Friday, 12 December 2014

Rembrandt: The Late Works

Every year numerous exhibitions take place all over the world, but once in a while there comes an exhibit of a lifetime. “Rembrandt: The Late Works,” currently at the National Gallery, is without a doubt such an event.

An exhibit highlighting an artist’s last years brings to mind the image of someone distressed by an awareness of the end of one’s life. In Rembrandt’s case, he had financial troubles and was ousted from his church due to his common-law wife to whom he was not officially married. In 1656 he declared bankruptcy and had to let go of his atelier, lavish home and collection of artwork and antiques. It’s not hard to imagine that under such circumstances, one’s artistic motivation would decline. But the exhibited works give no such impression. Instead, what emerges is a painter eagerly exploring new approaches to his art that appeal to the soul.

The exhibit’s starting point are the self-portraits that were Rembrandt’s life work. From his 80 self-portraits, the exhibit shows seven that were painted in his final years. The figure proudly holding a paintbrush and palette in Self Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665-1669, fig.1), which Rembrandt painted 10 years after he went bankrupt, imparts the self-respect of an artist. In Self Portrait at the Age of 63, painted in the year that he died, Rembrandt depicted himself clasping his hands and looking straight outward from the canvass. But an X-ray of the painting revealed that originally he had been shown holding a paintbrush. In the painting engulfed in a warm light, Rembrandt had shed his artistic pride and expressed a deeper inner self.

This exhibition moves on to the next venue: Rijksmuseum (photo) in
Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 12 Feb - 17 May, 2015.
In addition to these famous works, this exhibition is showing some magnificent but so far not very well known paintings. The Conspiracy of the Batavians Under Claudius Civilis (about 1661-2) is Rembrandt’s largest piece, measuring five square meters. The painting thoroughly demonstrates Rembrandt’s mastery as “the painter of light and shadow.” A candle is hidden behind the characters while the golden light from the flame reflects against the white tablecloth and lights up the faces of the rebels from below. It is also remarkable that the entire painting was mostly done with shades of brown.

This painting is one of many that portrayed the Batavians who rebelled against the Roman Empire, an uprising that the Dutch identify with their own Eighty Years’ War for independence from Spain that ended in 1648. But Rembrandt’s piece was taken down after just a few months of display at the Amsterdam town hall. The reasons are not known although there are rumors that it was because Rembrandt had painted the bad eye of the main character Gaius Julius Civilis that was traditionally not depicted. The work was returned to the artist and he was not paid. Rembrandt later had to cut the piece down to one fourth of its huge original size in order to sell it, which explains its current dimensions (196 x 309 cm).

The exhibition is showing 40 oil paintings, 20 sketches and 30 prints, including self-portraits, historical paintings and portraits, as well as paintings of his common-law wife Hendrickje and biblical tales conveyed through renderings of daily life. In the spring of 2015, Rembrandt: The Late Works will travel to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the birthplace of the artist.
The National Gallery, London
Trafalgar Square,
London WC2N 5DN
The United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 7747 2885
Opening times:
Mon-Thur, Sat, Sun 10:00-18:00
Fri 10:0-21:00
Closed 1 Jan and 24—26 Dec

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mark Rothko

fig.1 Mark Rothko, Untitled (man and two women in 
a pastoral setting), 1940. National Gallery Washington
The Gemeentemusuem Den Haag is currently exhibiting the works of the 20th century painter Mark Rothko. In addition to his classic style works from the 1950s, an entire room is devoted to his early works, some of which have rarely been seen before. Among them are urban scenes, still lifes and portraits expressed in shimmering colors that are completely different from Rothko’s generally known works (fig. 1).

Rothko began painting abstract works in the 1940s. At the time, European artists were seeking refuge in the U.S. after World War I and bringing to America the diverse art of Europe. Rothko was intrigued by the Surrealist and avant-garde movements and began to try an abstract approach to his works. His interest in Surrealism led to an exploration of philosophy, particularly of the works of Nietzsche. At one point during the 1940s, Rothko even stopped painting, believing it was more important to verbally explain his art.

fig.2 Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Untitled / Zonder titel,
1953, gemengde techniek op doek, 195 x 172,1 cm,
National Gallery of Art, Washington – schenking The
Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. © 1998 Kate Rothko
Prizel & Christopher Rothko /Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2014
But he returned to the art world after a few months. When Rothko began to express his artistic intentions through paintings again, his works were transformed into paintings of such unique character that they could immediately be identified as his work (fig. 2). Objects disappeared as Rothko pursued the depiction of universal human emotion such as happiness, grief, fear and enchantment, through the use of color.

Rothko created depth in his color by layering paints atop one another. Yellows and oranges can be seen through and amid a black canvass. The various layered colors influence each other, so that what at first appears to be a mono-toned black painting is gradually transformed into one of various different colors. The unstable and changing colors jolts the emotions of the observer. The term “inner light,” often used to describe Rothko’s paintings is born from this unstable movement of colors.
Rothko hoped that observers of his paintings would, like him, feel at one with the work. Standing in front of one of his giant canvasses, the viewer would gradually be immersed in the deep-hued rose, the warm yellow and gloomy black and sense becoming a part of the painting.

Mark Rothko Exhibition Until 2015, March 15. Closed Mondays.

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41
2517 HV Den Haag
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Tuesday — Sunday 11:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays, 5 May, 25 Dec

Friday, 31 October 2014

“Impression, Sunrise”: The true story of the masterpiece by Claude Monet

Fig.1, Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil Levant, 1872,
oil on canvas, 50 × 65 cm, Paris,
Musée Marmottan Monet, Gift of Victorine
and Eugène Donop de Monchy,
1940 © Christian Baraja
It is well known that the term “Impressionist” dates back to Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” (fig. 1) that was shown in the First Impressionist Exhibition. The fame of this monumental Impressionist work until now discouraged any deep investigation of its background. Yet the painting still remains shrouded in many mysteries. Does it depict a sunrise or sunset? When was it painted? It is signed “72,” but was it not in reality “73”? And so on. The ambitious exhibition “Impression, Sunrise: The true story of the masterpiece by Claude Monet,” currently underway at the Musèe Marmottan Monet, seeks to uncover many of these secrets by examining the history of the painting, its 1874 inaugural exhibit and how the piece came to the Marmottan museum in 1940 after changing hands among various collectors.

Fig. 2, Raoul Lefaix, L’Hôtel de l’Amirauté,
1928, Photograph on paper blued in the
album "Le Havre en 1928", 20 x 14.5 cm,
Le Havre, Bibliothèque Municipale
© Bibliothèque municipale du Havre
‘I had something I painted from my window in Le Havre: the sun in the midst and in the foreground some masts sticking up. They wanted to know its title for the catalogue (because) it couldn’t really pass for a view of Le Havre. I replied, “Use Impression.”’

The first person to get unravel the secret of the accurate “when” and “where” of “Impression, Sunrise” was Donald W. Olson, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Texas State University. Based on existing evidence that the painting was a view from a window of a hotel in the northwestern French port town Le Havre by the Atlantic Ocean, Olson determined the hotel by examining maps from that era and more than four hundred photos and postcards. It turned out to be the Grand Hôtel de l’Amirauté et de Paris (fig. 2). Because cranes and masts can be seen below, Olson concluded that Monet painted from the fourth or fifth floor.

It was further revealed that since the window of the room faced east, the sun must have been rising, and that the sun would have been in the position in the painting in either mid-November or late January. In addition, the rise and fall of the tide, the weather and wind direction were studied, based on the depiction of the large ship. This narrowed the time to either November 13, 1872 at 7:35 a.m. or January 25, 1873 at 8:05 a.m. Olson and the exhibit curators concluded that since Monet had signed “72” next to his name, the most likely date of its execution was November 13, 1872 at 7:35 a.m.

In addition to 26 works by Monet including “Impression, Sunrise,” the exhibit is also displaying 35 pieces by artists such as Eugène Boudin, who instructed Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro both of whom took part with Monet in the First Impressionist Exhibition as well as 61 historic items. On this 140th anniversary year of the First Impressionist Exhibition, the exhibit casts another light on the history of impressionism.

“Impression, Sunrise”: The true story of the masterpiece by Claude Monet
Until January 18, 2015

Musée Marmottan Monet
2 rue Louis Boilly
75016 Paris
Opening times:
Tuesday 10:00-21:00
Wednesday—Sunday 10:00-18:00

Closed on Mondays, 1 Jan, 1 May, 25 Dec 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Late Turner Exhibition

fig.1, J.M.W. Turner, Rain, 
Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway,
1844, ©The National Gallery, London
Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (fig.1) is a masterpiece landscape that radiates in Western European art history. It is the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner who continues to be regarded as one of Britain’s greatest painters. A steam locomotive spewing steam, a symbol of modernization, is crossing the Maidenhead railway bridge across the Thames in the rain. The painting skillfully portrays the light and movement of the wind to depict the fast speed of the train. A hare desperately crosses the tracks in front of the locomotive while to the left, a lone boat floats on the Thames. Both are in contrast to the modernity and speed of the steam locomotive. How old was Turner when he created his work that signaled the unveiling of the modern painting? Was he a youth brimming with vibrant sensitivity or man of mellow maturity?

Turner painted this landscape in 1844, the year he turned 69. Having joined the Royal Academy -- the authority of the British art world -- when he was barely 26 years old, Turner could be described as having evolved at an early age. But he remained devoted to his art, and he continued to pursue new forms of expression until the end of his life at age 76.

fig.2, J.M.W. Turner, Ancient Rome;
Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus,
exhibited 1839, oil paint on canvas, support: 914 x 1219 mm,
frame: 1230 x 1530 x 140 mm, Tate.
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Tate Britain in London is currently showing the exhibit Late Turner focusing on the works of Turner between the years of 1835, when he turned 60, until his death in 1851. Centered on the paintings at Tate, which boasts the world’s largest Turner collection, the exhibit displays 150 works including pieces from galleries around the world.

Turner’s subject matters ranged from historical landscapes of mythology and historic events to familiar settings of the outskirts of London. In fact, he did not stay within Britain, but painted the sceneries of Venice, the ancient ruins of Rome and various other places that he visited (fig.2). Turner’s subject matters were broad, but what remains constant in his work is his pursuit of the expression of light. In his late works, Turner attempts to dissolve everything into a space of brimming light. This method of expression of light was criticized as too radical at the time but would later have a strong influence on Monet and other impressionist painters. Still today these late works are regarded as the most acclaimed of Turner’s paintings.

The pieces in Late Turner show no sign of gloom or decline in enthusiasm due to age. What we see is Turner vigorously continuing to capture in light, the dramatic changes in the natural world and the transfigurations of life under modernization.

Late Turner: until January 25, 2015. Open daily.

Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Opening times:
10:00-18:00 daily

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Renewal and Reopening of the Mauritshuis Museum

fig.2 Fotograaf: © Ronald Tilleman, Credits: Mauritshuis, Den Haag

The Mauritshuis Museum reopened on June 27 following a two-year long period of renovation. The massive refurbishing was made possible by the availability for rent of a part of a building across the street that once housed a private club. (fig. 1) The two buildings are now connected by a new underground lobby. The old museum has on permanent display, at it has in the past, treasures of the Dutch golden age including Rembrandt and Vermeer. The new wing has enhanced the museum’s educational facilities with new special exhibition rooms, lecture spaces for children and a library.

fig.1 The main building and new wing of the Mauritshuis
The renovation of the old museum structure focused on faithfully reproducing Jacob van Campen’s 17th century building representative of Dutch classical architecture. A repainting of the museum has highlighted the symmetric and straight lines of its design. The interior had been refurbished in the 18th century following a 1704 fire but according to the styles of the time rather than of the original. The plaster walls have now been repainted and the wallpaper replaced with woven silk cloth with beautiful patterns.

It was not only the buildings that were renovated during this long museum closure period. Climate control and lighting systems were improved. Ceiling paintings embedded as part of decorative murals were taken down and restored. Italian painter Pellegrini’s works from the Golden Room had discolored to gray from the soot of coal burning stoves. The cloudy gray film was removed, returning its original soft colors(fig.2).

fig.3 Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring,
c. 1665, Mauritshuis, The Hague.
In the galleries, the works of the leading painters of the Dutch Golden Age are displayed in roughly the same places as before the renovations. The 17th-century paintings such as Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulip and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring(fig.2) and View of Delft that returned to the newly restored museum fit back in so perfectly, it is as if they are declaring, “this is our home.” Museum Director Emilie Gordenker says, “The building is one of the most notable surviving examples of seventeenth-century architecture in the Netherlands, which provides an impressive setting for the paintings.” After two years, this small and lovely pearl of a museum is once again radiating new light.

The June 27 reopening of the museum can be seen on Youtube. Following a humorous presentation of the trip around the world of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring during the museum’s restoration period, there are some glimpses of the museum interiors.

Mauritshuis Museum
Plein 29
2511CS, Den Haag
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Mon:10:00-18:00(Until 1 November 2014)

Sunday, 20 July 2014

From Watteau to Fragonard, les fêtes galantes

The Jacquemart-André Museum is the prominent and magnificent former residence of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, decorated and renovated to accommodate the couple’s vast art collection, which they wanted to incorporate into their daily environment. Currently on exhibit is “From Watteau to Fragonard, les fêtes galantes,” comprised of about 60 items, centered on their collection.

fig.1 Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721), Récréation galante,
ca 1717-1719, oil on canvas, 114,5 x 167,2 cm,
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gem_ldegalerie,
© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jörg P. Anders
In the early 18th century, the light-hearted, graceful lines of Rococo art were blossoming and replacing the imposing religious and historic paintings typical of the Baroque style. Fêtes galantes is the popular category of paintings during this time that portrayed lovers frolicking in beautiful gardens and nature. One of the main painters of this genre was Jean-Antoine Watteau. Born in the Flanders region, Watteau went to Paris as a youth where he painted the elegantly dressed men and women into the traditional, bucolic setting of Flanders, amid abundant greenery and flowers in full bloom. The Rococo style refined lines and bright colors created a poetic and romantic atmosphere. (fig. 1)

Watteau did not have any students, but toward the end of the 1710s many painters began copying his work and creating pictures influenced by his style. The artist most shaped by Watteau was Nicolas Lancret. Lancret incorporated elements of reality into his works such as popular fashion of the times or places that anyone back then would recognize. For example, the woman dancing in the center of La Carmago Dancing is the Paris Opera star Marie Camargo. Camargo was known for her active footwork and brought many new steps to 18th century ballet. In order to facilitate the complex steps, she shortened her dresses from just below the ankle to the calf. In the painting her skirt is short and reveals that she is wearing toe shoes.

fig.2 Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), La Fête à Saint-Cloud,
ca. 1775-1780, oil on canvas, 211 x 331 cm, Paris,
collection Banque de France, © RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot
The popularity of fêtes galantes did not decline in the latter part of the 18th century but rather flourished further. As art patrons sought paintings to decorate their homes, larger works were created to fit the measurements of such spaces. A remarkable example is Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s La Féte à Saint-Cloud (fig.2). Fragonard painted with a superior brush technique, an enormous garden in which people are enjoying at their leisure a play and dancing. Most notable in the painting is a fountain at the center; the water soars up to a height of more than 5 meters, creating an extraordinary setting for the festivities. This painting represents the peak of the fétes galantes genre started by Watteau.

Musée Jacquemart-André
158 Boulevard Haussmann
75008 Paris
+33 1 45 62 11 59
Opening times:
Tue—Fri, Sun:10:00-18:00

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Veronese Exhibit

図2 X7484, Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Portrait of a Lady,
known as the "Bella Nani"
, about 1560-5, Oil on canvas,
119 × 103 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris (R.F. 2111),
© RMN (Musée du Louvre)/All rights reserved

An exhibit of the works of Veronese, a leading painter of 16th century Renaissance Venice is underway at the National Gallery in London. The showcased complex frescoes, altarpieces and portraits include ten from the Gallery’s collection and some 50 on loan from other European and American acquisitions.

Born in 1528 as the son of a stone cutter, Veronese was formally called Paolo Caliari but later changed his name to reflect his birthplace of Verona. Showing talent from a young age, by his late teens Veronese painted works commissioned by Verona’s aristocratic families. Although he is known as a Venetian painter, Veronese was born in Verona, some 100 kilometers west of Venice, and only moved to Venice when he was nearly 30 years old.

In Supper at Emmaus (around 1555, fig. 1) a Venetian aristocratic family is depicted taking part in the dinner at Emmaus. Jesus is seated in the center, looking up toward heaven and blessing the bread he holds in his left hand. Veronese does not focus on the Biblical event taking place in the center. On the right is a family uninterested in Christ, and in the foreground adorable children are frolicking with a dog. Rather than depict the holy world of God, Veronese painted Christ in the context of the daily life of Venetians. Christ and his disciples are portrayed in their traditional clothes while the others are wearing the current Venetian fashion.

fig.1 X7483, Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), The Supper at Emmaus,
about 1555, Oil on canvas 290 × 488 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris (146),
© RMN (Musée du Louvre)/Gérard Blot
One of the most highly regarded portraits by Veronese is La Bella Nani (around 1560-1565, fig. 2). The model is unknown, but from her clothes she appears to be a woman of the Venetian aristocracy, and the ring on her left hand suggests she is a bride. The woman wears a high-class blue dress with a pearl necklace, is adorned with rings and bracelets of rubies and sapphires, and has gold ornaments draped on her shoulders. Veronese has painted the jewelry in quick light strokes, and this free and bold portrayal reveals his genius.

The works of Veronese boast spectacular color. Critics of the 17th century described the painter’s lustrous palette as a mix of gold, the best quality pearls, rubies, and sapphire, along with the highest grade diamonds. The opulence and extravagance of Venice was portrayed most volubly in Veronese’s paintings of feasts such as The Feast in the House of Levi.

The Veronese exhibit runs through June 15.

The National Gallery, London
Trafalgar Square,
London WC2N 5DN
The United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 7747 2885
Opening times:
Daily 10am – 6pm,
Friday 10am – 9pm
Closed on:
1 January and 24 – 26 December

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Louvre Abu Dhabi and its exhilarant line-up

Model of the Louvre Abu Dhabi which is expected to open next year.
Many people have already heard about the opening of a museum with the Louvre name in the United Arab Emirates. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open in December 2015.

Bactrian princess Central Asia,
late third-early second millennium BCE
A preview of some of the most significant pieces of the new museum is currently on display at the Louvre in Paris in the show Birth of a Museum. The works are characterized by diversity and splendor. For example, a lovely small, calcite Princess statuette (around 1,000 BC Central Asia), a gold bracelet with exquisite lions incrusted at each end (around 700 BC), a marble Buddha head from India, an octagonal box inlaid with mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell (China, Tang dynasty); they are all treasures that take one’s breath away.

Japanese scrolls and Roman sculptures together contribute
to create a space of both serenity and motion
If we look to the paintings, the Western works alone comprise a wonderful collection that covers many eras and various subjects. It includes the founder of the Venetian painting Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child, France’s Corot’s landscapes full of poetic sentiment, Manet’s the Bohemian, along with works by Picasso and Magritte as well as the mono-color painting of Yves Klein. The display also deserves attention. A Japanese scroll faces a statue emphasizing the shapely physical body, Indian, Turkish and Persian miniatures vie for beauty, while an art deco table is placed before a screen.

In December 2012, the Louvre opened a new wing in the former coalmining town of Lens in Northern France. Its main and very popular exhibit “Gallery of Time” allows visitors to view in one large space the history of several thousand years from the East and West, that include the Louvre’s pieces from the time of the birth of the written language to 19th century paintings and sculptures. In turn, the Louvre Abu Dhabi uses “universal” as its catch phrase and has collected works from around the world. The art was gathered under the auspices of the governmental organization Agence France Museums which is comprised of 12 national art museums and public establishments including the Louvre, the Center Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay, the Orangerie, the Grand Palais and Versaille. France and the UAE agreed upon the Louvre Abu Dhabi project seven years ago, both banking their governments’ prestige on its success.

The two countries realize the weight of opening the Arab region’s first world-class museum under the Louvre name. (The name may be used for 30 years.) The works will be loaned from the collections of the above organizations and center around those being previewed in the Paris exhibit. If one considers the scale of the preview, we can certainly look forward with anticipation to the opening next year.

Birth of a Museum until July 28.

The Louvre
75001 Paris
Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7)
Opening times:
every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Night opening until 9:45 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays
Closed on Tuesdays, Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25
Nippon Television Network Corporation has worked with the Louvre on the maintenance and display of the Louvre’s three masterpieces, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, and periodically jointly hosts the Louvre exhibitions in Japan.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Rosso, Brancusi, Man Ray

Fig. 1_Constantin Brancusi, La Muse endormie,1910. Arthur Jerome
Eddy Memorial Collection.
The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam /
Medardo Rosso, Enfantmalade, © 1909. Private collection /
Man Ray, Noire et blanche, 1926. © Man Ray Trust /
ADAGP - PICTORIGHT / Telimage - 2013 / Design: Thonik
An exhibit of the works of three artists who paved the way for modern sculpture, Medardo Ross, Constantin Brancusi and Man Ray, is taking place at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The exhibit focuses on the viewpoints of the artists and their creative process with a display of 40 sculptures and more than 60 photographs taken by the artists themselves.

At the beginning of the 20th century, as photography became accessible to the general public, some artists began to take photographs to record their works. Rosso, Brancusi and Man Ray also partook in this trend, striving to impart with accuracy the goals of the creative processes of their sculpturing by changing the angle or background of their photos or reprocessing them. Rosso incorporated impressionist techniques into his sculptures, using the effect of light on his works while dramatically abbreviating form and capturing a momentary expression and its surrounding atmosphere. He shot his works, which have been likened to paintings, with a soft focus and blurred outlines, making the sculptures appear as if frolicking with light. Rosso went on to cut and paste these photos into collages and write into these with ink, sometimes conceptualizing his subsequent works from this process.

Fig. 2_Constantin Brancusi, Princesse X (Princess X),
© 1930, gelatin silver print, 29.7 x 23.7cm.
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris.
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam.
Photo Bertrand Prévost.

Brancusi, who is regarded as the father of modern sculpture, depicted abstract renderings of people and animals as simple forms. He created a dark room in his studio with the help of Man Ray whose photographer friends taught Brancusi how to shoot. Brancusi was highly protective of how his sculptures appeared, and during his lifetime refused to allow any photos of his work other than his own to circulate. Many of the photos of his bronze pieces, polished to a gold color, reflect a strong light. Some portions reveal a white color from halation. By stressing the effect of light, the photograph expresses the power of the sculpture.

The third artist May Ray was a painter as well as a sculptor but also well known as a photographer. Working outside of conventional boundaries in his subject matter, he created new pieces with combinations of existing objects and people. He also created what are known as rayographs where images are created without the use of a camera by placing objects directly on printing paper and exposing them to light. Rayography creates an elusive world even though working with animate objects.

By observing the photographs taken by the three sculptors, one can view the sculptures through the eyes of the artists. In a multimedia section of the exhibit, visitors can experience the photography techniques employed by the artists as well as load their own photos on the museum’s website.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20
3015 CX Rotterdam
the Netherlands
Opening times:
Tuesday to Sunday 11:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays, Jan 1, Apr 27, Dec 25

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Félix Vallotton

In the 1890s the Swiss artist Félix Vallotton belonged to the group of artists known as Les Nabis. Made up of young, avant-garde artists like Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis, Les Nabis was a group which drew inspiration from Gaugain and Japanese ukiyoe prints, and sought to create art that was highly decorative. The exhibition "Félix Vallotton. Fire beneath the ice", currently showing at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, is composed of forty prints from the Van Gogh Museum collection and around sixty paintings, on loan from different institutions globally, and draws close to the full story of Vallotton's art.

fig.1 Félix Vallotton, The other’s health (Intimacies IX),
1898, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

At first Vallotton set out to become a painter, and produced many portraits; by the 1890s, however, he had begun to make woodcuts. This period was the prime time of lithography. Woodcutting, growing obsolete as it was only being used to duplicate photographs or drawings, was led to innovation by Vallotton. Rather than apply traditional western printmaking techniques for three-dimensional representation, such as gradients, or crosshatching, Vallotton composed with clusters of big, thick black and planes of stark white. He was skilled at depicting street-corner scenes of city crowds and demonstrations, but also intimate indoor scenes of bathers, or of men and women talking together. Especially "Intimités" (Intimacies) is considered a highlight of his print work (fig.1). This series of woodcuts pictures room interiors, and catches with great precision the subtleties between the men and women within; betrayal, indifference, a change of heart. A sense of turbulence is revealed, exposing these hidden, cold relationships beyond the intimacy shown on the surface. Vallotton's impressive prints were published in newspapers and books, widely disseminated in not only Europe but the United States as well.

fig.2 Félix Vallotton, The Ball, 1899,
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of Carle Dreyfus, 1953
In the field of oil painting, Vallotton produced portraits, landscapes, still lifes, nudes and various genre pieces. Among these, his method of landscape painting was extremely interesting. Instead of capturing an actual landscape and making that into the image's surface, he would use references, such as his own earlier work or photographs, into impossible, ingenious landscapes. Take for example the masterful painting "The Ball" (fig.2), which is composed of two photographs; one is of a girl, taken from the side, while the other is taken from a window upstairs, looking down. Combined into a single image are two points of view. Furthermore, when painting, he would first draw an outline and then fill it in with flats, largely avoiding the suggestion of mass by light and shadows, to bring about an ornamental image. With the inspiration he drew from ukiyoe and his interest in photography, Vallotton established his own unique way of working, with a smooth surface, a cool atmosphere and a sophisticated sense of color.

The exhibition "Félix Vallotton. Fire beneath the ice" will show until 1 June. After that it will travel to the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo.

Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
1071 CX Amsterdam
+31 20 570 5200
The Netherlands
Opening times:
From 1 March 9:00 - 18:00 (until 22:00 on Fridays)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Seventieth Anniversary of the Death of Piet Mondrian

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, a pioneer of abstract painting. To commemorate this milestone, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which boasts the largest Mondrian collection in the world, is holding two exhibitions simultaneously: “Mondrian and Cubism – Paris 1912-1914” and the permanent exhibit “Mondrian and De Stijl”.

Mondrian was deeply impressed by a 1911 exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam that introduced the new French art movement of Cubism. At the time, approaching 40 years of age, Mondrian had been searching for a new artistic direction. Struck by the works of Picasso and other Cubists from the exhibit, he was convinced he should relocate to Paris to further his career and moved there in January of 1912.

fig.1 Piet Mondriaan, Evening; The red Tree,1908-1910, oil on canvas, 70 x 99 cm.
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
© 2007 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International, Warrenton (VA, USA)
Mondrian only lived in Paris for two years, but during that time his works were transformed by Cubism and shifted to plain and geometric forms. This transition can be seen in his paintings of trees in the permanent exhibition room: Evening: The Red Tree (1908-1910, fig. 1), The Gray Tree (1912) and The Flowering Apple Tree (1913). The bold red with a vitality reminiscent of Van Gogh changes into a predominantly gray color while the concrete and exquisitely depicted branches are gradually abbreviated and abstracted into horizontal and vertical lines.

In one room are displayed the 16 works of Composition I through XVI (fig.2) which Mondrian exhibited in The Hague in 1914. Composition is a French labeling of Mondrian’s paintings of straight lines and colors. The numbers I through XVI are not chronological but rather arbitrary classifications by the painter. The numbers I through VI are given to completely abstract renderings, with the subsequent numbers given to depictions of their original sources of abstraction such as trees and buildings. It is hard to visualize the link between the earlier and later paintings however, without the aid of the small displays of the drawings of the trees and buildings placed next to their abstract renderings.

fig.2 Piet Mondriaan, Composition no. IV,
1914. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
1In 1917, Mondrian returned to the Netherlands due to the illness of his father and remained there for the duration of World War I. Spared involvement in the war due to its neutrality, the Dutch art world grew beyond the French influence and flourished in its own. Together with Theo van Doesburg, Mondrian launched the magazine De Stijl. Mondrian was aiming for a universal, essential art through his works of horizontal and vertical lines and the three primary colors of red, yellow and blue as well as black and white. Other painters, sculptors, architects and designers joined this artistic movement, creating not just paintings but furniture and buildings. Mondrian’s principles had wide influence, extending even to urban planning.

During World War II, Mondrian sought asylum in the United States and spent the rest of his life in New York City. In the permanent exhibit room is the painting Victory Boogie-Woogie (unfinished) which Mondrian was still working on at the time of his death at age 72. Several pieces of square tape pasted on the lines of oil can be seen from close up, revealing how Mondrian worked with trial and error up to his final days.

Those who enjoy the Gemeentemuseum exhibit may want to visit other sites related to the life of Mondrian such as his birthplace, Mondriaanhuis in Ameersfoort, and Villa Mondriaan in Winterwijk near the German border where the artist spent his youth. Visitors can tour inside the buildings.

Mondriaan and Cubism – Paris 1912-1914 runs through May 11, 2014 (closed Monday)

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41
2517 HV Den Haag
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Tuesday to Sunday: 11:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Paul Klee – Making Visible

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.   —— Paul Klee

A major exhibit of the German painter Paul Klee is underway at London’s Tate Modern. Some 130 drawings, watercolors and oil paintings gathered from around the world are displayed chronologically.

Fig.1 Paul Klee (1879–1940), Comedy, 1921,
watercolour and oil on paper,
support: 305 x 454 mm on paper, unique, Tate. Purchased 1946
The exhibit begins with works from the 1920s when Klee made major advances in his technique. Comedy (1921 Fig.1) employs the oil-transfer method that Klee invented. The artist first makes a drawing by pencil or pen, then places that on a paper covered with black paint and traces the lines of the drawing with a needle, thus transferring the original drawing over. The resulting lines on the oil with their occasional smudges exude a unique atmosphere. Smears from the brush of a hand during the transfer leave fading marks of fleeting nature. Klee did not add color to his initial works using the oil transfer technique but later began layering watercolor on them, and eventually identified himself with such works by saying, “color and I are one.” Fire at Full Moon (1933 Fig 2) is an impressive piece that captures the yellow of the brilliant full moon of an evening with the red of flames burning up from the ground. The power of color is illustrated from a simple structure. Klee used many other techniques such as bold gradations of colors and dots for his numerous other works.

Fig.2 Paul Klee (1879–1940), Fire at Full Moon, 1933,
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
Klee has been described as a lonely dreamer due to his emotionally rich work, but at the same time he was also a brilliant theorist. He authored a book on color theory, and when teaching at the Bauhaus on shape and color, he kept detailed notes. From 1921 he amassed an enormous catalogue that lists some 9,600 of his works. The pieces are classified meticulously by theme, along with a number, title and meticulous notes on the creative process. During his lifetime, Klee had studios in Munich, Weimar, Dessau, Dusseldorf and Bern. In each place he put up his works on the wall leaving no spaces between them and photographed the display. The current exhibit hopes to present Klee’s works in a manner true to the artist’s intentions while discerning the creative processes from his catalogue and photos.

Paul Klee – Making Visible runs through March 9, 2014. (Open everyday.)

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom
Opening times:
Sunday to Thursday: 10:00-18:00、Friday and Saturday: 10:00-22:00