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?
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…
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.
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!)
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.
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?
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. ”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
There are few people to touch him for the purity of his lines or the expression in the eyes of those lovely faces.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Some weeks ago I finally managed to go and see the wonderful exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution, at the Benaki Museum in Athens. The modern Greek state, as those of you who read my post(Here) on its 200th anniversary will know, was formed after the revolution which started in 1821 and liberated Greece from four centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire.
Below is a wonderful scroll depicting the city of Constantinople (Istambul today)
The exhibition “1821 Before and After”, brings to life more than 100 years of history (1770-1870), and includes paintings, sculptures, personal items belonging to key revolutionaries, maps, historic documents and heirlooms.
During those years, the Greek-speaking Christian Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Empire retained their language, religion and customs, despite a strong Turkish presence. There was also a lively cultural exchange between the Empire’s various ethnic groups and nationalities—Turks, Jews, Armenians and others. This coexistence resulted in an indirect exchange of customs. Other regions, such as the Ionian islands, which never experienced Ottoman rule, nevertheless enjoyed powerful Western influences.
I shall not attempt to explain the very complicated history of those times, nor take you through the entire exhibition, which is huge, but just show you some of my favourite pieces in an attempt to give you a flavour of that era in Greece.
The Greeks developed a powerful, armed merchant fleet, trading primarily with the Russian Empire, whose protection it enjoyed.
Traders imported foreign goods such as luxury fabrics from Europe and silk thread, resulting in sophisticated fashions.
The dress above is from the island of Andros and the one below from Crete (late 17th-early 18th century)
Two small boys in their best clothes:
And an intricately embroidered bed curtain:
There are multiple portraits of the heroic fighters of the revolution, such as the one of Marcos Botsaris below:
And of course, the romantic figure of LordByron, who famously took up the Greek cause and died of fever at Messolonghi.
The battles and naval battles of the Revolution were well documented. The Battle of Samos, below, is a watercolour by an unknown artist.
Scenes of daily life and stories of the struggle were depicted by many artists, such as the primitive artist Theophilos.
After the liberation, the Great Powers (England, France and Russia) sent Otto (Otho) the second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, to be the new country’s king. He was 17. Needless to say, the politics and jockeying for position of the various factions were too complicated to go into here.
Otto declared Athens his capital and brought over a team of German architects to transform what was but a village at the foot of the Acropolis into a city. These neoclassical buildings remain the most beautiful in the city today.
Construction under way
As well as telling the fascinating story of the formation of a modern state out of nothing, the exhibition also, in my opinion, sheds light on many aspects of today’s Greece: it is a very young country still, built upon shaky foundations. Its continued dependence upon the invaluable help of the Allies—England, France and Russia—and the resulting geopolitical manoeuvring as well as the usual internal conflicts had repercussions which still wield their influence today.
I’ve been dying for a while to see the work of ElAnatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria, who has drawn particular international attention for his iconic “bottle-top installations”—huge sheets of metallic ‘textile’ made of thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire.
Photographs of these have intrigued and inspired me, but because they are three-dimensional works with a lot of texture, photos cannot even begin to compare with seeing them ‘live’.
At the moment six of these works are exhibited at the Conciergerie in Paris, and a visit there exceeded my expectations. A former royal residence open to the city, the Conciergerie has had many uses over the centuries, including becoming a detention centre under the Terror.
Under the medieval vaults of the Salle des Gens d’armes (Hall of the Soldiers—the 14th-century refectory of the French King’s officers), El Anatsui has produced a poetic installation introducing five natural elements: water, wind, wood, metal and stone. He calls the installation “En quête de liberté” (Seeking freedom)
Besides the six metallic sculptures, using textile and video projection, he has conjured up a reproduction of the Seine, as if two of its arms run through the chamber on old railway sleepers, reflecting the images of waves traversed by the sun.
The sculptures, made from bottle tops and strips of flattened tin cans, hang in the fireplaces. I have taken some detail photos to show the texture, but the actual experience defies description.
Born in Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui creates objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs, and is interested in the destruction, transformation, and regeneration of everyday objects. Very few artists make it to the top while living outside metropolitan centres, but El Anatsui has conquered the planet while living and working in the Nigerian university town of Nsukka.
Being overawed by the endless patience it takes to construct these sculptures, as well as the vision necessary to design work on such a large scale, I became curious to see what his methods of production were. I came upon the following fascinating video:
I have the great honour of joining in my bloggy friend Geoff Le Pard’s tour to promote his new book, The Art of Spirit Capture.
Geoff has, in his spare time, written an astonishing number of books, just how many I did not realise until I saw the complete list. I am full of admiration (and envy, since he makes my own efforts seem pretty pathetic…) I also like his sense of humour and style of writing—and general take on life.
So, without more ado, here is the blurb for the book:
The Art Of Spirit Capture
Jason Hales is at his lowest ebb: his brother is in a coma; his long-term partner has left him; he’s been sacked; and Christmas is round the corner to remind him how bad his life has become.
After receiving an unexpected call telling him he’s a beneficiary of his Great Aunt Heather’s estate, he visits the town he vaguely recalls from his childhood, where his great aunt lived. Wanting to find out more, he’s soon sucked into local politics revolving around his great uncle’s extraordinary glass ornaments, his ‘Captures’, and their future.
While trying to piece his life back together, he’ll have to confront a number of questions: What actually are these Captures and what is the mystery of the old wartime huts where his uncle fashioned them? Why is his surly neighbour so antagonistic? Can he trust anyone, especially the local doctor Owen Marsh and Charlotte Taylor, once a childhood adversary, but now the lawyer dealing with the estate? His worries pile up, with his ex in trouble, his flat rendered uninhabitable and his brother’s condition worsening. Will Christmas bring him any joy?
Set in the Sussex countryside, this is a modern novel with mystery, romance and magic at its core, as well as a smattering of hope, redemption and good cooking.
Mystery, romance and magic, laced with cooking—what more can one hope for?
Here is Geoff explaining a little more about his process:
How To Find Your Characters; Death Becomes Them In the Art, the initial piece that started me towards this novel centred around a glass blower, Ben Wood who’d discovered how to capture a deceased’s spirit in a glass pendant.
I killed him off.
It didn’t take me long to realise I had to tell this story from the viewpoint of someone who knew nothing about these captures, nor what was expected of him with regard to them. If the person who made them, who’d invented them and created the rules around them, was still alive, it would become one of those irritating fiction devices to keep my main protagonist in the dark, to build suspense. But if he was dead, indeed had been for a while and those who’d come to depend on, at least the idea of Spirit Captures were waiting to find out if the secret had died with him, then the mystery, when told from the point of view of the main protagonist wouldn’t be a device but very natural.
Ignorance, at least in good fiction, is essential and bloody annoying for the main protagonist.
That having been decided I needed to develop a way in which the story unfolds as we see if indeed the secret is lost. You’ll have to read the book to find out; all I will say is the answer is neither obvious or straightforward.
And something about the Author, in his own words:
Who Am I?
For those who don’t know me, I’m an outwardly sixty-something Brit (Inside, I’m still in my late teens, wondering what life has in store), residing in one of London’s villages some five miles to the south of the Capital’s centre. In those six and a half decades, I have stopped: being self-conscious; practicing as a lawyer (you can only practice for so long before you realise you’re not getting any better); attempting consecutive cartwheels (now its single cartwheels and time spent in traction); being embarrassed by my hair; believing I should try and be politically correct; expecting to be called up to play cricket for England; buying new suits and wearing ties, save to hold up trousers; and weighing myself. In that same period I have started: writing in all styles and genres; volunteering; practising as a parent (unlike the law, you have to keep practising); baking with increasing competence; a deep continuing love affair with both my wife and Dog; a no doubt lifelong relationship with my lawn; nightly excursions to the bathroom; ballroom and Latin American dancing (I can waltz but I’m still one cha sort of the full set); and a determination to go green, though, I hope, not because of a creeping stasis that leaves me susceptible to developing mould. I find pleasure in small things (and I will leave the smutty amongst you to run with the obvious double entendre), inspiration in the opaque and opulent alike, and I have developed a firm belief that nowadays I need little stuff and loads of new experiences, which post Covid I intend embracing with the grip of an anaconda and the lack of embarrassment of my great aunt Ruby, whose attempts to offer free hugs to all and sundry in her small village were received, mostly, with delight, save for those few who were allergic to lavender. I can’t stand grapefruit or marmite, Tintin and Paddington Bear remain my heroes and in the eleven general elections since I was eligible to vote, I have put my cross next to all the main political parties at least once as well as spoiling my ballot though a poorly timed sneeze and voted for the Monster Raving Loony party merely to irritate my father. I am blood type A+ which annoyingly makes me very common.
And finally, here is Geoff’s author bio and link to his Amazon page. Do take a look, I promise it is worth your while.
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.
It was a great treat to visit the Morozov Collection at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. The show, presented for the first time outside Russia, includes some 300 impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist masterpieces amassed at the turn of the 20th century by the vastly wealthy Russian brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, before being swept away by the Russian Revolution.
The brothers, born in 1870 and 1871 respectively, were the great-grandsons of a serf. With five rubles from his wife’s dowry, their ancestor set up a ribbon workshop, which he developed into a factory, and bought his family’s freedom. In a few generations, the family became wealthy, philanthropic industrialists.
Besides being fabulously wealthy, the brothers had very avant garde tastes, and built up the stunning collection which includes works by Russian as well as French artists. At the turn of the last century, the upper social echelon in Russia spoke French and the Morozov brothers created their collection on the advice of Parisian dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. Mikhail, who died prematurely from a heart attack at the age of 33, discovered Bonnard’s work in Paris and acquired the first paintings by Gauguin to enter Russia.
His brother Ivan took over the family business, abandoning his dreams of becoming a painter, and kept adding more French impressionists, post-impressionists and Fauvists to the collection, his favourite artist being Cézanne. In 1912, he commissioned Bonnard to decorate the staircase of his opulent Moscow residence, resulting in wonderfully luminous panels.
At the same time, he became close to Russian artists of his generation who advised him on his acquisitions and contributed their own works to the collection. I discovered with great pleasure and admiration the lovely portraits by Valentin Sérov, a painter I did not know.
In a twist worthy of fiction, it all ended with the Communist revolution of 1917 in Russia. Ivan was reduced to being ‘assistant curator’ of his own collection and his home became a state museum.
In 1918, the Morozov manufacturing company, whose real estate value was estimated at 26 million rubles, was taken over by the state and later that year the collection of artworks was nationalised by official decree.
In the summer of 1919, Ivan and his family secretly crossed the border to Finland and then emigrated to Switzerland. He died in Germany at the age of 49.
When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, the paintings were sent to be hidden in the Ural Mountains, where they stayed fairly well-preserved by temperatures that often fell to -40 degrees.
It wasn’t until 1950s that the Soviet government decided to redistribute them among the Hermitage, Tretyakov and Pushkin museums.
One of the most unexpected paintings in the exhibition is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Prison Courtyard (1890), which he made while in the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence psychiatric hospital. The artist’s brother Theo had sent him a photograph of Gustave Doré’s drawing of a London prison’s courtyard which Van Gogh reinterpreted into a primarily greenish blue-hued painting, the conditions of the prisoners echoing his own
And finally, two more portraits, a self portrait by Alexander Golovine,
and a portrait of Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov, which features one of his paintings by Matisse in the background.