Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Two days


Thanks for visiting.

One minute we're basking in an Autumn glow . . .

. . . the next we're plunged into a thick frost!


Monday, 2 December 2019

Troy in Art


Thanks for calling in.

The fourth and final Art History Talk for this year focussed on artworks inspired by the heroes and events of the Trojan legends, which also links with the Troy: Myth and Legend exhibition at the British Museum in London.  The talk covered events prior to the Iliad and a little after.  The epic poem is attributed to Homer although it was based on oral traditions.

Here are my notes.  I've included links to photos as the copyright conditions are difficult to fathom.

The Iliad focuses on the last year of the 10 years War in Troy, a real place which existed near Galipoli.  These days, there is not too much to see in the area, it's better to visit the Istanbul Archeological Museum, which is very good.

The Iliad is divided into several books, there's not much fighting in it and many of the events referred to actually happened before the Iliad starts.  The Iliad is named after Ilus, founder of Troy - Ilion was the Greek name for Troy and Ilium the Roman name. Priam was the King during the Trojan Wars.

The François Vase c. 570 BC, a precious, decorated container was used for grain or food.  The black figure pottery depicts some events that take place before the Iliad begins: the marriage of Achilles' parents, Peleus and Thethis; the games to honour Patrocles' death; animals; Pygmies fighting birds.  It's loops (handles) have pictures of Achilles and Athena.  It's very unusual to find a vase with more than one story on it.

The story is expanded in Jean Mielot's 1461 painting Discord at Wedding of Peleus and Thethis from Christine de Pizan's Epitre d'Othea.  The Greek Gods and Goddeses were invited to the wedding celebrations but they omitted to invite the Goddess of Discord, Eris, who was furious. She dropped a golden apple of discord into the celebrations labelled to the fairest one.  When Goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena began quarreling, Zeus appointed shepherd Paris, Prince of Troy, to choose.  Each Goddess promised him a gift if he selected them.  He chose Aphrodite who promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, regardless of the fact that she was married to Menelaus, King of Sparta.

The story turns up again in Sir Edward Burne-Jones The Feast of Peleus 1872-81 in the predella and in The Judgement of Paris from Pompeii c 45-79 AD shows Paris trying to decide who to choose.  It's a fresco from the House of Jupiter in Pompeii.  Roman's show Aphrodite, Goddess of love, naked, Greeks clothed.  Lucas Cranach the Elder's Judgments of Paris 1528 was a popular theme in Germany.  He was the painter of the Reformation.   It was made for the Electors of Saxony.  Here Paris is a Knight and the painting refers to contemporary ladies at court.  Pieter Paul Rubens' version of 1632-5 illustrates his skill with the human body and the Arcadian landscape.

Paris set off to claim his prize and abducted Helen which starts the Trojan Wars as the Greeks mount an attack on Troy.

Giovanni F. Susini  - The Abduction of Helen 1627 was made of bronze for a cultivated patron.  It is in the round with 3 intertwined figures - very difficult to make, a dynamic piece.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis 1757 - in the Villa Valmarana Vicenza  was a very popular painting.  Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, Helen's brother-in-law, accidentally kills a deer in a place sacred to Goddess Artemis causing her to interfere with the winds, sending a storm in revenge so that his ships are prevented from sailing to Troy.  The painting depicts Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in appeasement.

Achillies, hero of The Iliad, is featured in Nicolas Poussin's Achilles on Scyros.  His mother Thethis (a sea nymph) is warned that, should he go to war, he would be killed.  By holding only his heel, she dipped him in the River Styx to make him immortal but that left his heel vulnerable as it didn't go in the water.  His mother also took him to the court of  Lycomedes  to keep him hidden, disguised as a girl and living amongst Lycomedes' daughters.  However, Odysseus is told that they won't win the war with Troy without Achilles' help and he goes looking for him posing as a merchant with chests full of things like jewellery and clothing but he also includes a helmet and sword.  Whilst the daughters pluck jewellery from the chest,  Achilles gives himself away by trying on the helmet and choosing the sword as shown in the painting!

Image from Wikipedia 

Achilles is persuaded to go to war and after the assault of Lyrnessus, where the king is killed, he is rewarded with the king's daughter Briseis as a concubine. However, Agamemnon is told by the gods to take her away from him, causing Achilles to down tools and stop fighting in the War in protest, which can be seen in George Christian Freud's neo classical marble from Thorvaldsens' plaster cast. 1865.

Achilles' dear companion Patroclus is killed by Hector who is fighting on the Trojan side.  Gavin Hamilton's Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus  1760-63 has strong light and shade, is based on antiquity, a history painting.

Achilles decides to go back to war.

The tapestry  -The Arming of Hector - is wool on wool with some silk.  It was  made in Tournai in Flanders where there were large workshops and patterns were adapted to suit each client.  This tapestry was made for the Dukes of Burgandy who thought they were direct descendants of Priam, the last King of Troy.

Hector and Andromache (his wife) by Giorgio de Chirico 1955 back to classical metaphysical simple forms

Death of Hector, Attic Hydria 500-490 BC - a red figure pottery vase, which was much easier to decorate than black figure pottery, depicts the death of Hector at the hand of Achilles.   The vase shows that Athena and Apollo, their guardians, were involved with Apollo aiming an arrow towards Achilles' heel, preempting how Achilles would die at the hand of Paris at the Scaean Gate.

Jacques Louis David's  Andromache Mourning Hector 1783  is a classical painting, with the horizontal lines echoing the death and the verticals showing finality.  David  presented this painting to be considered  for membership of the Academy.

We come now to the famous story of the Trojan horse which is referred to in Homer's Odyssey,  a poem following the Iliad.  The Greeks come up with a plan to build a huge wooden horse, in which their soldiers will be hidden, in the hope that the Trojans will bring it inside the City of Troy and the Greeks would be able to defeat the Trojans.

Laocoon was a Trojan priest who thought the horse was a Greek trick and strongly advised it should be burnt rather than allowing the horse to enter the City.  Athena wanted to punish him for this, firstly blinding him and then sending serpents to kill him and his sons.  Thinking that this was a sign that Laocoon's advice had angered the Gods, the Trojans wheeled the horse in as shown in El Greco's Laocoon 1610-14.

To finish off, here are some examples of the Wooden Horse.  The Trojan Horse, Mykonos Vase, 750-650 BC  is one of the first examples of the horse on a vase.  Giandomenico Tiepolo (son of Tiepolo mentioned earlier) Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy 1760 

This is a rather long post! There is also so much more to find out about these epic poems, the myths and legends held within have travelled through the centuries catching the imagination of  everybody who comes in contact with them.


Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Christmas in Bracknell on a Rainy Day


Thanks for calling in.

Woo hoo!  The Christmas lights have been turned on in Bracknell, the town is festively decorated, looking great even on a rainy day.

New for this year are the wooden huts.

Also new is Lapland right in the middle of the town shops.  There's a delicious perfume wafting along the street as you approach the enchanting Lapland Wish Store, an off-shoot from LaplandUK based in Ascot, a few miles away.  Inside, you can enjoy a story from Wish, the Elf.  There's an Elven post box for children to post their Christmas wish list to Santa - six of these wishes the Lexicon shopping centre say will come true.  It's all coloured lights, toys and Christmas trees.

I was surprised to see that LaplandUK was in Ascot and that it's been there for 12 years too!  Here's a link to their website if you'd like more information.


Monday, 25 November 2019

The Art of Gustave Courbet


Thanks for visiting.

The third art talk this year was about Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who was the main exponent of Realism in 19th Century France.  He challenged convention and academic practice by depicting modern life and genre on a large scale using innovative style and technique. It's coming up to his 100th anniversary this year.

Here are my notes.

Courbet was born in and had a life-long link with Ornans, a picturesque limestone area in France.  His parents were wealthy farmers, he studied in Besançon and went to Paris to become a lawyer.  Whilst there, he spent a lot of his time in art galleries and decided to become an artist instead and happily he had the support of his father.

By 1842 one of his first self portraits - Courbet with a Black Dog 1842-44 - was admired at the Salon.  In the painting, he's depicted as a dandy with an English spaniel which were fashionable at the time, in the countryside near his home, a wanderer, confident, mysterious, it's a romantic portrait.

He was inspired by Velasquez,  Rembrandt and Ribera, who was Spanish but lived in Naples.  Courbet admired his use of sombre colouring, subject matter - the poor - and the technique of using fine detail for the features but quick brushstrokes for the clothes and background.

Courbet's large pictures created a huge shock at the time.  In those days only historical works were deemed worthy of being painted on a monumental scale but his The Stone Breakers (1.56m x 2.57m), Burial at Ornans (3.15m x 6.6m) and Young Women from the Village (1.94m x 2.61m) were not considered suitable subject matters for such large canvases as they depicted the harshness of life for the poor with the figures not even facing the viewer, a burial portrayed as a frieze using the actual villagers who attended the funeral as models and they thought the women from the village were ugly and the cows too small - they called it the Watteau of ugliness, not only that but clothing and other areas didn't look finished.  They contrasted it against the sugary sweet The Stonebreaker by John Brett which was more what they expected and accepted.  Critics thought his dark paintings like The Burial were far too dark.

He was so upset by all the negative comments that he set up his own temporary Salon next to the Universal Exposition called Courbet's Pavilion of Realism where he exhibited 40 paintings including 2 of his large works.

Courbet followed the ideas of modern writers like Flaubert, Baudelaire within literature and thinkers Champfleury and Proudon against convention.

His Patron, Alfred Brayas, supported him and their meeting is portrayed in Bonjour Monsieur Courbet where the Artist with a striking beard is shown in an arrogant pose, not pandering to his Patron.

The Artists Studio A Real Allegory Summing up Seven Years of my Artistic Life 1854 (3.61m x 5.98m) is considered his masterpiece.  It is divided in two parts with the artist painting a landscape, his passion, in the middle of the work with a semi nude female model next to him, who he classified as a co-worker.  On the left, the group of people represent Society, together with traditional ideas like the male nude and guitar and to the right are his friends and supporters - his Patron, Baudelaire reading a book, Zola, Flaubert, Proudon, Champfleury, free love.

He loved painting dogs and hunting scenes which were very popular.

His portraits of Baudelaire  and his friend Chenavard are not posed, very realistic, highlights on the face and hands on the former, Spanush influence, thick brushstrokes on the latter.

Self Portraits 1844-5 the Desperate Man shows him as a young man on the brink of moving from the traditional ways to romanticism, which focuses on the individual, showing his wavy hair, billowing shirt and his elbow coming out of the picture.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Self Portrait 1848-9  shows him as a man considering his future with a pipe, a fanatic, rejecting his academic training.

In Self Portrait at Sainte Pelagie 1872, he's much older, relaxed even though he's in prison.  This came about after France's turbulent history at that time when he joined the Paris Commune.  He wrote a pamphlet saying that the Column glorifying Napoleon despite all the deaths associated with the battles.  The Column was actually destroyed which resulted in Courbet being taken to prison, where he still wanted to paint but could only do still life.  He also did a few sketches of the conditions inside the prison showing children were there as well and managed to smuggle the sketches out.  The Government rebuilt the Column and told Courbet he must pay for it in instalments.  He exiled himself to Switzerland but the authorities pursued him but he died just before the first instalment was due.

The Artist Cabanel had huge success with his Birth of Venus (1883-89) which was bought by Napoleon III for his private collection, even though it was a nude, it was acceptable to the Salon as it was in classical tradition except that Venus' eyes are open.

Contrasted with that artwork, Courbet's The Bathers, The Source and Sleep were considered shocking as the women were very realistic even though in classical poses. Some of his paintings created police reports as they were thought outrageous.

His landscapes were his main love,  particularly those done around the River Loue in the limestone area where he was born.  He was very successful with these.  He had a house near the sea later in life where he painted the sea and waves just outside the window using a kitchen knife.  He called them his landscapes of the sea, full of atmosphere, turbulent skies and water. His Beach near Trouville in 1865 was almost abstract.  He was one of the artists that the Impressionists looked back to for inspiration.

He sounds like an interesting character.


Friday, 22 November 2019

Five in Tinsel


Thanks for calling in.

Parking in Wokingham has gone right down hill since all the renovations of the town, which are still ongoing.  So many car parks have bitten the dust that the previous thriving events on at the library, have seen their numbers attending plummet because the chances of being able to park the car are minuscule.  To make matters worse, the car park near the library is all roped off but empty even though planning permission has been denied, that's 100 spaces that could be used and earning money for a bit longer.  Arrgh progress!

My rather rushed five this week are around the town.

1.  A Waitrose - a welcome sight since my local has closed down.  I've stocked up on those delicacies one can't live without!

2.  A wonderful wool shop with cotton for patchwork quilting too.  Such a tempting place to wander round with an equally wonderful name Stitchery Do.

3. Christmas decorations are becoming more apparent with the  Winter Carnival happening at the weekend.  The theme is A Space Adventure to mark 50 years since the Moon Walk.  Let's hope the weather is good for all the organisers who have spent all year planning.

4.  Look at that grey sky!  It was so cold too.  Pity the poor market traders having to stand around all day.

5.  A book to finish off the five.  Here's a review by Publishers Weekly  It wasn't my favourite though.

Wishing you all a great weekend.


Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Autumn Park


Welcome to the blog.

Even on a misty morning before the sun eats through the clouds, it's a colourful time of year.  Here's the park by the shops in full Autumn dress.

That last photo doesn't contain an apparition,  it's a waterfall!

Inside, the Christmas craft fair was in full swing.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Baroque in England


Thanks for popping in.

Time for the second Art talk of the season - Baroque in England!  Here are my notes.

Next year, 2020, Tate Britain will be having an exhibition about the Baroque in England, which flourished following the Restoration of the Monarchy  in 1660.  Many portraits were commissioned from Peter Lely and Godfrey Kneller, murals by James Thornhill and Antonio Verrio to express status and power.  Christopher Wren's churches and John Vanburgh's palaces were built in a Baroque  style unique to England, more restrained to that in Europe.  That particular era has been previously neglected in exhibitions.

The English Baroque style was based on three areas :

a) Religion - counter reformation, emotional, naturalistic, illusory - creating the idea of another world, divinity through art, transportation of rulers into divinity.

b)  Absolute power - art to support the State, strong, cultivated images.

c)  Search for the new, as in science,  increase in rationality.

John Michael Wright (1617-94) was the Painter in Chief to Charles II.  His famous painting from 1676 shows Charles II in a pose similar to the way that Louis XIV was portrayed, showing power and status with Royal symbols of office including St Edward's Crown and wonderful opulent textures in his clothes.  Behind him is a tapestry The Justice of Solomon, indicating that the King stands for justice within the country. His legs are spread wide to echo a painting of Henry VIII reinforcing his legitimacy on the throne. It is a good likeness too.

Link to photo of Charles II by John Michael Wright

Another representation of the new King, this time a gilded copper sculpture by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) in the grounds of Royal Chelsea Hospiral, shows him in classical tradition like a military leader, a Roman Emperor, which is particularly fitting for its position at the Hospital.

At this time, Christopher Wren was busy building churches for the expanding City of London after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  His first and second proposals for St Paul's Cathedral didn't go down well.  The second one looked too foreign and Catholic, being based on a Grecian cross with a dome, but his third proposal - a warrant design with gothic pinnacle, was accepted with the King permitting the Architect free licence with the ornamentation.  Wren used this reason to aid him to get his dome back into the design and no one complained.    It was based on St Sophia in Istanbul but used a combination of different styles.  Grinling Gibbons did the swirls on the outside and lime wood festoons on the Bishop's Throne inside.  He was Dutch but both his parents were English.  It was too expensive to have mosaics for the dome, so James Thornhill  (1671-1734) painted the dome in grisaille creating an illusory painting. Portland stone was difficult to get at the time of building because of the war.

Link to Photo of St Paul's Cathedral dome

Other examples of Wren's work were Trinity College Library, Cambridge which has hints of classical building and links well with adjoining buildings.  It has Doric order columns, large windows and an ordered appearance.   Fountain Court, Front Facade of Hampton Court has order, symmetry,  temple, pediment, brick and stone.  Antonio Verrio painted the large area around staircase in the King's Apartments inside, giving it a 3D effect and with references to classical figures.

Hampton Court Palace East front facade photo from pinterest

Hampton Court Palace Fountains Court photo from Commons Wikimedia

The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich was also designed by Wren for Queen Mary.  He made a feature of the smaller Queen's House in the centre, with two buildings either side, the back ones slightly larger so that when seen from the River, they looked as if they were connected.  The colonades and balustrades link the buildings together and Wren also managed to get two small domes into the design as well.

Greenwich Royal  Hospital for Seamen photo Andrew Cusack website

Within the buildings, James Thornhill created the Painted Hall,  Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny for George I and his family, who appear in it indicating his was a peaceful reign, crushing tyranny and the Pope,  Justice is represented by the woman with the sword and Apollo presides over the arts.

Sir John Vanburgh built Seaton Delavel Hall in Northumberland with its mixture of styles and Venetian windows

Nicholas Hawksmoor was Clerk in Charge of Works, building churches in London, classical and gothic.

Sir Peter Lely was challenged by Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, to paint all the female courtiers including the beauty,  Barbara Villiers Duchess of Cleveland.  They were all done in harmonious colours, with rich textures and good likenesses.

Godfrey Kneller painted William III on horseback portraying a world of plenty, power and intellectual pursuits.

John Vanburgh was a friend of Godfrey Kneller from the renown Kit Kat Club where they shared  ideas.  Kat was the owner, kit were mutton pies.

Edward Pierce made the most important sculpture of period of Christopher Wren with lovely, very lifelike curls.