In Dublin’s fair city

Dublin is a lovely city. On a recent short trip I walked around the Merrion Square park, which was full of wonderful spring flowers. A cheeky sculpture of Oscar Wilde sits atop a large rock.

Oscar Wilde Memorial (1997) by Danny Osborne

Luckily I had time to visit the National Gallery, but only the ground floor—still, there was some beautiful art to be seen.

Here’s a few highlights:

Large panels by Hughie O’Donoghue


This monumental work is called Original Sins, and was presented as part of the the National Gallery’s contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. It comprises six large panels in mixed media (paint, photo trace, industrial tarpaulin), which the artist likes to compare to tapestry.

 

I found a detail of this portrait of Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte by Thomas Frye fascinating: namely the powder which has fallen from his wig onto the shoulders of his coat.

Detail


The Opening of the Sixth Seal, by Francis Danby, looks like a scene from The Lord of the Rings!

I put the photos of the wonderful stained glass works by Evie Hone and Michael Healy RHA  into a previous post

 

Finally, an absolutely stunning sculpture by young artist Joseph Walsh. It was made from olive ash, and even from close, the seams in the wood were invisible. You can tell the scale of it by the person standing beside it. I would love to visit hos studio and see how he does it—he also makes furniture. 

The park was full of tulips

A lovely Greek Easter



Greeks love Easter—even the agnostics and atheists. The rites surrounding it are lovely, at a time of the year when nature is at its best.

The culmination of a week of special church services is the mass celebrating the resurrection, at midnight on the saturday. Unfortunately, at most churches celebrations are riotous, with fireworks and crackers going off even during the service—and cars going past sounding their horns.

Thus we were delighted to discover a completely different atmosphere at a nearby church where we’d never been before. Families and friends had gathered and small children ran about despite the late hour. Everyone sang together.


The holy light passes from one candle to another, and each family carries one lit candle home, to bless their house.

And of course, Easter involves lots of food: lamb cooked in a variety of ways, red eggs to be cracked against each other, a special sweet bread called tsoureki. (I had wriiten about Easter customs in a previous post:

https://athensletters.com/2016/05/01/celebrating-greek-easter/.)

To all Greek friends, Χριστός Ανέστη.

Happy Easter

For Easter, let me share images of lovely stained glass panels seen in the National Gallery in Dublin (more about this in a future post). They will put you in the right mood.

 

This is a detail from the work below, by Michael Healy RHA (Dublin, 1873-1941)

 

The works below are by Evie Hone (Dublin 1894-1955)

So modern for her time.

The work above is titled Resurrection, so very apt for Easter.

Greek Easter is next week, but this post is for all of you, whatever your beliefs or geographical location.

Happy Easter!

Drawing

On Mondays I attend an art workshop, where, appart from the creativity, there is good conversation to be had, in a congenial atmosphere. Art is soothing, it distracts from the harsher realities of life (i.e. the news).

Lately we have been doing pencil drawing, which is interesting since it obliges you to look closely at the subject, whether live, or taken from a photo or a painting—and notice multiple intriguing details of light, volume and texture.

 

We started with studies of hands, from Renaissance paintings. It is amazing what beautiful hands these men had—I prefer men’s hands to women’s, because they have more character. Women’s hands in paintings of this era are softer and more bland, I suppose to denote their owners had no need to do manual work.


The study below is from a photo of a 17th century sculpture by Bernini, The 
rape of Proserpina, which depicts the abduction of Proserpina by the god Pluto . I can never get my mind around the way these sculptors managed, out of a block of marble, to produce something so closely resembling human flesh. Again, his hands are beautiful, at odds with the violence of the scene (he was dragging her to the underworld).

The photo below is different from the one I used, which was black and white and taken from another angle, but it shows the likeness of stone to flesh even better.

Photo: Wikipedia


We progressed to a human figure, and I chose the Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who I’ve had the privilege to watch live, in the magical setting of the ancient Herodotus Atticus theater in Athens,  under a rising moon (here). He really could defy gravity, like Nureyev and Baryshnikov.

 

Then a still life, trying to reproduce volume as well as shape.

 

Now we are onto portraits, and my first is of the pre-Raphaelite artist Marie Spartali Stillman. She was the daughter of a wealthy Greek merchant who was the Greek Consul-General in London. Her mother was also Greek and she was early on introduced to an artistic milieu. She studied with Ford Maddox Brown but, due to her beauty, also sat for many famous artists, including her mentor and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. She produced an oeuvre of 150 works.

 

Next on my list are the writer Margaret Atwood and the actor Tilda Swinton. Both have, in my opinion, very interesting faces, which defy mere beauty. Stay tuned.

 

Collateral damage

The  papers these days make for grim reading. The war in Ukraine is raging, with scenes familiar to us from WWII films. Rubble everywhere, dead bodies, crowds of civilians trying to flee. Endless talk of sanctions, strategies, freezing of assets…

Beyond all this, there already are huge collateral damages. Family left behind: the grandparents who are unwilling, or unable, to travel—and in such conditions. Do you stay, or prioritise your children? Animals left behind: we keep seeing people clutching a dog or a cat, but what do you do with a large dog, who does not fit in the car with four adults and their suitcases? Turn him out in the street? What do you do if you have horses? Or goats and cows?

At least spring is here

Large European companies with offices in Moscow were warned by their governments to close them within days. Some had hundreds of employees, who have been fired at a moment’s notice. Even the oligarchs’ super-yatchs that were seized had crews, who will now perhaps not be paid. And there is a long supply chain of businesses who will take a hit.

I even read an article of people who were finally picking up a child they had adopted, only to be stranded in a war zone.

European countries are proudly talking about increasing their defence budget. So more of our taxes will go to guns and missiles instead of food and housing for the poor, or improving the roads…

Inspiration

And another kind of collateral damage: the refugees from non-european countries have now found themselves at the back of the queue again. Someone else has stolen the limelight, dim as it was in the first place.

It is not good news

I haven’t written a post in a while, because all I had to write about was the marvelous art exhibitions I’ve seen, and I didn’t want to have an overload of those (in case you all started rolling your eyes!)

Mixed media painting. Detail

And now, everything is overshadowed by the situation in the Ukraine. It beggars belief that this is happening so close to us. Children in schools are talking of a third world war. 

However, one must not forget that this is one more war in a series of wars. Syria or Afghanistan might seem further to us, but people are people, all over the world. When my Afghan student said to me, ‘I can’t concentrate today, because the Taliban are in my village and there’s fighting in the streets,’ he was no different than any of us would be in the same situation. A few days later his mum, dad and two little brothers moved to safety in Kabul—then Kabul fell. I still live in dread of bad news every time I talk to him.

Mixed media painting. Detail

 

The Bosnian wars, if anyone remembers them, only ended in 1995.  At the time I knew various people in Greece, both Serbs and Croats, whose relatives at home were watching bridges being bombed from their kitchen windows. Who knows how many friends and relatives they lost.

 

 

What is it about men and guns? And why is always some megalomaniac allowed to rule?

This is already resulting in more population movement, more refugees, more children who suffer.

 


Meanwhile, I was shocked by photos of people being denied access to trains going to Poland because—unbelievable—they are black. Are we still in the 21st century?

 

Pencil study of Bernini sculpture, The rape of Proserpine

There is some consolation to be found in poetry:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ”

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Botticelli’s women

The Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris was a family house for years, having been created from the private home of Édouard André (1833–1894) and Nélie Jacquemart (1841–1912) to display the art they collected during their lives.

Edouard André, the scion of a Protestant banking family, devoted his considerable fortune to buying works of art. He married a well-known society painter, Nélie Jacquemart, who had painted his portrait 10 years earlier. Every year, the couple would travel around Italy, amassing one of the finest collections of Italian art in France. After his death, Nélie bequeathed the mansion and its collections to the Institut de France as a museum, and it opened to the public in 1913.

Madonna Campana by Alessandro Filipepi called Botticelli

It is a lovely, intimate space, reached via a courtyard hidden behind large dark green wooden doors. It holds eclectic exhibitions and the current one, of works by Botticelli (1445-1510) exceeded expectations.

Botticelli painted wonderful society portraits.

Portrait of Julien de Medici, commemorating his assassination in 1478

A master painter of the Renaissance in Italy, Botticelli’s career attests to the economic development and profound changes that transformed the rule of the Medicis.

Portrait of warrior and poet Michele Marullo Tarcaniota, who died by drowning when he fell from his horse while crossing a river

Botticelli excelled in painting women, whether as different incarnations of the Virgin Mary, or depicting allegorical goddesses such as the famous Venus Anadyomene painting (which is at the Uffizzi Palace in Florence.)

Madonna de Guidi de Faenza

There are few people to touch him for the purity of his lines or the expression in the eyes of those lovely faces.

Madonna al libro

Perhaps it is just me, but I tend to find, in images of the Virgin, that the artist always catches the right expression of purity combined with maternal love in the mother, but the baby Jesus always looks disgruntled, like a little old man with an infant’s body. This is true in Byzantine icons, too.

Allegorical figure of La Bella Simonetta. Made a few years after her death.

And of course, those wonderful nudes depicting Venus. The black background brings out the luminosity of the subject.

Botticelli made a few, all different.

 

Something I didn’t know is that, in later years, Botticelli came under the influence of the monk Savonarola, and that gave his work a not-so-pleasant dimension. Of course, by then he was old for the standards of the age, and perhaps he could not see very well, so much of the work was made by assistants.

The details of this painting are so much coarser that it is almost a shock

As a whole, an exhibition to fill one with joy. There were many little treasures to discover, such as drawings on silk, or this little jewel, a small panel, part of a series.

Belated wishes

Well, this has certainly been a strange year. Life goes on,  but in a rather surreal way. Are we getting used to going around in masks? Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it—not to be able to see people’s expression is just weird. Are we getting to the end of this? It doesn’t look like it at the moment. Are we learning to live with it? In a way, we are. And we must.


But it’s not just the pandemic. Wars are either going on or are threatening to start in many places. Catastrophes brought on by climate change are causing untold damage and unprecedented population movements. Humanitarian crises are happening all around us, and governments are becoming increasingly tough in their handling of them.

 

Canada geese. Part of a six-panel work on paper.

But this is still a beautiful world, and this year I’ve witnessed many wonderful acts of kindness. All things considered, I felt very thankful to be able to spend the holidays with my family around me. There was a lot of cooking, art workshops, board games and beach walks. And the inevitable screen time, obviously.

 

Family workshop output

When I looked through this year’s work, I realised I’ve drawn a lot of birds lately. Birds=flight? But they are mostly birds of prey. I wonder what that means.

 

Wolf series. Ink on Nepalese paper
Travellers series. Pencil and collage on khadi paper

To conclude, let me wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and may all your troubles last only as long as your New Year resolutions!

 

Rhodesian ridgeback portrait. Oil on linen

Festive Wishes

I am aware I have been less than prolific with my posts lately. I have been kept very busy with various mundane things such as work and holiday preparations and other, less mundane, such as seeing friends before everything is locked down again. I attended a very cozy and festive lunch with old school friends; and a party for refugees organised by the NGO METAdrasi which was the most fun I’ve had for a while. People were so happy to be there and spend a few hours just enjoying themselves. There was so much talent on offer—young people singing, playing the guitar and violin, kids singing carols and thanking their teachers for their Greek lessons, and a play.

What strange times we live in—I still cannot get used to seeing half of everyone’s face covered with a mask. It has lasted so long, and it’s not over yet. I am just thankful to be able to be with my family for the festivities—let alone for something most of us take for granted, having a roof over my head! Looking forward to plenty of cooking, family art workshops, card games and walks with the dogs.

I wish all of you, my bloggy friends, a lovely time over the holidays, health, happiness and hopes of a better year ahead!

More 1821 Revolution art

At the Benaki Museum, in parallel with the huge exhibition for the Greek Revolution, there is a smaller show of similarly-themed works by Greek artist Jannis Psychopedis. It consists of a series of portraits of the fighters and heroes of the conflict, as well as an homage to Lord Byron.

 

The portraits are made using various techniques—from severe monochrome Lino cuts to colourful interpretations of his subjects.

They manage to bring out the personalities of the heroes of the Revolution in a fresh and original manner.

 

Jannis Psychopedis was born in Athens in 1945 and studied in Athens and Munich. He is one of the main Greek exponents of artistic Critical Realism, an art movement that developed in Europe after the political and social upheavals of 1968.


He lived in Berlin and Brussels and returned to Greece in 1992, where he still lives and works.

I tried to video the series on the wall to give you an idea of the overall impression, but I’m afraid the result is mediocre.

Psychopedis used lockdown to complete a lot of these works. Seen as a whole, I found them quite impressive.