Painter Kasimir Malevich, 1879-1935


This video is called Kazimir Malevich.

By Christine Lindey in Britain:

Exhibition Review: The epitome of radical art

Saturday 2nd August 2014

Malevich was an original thinker whose contribution to art theory more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting, writes CHRISTINE LINDEY

In 20th-century Russia, rejection of the reactionary past by welcoming nascent modernity motivated both the artistic and political vanguards. Believing that the two were interdependent, Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935) embraced both with clear-minded passion.

Born in Kiev into a large Polish family, Malevich’s fragmentary art education lacked the lengthy academic discipline which formed most other pioneers of Modernism. Yet, like theirs, his early work looks like a crash-course in more recent “innovatory” styles.

The Tate Gallery’s Malevich exhibition duly begins with a succession of his Impressionist, post-Impressionist, folksy Symbolist and carelessly brushed Expressionist paintings, many being stronger in daring than accomplishment.

But he discovered his forte in 1912 once he arrived at the visual rigours of Cubism with its focus on form, line and space rather than colour and touch. Combining Cubism with Russian Futurism’s socially subversive subjects led to his first mature works. In them he faced the fundamental question: why should painting retain any contact with the visible world now that this was represented so accurately by the modern technologies of photography, film and photomontage?

In 1913 Malevich designed outlandishly “abstract” costumes and sets for the avant-garde opera Victory Over the Sun and a film of its recreation is screened in the exhibition.

Two years later he painted his first Black Square. So radical was this provocative statement about the absolute essence of painting that it has influenced generations of artists and remains contentious to this day.

“To reproduce beloved objects and little corners of nature is like a thief being enraptured by his leg irons,” Malevich declared. He called his new aesthetic Suprematism, wrote a manifesto and created arguably his best paintings in the following three years.

Flatly painted, simple geometric forms in black or bold colours are juxtaposed against an even white ground. Often composed diagonally, rectangles, triangles and circles speed across the surface with a dynamism echoing that of flying machines.

Uncompromisingly stark, these paintings defy and deny any connection with tradition.

Having arrived in Moscow in 1905, Malevich fought in the “battle of the brigades” in that year’s aborted revolution. He remained a lifelong socialist, joining the Federation of Leftist Artists in the February 1917 revolution.

It was no coincidence that by the period of war communism (1917-22) Malevich’s canvases became ever simpler, paling into white forms on white backgrounds. By 1919 they completely faded out. “Painting died like the old regime because it was a part of it,” Malevich said.

From the October 1917 revolution onwards Malevich’s career exemplifies the promotion of the avant garde to “high art” status by the young worker state, the first government in the world to do so.

Appointed Commissioner for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Art in 1917 and head of the experimental Petrograd Free State Workshops (SVOMAS) by 1918, Malevich became an influential art establishment figure.

From 1919 he continued to develop new forms of art education based on Suprematism in his own department at Vitebsk Art School. He organised his students and himself into a collective under the acronym UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art) and together they set out to improve daily life by exploring the essence of form, colour and volume as prototypes for practical application by engineers, architects and designers.

Having inspired many contemporaries these principles, which Malevich published in 1927, still underpin much Modernist design today.

Malevich’s return to figurative painting in the late 1920s may come as a shock as these works were long marginalised. This exhibition devotes two rooms to them, presenting them as surprising, ambiguous and complex reinventions of figuration. Yet it interprets his themes of peasant life as conveying the “dislocation, alienation and despair” of collectivisation policies.

By privileging the individual, avant-garde artist, the curatorial stance undervalues the urgency of the international left’s 1930s debates about the social responsibility of artists.

Malevich’s late experiments of blending Modernism with various forms of realism was part of a wider quest by Soviet artists to create an accessible yet modern art.

At his premature death from cancer in 1935, the city of Leningrad honoured Malevich by paying for the grand Suprematist funeral which he’d designed himself.

Malevich was a true radical and original thinker. His major contribution to art theory and education more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting.

The exhibition is overly large so that it is difficult to absorb the numerous drawings and UNOVIS projects displayed towards its end. Yet, apart from its predictable anti-Soviet bias, it provides a meticulously researched and comprehensive survey of Malevich’s work. It has an unpretentious chronological organisation and its reconstruction of Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist exhibition is impressive.

A must for those interested in Soviet and Modernist art.

Runs until October 26 at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. Box office: (020) 7887-8888.

Dutch seventeenth century painting and foreign authors


This video is called Art Museum Mauritshuis (The Hague, the Netherlands), part 1.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The Golden Age of Dutch art has inspired writers from Marcel Proust to Donna Tartt

Just as Tracy Chevalier pilfered Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Proust purloined the artist’s ‘View of Delft‘, so Donna Tartt appropriated Fabritius’s ‘The Goldfinch’ – set to be Booker-longlisted this week – as her inspiration. But what is it about the Golden Age of Dutch art that so enthrals novelists? Boyd Tonkin travels to the Mauritshuis museum, home to these three masterpieces and many more, to see for himself.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Blessed are the latecomers. By a couple of days, I missed the official press unveiling of the restored Mauritshuis, the treasure-crammed “jewel-box” of an art museum in The Hague that houses the Dutch royal picture collection. So, after the media crowd had left but before the gallery opened its doors to the public, I was allowed to sit in Room 15 for as long as I liked, almost alone. Outside, around the town lake and beside the 17th-century courts and mansions of the seat of the Netherlands government, orange-clad cafés geared up for another Holland World Cup game. Inside, in room after masterpiece-crammed room, time stopped – and the paintings began to whisper their tantalising stories.

On one wall, between Gerard ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter and Hunting for Lice, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring forever turns an enigmatic gaze on the spectator. Across the room, the same artist’s View of Delft captures for all eternity his home city in 1660 or 1661, bathed in fitful sunshine after a passing shower. Next door in Room 14, re-positioned between windows in honour of its new-found celebrity, hangs The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the Delft-based pupil of Rembrandt and perhaps a teacher of Vermeer.

I was more fortunate than Tracy Chevalier. Although the novelist had kept a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring on her wall since the age of 19, she only caught her in the flesh here at a Vermeer exhibition in the mid-1990s. “These are paintings that need a calm empty room to be appreciated in,” she later said. “You were lucky if you had three seconds in front of a painting before you were shoved out of the way by another visitor.” Even so, that brief encounter incubated the bestseller that, after its release its 1999, helped to make this ever-elusive canvas one of the best known of all Dutch paintings.

The “girl” had starred in fiction at least once before. In Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency (1987), a stalled writer travels to the Mauritshuis to see her – only to find that she has moved to a temporary show abroad.

As for Fabritius’s quizzical bird, it entered the fiction charts – via Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – thanks to a sojourn in New York. Tartt’s novel turns on the (imaginary) theft of the picture after a terrorist bombing at the Met, and pivots its reflections of art and life around the secrets of this gnomic painting. It has already won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – and now it looks like a strong contender for the Man Booker Prize longlist, due on Wednesday in the first year of eligibility for American works.

Yet no tale spun around the masterworks of the Mauritshuis can match in literary gravitas the fictional afterlife of Vermeer’s View of Delft. For Marcel Proust, who saw it first in the Hague in 1902, and again in 1921 when it visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris, this cityscape of buildings irradiated by an ever-changing light was simply “the most beautiful painting in the world”. Across the epic length of his A la recherche du temps perdu, it recurs as a touchstone and talisman of art’s perfection – and art’s mystery.

'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp', one of the fine Mauritshuis Rembrandts, inspired the novelist Nina Siegal (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Remarkably, for a gallery that displays only 260 works, the contribution of the Mauritshuis to literature does not end there. The American writer Nina Siegal has just published a novel prompted by The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp – the youthful masterpiece of 1632 found in the Hague’s dazzling cluster of first-rate Rembrandts. And downstairs, Holbein’s portraits of Jane Seymour and of the cruelly handsome Robert Cheseman, Henry VIII’s master falconer, plunge the imaginative viewer straight into the milieu of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

This inspirational gallery has re-opened after a two-year, €30m refit. A new underground foyer connects the neat waterside palace – built around 1640 for the former governor of Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, and home of the Dutch royal collection since 1822 – to an Art Deco building across the street converted to host shows, events and a library. But the “jewel-box” ambience remains – even embellished with a state-of the-art lift that hoists you from the subterranean entrance-hall to just inside the old front door.

Director Emilie Gordenker walks me around rooms renovated with a vigilant care for period fittings and materials. “It’s the perfect size as it is,” she says. “We didn’t want to turn it into a big museum.” (The royal collection numbers some 800 works, many on show nearby at the Prince William V Gallery.) She believes the focused but secretive masterpieces of the Golden Age invite, and reward, repeat visits. “You see more and more in them; they benefit from close attention.”

Save for The Goldfinch’s new prominence, the star attractions of the Mauritshuis have not been fenced off in any VIP enclosure. “People said, ‘Don’t you want to put the Girl with a Pearl Earring on her own?’ No: you see her surrounded by the very high quality of the other paintings.”

Does Dr Gordenker, who curated Dutch and Flemish art at the National Gallery of Scotland, before coming here in 2008, have any personal favourite? “It’s like asking a mother about her favourite children!” In her guide to highlights of the Mauritshuis, though, she does write that if “forced to choose”, it would be View of Delft.

'View of Delft' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660-1661 (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Writers of fiction have woven yarns around the lives of artists, real or imaginary, since as early as 1831, when Balzac re-invented the young Poussin in The Unknown Masterpiece. From Somerset Maugham channelling Gauguin in The Moon and Sixpence to Irving Stone’s semi-documentary heroics in Lust for Life (Van Gogh) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), the results have spanned the sublime and the faintly ridiculous. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera appear in Barbara Kingsolver’s Orange Prize-winning The Lacuna. Orhan Pamuk‘s My Name is Red, with its richly tinted evocations of Ottoman court painting in the 16th century, shows that the genre can adapt to fit a variety of frames.

At the Mauritshuis, the proximity of so many story-spinning canvases prompts a different sort of question about the traffic between prose and picture. Here, the broad sweep of the bio-novel takes second place to the ellipses and enigmas of individual works. For all the heavyweight scholarship devoted to symbolism and allegory in paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, the mystery of these frozen moments continues to haunt viewer and story-teller alike. True, Chevalier’s novel does in its oblique way, via the voice of the maid Griet, observe the life of Vermeer and his household in Delft; more importantly, it captures, scene by scene and gesture by gesture, the episodes, emotions and secrets hinted at by that outlandish jewel glinting at the servant’s (if she is a servant) ear.

The paintings from this place and time seem to serve as uniquely combustible firelighters of narrative. As Chevalier has said about the Girl’s almost startled sideways glance, “It’s the kind of expression you can interpret in different ways depending on your mood.” The writer, she has argued, may stretch the passing glimpse into a plot and colour in the vacant temporal background: “A painting is about a moment, a book is about a sweep of time – be it 100 years or a day or an hour, it is still about what changes between the beginning and the end of the story.”

The biographical canvas of Carel Fabritius is nearly as blank as the plain rough-cast wall behind his finch. To Donna Tartt, this picture tells a story not about the artist but about art itself. Its thick brushstrokes both make and break the illusion of reality, allowing us to experience both the subject and the artist’s technique in the same moment. As her bereaved young hero Theo puts it, “you see the mark, the paint for the paint, but also the living bird”. Fabritius’s artwork functions both as “the thing and not the thing”, a sacred sign of that “slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint but also feather and bone”. So the bird sings the magic of creation.

In Tartt’s book, the meaning of the painting entwines with the death of Theo’s mother and his long journey though grief. In Dutch Golden Age art as a whole, the vivid snapshots of life are often pregnant with an awareness of mortality. With their skulls and maggots, their blown roses and rotting fruits, these paintings swarm with every sort of memento mori to recall the transience of our days – and our loves. And the novelist, perhaps unlike the painter, can not only hint at but also describe the story’s end.

In The Captive, the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust’s obsessional admiration for View of Delft reaches its climax. The writer Bergotte has long wanted to revisit not only Vermeer’s painting but one small corner of it, “a little patch of yellow wall” which “was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself”. Critics and biographers argue over the fragment Proust had in mind; yellow patches lie on both sides of Vermeer’s Rotterdam Gate.

Already sick, Bergotte hauls himself (as Proust did in 1921) to the Jeu de Paume, where he sees the Vermeer – then dies, of a stroke. In his final revelation, “the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall” comes to stand not only for the sublimity of the greatest art but the purpose of life itself. It appears to the dying Bergotte like a coded signal from a better world, “based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again”.

The yellow wall – or, perhaps, the meaning of life – is in Room 15 of the Mauritshuis. The girl with a pearl looks straight at it. Next door, a goldfinch chirrups silently and unfathomably on its perch. A few metres away, seven medical students crowd around Dr Tulp’s pallid cadaver, each pointy-bearded face bristling with ambitious life. Three centuries and more ago, every one of those lives ended with one more chalk-white corpse.

Even though I had the chance to wander through an almost-silent gallery, the stories stacked inside the Mauritshuis could deafen you; the seam of fictional transformation from Proust to Chevalier, Tartt and Siegal is far from exhausted. Among the plentiful great Rembrandts in this gallery, you will find his haunting Two Moors from 1661: a pair of Africans, one defiant, the other subdued, the spectrum of feeling on their faces seeming to express the span of experience available to alien newcomers in the Holland of the Golden Age. Who will write their story?

The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery (mauritshuis.nl), Plein 29, 2511 CS The Hague, is open daily until 1 November, then Tuesday to Sunday.

After a triumphant tour of Japan, then the United States and ending in Italy, the Girl with a Pearl Earring has returned home to the Mauritshuis royal picture gallery in The Hague. For ever. The museum, which reopened last month after two years’ renovation work, will no longer allow Vermeer’s masterpiece out. Officially the Mona Lisa of the North has been gated in order to please visitors to the Mauritshuis who only want to see that painting. Its fame has steadily increased since Tracy Chevalier published her novel in 1999 followed in 2004 by the film by Peter Webber starring Scarlett Johansson. Anyone wanting to see the portrait will have make the trip to the Dutch city: here.

United States cubist painter Max Weber exhibition


This video from London, England is called Private View – Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London 1905-1915.

By Michal Boncza in London, England:

The wonders of Weber

Saturday 12th July 2014

MICHAL BONCZA welcomes an exhibition of works by an influential cubist painter

Max Weber: An American Cubist In Paris And New York 1905-1915

Ben Uri Gallery, London NW8

5/5

ART, identity and migration inform the Ben Uri gallery’s exhibition choices and this Max Weber show fits the bill to perfection. The fact that Weber’s work has not been exhibited in Britain since 1913 only heightens the interest.

Born in 1881 to a Jewish family in Bialystok — present-day north-east Poland but at the time part of the Russian empire — his peregrinations began at 10, when his family emigrated to New York.

It was there in 1898 that he began to study art but by 1905 Weber was in Paris, attracted by and absorbing the intellectual and artistic ferment of those heady days.

For a time he received tutoring, alongside many young artists, at the non-commercial Academie Henri Matisse from the master himself. But money ran out and after a relatively short three years Weber was back in New York.

His affectionate graphite sketch of his former tutor Matisse, perhaps completed before his return from Paris, is a delight — its minimalist strokes and likeness would certainly have pleased the master.

The experiences garnered in Paris allowed Weber to innovate and experiment in a varied palette of styles resulting in a sometimes disconcerting eclecticism.

Four dissimilar still natures on show, painted between 1910-12, reveal his dramatic progression from expressionism to cubism.

The principles of the latter are employed impressively when, “perched high above New York,” he renders the cityscape with subliminal feelings for its rich textures and crowded cement panorama.

Yet in The Dancers he retains elements of cubism but abandons fragmentation as a purely formal device to instead use it to organise the spirited movement and energy in simultaneous, separate perspectives reminiscent of reflections in a shattered mirror.

His contemporary — and fellow east European Jewish emigre — Marc Chagall’s expressionism comes to mind as the carnal sensuality feels as tangible as the bebop is audible.

Today Weber is considered to have been a major influence in the developing of modernism in the US. His work stemmed from many disparate influences, including Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau and African art, resulting in what’s been defined as “synthetic cubism with futurist devices.”

Once, while talking about his painting Chinese Restaurant (1915), Weber described the process thus: “light seemed to split into fragments in the interior… to express this, kaleidoscopic means had to be chosen.”

This video from London is called Cubist Max Weber’s ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ at Ben Uri Exhibition.

The iconic structure of his neighbourhood, the Brooklyn Bridge, is “hurled together in mighty mass against rolling clouds … this noise and dynamic force create in me a peace the opposite of itself.”

Weber’s words are as evocative as the brush strokes used to record that vision — it’s certainly the most vibrant image on display and possibly one of the best images of the bridge ever conceived.

Runs until October 5. Free. Opening times: (020) 7604-3991.

British artists Francis Bacon and Henry Moore exhibited in Canada


This video from Canada is called ‘Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty': The Art.

By Lee Parsons in Canada:

Making sense of human suffering: Francis Bacon and Henry Moore — Terror and Beauty

21 June 2014

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, April 5-July 20, 2014

Two of the most prominent British artists of the modern period—a rare and unlikely pairing—are brought together in the exhibition Francis Bacon and Henry Moore — Terror and Beauty, currently at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto. The show features 136 works, including paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture. The styles and sensibilities of these two artists present some illuminating contrasts within the traditions of figurative modern art, but it is their shared encounter with the traumas of the past century that lies at the center of this show.

Both artists developed unique approaches to the human figure, but along avenues that are virtually antithetical. With its distinctive solid and natural forms, the work of Henry Moore (1898-1986) suggests a redemptive and stabilizing response to the traumas of the 20th century. Francis Bacon (1909-1992), on the other hand, places his figures in alienated colors and settings, developing imagery that generally tends toward the tortured.

While there are formal parallels between the two, and inevitably some common ground, the question arises: why have two so divergent artists been joined in an exhibition of this sort here and now?

It seems, in fact, the AGO inherited the idea of exhibiting the two together, apparently inspired by the show last year at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, entitled “Flesh and Bone.” Although the two artists knew each other (Bacon reportedly once approached Moore for sculpture instruction), their association was slight and not in any way collaborative. Given their considerable reputation and stature, this exhibition may have begun as an act of shrewd marketing, but it proves to be the sharp differences between Bacon and Moore that makes the juxtaposition as engaging as it is.

Henry Moore, Three Fates (1941) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Henry Moore, Three Fates (1941) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Of particular interest and the focus of this show—and what perhaps unites these two artists more than anything else—were the artists’ historical experiences, particularly of the Second World War. Having lived through World War I, both Bacon and Moore resided in London during the Blitz (the period of sustained bombing by Nazi Germany, during which 40,000 civilians were killed) in 1941 and their work speaks to those experiences and the larger experience of the war as a whole.

With Moore this occurs quite directly, in a number of wartime drawings on display here, while Bacon’s work, although not so explicit, is clearly a reaction in part to those horrific events. His isolated figures appear in distortions of raw color and form, twisted beyond recognition, often with exposed wounds that evoke bodies torn in battle.

Henry Moore, in fact, became an official war artist and the AGO exhibition displays a moving collection of his nighttime drawings illustrating the bomb shelters that housed a besieged population, huddled and frightened in underground London. These are compassionately drawn images of the dark reality of that war, rendered in the softened lines and round volumes that strongly indicate his distinctive sculptural style.

Many of the sculptures in this exhibit will be familiar to Torontonians who have had access to the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, the largest public collection of his work anywhere, housed in the AGO since 1974.

Redeeming art

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (1951) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (1951) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Much of Moore’s sculpture depicts primordial forms of large bone-like structures such as “Reclining Figure” (1951). These rough-hewn recumbent figures appear timeless and monumental, giving this vein of work a relatively easy and comfortable feel, but leaving this viewer at least, on the whole largely disengaged. The plaster sculpture, “Atom Piece (Working Model for Nuclear Energy)” (1964-65), is conversely among his more disturbing works. A distinctly forbidding form, it seems to stand at once in awe and fear of human industry. But this is an exceptional piece for Moore who tended toward less difficult material, returning often to some of his favored subjects such as mother and child. He was nevertheless no stranger to difficulty, and in fact once stated, “I find in all the artists that I admire most a disturbing element, a distortion, giving evidence of a struggle.”

Henry Moore, Mother and Child (1953) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Henry Moore, Mother and Child (1953) © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

Having grown up in a large and poor family in the coal mining district of West Yorkshire in northern England, Moore was not to begin his art studies until the age of 21, by which time he had already seen battle and been wounded during the first imperialist war. Though he soon established himself as an accomplished artist, for many years he had to rely on teaching art to make a living.

Like Bacon, and most of their generation, Moore developed under the influence of innovators in abstraction like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. In his early development, he was part of The Seven and Five Society, a grouping that from its inception following World War I opposed what was seen as the excessive experimentation of modern art, and which brought him into contact with such important artists as Barbara Hepworth. As Moore and others were increasingly exposed to avant-garde currents in the rest of Europe, the group moved away from traditional and toward a modernist sensibility.

Neither Moore nor Bacon was chiefly concerned with artistic innovation, but tended to take from the dominant currents of their time what was most appealing and useful. In the early 1930s Moore met a number of the Surrealists, including Alberto Giacometti, Hans Arp and Joan Miró, whose work had a great effect on him. While his association with that movement may have been brief, its influence and concern with unconscious imagery remained evident in his work throughout his career.

Moore pursued an unadventurous lifestyle, and was devoutly religious. In personality as well as artistically, in other words, he could hardly have been further from Bacon who was, to say the least, a more unconventional sort.

The problem of Bacon

I came into this show, the first exhibit of Francis Bacon in Canada, predisposed to a favorable attitude toward the painter. Having seen most of Bacon’s work only in reproductions, the real-life images were all the more striking and troubling and, along with a survey of his own observations, led me to a fresh consideration of his work.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Francis Bacon was raised in a wealthy military family and early on came into conflict with his father who regarded him as weak, and was horrified by his evident homosexuality. Forced from the family home, he became a social outsider, bouncing from one menial job to another across Europe.

Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait VI (1953) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait VI (1953) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

With little formal training, Bacon began his career as an interior and furniture designer. He gained early acclaim for his painting “Crucifixion” in 1933. Some of his most powerful images deal with icons of the Catholic Church, including “Study for Portrait VI” (1953), one of a series of terrifying paintings he did based on Velasquez’ portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Francis Bacon, Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon, Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Influenced by such diverse sources as Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film Battleship Potemkin (1925) and an old reference book on diseases of the mouth, Bacon was attracted to the grimmer side of social life as well. An inveterate gambler and drinker, his relationships were reputedly conflicted and George Dyer, his partner of many years and the subject of a number of portraits, ultimately took his own life.

It should be noted that one of Bacon’s most important artistic contacts and influences was Lucian Freud (1922-2011), one of the great painters of our time. Along with Moore, these artists persisted in representing the human figure in their work, through the post-war period when much of the art world was looking to higher abstraction as more or less the only way forward.

A painting such as Bacon’s “Lying Figure in a Mirror” (1971) presents an image of inchoate flesh, seductive in flowing form and color, but cruelly contained by geometric frames (and the mirror itself). The painting’s contrasts create a tension that in some real manner reflects the extremes of bottomless desire and severe repression.

Referring to his preoccupation with viscera and tortured forms, Bacon famously countered his critics by saying, “I lived through the revolutionary Irish movement, Sinn Fein and the wars, Hiroshima, Hitler and the death camps and daily violence that I’ve experienced all my life. And after that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers.”

Francis Bacon, Two Figures in a Room (1959) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon, Two Figures in a Room (1959) © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

The issues raised by Bacon’s life and work are not easily resolved. This may be the strength of his work, that it articulates the contradictions of a striving for beauty in a world that would distort and subvert all our finest impulses. Yet, the more I learned about Bacon and his outlook and looked at his paintings, the more I came to reassess the value I had hitherto placed on him.

The difficulty I have is that Bacon’s response to human tragedy is more or less passive, uncritical, and could be interpreted almost as approving of things as they are. Indeed some of his pronouncements could well be taken as a fatalistic acceptance of the horrors he has witnessed. “I’m not upset by the fact that people do suffer, because I think the suffering of people and the differences between people are what have made great art, and not egalitarianism.”

Artists in the world

In any event, the careers and output of Bacon and Moore don’t allow for simple responses, much less prescriptions. These were both figures who took art and the world seriously. A discussion of concerns about their work, one hopes, will promote a more critical consideration of the relationship of art and artists to their audience, to society and to history—especially at a time when the art world is largely dominated by concerns with money and celebrity. (Bacon, for example, is probably best known at present because his painting, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (1969), set a record in 2013 as the most expensive art work ever auctioned—$142 million.)

I would have to say that, on balance, I do not find the bulk of the work of either Bacon or Moore altogether satisfying. In the most general sense, no doubt, the efforts of both these artists are vital reflections of and responses to a world convulsed by conflict and suffering. They both grappled with the cataclysms of their time, yet their work, in differing ways, strikes me as a turning inward, in one case for a sort of spiritual solace, in the other as merely a means of painful self-exploration.

Moore’s work is said to be life-affirming, and to a certain extent it is, while Bacon casts a harsh light on human torment. Both, in one way or another, strive for a means of making sense of their time, while perhaps accommodating themselves to it.

However, whatever their individual weaknesses, a great portion of the artists’ difficulty ultimately originates in objective problems of social development in the 20th century. The “unsatisfying” element, in the end, was the delay in the social revolution, which opened the door to the horrors of war and fascism and also generated disappointment and pessimism among the artists and intellectuals. These obstacles helped block Bacon and Moore from more directly and urgently illuminating the human situation.

Girl with Pearl Earring, goldfinch, are back in The Hague


This March 2013 video from the de Young museum in San Francisco, USA, is called Opening Day of Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis.

Johannes Vermeer‘s famous seventeenth century painting Girl with a Pearl Earring had to leave the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, as that museum was reconstructed.

Now, that painting and other famous paintings are back at the Mauritshuis. Which is reopening: twice the size it used to be.

This video from the Netherlands is called Mauritshuis museum to reopen in June [2014] after revonation.

This is a Dutch video of today, about the Mauritshuis reopening.

This video is called How a Dutch Master Made ‘The Goldfinch‘ Come Alive.

It is about another painting returned now to the Mauritshuis, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius.

The painting recently got in the news because of the novel of the same name by Donna Tartt.

This video is called BBC Culture: Donna Tartt shares The Goldfinch’s secret history.

Pearl of a museum: Vermeer shines among Dutch icons in new Mauritshuis: here.

Frida Kahlo and flowers, exhibition in New York City


This video is called FRIDA KAHLO (1907~1954): Biography – a Woman in Rebellion (DOCUMENTARY).

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

UNITED STATES: The New York Botanical Garden announced today that it is planning a major exhibition on Frida Kahlo next year that will examine how nature influenced her artwork.

It will also reimagine Kahlo’s garden and studio outside Mexico City, known as Casa Azul.

“Frida Kahlo’s Garden” will be on view from May 16 2015.

A group of rare paintings and works on paper highlighting Kahlo’s use of botanical imagery will also be on display.

This video is called Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden.