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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
It’s so lovely to be able to go to shows and museums again, albeit still with masks on. And let’s hope we will not be shut in again…
For now, though, on a hot and windy day in Athens, I took the opportunity to revisit the Eliza and Basil Goulandris Foundation, a museum about which I have written before.(here).
The couple’s collection is so extensive that it would take multiple museums of this size for everything to be exhibited at once, so there is a certain amount of rotation. It was an opportunity to see some new works as well as to bask in admiration of jewels such as this dreamy still life by Gaugin. The colours glow even in my moderate iPhone photo.
I’m also posting a few different photos this time.
A large sculpture be Igor Mitoraj, in bronze with a brown patina, called Luci di Nara.
Two lovely jade reindeer from the 17th-century Ming Dysnasty.
Some cool drawings by Francesco Clemente, always a favourite.
A sculpture by Barbara Hepworth.
An interesting monochrome by François Rouan.
And, last but not least, a mixed media abstract by Jean Fautrier. It’s called Manhattan, and represents an aerial view of the city at night.