It’s spring here in Worcester, MA, and more than just the trees are changing. I’m excited to let you all know that Curator’s Corner is getting a new look. If you visit me after May 21st, you’ll see a whole new site because Curator’s Corner will now live on DavisArt.com. My address isn’t changing, though! You’ll still use CuratorsCorner.com to get to the blog, but after the 21st you'll land on my newly designed page. While you’re there, you may want to check out the other great content that you can access! There will be tons of articles from SchoolArts magazineto browse, plus plenty of inspiration from Davis Publications.
Realism in funerary portraits is not as unusual as one might think, given that kings and their families were depicted in very stylized, idealized fashion. Lower-ranking people were often depicted with a great deal of realism, such as this nobleman of the Middle Kingdom. After the collapse of the Old Kingdom in the 2150s BCE, Egypt underwent a period of political turmoil (called the First Intermediate Period) for about 150 years before strong kings reasserted control in Dynasty XI (1986–1937 BCE). Some art historians ascribe the sensitive realism of Middle Kingdom portraits to the stress of political turmoil that plagued Egypt at the time. I just think this is a beautiful portrait. Okay, the ears are a little exaggerated.
After the decline of the Late Kingdom (712–343 BCE), Egypt was ruled by numerous outsiders, including Nubians (from the south in present day Sudan), Persians, and ultimately Greeks and Romans. Each succeeding group of rulers adopted Egyptian religious and artistic practices, and took advantage of the riches of Egypt. After the death of Cleopatra (30 BCE), Rome took over from the Greeks and basically used Egypt as a main source for grains for bread to feed their growing empire.
This priest’s head shows a degree of realism that almost resembles Roman funerary portraits, but it is, of course, too early for that to have been an influence. The sensitivity of the carving of the features is amazing, and here the ears are not exaggerated. It is a very dignified portrait of an older man, complete with a mole on his left cheek and laugh lines.
Roman Egyptians adapted the traditional burial practices of mummification and dedicatory funerary portraiture. However, they opted for realistic encaustic portraits on pieces of wood that were placed over the head of the mummy. This emphasis on realistic portraiture is totally Roman in style and is comparable to the funerary sculpted busts of the Republican period (509–27 BCE).
Correlations to Davis programs: A Global Pursuit 2E: 1.4; Beginning Sculpture:5; The Visual Experience 3E: 15.3; Discovering Art History 4E: 5; Experience Painting:7
Being a painter of landscapes and cityscapes myself, I’m always eager to share with you little landscape gems that come to my attention. Since I missed May Day with this post, this bouncy little treasure from the Philadelphia Museum of Art will have to be my “hooray, hooray for the first of May.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, landscape was down the list on European academic categories of “noble subjects.” When the American colonies finally became prosperous, the first art people wanted to commission was portraits depicting them in the same gleaming spotlight as their prosperous counterparts in Europe. Portraiture dominated American painting until after the Revolution (1775–1783). Landscape evolved gradually during the early 1800s, basically from the 1820s on, until we had a full-blown American school of landscape painting called the Hudson River School.
Interestingly, although landscape was not being commissioned by early Americans from professional painters, it was the lot of “decorators,” who painted window shades, carriages, doors, and walls to earn a living. Many of the early American portraitists had side hustles doing decorative painting.
Obviously, no one who could afford a portrait wanted it on a fire screen or overmantel (and I still don’t understand why “mantel” is spelled that way). Like Japanese screens of the Edo Period (1615–1868) that separated rooms, Americans enjoyed landscapes on these two distinctive supports—fireboards (fire screens) and overmantels (boards that lined the wall above a fireplace mantel).
The artists who painted these works were similar to the itinerant limner painters who were self-taught. But there is a freshness of conception and a wonderful sense of composition that makes many of these works really delightful and beautiful. They are not typically based on European models, and often reflect local environs. In the fireboard above, I’m wondering what the artist used to paint the sponge-like indication of leaves?
The overmantel below is simply awesome in the energetic American rhythm of the trees across the composition, dotted with early American homes. Even though it was painted in Massachusetts, the trees look like palms!
There is nothing I like more than the colors of nature awakening to spring. I especially love the arrays of greens that are seen in the grass, foliage, and trees. To celebrate Earth Appreciation Month, again, I’m presenting to you one of my favorite book illustrations from India. The colors in this illustration are so luscious, and really do put me in mind of the nascent season.
This illustration really does not display much, if any, of the influence of Mughal painting with its interest on realism. Rajasthan was part of the Mughal Empire, the art of which was greatly influenced by Iranian and, ultimately, Western European Renaissance manuscripts. The landscape displays the traditional layering of horizontal bands of different colors to depict depth, with fanciful trees that are out of proportion to the figures. The page also displays more than one event in the life of Krsna in the same page.
In traditional Rajput painting, the colors would vary slightly in each section to indicate elapse of time, whereas this page does not. The foliage is depicted in the manner of mid-1600s Mewar school painting, with a hierarchy of leaf shapes and flat floral forms sprinkled throughout the page. In this scene, Krsna’s attempt at solitary meditation is interrupted by lust (i.e. Kama, the god of desire). Krsna is depicted calmly at ease on the right in meditation, and in amorous agitation as he retrieves love note left by worshippers. His agitation is reflected in the dramatically different tree form above him on the left.
The illustration of books was the primary vehicle for painting in India starting in the 1000s CE. Numerous local schools of painting developed. By the advent of the Mughal domination of India (1526–1700s), books of both Muslim and Hindu subjects were lavishly illustrated. Despite the influence of the Mughal court style, however, many regional schools in Rajasthan maintained a distinctively indigenous naivete. This was a contrast to the Mughal interest in an idealized naturalism in painting. In the Punjab, a region dominated by local princes, the various courts developed styles that were a synthesis of the Mughal and Rajput (indigenous painting of Rajasthan) painting styles, a blending of the real and the conceptual.
Correlation to Davis programs: A Community Connection:2.5; Experience Painting:2;The Visual Experience 3E: 14.2
Antoine Vollon, known primarily for his excellent still-life paintings, had a birthday on April 23rd. In the glory days of the annual academic Salon in Paris (1760s–1890s)—when the self-appointed arbiters of artistic tastes judged all art submissions—the Salon had a hierarchy of “eminent” fine art forms starting with “the best”: painting and sculpture. There was also a hierarchy of “worthy” subjects in this order: history (or religious), portraits, landscapes, genre, and, lastly, still life.
Although Vollon had won prizes in the salon in the bottom of the barrel category, he always aspired to be a figure painter. His one figural work submitted to the Salon, Femme du Pollet à Dieppe, in 1876 was extremely well received. However, it was shot down with one snide remark from an artist I used to like, proto-Impressionist Édouard Manet (1832–1883): “Bah! What is Vollon's Femme? A basket that walks.” I would think Manet would have been a little humbler, seeing as he was roundly criticized ten years earlier for his Luncheon on the Grass!
Manet’s criticism effectively relegated Vollon to the “still life” category for good. I’m not sure if he ever ventured one of his landscapes, which was only a rung or two from the bottom. Well, as far as I’m concerned, if still life was an important subject for Dutch Baroque artists, including Rembrandt (1606–1669), it’s good enough for me. I put it at the top of the list.
Vollon, who painted during the heyday of the Impressionist movement, was basically trained in the Realist tradition, with the typical earth-tone based palette of the Barbizon artists. Born in Lyon, he studied under the academic realists Georges Vibert (1840–1902) and, after moving to Paris in 1859, Théodore Ribot (1823–1891). Like Ribot, who painted mainly still life, Vollon was greatly influenced by the Dutch still-life painters of the 1600s.
Vollon once said that he was madly in love with painting, but he was also in love with the idea of having his work go down in history. He worked very hard at exhibiting in the official Salon in Paris, and even exhibited once in the Salon of Refused Artists (1863). Eventually, his still-life painting secured third (1865), second (1868), and first-class medals (1869) in the official Paris Salon. Despite that fact, he always longed to be accepted as a figure painter, hence the debacle with Manet’s stinging critique.
Kitchen scenes, food preparing, and kitchen objects were a major part of Vollon’s body of work. It is reminiscent of the still-life works of the Bourgeois Baroque painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699–1779), whose still-life work, too, was lauded at the Academy Salon. Vollon’s Mound of Butter depicts the manner in which butter was purchased from farms where it was produced, wrapped in cheese cloth.
Unlike Baroque artists’ flawless surface treatment of still life, Vollon has built up an impasto of brush strokes in the butter to imitate the motion of the knife. This may have been an influence of Impressionism. The dark palette, neutral dark background, and presentation on a shallow table are all traditional aspects of Baroque still life painting.
Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey 2E: 2.6; Discovering Drawing 3E: 3; Explorations in Art 2EGrade 1: 1.5; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 2: 5.4; Explorations in Art 2EGrade 4: 6.8; Explorations in Art 2EGrade 5: 2.3; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 6: 1.8.
What better way to celebrate Earth Month than to show you paintings by an American Impressionist who celebrated the beauty of nature through COLOR. To be totally honest, I had never heard of Enneking before I saw his work at the MFA in Boston. And, to be totally honest again, I almost fainted when I saw this painting. He has so masterfully captured the yellow-greens of New England spring. And, on an Earth Month note, trees are a valuable part of the biosphere of our planet that we threaten with our toxic habits.
I am a BIG fan of American Impressionism, almost as much as the French original. These artists really applied what they learned in France to paintings of the American landscape with beautiful results. Enneking was the first artist to return to the US after painting with Claude Monet (1840–1926), the “leader” of French Impressionism. Born of German immigrants in Minster, Ohio, he drew landscapes and animals with charcoal and crayon as a young man. He first saw fine art when he moved to Cincinnati in 1856, and determined to become a painter. His first training was in Cincinnati, and after the Civil War (1860–1865) he studied printmaking in Boston.
Enneking went to Europe in 1870 and studied first in the expatriate American school there, which featured overall the Dark Impressionism style that was influenced by Baroque tenebrism. He then went to Paris where he was initially influenced by the Barbizon school landscape palette. By 1873, however, he came under the influence of the nascent Impressionist movement. By the end of that year he was one of the first American artists to paint in Monet’s garden at Argenteuil.
When he returned to Boston in 1876, he brought back his enthusiasm for Impressionism. He actually set up a studio in the same building as Childe Hassam (1859–1935). Ironically, Hassam is considered by many as the “leader” of American Impressionists, but he did not truly adapt the Impressionist palette until the mid-1880s. Enneking spent summers at a house in North Newry, Maine, where he perfected his Impressionist style with brightly lit landscapes, many of them depicting sunrise or sunset. As is evident in Spring Hillside, he was particularly adept at applying the Impressionist technique to flowering trees.
It is interesting that he declined to join The Ten rebel American Impressionists when they formed their break-away group from the National Academy in 1898. He did not want to be categorized as any particular type of painter!
Here’s another lovely work, this one of the White Mountains:
Never underestimate the aesthetic power of an ancient culture’s art. That can certainly be said of the stranglehold ancient Greek and Roman culture has had on Western art since the Renaissance (ca. 1400–1600). Japan, too, certainly has many artistic traditions that have endured in significance through the centuries. The difference is that these ancient traditions often undergo period reinterpretations far from the original form of the art, which is hard to say about Western “classicism.”
The Jomon culture of Japan had a long history (active by 11,000 BCE, flourished 3000s–200s BCE) and produced tons of gorgeous ceramics. Kako Katsumi is inspired by the ceramics of that culture (and others, in my opinion), putting an elegant, clean, sophisticated, and modern spin on the ancient aesthetic.
You can probably see the color aesthetic that Katsumi used in his vessels of the early 2010s in comparison to the Jomon vessel. It has the same earth-tone simplicity as the Jomon, with a contemporary form. Katsumi’s work calls forth reflection on even older prehistoric art work such as simple cave paintings and patterns in a red ochre color.
Katsumi is a third-generation ceramic artist born in Kyoto. He learned the traditional styles from the major kilns in Kyoto, mostly very decorative. If his work reflects the influences of any of those kilns, it would be that of the Tamba/Tachikui yaki ware of Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture, west of Kyoto. He moved from Kyoto to that region so that he could experiment with more individual creativity.
The artist worked initially with an electric kiln, later turning to a wood burning kiln that helps give his pieces an earth-red hue that fades into a sandy coloration. He became renowned for his interpretation of tea bowls (“chawan”), which are of utmost importance in the tea ceremony. He currently is also producing larger scale ceramic works in sculpture.
“Argentinian Modernism” is not really a term bandied around at any length in surveys of modernism of the mid- to late 1900s. The truth is, the development of modernist art movements in Central and South America is sadly neglected in the US and Europe, despite the fact that European and American modernist movements had great impact on South American modernism!
In Argentina, during the time political liberties were increasing from the late 1910s into the 1940s, most modernist art was influenced by European artists such as Expressionists, Surrealists, and Fantasy artists like Paul Klee (1879–1940). After World War II (1939–1945), a growing number of Argentinian artists studied not only in Paris, but also in New York, where Abstract Expressionism was just taking off. The 1946 “White Manifesto” written by a number of Argentinian artists argued for the supremacy of nonobjective abstraction. From that period on, Argentinian modernists participated in every avant-garde movement in Western art.
Born in Buenos Aires, Rogelio Polesello studied at the Prilidiano Pueyrredón National School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1959 in print, drawing, and illustration. From a young age, he worked in graphic design, which led him to experiment freely with the modernist styles of the time. At the age of 22, he had his first solo painting exhibition at the Pan American Union in Washington, DC. His early work reflected the influence of Constructivism, a European (Russian derivation) style that emphasized the purity of geometric abstract forms. From this geometric simplicity, the next step was the optical movement that repeated geometric forms could engender in the Op Art Style.
Evidence of his brilliant fluidity with modernist styles is how, though influenced by Op Art, he did not stick with one approach. He painted in both hard-edge forms, like Painting below, and in painterly chromatic variations, like Fragments. The breadth of his experimentation with Op Art reminds me of Herbert Bayer (1900–1985), a Bauhaus artist who was also initially a graphic designer, and who also did many interpretations of Op Art. Therefore, it is difficult to pin down Polesello as solely an Op Artist. He flirted with Hard Edge, Concrete Art, and Neo-Illusionism, as well. He was not solely a painter, creating works in sculpture, interior design, textile design, and architecture.
Here’s an earlier and a later Polesello from the one above: Fragments seems like a transition between the hard-edge Op Art style and the Neo-Illusionism of the later work. He’s combined the geometric forms of Painting with the nuanced fields of color of Fragments.
Rogelio Polesello,Painting, 1969. Acrylic on canvas, 51 ¼" x 51 ¼" (130.2 x 130.2 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-533)
Rogelio Polesello,No. 8, 1983. Acrylic on canvas, 58" x 58" (147.3 x 147.3 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-563)
Correlations to Davis Programs: A Global Pursuit: 5.5; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 3.15, 3.16; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 5: 3.4, 3.5; Discovering Art History 4E: 17.2
It’s been really cold here recently, relatively speaking for New England. How do you turn something New Englanders consider a negative into a positive? Focus on cool colors in works of art. Color is one of the elements of art, and what better way to kick the winter blues than to look at cool colors that have nothing to do with the weather?
I am a great admirer of Alma Woodsey Thomas, about whom I’ve blogged before. She was the first graduate of the Howard University fine arts program, and for thirty-five years she taught art in the public schools of Washington, DC. After painting in a realistic style while teaching, she began to explore color field painting in the late 1950s while studying painting at American University. Her interest in pure, unmodulated color was influenced by the then-prevalent Abstract Expressionism style.
Thomas developed her signature mosaic-style of nature painting in the mid-1960s, ultimately replacing her color field style. However, this work from 1974 is reminiscent of her color field works. It almost reminds me of a color interpretation of rain falling. At any rate, the cobalt blue is a beautiful, abstract statement.
Lalique was apprenticed to a jeweler in Paris at the age of sixteen. His mentor, Louis Aucoc (1850–1932) was one of the leading jewelers in Paris, and acquainted Lalique with the latest styles and techniques in jewelry. At the same time, the young man studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris, and subsequently at Sydenham College in London. Returning to France in 1880, Lalique was freelancing as a jewelry designer by 1881. In 1890, he established his own shop in Paris during a period when Japanese art and the Arts and Crafts movement helped develop the popular Art Nouveau style.
Lalique’s inspiration in his jewelry was the natural world of the French countryside, as well as Japanese art that included natural motifs. Unlike other jewelry designers, he incorporated materials not usually used in jewelry, particularly the use of glass. He only used precious gemstones when they brought something to his pieces artistically, rather than for their value. His jewelry designs are truly works of art, not just settings for expensive gems.
Many of the art forms developed in both Korea and Japan were indebted to Chinese influence, but both cultures made changes to traditional forms that made them unique to their cultures. The maebyong vase is a Korean variation on the Chinese meiping (literally “plum vase”), a vessel originally intended to store wine or oil, and was later used to display plum blossom branches. Typical of the Korean form is the incised, rather than painted, decoration of cranes and lotus flowers.
This vessel has the typical celadon glaze, a blue-green to gray-green hue, that was perfected during the Goryeo Kingdom (918–1392 CE). Koreans perfected celadon glazes after learning technological and kiln modifications from the Chinese. They had initially learned of the glaze from Song (960–1279/1280) Chinese artists, particularly from the Yue kilns. Early Korean celadon wares were undecorated in order to emphasize the importance of the nuances in the glaze’s color. By the 1100s, Korean artists explored many ways to decorate the vessels, relying most heavily on incised patterns and inlay.
We have had several snowfalls in the past couple of weeks. On Presidents’ Day I found myself staring at a snow-laden tree across the street and thinking, that looks like a Japanese woodcut of a snow-laden tree. The whole process of multiple woodblock prints of the ukiyo-e period (ca. 1660s–1860s) was so complicated, I imagine snow scenes were just another one of those complications. Below are three examples of the beautiful woodcut technique used by ukiyo-eblock-cutters to create snow scenes from brush drawings by the artists.
Let’s first establish the hierarchy of tasks in the ukiyo-e woodcut print process:
1) The artist draws the composition for the print, and gives instructions to the printer for what colors go where.
2) The woodblock carver(s) cut different blocks each for one color as indicated by the artist.
3) Each block is printed, starting with the block bearing the contour lines of the composition.
4) The publisher inspects quality.
5) Tokugawa censors inspect the prints to approve that they did not contain any political or anti-social content and put their seal on the print
The tedious process of producing prints from the artists’ drawings began with an outline drawing (sen-gaki) of all of the contour lines that established the major forms of the composition. This was traced from the artist’s original drawing using minogami paper that was thin enough to trace with. The resulting traced image was transferred to the woodblock and became the foundation block for the finished print called hanshita-e.
As each block was carved for from nine to twelve colors, they were aligned during printing along an L-shaped mark in the lower right corner of each separate sheet.
Hokusai is undoubtedly responsible for the popularity that evolved for series of landscape prints. This was based on his series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, produced between 1826 and 1830. Hokusai explored the possibility of atmospheric snow scenes more than any previous ukiyo-e artists. His drawings would indicate which colors went where. I’m wondering if the woodblock carvers were relieved to do snow scenes that used the paper as the negative space?
In Snow on the Sumida River, the introduction of Western chemical inks (aniline) gave the printers who inked the carved blocks extra steps to do. The artist would indicate where he wanted the colors in his original drawing, including areas that should be rubbed to give the effect of gradated color, seen in this print in the foreground water and background sky.
Of all the ukiyo-e artists who specialized in landscape prints, Hiroshige was undoubtedly responsible for refining the atmospheric snow scenes with which we are now so familiar. His directions to the block carvers established the practice of depicting falling snow by putting tiny gouges into the blocks printing the dark colors of the composition. This is clearly seen in Evening Snow on Asuka Mountain in the sky and also in the shading in the bottom of the print.
Hiroshige produced more than 1500 snow scenes during his career. When Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji was published, Hiroshige was still producing prints of bijin-ga (beautiful women) and Kabuki actors. Inspired by the range of possibilities in landscape composition, he produced his first series Famous Places in the Eastern Capital in the early 1830s.
The ukiyo-e style of prints of everyday life, beautiful women, actors, and landscapes waned in popularity as Japan rapidly westernized at the end of the 1800s. In the early 1900s, artists who reacted against the rapid industrialization of the country attempted a revival of the style in the shin hanga (new print) and sosaku hanga (artistic print) movements. Shin hanga copied the old hierarchy of artist-block carver-publisher, while sosaku hanga artists drew the composition, carved the blocks, and made the prints themselves.
Ohara Koson is considered by many scholars to have been one of the foremost of the shin hanga artists. He certainly emulated beautifully the snow scenes of Hiroshige. As you can see in Willow Bridge, he made sure that the artists indicated the falling snow by putting little gouges in the woodblocks carved for the colors of the sky, the water, the railings, and even the garments on the two pedestrians.
Correlations to Davis Programs: Experience Printmaking: 4; The Visual Experience:3.5; The Visual Experience:13.5