Rodin’s Muses: Camille Claudel and Rose Beuret

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Rodin’s Muses: Camille Claudel and Marie-Rose Beuret

By Claudia Moscovici

It would not be an exaggeration to state that Rodin’s artistic career was shaped by women. They were his source of inspiration, his assistants, his models, his sexual and romantic partners, his best friends, his patrons of the arts and, sometimes, his jealous enemies.

His life-long partner, assistant and friend was Rose Beuret. She was a country girl, the daughter of a provincial family that owned a vineyard in Vecqueville, Champagne. He met her in Paris in 1864, when she was only eighteen years old. Perhaps largely due to Rose’s devotion and loyalty to the sculptor, they stayed together—in on and off relationship—for over fifty years. Like nearly all of Rodin’s romantic relationships, theirs was tumultuous. It began as a passionate love affair between model and artist. Rose had recently arrived in Paris to work as a seamstress, but she also did part-time work as an artists’ model. This is how she met Rodin. The art historian and biographer Ruth Butler cites one of their mutual friends’ (Judith Cladel, who would also become Rodin’s mistress) description of young Rose:

“At age twenty Marie-Rose was more than just a pretty woman. Her traits were a bit boyish, she had brown eyes that blazed at the least sign of feeling. Her abundant mass of brown hair was curled and coiffed with splendid originality, and, as simple as she was, she liked to complete her costume with a large hat that she knew how to wear with considerable elan, composing herself in a manner which one would call ‘un type’.” (Rodin: The Shape of Genius, Yale University Press, 1993, 49)

mignonrodin

Taken with his fresh-faced new model, Rodin affectionately called Rose Beuret “Mignon”, or “Cutie,” and sculpted her beautiful face and open expression in a work bearing her pet name (Mignon, 1865-68). Soon Rose became pregnant with their child, a boy they named after his father, Auguste. Although the baby inspired several of Rodin’s mother-and-child sculptures (Mother and Child, 1865), unfortunately it didn’t inspire much paternal—or even maternal–love. As a child, Auguste was passed off to be raised by various relatives. Despite this fact, throughout his life, Auguste manifested a deep respect and devotion for his increasingly famous father.

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Although Rose may have been too busy modeling and assisting Rodin with his sculptures to be an attentive mother, she did aspire to a normal family life. She wanted Rodin to marry her. But that was not part of his plans. Bourgeois marriage was viewed as a philistine institution by many French artists of his time. Yet for all intents and purposes Rose Beuret was his common law wife, his partner for life. They eventually married just a few days before her death, in 1917. By then it wasn’t to lead the normal middleclass life she had always wanted, but rather to guarantee that Rodin’s sculptures would pass to her, and then to the French state, in the event of him dying first. The state didn’t want to risk Rodin’s artwork becoming the contested property of his many other mistresses.

Despite the fact Rodin never fully committed to her, Rose Beuret remained staunchly loyal to him. Throughout the years, she was his helpmate and assistant, no matter how many other women—can-can girls, models, disciples, artists and wealthy society ladies—he cheated on her with. She was as jealous, however, as she was fiercely loyal. Rodin captures her dual emotions best not in a sculpture, but in a painting entitled Rose Beuret (1872-73). As Ruth Butler aptly describes, “The girlish beauty of Mignon has been replaced by a seriousness and intensity. It shows in the eyes that dart quickly to the left and in the trembling lips. We recognize in a flash that quality of immediacy—of real presence. By all reports, whenever people met Beuret they were struck by the intensity of her nature, which showed itself most vividly in angry outbursts of jealousy” (87).

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If Rose had any reason to be jealous of anyone, it was of Camille Claudel. Camille was Rodin’s model, muse and fellow sculptor for about fifteen years. The two women, while hardly in contact, each resented the central role played by the other in Rodin’s life. Rodin met Camille in 1882, when he substitute taught Boucher’s female students, while the latter, who had won the famous Prix-de-Rome, was on a one year trip to Italy. At the time, female artists were not accepted by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Women who wanted to paint or sculpt were obliged to take classes at the ateliers of established artists and learn from them as apprentices. Seventeen-year-old Camille left a lasting impression upon Rodin, both as a young woman and as a very talented artist in her own right. He fell passionately in love with her and as much as she assisted his artistic production—as his model, muse, sculptor’s assistant working on the hands and feet of Rodin’s sculptures, and as an insightful artist—he promoted her artistic career, even after their bitter breakup.

Above all, however, Camille inspired the sculptor’s passion, which showed through in his sculptures at the beginning of their liaison. Rodin created some of the most sensual and beautiful works of his life while entranced by Camille Claudel: Crouching woman, 1881-82; Je suis belle, 1882; The Kiss, 1884 and Eternal Springtime, early 1880’s. As Camille was a jealous woman, she made him sign a pact (which he never honored) that he would accept no other student or lover than Mlle Camille Claudel (Ruth Butler, Rodin: The Shape of Genius, 197-198).

camille-claudel-the-waltz

Camille was also inspired to create sculptures that can be seen as hymns to love: particularly The Waltz (1889-1905). This spectacularly elegant sculpture was criticized by art critics as too sensual: particularly since it was executed by a female artist. One critic, Dayot, objected to the “’pungent emphasis on tendering the reality of the two sexes, so surprisingly sensual in expression that it appears to exaggerate the nudity’” (268). While Rodin’s and Camille’s artwork may have thrived, their passion began to wilt as she demanded more and more commitment from Rodin. No matter how devoted he may have been to Camille, Rodin couldn’t fulfill the one promise that mattered to her most: that he leave his partner, Rose Beuret. Camille became increasingly obsessed with that relationship, and her jealousy was reflected in her later art.

This would turn out to be a main reason for the eventual dissipation of the love affair between Rodin and Camille Claudel, as well as for her psychic disintegration into a state of paranoia. Overcome with suspicion and jealousy, Camille kept sketching and sculpting images of an old hag, whom she took to be Rose (Clotho, 1893), and of an old couple who, try as they might, could’t separate, representing Rodin and Rose. In 1893, realizing that Rodin would never leave Rose, Camille Claudel left him.

Contrary to her own feeling that Rodin strove to undermine her career after their breakup, on the contrary, for a long time he continued to support it. As Butler recounts, “Rodin did not withdraw his support from Claudel even when their personal relationship changed. He continued to hold the lease on 113 boulevard d’Italie and presumably pay the rent” (274).

Unfortunately, with the death of their passion, Rodin’s career continued to rise while Claudel’s plummeted as she began to suffer from paranoid delusions. By 1905, she became seriously mentally ill, destroying her sculptures in rages against Rodin, long after he had moved on from their relationship to other muses, other women. In 1913, Camille Claudel was confined by her mother and brother to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Evard in Neuilly-sur-Marne, a beautiful location which she nonetheless regarded as a prison. She spent the rest of her life there, unhappy and abandoned, until her death in 1943, at the age of 78.

Art and Emotion

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Emotion in the history of art

by Claudia Moscovici

We tend to associate art and emotion. The Romantic notion of art as the product of an emotive, sensitive and inspired artist who creates masterpieces to move the public has not altogether disappeared from the popular imagination. Yet, in recent history—particularly since the movement of art for art’s sake in the nineteenth century and the formalist and conceptual currents of the twentieth century—emotion has almost disappeared from art itself. Even in the movement of conceptual art most closely associated with emotion and spirituality—abstract expressionism—emotion is a part of the process of artistic creation and palpable in the moving effect of art upon (some) viewers rather than readily recognizable in the artistic object itself. There is, of course, no eternally valid rule that dictates that emotion should be an inherent part of a work of art—or of any part of the artistic process, for that matter. And, in fact, art has not always existed as separate from artifact and artistic objects have not always been valued for their expressive powers.

For the ancient Egyptians, to offer one notable example, art served a largely symbolic and religious function. Tombs, busts and paintings were used as a means of preserving and glorifying the souls of kings, queens and other privileged members of society. E.H. Gombrich tells us that, appropriately enough, one Egyptian word for sculptor was “He-who-keeps-alive.” Egyptian artists depicted the human figure not as they saw it, nor to express or provoke emotion, but to capture the essence of an important person’s spirit for the afterlife by representing his or her body from its most characteristic angles. The face was shown in profile; the eye from the front; the shoulders and chest from the front; the legs from the side, with the feet seen from the inside and toes pointed upward. (The Story of Art, 60-1). For millennia Egyptian figures had a frozen and immobile, non-expressive look that strove to freeze the souls of powerful men and women in time and to safeguard their happiness in the afterlife.

Greek art was perhaps the first—and certainly the most influential art in the Western tradition–to capture the essence not only of the human spirit, but also of the human form, with all its movement and powers of expression. In Greek art, we feel, even the body seems infused with a soul. Myron’s famous sculpture of the discus thrower, Discobolos (c. 450 B.C), which is of the same era as the better known works of the sculptor Pheidias, displays the beauty, poise, force and movement of a young man’s efforts to launch the discus he holds in his hand. The sculpture is not entirely naturalistic—in the sense that athletes who would try to assume the same position would not be able to throw the discus very far. Nonetheless, it captures the elegance and athleticism of the male body in the first blush of youth. Part of this sculpture’s naturalism lies in the way it conveys movement and emotion through the positioning and poise of the body. This artistic video on classical sculpture by Philip Scott Johnson highlights this phenomenon:

More generally, classical Greek and Hellenistic sculptures rarely look stiff or contrived because of the way in which the human form is balanced: often in a position of counterpoise, with the weight shifted upon one leg, which allows sculptors to reveal the muscular curvatures of the body.

While classical Greek sculpture tends to focus upon the beauty of the human form, Hellenistic art—the art of the empires founded by Alexander the Great’s followers—places increasing emphasis upon the expression of emotion. The kinds of feelings represented in Hellenistic sculpture, however, are not those of everyday people in ordinary circumstances. Rather, Hellenistic art usually exhibits the emotions of extraordinary individuals engaged in tragic conflicts. To offer one well-known example, the sculpture Laocöon and his sons (175-50 B.C.)—executed by HagesandrosAnthenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes–immortalizes the story of a priest who is being punished by the gods for forewarning the Trojans not to accept a giant horse which, as it turns out, carried inside it enemy soldiers.

This sculpture was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 and many art historians believe that what was found was not the original sculpture, but a Roman copy. Whether or not it is the original work, The Laocöon Group made a strong impression upon Italian Renaissance sculptors, especially Michelangelo. Laocoon is frozen in an image of terrible anguish since his punishment consists of having to witness two gigantic snakes emerge from the sea and suffocate with their coils his beloved sons. Hellenistic art, at least in this representative sculpture that would become a favorite during the Renaissance and the Neoclassical periods, privileges the expression of a kind of emotion that is at once mythical and dramatic: mythical in its literary and religious references, dramatic in its depiction of human tragedy.

The painting and sculpture of the Renaissance masters continues to focus upon the expression of emotion on a grand scale and to grapple with the connection—as well as the hiatus–between the human and the divine. Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave (1513), for example, reveals the moment when the slave lets go of earthly life as his soul escapes toward heavenly existence.

Despite the twists and turns of his beautiful, muscular form, the slave’s body reflects the resignation, tranquility and spirituality of the transition from life to death. Emotive expression, Michelangelo shows so well, is not necessarily primarily located in the face. The whole body, every movement and gesture, expresses the feelings and attitudes reflected in the face.

This total, eloquent expressivity of sculpture reaches its apex, many believe, in Lorenzo Bernini’s The ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-52). The sculpture represents the sixteenth century mystic in a state of rapture. We witness the moment when the angel of God pierces the young nun with a golden arrow, provoking the paradoxical feelings of pleasure mixed with pain and of sensual abandon mixed with divine illumination. As she swoons, half-closing her eyes and slightly opening her lips with ecstasy, Saint Teresa becomes the very embodiment of religious fervor, spiritual attunement and passion. Even the drapery that enfolds her body swirls and twists around her with the same mixture of passive yet passionate frenzy visible on her face.

But what about the expression of more modest, individuated feelings? In the modern period, few artists were as thoughtful and successful in showing the relation between human form and feeling as Auguste Rodin.

Constantin Brancusi considered Auguste Rodin not only a precursor, but also the first great modern sculptor. “In the nineteenth century,” Brancusi declared, “the situation in sculpture was desperate. Rodin arrived and transformed everything.” In a way, Rodin was fortunate that initially he wasn’t part of the system. Rejected several times by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Rodin was not trained according to the rigid academic standards of the time. Nonetheless, he never gave up and showed great confidence in his talent. In 1865, for example, his sculpture The Man with the Broken Nose (1865 and 1875) was initially rejected by the jury of the Salon, partly because the clay fissured and the sculpture cracked in the back of the head.

L'Homme au nez cassŽ

Years later, Rodin redid the sculpture, whom he regarded as his “first good sculpture,” and this time it was accepted by the Salon. Rodin would follow his own path, but like the Impressionists, he also sought acceptance and acclaim by the artistic establishment.

rodinmanwiththebrokennose1875

After a trip to Italy, the works of Michelangelo served as his main inspiration. Like the Renaissance masters, he studied human anatomy. In fact, his sculptures were so life-like in his sculptures that his first major work, The Age of Bronze (1876), caused a great controversy. Rodin was accused of cheating by making it from a live cast of his model. Rodin protested and put together an impressive dossier defending himself, but to no avail. In Rodin’s defense, his model, Auguste Neyt, recalled “I had to train myself to strike the pose. It was hardly an easy thing to do. Rodin did not want straining muscles; in fact, he loathed the academic ‘pose’… The master wanted ‘natural action taken from real life.” (http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/resources/chronology-auguste-rodin)

Eventually, however, thanks to recommendations made by influential friends, the French government bought the sculpture in 1880 for the hefty sum of 2000 francs. Henceforth Rodin’s fame would continue to rise.

800px-rodin_the_bronze_age

The charge of the Salon could have been further from the truth. Rodin never worked from live casts. He asked his models, both male and female, to walk around freely in his studio. Often he would follow them around, making rapid sketches of their movements. When he spotted them in a particularly interesting pose or expression, he would try to capture it quickly, modeling in clay. For Rodin, as for Michelangelo, the body itself was expressive of emotion. He stated: “I have always endeavored to express the inner feelings by the mobility of the muscles.” It is said that Rodin’s wife, Rose Beuret, once stormed into his studio in a fit of rage and began screaming at him. She would have had plenty of reasons to be upset with Rodin since he notoriously cheated on her with his young models, most of whom were can-can dancers. Instead of responding in kind, however, Rodin quickly modeled her angry expression in clay, saying “Thank you, my dear. That was excellent.” Nothing was as inspirational for him as visible emotion, read in facial expressions and gestures.

Despite the religious allusions of The Gates of Hell, his chef d’oeuvre, Rodin brings emotion down to earth by materializing a passion that functions not only as a connection between the human and the divine, but also as an intimate and profound connection between earthly lovers. Perhaps no one else has described Rodin’s most sensual and moving sculpture, The Kiss, as eloquently as his friend, the art critic Gustave Geffroy:

“The man’s head is bent, that of the woman is lifted, and their mouths meet in a kiss that seals the intimate union of their two beings. Through the extraordinary magic of art, this kiss, which is scarcely indicated by the meeting of their lips, is clearly visible, not only in their meditative expressions, but still more in the shiver that runs equally through both bodies, from the nape of the neck to the soles of the feet, in every fiber of the man’s back, as it bends, straightens, grows still, where everything adores—bones, muscles, nerves, flesh—in his leg, which seems to twist slowly, as if moving to brush against his lover’s leg; and in the woman’s feet, which hardly touch the ground, uplifted with her whole being as she is swept away with ardor and grace.”

Rodin revealed human love and life as a process of mutual creation between women and men. Passion is not only a union with those we desire and adore, but also an elevation through shared feelings and sensuality which is always in process, never complete. His representations of the fragility of our mutual creation were as inchoate, vulnerable yet compelling as the material shapes that seemed to emerge only part-finished from the bronze or blocks of stone.

We have seen that art can serve many different purposes in different contexts such that it’s impossible to define it in relation to any set of common qualities, including emotion. Yet, as I have also suggested, when emotion is materialized in art, it renders artistic objects all the more poignant, moving and palpable for viewers. The expression of emotion not only touches us, but also enables us to connect to artistic creation in a way that’s unique and irreplaceable.

Auguste Rodin and the Physicality of Emotion

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rodin-the-kiss1

By Claudia Moscovici

Constantin Brancusi considered Auguste Rodin not only a precursor, but also the first great modern sculptor. “In the nineteenth century,” Brancusi declared, “the situation in sculpture was desperate. Rodin arrived and transformed everything.” In a way, Rodin was fortunate that initially he wasn’t part of the system. Rejected several times by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Rodin was not trained according to the rigid academic standards of the time. Nonetheless, he never gave up and showed great confidence in his talent. In 1865, for example, his sculpture The Man with the Broken Nose (1865 and 1875) was initially rejected by the jury of the Salon, partly because the clay fissured and the sculpture cracked in the back of the head.

L'Homme au nez cassŽ

Years later, Rodin redid the sculpture, whom he regarded as his “first good sculpture,” and this time it was accepted by the Salon. Rodin would follow his own path, but like the Impressionists, he also sought acceptance and acclaim by the artistic establishment.

rodinmanwiththebrokennose1875

After a trip to Italy, the works of Michelangelo served as his main inspiration. Like the Renaissance masters, he studied human anatomy. In fact, his sculptures were so life-like in his sculptures that his first major work, The Age of Bronze (1876), caused a great controversy. Rodin was accused of cheating by making it from a live cast of his model. Rodin protested and put together an impressive dossier defending himself, but to no avail. In Rodin’s defense, his model, Auguste Neyt, recalled “I had to train myself to strike the pose. It was hardly an easy thing to do. Rodin did not want straining muscles; in fact, he loathed the academic ‘pose’… The master wanted ‘natural action taken from real life.” (http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/resources/chronology-auguste-rodin)

Eventually, however, thanks to recommendations made by influential friends, the French government bought the sculpture in 1880 for the hefty sum of 2000 francs. Henceforth Rodin’s fame would continue to rise.

800px-rodin_the_bronze_age

The charge of the Salon could have been further from the truth. Rodin never worked from live casts. He asked his models, both male and female, to walk around freely in his studio. Often he would follow them around, making rapid sketches of their movements. When he spotted them in a particularly interesting pose or expression, he would try to capture it quickly, modeling in clay. For Rodin, as for Michelangelo, the body itself was expressive of emotion. He stated: “I have always endeavored to express the inner feelings by the mobility of the muscles.” It is said that Rodin’s wife, Rose Beuret, once stormed into his studio in a fit of rage and began screaming at him. She would have had plenty of reasons to be upset with Rodin since he notoriously cheated on her with his young models, most of whom were can-can dancers. Instead of responding in kind, however, Rodin quickly modeled her angry expression in clay, saying “Thank you, my dear. That was excellent.” Nothing was as inspirational for him as visible emotion, read in facial expressions and gestures.

Despite the religious allusions of The Gates of Hell, his chef d’oeuvre, Rodin brings emotion down to earth by materializing a passion that functions not only as a connection between the human and the divine, but also as an intimate and profound connection between earthly lovers. Perhaps no one else has described Rodin’s most sensual and moving sculpture, The Kiss, as eloquently as his friend, the art critic Gustave Geffroy:

“The man’s head is bent, that of the woman is lifted, and their mouths meet in a kiss that seals the intimate union of their two beings. Through the extraordinary magic of art, this kiss, which is scarcely indicated by the meeting of their lips, is clearly visible, not only in their meditative expressions, but still more in the shiver that runs equally through both bodies, from the nape of the neck to the soles of the feet, in every fiber of the man’s back, as it bends, straightens, grows still, where everything adores—bones, muscles, nerves, flesh—in his leg, which seems to twist slowly, as if moving to brush against his lover’s leg; and in the woman’s feet, which hardly touch the ground, uplifted with her whole being as she is swept away with ardor and grace.”

Rodin revealed human love and life as a process of mutual creation between women and men. Passion is not only a union with those we desire and adore, but also an elevation through shared feelings and sensuality which is always in process, never complete. His representations of the fragility of our mutual creation were as inchoate, vulnerable yet compelling as the material shapes that seemed to emerge only part-finished from the bronze or blocks of stone.

Classical Sculpture

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Classcial Sculpture

by Claudia Moscovici

Greek art was perhaps the first—and certainly the most influential art in the Western tradition–to capture the essence not only of the human spirit, but also of the human form, with all its movement and powers of expression. In Greek art, we feel, even the body seems infused with a soul. Myron’s famous sculpture of the discus thrower, Discobolos (c. 450 B.C), which is of the same era as the better known works of the sculptor Pheidias, displays the beauty, poise, force and movement of a young man’s efforts to launch the discus he holds in his hand. The sculpture is not entirely naturalistic—in the sense that athletes who would try to assume the same position would not be able to throw the discus very far. Nonetheless, it captures the elegance and athleticism of the male body in the first blush of youth. Part of this sculpture’s naturalism lies in the way it conveys movement and emotion through the positioning and poise of the body. This artistic video on classical sculpture by Philip Scott Johnson highlights this phenomenon:

More generally, classical Greek and Hellenistic sculptures rarely look stiff or contrived because of the way in which the human form is balanced: often in a position of counterpoise, with the weight shifted upon one leg, which allows sculptors to reveal the muscular curvatures of the body.

While classical Greek sculpture tends to focus upon the beauty of the human form, Hellenistic art—the art of the empires founded by Alexander the Great’s followers—places increasing emphasis upon the expression of emotion. The kinds of feelings represented in Hellenistic sculpture, however, are not those of everyday people in ordinary circumstances. Rather, Hellenistic art usually exhibits the emotions of extraordinary individuals engaged in tragic conflicts. To offer one well-known example, the sculpture Laocöon and his sons (175-50 B.C.)—executed by HagesandrosAnthenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes–immortalizes the story of a priest who is being punished by the gods for forewarning the Trojans not to accept a giant horse which, as it turns out, carried inside it enemy soldiers.

This sculpture was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 and many art historians believe that what was found was not the original sculpture, but a Roman copy. Whether or not it is the original work, The Laocöon Group made a strong impression upon Italian Renaissance sculptors, especially Michelangelo. Laocoon is frozen in an image of terrible anguish since his punishment consists of having to witness two gigantic snakes emerge from the sea and suffocate with their coils his beloved sons. Hellenistic art, at least in this representative sculpture that would become a favorite during the Renaissance and the Neoclassical periods, privileges the expression of a kind of emotion that is at once mythical and dramatic: mythical in its literary and religious references, dramatic in its depiction of human tragedy.

The Classic Style of Patrick Demarchelier

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photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I think that this true statement definitely applies to the photography of Patrick Demarchelier. Demarchelier received a camera as a gift on his seventeenth birthday, which is how his passion for this art began.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

Later, he pursued this interest professionally in Paris, working as a fashion photographer along with (and learning from) legends in the field such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacque Guilbert.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

Over the course of his long and very successful career, Demarchelier has worked for magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire, Mademoiselle and Vogue, creating some of the most memorable and iconic images of celebrities, including Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Christy Turlington.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

What I find most interesting and distinctive about Patrick Demarchelier’s style is that it has a simple and classic feel across its wide range. There’s certainly a vintage feel to much of his photography. Many of Demarchelier’s images are  in black and white and his portraits sometimes resemble Hollywood shots of famous actresses of the 1930’s and 40’s.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

Yet, somehow, his style isn’t at all retro. In fact, it feels very fresh and contemporary. Stripped down to the basics of form, elegant fashions that reflect an impeccable taste and poses that capture expression more than dramatic movement, Demarchelier’s photographs appear timeless.  
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

This is the case whether a given picture resembles in some respects vintage photographs or whether it features futuristic fashions.  A striking simplicity of content and form defines the sophisticated, classic style of Patrick Demarchelier.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier

photo by Patrick Demarchelier

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Postromanticism-Claudia-Moscovici/dp/0739116754

The Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic: Having fun never sounded quite so good

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SalineFiddlersSummerFest

By Claudia Moscovici

“We consider the man who can fiddle all through one of those Virginia reels without losing his grip, may be depended upon in any kind of emergency,” said the writer and unrivaled wit Mark Twain. While hopefully the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic won’t need to address any emergencies, there’s no doubt that they’re an incredible group of kids, talented in many areas, while drawing crowds locally and nationally—and even internationally—for their music, dancing and contagious ability to have a great time.

If you’re sitting in the audience at one of their performances, it’s hard to resist joining in the fun. In fact, the Fiddlers encourage the young–and the young-at-heart—to clap along and to dance to their tunes, announcing at each of their shows something to the effect, “We’re not an orchestra, we’re a Fiddle group, so we invite the kids in the audience, and the adults too, to come up and dance.” Which is precisely what many are bound to do at Fiddler shows, where you’re likely to see adults tapping their feet or clapping their hands to the beat of the music, while young kids twirl and hop along, imitating the steps of the Fiddler Cloggers, the dancing group of Fiddlers choreographed by Sheila Graziano.

Fiddle music has a longstanding tradition. It originated in 10th century Europe, derived from the “lira” (or lyre), a bow instrument popular in the Byzantine Empire. During the following centuries it spread throughout Europe, becoming particularly popular in Scotland and Ireland. It’s seen a resurgence of popularity in the second part of the twentieth century, when the music of Iain Fraser, Christine Hanson and Amelia Kaminski entertained millions. The success of Irish step dance, Riverdance, on the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, has also increased the worldwide appeal of fiddle music.

In fact, the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic got started in 1994. Since then, generations of Saline High School students have been impressing audiences with their musical talents and the range of their repertoire, which includes American folk fiddle, blue grass, jazz, swing and Celtic songs. While entertaining local audiences in the Greater Detroit area—at libraries, fairs and music festivals—the Fiddlers have also acquired a national and international reputation. They’ve given over a thousand performances in the US, including three times at the White House and twice at the Kennedy Center. They’ve also toured abroad, performing in several cities throughout Great Britain during the summer of 2013.

Given their international reputation, there’s no doubt that the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic are achievers. But when I asked my son Alex, who joined the group this year, what he likes most about being part of the Fiddlers he told me, “They’re a great group. We’re supportive of each other; there’s no competition. We work hard, but we also have a lot of fun.” This is what every parent wants to hear; what every local community loves to support. Talented kids honing their music skills while enjoying themselves, collaborating well, establishing friendships and entertaining audiences far-and-wide. For more information about the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic and their performance schedule, go to http://salinefiddlers.com

Michael Hafftka and the (changing) art of portraiture

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DevontéHynes:Hafftka

Michael Hafftka and the (changing) art of portraiture
by Claudia Moscovici
 
James Abbott McNeill Whistler once stated “It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait”. A great portrait captures someone’s character, not just a characteristic pose. It isn’t easy for an artist to depict a person’s sense of identity and past in a single image. The contemporary artist Michael Hafftka achieves this challenging task. Hafftka has painted the portraits of numerous leading American figures in the arts–poets, musicians and writers–in an Expressionist manner with a touch of the abstract. While his paintings bear some visual resemblance to the persons he depicts, the artist prioritizes their inner essence and, sometimes, the emotional rapport (with the artist). This is especially the case in his family portrait of his beloved wife (Yonat) and daughter (Raina):
 
YonatandRaina-Hafftka
True to the modernist tradition that inspires him, Hafftka is less interested in a photographic, externally realistic representation than he is in conveying in a realist manner their inner landscape. Focused on family, the mother places a protective arm around her daughter, turning to her rather than to the viewer. The daughter, arms folded on her lap, faces the painter–her father–with an open gaze. The mother wears vibrant colors, red lipstick, giving the impression of a forceful personality. The daughter wears a muted pink shirt, expressing her softer, budding femininity. Behind them we see the background of light blue, evoking the sky and perhaps unbounded creativity. Underneath it the artist places a dark grid pattern, almost mathematical since, after all, art requires both imagination and precision.
DevontéHynes:Hafftka
 
Centuries ago, kings, queens and members of the aristocracy were the favorite subjects of portrait painters. Today, celebrities–singers and actors–are the new faces of royalty. Recently, Hafftka painted the portrait of the popular singer Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), featured also on the poster for a concert Devonté is giving in Central Park on Saturday, August 16. If you’ve seen Blood Orange perform on stage or in a music video, you know that he’s not only a great singer but also an agile, accomplished dancer. In his portrait, Hafftka captures the singer’s agility and rhythm even though the subject is sitting down. The position of his hands, one directed upward the other downwards, and the sinuous curve of his torso nonetheless suggest energy and motion. Blood Orange is dressed in a casual teeshirt: the painting manages to convey his simple yet elegant style. In this portrait, as on stage, Blood Orange is recognizable not only through his signature songs but also through his hairstyle and hat. While some rap songs may be ostentatious and aggressive, that’s clearly not Blood Orange’s style. Surrounded by pinkish-mauve hues, the talented singer gives off a vibe of harmony, rhythm and melody.
ZebraKatz:Hafftka
 
In the portrait of rapper Zebra Katz (the stage name of Ojay Morgan, image above), Hafftka shows the singer standing straight, poised yet relaxed, in a stance as powerful and defiant as his songs. The rapper’s also dressed simply, in a teeshirt and slacks, but the contrast of red and black draw attention to him nonetheless. The atmosphere around him–palette knife strokes of blue, black and white with only a few touches of yellow and blood red–suggest power and masculinity, perhaps even hinting at potential violence.
 
Both as an artist and as a person, Michael Hafftka has a special relationship to poetry. This genre goes well with his emotionally charged paintings. The poet Robert Creely argued that art shifts one’s emotional center. He described his collaboration the artist Francesco Clemente as a symbiotic rapport of two artists resonating through different mediums: “Any person reading what I’ve written and seeing what he’s made is moving back and forth between two emotional fields… It’s not a question of understanding the paintings, but of picking up their vibes – more like playing in a band”. Hafftka, who, incidentally, is himself a talented musician as well, has collaborated with several notable poets–including Tom Sleigh, Peter Klappert and Rodger Kamenetz–on art books. His paintings complement the poetry but are not mere illustrations. As the Hafftka states in his introduction of KM4, the book co-authored with the poet Tom Sleigh, he tries to convey through art “his experience of the poem” thus avoiding the trap of describing its content, or as he puts it, “the trap of illustration”.
 
EdwardHirsch-Hafftka

Given his sensibility for poetry and literature, it’s not surprising that Hafftka has painted the portraits of world-renowned poets and writers, many of whom he considers his friends. His portrait of the American poet Edward Hirsch, who was appointed the fourth President of the Guggenheim Foundation in 2002, seems to capture both sensibility and sorrow. The somber colors of his blue shirt against the dark background convey a sense that this person has suffered a lot. The intelligent, piercing eyes gaze straight at the viewer. The white strokes of the graying hair seem to blend in the luminosity of the face. Time, and life, have weighed heavily upon this sensitive poet, who has gone through and–more remarkably–found a way to express through poetry some of the most difficult experience a parent can go through: the loss of his son, Gabriel, at the young age of 22. Alec Wilkinson, a friend of Edward Hirsch, describes this painful experience in an article published on August 4, 2014 in the New Yorker called, “Finding the Words”.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/finding-words

To convey human suffering through Expressionist art–a style given to exploring the range of human emotions–may seem natural. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, Hafftka, who is himself the son of two Holocaust survivors, finds inspiration in the Expressionist movement as well as in abstract expressionism to depict in his paintings the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators upon countless innocent human beings:

https://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/the-legacy-of-michael-hafftka-emotion-and-expressionism-in-holocaust-art/

Irena Klepfitz-Hafftka

It is, I believe, an even greater challenge to convey this painful historical past in a portrait. Yet Hafftka manages to allude to this experience in his portrait of the poet Irena Klepfisz, who was born in 1941 in the Polish Ghetto and survived, by miracle, by virtue of being hidden with her mother by farmers in the Polish countryside. Klepfisz was only two years old when her father, Michal, a member of the Jewish Labor Bund, was killed on the second day of the Jewish Ghetto uprising, a subject which I have written about in an  article called “Heroism in Hell”:
 
 
After the war, Klepfisz went on to immigrate first to Sweden and then to the United States, where she studied with the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich, founder of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Although she’s known for being a Yiddishist and for her translations of the poets Kadya Molodowsky and Fradl Shtok, Klepfisz, a polyglot, describes her sense of rootlessness, both culturally and linguistically, in the anthology The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology, coedited with Melanie Kaye.  In her portrait, Hafftka also focuses on dark blue, as if alluding to Picasso’s blue period, to suggest a darker mood. The poet is standing, her hands folded before her, perhaps with nervous energy, perhaps lost in contemplation. Dressed in blue jeans and a trench coat, her hair white and wearing glasses, she’s appears as the embodiment of today’s American intellectual: casually dressed and approachable, yet at the same time learned and distinguished.
 
The changing art of portraiture

E. H. Gombrich declared in his monumental history of art, The Story of Art,  that “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists”(15). By this he meant that art has no timeless standards of value or beauty; there is no essence that encompasses that which different periods and cultures call artistic. Rather than trying to capture the essence of art, Gombrich focuses instead on the particularity of artistic movements and the accomplishments of individual artists. Hafftka, I believe, is one of the contemporary artists whose legacy will last. His series of portraits usually depict fellow artists working in different fields. They represent a kind of solidarity among the arts as well as feelings of friendship for the accomplished individuals he depicts. They also evoke the now dying tradition of “immortalizing” consecrated writers, musicians and artists. In this sense, Michael Hafftka belongs in a rich and longstanding yet constantly changing tradition of portrait painters.

One of the main functions of art, particularly of the (changing) art of portraiture, was to “immortalize” or, more modestly put, preserve the memory of the person depicted. This tradition dates back to the Egyptians, for whom, however, art had a sacred rather than secular meaning.  Simply put, Egyptian artists sought to immortalize the pharaos.Tombs, busts and paintings were used as a means of preserving and glorifying the souls of kings, queens and other privileged members of society. E.H. Gombrich tells us that, appropriately enough, one Egyptian word for sculptor was “He-who-keeps-alive.” Egyptian artists depicted the human figure not as they saw it, nor to express or provoke emotion, but to capture the essence of an important person’s spirit for the afterlife by representing his or her body from its most characteristic angles. The face was shown in profile; the eye from the front; the shoulders and chest from the front; the legs from the side, with the feet seen from the inside and toes pointed upward. (The Story of Art, 60-1). For millennia Egyptian figures had a frozen and immobile, non-expressive look that strove to freeze the souls of powerful men and women in time and to safeguard their happiness in the afterlife.Mona_Lisa-1During the Renaissance, artists were often hired by rich and powerful patrons, among which the most important (in Italy) were members of the Medici family, to represent them in a way that expressed their political prestige and left an enduring cultural legacy. Next to having children, art has always been regarded as one of the most important ways to leave a trace of oneself for future generations. Artists themselves often prioritized this means of “reproduction”. As the fourteenth-century artist Giotto di Bondone is said to have replied, partly in jest, when someone asked him why his paintings are so beautiful and his children so ugly, “I paint by daylight but reproduce by the darkness of night.” Nothing immortalizes an individual’s status and power as much as art does.Ingres:NapoleonNapoleon Bonaparte realized the political and cultural importance of portraiture. He commissioned France’s leading artists of the Neoclassical period–Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres–to evoke the glory of ancient Rome in order to symbolize his power as Emperor. In the portrait “Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne” (1806), Ingres represents Napoleon with scepter and staff, reigning supreme, in all of his imperial glory.John-Singer-Sargent - Tutt'Art@ -  (106)

A few decades later, the Impressionists changed what would be regarded as acceptable subjects for portraiture, a genre formerly reserved mostly to royalty and the aristocracy. Depicting the middle and upper middle classes became a favorite theme for new generations of artists. One of the greatest portrait painters of the nineteenth century, John Singer Sargent, depicted his wealthy patrons, particularly women, in portraits that conveyed their social status, beauty and grace.  “Consider the word ‘portrait,’ the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto invites us. “Narrower in its reference than the word ‘picture,’ in the sense that something can be a picture of a generalized woman or tree or apple without representing any specific woman… a portrait is a picture of a particular individual… But portraiture must have involved an even more mysterious achievement, the drawing forth, as it were, of the inner self or soul… Sargent’s personages are, in Lucy Flint’s words, ‘all face and fashion,’ shown as they appear or wanted to appear, as if they had stood before a mirror in which they composed their features, put on their best face, arranged their garments to suit themselves’.” (Arthur Danto, The Nation, February 7, 1987)
 
warhol_Marylin_medium
 
Even Warhol’s pop art, while undermining the whole notion of a stable identity in its
infinitely reproducible images, nonetheless immortalizes the “celebrity” status of cultural icons such as Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley. Michael Hafftka’s portraits of poets, musicians and writers not only offer an homage to the individuals he paints, but also reveal a collaboration among different artistic fields and constitute a celebration of the arts in general.
 
Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com  

Yad Vashem: “A place and a name” of remembrance

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The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem.org

The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem.org

It’s impossible to write a book about “Holocaust memory” without mentioning Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, which is dedicated, precisely, to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and to educating the public about the Jewish disaster. The goal of the Holocaust was not only to exterminate millions of Jews from the face of the Earth. It was also to erase their memory: efface every trace that they had perished at the hands of the Nazis and even that they had ever existed. This was Hitler’s intention from the start. It is also why the Nazis avoided, as much as possible, leaving a written trace of their commands and destroyed the evidence of their crimes. The mass murder of millions of Jews was kept, for the most part, a secret in Germany. Orders for extermination were referred to in code: mass murder was called “the Final Solution”; hunting victims to send them to concentration camps was called “actions” or “operations”; extermination of the Jews was euphemistically called “special treatment”. These orders were generally passed down verbally, from Hitler to Himmler, and so on down to the chain of command. Given the Nazi emphasis upon the systematic erasure of this criminal past, it’s all the more important for the Jewish people—and for the world at large—to have places of remembrance of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, which literally means “a place and a name,” commemorates the memory of those who have perished in the Holocaust. It also honors those who have helped the Jewish people escape from the Nazis. Plans for Yad Vashem began as early as 1942, with the first confirmed reports of the mass murder of Jews throughout Europe. In 1953 the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, unanimously passed a law establishing Yad Vashem. In 1957 the museum opened to the public. Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been one of the most visited sites in Israel, along with the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall). Located on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, the museum contains a Holocaust History Museum, a Children’s Memorial, a Hall of Remembrance, a Museum of Holocaust Art, an International School of Holocaust Studies, a library, a research center and a publishing house. The section about the Holocaust contains documents, photos and videos in English, Hebrew, German, Russian and Arabic. The museum has several interrelated objectives: 1) commemorating the past and Holocaust victims, survivors, and those who have helped victims escape from the Nazis; 2) offering the most up-to-date documentation about the Holocaust; 3) conducting further research on the Holocaust, and 4) educating the general public about the Holocaust.

To preserve the memory of the Holocaust—or of any historical disaster—well beyond the lifespan of its victims and their families, one needs to keep those memories alive for present and future generations around the world. Yad Vashem treads the delicate balance between retrieving the past as accurately as possible and using technologically modern and engaging tools of mass media communication to render that past relevant to as many people, cultures and generations as possible.

The Nazis claimed the lives of the victims and deprived them of dignity both in life and in death. They disposed of their bodies anonymously, throwing them in a heap, burying them in mass graves, or incinerating them. To preserve the memory of the millions of victims of Nazi extermination, one of the museum’s main research tasks is to identify and honor each victim as an individual. In 2005, Yad Vashem created a permanent exhibition devoted to this purpose in the new Holocaust History Museum. The explicit goal of this vast and growing display of photographs is “Identifying the men, women and children who appear in the photographic display restores names and identities to unknown faces, thereby rescuing them from anonymity…” (http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/museum_photos/index.asp). The Hall of Names, in particular, includes hundreds of photographs of victims of the Holocaust.

The new museum, a triangular structure with a luminous, 200 meter long prism skylight, was designed by Moshe Safdie, a Canadian architect born in Haifa who also created the spectacular Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, The Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the new museum, but many of those who have describe it as an incredibly moving and uplifting experience.

One of the main reasons to remember the past is to shape the future, so that younger generations learn how to identify the warning signs of the hatred and racism that engulfed previous generations. Consequently, in the words of Moshe Katzav, the former President of Israel, Yad Vashem stands as “an important signpost to all of humankind, a signpost that warns how short the distance is between hatred and murder, between racism and genocide”.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

The images of Thomas Dodd: A photographic journey through art history

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"Behind the Veil" by Thomas Dodd

“Behind the Veil” by Thomas Dodd

The images of Thomas Dodd: A photographic journey through art history

by Claudia Moscovici

To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.

The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship—or hand-made beautiful objects—are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography is also artistic. The painterly photography of Thomas Dodd illustrates that rather than replacing painting, photography can transpose and “immortalize” it, so to speak, in a new medium. In fact, Thomas Dodd, an Atlanta-based photographer whose works are featured in galleries and magazines throughout the world, offers a journey through art history. His images allude to the paintings of some of the best-known artists in the world, including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustav Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, Maxfield Parrish and René Magritte.

"Aphrodite" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

“Aphrodite” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau  (http://www.bouguereau.org/)

During the nineteenth-century, the painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) came to epitomize the standards set by the French Academy for Salon art: a polished execution and idealized genre paintings that focused on mythological themes and usually represented women and girls of an other-worldly beauty and perfection.  During the second half of the century, however, the Impressionists, though originally ridiculed by critics, set new aesthetic standards for art. The changes they created became irreversible. The Impressionists’ greatest contribution to art was not so much to change the notion of painting as representing what the eye can see—or the standards of verisimilitude that had been dominant since the Renaissance—but to alter what the eye should see as well as where and how it should see it. Their violation of the rules of the Beaux-Arts system was not revolutionary—in the sense of transgressing its underlying premises or goals–but it was thorough, in the sense of changing almost all of the means of reaching those goals. The Impressionists considered that the best forum to observe and represent nature would be in the open air—which is why their works were called plein air paintings–where the play of light and shadows would be most natural, striking and intense, rather than under the dim and artificial lighting of the studio. Furthermore, the art students in the academies conveyed the three-dimensionality of forms by means of the subtle shading which was first perfected by the Renaissance masters. The Impressionists, on the other hand, evoked a sense of three-dimensionality by representing the dramatic contrasts of color that could be observed in vibrant sunlight. In seeking to capture visually the play of light and shadow—and its transformations—the Impressionists used rapid brushstrokes to produce paintings that looked rushed and unfinished as opposed to the well-rounded, glossy and polished forms and subtle shadings respected by the Beaux-Arts system. Similarly, rather than depicting a posed or characteristic angle of the objects painted, Manet and the Impressionists showed objects from uncharacteristic, and often, truncated perspectives. This truncation of subjects and objects, which is especially obvious in the paintings of Renoir and Degas, openly acknowledges the incompleteness of our field of vision and powers of representation.

 

The Little Sheperdess, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The Little Sheperdess, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Sometimes photography preserves and honors our artistic heritage, despite the irreversible changes that occur in the history of art. This is certainly the case with the photography of Thomas Dodd, who devotes several of his images to experimenting with the rich artistic legacy of Bouguereau. “Spellbound” retains the same softness and fluidity of forms and represents a similarly idealized feminine beauty that we found in the nineteenth-century French master. The woman’s sweeping movement, in a veil-like dress that envelops not only her, but the entire image, creates an aura of mystery. The focus, however, lies in her gaze: bold, powerful yet undeniably feminine. As if to emphasize that she’s the center of this imaginary narrative, Dodd surrounds the female figure with soft clouds that dissipate, at the corners, in a painterly roughness that seems created by a palette knife in oils. This contemporary image, however, doesn’t reproduce Bouguereau’s works. It borrows from and pays homage to them, taking us on an evocative voyage through art history.

"Spellbound" by Thomas Dodd

“Spellbound” by Thomas Dodd

While “Spellbound” only alludes to Bouguereau’s paintings,  “Maybe Someday” deliberately mimics their setting and figures. The woman in this image (below) has a very contemporary look. Yet she appears cast in a Bouguereau painting, as if she were an actress on a painted stage. Her sideway glance, her costume, her posture, the clouds that surround her: all these gestures and props appear staged by Bouguereau, over a century ago. But her slim face, her painted toenail, her tossled hairdo remain contemporary, reminding us that the past cannot be fully recreated or brought back in its original form. It can only be taught, respected and evoked.

Maybe Someday by Thomas Dodd

Maybe Someday by Thomas Dodd  http://thomasdodd.com/

Maxfield Parrish

The American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was an iconoclast, though many see him as a traditionalist. He deliberately went against the modernist trends in art of his times to bring back Neoclassical standards. He is known for his luminous paintings, pastoral settings and idealized Neoclassical imagery. In the painting “Daybreak,” the girl’s calm repose has an angelic quality, as if she herself, not only her state, were in a liminal space, somewhere between reality and dream.

"Daybreak" by Maxfield Parrish

“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish

With digital photography and a masterful control of light, Thomas Dodd captures the spirit of Maxfield Parrish in the image “Daydream”(below). Like Parrish, he depicts a young woman, dressed in a white in a flowing dress, at sunrise (or sunset), when the light changes–and play of shadows–are most colorful, nuanced and intense.

"Daydream" by Thomas Dodd

“Daydream” by Thomas Dodd

Gustav Klimt

There are certain art movements that never go out of style: Art Nouveau can be counted among them. Highly stylized yet in harmony with nature; ornamental yet profoundly philosophical; sexually daring and controversial yet utterly refined, Art Nouveau continues to please the public. It’s therefore not all that surprising that one of Dodd’s biggest artistic inspirations is the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the works of Gustav Klimt. As we know, art Nouveau is an ornamental style of art, architecture and decoration, which peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, sometime between 1890-1905. Seen as, quite literally, the “new art”, Art Nouveau employed ornamental, floral motifs and stylized, curvilinear forms that are coming back in style today. Although the Art Nouveau movement was greatly influenced by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, some of the its main motifs and decorative designs were also associated with even more popular artists, including Gustav KlimtAntoni Gaudi and Louis Comfort Tiffany, each of whom adapted and reshaped the movement according to his unique artistic style.

"The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt

“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt

In his article “Live Flesh” (“The Nation,” January 23, 2006), the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto describes Klimt’s gilded, ornamental paintings as efforts to depict erotism to its limits, transcending, and perhaps immortalizing, the flesh: “Klimt, of course, depicted lovers clasped to each other in intense erotic embrace. There is nevertheless something operatic about Klimt’s lovers, as if they were figures in a myth. Like Tristan and Isolde they are caught up in the sweep of passion as the music swells around them. Sex is somehow meant to be transfigurative, a way of transcending the sweaty realities of the flesh depicted.”

"Echo" by Thomas Dodd

“Echo” by Thomas Dodd

This is precisely what Thomas Dodd does in his image “Echo,” an homage to Klimt. Although the painting doesn’t have the usual art deco floral motifs, the background becomes a gilded decoration which envelops the delicate face of the young woman. With her lips half-open and her eyes closed, the young woman’s state seems to waver between dream and fantasy. The erotism in this image, like the one depicted by Klimt’s paintings, is powerful yet subtle. Dodd’s image suggests a beauty not only beyond the realm of the possible, but also already transcendental, as the human form blends into the golden background: fluid yet at the same time, somehow, dry and crisp like a gilded leaf pressed for ages between the pages of an old book.

"Dogma" By Thomas Dodd

“Dogma” By Thomas Dodd

René Magritte

When we look at the image “Dogma” (above), it becomes clear that Dodd finds inspiration in Surrealism as well: particularly in the works of the Belgian modernist artist René Magritte (1898–1967) . Surrealist art often combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious. Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.

"Not to be Reproduced" by Rene Magritte

“Not to be Reproduced” by Rene Magritte

In “Dogma” the young woman, looking poised and professional, holds firmly with one hand a book. Yet her head dissipates, along with the memorized and predigested knowledge of the book, into thin air. The background around her, rather than sustaining life, appears caustic, as if an acid were spilled upon the image to destroy its contents. Knowledge can be fleeting and even harmful.

Brainstorm by Thomas Dodd

Brainstorm by Thomas Dodd

One of Dodd’s most interesting Surrealist images, “Brainstorm”, depicts a more complex process of creativity. Dodd explains that “Brainstorm,” also called “Woodshedding“, refers to a phenomenon called “woodshedding” in Jazz music, whereby a musician shuts himself in a woodshed to practice and improvise new songs until he or she creates is satisfied with the performance. This creative process plays a central role in all kinds of creativity, be it music, the plastic arts, creative writing, or photography. As Thomas Edison famously stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration”. For further information about Thomas Dodd’s painterly photography, please take a look at his website http://thomasdodd.com.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com 

Romanian masterpieces at the Grimberg Gallery

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Mihai Zgondoiu - Artist's Golden Hand Triptic

Mihai Zgondoiu – Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic

Romanian masterpices at the Grimberg Gallery: Balancing originality and autonomy with tradition and patronage in contemporary artistic styles

By Claudia Moscovici, art critic, founder of the postromantic art movement, and author of Romanticism and Postromanticism (2007)

Since the modern era the notion of “artistic style” has become synonymous with “originality”. Originality represents a step beyond individuality. It traces each artist’s unique fingerprint, setting his art apart from the works of other artists. This understanding of “style”, however, is relatively new in the history of art. Before the nineteenth-century, originality and individuality were not the most highly prized qualities of art. As for autonomy, or regarding art as separate from social functions, this notion didn’t even exist before the modern period.

800px-davinci_lastsupper_high_res_2_nowatmrk

During the Renaissance, the artist emerged as an individual assumed to have a unique talent that was in some way useful to those in power. Artists helped elevate the status of the Church or the State through their masterpieces. They were also considered useful to society in general, by providing works of rare and incredible beauty that the educated public could enjoy. Despite, in fact, being “original”, Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo perceived their paintings and sculptures as a means of elevating and preserving the social order of their times not only as a mark of their individual genius. No doubt, both Leonardo and Michelangelo could afford to select among patrons and to aggravate those they did serve by postponing deadlines to perfect their masterpieces. In this way, they created the blueprint of the temperamental and independent “artistic” personality that would emerge more fully with Romanticism. Despite the increased prestige of masterful artists, however, Renaissance art contributed to the glory of the patrons and the community (or the nation) it was created for. In other words, art’s undeniable beauty was inseparable from its social usefulness.

Rodin-The-Kiss

As artists’ prestige increased during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so did their relative power and independence from patrons. Romanticism marked this transformation by explicitly declaring the artist to be a creative genius and by regarding individuality and originality as the supreme qualities of true art. Yet for most Romantic poets, writers and artists, as for the Renaissance masters, art was still bound to its social function. The artist or writer imagined by poets like Wordsworth, Lamartine and Hugo spread to the public, through his unique aesthetic sensibility, imagination, discernment and talent, not only aesthetic pleasure but also a heightened and more empathetic moral and political consciousness.

While earlier forms of Romanticism couple social utility and beauty, late Romantic and Modern art and literature would come to disassociate them. As early as the 1830’s, the autonomy of art from society was proclaimed by Théophile Gautier’s phrase, “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art) and by his criticism of the notion that art had to be in any way useful to society.

postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto

postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto

Postmodern art resurrects the notions of art’s utility and individuality, but usually only to critique them. Gautier’s well-known polemic in his 1834 preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin—“the most useful place of a house is the latrine”—seems to have turned into a twisted prophecy almost a hundred years later, when Marcel Duchamp, under the pseudonym R. Mutt, exhibited a urinal as an objet d’art at the 1917 Independents’ Exhibition in New York City. With this partly joking provocation, art took a seemingly irreversible conceptual turn. As the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto convincingly demonstrates, what constitutes art can no longer be discerned visually.

Ion Dimitriu Barlad - Enescu

Ion Dimitriu Barlad – Enescu

Contemporary Romanian art, however, seems to distinguish itself through a partial return to the worthwhile aesthetic values of the past. And it’s about time. The Grimberg Gallery features some of the best contemporary Romanian artists, each of whom has a unique style; each of whom pays homage to the artistic past rather than only turning away from it. To offer only a few examples, among many talented artists: Ioan Dimitriu Barlad’s masterful sculpture is perhaps the most explicit homage. His bust of the composer George Enescu (1881-1955) captures the musician in a realistic style and paradigmatic pose: a particularly expressive moment of sensibility and contemplation.

Ioan  Stoenescu - Icoana cu medalioane

Ioan Stoenescu – Icoana cu medalioane

Ioan Stoenescu’s Christian icon, “Icoana cu medalioane”, evokes the now lost art form of medieval “illuminations”: smaller oval portraits of revered saints surrounding the central depiction of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, painted with great delicacy and skill. A gilded foil illuminates the composition from within, giving it an otherworldly aura.

 

Adam Baltatu - Nuduri in peisaj

Adam Baltatu – Nuduri in peisaj

The painter Adam Baltatu reawakens our interest in figurative art, which is, indeed, after decades dominated by abstraction and conceptual art, becoming popular once again. His “Nuduri in peisaj” (“Nudes on landscape”) shows the beauty of the countryside enhanced by the beauty of feminine forms. The artist conveys the two women with a sense of harmony, balance and muted colors reminiscent of post-Impressionism, particularly of the paintings of Gauguin and Cézanne.

Iosif Iser- Odalisca

Iosif Iser- Odalisca

Iosif Iser’s “Odalisca” (“Odalisque”) also evokes post-Impressionism in style, although the odalisque was a favorite theme of Neo-classical and Romantic painters (particularly Ingres and Delacroix). Iser’s odalisque holds a relaxed, modern pose, displaying her half-veiled body in an almost defiant manner reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia.

Doru Moscu - Alfred's dream

Doru Moscu – Alfred’s dream

Doru Moscu’s “Alfred’s dream”, painted with broad brushstrokes of blues, grays, browns and greens, is more Expressionist in style. In this painting color assumes extreme importance, suggesting a somber mood, as furtive and enigmatic as the shadowy man on the right side of the canvas.

Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand  Triptic

Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand Triptic

 

Surrealism has experienced a contemporary rebirth as well, as we can see in Mihai Zgondoiu’s “Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic”. In this monochromatic composition the artist’s hand, in a golden cast, stands out in poses suggestive of classical sculptures yet truncated, headless, and fragmentary: like the pieces of a disjointed dream that assume great symbolic significance.

Aurel Tar - Lectura

Aurel Tar – Lectura

Aurel Tar’s “Lectura” carries the legacy of Impressionism forward, into the relatively new field of digital art. A painting reminiscent in theme and style of the works of Morisot and Cassatt–a mother reading to her tired, sleepy daughter as they wait together at the train station—has a (paradoxically) new feel through its explicitly retro look (the newspaper print-like pointillism of digital art).

Why is it is it so important for contemporary artists to reinvent, in their unique and original styles, some of the greatest traditions in art history? I think, first of all, because no art exists in a cultural vacuum. Complete individuality is an illusion. Originality, when pushed to an extreme, risks degenerating into mere shock value. Just as contemporary artists can’t reject the influence of the artistic movements that came before them, they shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their patrons: the critics, the viewers, the buyers and the lovers of art.

Picasso and Gilot

Picasso and Gilot

For, to conclude my introduction with a citation by Picasso—arguably the most subversive and original modern artist—even subversion cannot exist without tradition, nor can originality exist in the absence of sound aesthetic standards:

“Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They—the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians—did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was the painter’s sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals. Sculpture died the same death. … Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language from A to Z. No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don’t believe in rigid standards any longer. In a certain sense, it’s a liberation but at the same time it’s an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains by way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.” (My life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, 21)

Returning to some shared artistic criteria and reclaiming art’s role in society doesn’t mean reverting to the rigid criteria of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which can be respected but not revived. It means revitalizing the importance of art today. As we’ve seen in my brief perusal of Romanian contemporary art featured by the Grimberg Gallery, individuality of style can coexist with respect for past artistic traditions and artistic freedom is entirely compatible with an appreciation of art’s patrons: us, the viewing public.

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com