not find unified images for either Naiveu's painting(s) or that of any other artists. I've included the lists here in that, Catholic or Protestant, they appear to represent Christian ideals at their best.

There's no indication as to which set of Works of Mercy Naiveu painted (perhaps both).


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sally Mann

Candy Cigarette, Sally Mann
When you first saw the photo above, before reading the title, what's your first reaction? Does the fact that the photo was taken by the girl's mother change your attitude? Are you outraged that such a pretty, young, preadolescent girl should be pictured smoking a cigarette? Or are you caught up in the adult look and pose she projects? How does your realization that she is "smoking" a candy cigarette effect your thoughts? Are you amused that your mind has been "tricked," or are you angered that your mind has been manipulated? Sally Mann has illustrating the bittersweet tragedy of children maturing too quickly in a world of ever-accelerating change. Her daughter, Jessie, is a captivating child who will one day grow to be a strikingly beautiful woman. Yet, it seems that the purity of her childhood is already fraying at the edges. The ease and familiarity with which she mimics adult behavior is jarring. Her crossed arms and defiant gaze convey a rebellious nature, Her eyes suggest a weariness that is beyond her years. She exudes the sensuality and worldliness of the woman she has yet to become. Candy Cigarette is as beautiful as it is unsettling. It depicts an entire generation, too eager to grow up too quickly.
Do photos augment memories...or replace them?
Candy Cigarette dates from 1989. Jessie is now nearing forty years of age (she has never smoked real cigarettes, by the way.) Sally Mann dates from 1951. She was born in Lexington, Virginia, the third of three children and the only daughter. Her father was a general practitioner, and her mother, ran the bookstore at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger, a physician who photographed his daughter nude as a little girl. Sally Mann herself took up photography when she was sixteen. Most of her early photographs are tied to her hometown. Mann graduated from The Putney School in 1969, and attended Bennington College and Friends World College. She earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Hollins College in 1974 and a MA in creative writing in 1975. She began studying photography seriously at Putney, where, she admits her primary motivation was to be alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend.
Jessie, Emmett, and Virginia, 1989, Sally Mann,
Sally Mann creates large-scale, black-and-white photographs. Her pieces have evolved greatly over the years sparking much debate among art critics and historians. Many of her earlier photographs deal with childhood and young children, while later subjects include landscapes dealing with decay and death. Mann’s work appears regularly in various venues, and has won a number of prestigious awards over the course of her career. Mann’s popularity exploded after the release of the Immediate Family and At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women collections, in which the main subjects are her three children (above).

The Perfect Tomato, Sally Mann from her book, Family Pictures.
With the success of these and other collections came controversy. Many of the photos depict her children in the nude, prompting some people to question whether or not these images bordered on child pornography. In addition, there are several photos, such as Battered Child, which caused people to question whether Mann was neglecting her children for the sake of art. Though the photos of her children are undoubtedly Mann’s most famous images, her range includes subjects from further taboos of decaying corpses to the simple beauty of Southern landscapes (below).

Deep South, Sally Mann
Sally Mann has been spared the litigation that surrounded the Robert Mapplethorpe shows. And, unlike Jock Sturges, whose equipment and photographs of nude prepubescent girls were confiscated by the F.B.I., she has not been pursued by the Government on child pornography charges. But a Federal prosecutor in Roanoke, Va., from whom she sought advice, warned Mann that no fewer than eight pictures she had chosen for the traveling exhibition could subject her to arrest. Beyond issues of creative license and freedom of speech, Mann’s work raises personal concerns. The shield of motherhood can quickly become a sword when turned against her. Assuming it is her solemn responsibility to protect her children from all harm, did she knowingly put them at risk by releasing nude photos into a world where pedophilia exists? Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if—especially if—the artist is their own mother? Quite apart from legal matters, and creative expression; is the work any good? Are these sensual images a reflection of the behavior of her subjects or are they shaped by the taste and fantasies of the photographer for an affluent audience? Is it pandering or bravery, her photographs of what other adults have seen but turned away from?

Faces, Sally Mann

Emmett Munger Mann, son of Sally Mann
at age twelve. In June, 2016, at the age of
thirty-six, suffering from schizophrenia,
he took his own life.