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Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Art

Tidal Wave, London, Ed Lopez. Digital painting is definitely a mark of some of the best art of 2018.
Almost a month ago, I wrote about the art of one hundred years ago--1918 Art. This being New Year's Eve, I thought it only appropriate that I should also delve into the art of this past year--2018 art. For those writing about art, it's far easier to discuss the art of the past than that of the present. The past offers perspective. The present, nothing but uncertainty. The art of the past allows me to write about individual artists and their contribution to all the art that has followed their efforts. That is, of course, by definition, impossible in dealing with the work of contemporary artists. The most I can do is to discuss trends I see and to choose works that are representative of art being created today while at the same time offering some degree of uniqueness. What you see here is not in any way an evaluative critique or comparison one piece to another. And although I try to identify the artist, in no way am I predicting the fame and/or fortune of any artist. These are simply works which struck me as outstanding in some, often difficult to pinpoint, manner. In most cases that has more to do with creativity than content--a Postmodern departure from the norm.
The Wire, Seth Globepainter. Street artists in 2018 have continued recent trends in working on "canvases" on a scale seldom seen in the past. This one is in Fontaine, France.
Tidal Wave, London, (top) by Ed Lopez is definitely representative of the "wave" (pardon the pun in this case) of the future. CGI (computer generated imaging) allows artists do let their imaginations run wild, unhampered by most limitations as to traditional art skills. It does, however, usher in a whole new "paintbox" of new skills involving digital manipulation offering far greater potential for the representational "painter" than any taught in the past and most art classes now. The other major trend I've noticed is the building-sized murals and the Postmodern use of both serious and whimsical content as seen in Seth Globepainter's The Wire (above). That's obviously not the artist's real name but a pseudonym, which is, in itself, a recent trend.
Virtually every style of painting today can be found on the walls of home art galleries which reflect much the same quality as those of the high-end art market, yet at a very small fraction of the cost.
In showcasing the outstanding art (paintings only in this case) I've broken down the work into three major areas--abstraction, portraits, and first of all that which has been created exclusively to satisfy a huge demand for decorative domestic wall art. I've termed them "Couch Paintings" (above), which in no manner is intended as a derogative classification. Quite the contrary, I often find in this type of work some of the most extraordinary creativity to be seen today. The one classification which I've excluded is landscape painting. Quite frankly I suspect that such art is simply "worn out." That is, the possibilities for new imagery, new content, new styles, has simply been exhausted by centuries of such works (particularly the 20th-century). I tried diligently to find landscape paintings on a par with most of the other work being created today but came away both surprised and disillusioned by my efforts.

Abstraction is often taken to mean non-representational. Usually, and in the best works, it's not.
Abstract art is not a style. Abstract Expressionism is, and all too often the two are confused...even used interchangeably. Abstract Expressionism is a style, founded in the Post-WW II era, predominantly in connection with what's come to be known as the "New York School." It was usually non-representational (but not always) and thus thought to be lacking in content. That too is a misconception. The content was the basic elements of design. The abstract art of today seldom lacks some vestige of identifiable content, which makes it devilishly hard to evaluate minus a clear title and statement from the artist. As the works above suggest, most of the traditional art content areas have been freshened (some might say invaded) by the work of abstract artists today (even landscapes). In any case abstract art no longer invites the question: "What is it?" It does not lack traditional content, it simply strips it down to its bare essence, minus details, minus message, minus preconceived notions as to how that content "should" appear. In doing so, the artist is free to pursue beauty, texture, line, color, shapes, and space without most of the traditional constraints of the past.

Portraiture today invites virtually every style of painting from the past while remaining fresh and exciting.
Perhaps the most enduring type of painting in the history of art is that of portraiture. And in spite of the advent of photography, a century and a half ago, it has remained quite lively and inspiring. Portrait painting accommodates virtually every style and medium artists have ever used. Joshu Miels' portraits are about as close to abstraction as on dares venture without losing the key element of a recognizable likeness. Stephan Mackey's portrait of Mason is about as traditional as such work gets today, yet his inclusion of the artist at work on a painting of his own is a fresh concept adaptable to virtually any subject's painted image. Everyone has a job or avocation, right? Meanwhile, Kehinde Wiley's hard-edged rendering of former President Obama breaks virtually every mold ever seen for a presidential portrait. Yet it captures both the man, his gentleness, and his "green" values perfectly.

Rhinos by Dianne Bollentini, in pen and ink
Susan L, Richard Sneary,
Although it's not technically a painting, nor is it what it appears to be--a mosaic--Dianne Bollentini's Rhinos (above) is rendered in pen and ink, painstakingly giving the appearance of what it's not. Not only is the work exquisitely done, its content nothing if not unique, but the work captures perfectly the Postmodern es-sence of the art of 2018. By the same token, Richard Sneary's, watercolor titled Susan L (left) is notable for the artist's departure from the tired, traditional watercolor subject matter of landscapes and still-lifes. Though it re-mains, technically, a still-life, the subject is of such size and industrial homeliness as to stand apart from most of the work done today in painting's most difficult medium. Art need not be beautiful. Can the art of 2019 be summed up in just a word or two? Probably, but I'm not up to the task at the moment. I'll let the paintings speak for themselves on that score. And, even though I still paint a little (three or four this year) I've resisted the urge to include any of my own work here in that neither it nor I are representative of the art of 2019.

Mia Molly, artist unknown, but not one of mine.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Mrs. Santa Claus

Mrs. Claus, Stephanie Lee. This was my wife's favorite, which has the look of having been painted from a live model.
This being Christmas Eve, I've been reviewing my holiday musings on various past yuletide topics. Over the years as I've pursued art now and then on a daily basis, I've had the occasion to write quite a number of items relating to art and Christmas. Quite frankly, I find it difficult to add much to what I've already written on topics such as Christmas cards, Christmas trees, over-decorating, really weird Santa paintings, and even boxing day (to name just a few). When I told my wife I was going to write about Mrs. Santa Claus, she suggested I was getting rather "hard up" for ideas. She was right. Somewhat to my surprise though, as I began to do a little research, I discovered that there was no shortages of artwork featuring Mrs. Claus. And like so much art, the work ranged from amazingly good to the godawful. Here's a little of both.
Copyright, Jim Lane
He's Makin' a List, 1971, Jim Lane
Although Santa Claus (or St. Nicholas) is centuries old, it's unclear precisely when, where, and how he acquired a wife. It would appear to have been sometime within the past hundred years or so (there is little or nothing on Santa's spouse much before 1900). My own effort to accurately depict the couple came in 1971 with He's Makin' a List (above). Like the wives of so many famous men, Mrs. Claus has long lived in the shadow of her husband's presence. Other than the painting above, I've made an effort to avoid dual portraits, con-centrating on depictions attempting to capture the kindly essence of Mrs. Claus' (for the most part) grandmotherly image as seen in Mark English's depiction (right).
Mrs. Santa Claus,
Mark English
Mrs. Claus, 2012, Josh Hermann

I think my own favorite portrait of Mrs. Claus is that of Josh Herman (above). I'm not certain I can put my finger on exactly why it's my favorite. Perhaps it's the "kind and gentle" look. It would definitely seem appropriate as to style next to many of the portraits I found of Mr. Claus. Although competently painted, it would not be hard for me to choose my least favorite rendering of Mrs. Claus. That would be the digital portrait of Mrs. Santa Claus by Grzegorz Rutkowsk (below). It's obviously Santa's second (trophy?) wife.
Mrs. Santa Claus, Grzegorz Rutkowsk (digital art).
The subject of Mrs. Claus has largely been ignored by famous artists. Even Norman Rockwell, who painted virtually every other aspect of Christmas, neglected to leave us his version of the couple. The only exception I found by a famous artist is that of Cindy Sherman, best known for impersonating important women in her photographic at. Her Mrs. Claus (below) while not at all flattering, is typical of her other images along this line.

Mrs. Claus, Cindy Sherman. Traditional, yet modern. At least she doesn't look like Santa's mistress.

A very tradition Mrs. Santa Claus
by Ryan Woods
When encountering paintings or other images of Christmas, Santa, and especially Mrs. Claus, it's hard not to allow traditional depic-tions to color our judgements which, with other types of art, would otherwise be far more unbiased. Art would be quite bland were it not for the more creative approaches painters and others so frequently employ. Traditional renderings of familiar subjects have always tended to bind these efforts, especially when the religious and cultural images from the past are so beloved. And while we may not like attempts by artists to "break the mold," that does not make them any less valid in speaking broadly of art in general or Christmas art in the narrower sense. The works of Cindy Sherman, Grze-gorz Rutkowsk, and Helena Bebirian (below) fall into this category.
Mrs. Santa Claus, Helena Bebirian

And, as badly as I hate to admit it, the embroidery patterns (below), and what I've labeled Mrs. (awful) Claus (below that) likewise fit the same definition--art which breaks the mold. In such cases, the art comes first, Christmas is nothing more than just another content area (one of millions) the artist might choose. By the way, did you know that Mrs. Santa Claus has her own movie starring Angela Lansbury (right)? I can't think of anyone better to play the part. Check out the clip at the bottom.
Angela Lansbury as
Mrs. Santa Claus
For those like Mrs. Claus, handy with a needle.
There are hundreds of Mrs. Claus
images such as these on the
Internet. These are the best of
the worst.

Merry Christmas!
                                    --Jim and Sharon

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Panthéon de la Guerre

A small portion of the original Pantheon de la Guerre (temple of war) by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste Gorguet.
Don't let anyone tell you "Size doesn't matter." I'm not sure that's necessarily true in all circumstances, but I know it applies to art, especially painting. In a museum setting, a painting which would look find hanging over your couch simply gets lost in the crowd of gigantic works painted by artist both now and then (in the past). In terms of square feet of surface covered by the artist, let me ask, what might you guess was largest painting ever rendered by an artist? If you guessed Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling you'd be wrong. At a mere 5,382 sq. ft. you'd not even be close. It's said that Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, which hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (also in the U.S. Capitol), is the world's largest framed painting. I don't know if that's still true, but I've seen it in person and it is "large." However, at a miniscule 263 square feet, it's not even in the same ballpark with the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, which in turn is not in the ballpark with The 1918 painting, Pantheon de la Guerre (top).
Pierre Carrier-Belleuse
My original premise is something of "trick question." The key word is "was." That is to say, the massive French mural commemorating the heroes of WW I no longer exists in its original form. At 18,090 sq. feet, the original painting was 402 feet long (that's longer than an American football field, folks) and 45 feet high, making it one of the largest murals in the world. It was completed in Paris in 1918 by around 140 artists working under the guidance of the French artists, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse (right) and Auguste Gorguet. In an octagonal museum built specifically to house the painting, artists pieced together an enormous circular cyclo-rama canvas, which contained over 5,000 life-size portraits of war heroes, royalty, and government officials from the Allies of World War I, with France dominating the stage. The Panthéon de la Guerre was unveiled, to great fanfare, 100 years ago on Oct. 19, 1918. In the century that followed, it was chopped up, auctioned off, hidden away and even stored outdoors in a crate for a decade before finding its place on the walls of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, 4,500 miles away from the start of its unlikely journey. Today, its "chopped down" version, it's a modest 520 sq. ft., to fit a wall some seventy feet long.

A few of the nearly 6,000 life-size
portraits from the painting.
Work on the painting had begun, with astonishing foresight, just a few months into the war, in the winter of 1914. Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste François-Marie Gorguet together conceived the idea and established the theme, basically a glor-ification of war...the "great war," the "war to end all wars." Together, the two artists enlisted an array of painters--mostly elderly ones, since many of the younger ones were on the front line. They obtained financial and political support, which was essential due to the scale of the project and the materials required. Among the latter were 18,000 square feet of Belgian linen for the canvas, tons of steel armature to support it and enormous amounts of paint, all of which were scarce and quite costly in wartime. Although their intent was patriotic, there was also a commercial element involve from the start. Panoramic paintings were money-making ventures, sort of the Hollywood blockbusters of the day. But it was really a 19th-century phenomenon, and this was sort of its last gasp.

The Belgian section of the Pantheon de la Guerre with King Albert and a Cardinal.
The painting was hung in a complete, uninterrupted circle; visitors descended into a tunnel to emerge right in the middle of it. The custom-built, octagonal building housing it was enviably located in Rue de l'Université, just a few steps from Les Invalides and only two or three blocks from the Louvre. Less than a month before the end of the war the massive canvas mural was inaugurated by French President Raymond Poincaré, who was, himself, immortalized in the painting. Although a circular painting has, technically no center, the main focus of the Panthéon de la Guerre was a temple and staircase, representing the French section that spanned about 122 feet. This segment contained most of the 5,000 figures portrayed in the painting, with the rest split between other Allied nations including Britain, Italy, Russia and the United States, each given a space of around 32 feet or less. The background was meant to represent the battlefields of France and Belgium.

A detail of the original painting depicts a British nursing sister.
It was no simple task searching for figures worthy of appearing in the artwork. Assistants sifted through the press and read the citations of the day, to see who was killed and find out who was most deserving of being put in this sort of encyclopedia of the French war effort. The artists obtained photographs of people who had been killed and made sketches from those, while others, such as government officials, were sketched in person. The spectacular art showpiece remained in its Paris home for nine years and was seen by three million people. It was as much for tourists as it was for the French, and was particularly popular with American soldiers.

However, as paintings go, even the largest painting in the world (at the time) had a somewhat limited "shelf life." By 1927, interest had started to wane. The French sold it to three American businessmen who wanted to take it on a U.S. tour. They paid something on the order of $250,000, which was a princely sum at the time. Together with the French they arranged a high-profile sendoff. The creators of the painting were opposed to the sale, fearing they would never see it again, although the buyers promised to eventually return it. The "sail-away" party involved ambassadors and bands playing national anthems, in the hope that the Panthéon de la Guerre would cement Franco-American relations. A few modifications were made for the American tour, most notably the inclusion of more women and African-Americans.

A portion of the painting (as edited) at the Kansas City World War I Memorial.
The first stop was New York's Madison Square Garden, where it attracted one million visitors in eight weeks. The organizers had an appropriately gargantuan opening night with 25,000 people and lots of notables attending, but the show ended up closing two months ahead of schedule, so the intrepid entrepreneurs were apparently not making as much money as they'd hoped. The painting, like the war itself, was perceived very differently in the U.S. than in France. The French had suffered about 1.7 million deaths in the conflict, whereas America, which entered the war in 1917, lost around 117,000. Americans had a faint, mostly celebratory memory of the war; the French a rather vivid, bloody one.

 A program cover from the 1933 World Fair featuring the Panthéon de la Guerre.
Promotion as the painting was hardly as solemn as before in France. Instead, they blew horns and even fired machine guns in Chicago for the 1933 World Fair. It was little short of a carnival attraction, far from the original spirit of the painting, which was rather quiet for all its grandiosity. The last stop on the painting's U.S. tour was San Francisco in 1940. By that time, the artwork was falling out of fashion. It was sent to a storage facility in Baltimore, where it laid abandoned for twelve years in a tomb-like, 55-foot crate originally built for it in Paris. Being too big to keep indoors, it was left outside. Moreover, once the owners stopped paying the storage fee due to yet another war in Europe, it was auctioned off. The auction took place in July of 1952 and included both the painting and the apparatus required to exhibit it, all of which weighed in at an astounding ten tons. Although the auction records listed it as "an art object of unusual value," few art connoisseurs showed up. The Panthéon de la Guerre went for a paltry $3,400 (around $32,000 in today's money) to William H. Haussner, a local restaurant owner who was also an art collector and, ironically, a German World War I veteran.

The Panthéon de la Guerre being uncrated.
Haussner owned a restaurant in Baltimore that was well known for having good art and bad art (mostly the latter) on its walls. Haussner didn't want to see such an important work go to scrap metal collectors who were only interested in the armature of the painting. Opening the giant crate was a massive operation requiring 22 workers and a 48-foot tractor-trailer. Life magazine sent reporters to document it. Yet even with a new owner, the painting's future looked bleak. Haussner tried to find a museum that was willing to take it. He called on the Smithsonian. He was willing to donate it; but nobody wanted such a massive "white elephant." The cost to repair it and then create a building for it were prohibitive. Even the French didn't want it back. It wasn't considered 'high' art."

Daniel MacMorris reconfiguring the painting.
Fortunately, there was one person who wanted it, a Daniel MacMorris of Kansas City, Kansas. He was an American WW I veteran who had seen the painting in Paris during the war. He had even gone on to study with Gorguet, one of the two original creators. After the war he became a professional artist. Awestruck by the Life magazine article, MacMorris started lobbying Haussner to donate the painting to the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, the nation's largest World War I museum, where he worked. Haussner eventually agreed, giving The Panthéon de la Guerre a second life.

MacMorris and two assistants "edit" the painting.
However the painting needed to be adapted for its new home, so MacMorris took on the task. From the beginning, he knew that he was not going to be able to save the entire painting. MacMorris had a finite amount of wall space to work with and, wanted to pay homage to Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. But his "rearranging," as he called it, is best known for being US-centric. Few Russian or Eastern European figures made the cut. In fact, he kept very little of the original canvas. In terms of square footage, that amounted to only about seven-percent of the original, which also made it into a regular painting that's totally flat against the wall. He ended up repainting a lot of the figures. Despite the rather radical "editing," the "new" painting is quite impressive for only having taken a couple of years.

The "Americanized" central section of the Panthéon de la Guerre today.
The new, Americanized version of the painting, which now included Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among others, was unveiled in Kansas City on Nov. 11, 1959. MacMorris centered it on the U. S. involvement in the war. He put Woodrow Wilson and all the American political and military leaders in the center, with the Allies on either side. The whole "panthéon" theme with all the French soldiers was totally removed. The result was quite a different work of art with America dominating the scene and seeming the most responsible for the victory. What happened to the rest of the original painting? A large portion of the original French section now hangs in another hall at the museum, which also keeps dozens of smaller fragments in its archives and exhibits the most significant ones. MacMorris threw away large portions of the canvas, but he also doled out pieces to friends and acquaintances. Some have ended up in flea markets and online going for at little as $99.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Nazi Art Plunder

Painter on His Way to Work, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
Some six or seven years ago, when my daily ruminations were little more the two or three paragraphs in length, I wrote about the nearly 20% of all European art plundered by the Nazi's during WW II. Needless to say, such items were quite general in scope and barely scratched the surface of any efforts too recover such work. I was astounded to read more recently that the unrecovered works, even some seventy years after the end of the war, still numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The search continues along with seemingly endless court battles when stolen works periodically turn up. Such litigation is understandable when the value of these works ranges (depending upon their condition) from nearly worthless to figures in the hundreds of million. Some of them, such as the ones seen here, are simply labeled "priceless."
Portrait of a Man,
Sandro Botticelli
The Painter on His Way to Work (top) by van Gogh is a self-portrait, painted in 1888 and hung in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Magdeburg, Germany, before the war. It was taken by the Nazis in the early part of the conflict and hidden in their secret salt mines' art repository in Stassfurt. While some reports suggest it was destroyed by fire, other sources indicate the artwork survived and might be out there somewhere. This masterpiece is on the Mon-uments Men Foundation's most wanted list. The foundation was set up in 2007 in memory of the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, who have recovered countless works of art stolen during the Second World War. Their story was told in the 2014 film The Monuments Men. Having a similar fate was Portrait of a Man by the Early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (right). Likewise labeled "priceless," this painting also appears on the foundation's most wanted list. The portrait was the most treasured object in the Filangieri Mus-eum in Naples, Italy, until the Nazis got their hands on it. On September 30, 1943, Nazi troops discovered the painting in a villa in Naples, where it was being hidden. As they did with so many exceptional works of art, they wasted no time stealing it. The portrait vanished en route to Germany and its whereabouts remain unknown.

The Russians couldn't cart the room off for safekeeping. The Germans were more resourceful.
For sheer audacity, it would be hard to match the Nazi theft of an entire room from Catherine's Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. The star attraction of the 18th-century palace was the gold and amber-laden Amber Room (top image, above). It was widely regarded as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World.' Created in the early years of the century for Frederick, King of Prussia, the gilded masterpiece was stolen by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The Russian curators knew it would be impossible to store the room and its contents for safe keeping so they tried to hide it by covering the room in wallpaper. Their feeble efforts were of no avail. The masterpiece was taken by the Nazis to Königsberg Castle in Kaliningrad, which was then part of Prussia. The priceless room is thought to have been destroyed along with the castle in 1945, though some experts believe it was saved and may be stashed away somewhere in Poland. In 2017, three German treasure hunters claimed they had found it hidden in a cave in eastern Germany. The palace was largely destroyed during the war (below), but barring no outrageous expense, the Russians have totally reconstructed the ornate museum including a pale imitation of its once spectacular Amber Room (lower image, above).

The ruins of Catherine's Palace after the war.

A seminal piece by Michelangelo, the Head of the Faun (left) was the old master's first known marble sculpture. The piece is famous for its having won him the patronage of the powerful Florentine leader Lorenzo de' Medici. The sculpture, which is the property of the Bargello Museum in Florence, Italy, was looted in August 1944 by Nazi troops and loaded onto a truck, along with other priceless artworks. Some experts believe the sculpture may have eventually found its way to the Soviet Union, but Michelangelo's first marble artwork remains lost to this day.

Head of the Faun,
1489, Michelangelo

Two of the art-loving Nazi criminals.
Joining Michelangelo on the "most wanted" list is his rival, Raphael di Sanzio and his Portrait of a Young Man (above). This 1514 artwork by the quintessential painter of the High Renaissance is regarded as the most important painting missing since the Second World War. Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man was stolen from the aristocratic Czartoryski family in Kraków, Poland, in 1939. The painting, which had been spirited away by Prince Augustyn Józef Czartoryski (lower image above), was discovered by Gestapo agents working for Hans Frank (second image, above), the Nazi Governor-General of Poland. The portrait ended up in Frank's villa in Neuhaus, Germany, but its whereabouts have been unknown since 1945.

Klimt's work was highly prized by the Nazis.
En Canot , Jean Metzinger
Not all the artworks stolen by the Nazis were admired by the Nazis. In fact, art that was deemed "degenerate" by the Third Reich was looted and either destroyed or sold. This included many modern works of art, such as Jean Metzinger's En Canot (right). The hugely influential Cubist paint-ing, which caused a sensation when it was exhibited in Paris in 1913, was eventually acquired by Berlin's National Gallery. The Nazis confiscated the painting in 1936 and it featured in Hitler's Degenerate Art Ex-hibition in Munich. Since then, En Canot has been missing, likely destroyed. Unlike the paintings and sculptures of many of his contemporaries, Gustav Klimt's works were never labeled 'degenerate' by the Nazi authorities. Still, a number of the Austrian symbolist's canvases were seized by the Third Reich, including the Portrait of Trude Steiner (above, upper image), painted in 1900. The portrait depicts the father of Jenny Steiner (lower image, above), a Jewish collector who fled Austria in 1938. The artwork was confiscated by the Nazis following Steiner's lucky escape and sold to a mysterious buyer in 1941. It's not been seen since. Whether it survived the war is anyone's guess.

Rembrandt's "in house" model, his son, Titus.
Adolph Hitler was a failed artist who fancied himself as a critic and collector. He was planning to create the Führermuseum, a major art gallery in Linz, Austria, which would have displayed the most important treasures stolen by the Third Reich (A model of the proposed museum is seen below). Among the artworks earmarked for the gallery was An Angel with Titus' Features (above) by Rembrandt. The painting depicts the Dutch artist's son and was stolen by the Nazis from a chateau in rural France in 1943. It ended up in a Paris warehouse, awaiting the building of the Führermuseum, which never happened. After that, the trail runs cold and the painting is presumed destroyed, or might very well be languishing in a clandestine collection somewhere.

A model of Adolf Hitler's planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, designed by Roderich Fick based on Hitler's sketches.
Not all the victims of Hitler's wartime art rampage took the theft of their art lying down (often in their graves). The Jewish banker and collector, Hans Rudolf Fürstenberg (below), bought the sculpture titled Sappho from the renowned artist Auguste Rodin sometime in the early part of the 20th century. Fürstenberg fled Germany for France in 1937, and the sculpture was eventually stolen by the Nazi looting agency, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter (ERR). The sculpture was stored in a Paris warehouse for a time, but went astray around 1942. Despite its scale, today, Rodin's marble masterpiece is considered lost forever. Fortunately, Fürstenberg survived the war, having sought refuge in neutral Switzerland. Despite his best efforts, the avid art enthusiast was unable to recover a significant part of his collection.

One would think such a large piece would be simple to find and recover.

Nazi troops gloating over their plunder.

Monday, December 3, 2018

1918 Art

1918 Armistice Night, George Luks
During the past year or two I've covered the development of art, painting in particular, one decade at a time. I realize doing so is an artificial, contrived, and somewhat inaccurate framework from which to understand art from the past, but unless someone comes up with something better, most art historians are stuck with it. On the positive side, such a "scaffolding" may not tell us all we'd like about art, but it does serve as a means in coming to grips with many of the social and political developments of our recent past. Like art, some of what we see is not pretty, but art is an important key to how people of a given era saw and contemplated their current existence.

Art here and over there...
One of the problems in covering art decade by decade arises when discussing the first two decades of any century. It's awkward using the words "nineteen teens," but still worse, I'm at a complete loss as to what to call the first decade. To avoid this problem, I've decided to concentrate on a single year from that era and to make things interesting, the art from exactly one-hundred years ago--1918. I was a little surprised to realize how little art had changed since then. Styles and media have changed, to be sure, but at the same time, artists' approach to creating and the freedom they were only then just encountering, has changed little.

Louis Weirter, Battle of Courcelette.
Frank Schoonover, Doughboys Storming German Trench.
George Bellows, The Germans Arrive.
John Singer Sargent, Gas.
The art of 1918 was almost totally dominated by the war--World War I. From the work of Louis Weirter, and his Battle of Courcelette (upper image), to that of the American social realist, George Luks' 1918 Armistice Night (top), quite overwhelming the continued presence of daily life depictions, there seemed to be little else of major importance happening in the art world, and the real world at the time. The advent of the news photo as seen in Evertt's Spanish Flu Epidemic (below) allowed artists who never came within a thousand miles of the fighting to depict with great accuracy and powerful emotion the battles as well as their sad aftermath.

Spanish Flu Epidemic, 1918-19, Everett. Fifty to one-hundred million died, far more casualty than all the wars of the 20th century combined. 
The Germans Arrive (third image above) by the American social realist George Bellows is a prime example of an artist's use of photos from the front. It was also based on an actual account from the Bryce Commission of a German soldier restraining a young Belgian teenager whose hands had just been severed. This and the other paintings of the time suffered much criticism as critics accused Bellows of taking liberties when capturing on canvas, the horrific scenes of war. One notable detractor was the American artist and author, Joseph Pennell, who argued that because Bellows had never been at the battlefront and therefore had not witnessed at first hand the events he painted, he forfeited the right to paint them. Bellows responded sarcastically that he had not been aware that the great Leonardo da Vinci “...had a ticket of admission to the Last Supper”.

American artist: World War I recruiting poster.
French Farmer: Crashed Aeroplane, John Singer Sargent
The British: Munitions Girls, Stanhope Forbes
Meanwhile, on the home front, a civilian "army" was often depicted doing their part to "defeat the Prussian hoard." During the 20th-century, the phrase, "a nation goes to war," came into widespread use with a meaning far beyond simply sending young men off to a foreign land to fight. In Europe, the continued existence of entire nations was often at stake. The war, as in Sargent's Crashed Aeroplane (second image, above), sometimes came plummeting into the back yard. Such art was seen as uniting a nation in the war effort. Sometimes this theme was subtle as in the lower two images above. Sometimes it was not.

The Boat, Salvador Dali.
Ols Maria, Anders Zorn.
Adele Besson, Auguste Renoir.
Baby (Cradle), Gustav Klimt.
Over the Town, Marc Chagall
1918 and the ghastly war came during an epic era when most of the household names from European art history were still alive and producing the art that made them famous. An 18-year-old Salvador Dali was still toying with Pointillism. He'd yet to discover his knack for the surreal. Others were well past their prime. Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt died in 1918. The French painter, Claude Monet was in his declining years while his friend, Auguste Renoir, died in 1919. The Swedish portrait artist, Anders Zorn died a year later. However the Russian Jewish artist, Marc Chagall lived to be ninety-seven.

An artist transitioning (again).
In August, 1914, when the war in Europe ignited, Pablo Picasso was thirty-three, and by then already famous enough and rich enough to allow him to sit out the war in the relative comfort of his Paris studio, even vacationing periodically in the south of France. 1918 saw him wedded to his first wife, the Russian ballet dancer, Olga Kokhlova, whom he featured in many of his paintings. Her portrait (above) was from 1918. By 1918 Picasso had broken free from his stereotype as a Cubist to return to his more traditional, classical roots as seen in his Harlequins above. The work he did from 1916 to 1924 was among the most baffling in his entire output. The public, his critics, and fellow artists were now familiar with him as the founder of Cubism and indeed of modern art, the painter who was most radical and consistent in casting aside the conventional laws of art and putting new rules in their stead. Mimetic copying of the given world could be seen as superseded. Picasso bewildered the experts and general public alike by returning to a representational art of a monumental, statuesque kind. Picasso's pictures were figural. Wholly in the classical tradition, and in accord with European forms of classicism. 1918 was marked by the coexistence of polar opposites. And yet Picasso's work matched the mood of the age, and pursued his own intentions as an artist.
Matisse and Picasso--two of a kind (almost).
When the First World War began Braque and Derain, Picasso's closest artist friends, were called up. His dealer Kahnweiler, now an abominated German alien who remained in Switzerland for the duration of the war. Braque was wounded at the front. Around April 1906 Picasso met another close friend, Henri Matisse, who was 11 years his senior. The two became lifelong friends as well as rivals and are often compared. One key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted from nature, while Picasso was more inclined to work from imagination. The subjects painted most frequently by both artists were women and still lifes, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully realized interiors. 1918 saw Matisse living the good life on the French Riviera where he painted odalisques, landscapes, and scenes from his second-floor apartment, capturing the iconic essence of Nice.

Bathing Man, 1918, Edvard Munch
The Disquieting Muses,
1916-1918, Giorgio De Chirico
Elsewhere in the art world of 1918, Edvard Munch was paving the way for artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I'm especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s Bathing Man (above)from 1918. Although his paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief. A war often has that effect on people, especially artists and their art. For example, one of the most famous paintings by Georgio De Chirico is his The Disquieting Muses (left), painted in the city of Ferrara, Italy, during World War I. De Chirico considered Ferrara a perfect “metaphysical city,” and used much of the cityscape of Ferrara in the painting. The large castle in the background is the Castello Estense, a medieval fortress in the cen-ter of the city. The three “muses,” in the fore-ground of the painting, are “disquieting” due to the fact that they were the pathway to overcome appearances and allowed the viewer to engage in a discourse with the unknown.

Attempt on Vladimir Lenin's Life, Aug. 30, 1918, M.G. Sokolov. 
Although "all was well" in the United States once the war ended, that was far from the case in Russia where Bolshevism (Communism) was on the rise and the old Romanov aristocracy was in decline. Even before one war ended, another began as the Bolsheviks launched the "October Revolution" (which, ironically, began in November of 1917). It was led by Vladimir Lenin who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land to the peasants, and bread to the workers. The Russian artist, M.G. Sokolov painted an Attempt on Vladimir Lenin's life, Aug. 30, 1918 (above). Lenin survived the incident. He died in 1924. The painting was done some years later.
Series 1, No. 8, 1918, Georgia O'Keeffe
A new art medium.
America in 1918 was a much happier story. The "roaring twenties" were about to dawn. My dad was about to be born (1919); Georgia O'Keeffe (above) was a rising young star in the blazing New York world of art; and moviegoers were paying their nickels and dimes to see Theda Bara in a relatively new art form--motion pictures (albeit of the silent sort). William Fox's Salome (right) lit the silver screen followed in years to come by 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), City Girl (1930) and other equally forgettable silent "classics." Yes, that's the same Hollywood Fox as with Twentieth Century Fox, the Fox Network and any number of other such enterprises bearing his name. Actually, he had little or nothing to do with any of these companies, having lost control of Fox Films when the stock market plunged in 1929.
The Carriage Business, 1918, Grant Wood
painting a dismal transition