Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Nude in Two Dimensional Art – across the period 1750-1920

Depictions of the nude between 1750 and 1920 underwent many variations of approach pertaining to genre or other social message (and causing controversy in the process). This period saw its major movements in Rococo, Neo-Classical, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Post Impressionism. The chosen representatives of ‘the nude’ for these periods are, Boucher, David, Gericault, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne and Picasso. Attitudes towards the nude and its portrayalregarding the following examples gradually altered throughout this period though the artists themselves usually retained their notoriety during their own lifetimes.

The nude was already a traditional and established artistic subject however the interest is largely to be found in the importance of the messages that these artists intended to convey and the notoriety that they often achieved in the process. Influences such as poetry, mythology, religion, social comment and war and the contrasts in the reasons they chose depict the nude across each given period had surprising and often extreme or shocking effects upon their audience. The most scandalous images through the period however belonged to the genre based depictions of the nude as these were generally greeted with outrage and publically criticised and condemned. Interestingly though, these same works often inspired substantial but private commissions from wealthy collectors and members of the Aristocracy.

Other considerations when viewing the following images relate to how the nude was treated technically. Some of the following examples were very academic and traditional whilst othershad a clearly passionate and painterlystyle and some had been cleverly abstracted.

Franchois Boucher (1703-1770), a French Rococo painter, engraver and designer was arguably the most prominent painter of the middle of the 18th century as his patrons were largely derived from the wealthy French aristocracy. Boucher’s popularity rose to dizzying heights after his position as favoured portrait painter to Madame de Pompadour (who was King Louis XV’s famous mistress), was secured. His most preferred figurative works during his own lifetimereflect thedecorative excesses of the Rococo period, ‘gay and superficial, Boucher’s artful fantasies were the mirrors in which his patrons, the French aristocracy, saw the cherished reflections of their own ornamental decadence’ (Gardner 1986, p.781).

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Franchois Boucher (1703-1770) – Cupid a Captive 1754

These (then modern) conventional and graceful nudes, such as Cupid a Captive (1754) were largely inspired by mythology and are great in number. In this example, academic considerations pertaining to compositional arrangements are clearly evident in the fleshy pyramid of females and infants against a cool leafy backdrop. Here, we can see that generally, nudity is revealed by the drapery whilst maintaining a level of concealment by the dynamic positioning of figures, drapery and other crisscrossing diagonals.

These earlier examples of Boucher’s depictions of the nude were somewhat customary and accepted and were to some extent, fashionable as other frescoes of this style indeed adorned many of the prestigious and public buildings such as the wall and ceiling paintings in the Basilica at Ottobeuren.

The astonishment of the general public and aristocracy respectively was paramount therefore when Boucher exhibited his most controversial painting, L’Odalisque(c. 1749) for which he received much criticism. His most ardent critic was none other than, French Philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-84), who claimed he was ‘prostituting his own wife’. As Diderot was chief editor and writer of the Encyclopedie (1751-1772), he is attributed with (as defined by ChilversThe Oxford Dictionary of Art  1997, p. 161) ‘shaping the rationalist and humanitarian ideals of the Age of Enlightenment’. Diderot’s influence was therefore paramount and he was enjoying a huge cultural following at the time of his afore mentioned commentas was the extent of success of his Encyclopedie during this time. A fact further emphasised by his consistent historical reference as Leader of the Enlightenment. It is no surprise that this criticism was unrelenting as Boucher did not cease painting genre works (often with his family members as models) however his notoriety still earned him favour with wealthy private collectors and commissions ensued.

It should be noted however that Diderot maintained ‘that our ideas of beauty arise from practical everyday experience of beautiful things, based on a sentiment for the ‘conformity of the imagination with the object’. He regarded taste as a faculty acquired through repeated experience of apprehending the true or the good through immediate impression which renders it beautiful’ (Chilvers p. 161). This further example of Diderot’s artistic ideals can be seen as a contradiction of his earlier statement regarding Boucher’s L’Odalisqueas a prostitution of his wife, as here he acknowledges the beauty that may arise from practical everyday experienceand what could be more practical than the enjoyment and acknowledgement of a wife’s beauty? However it is not a common approach to pay homage towards ones wife in this manner and could have otherwise been achieved in a more subdued pose.

Further to this, the figure is representative of a contemporary woman who is (half) dressed and surrounded by everyday objects and of which was the cause of the original scandal. His other comment regarding the effect of a visual repeated experience to apprehend the beauty of an artwork, may well invite a rebuttal suggesting that Diderot, may have, over time, come to appreciate the work for its inherent skill and move beyond his ‘immediate impression’ to a more unemotional conclusion.

This paintings provocative nature still employs the drapery of his earlier paintings in concealment however the locations of concealment differ most completely. Its message was not derived from any mythological or religious inspiration but instead, simply displays his model, flushed of cheek both facial and buttocks in a reclining position that is somewhat invitational to the viewer. This arrangement of the models pose results in a confrontational image that is either applauded as brave honesty or condemned as brazen vulgarity depending greatly upon the viewer’s predisposition toward such imagery.

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Franchois Boucher (1703-1770) – L’Odalisque c.1749

Boucher was not daunted by the reactions of the public and intellectual critics such as Diderot and shortly after paintedMarie-Louise O’Murphy(c. 1752)in a similar pose. Boucher’s depictions of the nude are painted with a clear sensuality and charm of which continue to capture attention well into the 21st century. This enduring example of a Rococo period nude is extremely successful as a challenging portrait in engaging with the viewer, whatever Boucher’s original intention.Further achievements regarding the depictions of the nude during this period were to be made by both his contemporaries and his pupils, most notably, Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806).

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) – Intervention of the Sabine Women 1799

Jacques Louis David (1748-1825), of the Neo-Classical Period, finds an entirely different approach at creating public interest from Boucher’s more intimate paintings. David was politically entangled and tremendously disillusioned with the contemporary events of the French Revolution. He found himself incarcerated in 1795 due to his position as chief painter during the resultant political events.

It was during his incarceration that David’s philosophies were revaluated and his neo-classical style and themes refined all of which manifested in the Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799). As an allegorical painting, this painting depicts a real event and the moment of the Sabine’s attempt at rescuing the women after they have been abducted by neighbouring Romans.

The relevance of this image is in David’s intention to advocate the reconciliation of the French people after the revolution. The women are intervening in an attempt to end the bloodshed and in particular, Hersilia, the central female is placing herself between the King of Rome, her husband and the King of the Sabine’s, her father.

Uniquely, a mirror was used in the exhibition of this painting as an interactive prop for viewing the women spaced in and around the central character which allowed visitors to participate in the crowded scene because figures were life sized. This meant that a woman viewing the painting could easily find herself within the painting. As society women posed for David, the political meaning was not lost, a fact that was further emphasised as the faces belonged to well known and respected ladies.

The similarity of intention for both David and Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) in enlightening the viewer and making political comment cannot be ignored coupled with their mutual distaste for contemporary politics. Gericault painted, The Raft of Medusa in 1818-19 and it was arguably the most ambitious undertaking of his career. This work depicts both the Neo-Classical and Romantic painterly styles and therefore acts as a bridging image between the two fundamentally important art historical periods. As an allegory, ‘The Medusa’ relates to an actual (then) modern event of political scandal and of which comments upon the restoration of the monarchy after Napoleon for which Gericault was opposed.

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Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) – The Raft of the Medusa 1818-19

The tragic event involved the government vessel ‘The Medusa’ which had lost course off the West African coast. There were originally hundreds of men on board however only a handful of survivors were eventually rescued after days on a makeshift raft. He viewed the restoration of the monarchy as akin to the disaster upon this vessel and this relationship was not lost on his intended audience.

Gericault spent a year in Italy,prior to embarking upon this masterwork,researching and sketching the nude and considering the nude as a tool in its particular ability to evoke raw responsive emotions. He also interviewed the actual survivors of the shipwreck, examined corpses in the morgue, and commissioned a replica of the raft to be built. This can all be seen in the dramatic treatment of ‘the moment when the men on the raft first glimpse the rescue ship. From the prostrate bodies of the dead and dying in the foreground, the composition is built up to a rousing climax in the group that supports the frantically waving Negro, so that the forward surge of the survivors parallels the movement of the raft itself’ (Janson 1970, p.482).

The Raft of Medusa, as a link in the visual chain between Neo-Classical and Romantic painting, is depicted through the dramatic staged lighting and posturing of figures combined with the surging movement of the wavesalongside the treatment of flesh and water respectively. It was hugely successful in Gericault’s attempt at creating a recognisably allegorical image and masterwork respectively.

Realism followed the Romantic Period and is applied to a movement in 19th century (particularly French) art of which is largely considered a rebellion against the more traditional, mythological, religious and historical subjects that largely preceded this movement. Realism shows a preference to more imperfect and natural scenes of modern life.

The leader of the Realist movement was Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), who said ‘painting is essentially a concrete art and must be applied to real and existing things’ (Chilvers 1997, P. 463). Courbet valued the role of the modern artist with a conviction that he must rely on his own direct experience “I cannot paint an angel because I have never seen one” words that one can surmise may easily offend, cause scandal or be frankly rebellious but do however greatly add to his appeal  as it suggests a resistance to conformity.

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Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) – Interior of My Studio, a Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Life as an Artist 1854-55

Courbet exhibited his own privately organized showing of paintings that were denied entry into the Paris Exposition of 1855 and which would otherwise have hung alongside works by Ingres and Delacroix(1798-1863) who were French Neo-Classical and Romantic figure heads respectively and both of whom painted predominantly historical, political, allegorical and religious images. This exhibition was highly esteemed due to Ingres and Delacroix being artistic adversaries.

Courbet published a ‘Manifesto of Realism’ by way of publicising his own event and the main attraction was entitled Interior of My Studio, a Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Life as an Artist(1854-55). It has been suggested that the literary play on ‘Real Allegory’ may allude to the inclusion of existing identifiable characters and promote a closer study of the juxtaposition of figures in relation to the central artist and the principal spectators amounting to just two. Further to this, the length of the title of the work hints at a sense of humour regardless of his particular attachment to the work considering its size and consummate skill in the detailing.

The small boy is possibly representative of ‘the innocent eye’ and the nude model may be a symbol of Nature ‘or that undisguised Truth which he proclaimed the guiding principle of his art (note the emphasis on the clothing she has just taken off)’. The three central figures are illuminated by the only unobstructed radiance whereas the lateral figures are in partial and more mysterious lighting ‘to underline the contrast between the artist-the active creator-and the world around him that waits to be brought to life’(Janson1970, p. 492).

The portraits on the right are passively posed and include the Parisian aspect of Courbet’s existence such as his contemporary intellectuals, clients and critics. They are not engaged with him as are his two most direct observers but are instead either conversing amongst themselves or simply immersed in thought. The other group on the left consist of ‘the people’ from his home in Ornans. Here we see a mother and child, a priest, a Jewish man, workers, peasants and hunters.

Courbet’s studio was his largest undertaking and the first of many representations of the nude to follow all of which were essentially underappreciated by the general public of his day. The general consensus was that his confrontational depictions of the nude such as Woman with White Stockings (1861), Nude Reclining Woman (1862), Sleep (1866) and The Origin of the World (1866), succeeded in establishing him as a notorious and rebellious artist of the time. However it should be noted, these works did earn him healthy commissions.

Édouard Manet (1832-83) was particularly inspired by Courbet’s Studioand its brazen representation of the nude amongst so many clothed participants. In his The Luncheon on the Grass (1862-63), the warmth and creamy tones of the woman’s flesh against the black and grey of the men’s clothing, combined with the fact it is set in the outdoors, was to become far more controversial and indeed a revolutionary image.

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Edouard Manet (1832-83) – The Luncheon on the Grass 1862-3

Manetwas a French painter and graphic artist and is known as bridging the gap between that of Realism and Impressionism both visually and in spirit. His courageous intentions toward modern subjects earned him a reputation as an artistic rebel not unlike Courbet and indeed saw him as one of very few artists of the 19th century that were brave enough to tackle genre painting.

The exhibition of his masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeunersurl’herbe)and Olympia(1862-3) provoked great controversy and Chilver’s Oxford Dictionary of Art (1997, p. 345 states, ‘Manet reluctantly found himself acquiring a reputation as leader of the avant-garde. He was a respected and admired member of the group of young Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, Bazille, Sisley and Cezanne’.

Manet’s Luncheon is in stark contrast to historically and classically painted depictions of the nude that are mythological in subject such as AlexandreCabanel’s (1823-29); Birth of Venus 1863 of which received critical acclaim, whilst Manet’s was deemed as causing a scandal. It was exhibited in the same year as Manet’s Luncheon but as its subject is the mythical sea-birth of the goddess of love, it was considered as daring yet ‘so tastefully done that it avoided offence’ (Forsythe 1996, p.24).

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Alexandre Cabanel’s (1823-29) – Birth of Venus 1863

Perhaps it is due to Manet inclusion of the discarded clothes in the foreground of the composition making the spectator aware that they are gazing upon a girl who is not just ‘nude’ but has indeed just undressed. This combined with her naturally seated position that is quite devoid of any languorous abandon ‘on the grass with two young men; she has presumably been bathing in the nearby stream from which another girl emerges in her shift. The young men are not gods or sprites, but ordinary men in their everyday clothes and modern clothes at that – jackets, trousers and boots such as might be worn by any respectable gentleman visiting the PalaisD’Industrie with his respectable wife’ (J Forsythe P.23).

The comparison between that of Manet’s and Cabanel’s depictions of the nude are yet further indication of the ability of a modern subject painting engendering shock and outrage over that of its tremendously erotic (though supposedly chaste) mythological inspired counterpart. Indeed The Birth of Venus earned Cabanel many commissions by the emperor Napoleon III (1808-73) who claimed that Manet’s was ‘an offence against modesty’.

Interestingly though, years after the completion and exhibition of Manet’s Luncheon, an art historian discovered its striking similarity to an engraving after Raphael (Marcantonio Raimondi, The Judgment of Paris detail c1520) from which ‘he borrowed its main outlines while translating the figures into modern terms. Had his contemporaries known this, the Luncheon would have seemed a rather less disreputable kind of outing to them’ (Janson1970, p.15). The source image depicts a group of classical Deities again a fact that if known, may have resulted in acceptance rather than indignity.

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Edgar Degas (1834-1917) – The Tub, Pastel on Cardboard 1886

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) provided the art world with another cause for debate with his pastel drawing The Tub (1886) as like Boucher, David, Gericault, Courbet and Manet before him, he depicted a contemporary woman. This lady was obviously devoid of any artificial posturing and she was not masked through the representation of a goddess or coy nymph but instead is seen to be going about her bathing routine ‘in a matter of fact fashion, unconscious of any observer. Degas himself described it as being ‘as if you looked through a keyhole’, by which he also implied that there was no element of deliberate erotic display in what was seen’ (Mannering 1994, p. 69).

The influence of Japanese colour prints along with photography are apparent in the compositional choices that Degas was making during this time. The evident Japanesequality here is in the ‘cut off’ objects upon the vanity or table top which results in an element of spontaneity, akin to a snapshot from an unfamiliar vantage point which gives it immense interest.

Degas was also fascinated with the portrayal of movement in his work which is a successful element here as the lady balances on her toe and sponges her back. This is achieved also through the vigorous treatment of the woman’s flesh and the directional strokes that are evident and purposefully unblended.

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), a Post-Impressionist painter,represented bathers also however his were based lakeside and the similarity with Degas work was solely in the impact his series had upon the art world although Cezanne’s proved to be morerecognisable. The resultant waves that collided and were later discernible in modern or 20th century art were largely due to his use of the triangular shape in two dimensional compositional arts.

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Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) – The Large Bathers 1898-1905

Of Cezanne’s The Bathers series, his The Large Bathers (1898-1905) was the most ambitious and fully realised. It was his innovative use of the traditionally incorporated triangle within the composition that was found to be revolutionary. Here we see Cezanne has framed the least interesting part of the landscape by the figures, trees and river of which combine to form this historically frequently used shape. ‘This picture was exhibited in the Autumn Salon of 1907, the same year of Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973)Les Demoiselles D’ Avignon(1907)(Benicka 1980, p.88).

Another variation to the typical Renaissance pyramid can be seen in the apex of the largest pyramid, where the trees are yet to meet, which is outside of the visual plane. The smaller triangles as determined by the figure groupings, both right and left are arranged surprisingly regarding the size of the individual women and their placement results in disjointed triangles.

This strong and flat treatment of the female figures may, it has been suggested, be indicative of a ‘lifelong concern which has to do with Cezanne’s anxiety about women’ (Schapiro 1904, p 44) resulting in a triangle of constraint. However the flesh tones alongside the bluish landscape form a harmony throughout the painting where all the elements of the sky, water and vegetation somewhat merge.

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Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) Les Demoiselles D’Avignon 1907

‘Commentators point to Cezanne’s monumental nudes in The Bathers series and the impact of African art on Western art as’ major influencesupon Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.Pablo Picasso’s  (1881-1973) nudes within their brothel setting however does outshine Cezanne’s Bathers in its effect upon the art world regarding his new level of reductionism and his ‘dislocation of faces’ being heralded as distinctly radical. Cubism was the inevitable outcome and Picasso brings this evaluation of figurative art to a close.

All of the discussed artists have made a lasting contribution to our understanding of the visual language regardless of their scandalous beginnings and can be celebrated for their honesty and integrity whatever their individual intent. The pervading discovery is in the fact that the most impactful were not representations of myth or religion but were instead that of genre and allegory or were innovative regarding a technical basis.


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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


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The Poetry of Drawing – Pre-Raphaelite

Friday 19th August 2011

The Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibited ‘The Poetry of Drawing; Pre-Raphaelite, Designs, Studies and Watercolours between18th June and 4th September 2011. This exhibition displayed the works of the principal artists of the time pertaining to the period between 1848 into the 1860’s of which survived into the 20th century (as seen in the work of Evelyn De Morgan). The dominant figures of the period and therefore the exhibition were;Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt; together with works by their respective cohorts and allies; John Ruskin, Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Sandys, Simeon Solomon and William Morris. The 140 or more works contributing to this show include, as the title indicates; drawings, sketches, watercolours, illustrations and designs for textiles and stained glass with a focus upon the importance of drawing studies in the creative process for artists of this group.

The exhibition space is long and rectangular and divided openly into four rooms that relate to aesthetics over chronology although it should be noted that the first and last rooms correctly introduce and conclude the larger period. Room one wasdedicated to the earlier Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood (P.R.B) works which where appropriately associated to the inception of the group in 1848 (which disbanded in 1853). The Fourth room also included Morris’s later arts and crafts from his manufacturing and decorating firm ‘Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co which he founded in 1861. This left rooms two and three for the admiration of the general public based seemingly on the popular culture aesthetic inclination toward that of the observation of flora in a clear and bright-sharp focus technique. Rooms two and three also included works of the second wave of Pre-Raphaelitism associated with Burne-jones’ femmes fatales and also a number of portraits of the artists themselves.

The title ‘The Poetry of Drawing’ panders to the popular cultural myth of what the Pre-Raphaelite movement represents. When one unschooled in the historical context of this period hears reference to this movement, it does two things. First of all, it alludes to the importance of literature to this body of work which is historically correct as literature and in particular the poetry of John Keats and Alfred Lords was paramount as the movement had a strong literary and illustrative flavour from its inception.However, it also readily conjures images of Rossetti’s seductive Femmes Fatales, ‘Study of Jane Morris for ‘Mnemosyne’, (1876, Pastel on paper) complete with cascading curls, pouting lips and smouldering eyesor the equally appealing lovers secret rendezvous as with Arthur Hughes’ ‘The Long Engagement’ (1854-59). This is at odds with the original images signed with the initials P.R.B that were largely moral and frequently religious based.

This poses an interesting question of the Femmes Fatales initiating more interest from the majority of viewers than the true establishment of the initial fraternity, The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) which was begun by Rossetti, Millais and Hunt and in this early grouping an emphasis on the sincerity of early Italian art was paramount, which was, in their combined psyche,  only to be found as prior to Raphael, whom they saw as the fountainhead of academism. An interesting point not devoid of irony asthey had a clear intention to treat their subjects (particularily flora) with heightened realism and in rebelling against academism, formed a school of thought and common goals and interest, their own ‘little academy’. The founders of the PRB were in fact fellow students of the Royal Academy, Everett, Millais, Hunt and Rossetti who, as the son of a former Italian revolutionary was inclined to forming a secret Brotherhood.

The issue of chronology is redeemed by the curator’s consideration of informing the general public by means of written plaques which were historically correct. Works were presented upon a white background and the design of the rooms enabled an orderly and spacious setting for the inspection of the works.

The allocation of works to rooms, can be seen as intentional on the part of the curator and similar to the merchandising within a retail fashion outlet. An introduction to the appropriate goods for the season (first and last rooms introduce and conclude the period), full priced and more recent pieces in the centre of the store (publically friendly works here of a more commercial and marketable standard), and basic necessities at the back. To summerise in shopping terms when looking for something practical, only to find the more frivolous as more appealing in that venture and spending copious amounts of non-existent money in the process only to find items that you never have occasion to wear.

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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in REVIEWS


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Mad Square exhibition – Modernity in German Art 1910-37 – (Constructivism focus)

The Mad Square exhibition – Modernity in German Art 1910-37 officially opened 6 August 2011 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and will close 6 November 2011. This show depicts various creative responses to a changing society in the lead up to World War II throughout Germany with a diversity of mediums and approaches. The 20th Century was a tumultuous period in western history and this is most evident in the works generated and produced for and by the German experience.

Typical works in this exhibition included that of Expressionism, New Objectivity and the German brand of Dada, all these movements strongly focus on the social upheaval of the period. Constructivism was an interesting addition to these key avant-garde movements as it was somewhat devoid of the social and political observations prevalent in the art of this time. The constructivists did however share a ‘utopian belief in social reform’ and perceived their ‘abstract art as playing a central role in this process’ (Strecker, 2011)).

Constructivism and the machine aesthetic existed as an international movement for the very brief period of 1922 – 23 in Germany having originated in Russia after the First World War.The Bauhaus, a school of art and design, was erected in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and was closed by the Nazis in 1933. This school was therefore significant to the German and Russian Constructivist’s as principal photographers, architects and artists of the period taught there.

Carl Grossberg was instrumental in the aestheticisation of industrial interiors and indeed other machinery or technological subjects and his oil painting (on wood) White Pipes (1933), introduces the Constructivism room in the Mad Square exhibition. The complicated weaving of tubular pipes are treated with contrasting flat and bulky, white shapes against more detailed metallic conduits. The environment is devoid of humanity which results in a clinical and cold tension which is strongly evident in this piece.

The links in Grossberg’s work to German Photography is clearly evident in artists such as EO Hoppe and his Rotating Crane in a Shipyard (1928), and Werner MantzStreet in Cologne – Zollstock(1928) (both of which are Gelatin Silver Photographs). These two approaches vary from romantic idealism as seen in Rotating Crane to documentary realism Such as Street in Cologne,however both treat geometric shapes with reverence. Hoppe’s work has a strong nostalgic feel brought about by his soft focus, sepia toned photographs of which depict his somewhat romantic attention and compositional magic. Mantz’s photograph of the street includes that of three people that are centred compositionally but are otherwise extremely small due the perspective of his shot in an otherwise deserted street. The greyscale in this photograph is maintained regardless of the successful deployment of contrast.

The Constructivism inclusion in the Mad Square exhibition allowed a reprieve from the more outrageous messages and visual orgy that all combined to overwhelm the viewer. It was aesthetically humble as it concentrated largely on clean lines and the graphic qualities that lend themselves to the style of the movement. By the time the viewer makes it to the Constructivism room, they may have given up on trying to make sense of the tumultuous period and can just ‘go with it’ and enjoy.

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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in REVIEWS


Napoleon’s Empire (1799-1815)

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) united France after the political anarchy and chaotic nature of the French Revolution. His popularity arose through a series of promotions of military ranks and subsequent conquests between 1795-1799. November 9, 1799 is the date that Napoleon and members of the Directory took action in the form of a coup d’etat and by 1802, he was elected first consul for life and proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon I in 1804.

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Jacques – Louis David – The Sabine Women 1796-99

Jacques Louis David was disillusioned witht he contemporary events of the French Revolution which saw him imprisoned in 1795 due to his position as chief painter during the ensuing messy political events. It was during his incarceration that David’s philosophies were revaluated and his neo-classical style and themes refined all of which manifested in the ‘Intervention of the Sabine Women’ (1799). As an allegorical painting, this painting depicts a real event and the moment of the Sabines attempt to rescue the women after they have been abducted by neighbouring Romans and its relvance is in his intention to advocate the reconcilliation of the French people after the revolution. The women are intervening in an attempt to end the bloodshed and in particular, Hersilia, the central female is placing herself between the king of Rome, her husband and the king of the Sabines, her father.

Uniquely, a mirror was used in the exhibition of this painting as an interactive prop for viewing the women spaced in and around the central character; visitors therefore participated in the crowded scene as figures were life sized. This meant that a woman viewing the painting could easily find herself in the painting. As society women posed for David the political meaning was not lost, a fact that was further emphasised as the faces belonged to well known and respected ladies which further accentuated his point.

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Jacques Louis David – Napoleon Crossing the Alps 1800

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Jean Auguste Dominnique Ingres 1780-1867 – Napoleon on his Imperial Throne 1806

In David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, we can see a neoclassical tubule approach yet again though it is compositionally ground breaking and Jean Auguste Dominique’s portrait of Napoleon on his Imperial Throne (1806) is an obvious staged and idealised representation. David’s portrait is of the neoclassical style, it is painted with an emotion of awe and somewhat demonstrates David’s fascination toward his subject at a time when he, like and of the French people, looked towards this charismatic, competent and enigmatic leader. It can be surmised that this is a Romantic viewpoint however his classical approach is somewhat predictable.

In subsequent portraits of Napoleon, including that of Ingres, ‘we can watch the young revolutionary soldier dissolve into the First Consul (with vestiges of revolutionary intensity in his face); and in two years he becomes the successor of Charlemane’ (Clark 1971, P 301). Both portraits have dramatic lighting and display interesting compositional patterns.

The citizens of France, like David, were infatuated with Napoleon and initially, Napoleon’s conquests were a source of great national pride as they had unified a corruptible people. Public processions such as that of his first Italian campaign, displayed the proceeds of war as the plundered treasures were paraded through the streets resulting in an upkeep of moral and further unifying the people.

However, Napoleon’s approach to supremacy fails and as a result, his supernatural presence abides. He is rembembered a a model for dictatorship for future generations and looses his appeal as his ensuing invasions bring an end to the temporary peace throughout Europe experienced at the beginning of his reign. Two such men that similarily lost their faith in Napoleon are Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Francisco Goya (1746-1829). They are united in their distaste and disenchantment with Napoleon and his proclamation as Emperor at the time of his coronation as ‘Emperor of the French’ in May 1804.

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W.J Mahler – Portrait of Ludwig Van Beethoven 1804

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De Francisco Goya (1746-1828) – The Third of May 1808

In fact Goya became so disillusioned and disgusted with Bonaparte during the French occupation of Spain (1808-14) that he painted ‘The Second of May, 1808 and the Third of May 1808 whilst still employed as a court painter. Both paintings were finished quickly which is evident by the passionate brush strokes and lack of detail. The Third of May is an extremely dramatic painting which is accentuated by the figure ‘x’ wearing a stark white shirt lit by the soldier’s lantern. This nameless peasant is appealing to the unfeeling executioners who appear as a single deathly entity lacking any humanity. The church is included in the composition with lights extinguished demonstrating the churches impotence in the course of war. Goya’s distaste for unnecessary bloodshed is further demonstrated by the ‘Equally dramatic, and even more savage and macabre, are the sixty-five etchings Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), which he executed in 1810-14. These nightmare scenes, depicting atrocities committed by both French and Spanish, are the most brutally savage protest against cruelty and war which the visual imagination of man has conceived (The Oxford Dictionary of Art, 1997, P. 240).

Napoleon’s power over France and throughout much of continental Europe between 1799-1815 became known as the Napoleonic Age. Although Bonaparte’s forces were eventually weakened in his Russian campaign of 1814 which was momentous in bringing about an end to his reign, it cannot be denied that his charisma and capable persona was a welcome change after the French Revolution. It can be argued that it was his human fallibility, pride and lust for power that eventually brought the major powers together in Vienna to minimize the revolutionary and Napoleonic experience and to denounce him as leader.

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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Russian Revolution 1917-1921

The Russian Revolution was comprised of a number of revolutions during the period 1917-1921. It must be noted however that he Revolution of 1905 and World War One (1914-1918) altered the mentality of the Russiam people and brought about the fall of the historic rulers of Russia.

Nicholass II (Nikolai Alexandrovich 1868-1918) was the last Tsar of Russia as he was deposed in February in the first Revolution of 1917 and was replaced by a provisional government. Nicholas II abdicated as his armies had suffered huge losses during the war, loyalty was frayed largely due to his leadership and he was therefore powerless to repress the revolution. ‘For a time a dual relationship existed between a hastily formed provisional government and the Soviet Workmen’s Deputies, but on October 7, the latter, under the leaderhip of the Bolsheviks, seized full power’ by overthrowing the provisional government in St. Petersburg, ‘and Russia entered a period of civil war and foreign intervention (Kerner 1966). The leader of the Bolshevik party was Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924).

Lenin was a complex man of many titles other than simply Russian Revolutionary, he was also an established; author, lawyer, economic theorist and political pholosopher. He is attributed with founding the Soviet Communist Party. As a theorist, his extensive theoretical and philosophical views of (the political and socio-economic) Marxism, lead to an informed political revolution thus producing Leninism and the basis of Soviet Socialism.

Lenin is also well known for war time propaganda and he valued the power of words and symbols as evidenced by his systematic use of it to implement Soviet policies both at home and abroad. When artists produced what he considered to be appropriate works in support of this view he would go to great lengths to cultivate it. Lenin awarded Russian painter, Isaak Brodsky (1884-1939) the ‘Order of Lenin’ which was a reward for distinguished service to the Soviet Union during peacetime and Brodsky was the first painter to recieve such acclamation.

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Portrait of Vladimir Lenin – In Front of Smolny – dated before 1925 – Painted by Isaak Brodsky 1884-1939

Isaak Brodsky belonged to the Russian Art Movement otherwise known as the Union of Russian Artists who can be attributed (amongst other artists) as contributing to the creation of ‘Socialist Realism’. The Oxford Dictionary of Art (1997, P. 526) defines this style of art as prevalent in ‘Soviet Russia and other communist countries, involving in theory a faithful and objective reflection of real life and in practice the compulsory and uncritical glorification of the State’. This painting and artist is also identifiable as Social Realism in light of art that comments on social and economic (including political contemprary) events and isssues and is usually painted in a realistic manner. This painting clearly depicts a time of peace as evidenced by Lenins clothing, his relaxed stance and the inclusion of the interested figures placed in the background. Brodsky’s contemporaries in the field of painting were Nikolai Timkov, Alexander Laktionov, Yuri Neprintsev, Piotre Belousov, Piotr Vasiliev, Mikhail Kozell and others.

Another example of Lenin’s lust for complete control or propaganda is in the refusal of the dying renouned poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921) to go abroad for fear that he would ‘openly speak out in the West about the Soviet Regime’. (Volkov, Antonina, P.232)

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Portrait of Alexander Blok (1880-1921) – Painted by Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) Painted in 1907

Alexander Blok has been described as the greatest Russian poet of modern times though at the time of his grandest work he was of the older generation of Russian poets.

Russian Literature, as it existed during the revolutionary period of Russian history and of which can be described as ‘Modern Times’, had several manifestations some of which genre writings are described as; ‘Symbolism’ until 1910 after which ‘Acmeism’ and ‘Futurism’ prevailed. All afore mentioned literary periods were primarily represented in poetry. ‘Acmeism’ is a variety of neo-classism, and Futurism, rejected all the art of the past. Blok’s historical significance is largely due to his post-revolutionary poetical work, The Twelve (1918), a poem on the theme of the Revolution. Shostakovich (2009) describes Blok’s long poem ‘with its “mood-creating sounds, polyphonic rhythms, and harsh, slangy language” (as the Encyclopaedia Britannica termed it)’, as ‘one of the most controversial in the whole corpus of Russian poetry’.

Where Blok’s written word inspired musical creations such as, soprano’s (Dmitri Shostakovich – Song Cycle), piano trio’s (Seven Romances of Alexander Blok) and choral cantata’s (Arthur Lourie-In the Sanctuary of Golden Dreams), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was creating his own ‘colour music’.

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Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Cossacks, 1910-11

Kandinsky passionately believed that pure colour could affect the viewer psychologically, ‘in the way that bright red can affect us like the call of a trumpet’ (Gombrich 1995 P. 570) and his own paintings have since demonstrated this ‘colour music’ extremely successfully. He has been deemed a hugely significant artist in this regard as he inaugurated what came to be known as ‘abstract art’.

Kandinsky was producing a large number of paintings within the artistic period referred to as Fauvism which was a style of painting that was based on the use of intense and vivid colours and was considered as the first of the major avant-garde developments in European Art during the First World War. He may have also been influenced by the Impressionist movements and also, the decorative, Art Nouveau andhas been described as the first artist to exhibit a painting without an overall recognizable subject and wrote of his painting Cossacks (1910-11) in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) as ‘the first truly modern painting in the famous museum in London’. While it contains ‘traces’ of represenation, he noted, the overall effect is like an abstract painting. These traces can be seen in the bottom right hand corner as demonstrative of three soldiers wearing orange hats and in the top left side, there are two rearing horses with riders who are swinging mauve coloured sabres seemingly toward each other.

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Cossacks of the Russian Army during World War One, 1915

Cossacks were inhabitants of Russia and were usually settled on the frontiers. They were predominantly Russian though were of mixed ethnic origin and they received certain privileges, such as land entitlements ans self-government in exchange for military services. During the Russian Revolution, the Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict, the White and the less wealthy soldiers of the Red. Approximately ‘30,000 soldiers are said to have fled Russia with the defeated White armies’ (Kerner 1966) Eventually, Cossack land was reclaimed by the government and divided between other divisions of new automomous minorities. Vladimir Lenin was leader of the Red army and after  their victory ultimately established the world’s first Socialist State.

In 1921, March 15th, Lenin decreed a new economic policy that allowed international relief following a great famine that had paralized Russia. This famine was a direct result of World War One along with mismanagement and unfair taxation upon the farming peasantry.


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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized