Archive for April 19th, 2019

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Photographs: ‘The Seven Last Words’ 1898 by F. Holland Day (1864-1933)

April 2019

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Seven Last Words
1898
Seven platinum prints in original frame
H x W (overall with frame): 8 1/2 x 35 1/2 in. (21.6 x 90.2 cm)
Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Frank B. Bemis Fund, Otis Norcross Fund, William E. Nickerson Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, and funds by exchange from a Gift of James Lawrence, Dorothy Mackenzie and John E. Lawrence, and funds donated by Michael and Elizabeth Marcus, Charles W. Millard III, and Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Where Do We Come From / What Are We / Where Are We Going

I went to see one of my best friends for the last time in hospital today.

Joyce has been like a surrogate mother to me for the last eight years. She has been wise counsel, friend, support, teacher, reconciler, adventurer and philosopher to this sometimes lost man. We had many adventures to exhibitions and openings, to our favourite restaurant Caffe e Cucina to have dinner, or going to see “Our Julia”, an exhibition of her favourite photographer Julia Margaret Cameron at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. It is so sad in this life that we have to loose the wisdom of age only for the mistakes of past generations to be repeated over and over again.

Both Joyce and I do not believe in traditional, dogmatic religion. Both of us cannot stand the hypocrisy, baloney and proselytising that religion undertakes in the name of an “imaginary friend.” Religion is a crutch for the dogmatic who then impose their beliefs, and discrimination, on others.

But we both believe in spirit, that ineffable quality of experience where you obtain communion with the energy of the cosmos. A feeling, an emotional energy of connection to body, spirit and soul. Something noumenal, something that we have knowledge of, but that we can’t completely describe.

Strip away the baggage of religion from these photographs and you are left with a man being tortured and his spirit suffering. I wonder what this man was like when he was a baby? Who did he talk to growing up, what did he say, who did he meet. What was his essential journey to get to this place? Imagine Pontius Pilate not washing his hands of him, but sitting down with him and having a philosophical discussion on the nature of existence and being.

I felt immense love and sadness, hope and sorrow when I saw Joyce for the last time on this earth. I wished her a good journey and told her that I would see her soon.

I will miss her strength, intelligence, and beautiful spirit. But above all I will miss her love.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

If we can find out what we are… that is the artist.

And then, this goes to the core element of your being:

If the core part of your life is the search for the truth then that becomes a core part of your identity for the rest of your life,

and the core element of your enquiry remains the same.

It becomes embedded in your soul.

.
Joyce Evans

 

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

Father forgive them they know not what they do

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

Woman behold thy son: Son thy mother

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

My God my God why hast thou forsaken me

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

I thirst

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

Into thy hands I commend my spirit

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Seven Last Words' 1898

It is finished

 

 

From 1895 to 1898 Day undertook a project that was without precedent: an extended series – some 250 negatives – showing scenes of the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection, in which he played the title role. In 1890 Day had traveled to Oberammergau to see the famous once-a-decade Passion Plays and may well have seen a similar multimedia presentation that toured the East Coast, including Boston, later in the 1890s. For his own production, Day starved himself, let his beard grow long, and imported cloth and a cross from Syria. Just prior to the reenacted Crucifixion, he made this series of close-up self-portraits – the most powerful images in his entire series – which represent Christ’s seven last words:

FATHER FORGIVE THEM; THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.

TODAY THOU SHALT BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.

WOMAN, BEHOLD THY SON; SON, THY MOTHER

MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?

I THIRST.

INTO THY HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT.

IT IS FINISHED.

.
For many people, Day’s self-portraits as Christ were – and remain – unsettling, as one tries to reconcile their fact and fiction. Day defended the use of photography for sacred subjects as a matter of artistic freedom, and Steichen wrote, “Few paintings contain as much that is spiritual and sacred in them as do the ‘Seven Words’ of Mr. Day. … If we knew not its origin or its medium how different would be the appreciation of some of us, and if we cannot place our range of vision above this prejudice the fault lies wholly with us. If there are limitations to any of the arts, they are technical; but of the motif to be chosen the limitations are dependent on the man – if he is a master he will give us great art and ever exalt himself.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 26/03/2019

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Solitude (Portrait of F. Holland Day)' 1901

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Solitude (Portrait of F. Holland Day)
1901
Platinum print
Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Frank B. Bemis Fund, Otis Norcross Fund, William E. Nickerson Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, and funds by exchange from a Gift of James Lawrence, Dorothy Mackenzie and John E. Lawrence, and funds donated by Michael and Elizabeth Marcus, Charles W. Millard III, and Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Widely considered one of the masterpieces of photographic history, the monumental self portrait depicts Day as Christ in a series of seven platinum prints set in a frame designed by the artist. The work is a high point of Pictorialism – the turn-of-the-century movement advocating the artistic merit of photography. With few prints ever made by the artist and a tragic fire destroying his studio, Day’s photographs are tremendously rare. The Museum also acquired the crown of thorns worn by Day in The Seven Last Words and three important portraits of Day taken by photographers Edward Steichen, James Craig Annan and Clarence H. White. They were kept by the artist as part of his personal archive.

“The Seven Last Words is one of the most significant images in the history of photography, a work that reverberates with iconic importance and one that influenced subsequent artists significantly,” said Anne E. Havinga, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA.

Born into an affluent family in Norwood, F. Holland Day was a turn-of-the-century Bostonian with an ultra-refined aesthetic sensibility and a multitude of interests, particularly in art and literature. He was a member of the “Boston Bohemians,” a circle of friends with whom he shared a love for the Arts and Crafts movement, sophisticated wit and Symbolist literature and art. He was also an admirer of old master painting and classical sculpture, and collected Japanese decorative arts and drawings. His interests led him into a career as a fine book publisher and photographer.

Day became interested in photography in the mid 1880s, joining the Pictorialist crusade to prove that photography could be a fine art, and within a decade he had become one of the most important figures in the international movement. While Day championed the same goals promoted by fellow photographers, he also defended religious imagery and the male nude – subjects that had previously been the domain of painting and sculpture. The seriousness of Day’s approach to artistic photography and his heightened sense of symbolism, enhanced by the subtle, low-keyed tonalities of his prints, were an inspiration to other photographers of the time.

In 1898, Day began exploring religious themes in his photographs. His “Sacred Studies,” as he called them, were widely acclaimed for their high-art aspirations – as seen in their relation to old master religious painting – and their unquestionable daring. The Seven Last Words was one of Day’s most expressive and best-known pieces and continues to be admired by many contemporary artists, especially those who explore identity, role play and staged photography in their work. Each of the seven photographs in the work, set in a frame designed by the artist, represents one of the last phrases spoken by Christ:

Father forgive them they know not what they do.
Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.
Woman behold thy son: Son thy mother.
My God my God why hast thou forsaken me.
I thirst.
Into thy hands I commend my spirit.
It is finished.

.
Only two other versions of the work exist today: one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (without the artist-designed frame) and a third is owned by a private collector (with an altered frame). The MFA’s version is in tremendous condition and is in its original, un-altered frame.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website [Online] Cited 26/03/2019

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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