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Monday, July 15, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock--Art Collector

Le Chevalier de la Mort, 1944, Salvador Dali
I often write on the producers of great art--the artists. Far less often, however, do I put in a good word for the consumers of great art--the art collectors. In great part that's because such individuals are seldom well known by the general public or because they are (and wish to remain) anonymous. High profile art collectors make themselves prime targets for theft or art forgeries. The cost of physical security for their works goes up, not to mention their insurance premiums. Nonetheless, there are a surprising number of such art collectors for whom neither of these factors are of any major concern. Not surprisingly many these collectors share a ZIP code starting with 900 or 902--the entertainment industry in and around Hollywood, California, 90027.
Art collectors so familiar they need no introduction.
Today we find names such a Leonardo DiCaprio (he does not second-guess his own likes and dislikes); Madonna, who has an impressive art collection worth more than a $100-million; Neil Patrick Harris, whose art collection focuses on contemporary art from up-and-coming artists; Steve Martin, whose collection, encompasses names such as Francis Bacon, Cindy Sherman, and Pablo Picasso. Add to these Elton John, who actually set a record in 1993 by buying Man Ray’s Glass Tears for $193,000. It is now estimated to be worth closer to $2-million. Other celebrities include Brad Pitt, Mary-Kate Olsen, Tobey Maguire, Jay-Z and Beyoncé...the list goes on and on, but I'm tired of name-dropping at the moment. Although each of these collections is unique, perhaps the most unusual Hollywood art collector of all time (he died in 1980) was that of the British producer/director of iconic mystery dramas, Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s lifetime interest in art fed directly into his filmmaking
Although each collector's art holdings tend to reflect their individual tastes, background, and personalities, in exploring Hitchcock's art collection, it becomes all but impossible to separate the man an his art from that which he collected. Unlike most of the art collections mentioned above, Hitchcock's personal collection contained only two artist's originals, one of which turned out to be a fake. In 1944, the surrealist master, Salvador Dali presented his drawing, Le Chevalier de la Mort (top) to the director as a gift after the two collaborated on the dream sequence for the 1945 psychological thriller Spellbound. The other artist's "original" was a Picasso still-life which hung in the Hitchcock home for several decades until 1970 when the artist himself branded it a fake.
These are samples of each artist's work and may or may not be the actual paintings
which hung in the Hitchcock home.
The collection of Alfred and Alma Hitchcock reflects a wide variety of styles, artists, and subjects, more indicative of a lifestyle than a deliberate approach. Works in their eclectic collection are of variable interest and quality. This hodgepodge collection began around 1944. Hitchcock and his wife, began to choose new acquisitions together. The selection criteria were straightforward and loose. They never acquired a painting unless it was liked by both of them. Fortunately, they had similar tastes, leaning mostly toward colorful modernists. Alma’s favorite artist was Parisian painter Maurice Utrillo (above, left), while Hitchcock singled out Swiss modernist Paul Klee (above, right).

Venus With a Mirror 1555, Titian
The décor was unusual, to say the least, at Norman Bates’s 12-room motel in Hitchcock’s classic horror movie, Psycho. Menacing taxidermied birds framed the walls of the office parlor, later to earn a movie of their own. Hovering above was an assortment of painted female nudes that included a reproduction of Venus with a Mirror (ca. 1555) by the Renaissance artist, Titian. However the painting Hitchcock refers to in the trailer (above) is not Venus but A strategically placed copy of Susan-nah and the Elders from around the 1691, by Dutch artist Willem van Mieris. It concealed a peephole used for peer-ing into room number one. Like a Bar-oque version of Psycho’s famous show-er scene, Susannah and the Elders pits a vulnerably nude bathing woman against the violent voyeurism of a male predator.
Susannah and the Elders, 1691, Willem van Mieris
Hitchcock was an art connoisseur, an interest that began when he took art history and painting classes in London as a teenager. His first film industry job, in fact, was as an illustrator of intertitle cards for silent films. And he was an avid collector of art books, stockpiling them at home and at work. His office at Universal Studios contained a surprising number of art books, which Hitchcock liked to regularly consult, often choosing some illustration or other to show his art director and/or his cinematographer to indicate what he wanted in a particular shot. Hitchcock understood art, incorporated artworks of historical significance into his films, and was a collector. Moreover, his approach to filling the blank canvas of the silver screen was that of an artist. Hitchcock’s critics accused him of favoring image over content and compared his films to live-action comic strips. (The director didn’t disagree.) Scriptwriters sometimes complained about working with him because he imagined visually powerful scenes, but was less concerned with how they connected to each other in a convincing narrative. At home, the pictorial action of Hitchcock’s personal art collection must have held his attention in much the same way. He liked selecting paintings about which he could make up stories, perhaps mentally constructing a sequence of storyboards to follow—the image of an ominous tree by French artist Chaim Soutine that hung in his dining room, for example, or the mosaic of birds designed by Cubist George Braque that Hitchcock commissioned for his garden.
Inasmuch as no published inventory of Hitchcock's art collection exists, and both artists executed several similar versions of each work, it's impossible to know precisely which paintings Hitchcock owned. In any case, they were likely much like these.
The Hitchcock art collection was housed here in
the couples' second west coast home located in Bel Air.


Monday, July 8, 2019

German Expressionist Churches

Notre dame du Chêne, Viroflay, France, 1966,
Louis, Luc, and Thierry Sainsaulieu, architects.
I've traveled over much of Europe and seen quite a number of ecclesiastic architectural masterpieces, and if you're like me you have a pretty firm grasp on what a monumental church should look like. That is, they would be Gothic, enormous in scale, soaring to awe-inspiring heights, graced with acres and acres of colorful stained glass, and decorated in excess with stone carvings, everything from saints to gargoyles. Most such churches took decades, sometimes centuries to erect with iconic, world-famous profiles such as Paris' Notre Dame and Rome's St. Peter's Basilica. If that's what you picture in your mind's eye, you're obviously unfamiliar with German Expressionist architecture, in this case as applied to churches.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo, Japan. 1964, Kenzo Tange, architect.
The war touched the churches of Japan as well.
Several factors come together to produce such architectural works of art. First, Germany has long been a hotbed of Expressionism, whether in painting, poetry, music, drama, sculpture or, in this case, architecture. Second, in the aftermath of WWII, many, if not most of the monumental churches of Europe sustained varying degrees of bomb damage from superficial to smithereens. In some cases, reconstruction was out of the question. Building anew offered economic savings, modern day practicality, and opportunities for budding postwar architects to stretch their wings.
Grundtvigs kirken, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1921-40,  Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint, architect.
Copenhagen’s Grundtvig’s Church (above) is a rare example of expressionist church architecture, and one of the most beautiful, not to mention well-known churches in that Danish city. The commission for the construction of a church to be named after the Danish philosopher and hymn writer N. F. S. Grundtvig was decided through a competition, won by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint in 1913. The foundation of the new church was only laid after World War I, in 1921. Building took place mainly from 1921 to 1926 when the tower section was completed, leading to the initial inauguration of the so-called Tower Church in 1927. Further work on the interior and on adjacent buildings continued until 1940 and was completed by Klint's son Kaare Klint after his father's death in 1930. The church stands at the center of a residential development also in yellow brick, designed by Jensen-Klint in harmony with the church. The most striking feature of the building is its west façade, reminiscent of a westwork or of the exterior of a church organ. It includes the 160 ft. (49 meters) tall bell tower. The imposing façade with its strong verticality guides the eyes towards the sky. The bottom half of the tower is simple brick while the upper reaches present the appearance of one solid, rippling surface. Klint decorated the nave with a version of the stepped gables common on Danish churches, but reinterpreted by doubling the apex. The nave was designed with generous dimensions: the triple-aisled hall church is 259 ft. (76 meters) long in total and 115 ft. (35 meters) wide; the nave has a height of 72 ft. (22 meters). The interior, inspired by Gothic architecture and comparable in size to Copenhagen cathedral, fits a congregation of 1,440. Some five million yellow bricks, a typical Danish building material, were used for the edifice. In its floor plan, the interior resembles that of a typical Gothic church with a nave, two lateral aisles and a small transept. Its proportions are also Gothic: a long, narrow nave, an extremely high ceiling, the columns which rise up to pointed arches and the ribbed groin vaults above the nave and aisles. But it is the yellow brick and the lack of ornamentation which contribute to the Gothic verticality while adhering to the minimalist modern aesthetic. The church boasts two pipe organs.

Saint Moritz, Augsburg, Germany, 2013, John Pawson, architect.
Expression mixes with minimalism.
The church of St Moritz has been through many changes since its foundation nearly a thousand years ago. Devastating fires, changes in liturgical practice, aesthetic evolution and wartime bombing have each left their mark on the fabric of the building. The purpose of this latest intervention has been to retune the existing architecture, from an aesthetic, functional, and liturgical perspectives, with considerations of the sacred atmosphere always at the heart of the project. The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artifacts, to achieve a clearer visual field. Drawing on existing forms and elements of vocabulary, an architectural language has evolved that is recognizable in subtle ways as something new, yet has no jarring foreign elements. Augsburg is approximately a one hour drive from Munich. Stripping back, cleaning up, re-surfacing and adding the cleanest palest of materials, Architect, John Pawson has lifted the interior out of its historic straitjacket to a seemingly ethereal realm. The thin slices of onyx replacing the existing glass of the apse window completely reinforces this feeling.

Opstandingskerk, Amsterdam, 1956, Marius Duintjer, architect.
Architect Marius Duintjer is well-known for his large-scale projects like the ABN AMRO building at Vijzelstraat and the Nederlandse Bank at Frederiksplein, both in Amsterdam. These buildings are controversial for their use of ‘brutal’ concrete supposedly to create an atmosphere of tranquillity and space. They were not well-received by the people and their popular nicknames were not at all flattering. Visual artist Jan Rothuizen called the ABN AMRO office ‘a stranded cruise ship’ and in the eyes of the writer Rudy Kousbroek building the Nederlandse Bank where the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace of Folk Industry). Others termed it "the most extreme act of vandalism in Amsterdam after the war." Duintjer once work for Le Corbusier. Still, he cannot be seen as a functionalist like his famous master. Duintjer’s oeuvre is diverse. This is evident when you compare the bank buildings to the various churches he designed, for which he does receive popular acclaim. Whereas concrete is the main material for his office buildings, light constitutes the most important element for his churches. In addition to the building where the services are held, the Opstandingskerk (Church of the Resurrection) in Bos en Lommer also contains a rectory and a community center. The impressive high windows in the nave demonstrate how light with its strong symbolic value became the leitmotif of the design. The church’s exterior stands out for its 48-metre high bell tower which gave it its nickname "de Kolenkit" (the coal scuttle). This too is the vox populi speaking.
Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz, Berlin, Germany, 1933, Johann Freidrich Höger, architect.
Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church at Hohenzollernplatz) is the church of the Evangelical Congregation at Hohenzollernplatz, a member of today's Protestant umbrella Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia. The church is located at the eastern side of Hohenzollernplatz square in Berlin's borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The building is considered one of the premier pieces of Germany's Brick Expressionism. In 1927 the then wealthy congregation, whose parish then comprised the locality of Wilmersdorf, decided to build an additional church in the north of its parish. The congregation held a competition. Six or more architecture firms handed in their projects. An architect named Fritz Höger prevailed with the design of the architect Ossip Klarwein, who started to work with Höger by 1921. The construction lasted from 1930 to 1933. In March, 1933, the church was inaugurated. Soon after Klarwein, his wife and son emigrated to Mandatory Palestine, because of the Nazi takeover. Hohenzollernplatz is a testimonial to the unique quality of expressionist church architecture in Berlin. The naming of the church after the square was originally a solution for the time being, until another name might be chosen. Meanwhile the name became a brand, even though the debate goes on.
If you're one who thought all churches should be
beautiful, inside and out, this German expressionist
example of Art Brute might change your mind.


Monday, July 1, 2019

1880s Art

A May Morning in the Park, 1879-80, Thomas Eakins of Philadelphia, a shining star in the otherwise lackluster group of American artists of the 1880s.
In studying past eras of art, it's only natural that the further we go back from our own era, the less we are able to identify and admire the work of the painters, sculptors, and designers of the time. Gradually we come to the point that such studies are only of interest to artists and history buffs. Everyone else has a tendency to either yawn or laugh. Moreover, I have to start by disappointing all my American readers by noting here and now, that most of the outstanding art of the 1880s was not American. Sculpture and painting were both strong in the 1880s, but poster design from this era, with its Art Nouveau stylings, is often considered the most important artistic development of the time. And for those who like to laugh, I've included a fair sampling of the decade's design achievements in the creation of women's fashions. Sorry men, your clothes were as boring in the 1880s as the were in the 1870s and will be in the 1890s.

Dancers in the Wings, ca. 1880, Auguste Renoir. The strange cropping of the composition displays the influence of photography in Renoir's work.
Woman Sitting Under the Willows,
1880-81, Claude Monet

When people think of this era in art, painting seems first and foremost with impressionism for the first time starting to flex some muscle with the work of Claude Monet (right), Jean-Auguste Renoir (above), along with Degas, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, the only two women among the lot. As numerous as the struggling impressionists were becoming in Paris during the 1880s, they were outnumbered about ten to one by literally thousands of painters churning out work in the traditional academic style led chiefly by Alexandre Cabanel with mythical or allegorical works similar to Cabanel's Phèdre (below) painted in 1880. I should note that the 1880s was also the era of the American expatriates such as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.

Phèdre, 1880, Alexandre Cabanel
Strangely enough, some of the most important paintings of this era were done by relative unknowns. One of these is Changing Pasteur (below), painted in 1880, by Antoine Mauve (yes, the same as the color mauve). Mauve was not French, but Dutch, born in 1838. His work is neither Impressionist nor Academic (academicians seldom painted cows). Mauve settled at The Hague about 1870, painting in the neighboring fishing village of Scheveningen. There he became part of a group of artists known as the Hague school, whose members specialized in representing landscapes and scenes of rural life in the Netherlands. In 1885 he went to live in the country at Laren, near Hilversum, where he brought together a group of landscape painters who came to be known as the “Dutch Barbizon.” Mauve’s pictures are subdued in color and similar to those of Gustave Corot in their harmonies of grays and blues. Changing Pasteur was one of his major pictures. He was also an accomplished watercolorist. Perhaps more important than all this though, his wife happened to be a cousin of Vincent van Gogh, to whom Mauve gave advice about oil painting in 1881 and 1882.

Changing Pasteur, 1880, Antoine Mauve
In looking over Mauve's work it's hard to see that any instruction he may have given van Gogh was of much consequence. Their work looks absolutely nothing alike. However, keep in mind, the 1880s were van Gogh's "student" days in which he was struggling frenetically to absorb anything and everything he could about painting. These were the days of van Gogh's The Potato Eaters, created in 1885. Picture in your mind the bleak setting, the artists use (or misuse) of color, with the grim work-worn faces of his Dutch compatriots. Compare that image to what may, in fact be an earlier work, Angelus, a copy of Jean-François Millet's most famous painting by the same name. You can compare the two (below). And before you think the less of van Gogh, copying the works of the masters was considered an acceptable, indeed, highly effective means of learning to paint.

I'd give it about a B-.
Jean-Michel Papillon from France is considered to be the first poster designer and the inventor of the wallpaper. Back in 1675, he engraved rustic designs into woodworks in continuous, matching patterns. But due to a painstaking process of poster production, posters appeared very slowly. Artisans had to engrave a poster into a wooden block or metal sheets manually, with little or no design and color. Everything changed with the birth of the lithographic printing in 1796. Lithography was invented by The Austrian printer, Alois Senefelder as he was searching for an alternative to expensive metal plate engraving. He offered a series of lithos, metal or stone carvings, tinted with ink to make a print. A list of European poster designers of the 1880s would read much the same as a list of famous European painters with names such as British artist, Aubrey Beardsley, Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, Czech painter, Alphonse Mucha, and of course the poster child of all the poster painters, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Toulouse-Lautrec was the first artist to elevate advertising to the level of fine art, creating a shift in history that acknowledged that an important work of art could be an everyday poster in a nightclub. Soon the mass media embraced posters for promotional purposes in France and throughout Europe. Printed advertisements appeared in newspapers, theatre and opera shows in Paris started using "poster advertisements" to announce important events. Publishers and writers appreciated the new poster art. In 19th century, great lithographic designers like Raffet, Gavarni and Johannot illustrated the most acclaimed masterpieces of French literary works.

A sampling of European poster art from the 1880s in the Art Nouveau style.
When discussing sculpture of the 1880s, there's Auguste Rodin, then there's everybody else. As with painting, there was impressionism and the academics. Impressionist sculpture? We might say Rodin was to sculpture what Monet was to painting. Although Rodin couldn't (or didn't) sculpt in color just about all other attributes of impressionist painting can be found in his iconic works such as the Burgers of Calais, the Gates of Hell, St. John the Baptist, Balzac, and many others. He has often been compared favorably to Michelangelo whom he studied and copied. The two representative pieces below are so familiar they need not be identified. However, the same cannot be said for the Academic "everyone else" sculptures directly below Rodin's work.

Impressionism in the round.
(Upper left) Salammbo, Bronze, Paris, 1880, Emile Bruchon,
(right) Flower Basin with a Nude Drying Her Foot, ca 1880s , Ricardo Aurili.

Informal and formal.

Men's dressing gown, ca. 1880

And on a lighter side, the 1880s marked what might be called the zenith of Paris haute couture. The French were the first to make an industry out of fashion, not just dress-making, and they have been exporting their style since the 17th century which is frankly before most of the world even realized what fashion was. Fashion has always existed at the crossroads of art and consumerism and never more so than in the 1880s. Of course we're not talking just about women's fashions. Men's clothing styles also frequently had their genesis in Paris. Men do care about fashionable attire, just not as much as women. Below is an illustrated chart I put together detailing what women chose to buy and wear each year (dates are approximations). I keep wondering how the ladies managed personal hygiene wearing such tight, constricting frocks.

The tailored look for outside, the frilly ruffles and ribbons to impress one another indoors.
1880s swimwear---not much
chance to get a tan.