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The Enigmatically Intense Lives of Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo Calderon was born on July, 6, 1907 in what is nowadays known as Casa Azul in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was German who had moved to Mexico at a young age where he remained for the rest of his life.
 
Her mother, a Wilhelm’s second wife, Matilde Calderon y Gonzales, born of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, raised Frida and her five sisters in a strict and religious household.

Early Life

Frida Kahlo’s work was influenced by traumatic psychological and physical events from her childhood and early adulthood; using her personal tragedy, combined with a realistic painting style, she produced images – approximately 200 paintings, drawings and sketches, that were emotionally raw and visually disturbing.

Several events in Kahlo’s childhood affected her psyche for the rest of her life. She contracted polio at the age of six and was forced to remain in bed for nine months, walking with a limp after recovery.
 
Her father, with whom she was very close, enrolled her at the German College in Mexico City and introduced her to the writings of European philosophers and poets such as Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Kahlo’s mixed heritage permanently affected her approach to the life and artwork. Following the Mexican revolution and new education policy in 1922, Kahlo was one of the 35 girls admitted to the National Preparatory School, where she planned to study social sciences, medicine and botany.
 
She became friend with a dissident group of students, known as Cachuchas, who confirmed Frida’s rebellious spirit and her interest in literature and poetry.

In 1925, Kahlo was involved in an almost fatal bus accident, and she suffered multiple fractures throughout her body and a crushed pelvis. After nine months recovering in hospital, where she was immobile and bound in plaster corset, she began experimenting in small-scale autobiographical portraiture, and permanently abandoning her interest in medicine.
 
Gifted with a set of paints from her father, Kahlo spent hours studying herself and confronting existential questions raised by her trauma such as death, dissociation from identity and interiority. The duality of autobiographical content-both the interiority of the person and physical experience- evolved as the central qualities of Kahlo’s painting practice.

In 1927, in contact with her friends from the Cachuchas group, Kahlo began to familiarize herself with the artistic and Communist circles in Mexico. Having officially joined the Mexican Communist Party, in 1928, Kahlo sought out Diego Rivera in order to discuss a possible career as an artist.
 
A year later, in 1929, the two married and moved to Cuernavaca.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had a tumultuous relationship, marked by multiple affairs on both sides. She had a long affair with Muray, and a short one with Leon Trotsky, as well as extended liaisons with several women.
 
Some of these attachments were reactions to a volatile marriage and meant to punish her philandering husband.

Dual Lives

In many ways, Frida lived two lives: one as the wife of Diego Rivera and the second as eccentric, talented painter in her own right. During the majority of her career, she was seen in Rivera’s shadow and it wasn’t until late in life that she gained, as an artist, an international clientele and exhibition program.

The early double-portrait of Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera, from 1931, was painted in celebration of her marriage to Rivera, accentuates Kahlo’s interest in reconciling her identity as his wife rather than as an artist of equal status.
 
Rivera holds palette and brushes, symbolic of his artistic mastery, while Kahlo’s dresses in costume typical of the Mexican woman, La Mexicana, wearing a traditional red shawl known as rabozo. The positioning of the figures echoes that of traditional marital portraiture where the wife is placed on her husband’s left to indicate her lesser moral status as woman.

Mexicanidad

By the early 1930s Kahlo’s painting evolved to include a more assertive sense of Mexican culture and identity, a facet of her artwork that stemmed from her exposure to the modernist movement in Mexico and her interest in preserving the revival of Mexicanidad, during the raise of fascism in Europe.
 
Her interest in distancing herself from her Germanic roots is evidenced in her change of name from Frieda to Frida.

The piece My Grandparents, My Parents and I, from 1936, a dream-like family tree painted on zinc, indicates the artist’s fascination with Mexican retablos. Retablos were small paintings on metal made to thank God for his protection and grace.
 
Kahlo painted this piece to accentuate both her European Jewish heritage and her Mexican background; her paternal side, German Jewish, occupies the right side of the composition symbolized by the sea, and her maternal side of Mexican descent is represented on the left by a map faintly outlining the topography of Mexico.
 
While Kahlo’s paintings are assertively autobiographical, she often used them to communicate transgressive or political message: this painting was completed shortly after Adolf Hitler passed the Nuremberg laws banning interracial marriage.

Throughout the 1930s, life in Mexico was tense for Frida: her husband Diego Rivera was unfaithful and the revolutionary climate leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War made for an explosive atmosphere.
 
Frida separated from Rivera in 1935, renting a flat in Mexico City, and began a short-lived affair with the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

The Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, from 1940, shows Frida as an androgynous figure. The critics and scholars have seen this gesture as a confrontational response to Rivera’s demand for a divorce, revealing the artist’s injured sense of female pride and her self-punishment for the marriage breakdown.
 
Also, the cropped hair presents a nuanced expression of the artist’s identity. She holds one cut braid in her left hand while the hair from her right hand lies scattered on the floor. The braids were a central element in Kahlo’s identity as the traditional La Mexicana, and in the act of cutting off her braids, she rejects her former identity.

In 1936, Frida joined the Fourth International and returned to Casa Azul, which became a meeting point for artists, international intellectuals and activists, and in that place she ensured the safety of Leon Trotsky and his wife.

The marriage was the pivot of her life and she did a lot of her best work when it was at its worst. It was on the eve of her divorce from Rivera, 1939, that she painted The Two Fridas, one of the largest and most famous paintings.
 
This double self-portrait, one of the most recognized compositions, is symbolic of the artist’s pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity. On the right, the artist is shown in modern European attire, wearing the costume she donned prior to her marriage to Rivera.

Throughout their marriage, given Rivera’s strong nationalism, Kahlo became increasingly interested in indigenism and began to explore traditional Mexican costume, which she wears in the portrait on the left. It is the Mexican Kahlo that holds a locket with an image of Rivera. Symbolic elements frequently posses multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo’s pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing to the artist’s ambivalent attitude toward accepted notion of womanhood and fertility.
 
The stormy sky in the background, and the artist’s bleeding heart – a fundamental symbol of Catholicism as well as symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice-accentuate Kahlo’s personal tribulation and physical pain.

 

International Acclaim

In 1938, during his visit to Mexico City, André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, was impressed by Kahlo’s painting and hosted the artist’s first exhibition in Paris in the following year, at the Galerie Renou et Cole.
 
The show was enormously successful; the Western, romanticized vision of pastoral Mexico by members of European bourgeois disgusted Kahlo, though she would exhibit with the Surrealists in Mexico City exhibition in January 1940, which was considered the first international exhibition of Surrealism in the Americas.

The frontal position and direct stare of Frida in her Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, from 1940, directly confronts and engages the viewer. The artist wears Christ’s unraveled crown of thorns as a necklace that digs into her neck, signifying her self-representation as a Christian martyr and the enduring pain from her childhood and her failed marriage.
 
A dead hummingbird, according to Mexican folkloric tradition symbolic of luck charms for falling in love, hangs in the center of her necklace. A symbol of bad luck and death, black cat, crouches behind her left shoulder, and a spider monkey, gifted from Rivera, symbolic of evil, is included to her right.

Kahlo frequently employed fauna and flora in the background of her burst length portraits to create a tight, claustrophobic space, using the symbolic element of nature to simultaneously compare and contrast the link between a female fertility with the barren and deathly imagery of the foreground.

Many Muses

In September, 1940, following Trotsky’s assassination Frida joined Carlo Rivera in San Francisco. In this period Kahlo remarried Rivera shortly after, and, returned to Mexico City where the two maintained separate flats. She continued to dote on her muse, sending him love notes wherever he was working.

Meanwhile, Frida grew progressively ill from the long-term effects of her childhood traumas. By June, 1946, she could no longer remain upright and underwent an unsuccessful bone-graft operation on her spine in New York.
 
In 1950, she was hospitalized for nine months at the English Hospital in Mexico.

She continued painting in her final years while also drank heavily and became addicted to painkillers. She still painted, but mostly still lifes, woozy, citrusy things that would be sweet if they weren’t so bizarre, with their gashed and bleeding fruits.

Weeping Coconuts, from, 1951, a still life piece is an example of Frida’s late work. In this composition, the anthropomorphism of the fruit is symbolic of Kahlo’s projection of pain into the composition as her health deteriorated at the end of her life.
 
In contrast with the tradition of the cornucopia, signifying plentiful and fruitful life, the arrangement of fruit in this composition reveals the fleshy and overripe interiors of the fruit, alluding to the dualism of death and life. A small Mexican flag, stuck into a prickly pear, bearing personal inscription ‘painted with all love of Frida Kahlo’, signalling Kahlo’ use of fruit as an emblem of personal expression.

 

Final Years

In 1953, Kahlo exhibited one last time at Lola Alvarez Bravo’s gallery in Mexico, and it was her first solo show in Mexico. She was brought to the event in an ambulance and had her four-poster bed placed at the center of the gallery.
 
She would soon lose a leg to gangrene.

In June, 1954, she had herself pushed in a wheelchair to join a protest against North American intervention in Guatemala. A few days later, she died on July, 13, 1954 at Casa Azul the Blue House, officially of pneumonia, though there has always been talk of suicide.

Although Frida’s work are often categorized as Surrealist for her bizarre imagery and her linear style and disturbing themes she was not interested in dreams or in subconscious or in automatic writing, biomorphism (all of which provided a focus of Surrealism); Kahlo’s subject matter was deeply personal rather than intellectual or humorous.

After she died, her work has grown profoundly influential for feminist studies and postcolonial debates, while she become an international cultural icon. It was only in the 1960s and afterward, with the rise of feminism, gay rights and identity politics, that her work begun to make sense.
 
And then it made explosive sense: an artist who had been bending genders, blending ethnicities, making the personal political and revolutionizing the concept of ‘’beautiful’’ generations earlier.

 

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Yves Klein – Master of the Color Blue

yves klein

I was an extreme element of society who lived in space and who had no means of coming back to earth.

Yves Klein, one of the most prominent and controversial French artists, emerged in the middle of the XX century and is remembered above all else for his use of a single color – a rich shade of ultramarine that he made his own: International Klein Blue.

Serious Circumstances

Klein´s art emerged from serious circumstances. In the late 1940s, France was still a nation traumatized by World War II. The cultural center of gravity had moved across the Atlantic to New York. The artists who remained in Paris, or at least the good ones, were producing post-apocalyptic work, and out of the same rubble came the much younger Klein.

The abstract painting that dominated French art in the 1950s was invariably premised on the notion that an artist could communicate with the viewer through the power of abstract form. But the skeptics of modern abstract art have always alleged that the viewers, like the faithful devotees of a false god, do more of the than the artist, investing the forms with their own feelings rather than discovering the artist’s.

Klein was fascinated by mystical ideas, by notions of the infinite, the absolute, the indefinable and his use of a single rich and suggestive tone of blue might be seen as an attempt to free the viewer from all imposed ideas.
 
But he would turn out to be a very worldly mystic- a merry prankster and shrewd self-publicist, Klein was a unique combination of spiritual seeker and shameless showboat, an artist of metaphysical bent.

yves klein

Background

Yves Klein was born on April, 28, 1928, in Nice, France to an artistic family, the son of two painters. His father, Fred Klein, a Dutch-Indonesian, worked in a figurative Post-Impressionist mode while his mother, Marie Raymond, a Frenchwoman, was a successful School of Paris abstractionist and a leading figure in the Informel movement.
 
Klein grew up shuttling between his parents in Paris and his grandparents in Nice.

Although Klein grew up in an artistic family, he did not receive formal artistic training. Between 1942 and 1946, he studied at the Ecole Nationale des Langues and the Ecole National de la Marine Marchand; during this time he became close friend with Armand Fernandez, a promising young sculptor, and Claude Pascal, a young poet.
 
The friends shared common interests of jazz music, literature, esotericism, Eastern religions and martial arts and judo especially. Klein´s sport was judo, which he wrote a book about, after studying it at Kadokan Institute in Tokyo (from 1947 and 1952/53) and earning a black belt.
 
Klein is certainly the only 20
th century artist to have published a book titled The Foundations of Judo.

Thwarted By Judo

The refusal of the French Federation of Judo to recognize his Japanese diploma, in 1954, frustrated his career plans in that direction to the benefit of his career in art. An academic failure, Klein began making art on his own while taking odd jobs.

According to a story, Klein’s major artistic breakthrough happened in 1947 while lying on a beach with Pascal and Arman. The three friends divided the universe between themselves: Arman claimed the materiality of the earth, Pascal appropriated language and words and Klein possessed ‘’the void’’-the planet empty of all matter.
 
Klein embarked on a realistic-imaginative daydream into the depths of the universe, where he claimed to have inscribed his name in the sky.

The void enlightenment in the sky led Klein to experiment in painting, music and performance. The Monotone-Silence Symphony from 1949, a piece containing a single chord sustained for twenty minutes followed by twenty minutes of meditative silence.
 
It symbolized the sound pitch emitted from the monochrome blue sky, or the void emphasizing universal harmony.

 

 

New Sensations

In the period between 1848 and 1952, Klein lived in London and began to assist in London frame shop of Robert Savage, learning basic painting techniques and using raw pigments and gilding. He was determined to evoke sensations and emotions independent of line, abstracted symbols or rendered objects, believing the monochromatic surface released the painting from materiality through the totality of pure pigment.

In 1956, Klein had a controversial exhibition at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris, established himself in the Paris art scene. The exhibition titled Yves: Propositions Monochromes displayed twenty monochromatic paintings rendered in tones of blue, red, orange and yellow.
 
He received a pretty disappointing reaction from the public, who viewed the exhibition as a new form of interior abstraction rather than an infinite journey into the immateriality of the surface. After considering the public´s misinterpretation, Klein decided to push the monochrome a step further by focusing on his favorite color-blue.

Klein’s Blue Period

And, in 1956, he succeeded in suspending his favorite ultramarine pigment in petroleum extracts, which allowed the pigment to maintain its brilliance and something of its powdery texture without dulling. He named the substance International Klein Blue – IKB.
 
It was the beginning of the Klein´s Blue Period.

The piece Blue Monochrome, from 1957, is one of the Klein´s first monochromes featuring International Klein Blue. He depicted his vision, using only one color, a vibrant shade of ultramarine, which he later perfected for use with the aid of chemist. The painting contains no trace of imaginary or line, encouraging the viewer to immerse herself in the color alone and to experience its evocations.
 
Symbolic of the sky and sea had resonances in Klein´s own religion, Catholicism, as not only a symbol of the Holy Ghost, but also as the shade traditionally used in the depiction of the Virgin Mary’s robes in the Renaissance paintings.

In 1957, in Nice, Klein met the young beautiful German painter Rotraut Uecker, who assisted him on a huge decorative project for the Gelsenkirchen opera house, in Germany, involving canvases and sponge reliefs imbued with I.K.B.

Invisible Works

To further his artistic vision of the immaterial, he created Le Vide, or The Void (1958). He removed everything from the gallery space (Iris Clert Gallery) except for an empty cabinet; he also created a dramatic entrance for the opening show, in which visitors were welcomed into empty room.
 
In regards to the work, he stated that his paintings were invisible and he would like to show them in a clear and positive manner. The Void, like much of his work it might be read in a slightly contradictory manner, as a political attack on the traditional art object and the gallery system that supports it.

yves klein le vide

Venus Blue

In the Venus Blue, from 1960, Klein applied his signature International Klein Blue to a plaster cast of the famous Venus de Milo sculpture, pushing the monochrome into the three-dimensional field and establishing a relationship between the infinite cosmos and the human form.
 
By appropriating the famous Greek sculpture and painting it IKB, Klein gives the dated masterpiece a kind of kitsch and commercial appeal, making it a precursor to Pop Art.

venus blue

Anthropométrie sans titre

After concentrating on the monochrome canvases, Klein made a new departure with his signature IKB color, using his brush and nude models. In Anthropométrie sans titre, 1961, he covered nude females in blue paint and had them press, drag and lay themselves across canvases to create bodily impressions.
 
The piece was inspired in part by photographs of the body-shaped burn-marks on the earth, which were caused by the atomic explosion at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Klein crafted this idea into a performance piece, hosting a formal event where guests observed the nude models executing the piece; although the events could be at times bizarre and comic, the resulting pictures represent a fresh and vivid approach to the idea of figurative painting darkly influenced by the threat of the Cold War.

Anthropométrie sans titre

In this period, Klein became fascinated with natural elements and usually incorporated water, fire, sea sponges and gravel into his sculptures and canvases. This resulted in a series of fire paintings and monochrome relief paintings, as well as IKB sculptures that expressed cosmological ideas and infinite space.

After the exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, in 1961, he received a poor response and his paintings failed to sell.

Marriage to Rotraut Uecker & Death

The next year, he married Rotraut Uecker, several months before he died of a heart attack at the young age of 34.

Yves Klein and Rotraut Uecker

In France, Klein perception of reality was significant forerunner of Nouveau Réalisme and a French strain of Pop Art. His work represents one of the most important responses to the monochrome in the art of the twenty century, and has joined the contributions of others such as Aleksander Rodchenko and Kasimir Malevich.

Yves Klein was a consummate trickster and more than a half of century after his death, we are still not sure how seriously to take him. As with Marcel Duchamp before him and the conceptual artists who came after, Klein believed that the idea behind a work was more important than the execution.
 
Among his earliest projects were two booklets he produced in 1954 that contained plates of his monochrome paintings – canvases covered over entirely in a single color. But while Klein by that year had produced some small monochromes, the particular paintings the booklets pretend to reproduce probably never existed.

 

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Gustav Klimt – Appetite for Seduction

primavesi

Gustav Klimt is remembered as one of the greatest decorative painters of the XX century and Vienna’s most renowned advocator of Art Nouveau or Jugendstil who produced one of the century’s most significant bodies of erotic art.

His artistic style was determinedly eclectic, borrowing motifs from Greek, Byzantine and Egyptian art, inspired by the ethereal atmosphere of work by artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, and by some aspects of Impressionist technique.

Although Klimt’s art in widely popular nowadays, it was neglected for much of the 20th century, provoked opposition in his own day, facing charges of obscenity and objections to his lightly allusive approach to symbolism.
 
His treatment of erotic themes was delicate in general, and veiled in his paintings, but his drawings gave full expression to his considerable sexual appetite.

judith II gustav klimt

Youth & Family

Gustav Klimt was the second of the seven children born to Ernst Klimt, a Bohemian immigrant and gold engraver, and Anne Finster, an aspiring but unsuccessful musical performer who had never realized her dream of becoming a professional musician.
 
The Klimt family was poor, as work was scarce in the early years of the Habsburg Empire, especially for immigrants, due in large part to the 1873 stock market crash.

Klimt and his two brothers, Ernst and Georg, at an early age, displayed obvious artistic gifts; Gustav was singled out by his instructors as an exceptional draftsman while attending secondary school.

In October 1876, when he was fourteen, Klimt was encouraged by his relative to take the entrance examination for the Viennese School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstwerbeschule) and he passed with distinction. He got a full scholarship, which was no small matter considering the both his youth and the relative poverty in which he had been raised.

Klimt began his formal training in Vienna at a time known as the Ringstrasse Era, when the city was undergoing massive change. The center was constructed as one giant ring, and the bourgeois class was patronizing the arts as never before.
 
Vienna was entering its Golden Age of industry, science and research, but one thing Vienna did not have yet, however, was a revolutionary spirit towards the arts.

The Kunstgewerbeschule’s teaching methods and curriculum were fairly traditional for their time, something Klimt never questioned or changed. He received a conservative, classical training; through an intensive training in drawing, he was changed with faithfully copying decorations, designs and plaster casts of classic sculptures.
 
From the very beginning, Klimt impressed his teachers and joining a special class with a focus on painting. During the training, his work included close studies of the works of Titian, Hans Makart, the most famous Viennese historical painter of the Ringstrasse Era, and Pieter Paul Rubens.
 
Klimt became a huge admirer of Makart and especially his technique which employed dramatic effects of light and a pretty evident love for pageantry and theatricality.

 

Hans Makart – Die Falknerin

Before leaving the Kunstgewerbeschule, Klimt’s painting class was joined by his younger brother Ernst and a young painter Franz Matsch, another gifted Viennese artist who specialized in large-scale decorative works. Matsch and Klimt both ended their studies in 1883, and together, the two rented a large studio in Vienna.
 
Calling themselves the Company of Artists, they agreed to focus their work on murals and also to set aside any personal artistic inclinations in favor of the historical style popular among Vienna’s upper class and aristocracy at that time.
 
The decision proved to be a good one, as it not only won them numerous commissions to paint theaters, churches and other public space, but also allowed them to work interchangeably on their projects

The two, soon became artists in high demand among the city’s cultural elite, including society figures, public officials and prominent architects

In 1888, the Vienna City Council commissioned each artist to create a painting as a historical record of the city’s old Burgtheater, which was slated for demolition. Klimt’s painting, The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater (1888-89), employed a unique perspective by painting the auditorium from the vantage point of the stage rather than the auditorium itself.

Upheaval

In 1890, Klimt, his brother Ernst and Matsch joined the Vienna Artists’ Association, a conservative art group that controlled the majority of the exhibitions in the city. Although Klimt continued to align himself with the more traditional factions of the art world, he was soon to experience changes in his personal life that would send him off on a path all his own.

By the end of 1892, his father and his brother Ernst died and these deaths profoundly affected Klimt, who was now left financially responsible for his sisters, mother, brother’s widow Helen Flöge and their infant daughter.

In that dramatic period of his life and personal tragedy, Klimt began questioning the conventions of academic painting and began to reject the naturalistic trappings of his training in favor of a more personal style, one that relied on symbolism and drew from a wide range of influences.
 
Accordingly, the change resulted in a rift between Klimt and his long-time partner Matsch.

In 1893, the Artistic Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Education approached Matsch for a commission to decorate the ceiling of the newly built Great Hall of the University of Vienna; eventually, Klimt did join the project and this collaboration would be the last between the two men.
 
Klimt produced thirty.-nine ceiling paintings for the Great Hall, including Philosophy (1899-1907), Medicine (1900-07) and Jurisprudence (1897-1908). All of these pieces employed a highly decorative symbolism, marking significant turn in Klimt’s attitude toward painting and art in general.
 
All three paintings were destroyed in 1945 by retreating German forces. Much controversy arose over Klimt’s University paintings, due in part to the nudity of some of the figures in Medicine, and in part to accusations that his use of symbolism was vague.

Gesamtkunstwerk

While some of Klimt’s contemporaries were strongly opposed to decoration, he believed in the equality of fine and decorative arts. Some of his work shows his great ambition to create ‘’total work of art’’, Gesamtkunstwerk, a union of the visual arts that might be created through ornament.

In 1897, he renounced his membership of the Kunstlerhaus, Vienna’s leading association of artists and these circumstances encouraged him to help found The Union of Austrian Artists, widely known as Vienna Secession, along with the group of like-minded artists Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffman and Joseph Maria Olbrich. Although primarily rejecting classical, academic art, the group did not focus on any particular style, instead focusing its efforts on supporting young, nontraditional artists, bringing international art to Vienna.
 
Klimt was nominated their first president, and he also served as a member of the editorial staff for its periodical Sacred Spring.

The initial exhibition of Secession received wide acclaim from the public, and they elicited surprisingly little controversy, given that the Viennese had little to no exposure to modern art. Among its featured works was Klimt’s painting of the group’s symbol, the Greek goddess Pallas Athena; in time it would come to be seen as the first in the series of works from Klimt’s best known and most successful period.

Symbolism

In 1902, The Secessionists held their 14th Vienna Exhibition, a celebration of the composer Ludwig von Beethoven. For this exhibition, Klimt painted his famous Beethoven Frieze (1902), a massive work which was seen as a complex, lyrical, and highly ornate allegory of the artist as God, but paradoxically, made no reference to any of Beethoven’s compositions.
 
The artist’s symbolism is entirely invented and evidently quite personal. Klimt source of imagery remains a mystery, but viewed as a whole, the frieze takes on the qualities of a musical analogy, with each section of the frieze suggesting a symphonic movement.
 
The original catalogue for the 1902 Secession exhibition indicated that the frieze follows the story of a hero who begins happy, must fight dark forces in order to secure his happiness, and in the end experiences salvation.

Some of the most celebrated of Klimt’s paintings were produced during his time with Secession, which lasted until 1908 (Judith I ,1901, Adele Bloch-Bauer I ,1907, Field of Poppies ,1907., The Kiss, 1907-08 ), all of which comprised the artist’s so-called ‘’Golden Phase’’ By this time, Klimt’s personal style, which combined elements of both pre-modern and modern eras, had fully matured.
 
His use of gold and silver leaf recalled Byzantine mosaics; his application of repeated coils and whorls suggested both abstraction and Mycenaean ornamentation, while his portraits of women (Expectation, 1905-09) often combined a modern sensuality with the motifs of Oriental art and Japanese ‘’pillar prints’’.

While some critics and art historians contend Klimt’s work should not be included in the canon of modern art, his oeuvre, especially paintings postdating 1900, remains striking for its visual combinations of the old and modern, the abstract and the real.

Adele

Adele Bloch- Bauer I (1907), Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Viennese banker and Klimt’s lover, was one of the many women Klimt painted from life. This piece, the first of the two portraits, is considered to be Klimt’s finest work.
 
The sitter is adorned with ancient artifacts and precious materials, suggesting her power and wealth. But also, her stare and her grasping hands suggest that she is fragile. Despite these features, Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter’s character, and even less so with providing context and location, omissions that were common in all of Klimt’s earlier portraits. Klimt gives over most every space on the canvas to ornament, and leaves only the woman’s hands and upper body to describe her appearance.
 
Klimt biographer Frank Whitford has described the picture as ‘’ the most elaborate example of the tyranny of the decorative’’ in the artist’s work. Like many other artists around this period who were experimenting with abstraction, Klimt was faced with the possibility of crossing into pure form, and leaving depicted objects behind.
 
This picture marked an important turning point in Kimt’s work, and he chose to turn back from this extreme, which is indicated by his second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1912), in which her body stands out much more substantially against the background.

klimt portrait of adele bloch bauer i

The Kiss

The Kiss (1907-08) is considered the masterpiece of the artist’s ‘’Golden Period’’ probably the most popular and renowned celebration of sexual love; the woman is being absorbed in by the man, while both figures are engulfed by the body of gold in which they lie.
 
The background suggests a night sky; bodies teeter at the edge of a flowery meadow, as if they are in some kind of danger of cascading into the darkness. Representational forms only barely emerge from a highly ornate but ultimately abstract form, in this case the golden shroud, beautifully juxtaposed against the green and brown.
 
The decoration is particularly elaborate, Klimt used it for symbolic purposes; circular forms evoke the feminine, while rectangular forms evoke masculinity.

 

 

Late Period Klimt

In the last decade of his life, Klimt divided much of his time between his studio and garden in Heitzing, and the country home of the Flöge family, where he and Emilie Flöge, his brother’s widow’s sister, spent many days together.
 
His most enduring relationship was with Emilie Fl
öge. The full nature of their friendship is unknown, they remained in each other’s company for the remainder of his life.

During this period Klimt produced many of his stunning, yet largely under-appreciated plein air landscape paintings, such as The Park (1909-1910), visually demanding work, and possibly one of Klimt’s finest plein air paintings. Pointillism clearly influenced this painting, even though, unlike Seurat, Klimt never expressed an interest in utilizing optics in his work.
 
Nine-tenths of this piece is a solid mass of foliage, thus if not for the tree trunks and strips of grass at the bottom, this composition would be completely abstract. The naturalistic elements of this piece are offset by Klimt’s decorative mosaic of green, blue and yellow dots, which are rendered representational only with the aid of the piece’s lower section.

While Klimt did not alter his subject matter during his late period, his style did underego significant change; doing away with the use of silver and gold leaf and ornamentation in general, he began using subtle mixtures of color such as coral, salmon, yellow and lilac.
 
He also produced a staggering number of drawings and studies during this period, majority of which were female nudes, some especially erotic that to this day they are seldom exhibited. But, many of Klimt’s later portraits of women have been praised for the artist’s greater attention to character and a supposed new concern for likeness.
 
These features are evident in his second portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer ( 1912), Mada Primavesi (1913), a portrait of the young, and Friends (c. 1916-17), strangely erotic features, which portrays what appears to be a lesbian couple ( one naked and other clothed), against a stylized backdrop of birds and flowers.

On January 11, 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side. Bedridden and no longer able to paint or even sketch, Klimt lost his will to live, and on February,6th, he died from influenza.

He is buried at the Hietzing cemetery of Vienna.

Conclusion

By the time of his death, abstract painting, not to mention Dada, Futurism, Cubism and Constructivism, had all captured the imagination of Europeans across the continent. Gustav Klimt’s body of work was by then considered part of bygone era in painting which still focused on human and natural forms rather than outright renunciation, deconstruction of those very things.

Gustav Klimt never married, never painted a single self-portrait; and never claimed to be revolutionizing art in any way. He seldom left his native Austria, and on one occasion he visited Paris, but he left thoroughly unimpressed.
 
With the groundbreaking Seccession, his primary aim was to call attention to under-appreciated Viennese artists and in turn to call their attention to the much broader world of modern art beyond Austria’s borders. In that context, Klimt is responsible for helping to transform Vienna into a leading center for arts and culture at the turn of the century.
 
Paradoxically, his influence on other artists and subsequent movements was quite limited. As much in the way Klimt revered Hans Makart but eventually deviated from that style, younger Viennese artist like Oscar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele revered Klimt early on, only to mature into more quasi-abstract and expressionistic forms of painting.

 


 

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How Georgia O’Keeffe Changed The World

GeorgiaOKeeffeInChemise

A prolific artist, Georgia O’Keeffe spent 70 years making art and contributing to the development of American modernism ⎯ she produced more than 2000 works over the course of her career. She was a prominent member of the creative Stieglitz circle, influencing early American modernists.
 
She is notable for her role as a pioneering female artist ⎯ although she disavowed their interpretation of her work ⎯ she was a strong influence on the artists of the Feminist art movement, including Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago, who saw feminine imagery in O’Keeffe’s flower paintings.

Family

O’Keeffe was born on November, 15, near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, as the second of seven children. Her parents grow up together as neighbors; her father Francis Calixtus O’Keeffe was Irish, and her mother Ida Totto was of Dutch and Hungarian heritage.
 
As a child, O’Keeffe developed a curiosity about the natural world and an early interest in becoming an artist. Art appreciation was a family affair for O’Keeffe: her two grandmothers and two of her sisters also enjoyed painting.
 
She came from a family where female education was stressed and she was fortunate to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1905 to 1906; in 1907, O’Keefe moved in New York, attended classes at the Art Students League and learn realist painting techniques from art-teachers William Merritt Chase, F.
 
Luis Mora and Kanyon Cox. In New York, she expanded her ideas about art by visiting galleries, in particular, Gallery 291, owned by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. This place was one of the first few places in the United States where European avante-garde art was exhibited.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe was, for the first time, exposed to popular European artists such as Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.
GeorgiaOKeeffeInChemise

Love

Few years later, in 1912, and after attending a drawing class at the University of Virginia’s Summer School, she began focusing on her art. Alon Bement, her teacher, professed an innovative teaching style that was heavily influenced by the artist Wesley Dow, whose approach to composition and design was influenced by the principles of Japanese art.
 
While teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina in 1915, Georgia O’Keeffe begun experimenting with Dow’s theory of self-exploration (through art); she took natural forms, such as clouds, waves and ferns, and begun a small series of charcoal drawings that simplified them into expressive and abstracted combinations of lines and shapes.
 
She mailed a few of them to her friend Anita Pollitzer, a former classmate, who brought the drawings to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz in January 1916. Recognizing her potential, Stieglitz exhibited ten of her charcoals at his Gallery 291, and this began their professional relationship.
 
While O’Keeffe continued to teach, she returned to New York in 1917, to view her first solo exhibition, arranged by Stieglitz at 291. During that time, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz began a love affair that would last until his death.
 

Alfred Stieglitz attached this photograph to a letter for Georgia O’Keeffe, dated July 10, 1929. Below the photograph he wrote, “I have destroyed 300 prints to-day.
 
And much more literature. I haven’t the heart to destroy this…”

 

Shape & Color

O’Keeffe incorporated the technique of other artists and was especially influenced by Paul Strand’s use of cropping in his photographs. She was one of the first artists to adopt the method to painting by rendering close-ups uniquely American objects that were highly detailed yet abstract.
 
While some of these works are highly detailed, in others, she stripped away what she considered the inessential to focus on shape and color.
 
Blue II, from 1916, is indicative of O’Keeffe’s early monochromatic drawings and watercolors, which evoke the movement of nature through abstract forms. While the curvilinear form in Blue II is reminiscent of a plant form, O’Keeffe was playing the violin that would have been in O’Keeffe’s line of sight as she played.
 
The intense blue color suggests that she may have been familiar with Wasily Kandinsky’s notion that visual art, like music, should convey emotion through the use of color and line.

Live & Paint

In 1918, Stieglitz offered to financially support O’Keeffe for one year so that she could live and paint in New York; she took a leave of absence from her teaching position and for the first time dedicated herself solely to making art.
 
Meanwhile, Stieglitz divorced his first wife and he and Georgia O’Keeffe married in 1924.
 
As an artist, Stieglitz, who was 23 years older than O’Keeffe, found in her a muse, taking over 300 photographs of her, including both portraits and nudes. As an art dealer, he championed her work and promoted her career.
 
During the 1920s, Stieglitz introduced O’Keeffe to the Stieglitz Circle, his friends and fellow artists, including John Marin, Paul Strand, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley. Georgia O’Keeffe was profoundly influenced by Strand’s photography and the camera’s ability to behave like a magnifying lens, as well as Charles Sheeler’s Precisionism.

Flowers

Following these interests, she began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, and, during this time, also switched from watercolors to oil paint. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe was recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time and her art begun to command high prices.
 
In one of O’Keeffe’s first large- scale renderings of flower, Petunia No.2.,which represents the beginning of her exploration of a theme that would mark her career, she magnifies the flower’s form to emphasize its shape and color.
 
Her flowers images often received interpretation that O’Keeffe disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who saw her paintings as veiled illusion to female genitalia.
 
For Georgia O’Keeffe, there was no hidden symbolism, just the essence of the flower. In addition, the anatomy of the petunia is incredibly detailed, and O’Keeffe may have been emphasizing the androgyny of the reproductive parts in order to counter the idea that her subject matter was connected to her gender.

New Mexico

Around 1929, O’Keeffe fascination with the landscape of New Mexico began, and she became enamoured with New Mexico’s landscape of barren land, vistas and local Navajo culture; works produced from this landscape captured the beauty of the desert, its vast skies, distinctive architectural forms, and bones which she collected in the desert.
 
O’Keeffe’s eventual purchase of two properties in New Mexico further connected her to the land.
 
Through the precise rendering of the weathered skull’s surface and sharp edges in Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue, from 1931, she captures the essential nature of the skull while also referencing the transience of life.
 
Isolated on canvas, divorced from its desert context, O’Keeffe uses the cow’s skull and the red, white and blue background to represent both naturalism and nationalism, or the relationship between the American landscape and national identity.
 
Moreover, the subject could allude to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, thereby making an environmental and economic statement; what is clear that O’Keeffe created a memento mori that elevates this relic of the New Mexico desert to the status of an American icon.

Retrospective

During the 1930s and 1940s, O’Keeffe’s popularity continued to grow and she was honored with two important retrospectives, in 1943 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1946 at the MoMA, their first retrospective of work by woman.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe split her time between New York, living with Stieglitz, and painting in New Mexico. From the 1940s on, O’Keeffe’s art was outside the mainstream as she was one of the few artists to adhere to representation in a period when others were exploring non-representation or had abandoned painting altogether.
 
Back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor Dorothy Norman, a young photographer who later helped manage his gallery, an American Place. The close relationship between Stieglitz and Norman eventually developed into an affair. In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated and he suffered a fatal stroke on July, 13, 1946, at the age of 83.
 
O’Keeffe was with him when he died and was the executor of his state.
 
In 1949, three years after Stiegitz’s death, O’Keeffe moved permanently to New Mexico. During the 1950s, she produced a series of works that featured the architectural forms of her patio wall and door at Abiquiu, one of her two homes near Santa Fe.

Essence

O’Keeffe’s landscape paintings are similar to her flower paintings in that they often capture the essence of nature as the artist saw it without focusing on the details. In Black Place, Gray and Pink, from 1949, O’Keeffe emphasizes the wide open spaces and emptiness of the landscape around her New Mexico ranch that she purchased in 1940-vistas that are the opposite of her claustrophobic cityscapes.
 
Her paintings of the area capture the sense of place and her attachment to it. The often surprising reds and pinks of the land in these paintings are accurate renderings of the colorful desert scenery.
 
Despite waning popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, a retrospective held by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970 revived her career and brought her to the attention of a new generation of women in the era of feminism.
 
O’Keeffe’s subject matter was always inspired by her life and the series Sky above Clouds, from around 1964/65is no exception, as the painting speaks to her many travels in the 1950s and 1960s. While en route to the Far East, she became intrigued by the view of the clouds below the airplane and sought to render this aerial view in paint as if to symbolize her own expanded view of the world.
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High Horizon

Remarkably, as she was nearly 80 years old at the time, she began stretching enormous canvases nearly 24 feet wide, to capture the expansiveness of the scene. This painting, with its high horizon line and simplified clouds that extend beyond the frame, shows the influence of Eastern landscape painting, which also employs a high horizon line with a broad view of the land.
 
In her later years, O’Keeffe suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. As a result of her failing vision, she painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972; her urge to create did not falter.
 
With the help of assistants, she continued to make art and she wrote the bestselling book Georgia O’Keeffe (1976).
 
Her last paintings consist of simple abstract lines and shapes and hearken back to her early charcoal drawings.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe died on March, 6, 1986, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her ashes were scattered at Cerro Pedernal, which is depicted in several of her paintings.

 

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Cindy Sherman – Essay On Her Famous Works

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The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff. – Cindy Sherman

A contemporary master of social photography, Cindy Sherman is a key figure of the Pictures Generation, a loose circle of the most influential and productive American Artists who came to artistic maturity and recognition during the early 1980s, a period notable for the rapid and widespread proliferation of mass media imagery.
 
For the most of her remarkable artistic career, she has been the face of postmodernism.

 

Early Life

Ms Sherman was born in January, 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, as a youngest of the five children, and shortly after her birth, the family moved to Long Island where she spent her early childhood.
 
Her father was an engineer and her mother a reading teacher, but although her parents shared a general disinterest in the arts, Cindy chose to study art in college, and afterwards, studied at Buffalo, at the State University of New York, in the early 1970s.

In this period, from 1972 to 1976, she began as a painter in a super- realist art style in Buffalo. The 1970s was an eclectic era for painters working in the aftermath of Minimalism, and feeling as though ‘’there was nothing else to say’.
 
But very quickly after, she found herself frustrated by the certain limitations of the medium and shifted her attention to photography, toward the end of 1970s, in order to explore a wide range of common female social role or personas.
 
Owing to a widely influential art instructor, Barbara Jo Revelle, she was exposed to conceptual art and other progressive media and art movements.

As Sherman came of age in the art world, the prevailing visual mode was painting dominated by ‘bad boy’ expressionist and figurative painters like David Salle or Eric Fischl. Photography was still thought to fall below painting in the hierarchy of mediums, but it granted women artists a mode that was relatively free from the heavy, conservative and male- dominated history of the painted canvas.
 
Many of the women artists adopted the camera and ‘’there was a female solidarity’’

 

Untitled Film Stills

After graduation, Sherman moved to New York in order to pursue her artistic career. In 1977, in her downtown residential and loft studio she started taking a series of photographs, a project she would eventually refer to as the Untitled Film Stills.
 
This series, 1977-80, is considered an early cornerstone of postmodernism.

In Untitled Film Stills, Ms. Sherman embodies the character of ‘Everywoman’; the artist served as both photographer and subject, transforming herself into the guise of various female archetypes, re-fashioning herself repeatedly and played the film noir siren, the prostitute, the girly pin-up, the housewife and the noble damsel in distress, also the movie stars of an earlier generation: Monica Vitti, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.

For about three years, she was occupied by black-and-white series, so that by 1980, Sherman had exhausted a myriad of seemingly timeless clichés referring to the ‘feminine’. This photographs of women by woman quickly gained attraction within the feminist community. A theorist Laura Mulvey, in one of her essays, contextualized Sherman’s work within the prevailing feminist modes of thought at the time.

End Of An Era

When Ms. Sherman arrived on the scene, it marked ‘the end of the era in which the female body had become, if not quite unrepresentable, only representable if refracted through theory’. Rather than sidestepping, Sherman reacts and shifts the agenda; she recuperates a politics of the body that had been lost or neglected in the twists and turns of 70s feminism.
 
It is easy to see some of the way Sherman’s representations of women avoided the proclivities of the day. The high heels and the heavy makeups, as well as the bullet bras of the film stills, harken back to the 50s rather than the au naturel look favored in the 70s.
 
It is not just a range of feminine expressions that are shown but the process of the ‘feminine’, as an effect, something acted upon.

Posing And Pretence

Museum of Modern Arts announced, in 1996, that it had just acquired Sherman’s Untitled Film Still series, the curators knew they had laid claim to one of the most representative works of the early 1980s American movement of ‘simulationism’ and ‘appropriation’; both terms refer to American artists’ mimicking, in the first half of the 1980s, widely circulating images in the mass media or former art masterpieces, and critically reworking them to arouse a sense of unease in the viewer, indeed often suggesting that culture had become a game of theatrical posing and egoistic pretence.
 
In Untitled Film Still #21, from 1978, Sherman takes on the role of the small- town girl just happening upon the Big City. She is, at first, suspicious of the metropolitan shadows and lights, only to be eventually seduced by its attractions.

 

Untitled Film Stills was Sherman’s big artistic break which secured her position in the New York art scene.

Debate

In 1981, the Arforum’s editor Ingrid Sischy commissioned a series for the publication, and that Sherman’s work took hold of the feminist imagination. The artist planned to riff on the Playboy centerfold with a pair of horizontal photographs showing women in intimate states of repose.
 
But, the Sherman’s women were all clothed, unlike Playboy’s women though. These works were never printed in Artforum, and it was the first time Ingrid Sischy refused to print a commission. She worried that the series would be misunderstood by militant feminists since they looked ‘’a little too close’’ to the pinups in actual men’s magazines.
 
However, Metro Pictures showed them and Calvin Tomkins noted, in the New Yorker, they were, in fact, ‘’ misunderstood by a number of political-minded art students (male and female), who accused Sherman of undermining the feminist cause by depicting women in ‘vulnerable’ poses’’.

Yet, through these moments, Ms. Sherman remained unwilling to directly tie her work to feminist theory. This tension became especially clear with her Untitled #93, from 1981, a centerfold featuring a tearful girl drawing her bedsheets close.
 
The girl was interpreted by the many critics as a survivor of sexual assault. But, according to the Sherman’s state, the inspiration was a woman who had gone to bed moments before the sun rose, following a night of debauchery.
 
This example is typical of the debates that have surrounded Sherman and her work: the artist’s account of her own intentions often conflict with the scholarly debates about feminism and the role of the women in her pictures.

Disasters and Fairy Tales, from 1985 to 1989, much darker endeavour than its prettified predecessor; he gloomy palette and scenes strewn with vomit and mold challenged viewers to find the unqualified grotesque and the beauty in the ugly.

Her photographic portraiture is intensely grounded in the present, but also extends long traditions in art, that force the audience to reconsider cultural assumptions and common stereotypes, among the latter political satire, the graphic novel, caricature, stand-up comedy, the pulp fiction and the other socially critical disciplines.

History Portraits

Sherman’s History Portraits, again presented herself as a model, but this time, she assumed the air of European art history’s most famous leading ladies. Leaving in Europe at the time of its creation, she was absorbed in the West’s great museums.
 
That interlude gave way to Sherman’s Sex Pictures, in 1992, in which she substituted her own figure for that of a doll, and her main intention was to shock and scandalize the public; the images present close-ups of doll-on-doll sex scenes and prosthetic genitalia.

untitled #250 1992

Theatre

Over the last decade, Sherman dons clown’s make-up in a series of still photography, in 2003, and even more recently, she explored carefully staged female suburban identities in solo show in New York, in 2008.
 
Also, in her latter series, she photographed herself in various states of awkward make-up, superimposing stodgy, highly-conscious portraits over contrived domestic and faux-monumental backdrops.

Recalling a long tradition of theatrical role-playing in art and self-portraiture, Cindy Sherman uses the camera and the various tools of everyday cinema- costumes, makeup, stage scenery to re-create common illusions, or iconic ‘snapshots’, that signify very different concepts of self confidence, entertainment, public celebrity, and other socially sanctioned, existential conditions.
 
Although they constituted only a first premise, these images begin to unravel in various ways that suggest how self identity is often an unstable compromise between personal intention and social dictates.

Yet, with each passing year, Ms, Sherman’s art deviates more noticeably from a basic postmodern tenet and the so-called ‘death of the author’, but this idea holds that there is no such thing as originality, that we are all formed by external forces and that identity is completely constructed, which implies that it is also completely de-constructable.

Appropriation

Many variations on the methods of self-portraiture share a single, notable feature: in the majority of Sherman’s portraits, she directly confronts the viewer’s gaze in order to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only value that truly unites us.

Many critics and art historians have explored the idea of Sherman’s appropriating the ‘’male gaze’’ and the voyeuristic feeling of the works. The artist twists the traditional formula of pin-up shots, and plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she takes on the roles of both, male photograph and female pinup.

Critical

Cindy Sherman epitomizes the 1980s technique of ‘image-scavengering’ and ‘appropriations’ by artists seeking to question the so-called truth-potential of mass-imagery and its seductive hold on our individual and collective psyches. Sherman depersonalized approach to portrait photography has suggested a new, socially critical capacity for a medium that was once presumed a tool of documentary realism or aesthetic pleasure.
 
This ‘readymade’ quality of the critically applied photograph, whereby a preexisting image or convention is appropriated intact by artist and turned into something more conceptually problematic, if not psychologically disturbing, has come to characterize much work of a new generation defying easy categorization.

 

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Mary Cassatt – Famous Women Artists In History

the childs bath

I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.

One of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement, Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. She was born and growing up in a comfortably upper-middle-class family: her mother belonged to a prosperous banking family, and her father was well-to-do real estate and stockbroker.
 
Her elementary schooling prepared her to be a proper wife and mother, included such classes like embroidery, music, homemaking, painting and sketching.

what did mary cassatt look like

Not For Girls

Her upbringing reflected her family’s high social standing; Cassatts lived in Germany and France, from 1851 to 1855, giving the young girl an early exposure to European culture and art history. As a child she had learned French and German, and these language skills served her well in her later career.
 
She may also have visited the Paris World’s Fair at 1855, at which she would have viewed the art of Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Auguste-Dominic Ingres among other French artists.

At the age of 16, Mary started studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Not surprisingly, she found the male faculty and her fellow students to be patronizing and resentful of her attendance.
 
She also became frustrated by the inadequate course offerings and curriculum’s slow pace. However, she decided to leave the program and move to Europe, where she could study the works of the Old Masters, firsthand, on her own.

Despite her family strong objections and their initial misgivings; her father declared that he would rather see his daughter dead than living abroad as a ‘bohemian’, Mary Cassatt left for Paris, in 1866.
 
In Paris, she studied with Jean-Leon Gérôme and had the private art lessons in the Louvre, where she copied the great masterpieces of art. This, of course, greatly influenced her own skills as a painter.

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Discovery

Mary continued to paint and study in relative obscurity until 1868, when one of her portraits was selected for the annual exhibition at the prestigious Paris Salon. The well-received piece of her was submitted under the name Mary Stevenson.

In 1870, after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Mary Cassatt returned home to live with her family. Upon her return to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the artistic freedom she enjoyed in Paris, immediately extinguished; she was pretty much frustrated by a lack of artistic resources and opportunities.
 
Not only did she have trouble finding proper supplies, but her father refused to pay for anything connected with her art. In order to raise funds, she tried to sell some of her paintings in New York, but to no avail.
 
She tried to sell them once again, through a dealer in Chicago, but her paintings were tragically destroyed in a fire, in 1871.

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In the midst of these difficult circumstances, Mary was contacted by the archbishop of Pittsburgh, who wanted to commission her to paint copies of two works by Correggio, an Italian master. She accepted the assignment and left immediately for Europe, where the originals were, in Parma, Italy.
 
With the money she earned from the commission, she was able to sit out again for Paris and resume her career in Europe. In this period, the early 1870s, she also traveled to Spain and Holland, where she familiarized herself with the work of the most famous masters, such as Diego Velásquez, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn.

The Paris Salon accepted her paintings for exhibitions in 1872, 1873 and 1874, which helped secure her status as an established artist; she continued to paint and study in Rome, Belgium, and Spain and eventually settling permanently in Paris.

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Paris

By 1874, she had established herself in a studio in Paris. Three years later, her parents and her sister Lydia joined her in France. They frequently served as models for her work of the late 1870s and 1880s, which included many images of contemporary women at the opera and theatre, in parlors and gardens.
 
Self-reliant and single-minded, Mary had the opportunity to concentrate on her art in a city where, ‘’women did not have to fight for recognition if they did serious work’’.

Though she felt indebted to the Salon for building her career, Mary Cassatt began to feel increasingly constrained by the inflexible guidelines and traditional tastes of Paris’s official art scene. She began to experiment artistically, no longer concerned with what was commercial or fashionable.
 
During this time, she drew courage from painter Edgar Degas, whose pastels inspired her to press on in her own direction; her new work drew criticism for its bright colors and unflattering accuracy of its subjects.

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When Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artist, known as Impressionists, in 1879, she was delighted. The impressionists’ show was a huge success, commercially and critically, and her admiration for Degas and Impressionists would soon blossom into a strong friendship.

Cassatt exhibited her work with the Impressionists in Paris from 1879 onwards; in 1886 she was included in the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York.

Honest Portraiture

While many of her fellow Impressionists were focused on landscapes and street scenes, Mary became famous for her portraits. She continued to specialize in scenes of women in domestic interiors, especially mothers and their children, with an Impressionist emphasis on quickly captured moments of contemporary life.
 
Also, she shared with the Impressionists a general conviction that academic art was outdated and a commitment to explore fresh new means of everyday modern life.

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Cassatt’s portraits were unconventional in their direct and honest nature, and her constant objective was to achieve force, not sweetness, truth, but not sentimentality and romance. These works, like all her portrayals of women, may have achieved such a popular success for a specific reason: they filled a societal need to idealize women’s domestic roles at a time when many women were, in fact, beginning to take an interest in voting rights, higher education, dress reform and social equality.
 
Yet, Cassatt’s depictions of her fellow upper-middle-class and upper-class women were never simplistic; they contained layers of meaning behind the airy brushwork and fresh colors of her impressionistic technique.

In her piece The Child’s Bath, from 1893, an intimately observed vignette of a woman bathing her child, Mary combines certain stylistic influences of Japanese art with the subject matter of her own milieu.

the childs bath

The variety of patterns in this composition, including several floral designs and the bold stripes of the woman’s dress is united by a restrained palette of greys and mauves. The soft coloration allows the viewer to concentrate on the subject of the scene- the close relationship between mother and child.
 
Their intimacy is demonstrated by their closely positioned faces and by the circle of touch that extends from the woman’s hand on the child’s foot to the child’s hand to the woman’s knee. In this work, Cassatt evoked the traditional artistic subject matter of the Madonna and Child, making her imagery rather secular then religious.

Regarding her artistic style, she expanded her technique from oil painting and drawing to pastels and printmaking. Japanese wooden prints had been very popular in Paris since it was featured at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, and Cassatt, like many other Impressionist, incorporated its visual devices into her own work.

Experimentation

Mary Cassatt’s painting style continued to evolve away from Impressionism in favor of a simpler, more straightforward approach. Her final exhibition with the Impressionists was in 1886, and she subsequently stopped identifying herself with a particular movement or school.

Her experimentation with a variety of techniques often led her to unexpected places. For instance, her Letter, from 1890/91, shows a woman sealing a letter she has just written at her desk.
 
The composition balances patterns- the wallpaper and the woman dress, against solid areas of color, the vertical back of the desk, the paper of the letter and envelope; brings the viewer close to the room’s shallow space, where forced perspective is evident in the oddly skewed writing panel of the desk.
 
These stylistic choices were influenced by traditional Japanese printmaking- the direct reference to Bijinga Ukiyo-e , the wooden prints of Kitagawa Utamara; yet, the woman’s garments and the other objects are all contemporary details of Cassatt’s world.

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After 1890, Mary suffered from failing health and deteriorating eyesight, but she maintained close relationship with her artist friends and important art world figures in France and America. Although she and Degas suffered a rift in their friendship during the infamous Dreyfus affair, of the late 1890s, they later made amends.

In 1904, Cassatt was recognized for her cultural contributions by the French government, which awarded her the order of Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

Egypt

A 1910 trip to Egypt with her brother, Gardner, and his family, would prove to be a turning point in Mary Cassatt’s life. The Egyptian magnificent ancient art made her question her own talent as an artist.
 
Soon after their return home, Gardner died unexpectedly from an illness he contracted during the journey. These two events deeply affected Cassatt’s physical and emotional health and she was unable to paint again until around 1912.

Three years later, she was forced to give up painting altogether as diabetes slowly stole her vision. For the next 11 years, until her death- on June, 14, 1926, in her country home a chateau located in Le Mesnil- Théribus, fifty miles northwest of Paris- Marry Cassat lived in almost total blindness, bitterly unhappy to be robbed of her greatest source of pleasure.

woman reading and blue armchair

Mary Cassatt had never married nor had children, choosing instead to dedicate her entire life to her artistic profession. By her late years, she was able to witness the emergence of modernism in Europe and the United States, but her signature style remained consistent.
 
The waning critical taste for Impressionism after her death meant that her influence on other artists was limited.

 

Legacy

She is considered one of the most important American expatriate artists of the late 1800s, along with James Mc Neill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. She has also been the focus of influential scholarship on female artists and her work has been discussed by key feminist art historians including Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock.

However, Cassatt’s status in art history has been significant and influential in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She became a key figure in the fin de siècle art world and helped to establish the taste for impressionist art in her native United States.

 

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Louise Bourgeois – Famous Women Artists In History

structures of existence the cells

“It is really the anger that makes me work’’ – LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1910-2010)

The French-born American artist, Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris, on Christmas day, 1911. She was one of the most influential sculptor of the 20th century. Her parents, Josephine and Louis, ran a tapestry gallery and lived in the famous and fashionable St Germain quarter in Paris, during the week; Bourgeois family also had a villa and workshop in the countryside where they spend their weekends restoring the antique tapestries.

Here is Louise peeling a tangerine and sharing a little anecdote about her family life to go along with it.


 

Growing Up

At the end of the World War I, during the global pandemic, Louise’s mother contracted influenza. During the course of the illness, her father handled the affairs, especially long-term one with his daughter’s governess, who resided with the family, which produced the tensions in the household.
 
It is thought this fear and the anger towards her father stayed with Louise Bourgeois, and became a motif within her works, almost all of them, created in New York where she lived after her marriage to art critic Robert Goldwater.

She often spoke of her early, emotionally conflicted family life as formative. Her affectionate and practical mother, who was an invalid, was a positive influence. Her domineering father and his marital infidelities instilled resentment and an insecurity that Louise never laid to rest.

For instance, her nightmarish tableau The Destruction of the Father, from 1974, holds an arrangement of beast-like bumps, phallic protuberances and biomorphic shapes in soft-looking latex that suggest the sacrificial evisceration of body, surrounded by big, crude mammillary forms.
 
After all, Ms Bourgeois has suggested as a tableau’s inspiration a fantasy from her childhood in which a pompous father, whose presence deadens the dinner hour night after night is pulled onto the table by other family members, gobbled up and dismembered.

 

The Destruction Of The Father – Louise Bourgeois

Education

Louise Bourgeois had a wide range of education. In the early 1930s, she studied philosophy and mathematics at the Sorbonne. In that time, she wrote her thesis on Emmanuel Kant and Blaise Pascal.

In 1932, she started studying art, after the death of her mother, enrolling in several schools and ateliers in the period in the 1930’s, including the Ecole de Beaux- Arts and Academie Julian, where she counted Fernand Léger, the brilliant interpreter of cubism, among her teachers. He taught her how to express human emotions with minimal use of line in the painting, and also, he recognized her interest in three-dimensional form, urged her to take up sculpture.

Her Paris apartment was on the Rue du Seine, in the same building as André Breton’s gallery Gradiva was, and where she was introduced to the Surrealists.

Louise Bourgeois in her studio

Adult Life

In 1938, Louise opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father’s tapestry showroom, and also began exhibit her own works at the Salon d’Automne. In that period of her life, she met her future husband, an American art historian and critic Robert Goldwater, noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive art.

The married couple moved to New York that same year and Ms Bourgeois attended the Art Students League, where she studied painting with Vaclav Vytlacil and produced prints and sculptures.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Louise’s husband Mr. Goldwater introduced her to a many of New York artists, dealers and critics. She knew many of the European surrealists then arriving as refugees in New York, later dismissed them as ‘smart alecks’; the artists to whom she felt closest were the American painters who would come to be known as Abstract Expressionists.

In the late ‘40s and ‘50s Louise Bourgeois had a several solo exhibitions in various New Your gallery. Her first solo exhibition of paintings happened in New York, 1945, and four years later, in 1951, her first exhibition of sculptures at the Peridot Gallery- an installation of tall pole-like figures that she intended as abstract portraits of the family members and portraits.
 
At this time, she gave up painting for good.

Her husband received a Fulbright grant, so they return to France for several years in the early 1950s, during which time her father died. Louise began psychoanalysis in 1952, continuing on and off until 1985.

From beginning of the ‘60s, Ms Bourgeois started experimenting with rubber, plaster, latex, and enjoyed some professional success as a sculptor. But significant shift in her career came in 1966, when she was included in ‘’Eccentric Abstraction’’ at the Fischbach Gallery in New York, an exhibition organized by critic Lucy Lippard.

Ms Bourgeois’ long involvement in the nascent feminist movement, about which she had ambivalent, but passionate feelings, began at this time. In the following period, she made one of her many trips to the marble works in Pietrasanta and Carrara, Italy, and produced dozens of her great and major pieces over several years.

Her husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institution including Columbia University, New York Studio School and Yale, which awarded her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree in 1977.

In the same period, she became politically active as a socialist and feminist, and joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexual explicit imagery in art and made several of her own sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as Fillette, a large detached latex phallus, from 1968.

Fillette – Louise Bourgeois

That piece is one of her most famous work. It showcases her use of biomorphic imagery and her experiments with and distortions of both female and male anatomy to the point that they become indistinguishable.
 
In this work, the testicles can be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism
of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that threatens her- in one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second one, the piece is being carried.

 

Rise To Fame As An Artist

By the mid 1970s, with shifts in the art world trends, her reputation was steadily growing. Marking her prestige in the art world, Bourgeois had her first retrospective in 1982, at MoMA, which was the first given to a female artist at that institution.
 
That retrospective secured her place as an influential figure.

In the following decade, her reputation grew stronger in the context of the body-centered art of the ‘90s, with its emphasis on vulnerability, mortality and sexuality.

Ms Bourgeois’ sculptures, in stone, steel, wood and cast rubber, very often organic in form and sexually explicit, emotionally aggressive yet witty covered many stylistic bases. But generally, they shared a set of repeated themes centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.

louise bourgeois sculptures

Certainly, her personal style contributed to her mystique. Her series of ‘’Cells’’ from the early 1990s, the installation of old doors, windows, steel fencing and found objects, were meant to be evocations of her childhood, which she claimed as the psychic source of her art.
 
These are dioramic, standalone sculptural forms – plaster casts, drawings and texts, as well as the penises, breast-like bulges and spiders, all within the confines of cell-like structures, usually penned in by doors or steel cages.

The Cells is her autobiography, her personal therapy and her catharsis, and through them she was able to analyze and express her memories, anxiety and fear of abandonment and pain. She only named these piece Cells from 1991 onwards, which explains the inclusion of her earlier work that seemed to inspire or influence the series.
 
So, combined the discernible theme of self, domesticity and motherhood could explain why Ms Bourgeois has become synonymous with the feminist art movement, taking on an almost ambassadorial role. She was a strong feminist, but never called herself a female artist or a feminist artist.
 
It would be reductive to call her with these names; it wouldn’t be able to place her gender from looking at a lot of the work. It was simply autobiographical for she dealing with universal emotions such as rejection and jealousy and these are pre-gender.

 

Structures Of Existence: The Cells – Louise Bourgeois

Gender And Art

But, one of the main reasons that she found herself in feminist movement was the timing of her work. Just as she seemed to find her feet in the 1950s, the male dominated genre of abstract expressionism exploded, making stars of the male contemporaries such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and overshadowing her work.
 
Then, she began to rebel against patriarchy through her work. For instance, she thought that the surrealists made women the object of their work, whereas she was trying to make women the subject.

She was anxious, a trait she thought she inherited from her mother, and it is a continual thread through her work; she struggled with the burden of being mother, a wife and an artist.
 
She was also agoraphobic and often had insomnia, on occasions spending four consecutive days awake, by the end of which she would be in a manic state.

Being a woman making art about herself, it was probably unavoidable for the theme of gender to recur in Bourgeois’ work. It was her images of the body itself, fragmented, sensual but grotesque, and very often sexually ambiguous, that proved especially memorable.
 
In some cases, the body took the abstract form of an upright wooden pole, pierced by a few holes and stuck with nails; in others, it appeared as a pair of women’s hands realistically carved in marble and lying, palms open, on a massive stone base.

She transformed her experiences into a highly personal visual language through the use of mythological and archetypal imagery adopting a various objects, such as spirals, cages, spiders, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize feminine beauty, psyche and psychological pain.

Number Seventy Two - Louise Bourgeois
Number Seventy Two – Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois often spoke of pain as a subject of her art, and fear- fear of the uncertainty of the future, fear of the grip of the past, of loss in the present.’’— The subject of pain is the business I am in…To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering,… The existence of pain cannot be denied.
 
I propose no remedies or excuses.’’ It was her gift for universalizing her interior life, a complex spectrum of sensations that made her art so affecting.

Through the use of abstract form and a wide variety of media, she dealt with notions of universal balance, playfully juxtaposing materials conventionally considered female or male.

Conclusion

Louise Bourgeois gained fame only late in a long career, when her psychologically and abstract sculptures, prints and drawings had a galvanizing effect on the work of young artists, especially women.

Louise Bourgeois’ work always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 98 years, she produced an as astounding body of drawings, prints, books, sculptures and installations, which, nonetheless, has been the representative of both the tumultuous events of the 20th century in her life and in the world at large.

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Edvard Munch – Bowing Out Of The Dance Of Life

the-dance-of-life

EDVARD MUNCH

(1863-1944)

‘’ From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity. ‘’

edvard-munchs-grave

Toward the end of the 19TH century, Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychiatrist, was investigating unconscious phenomena and the influence of childhood events on the causation of neurosis. At about the same time, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863- 1944) began to express his inner world through his artistic creations, giving birth to an exceptional art style which would later be known as Expressionism.

Edvard Munch’s mother’s premature death from tuberculosis was one of the most painful events in his life. She died in 1868, leaving Edvard, who was five, his three sisters and younger brother in the care of her much older husband, Christian, a doctor imbued with a religiosity that often darkened into gloomy fanaticism.

Several years later, the death of his older and favorite sister Sophie, to whom he had become attached in her place, compounded his tragedy.

During Munch’s critical stages of development, his father became emotionally unavailable after his wife’s death. All those losses and trauma were intensified by the poverty experienced by the Munch family. Thereafter, Munch’s father experienced fits of depression, anger and quasi-spiritual visions in which he interpreted the family’s illness and difficulties as punishment of divine origin.

He would often read to his children the ghost stories of Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the lessons in religion and history, instilling in young Munch a general sense of anxiety about death and morbid fascination with it.

Although he lacked his father’s faith in God, he had nonetheless inherited his sense of guilt.

Munch’s precocious talent was recognized very early. His personality and his art evolved progressively. It can be seen from two self-portraits; a small three-quarters profile on cardboard, painted in 1881-1882, when he was 18, depicts the artist’s good classic looks- straight nose, strong chin, sensual lips with academic correctness.

Five years later, Munch in a larger self-portrait is impressionistic and splotchy. His hair and throat blur into background, his outthrust thin and lowered gaze lend him an insolent air; red rims of his eyes suggests a boozy sleepless night, the beginning of a long descent into alcoholism.

edvard-munch-portrait

His first sexual experience apparently took place in 1885, when he was 21, with Millie Thaulow, a wife of a distant relative. He was thrilled and maddened while their relationship lasted and desolate and tormented, two years after, when Millie ended it.

Munch was fascinated by the theme of a forlorn man and dominating woman – Vampire (from 1893-94), and The Ashes (1894). In The Ashes, a woman reminiscent of Millie confronts the viewer, her white dress unbuttoned to reveal a red slip, her hands raised to the sides of her head, while a distraught lover holds his head in despair.

ashes

Although he began his artistic career as a student of Norwegian painter Christian Krogh, who advocated Naturalism, a realistic depiction of contemporary life, Munch developed a psychologically charged and very expressive style in order to transmit emotional sensations.

Munch, as a restless soul himself, believed that a painter mustn’t merely transcribe external reality, but should record the impact a remembered scene had on his own sensibility. His personal tragedies, sicknesses and failures fed his creative work.

One of Munch’s finest self-portraits, a lithograph of 1895, depicts his head with clerical-looking collar, materializing out of a black background: a thin white band at the top of this piece contains the year and his name and a corresponding strip below features a skeletal arm.

In an undated private journal he wrote:’’ I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies – the heritage of consumption and insanity – illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle’’.

One of Edvard’s sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness, and his brother, atypically robust for a Munch, died suddenly of pneumonia at 30. Only his younger sister, named Inger, who like him never married, lived into old age.

edvard-munch-self-portrait-1895

In 1889, Munch traveled to Paris on a state fellowship to study in the atelier of Leon Bonnat. Influenced as a young man by his exposure in Paris, he began to draw after Impressionists and Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose, sometimes, airy compositions differed dramatically from Munch themes of death and personal loss.

But, he progressed toward simplified forms and blocks of intense color with the purpose of conveying strong feelings. In early 1890, in a huff, Munch quit the class of Parisian teacher who had criticized him for portraying a rosy brick wall in the green shades that appeared to him in a retinal afterimage.

In 1889, while he was still in Paris, Munch received a letter. He read that his father had died of a stroke. Munch once observed – the death unhinged him. He was sobered by the responsibility and gripped by remorse that he had not been with his father when he died.

For his absence, he could not release his feeling of grief into a painting of the death scene, as he had done when his sister Sophie and his mother died. Night in Saint Cloud (1890), a moody, blue interior of his suburban Paris apartment captures his emotion and his state of mind; a shadowy figure in a top hat- his roommate Emanuel Goldstein, a Danish poet- stares out a window at the bright light on the Seine river. The evening light casts a symbolic pattern of a cross onto the floor, evoking the spirit of his devout father.

munch-night_in_st_cloud

In 1890s, following his father death Munch embarked on the most productive and the most troubled stage of his life. Spending his time between Berlin and Paris, he undertook a series of paintings that he called The Frieze of Life, the most artistically significant and popularly renowned of his entire career.

He produced this series consisted of 22 works for an exhibition of Frieze in Berlin, 1902. The paintings bore such titles as Jealously, Despair, Anxiety, Puberty, Melancholy, Death in the Sickroom, and anthology The Scream, which he painted in 1893.

Munch’s The Scream is a Mona Lisa for our time, an icon of modern art. As Leonardo da Vinci evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and the values of Humanism, Munch defined our own age and how we see it- wracked with uncertainty and anxiety.

It stands among an exclusive group, including Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Matisse’s Red Studio, comprising the essential works of modernist experiment and lasting innovation.

His painting of a twisted, sexless, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, recreated a vision that had grasped him as he walked along the road overlooking the city of Oslo, one evening in his youth with his two friends at sunset.

It seems unlikely that he observed an actual person in anguish. As he later described it, the ‘’air turned to blood’’ and the ‘’faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white’’ (—) ‘’I heard the enormous infinite scream of nature’’.

During this potential period, his style varies dramatically, depending on the emotion he was trying to communicate in a particular painting. He turned to an Art Nouveau sultriness for Madonna (1894-95) and psychologically laden and stylized Symbolism in Summer Night Dream (1893).

In his impressive Self-portrait with Cigarette in 1895, painted while he was feverishly engaged with the Frieze of Life, he employed the flickering brushwork of Whistler, rubbing and scraping at the suit jacket so that his body appears as evanescent as the smoke that trails from the cigarette he holds smoldering near his heart.

In a moving evocation of Sophie’s death, Death in the Sickroom (1893), he adopted the bold graphic outlines of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse- Lautrec. He and his sister loom in the foreground, while his aunt and praying father, who is obscured by her chair, attend to the dying girl.

Across the vast space that divides the living siblings, portrayed as adults, from their dying sister, the viewer’s eye is down to the vacated bed and the useless medicines around it.

death-in-the-sickroom-edvard-munch

Visiting Kristiania in 1898, Munch had met Tulla Larsen, who would become his cruel muse. She was the wealthy daughter of Kristiania’s leading wine merchant, and at the 29, she was still unmarried. He first set eyes on Tulla Larsen when she arrived at his studio in the company of an artist with whom he shares the space.

From the outset, she persuaded him aggressively. In his telling, their affair began almost against his will. He fled to Berlin, and that across the Europe-she followed him. He would refuse to see her, and then succumb.

Reconstruction of their tormented relationship has relied on Munch sometimes conflicting, but far from disinterested accounts. The Dance of Life (1899-1900), an homage of their relationship, set on midsummer’s night in Aasgaardstrand, the seaside village where he was with Millie Thaulow, and where he had a tiny cottage.

A vacant-eyed male character, at the center of the painting, representing Munch himself, dances with a woman in red dress- probably Millie. Their stiff bodies maintain an unhappy distance, and their eyes do not meet.

Tulla Larsen can be seen to the left, in a white dress, golden-haired, smiling benevolently. She appears again on the right side, but this time in a black dress; her countenance as dark as her dress with her eyes downcast in bleak disappointment.

the-dance-of-life

Larsen longed for Munch to marry her. Hesitating, even he went so far as to make a grudging proposal, he finally escaped from her to Italy and eventually to Berlin, in 1902, to stage The Frieze of Life Exhibition.

The same year, in summer Munch returned to his cottage in Aasgaardstrand, seeking peace but drinking heavily and brawling publicly; he failed to find it.

After more than a year’s absence Tulla Larsen reappeared in his life. Firstly, Munch had ignored her overtures, until her friends informed him that she was in a suicidal depression and taking large doses of morphine, he agreed to see her.

There was a quarrel, and the full story is unknown; somehow, he shot himself with a revolver, losing part of a finger on his left hand and also inflicting on himself a less obvious psychological injury. His anger intensified when Larsen, short time later, married an artist.

For instance, in his painting Golgotha (1990), prone to exaggerated feelings of persecution, he depicted himself nailed to a cross, magnified the fiasco in his mind, until it assumed an epic scale.

In the next few years, his drinking, which had long been excessive, grew uncontrollable. He wrote in his journal that ‘’ the rages were coming more, and more often now’’. Anguished as he was, he still managed to produce some of his finest work: Self- Portrait with a Bottle of Wine ( 1906) and tableau, executed in several versions, in which he uses himself as the model for the slain French revolutionary Marat, and Tulla Larsen is cast as Marat’s assassin.

edvard_munch_-_self-portrait_with_a_bottle_of_wine_-_google_art_project

In the fall of 1908, Munch collapsed in Copenhagen. Hearing hallucinatory voices and suffering paralyses on his left side, he was persuaded by his old roommate from Paris, Emanuel Goldstein to check himself into a private sanatorium on the outskirts of the city.

There he regained some mental stability and reduced his drinking. He departed in May next year, stronger and eager to get back to his art.

Most of art historians would agree that the great preponderance of his best work was created before 1909. His late years will be less tumultuous but at a price of personal isolation. In the following period of his life, there were not as many poignant paintings as there had been, when he was involved in life.

Returning to Norway in 1909, Munch began to work on an important series of murals for the assembly hall at Oslo University. The Aula Decorations, as the murals are known, signaled Munch new determination to look on the bright side, in this case quite literally.

In newly independent Norway, Munch was praised as the national artist. Along with his new fame came wealth, but not serenity. Maintaining his distance from an alternately adoring and scornful public, Munch withdrew to Ekely, an estate on the outskirts of Oslo, defending his need for isolation as necessary to produce his work.

At Ekely, he took up landscape painting, depicting the countryside around him, with bright color at first, later in bleaker tones.

Edvard Munch had never married, living alone on his estate for the last 27 years of his life, revered and increasingly isolated. He surrounded himself with his works that dated to the start of his long career.

He called his paintings his children and hated to be separate from them.

After his death, 1944, at the age of 80, on the second floor of his house, behind locked doors, it was discovered a huge collection of 1,008 paintings, 15,391 prints, 4,443 drawings, along with lithographs and lithographic stones, etchings, woodcuts, copperplates and photographs.

In a final irony of his difficult life, Munch is famous nowadays as the creator of a single image, which has obscured his overall achievement as a great and influential artist of modern art.

between-the-clock-and-the-bed

In self-portraits Between the Clock and the Bed from 1940-42, not long before his death, it could see what had become of the man who, hung back from ‘’the dance of life’’. Looking stiff and physically awkward, he stands wedged between a grandfather clock and a bed, as if apologizing for taking up so much space.

His ‘children’ arrayed the wall behind him, one above the other. Like a devoted parent, he sacrificed everything for them.

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

andy-warhol-eating-a-hamburger

Two of the biggest art movements that have dominated the twentieth century are Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. While stylistically very different, both movements compliment each other and reflect the ever-increasing complexity that the 20th century saw with industrialization and globalization.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism (AKA The New York School) came out of America, in New York as part of a post World War II painting movement during the last part 1940’s. Abstract Expressionism was the first state-side art movement to achieve international attention, making New York the center of the art world within western culture and now in a place to compete internationally with Paris.

abstract-expressionism-vs-pop-art

The movement moved quickly throughout the United States with San Fransisco area soon becoming an artistic hub for Abstract Expressionism as well. Pop art, however emerged nearly a decade later in the mid-1950’s in Britain and later made it to the United States during the late 1950’s were it really took its roots.
 
With these two movements closely overlapping, it is important to understand the differences and similarities of these movements and their context within contemporary art history.

Here is a short documentary about abstract expressionist Carlos Garcia de la Nuez, just to get your mind percolating and give you a glimpse into the process that an abstract expressionist artist uses.


 

Non-Representational Art

In Abstract Expressionism there is no representation of person, place, or object. With a focus on spontaneous, subconscious expression; Abstract Expressionism focuses on the medium itself and exists without representation of subject. That is to say that these paintings make no attempt to capture the reality of the physical world.

Because of this, as well as Modernist influences, abstract expressionists believe that when you create art you should create art that can only be done using that medium. In this way, Abstract Expressionism is a celebration of the medium.
 
For example: Jackson Pollock created engaging, complex paintings by dripping paint onto canvas, as well Mark Rothko who largely created works of large coloured blocks on coloured grounds.

Here is a work entitled Excavation, by Willem de Kooning showing some of the characteristics of the style…

excavation-by-willem-de-kooning

Abstract Expressionism Isn’t Art

Of course, there are many critics, many of them armchair critics, who like to mock the expressionists for their apparent lack of talent, saying that abstract expressionism isn’t art. It is perhaps easy to see why people would mock the expressionists, in that abstract expressionist artwork is not at all similar to typical realist paintings people have seen throughout history.
 
There are often no people, or things that are recognizable on the canvas, and this results in frustration, confusion, and anger. Abstract expressionists often approach their work in a way that many have described as childish, or easy to imitate.
 
Detractors of abstract expressionism are quick to point out that even they could do this type of art.

In addition to all of this debate, Abstract Expressionists have proudly created art void of any notion that it was the artist’s job to interpret their art, which only serves to make matters worse for the viewing public.
 
They instead left interpretation to their viewer, and often that conclusion is a strong dislike for the work, as the viewer has no way “in”.

While Abstract Expressionism has been highly regarded for its merit within the art community, it may be inaccessible to a wider audience outside of the art community who may be seeking something tangible within art which they can relate to.

Watch this TED Talk which discusses the idea that even your cat could be an abstract expressionist, should they so desire to be.


 

Pop Art

In contrast to this, Pop Art typically has a very clear subject in its works. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Rather than trying to create art that is a reflection of the medium, Pop Art typically used screen printing in order to mass produce its works.

You Can’t Talk About Pop Art And Not Mention Andy Warhol

While Abstract Expressionism created a void of interpretation; Pop Art had themes of consumerism and commentary on mass production deeply ingrained into nearly every piece to come out of the movement. Pop Art draws on recognizable figures from mass media, and draws the audience in with the familiar but challenges them by having it presented in a new, novel fashion.
 
In fact, in his now famous studio simply called ‘the factory’, Andy Warhol had a production line of artists creating his now iconic art work. With Andy, it didn’t stop at mass producing artwork and even getting others to do the work for him (while still calling it his own), he touched on other mediums such as film, of which he has several underground “classics” as well, such as his film about the Empire State Building, which literally watches the lofty structure for 485 minutes.

Another famous artist from the pop art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, combined hand painting with the mass production style of pop-art. He would create the initial image by hand, and then project it onto canvas in order to trace the image.
 
His art was in the style of mass-produced comic book style and never before seen within the art community.

Roy Lichtenstein - Live Ammo (Blang!), 1962

Pop Art Vs. Abstract Expressionism

While Abstract Expressionism works explored art in it’s purest form (authentic, expressive, void of meaning); Pop Art challenged what one can consider to be art by using images appropriated from our culture that exist all around us.
 
Because of this, some critics were enraged by the Pop Art movement as they did not feel that the image of a soup can, nor comic book images to have artistic merit. So, while abstract expressionism seemed to really irritate people for one reason, pop art had a similar effect, but for entirely different reasons.
 
One reason we can isolate, perhaps, is that Andy Warhol had the gall to eat a burger and film it. The ending really is the best part here, as those of you with a healthy sense of irony and cynicism will no doubt realize.

 

 

Colors That Rankle The Serious Observer

The use of flat bold colours and sharp edge, caused additional criticism to pop art as it looked more like design than any recognizable art at the time. However, Pop Art was providing a much needed commentary on art.
 
Not only that, it was doing so in a very fun, light hearted way. In addition to providing commentary, Pop Art moved away from Abstract Expressionism in that by using contemporary images that were familiar to people which in turn made it much more accessible than Abstract Expressionism.

1950s-pop-art

This is not to say that Abstract Expressionism was not without it’s critics, Abstract Expressionism was challenging artistic conventions in its own way, with many critics feeling that the works were overly simplistic, and that it strayed too far from what was what had been established as art.

While both arestylistically divergent, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism can be seen as providing similar artistic catharsis by challenging artistic norms and creating a dialogue. It is fascinating that they are able to achieve this both while being stylistically and conceptually separate from one another.

We’ll leave you with this for now. Art about art. How postmodern!



 

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What Destiny Holds For Painter Ferdinand Hodler

ferdinand_hodler_-_berthe_jacques

Ferdinand Hodler, one of the leading figures in modern European paintings, developed outside the mainstream of the so-called avant-garde, and his life and work bridged the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of the XIX century, he was the one of the leading Symbolist painters.
 
Here is a self-portrait of the artist.

ferdinand_hodler_self_portrait

Destiny

Born into a very modest craftsman’s family in Berne, 1853, and losing not only his parents but also his siblings very early (they were killed by tuberculosis), he fought hard in life. The eldest of six children, Hodler was then orphaned at the age of fourteen, but he was also very ambitious and determined to become an artist.
 
If you know anything about art, you might know that becoming an artist takes a certain special kind of determination, because unlike other trades, visual artists, in the context of history, are almost certainly doomed to poverty and mental illness – and that’s if they’re successful!

Moving to Geneva, then the main artistic center in Switzerland, Hodler was noticed by Barthelémy Mann, a student of Ingres, and teacher at the Geneva School of drawing. He studied with him between 1872 and 1877.
 
Mann completed Hodler’s visual and cultural education. He taught him to respect drawing and form and introduced him to French painting.

Here is Ferdinand Hodler’s Thunersee mit Stockhornkette

ferdinand-hodler-thunersee-mit-stockhornkette

Hodler’s early paintings were marked by harsh, powerful realism which resembled Courbet; it disconcerted the critics of Geneva who were divided into two opposing sites- one censured his indulgence of ugliness, other praise the originality of his artwork.

In the mid 1880s, Hodler met poets, critics and journalists, the admirers of Wagner, Mallarme and Verlaine, who formed the first Symbolist circle in Geneva, in which Hodler was closely involved. His art developed towards a style of realism coupled with idealism and symbolism.

view-into-infinity

His portraits of the artisans at work and of the destitute were the starting point for a wider reflection on man’s destiny. A Glimpse into Eternity – an old man is making a child’s coffin; this rigorous composition and the powerful light was the significant development.
 
Recreating the details of the carpenter’s work very carefully, Hodler links the scene to a superior order through the old man’s attitude of prayer. Here is the work itself, albeit small.

glimpse-into-eternity

In a gradual way, divested of any reference to everyday life or specific social environment, the theme develops towards a radical portrayal of our inexorable march towards death. In this period at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1990s, death had become an obsession for Hodler who, since his childhood, has been faced with the loss of his family.

The Night

It was triumphed in (1889/1890) The Night, a capital large format of strong expression and dramatic tension, when the author faced the phantom of death. It is a manifesto of Hodlerian Symbolism. The realism of the nudes and the poses of these couples in The Night cause a scandal in Geneva in February 1891.
 
The painting was not accepted for the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva.

ferdinand_hodler_the night

In The Night, the painter portrays himself as having been rudely awakened by the figure of death. Around him are entwined men and women asleep; with self-portraits slipped in along with the portraits of the two women with whom Hodler shared his life: Augustine Dupain, his companion since the early days and the mother of his son, and Bertha Stuckie, his wife from a tempestuous and brief marriage.

The artist presented a period of his life in an autobiographical picture at the scale of a history painting, just as Courbet did in The Studio. The meaning of the work is universal for it is symbolic: it doesn’t represent any particular moment, but evokes the essence of death and night.
 
In The Night, Hodler combines a heightened realism and a very strict decorative order to an extent which had never been equaled, and which became the trademark of Hodlerian Symbolism. The sequencing of the figures are according to Hodler’s own principle of symmetry, as well as the search for frontality, is one of the most stunning expressions of a parallelism- as the repetition of similar forms, a principle defined by Hodler.
 
Parallelism is more than a principle of formal composition, it is a moral and philosophical idea, relying on the premise that nature has an order, based on repetition, and that in the end all men resemble each other.

This piece overshadows the compositions of The Disappointed, Tired of Living and Eurhythmy, with the images of old men descending from the stage of life. There are, however, more sophisticated pieces, such as The Chosen One and Path of the Chosen Souls.

Here, below, is The Chosen One by Ferdinand Hodler

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In the meantime, Hodler abandoned the realism of the 1880s in favor of a realism of expression and color. He was inventing a specific and original form of Symbolism; drawing on the men’s lost harmony with nature.
 
It was a celebration of vital energy: a woman became the spiritual heroine and a child symbolized the innocence and the force of life; the emphatic gestures were inspired by modern dance and experimental ways of expressing emotion. These compositions, harmonizing with each other in the spirit of great Symbolist themes, brought him success in Europe, especially in the newly formed Secessions in Vienna, and Jugendstil in Berlin.

Take a look at Ferdinand Hodler’s Aufstieg I

ferdinand-hodler-aufstieg-i

Quarrel Of The Frescoes

As early as in 1880s, and from 1900 onward, Hodler was regarded as one of the great decorators and history painters. He was elaborating topics from the history of Switzerland and Germany. His first two works in Switzerland in this field were the subject of a great controversy.
 
The first was the decoration in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, for the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, 1896, and the second was for a painting of The Retreat at Marignano for the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.

The commission resulted in what would become known in Switzerland as the ‘’quarrel of the Frescoes’’ and continued for almost two years (1898-1900). Hodler was reproached for not keeping closer to the historical and for not expressing the heroism normally extolled in more descriptive and narrative history paintings.

The Retreat at Marignano (below)

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Nonetheless, he had to wait more than ten years for his mural on the opposite wall to The Retreat at Marignano to be confirmed. It was The Battle of Morat, and it was the last artist’s historical panel on which he worked on from the summer of 1915 in France, then left unfinished in 1917.
 
However, this episode was the end of Hodler’s radical attempt at simplifying the genre. He regenerated it profoundly by his own choice of bright colors, applied without depth, and by the power of his expression.

Of his excellent historical compositions The Battle of Fraubrunnen, Wilhelm Tell, The Battle of Näfels: only The Retreat at Marignano was chosen as a final work ( Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zürich). Hodler became a significant mural painter at the turn of a century: he later produced Iena for the Iena University (1909) and Unanimity for the Hannover Town Hall (1912/13).

Wilhelm Tell by Ferdinand Hodler (below):

wilhelm-tell-ferdinand-holder-die-liebe

Monumentalism

Hodler is considered to be the greatest representative of monumentalism, defined by German historiography as one of the important trends of Stilkunst um 1900, art of style around 1900. At the same time, he successfully accepted the nervous, elegant and refined lines of Jugendstil (Dream, Poetry).
 
In addition, he was considered a herald of German expressionism.

His fame in Europe was contributed to the most by the XIX exhibition of Viennese secession in 1904, where he had a separate hall. At the time, he was admired by the best: Klimt, Hoffman, Liebermann Jr.
 
Kokoschka, Kandinsky interpreted musical features of painting by his work.

Young Man Admired by Women (below):

youth-admired-by-women

Famous and rich, Hodler turn to worldly joys, as testified by his monumental allegoric compositions (Days, Emotions, the Young Man Admired by Women, Love, etc), which emphasized his sense of beauty and sacredness of life.
 
They are full of young women placed before shallow floral background – in the apse or in the frieze; the composition rests on a firm architectural and rhythmic analysis of surface, with a rich linear play on top of it.

 

Hard To Resist

This is the time when the beautiful and young Jean-Charles entered Hodler’s life. In 1901-1916, she was to be his favorite model: she posed not only for all the compositions listed, but also for the Swiss fifty franc note- her face did appear on it, for a sequence of individual portraits.
 
This is visible in her collection which covers over four decades (1873-1914) and gives a considerable insight into the artist’s opus, especially the intimate part of it.

jeanne-charles

While posing for Hodler, Jeanne married the musician A Cerani (1905) and became a widow (1914), which never disturbed her relationship with the painter, a polygamist. He was never reluctant to maintain relationships with several women while married to Berthe Jacques, with whom he spent 20 years, until he died, and to whom he referred as ‘’his elegant half’’.
 
Thus, for instance, in 1910/11, he was with Jeanne and the Italian Giulia Leonardi, the Parisienne Valentine Godé-Darel, who was, in a way, the woman of his life, and who later became the mother of his daughter Paulette.
 
The most important women in Hodler’s life have lived in his artworks- the oldest commoner Augustine Dupin, the mother of his son Hector, the ones listed, and Gertrud Müler, a rich collector and a dear friend.

Hodler was not just an irresistible man, but also- more importantly – he was a man of strong character and integrity, a fearless fighter for justice, equality, unity, which was, from 1881 onwards, reflected in his doctrine of parallelism based on rhythmic repetition of similar shapes in symmetry, with an aesthetic, social and metaphysical dimension.
 
It is therefore not surprising that Switzerland recognized the idea of its national identity in his work: independence, love for freedom, democracy persistence, etc.

spring-ferdinand-holder-1901

When the Germans bombed The Reims cathedral at the beginning of World War I, Hodler signed a protest of artists and intellectuals of Geneva (where he lived from 1872 until his death in 1918), against this ‘’barbaric act’’.
 
In Germany, a campaign was launched immediately against the artist praised until not long before that: They threw his paintings out of public places; they attacked him, everywhere, at occasion. His friends advised him to remove his signature from the ‘’ Geneva protest’’: he refused.

These unfortunate events coincided with the slow and painful death of his dearest Valentine to cancer. He truthfully expressed his feelings in almost two hundred paintings and drawings, considered by some to be ‘’the most dramatic series on the entire history of art’’. With an almost unbearable documentary brutality, he records the inexorable progress of her illness and suffering.
 
This exceptional series, was not only an escape from pain and grief, but it was part of his much wider reflection on death which, with its ghostly appearance in The Night, and as the common destiny for all in Eurhythmy and Tired of Life became with Valentine, the great stylizer, exposing the truth about the body and the face.

the-dying-valentine-gode-darel

The discovery of this series, Ein Maler von Liebe und Tot / A Painter before Love and Death,1976/1977, as well as the discovery of incredible expression and versatility of his portraits- Selbstbildnisse als Selbstbiographie / Self-portraits and Autobiography, Bern, 1979, for both again we owe gratitude to Jura Brüschweiler.
 
A historiographer of such format and such dedication is Hodler’s posthumous reward for his life.

ferdinand-hodler-selbstbildnisse-als-selbstbiographie-hodler-publikation-german-edition

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After Valentine had died, Hodler found peace in painting large horizontal of death flattening all the differences: it was the body of the beloved woman, and landscape including Earth and Heaven – the entire Universe.
 
For Hodler, landscape painting had a philosophical dimension. He thought that the painter had to reveal the laws of nature and of the world through a patient structured study of location. This order relies on parallelism, repetition and symmetry.
 
According to this artist landscape painting should ‘’show us nature made greater and simpler, pared of all insignificant details’’. The Hodlerian landscape is known for the elimination of all that is irregular and incidental and characterized by the suppression of aerial and chromatic perspective.

view-to-infinity

During the remaining three years of his life, Hodler painted his master-pieces, and he reached his peak in the last ten landscapes, made just before he died, with Mont Blanc at dusk and dawn.
 
These burning, cosmic landscapes lead Dieter Honisch to a daring conclusion that Hodler heralded the radicalism of Rhotko and Newmann: an image becomes “pure contemplation’’.

Beauty and celebration of light, which chased away the forces of darkness, goes beyond any individual destiny.

Let us recall the ancient teaching that only separate existence means suffering, and the return to the source, “the great unity’’ liberates us from the pain of confinement in the individual, the interim, and the transient.
 
Thus the drop returns to the Ocean, in order to free itself from its tiny I, and to immerse into the great Self.