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

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.

A panorama of the Greek revolution

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.

Firman (decree) of Sultan Selim III to Ankara officials. Illustrated with drawings and embellished with gold leaf.

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.

 

Wonderful pencil drawing of a priest with a child

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.

Many foreign artists traveled to Greece at the time to paint. Watercolour by Thomas Hope of an archaic temple at Naxos.


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 Lord Byron, 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.

Otho’s coat of arms (embroidery)

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.

 

Queen Amalia adopted a version of Greek national costume

El Anatsui – art made from bottle tops

I’ve been dying for a while to see the work of El Anatsui, 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:

The Morozov art collection

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.

 

Paul Gauguin

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.

 

Edvard Munch

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.

 

Picasso from the Rose period

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.

 

Valentin Sérov


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.

 

Claude Monet

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.

 

Matisse

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.

 

Van Gogh


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.

 

Bonnard

It wasn’t until 1950s that the Soviet government decided to redistribute them among the Hermitage, Tretyakov and Pushkin museums.

 

Bonnard. The visitors give an idea of the scale of the work

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.

A repeat visit

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. 

 

Gauguin, Bowl of grapefruit

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. 


Enjoy! 

Yayoi Kusama, again

 

Spring is finally coming to New York, with an exhibition in the Botanical Garden guaranteed to cheer up the grumpiest souls.

Yayoi Kusama, I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

 

Yayoi Kusama has done it again, producing a number of joyful and exhilarating works, which people will be able to enjoy amongst the daffodils and blossoming cherry trees, without having to queue up for hours, as they did to experience her Infinity rooms.

The artist’s passion for nature—nurtured in her childhood since her parents made a living from the cultivation of plant seeds—is expressed in explosive exuberance.

Yayoi Kusama, Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021) Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Trees wrapped in polka dots lead the public from one work to the next

Dancing Pumpkin (2020) Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.


Her iconic pumpkin has broken out legs and is dancing.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Starry Pumpkin. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Another is blossoming in a greenhouse .

The exhibition is entitled Kusama: Cosmic Nature, and will be on until October.

I remain awestruck by this 92 year old artist who, despite her complicated familial and romantic history, and chronic mental problems—she permanently and voluntarily lives in a psychiatric hospital—still has the creativity and zest to produce such joyful works.

 

Previous posts about Kusama  here and here and here. Photos from Artnet News article by Sarah Cascone, April 8, 2021.

Random thoughts (and drawings)

January and February have never been my favorite months—it’s still SO DARK! Usually I’m a morning person, but I find myself feigning sleep so the dog doesn’t ask to be let out at 7 a.m. She also has to be dressed, alas. See below the latest in dachshund winter fashion…


We have been deprived of many little pleasures of normal life: sharing a bottle of wine and a nice meal with friends (preferably prepared and served by someone else!), wandering around an art exhibition, taking in a show…Moreover, in any wanderings we are surrounded by people wearing masks, so even exchanging a smile is not the same.

We are lucky at least that we can enjoy some entertainment at home. I really enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit (about chess) and Dickinson (a very amusing takeoff on the poet’s early life), and a wonderful documentary called My Octopus Teacher. Remember I wrote about An Octopus in my House (A strange Pet)?Well, this one is even more remarkable, since it is filmed in the wild, underwater, in a kelp forest. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, it has quite put me off eating octopus, which I used to love. But, it inspired me to make an ink drawing.



There is only so much screen time I can take, but I’m a bookworm, so I’ve devoured some of my TBR pile: Where the Crawdads Sing,  by Delia Owens, about a girl growing up in a swamp—wonderful), two cozy mysteries: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Oscan (very entertaining) and The Guest List by Lucy Foley (a page-turner), a thriller called Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins (another page-turner). On a totally different note, Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin (about a woman caretaker of a cemetery). And finally a memoir called The Lightless Sky, by Gulwali Passarlay, describing his journey, as a twelve-year-old boy, from Afganistan to the UK (mind-boggling). 

I do love to have a couple of books on the go, so now I’ve started Girl, Woman, Other, which won the Booker Prize for writer Bernadine Evaristo, together with The Mirror and the Light, the last in the Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel (a huge slab, but I loved the first two, so I will persevere). I’m also dipping into The Lemon Table, short stories by Julian Barnes. Hope this list will inspire some of you.

Apart from chilly walks wrapped up in layers like an onion, I’ve also been drawing. I finished up a few Christmas present comissions.



The ones above inspired me to make a large elephant pencil drawing.

 



I find I’m more in the mood for drawing than painting at the moment. I added a couple of drawings to my ‘Travelers’ series.

 



My resolution for this year is to include more human figures in my work, and even, dare I say it, some portraits. I find I always collect portrait photos because I so admire the capability of artists to reproduce likeness and expression. I’m also drawn to portraits in museums because they show so much about each era. So perhaps it’s time to try for myself.



Celebrating Christmas

This year’s celebrations will be difficult if not nonexistent for a lot of people. Yesterday my thoughts were with the hundreds of truckers blocked on each side of the Channel who will not make it home to their families for Christmas. But it’s not only them: so many elderly persons living alone and unable to see family, so many families divided, so many displaced and homeless people. Those of us who have a roof over our heads and food in our plates already have a lot to be thankful for.

At a time when the news is relentlessly bad and the future is uncertain, what better way to celebrate than by listening to children’s voices, joyful and pure.

 



El Sistema is a social education program founded in Venezuela in 1975 by Dr. José Antonio Abreu, which aims to provide inspiration through music. It has expanded to more than 60 countries and, since 2016, El Sistema Greece has the goal of bringing music education to children and young people, including those in refugee camps in Athens and on the island of Lesvos. Thanks to music, these kids are given a platform for dialogue and togetherness across diverse communities.


One of the most fervent ambassadors of El Sistema Greece, world-famous Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has visited Athens many times, for performances and workshops. Now she joins her voice once again with the members of the El Sistema Greece Youth Orchestra and the El Sistema Greece Youth Choir, who come from 30 different countries, in a virtual concert hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

I give you The First Noel, and wish you all a very happy Christmas!

https://youtu.be/ilqrly3FBWo