Archive for the 'intimacy' Category

19
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Walter Sickert’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 18th September 2022

Curators: The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain).

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Red Shop (or The October Sun)' c. 1888

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Red Shop (or The October Sun)
c. 1888
Oil on canvas
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museums Service

 

 

I believe that Walter Sickert is an interesting and boundary pushing artist – but I remain ambivalent as to whether I like this attention seeking European modernist, this “self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative” with his penchant for working-class urban culture and its “dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs,” its opium dens, street gangs and prostitutes, its black fogs and murders.

On the one hand I like the chthonic [relating to or inhabiting the underworld] darkness of his paintings, and their earthiness and essentialness, for Sickert is a chthonic deity [from Greek khthōn ‘earth’] grounded in the earth. His self-portraits appear as dark, almost eyeless creatures metastasizing from the Stygian gloom like a London pea souper fog – black fog, black dog examinations of the inner self interpreted as performances of identity. His paintings of the ghouls in the galleries at theatres are masterful in their use of colour, light and form – soaring to the heavens or buried like children in a mine, as in The Gallery at the Old Mogul (1906, below).

I am much less certain about other elements of his painting, such as the objectification of women in the numerous nudes, laid out for the viewers delectation. As Jonathan Jones observes,

“These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.”1

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Francis Bacon would of course agree with him, but there is an essential difference… Bacon was a male dissecting male bodies; in Sickert’s fantasy world of murder and voyeurism, it is the male gaze looking at a disempowered and dismembered female body and his paintings “are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.” While the nude paintings can be seen as essential and earthy challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” –  the energy which emanates from these paintings is perverse, like a butcher selling putrid meat which gives off a fecund but malodorous smell. According to Australian artist Elizabeth Gertsakis, there is a deep psychopathology present in Sickert’s work: “there are no ‘souls’ in Sickert’s art, nor is there redemption. There is despair, degeneracy and a kind biblical vengeance without the costume-play of the Testaments.”2

Finally, the late photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s which would have astounded at the time of their creation, today feel frozen and stilted – the beginning of pastiche painting which lives on in the contemporary portraiture of Australia’s Archibald prize for example, where “we see the usual clumsily drawn figures; the usual ‘kooky’ whimsy; the usual ham-fisted, photo-based ‘realism’ (always the last bastion for the conceptually limited painter!). All of them dead in the water before they are even unwrapped for the scrutiny of the dull-eyed panel. Before they have even left the easel, in fact.”3 As Steve Cox observes, portrait ‘Painting’ become portrait ‘Illustration’ blossomed into its full-blown, grotesque, nadir.

Nevertheless, there are moments of sublime ecstasy in some of Sickert’s realist, narrative elegies: the red dress of Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892, below); the “dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe” with its background “enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets” in The Fair at Night (c. 1902-1903, below); the gold decoration of the arch in The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice (c. 1901-1906, below); and the poignancy of the emaciated figure that is Aubrey Beardsley (1894, below), a haunting appearance suggested by the deftest and most skilful application of paint in search of a soul that you are ever likely to see.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022
  2. Elizabeth Gertsakis in conversation with Marcus Bunyan 19/06/2022
  3. Steve Cox. “Thoughts on the Anti-Art Event, the Archibald Prize,” on Facebook May 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Discover the boundary-pushing paintings by one of Britain’s most influential artists

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

 

 

This sense of a narrative runs against the grain of what has come to be construed as ‘modern’ in modern art. But Sickert insisted that ‘All the great draughtsmen tell a story’.16 He maintained that no country could have a great school of painting when the unfortunate artist was confined ‘to the choice between the noble site as displayed in the picture-postcard, or the quite nice young person, in what Henry James has called a wilderness of chintz’.17 He was a self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative and an obsession with facture [i.e. the quality of the execution of a painting; an artist’s characteristic handling of the paint]. (He called it ‘the cooking side of painting’.18) He did not believe in severing subject and treatment:

“Is it not possible that this antithesis is meaningless, and that the two things are one, and that an idea does not exist apart from its exact expression? … The real subject of a picture or a drawing … and all the world of pathos, of poetry, of sentiment that it succeeds in conveying, is conveyed by means of the plastic facts expressed … If the subject of a picture could be stated in words there had been no need to paint it.”

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It is in this sense – rather than in any quibbling as to the recorded details of Emily Dimmock’s murder in 1907 – that Sickert’s paintings are not illustrations. They cannot be decanted into words. And they do not use the available ‘language’ of illustration for sensational events, evident in the depictions of the Camden Town Murder in such publications as the Illustrated Police Budget and News.20 But their subject matters.

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Walter Sickert, ‘The Language of Art’, New Age, 28 July 1910, quoted in Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or The Artist as Craftsman: Being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, Macmillan, London 1947, p. 89 in Lisa Tickner. “Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime,” on the Tate website Nd [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)
1907
Oil on canvas
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-portrait' c. 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-portrait
c. 1896
Oil on canvas
Leeds Art Gallery
© Bridgeman images

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers' c. 1913-1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers
c. 1913-1915
Oil on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Walter Sickert | Trailer | Tate

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 below; at and right, The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror c. 1888-1889 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall' 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall
1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo: James Mann

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror' c. 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror
c. 1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Edgar Degas’ The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable” 1876, below; and at right, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 above

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) 'The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "Robert le Diable"' 1876

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable”
1876
Height: 76.6cm (30.1 in)
Width: 81.3cm (32 in)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Gallery of the Old Bedford 1894-1895 below; at second left, Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul 1906-1907 below; and at fourth left, The Gallery at the Old Mogul 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gallery of the Old Bedford' 1894-1895

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gallery of the Old Bedford
1894-1895
Oil on canvas
Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1947

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
63.7 x 76.6cm
Birmingham Museums Trust
Purchased 1949

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Gallery at the Old Mogul' 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Gallery at the Old Mogul
1906
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 67cm

 

 

Walter Sickert’s The Gallery at the Old Mogul is thought to be one of the earliest paintings in the world of a cinematic performance. Early press descriptions prove that the original title of the picture was Cinematograph and shows a film screening of a Western.

Before the existence of purpose built cinemas, films were often shown in music halls as part of the evening’s entertainment. ‘The Old Mogul’ was the original name for the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane, remodelled and renamed in the 1870s, and variously known as ‘the Mogul Tavern’, ‘the Old Mo’, and ‘the Old Middlesex’. The present work was painted soon after Sickert’s return to London in 1906, at a time when Sickert was rediscovering his fascination for music-hall subjects. ‘I have started many beautiful music-hall pictures. I go to the Mogul Tavern every night, Sickert wrote to Jacques-Émile Blanche in 1906. Related works of the same subject include Noctes Ambrosianae painted in the same year and four related drawings in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool and Aberdeen Art Gallery. …

Sickert’s inspiration for depicting new forms of entertainment such as cinema performances stemmed partly from French artists, including Degas’ depictions of Parisian Café Concerts and theatres. Sickert, however, was one of the first artists to examine scenes of popular entertainment in a British art context. Unlike Degas, the focus is less on the performance – or in this case screening – and more on the relationship of the audience to the show. This method was developed in Sickert’s earliest entertainment works such as the Old Bedford Gallery pictures of the 1890s [above], which like the present work choose to focus on the audience from behind, inviting the viewer to feel at once a part of the spectacle and yet distant from the subjects. This tool was partly borrowed by Sickert from French Impressionist works such as Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, where the viewer is made to feel like they are ordering a drink at a bar but is unable to witness the full transaction. Sickert’s ability to create this ambiguity allows the onlooker to invent narratives for the scene, and is one of the reasons he remarked to Virginia Woolf, ‘I have always been a literary painter’ (V. Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London, 1934, p. 26). While Sickert’s work may not have the sentiment or caricature of Charles Dickens’ (as loosely suggested by Woolf in 1934), it often manages to give the impression that you are viewing a moment in time, a snapshot that leaves one guessing as to what has just happened or what will happen next.

It is of no surprise therefore, that in later years Sickert began increasingly to adapt compositions directly from photographs. Yet unlike a photograph, The Gallery at the Old Mogul seems full of movement. Sickert maintains the ability not to simply depict but to create dramatic atmosphere through low tones and a liquid handling of paint reminiscent of Whistler and indeed of a cinematic performance. The Gallery at the Old Mogul successfully predicted not only the importance of film on everyday cultural life but on many subsequent art movements such as the Cubist works of Braque and Picasso between 1907-1914.

Jon Fauer. “First painting of a Movie Theater: Sickert’s “The Gallery at the Old Mogul”,” on the Film and Digital Times website 16/06/2016 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Pit at the Old Bedford' 1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Pit at the Old Bedford
1889
Oil on canvas
34.5 x 30.0cm
Fondation Bemberg

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford
c. 1890
Oil on panel
14 1/2 x 9 1/4 ins (37 x 23.5cms)
Private collection, UK

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gaîté Montparnasse' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gaîté Montparnasse
c. 1907
Oil paint on canvas
612 × 508 mm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil Fund, 1958

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford 1892 below; and at right, Brighton Pierrots 1915 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford' 1892

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
1892
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 765 × 638 mm
Frame: 915 × 787 × 69 mm
Tate
Purchased 1976

 

 

Minnie Cunningham was a popular performer at the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. Sickert went there regularly and made dozens of sketches capturing the effects of light and movement on the stage and in the auditorium. Here, Sickert paints from the point of view of an audience member. He first exhibited it with the subtitle ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years’, a quote from one of Cunningham’s songs. Sickert painted the ordinary life he saw around him.

Gallery label, September 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Brighton Pierrots' 1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Brighton Pierrots
1915
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1996

 

 

This week, Tate Britain opened London’s biggest retrospective of Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years. A master of self-invention and theatricality, Sickert took a radically modern approach to painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. This major exhibition features over 150 of his works from over 70 public and private collections, from scenes of rowdy music halls to ground-breaking nudes and narrative subjects. Spanning Sickert’s six-decade career, it uncovers the people, places and subjects that inspired him and explores his legacy as one of Britain’s most distinctive, provocative, and influential artists.

Highlights include 10 of Sickert’s iconic self-portraits, from the start of his career to his final years. For the first time, these portraits are brought together from collections across the UK and internationally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada. The variety of different personas adopted by Sickert over the years are shown together – a legacy of his early life as an actor – and how his complex personality evolved on the canvas throughout his career.

Sickert’s interest in the stage is also reflected in one of his favourite artistic subjects: the music hall. His dramatic images of performers and audiences, often captured together from unusual and spectacular angles, evoked the energy of working-class city nightlife. The exhibition examines Sickert’s British and French music hall subjects together through over 30 atmospheric paintings and drawings of halls in London and Paris, including The Old Bedford 1894-1895, Gaité Montparnasse 1907 and Théâtre de Montmartre c. 1906 as well as depictions of famous performers such as Minnie Cunningham and Little Dot Hetherington. Although these subjects were deemed inappropriate by much of the British art world at the time, they took inspiration from the café-concert subjects of celebrated French artists such as Edouard Manet and the ballet subjects of Edgar Degas, a close friend and major influence on Sickert after they met in Paris in the 1880s.

The exhibition is the first to explore the impact of another of Sickert’s key influences, from his time as an assistant in the studio of renowned American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Paintings by both artists, including Whistler’s A Shop 1884-1890 and Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe 1886-1888 have been brought together, as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert himself, to reveal how the young artist was inspired by his mentor’s atmospheric tonal style and urban subjects. The show examines how Sickert went on to create series of works that experimented with how changing light transformed the facades of famous buildings in some of his favourite cities, including Dieppe and Venice.

Sickert revolutionised the traditional genres of painting in ways that changed the course of British art. His nudes were admired in France but disapproved of in Britain, where they were considered immoral because of their unidealised bodies, contemporary settings and voyeuristic framings. They drew on the influence of artists such as Bonnard and Degas and paved the way for later painters like Lucian Freud. The Camden Town Murder series further transformed Sickert’s nude subjects into narrative paintings by juxtaposing two figures in a claustrophobic interior, while his other domestic scenes such as Ennui 1914 and Off To the Pub 1911 continued this exploration of conflicted emotions and complex modern relationships.

In his final years, his work took on a new and ground-breaking form in larger, brighter paintings based on news photographs and popular culture, including images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Peggy Ashcroft in a production Romeo and Juliet. This pioneering approach to photography was an important precursor to Francis Bacon’s use of source material and to pop art’s transformation of images from the media, once again revealing Sickert’s role at the forefront of developments in British art.

Walter Sickert is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Paris. The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain). It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at centre in the bottom photograph, The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 below; and at right, Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Mantelpiece' c. 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Mantelpiece
c. 1906-1907
Oil paint on canvas
762 x 508 mm
Southampton City Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library

 

 

The art historian Wendy Baron has identified the theme of the mantelpiece still life as an offshoot of Walter Sickert’s paintings of interiors with figures, although Sands may also have been aware of Edouard Vuillard’s painting, The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée) 1905 (fig.1). Large decorative fire surrounds in marble or wood became fashionable during the Victorian period, emphasising the open fire as the focus of a room with its symbolic notions of the domestic hearth and home. By the early twentieth century these mantelpieces, usually surmounted by a large overmantel mirror and a shelf broad enough to accommodate an array of ornaments, were a standard feature in most homes, as can be seen in the dingy and claustrophobic interior of Sickert’s famous painting, Ennui c. 1914 (Tate N03846). They were a feature instantly recognisable as characteristic of their time and appear in a number of paintings of Camden Town interiors by Sickert and his circle such as The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 (fig.2) by Sickert, and Spencer Gore’s Conversation Piece and Self-Portrait c. 1910 (private collection). Artists developing a more self-consciously abstract style used the mantelpiece and the inevitable shelf of clutter as a subject, even in Duncan Grant’s and Vanessa Bell’s paintings of the same mantelpiece in Bell’s house at 46 Gordon Square, The Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01328, fig.3) and Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01133, fig.4), where, however, it holds a piece of hand-made Bloomsbury decoration.

Nicola Moorby. “Ethel Sands: Flowers in a Jug ?1920s,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context July 2003 [Online] Cited 09/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Girl at a Window, Little Rachel' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Girl at a Window, Little Rachel
1907
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 765 × 665 × 75 mm
Tate

 

 

This is one of six paintings and numerous drawings of Sickert’s frame-maker’s 13-year-old daughter, known affectionately as ‘Little Rachel’. Sickert described the series as a ‘set of studies of Illumination’. The scene outside the window is Mornington Crescent Gardens, Camden. The girl’s gaze is turned away from both the artist and the view. The closed window may suggest the future that was expected of her at the time, a future inside the home, as a wife and mother.

Gallery label, October 2020

 

This painting is dominated by the French window of Sickert’s north-facing front room at 6 Mornington Crescent. Light falls softly on the dim figure of the red-haired girl, seen looking across Mornington Crescent Gardens. Rachel, the daughter of his frame maker, features in five known oil paintings by Sickert.

 

There are five other known oils of the same sitter: Girl at a Looking-Glass, Little Rachel (fig.1);3 Little Rachel (National Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane),4 a head and shoulders portrait, probably seated on Sickert’s bed; Little Rachel (private collection),5 a three-quarter-length portrait of the sitter half turned, with light falling on her face; and Little Rachel (Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery),6 an oil study in profile. In all these works she wears the same blouse as in Tate’s picture. There are several drawings of Rachel, some of which relate to these paintings, but none of them is a study for Tate’s oil.7

According to Sickert’s title for one of these oils and one of the drawings, the sitter was the daughter of his frame maker. Using information supplied by Agnew’s, the art historian Wendy Baron records that Rachel’s surname was Siderman, and that she died in 1963 aged 70. …

In Girl at a Window, Little Rachel, Sickert shows his sitter standing by the French windows of his north-facing, first-floor front room at 6 Mornington Crescent, London NW1, which he kept in 1907, just a few doors away from his friend Spencer Gore who lived at number 31. The room was rented, as Sickert wrote in a letter of 1907 to Nan Hudson addressed from Mornington Crescent, ‘I rather hope that when I come back in the autumn I may take the floor above my lodgings here as a room-studio and do the interiors I love’.11 The 1907 Kelly’s Camden and Kentish Town Directory lists the householder as ‘Mrs George Jones Jr’, who was presumably Sickert’s landlady. Mornington Crescent was only one of Sickert’s addresses, and at this time he also had another studio in Fitzroy Street. Following his return to London in 1905 Sickert had continued the practice he followed in Dieppe of keeping several studios at once, which probably sometimes doubled as living accommodation. The art critic Clive Bell recalled Sickert at a somewhat later period ‘showing us his “studios” – “my drawing studio” “my etching studio” etc. The operation involved chartering a cab and visiting a series of small rooms in different parts of London.’

Robert Upstone. “Walter Richard Sickert: Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context May 2009 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 below; and at centre, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nude Stretching: La Coiffure' 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nude Stretching: La Coiffure
1905-1906
Pastel
71 x 55cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre' About 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre
About 1906
Oil on canvas
644 x 541 mm
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

 

 

Female nude reclining on a bed which has brass bedsteads. Le Lit de Cuivre translates to ‘copper bed’. There are several versions of this painting in existence. Sickert had begun to draw nudes on metal bedsteads in Dieppe in 1902 and on his return from Venice in 1904 he began to paint the subject. He continued to do so in London often working from drawings made in France eg. “Le Lit de Fer”. In many of his post-Venetian paintings of the nude, Sickert broke away from a horizontal planar emphasis by placing the bed in a diagonal recession or even at right angles to the surface. This work shows how Sickert had begun to develop a broken, crusty touch in the paint work.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 40.7cm
Manchester Art Gallery
Bequeathed by Mrs Mary Cicely Tatlock, 1980

 

 

Dark, shadowy view of a bedroom seen through an open doorway. A wooden chair is in the foreground, in what is probably the hallway, to the left of the open door. A dressing table and chair are just distinguishable beneath the filtered pink half-light coming through the horizontal slats of the blind that covers the window at the back of the room. The items of furniture are so indistinct as to make it conceivable that there is a person sitting on the chair, although there is no one there. The bedroom is that of Sickert’s own lodgings at 6 Mornington Crescent. His landlady had told Sickert that she suspected the previous tenant might have been Jack the Ripper, the famous murderer.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 above; and at second left, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, Jack Ashore 1912-1913 below; at second right, The Iron Bedstead c. 1908 below; and at right, Mornington Crescent Nude c. 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack Ashore' 1912-1913

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack Ashore
1912-1913
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 368 × 298 mm
Frame: 568 × 494 × 92 mm
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Wilson Gift through the Art Fund 2006

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Iron Bedstead' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Iron Bedstead
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
39.5 x 50cm
Earl and Countess of Harewood

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mornington Crescent Nude' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mornington Crescent Nude
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 50.8cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from Mrs Maurice Hill

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

 

 

But the question is what Sickert is staging in his own theatre, that dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs where men and women are at stalemate. The aesthetic origins are clear enough. Sickert – half Danish, student of Whistler, friend of Degas, admirer of Bonnard – continually aspires to European modernism. The debts are everywhere visible in the show. The most famous painting here, Ennui, pays direct homage to Degas’s drinkers stalled over their absinthe in Paris cafes with more than just its French title.

Five feet high, it is an immense snapshot of suicidal boredom. The glassy-eyed man lolls over his half-empty pint at the table; the woman leans on the chest of drawers, staring straight at the imprisoning walls. Next to her is a case of stuffed birds, trapped in a bell jar of their own. “It is all over with them,” wrote Virginia Woolf, imagining that innumerable dull days had crushed them like “an avalanche of rubbish.”

But the scene is conspicuously staged (to be reprised four more times), and eagle-eyed visitors will recognise the same models in other paintings. Hubby, as he was called, seems to have been an acquaintance of Sickert who had fallen on hard times; Marie was his cleaning lady. He has these working people pose again and again.

Hubby is just edging out of the scene on the way to the pub, just arriving, or terminally slumped. He reappears, with his sleeves menacingly rolled, over a naked woman on a bed in one of the so-called Camden Town nudes. Tate Britain has not shied away from showing a whole gallery of these paintings, which are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.

The relationship between the prone and naked woman and the clothed man, seated or standing, is disturbing enough. But in at least one painting, the notorious L’Affaire de Camden Town [below], the female body looks beaten like a heap of purpling meat in the gloom, and she is either shielding herself from the man above her, or she is already dead.

Sickert so often fudged (or simply fumbled) human anatomy that the question is how hard he worked to achieve this dark ambiguity. The title of this particular work refers to the murder of a woman named Emily Dimmock in Camden Town in 1907. Sickert’s paintings are a queasy conflation of crime scene, studio setup and social history, and he liked to confuse things further with deflecting titles. One picture is called What Shall We Do for the Rent? [above]

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

And the centre of this exhibition is a no-holds-barred display of Sickert’s nudes. Against the dark walls of the gallery, in fierce yet subtle lighting, the women are laid out. Their bodies are spread, exhibited, arranged, “like a patient etherised upon a table”, to quote TS Eliot. One model lies with her legs hanging over the bed, her arms spread out. She could be the dead Christ. Another is washing, but as she bends in a doorway we can’t see her head, only her naked body.

L’Affaire de Camden Town [below] takes it to another level. In this 1909 painting, a man stands over an inert female form on a bed. But it is worse than that. She is not so much a continuous figure as a collection of ruddy, moist forms like meat in a butcher’s window. The male onlooker could be a killer contemplating his handiwork – which is exactly what Sickert’s title implies. For this is one of a series of paintings that allude to the murder of Emily Elizabeth Dimmock in Camden, London, in 1907. Sickert became fascinated by this murder. If he really is responsible for sketches of a man with a knife over a woman’s body in the Ripper letters of 1888, his Camden Town Murder paintings eerily echo them.

In The Camden Town Murder, or What Shall We Do for the Rent?, [above] the man sits in despair while the nude on the iron bed has her face turned from us. She may be crying or he may have just throttled her. The stiffness of her arm and awkwardly placed hand suggests the latter. In a drawing called Persuasion a bald, bearded man appears to strangle a woman before our eyes.

These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.

Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Affaire de Camden Town' 1909

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Affaire de Camden Town
1909
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

[Liam] Scarlett sees Sickert as a self-styled enigma. In society he was an entertaining, ambitious parvenu, flaunting his connections with royalty, his inclusion in aristocratic circles; professionally, however, he worked as a recluse, renting studios in the dingiest slums of London. He was a painter of secrets, coding visual puzzles into his canvases, giving them wilfully ambiguous titles. And even in an era where everybody was enthralled by crime, he was peculiarly obsessed, fascinated by the prostitutes in the streets around his studios, by the men who used them, and especially by the men who killed them. …

Sickert produced the Camden Town Murder paintings, a series of four, in 1908. They were inspired by the murder the previous year of a prostitute, Emily Dimmock, and present variations on the same unsettling image: a naked woman, sprawled limply over a bed next to a fully clothed man who may or may not be her killer.

The atmosphere in the paintings is both brutal and ambiguous; Scarlett describes it as “seething”, and as he researched deeper into Sickert’s work he saw it echoed many times. In the Camden Town Nude series (1905-1912) the women look like victims, even when they’re alive, their faces obliterated by a slash or blur of paint, their bodies laid out for the artist’s dissecting gaze. Sickert’s mentor, Degas, also played with a queasy element of voyeurism, but Sickert makes the threat overt. Scarlett, who has collected books about the artist, points to a white brushstroke in one of the paintings that makes a “dagger-like approach to the woman’s genital area”.

Even in the paintings where no male aggression is implied, age and poverty make harsh assaults on Sickert’s nudes, their flesh drained of colour, curdled, clotted and veiny, sometimes covered with sores.

Judith Mackrell. “Walter Sickert and the dance of death,” on The Guardian website Mon 19 Mar 2012 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'La Hollandaise' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
La Hollandaise
c. 1906
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased 1983

 

 

 

‘The naked and the Nude’

As with much of Sickert’s work it is not entirely clear what effect the artist intended to create. When viewed in the context of Sickert’s views on the nude, the treatment of the body in La Hollandaise can be read, not as disturbing, but as painterly. In Sickert’s opinion paintings should always show ‘someone, somewhere’.11 He firmly outlined his beliefs in an article in the New Age, July 1910, entitled ‘The naked and the Nude’, in which he condemned art school practice which taught students to draw idealised, ‘lifeless’ nudes without reference to the real world. Instead, he articulated, the focus should be placed on drawing the clothed figure, or at least figures set within a real environment in which context their nakedness made some sense. He concluded:

Perhaps the chief source of pleasure in the aspect of a nude is that it is in the nature of a gleam – a gleam of light and warmth and life. And that it should appear thus, it should be set in surroundings of drapery or other contrasting surfaces.12

.
In La Hollandaise the mottled appearance of the skin is a study of the effects of colour and light on the body, and certain areas such as the left breast are elegantly and delicately painted. It is certain, however, that Sickert was aware of the complex multiplicity of the image, and despite intending the painting to be an aesthetic treatment of the body, he was by no means innocent of its provocative and disturbing possibilities.

Sickert went on to exploit these possibilities even further in his most notorious set of works, the Camden Town Murder paintings, 1908-1909. These pictures, which referred to the recent local murder of a prostitute, caused a sensation when exhibited at the first Camden Town Group exhibition in June 1911. Once again, the ubiquitous iron bedstead featured as the central focal point around which Sickert organised a figural tableau. Unlike his earlier series, however, the artist now paired an unclothed female with a fully dressed male which greatly altered the context of the nude in an interior. In paintings such as The Camden Town Murder or What Shall We Do About the Rent? c.1908 (fig.3)13 [above] and L’Affaire de Camden Town 1909 (fig.4),14 [above] the inclusion of a clothed male protagonist introduces an implied narrative of violence and sex. Although not as extreme or overt, these sordid undercurrents are present in La Hollandaise.

 

‘La Hollandaise’

The art historian Richard Shone has suggested that the title may have been inspired by one of the minor incidental female characters in the novels of Honoré de Balzac. Sarah Gobseck, a prostitute who appears in several of the stories of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, is familiarly known as ‘la belle Hollandaise’. This ‘magnificent creature’ is purported to be the grand-niece of a Dutch money-lender who leads an immoral and wanton life and is eventually murdered by one of her clients. The title of the painting, therefore, is possibly intended to project connotations of prostitution, or, less specifically, to be representative of a generic grim realism. In Balzac’s Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau (published 1838), the character is described as ‘one of those mad-cap women who care nothing as to where the money comes from, or how it is obtained … she never thought of the morrow, for her the future was after dinner, and the end of the month eternity, even if she had bills to pay’,15 a statement which may have appealed to Sickert as reminiscent of his own imprudent character.

The title of La Hollandaise translates as ‘The Dutch Girl’ and may reflect a sense of seriality when linked to other works of this period. It is one of a number of paintings by Sickert with similarly continental titles, for example La Jolie Veneitienne 1903-1904 (private collection),16 La Belle Sicilienne c. 1905 (David Fullen),17 La Belle Rousse c. 1905 (private collection),18 Les Petites Belges 1906 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),19 and The Belgian Cocotte 1906 (Arts Council Collection, London).20 Furthermore, as Wendy Baron has noted, the foreshortened figure and crossed placement of limbs recalls Sickert’s earlier group of Venetian nudes, for example, Conversations 1903-1904 (private collection).21 Sickert himself was a cosmopolitan character, equally at home in London, Dieppe or Venice. Despite reducing the means of identifying one model from another to a label indicating their nationality, he was not actually interested in analysing cultural difference. Rather his titles reflect the sameness of his approach. His interest lay in finding models from within a certain class of woman and painting them in a variety of poses, both nude and clothed, against an interior that was uniformly dingy and unprepossessing. Essentially, Sickert believed, the experience of urban existence was the same wherever he went.

Nicola Moorby. “La Hollandaise c. 1906,” on the Tate website March 2007 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

11. Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p. 131, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 377.
12. Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p. 277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 263.
13. Baron 2006, no. 348.
14. Baron 2006, no. 354.
15. Honoré de Balzac, Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau, 1838.
16. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 206.
17. Reproduced ibid., no. 240.
18. Baron 2006, no. 235; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.123, p. 158.
19. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 261.
20. Reproduced ibid., no. 265.
21. Wendy Baron, ‘The Process of Invention. Interrelated or Interdependent: Sickert’s Drawings and Paintings of Intimate Figure Subjects’, in Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 2007, p. 35, reproduced fig.13, p. 31; Baron 2006, no. 217.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nuit d'Été' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nuit d’Été
c. 1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 670 × 570 mm
Private collection, courtesy of Offer Waterman, London

 

 

Walter Sickert exhibition guide

Walter Richard Sickert’s approach to art making was distinctive, provocative and influential. He was a master of self-invention and theatricality, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. Spanning his six-decade career, this exhibition uncovers the people, places and events that inspired him. Born in Munich, Germany in 1860, Sickert moved with his family to England when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, introducing him to the work of prominent French and British artists, but Sickert initially pursued a career as an actor. He switched to art in 1882, studying briefly at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, before becoming a pupil of American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert became a central figure of the British artistic avant-garde, as both a painter and a critic.

Sickert created important artistic links between Britain and France, and he spent significant periods of his working life in France. He was a founding member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the more traditional Royal Academy, and the leader of the Camden Town Group of artists who were influenced by post-impressionism.

[Artists associated with the Camden Town Group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles. The group is named after the seedy district of north London where Walter Sickert had lived in the 1890s (and again from 1907). Sickert’s series of Camden Town nudes and his paintings of alienated couples in interiors, such as Ennui, are his outstanding contribution to Camden Town art.]

Sickert’s innovative painting techniques and subject matter always kept him at the forefront of developments in British art. Sickert said: ‘The plastic arts [visual arts] are gross arts, dealing joyously with gross material facts.’ It was Sickert’s embrace of this materiality – both in his handling of paint and in the exploration of the lives of ordinary people and places – that was ground-breaking in his time. These ideas would go on to inspire generations of younger artists, as well as prominent contemporary painters who cite him as an influence.

 

1. Sickert’s Identities

This room brings together self-portraits Sickert produced throughout his career. Looking at the works, we can see the wide range of techniques and source material Sickert used and the varied ways he presented himself publicly. Having trained as an actor, Sickert could skilfully adopt different personas in his self-portraits, depending on his preoccupations at the time. As well as examinations of the inner self, these works can be interpreted as performances of identity. Early self-portraits feature strong lighting which creates an intense, dramatic effect. Later paintings show the established artist in his studio, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He presents himself as an artist, actor, and even as biblical characters. His later portraits are often based on photographs taken by his wife, Thérèse Lessore.

 

2. The Apprenticeship Years: from Whistler to Degas

After a brief spell at the Slade School of Fine Art, Sickert began his artistic career in 1882 at James Abott McNeill Whistler’s studio, as an assistant helping to print etching plates. Sickert’s own etchings at the time were close in style to Whistler’s, often representing urban scenes with a deliberate economy of line. He was also influenced by Whistler’s small oil panels, painted from life.

Displayed in this room are panels by both Sickert and Whistler, depicting shopfronts in Dieppe and London. They show that Dieppe was an important location for Sickert from his earliest days as an artist. We can also see how Sickert adopted Whistler’s tonal approach to painting, which he learned preparing Whistler’s palette before sketching trips.

The later works in this room show a shift in Sickert’s approach. French artist Edgar Degas became his mentor in 1885, inspiring him to plan his compositions with preliminary drawings and to use bolder colours.

 

3. The Music Hall: Artifices of the Stage

Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.

 

4. Beyond Portraiture

Sickert took up portrait painting in the hope of using it to earn a regular income and to raise his profile. However, most of his portraits were not specially commissioned so did not benefit him financially. His sitters, many of them well-known personalities, show the extent of his connections within cultural circles and high society in both England and France. Sickert’s portraits depict a range of characters, such as the emaciated figure of the artist Aubrey Beardsley (1894) and the glamorous singer Elizabeth Swinton (Mrs Swinton 1905-1906).

Sickert’s informal portraits, painted in London and Venice, are perhaps closer to genre paintings than portraits. Rather than showing individuals’ characters and inner lives, Sickert painted more generic figures or ‘types’ of people, in carefully observed interiors. Often, these surroundings are equally as important as the figures in suggesting a narrative and an emotional connection between sitter and setting.

 

5A. The Urban Environment: Venice and Dieppe

In 1899 Sickert wrote: ‘I see my line. Not portraits. Picturesque work.’

Landscape paintings were among Sickert’s most successful works, especially views of Dieppe and Venice for which he found a ready market through his dealers in Paris. Sickert frequently returned to favourite painting locations such as Dieppe (where he lived between 1898 and 1905) and Venice (which he visited regularly from 1895). He repeatedly painted their buildings and streets, developing source material he had sketched on the spot into finished paintings in his studio. He often focused on the facades of two famous buildings: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and the church of St Jacques in Dieppe, where he explored the effect of light on the architecture at different times of day. This approach of looking at the effects of shifting light probably drew inspiration from French impressionist Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series. In Dieppe, Sickert remained interested in the human aspect of the urban scene, often including scenes of everyday life in the foreground of his paintings. Here he was inspired by French artist Camille Pissarro’s views of Dieppe.

 

5B. The Urban Environment: Dieppe, London and Paris

Sickert’s street scenes evolved from small formats that were relatively dark, to bigger paintings that were brighter and more colourful. He was influenced by developments in modern art such as French impressionism, the vivid colours of fauvism, and the bold outlines and symbolism of the Nabis group of French artists. Viewing these works as more commercially attractive, Sickert’s French dealers encouraged this change.

In 1902, Sickert painted a group of large-scale works for Dieppe’s Hôtel de la Plage, as well as capturing the vibrancy of Dieppe street life in other works. He only rarely painted Paris and London views, but these included several atmospheric night scenes, displayed here.

 

6. The Nude

In 1910 Sickert published an article in The New Age titled, ‘The naked and the Nude’. In Sickert’s view, academic ‘Nude’ paintings were so artificial in setting and in form, that they bore little resemblance to the naked human figure.

In the years preceding the text, he had been producing works which challenged such traditions. Inspired by French artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edgar Degas, who aimed to connect the long-established genre of nude painting with modern urban life, Sickert painted urban working-class women in contemporary settings, presenting them as naked rather than as an idealised nude. Sickert was also interested in the aesthetic qualities afforded by painting nudes in interior settings, like the patterns created on flesh by light streaming from a window.

Sickert first exhibited his nudes in Paris in 1905, where they were well-received. But in Britain, critics strongly objected to their subject matter when they were first shown in 1911. A naked woman in a dimly-lit room, with crumpled sheets on an iron bedstead, suggested poverty and prostitution to the British press. By painting realistic female bodies in everyday interiors, Sickert created a major innovation in British paintings of the nude. His work has gone on to influence later British painters, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, in their treatment of the nude. However, in recent years, critics and viewers have asked if Sickert’s paintings objectify women, questioning the power dynamics between model and artist, and within the scenes depicted.

 

The Camden Town Murder Series

From painting a single nude, Sickert soon began to explore different ways of posing two figures in an interior. Works set in Venice and London (seen earlier in this room) depict semi-naked and clothed women in conversation, seated on a bed. Sickert then developed a series of paintings depicting a clothed man and naked woman. He posed his models in the same dingy rooms in Camden Town where he had painted his nudes, using many of the same props such as the iron bedstead. These paintings have become known as the Camden Town Murder series.

The Camden Town Murder was the name given to a real event: the murder of Emily Dimmock in Camden in 1907. The murder attracted huge press attention. Sickert took advantage of the interest and controversy raised by giving some of his paintings titles that allude to the murder. He also reworked them and gave them alternative titles. This allowed the viewer to imagine different narratives and relationships between the figures. Sickert was interested in the emotional connection between the figures in their different configurations, rather than any kind of illustration of Dimmock’s murder. The series has long intrigued audiences because of the ambiguity between title and subject matter. For Sickert, these works furthered his exploration of narrative painting. However, some people are critical of the potential for violence they see within the scenes.

 

Sickert’s Models

Like most artists of his generation, Sickert worked with models, some of whom would become close friends or lovers. More often, the relationship was professional, with the model being paid for their work. We know the identity of some of his models: Augustine Villain in Dieppe, Carolina d’Acqua and La Giuseppina in Venice, Blanche and Adeline in Paris, Hubby and Marie in London. Others are unknown.

 

7. Modern Conversation Pieces

Sickert’s fascination with narrative painting led to him radically reinventing the ‘conversation piece’. These group portraits in informal settings were originally popularised by William Hogarth and other 18th-century British artists. Also drawing on contemporary French paintings of figures in interiors, Sickert created a uniquely British style for the 20th century. Arranging stage sets in his studio, Sickert aimed to depict everyday life in the modern city. He painted figures showing conflicting emotions, appearing to be in tense relationships, heightened by claustrophobic environments. The same subject matter appears in multiple paintings, with alternating combinations of figures and different titles. Sickert leaves the narratives behind such works unfixed and open for us to interpret – he felt their visual content and materiality were more important than written descriptions.

 

8. Transposition: The Final Years

From his initial interest in music halls, Sickert’s fascination with popular culture continued throughout the 1930s. He began to paint on a larger scale and use a brighter colour palette. Scenes from the theatre and stories in the popular press dominated his output. He would use black and white photographs as visual sources, which he translated into vivid colour on the canvas. Sickert was fascinated by how black and white photography’s flattened perspectives and stark tonal contrasts resulted in simplified forms. He retained these elements, creating almost abstract effects in his finished paintings.

Sickert also produced a series of works based on Victorian engravings, which he entitled ‘Echoes’. In contrast, his theatrical scenes were based on photographs taken himself or by his assistants during rehearsals, or on press cuttings. Here, he featured his favourite performers, such as Peggy Ashcroft and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, whom he painted repeatedly. He also used press-cuttings as the source for images of royalty or historic events such as Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1932. Sickert’s use of photography is now recognised as a significant precursor of subsequent developments in art. Pop art’s transposition of found popular images is indebted to Sickert, as is the use of photography as source material by late 20th-century artists, such as Francis Bacon.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Trapeze' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Trapeze
1920
Oil on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Hôtel Royal, Dieppe' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Hôtel Royal, Dieppe
1894
Oil on canvas
Sheffield Museums Trust

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Les Arcades et La Darse' c. 1898

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Les Arcades et La Darse
c. 1898
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 670 mm
Frame: 680 × 790 × 90 mm
Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911 below; at second left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931 below; at third left, Queens Road Station, Bayswater c. 1916 below; at fourth right, Maple Street, London c. 1915-1923 below; at third right, O Nuit d’Amour 1922 below; at second right, Celebrations, Dieppe 1914 below; and at right, Café Suisse, Dieppe 1914 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Rowlandson House – Sunset' 1910-1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Rowlandson House – Sunset
1910-1911
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 502 mm
Frame: 805 × 707 × 67 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Lady Henry Cavendish-Bentinck 1940

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Garden of Love or Lainey's Garden' c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden
c. 1927-1931
Oil on canvas
81.9 x 61.6cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from J. Howard Bliss, 1945

 

 

Sickest met English artist Thérèse Lessore in January 1914, when she was elected to the London Group (a society of artists). They married in Margate on 4 June, 1926 and soon after moved to Brighton. In 1927, Sickert and Lessore return to London and settled at Southey Villa, Quandrant Road, near Essex Road in Islington – the likely location of this painting. Thérèse, or ‘Lainey’ (as Sickert liked to call her) tends to her garden, an intimate space surrounded by London’s urban landscape. The road no longer exists but in its place stands a community centre named after Sickert.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Queens Road Station, Bayswater' c. 1916

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Queens Road Station, Bayswater
c. 1916
Oil on canvas
62.3 x 73cm
The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)
Bequeathed by Roger Eliot Fry, 1935

 

 

Queens Road station (now Bayswater station) was one of the first underground stations in London. This painting shows a view across the tracks to a platform where a man is seated in a recess. The diamond-shaped platform sign was a short-lived prototype of the famous bar and circle design, introduced shortly after Sickert completed the canvas. The name ‘Whiteley’s’ refers to the well-known department store just north of the station. For contemporaries, Whiteley’s was synonymous with the sensational murder of the store’s founder in 1907. Sickert’s arrangement of the station’s signs and advertisements into patterns of form and colour particularly appealed to Roger Fry who bought this painting in 1919 for his London home.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Maple Street, London' c. 1915-1923

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Maple Street, London
c. 1915-1923
Oil on canvas
76.8cm (30.2 in) x 51.1cm (20.1 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Emma Swan Hall, 1998
CC0 1.0

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'O Nuit d'Amour' 1922

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
O Nuit d’Amour
1922
Oil on canvas
90.2 x 69.8cm
Manchester Art Gallery
purchased at Christie’s, 1988

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Celebrations, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Celebrations, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 61cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café Suisse, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café Suisse, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Easter c. 1928 below; at second left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911; at third left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Easter' c. 1928

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Easter
c. 1928
Oil on canvas
© National Museums NI, Ulster Museum Collection

 

 

Despite his association with the Camden Town Group of artists, who took their subjects from the streets of the London district, Sickert rarely depicted the streets of London itself. Two examples displayed here are Maple Street, which depicts a street in the Fitzrovia area, and Easter, which depicts Dawson Brothers, a linen-drapers’ shop on City Road close to Old Street tube station. The shop was in business from the 1940s until the late 20th century. Sickest has painted the almost deserted street at night, illuminated by a window display of Easter bonnets.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; at third right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below; and at right, Easter c. 1928 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; and at right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Bathers, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Bathers, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
131.4 x 104.5cm
Walker Art Gallery, purchased 1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery
Purchased from the Lefevre Galleries, 1935

 

 

In this work Sickert depicts a statue of Dieppe’s celebrated hero Admiral Abraham Duquesne in the Place Nationale by foreshortening and silhouetting of the statue against the sky which gives it a dramatic presence.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Fair at Night' c. 1902-1903

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Fair at Night
c. 1902-1903
Oil on canvas
129.5 x 97.2cm
Rochdale Art Gallery

 

 

The Fair at Night is an early example of Sickert’s use of especially vibrant colour, more prominent in his later work. The muted background is enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets. Sickert uses broad, sweeping brushstrokes to create a dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe
c. 1890
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 603 × 730 mm
Frame: 830 × 955 × 108 mm
Tate
Presented by Miss Sylvia Gosse 1917

 

 

In the 1890s Sickert spent most of his summers at the French port of Dieppe, and from 1896 to 1905 he lived there permanently. At that time it was popular with British artists as well as being a fashionable holiday resort for English people as indicated by a barber’s sign in English on the right. The Café des Tribunaux was at a focal point of the town, where two roads converge, and was frequented by British visitors. Both French realist and Impressionist tendencies are present in the painting.

Tate Gallery label, November 2016

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; at second left, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below; at second right, The Lion of St Mark c. 1895-1896 below; and at right, The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe 1902 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Lion of St Mark' c. 1895-1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Lion of St Mark
c. 1895-1896
Oil on canvas
89.8 x 90.2cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum

 

 

Sickert fills the whole painting with the Lion of St Mark set against one side of the Doge’s Palace behind. Most of the painting is in shadow and the perspective flattened with just a small section of the Doge’s Palace in strong sunlight.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; and at second right, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of San Marco, Venice' 1896-1897

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of San Marco, Venice
1896-1897
Oil on canvas
90 x 120cm
National Trust, Coleton Fishacre

 

 

Venice occupies an important position in the development of Sickert’s development as an artist. He first visited the Italian city in 1894 in his mid-thirties, then made subsequent trips to paint there in 1895-1896, 1900, 1901, 1903-1904 and 1905. He called it ‘the loveliest city in the world’.

In 1895 Sickert had visited an exhibition of Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral and they impressed him so much that in Venice he too took a cathedral, San Marco, and executed a series of paintings of it from the same position.

His San Marco facade series differed however in that whilst for Monet everything was on the changing effects of light on the facade, Sickert focussed on the architectural forms. He captured all the details on carefully gridded preparatory drawings, transferred these to each painting and then added a dominant light and colour effect from one time during the day.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'St Mark's, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)' 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
St Mark’s, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)
1896
Oil on canvas
90.8 x 120 cm
Tate

 

 

The skies are rendered in a uniform colour, and the gold from the four mosaics and crosses contrasts markedly with the sombre, shadowed plaza in front of the cathedral, where incidental figures are not at first noticed walking by.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Horses of St Mark's, Venice' 1901-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice
c. 1901-1906
Oil on canvas
53 x 44cm
Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

 

 

The Horses of St Mark’s are a set of Byzantine bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing). Whilst they give the painting its title, they were of secondary importance for Sickert, and he was much more interested in the arch above them and the gold decoration under different light.

 

 

 

Five Things to Know about Walter Sickert

 

1. He initially trained as an actor

Born in Munich to an artist father, he moved to England at eight years old. Before taking up a career as a painter, Walter Sickert’s focus was becoming an actor, having been described as ‘stage-struck’ from an early age. He appeared in a number of productions from Henry VII and The Lady of Lyons to Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When he decided to become an artist, his fascination with theatrical subjects continued throughout his career in both paintings and drawings. From his love of music halls to staging various setups for his paintings, Sickert also adopted a variety of personas over the years to continually reinvent himself including the role of biblical characters such as Lazarus when making self-portraits.

 

2. He attempted things no artist had tried before

Innovative and radical with both his painting techniques and approach to subject matter, he led key avant-garde groups of artists in the early 20th century, from the London Impressionists to the Camden Town Group. He pushed boundaries with his frequently provocative work by crafting his nude paintings, for example, in domestic, everyday settings, determined to capture society as he saw it at the time.

Later, he would take inspiration for his painting based on news photographs and popular culture. This included images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Leslie Banks and Edith Evans in the production of The Taming of the Shrew – he was also the first person to paint a screened film. Sickert was extremely interested in the popular press and used stories in newspapers to create narratives in his paintings. This included celebrities from King Edward VIII to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and Ira Aldridge. This exciting approach to photography saw him known as a precursor to Pop Art.

 

3. Sickert was not Jack the Ripper

Sickert was fascinated by the popular press and sensational stories including Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. Because of this, and his realistic paintings of everyday life, he has emerged in recent years as one of several suspects related to the case.

There is no evidence to suggest that Sickert was involved in the murders despite the promotion of a theory by American crime writer Patricia Cornwell. The identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined and there is no evidence to link Sickert to the murders.

In recent years, paper analysis has suggested links between paper used by Sickert for personal correspondence and paper used in some of the hoax letters sent to the police and press claiming to be from Jack the Ripper. The most that can be said is that if Sickert did write some of these hoax letters it was consistent with his propensity to play with different identities and follow sensational stories in the popular press.

The Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain does not consider this topic, however an essay in the exhibition catalogue investigates the evidence of the letters.

 

4. He has notable artistic links to France

His work was particularly important for links between Britain and France. He spent a great deal of his working life in France and had a long history of exhibiting in both London and Paris. He also has a significant connection to Dieppe, having lived there for a time – it was an important location for Sickert, particularly in the early days of his career, painting the location frequently when he was an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s art studio. During his time in France, he also became friends with Edgar Degas who influenced Sickert’s practice and choice of subject matter.

In Britain, he was a founder member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the Royal Academy. He also inspired groups of younger artists interested in the development of post-impressionist ideas, such as Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, and others who formed the Camden Town Group.

 

5. He helped shape modern British Art as we know it

Sickert began his career in 1882 as an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s studio, assisting initially with printing etching plates of urban environments and cities. Degas was another great influence in his artistic life, but early on, he began to establish himself as his own artist. The rest is history: Sickert went on to revolutionise the traditional genres of painting thanks to his fascination with alternating narratives – this helped change the course of British art. Artists who came after Sickert, from Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye were all influenced by his work.

In his final years, he reinvented himself professionally and artistically. From his career beginnings as an actor to apprentice, painter, teacher and critic, he remains a celebrated artist whose progressive ideas in painting make him as relevant and influential today as he was in his own time.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Off to the Pub' 1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Off to the Pub
1911
Oil paint on canvas
508 x 406 mm

 

 

This painting shows the figure of a man in the act of leaving a tawdry mustard and brown interior, presumably for the pub, as given in the title. A woman seen in profile seated stoically appears to stare vacantly after him, and wears the flat straw hat of the costermonger, signifying her stereotypically grim urban working class experience. At the time, Sickert was engaged in capturing pairs of figures arranged variously within domestic settings to produce emotional or psychological tension, as in the melodramatic crisis portrayed here, which culminated a few years later in Ennui c. 1914 [below]

Text from the Tate website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Ennui' c. 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Ennui
c. 1914
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1524 × 1124 mm
Frame: 1741 × 1340 × 110 mm
Tate
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1924

 

 

The title of this painting means ‘boredom’ in French. Sickert suggests the strained relationship between the figures by their lack of communication. Despite being close together, the man and woman face in opposite directions, staring off into space. They appear almost trapped in their surroundings. The furnishings reinforce the theme, in particular the bell jar containing stuffed birds, suggesting a suffocating environment. Sickert’s works give us no moral or narrative certainty. He leaves it up to us to interpret the image.

Gallery label, August 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Support: 762 × 311 mm
Frame: 1010 × 553 × 61 mm
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

It is thought that this painting shows the artist Aubrey Beardsley walking through Hampstead Church graveyard. He had been attending the unveiling of a memorial to the Romantic poet John Keats. At this time Beardsley was also living with tuberculosis, the disease which had killed Keats. Though elegantly dressed, Beardsley’s figure appears emaciated. The subdued background adds to the poignancy of the image; Beardsley died four years later. The painting was published in the journal Yellow Book when Beardsley was art editor.

Tate Gallery label, November 2021

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'George Moore' 1890-1891

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
George Moore
1890-1891
Oil on canvas
Tate

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mrs Swinton' c. 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mrs Swinton
c. 1905-1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 762 × 635 mm
Frame: 903 × 775 × 65 mm
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Victor Lecourt' 1922-1924

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Victor Lecourt
1922-1924
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 813 × 605 mm
Frame: 995 × 788 × 77 mm
Manchester Art Gallery
George Beatson Blair bequest, 1941

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Baccarat' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Baccarat
1920
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 552 × 457 mm
Frame: 700 × 620 × 80 mm
Private collection c/o Grant Ford Limited

 

 

Sickert and Photography

Rebecca Daniels on how Walter Sickert deftly combined art history and photography in his paintings

While lecturing at the Thanet School of Art in November 1934, Walter Sickert observed that the artist ‘Carpaccio used to put in the background of his compositions exact copies of the architecture that was current in his day, such things as one sees nowadays in such papers as the Mirror and the Sketch‘. This was part of an impassioned plea that the art of the past was still very relevant to the present. A fortnight later Sickert sourced a photograph of his ‘adored’ Peggy Ashcroft, the formidable British actress, from the pages of The Radio Times. It shows Ashcroft on holiday, standing on the Accademia Bridge in Venice, a month before her wedding to the theatre director Theodore Kominsarjevsky.

Sickert’s sharp eye perceived that this casual ‘holiday snap’ had strong affinities with the compositions of Venetian Renaissance art. The actress, captured in profile and leaning against a ledge, is reminiscent of Bellini and the background alludes to Carpaccio. Yet the colours and technique Sickert then deployed in his painting Variation on Peggy 1934-1935 [below] are uncompromisingly modern. The vibrant but limited palette seems to refer to colours used in the four-colour printing process as seen in an advertisement on the back of the same edition of The Radio Times (16 November 1934). Sickert commented, in April 1933, that colour reproduction was ‘perpetually improving’. Variation on Peggy is an example of his deliberately unnerving juxtaposition between past and present.

The painter pioneered the use of photographs by artists, and had been campaigning since the 1890s that this secret practice should be exposed. He daringly advertised his own use of photographs in his art criticism and in inscriptions on the canvas itself. However, he was adamant that they were only a preliminary aid, the starting point in the creative process to which the artist must impose his own stamp of originality. He compared this process with acting: ‘We have to do with the subject something similar to what is done by an actor with a role in the theatre.’

Sickert had been an actor, and in 1880 had trod the boards at Sadler’s Wells. During the 1930s he became involved with the theatre again, donating the proceeds of the sale of his The Raising of Lazarus c. 1929-1932 [below] to the struggling venue. He also befriended several leading contemporary actors and actresses, John Gielgud (whose father he had known), Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies (the subject of his magisterial Miss Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932 [below]) and Ashcroft. His plea to art students found resonance with issues affecting contemporary theatre, which was actively trying to modernise the presentation of classic plays, particularly Shakespeare. While theatre companies sought to achieve this through changing Shakespeare’s language, Sickert focused on presenting paintings of the theatre, often of Shakespearean subjects, which had been obviously sourced from photographs, either from newspapers or taken for the artist by press photographers who would attend matinees with him.

This desire to combine aspects of the past and present, photography and colour seems very relevant to contemporary art practice. For example, Clare Woods has used Sickert’s Juliet and Her Nurse 1935-1936, as well as the shocking contemporary press photograph of Davinia Turrell holding a burns mask to her face after she was caught in the 7/7 London bombings, as sources for her painting Silent Suzan 2014. Woods’s powerful work is just the sort of juxtaposition that Sickert was encouraging artists to explore.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on Peggy' 1934-1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on Peggy
1934-1935
Oil paint on canvas
578 × 718 mm
Frame: 807 × 941 × 96 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Dame Peggy Ashcroft 1992

 

 

Sickert had used photographs as source material since the 1890s, but it was not until the 1930s that their use became a routine part of his practice. The image for Variation on Peggy [above] was taken from a black and white photograph of Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991), the classical actress, on holiday in Venice, which was published in the Radio Times. She is seen against the parapet wall of the Accademia Bridge with the Grand Canal behind, and the domes of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute visible above her head.

The loose handling of paint is typical of Sickert’s late paintings. Pigment is brushed in roughly with little attention to the minutiae of naturalistic detail, even in sections that would traditionally warrant such attention such as the sitter’s face, and in many areas patches of canvas show through the lattice of coloured marks. In the lower half the squaring-up lines used to facilitate the transfer of the photographic image onto the canvas are clearly visible. Reference to the mechanical procedure of picture making belies the sense of immediacy suggested by the carefree application of paint.

Even in the context of the lightened palette of Sickert’s late work, the colours in Variation on Peggy are exceptional both in their tone and their eccentricity. Subtle modulations of pale chalky blue in the sky continue down through parts of the church and surrounding buildings to the canal. The blue expanse of water is interspersed with touches of green representing boats and piers, and with large passages of green and pink suggesting the reflections and shadows of buildings. The details of the buildings themselves are shown in pink, green and dark brown, and rendered in the same cursory manner as the rest of the painting. The figure of Ashcroft is modelled in various shades of green: the pale green of her dress blends with the warmer green of her face and neck, and the rich, deep green of her hair. Her profile is highlighted by the contrast between the blue water and the green of her face and further accentuated by the dark outline of her forehead, nose, lips and chin. By contrast, the right side of the figure blends more harmoniously with its predominantly pink and green background.

Though the theatre had been an important subject matter in Sickert’s work since the late 1880s, it was only in the mid 1920s that he began to paint large scale portraits of leading actors and actresses on and off the stage. Ashcroft’s performance next to Paul Robeson in Ellen Van Volkenburg’s 1930 production of Othello had brought the actress to prominence. Variation on Peggy is one of at least fifteen paintings by Sickert of her.

Toby Treves. “Walter Richard Sickert: Variation on Peggy,” on the Tate website May 2000 [Online] Cited 10/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France' 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France
1932
Oil paint on canvas
Tate
Presented by the National Art Collections Fund, the Contemporary Art Society and Frank C. Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1932

 

 

This large, elongated canvas is dominated by the radiant figure of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, waiting offstage during a rehearsal of the play Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). She wears the Elizabethan costume, pearls and emerald ring of the character of Queen Isabella of France. The inscription ‘La Louve’, or ‘she-wolf’, alludes to Isabella’s ruthlessness. Although Ffrangcon-Davies and Sickert were close friends at the time it was painted, she did not sit for the portrait, which was made from a photograph taken by a professional photographer named Bertram Park.

 

Sickert loved the theatre and became a friend of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies after writing her a fan letter in 1932. This painting shows her in the role of Queen Isabella of France in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play Edward II. The name ‘La Louve’ means ‘she-wolf’, a hostile title given to the historical Isabella. The production had taken place nine years earlier, and Sickert painted this picture from a small photograph, taken by Bertram Park, of the actress on stage. The painting was an immediate success and the Daily Mail described it as ‘Mr Sickert’s Best Work’.

Tate Gallery label, September 2016

 

Subject and style

Inevitably, Sickert also conceived a desire to paint a more memorable individual portrait of Ffrangcon-Davies, but, as he explained to her, he had no desire for her to pose or sit for him.7 Instead, he selected an image from her own album of publicity photographs, showing her as Queen Isabella of France in the play Edward II (published 1594) by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Ffrangcon-Davies had performed the role in a Phoenix Society production at the Regent and Court Theatres in 1923. The photograph was apparently a quick snapshot taken during a dress rehearsal while the actress was waiting in the wings for her stage entrance. The whereabouts of the photograph is now unknown (probably because Sickert never returned it to Ffrangcon-Davies after borrowing it from her album). The photographer, Bertram Park, was the husband of Yvonne Gregory, also a photographer who took many official shots of the actress. Sickert scaled up the image onto a large canvas (8 x 3 feet) and added the inscription ‘Bertram Park phot.’, acknowledging the source for the image. He also added the title ‘La Louve’ (The She-Wolf) along the bottom of the painting, referring to the ruthless character of Queen Isabella who, with her lover Roger Mortimer, deposed and murdered her husband, Edward II, with both perpetrators described in the play as wolves.

In 1923, when she took on the role of Isabella, Ffrangcon-Davies was still making a name for herself. She had achieved a breakthrough with her highly acclaimed performance in The Immortal Hour (1922), but was still primarily known as a singer and was eager to extend her acting repertoire. Isabella in Edward II was one of her first major classical roles, but reviews of her performance were mixed. The critic in the Outlook wrote: ‘Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was not at all good as Queen Isabella: her realistic sobs and groans were hopelessly out of the proper key.’8 However, the New Statesman was more impressed:

One figure stands out, that of the Queen. I have never seen Miss Ffrangcon-Davies act before and was immensely impressed by the dignity of her performance. She has excellent gesture, a musical voice, and she looked most graceful and finished. But better by far than this she spoke intelligently, as if she realised the meaning and the measure of the words she was speaking. While she was acting one could remember how supremely Marlowe could write.9

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The Saturday Review reported that ‘The queen of Miss Ffrangcon-Davies was a beautifully firm piece of work and as good to look upon as a portrait of the Flemish school’.10 Nine years later Sickert evidently also relished the aesthetic quality of the picture of the actress in her elaborate Elizabethan costume, complete with pearl necklaces and a large emerald ring. Ffrangcon-Davies recalled that the dress, which was designed by Grace Lovat-Fraser, was made of gold lamé and that her hair had also been painted gold to match the outfit. The full skirt was flat at the front and back but wide at the sides. Sickert had not seen the play himself and the source photograph upon which the painting was based was a black and white image, so he was required to imagine his own colour scheme for the dress.

Sickert’s painting technique was well established during the 1930s and evidence of the various stages of his regimen is clearly visible in Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France. The artist first transferred the image from the photograph to the canvas using the squaring-up method. The drawn grid of squares can still clearly be seen within the skirt and body of the dress. The composition was then sketched in using a pink underlayer, in varying degrees of depth. A darker tone corresponds to areas of shadow while a lighter tone picks out the highlights. In many areas patches of the underdrawing have been left as an integral part of the final painting. Sickert usually left this first layer to dry for at least a month,11 and it was possibly during this stage in the process that Ffrangcon-Davies dined with the Sickerts at their home on 21 July 1932. She recorded in her diary that the painting was well underway and that Sickert had apparently greatly alarmed his wife, Thérèse Lessore, by returning from the studio with the exhortation, ‘Thank God Gwen’s dry and on the operating table’.12 The lettering appears to have been added shortly after this since a letter of 25 July informed Ffrangcon-Davies that the artist had spent ‘a lovely day with the she-wolf. Got the lettering exactly the right place and right size.’13 In the later stages of the process Sickert added the local colouring for the figure over the bone-dry underpainting. Broadly applied white/cream brushstrokes constitute the texture of the dress while brown and black add definition to the face and torso. Finally, small touches of red and green were added to give the figure some depth and minimal warmth. Sickert was working on the canvas right up until it went on display at the Wilson Galleries in early September 1932. When the critic R.R. Tatlock first saw it at the exhibition he reported that the pigment was still wet.14

 

Reception

Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was well received by the critics who raved over both its technical qualities and its success as a portrait. Frank Rutter described the limited colour palette as a ‘tour-de-force’, and declared that Sickert had ‘never shown his wonderful mastery of light and shade more completely and brilliantly than in this painting’.15 Similarly Tatlock, writing in the Daily Telegraph, considered it the ‘high water mark’ of the artist’s achievements, ‘better aesthetically than anything achieved or likely to be achieved by any other living artist’.16 He praised the rich painterly quality of the brushwork and the dynamism of the composition. The Times was equally expansive:

To have given the portrait so genuinely monumental a composition, without the slightest sign that it is a miniature greatly enlarged in size, is a most remarkable achievement. It is this grand and statuesque quality in the figure which strikes one immediately … The handling of the paint is all that we expect of Mr Sickert, and perhaps even more free and brilliant than usual. The colour is equally beautiful, the prevailing brown-pink being quickened with one single note of bright green, and the dull slate black background – perhaps the photograph suggested this – making an unexpected, almost eccentric, but still a successful contrast with the play of colour on the dress.17

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Although Sickert had depicted a performance from nine years before, there was a sense of topicality about the work that contributed to its popularity. Ffrangcon-Davies was a contemporary star of the stage, most famous for her performance as Juliet to John Gielgud’s Romeo. At the same time as her portrait was on display in St James’s she was appearing at the Wyndham’s Theatre in nearby Charing Cross in her latest play, The Way to the Stars. The Morning Post attributed at least some of the painting’s success to the genius of the subject rather than the artist: ‘The poise of the figure has a Tintoretto like monumentality, but the face and eyes suggest the latent powers of expression that make her supreme on the stage.’18 The Western Morning News saw Sickert as resurrecting the grand tradition of portraits of London thespians made famous by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).19 The large scale of the picture, the dramatic full-length figure, and the focus on a dominant, scheming literary female character may also have a visual precedent in John Singer Sargent’s painting, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 (Tate N02053, fig.2). Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies marked a revival in Sickert’s interest in the stage and over the next ten years he painted a number of actors and actresses in character including Edith Evans, Fabia Drake, Paul Robeson, Leslie Banks, Sir Nigel Playfair, Johnstone Forbes-Robertson, Valerie Tudor and William Fox and Peggy Ashcroft (see Tate T06601).

 

Photographic source

Amidst the glowing reviews in the newspapers, the Manchester Evening News also published an interview with Ffrangcon-Davies concerning the circumstances of the picture.20 In the article, entitled ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For’, the actress emphasised that the painting was entirely based upon a photographic source. Sickert’s own ready confirmation of the fact was also quoted in a typically teasing statement:

I have made it quite clear by painting ‘Bertram Park Photo’ in a corner of the canvas that the portrait was copied from a photograph. The photographer has done all the ground work for me. He has caught the life and movement of the pose. So he deserves his name in a prominent position. Painting a portrait is like catching a butterfly. I have painted portraits with my subject before me. But it is seldom absolutely satisfactory. Your sitter, particularly if she is a lady, dislikes keeping regular appointments. She is often late. The artist resents his time being wasted. When his subject does arrive she finds it difficult to sit perfectly still for long intervals. Her irritation shows in her face. That expression very often steals into the portrait. I find a document from which to copy a satisfactory way of painting a portrait.21

.
Comparison of the painting with the original photograph (as reproduced in Vogue, December 1923)22 demonstrates Sickert’s ability to reproduce faithfully a found image and yet also subtly alter the visual emphasis of that image to achieve a new aesthetic effect. In this instance he reduced the background space surrounding the actress, particularly on the right-hand side where the pictorial edge truncates the figure of the queen. She therefore appears to dominate utterly the space she inhabits. The instantaneous, innocuous quality of Park’s photograph of Ffrangcon-Davies self-consciously waiting in the wings is replaced in the painting by a sense of dramatic monumentality and suspense. The actress seems to occupy the character of the scheming queen wholly and her white face and immense dark eyes appear skull-like and ghostly against the darkness of the background. She looks imperious and dangerous, yet beautiful and awe-inspiring. As the art historian David Peters Corbett has pointed out, Sickert’s transformation of the candid neutrality of the photograph into the high tension and sagacity of the painting asserts unequivocal artistic control over an image, which he freely admits was not of his making.23 Sickert’s carefully inserted painted allusion to the role of the photographer Bertram Park is ultimately offset, and even countermanded, by the visibility of his own lines of squaring-up within the figure of the actress. Some of these lines even appear to have been strengthened over the top of the preceding painted layers thereby making transparent the artist’s creative ownership of the image.

Sickert’s use of images derived from photographs has drawn both condemnation and praise from contemporary and subsequent commentators. Despite the critical success of Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France other paintings based upon photographic sources attracted frequent criticism (see, for example, Miss Earhart’s Arrival, Tate T03360). The appropriation of found images and the imitative element of the process represented, to some, evidence of Sickert’s declining creative faculties. Even those whom Sickert counted as friends struggled with the artistic credibility of his later works. The painter William Rothenstein, for example, wrote in his memoirs that ‘the enlargements he [Sickert] makes from photographs of his sitters, of actors and actresses especially, are scarcely worthy of him or of his subjects’.24 He complained: ‘Occasionally one is asked to paint a posthumous portrait from photographs: to me, always an unattractive task. But Sickert delights in painting posthumous presentments of the living!’25 D.S. MacColl similarly thought that Sickert’s photograph-based paintings ought ‘not to be remembered against him’.26 In more recent years, however, the practice has been reinterpreted as a highly original artistic approach, prophetic of the celebrated photograph-based works by such painters as Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.27

Sickert once said that photography was like alcohol: it should only be used by someone who could do without it.28 His paintings based upon photographic sources are neither artistically inferior nor inherently original. Many artists used photographs as a visual aid to painting, although few admitted to it as openly and readily as Sickert. Throughout his career he struggled with the quest for technical solutions to the problems of making art. He believed he had found the answer to painting by around 1915 and continued to try and persuade artists to follow his scheme throughout his life. In 1934 he lectured to a group of art students: ‘I am going to tell you in about ten minutes of a quarter of hour how to paint and what painting consists of … You simply use materials which you can buy anywhere and if you know how to use them and use them properly it is very simple.’29 However, he continued to struggle with capturing the essence of a subject in line, through drawing, for the rest of his life. His use of photographs as a compositional and structural basis for painting was a natural progression from his previous reliance on drawings, or as the art historian Rebecca Daniels has described it, a modernisation of the process of sketching.30 He believed that the snapshot photograph captured the same essence of a sitter’s appearance and character as the rapid sketching technique he had endorsed until then. He summarised his opinions in an article of 1929:

A photograph is the most precious document obtainable by a sculptor, a painter, or a draughtsman. Canaletto based his work on tracings made with the camera lucida. Turner’s studio was crammed with negatives. Moreau-Néalton’s biography of Millet contains documentary evidence that Millet found photographs of use. Degas took photographs. Lenbach photographed his sitters. To forbid the artist the use of available documents of which the photograph is the most valuable, is to deny to a historian the study of contemporary shorthand reports. The facts remain at the disposition of the artist. I am for the lean ‘war’ horse.31

.
The precedent for using photographs in this way is apparent in the work of Sickert’s most revered mentor, Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Sickert was certainly familiar with one portrait by Degas based upon a photograph, Princess Pauline de Metternich c. 1865 (National Gallery, London, formerly Tate Gallery),32 which he praised in a catalogue essay of March 1923.33 Degas’s portrait of the wife of the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Paris is partially based on a photograph by Eugène Disderi used by the subject as a ‘carte-de-visite’.34 In a manner that recalls Sickert’s treatment of the photograph of Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Degas cropped the image (removing the figure of the princess’s husband) and imposed upon the composition an imagined colour scheme and decorative background. The artist has also acknowledged the photographic source of the portrait, deliberately blurring and softening the features of the sitter so that they appear indistinct, as though she has moved during the exposure. Both Sickert and Degas exploited photography as a modern form of image-making but, rather than being slavish imitators of the characteristics of the art, they used it solely as a useful tool at their disposal. They selected or ‘teased’ elements from photographs but always sought to reassert their own artistic dominance over the original source. Sickert compared this process to an actor reinterpreting a role in the theatre.35

Extract from Nicola Moorby. “Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932,” on the Tate website September 2005 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

7. Tate Archive TAV 564A.
8. Outlook, 24 November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
9. Ralph Wright, New Statesman, November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
10. Saturday Review, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
11. ‘Walter Sickert’s Class: Method of Instruction’, Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1930.
12. Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, unpublished diary entry, 7 April 1932, photocopy in Tate Catalogue file.
13. Walter Sickert, transcription of letter to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 25 July 1932, Tate Archive.
14. R.R. Tatlock, ‘Sickert’s New Masterpiece’, Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1932.
15. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
16. Tatlock, 6 September 1932.
17. ‘A Portrait by Mr Sickert’, Times, 7 September 1932.
18. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
19. Western Morning News, 7 September 1932.
20. ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For – Miss Ffrangcon-Davies’, Manchester Evening News, 6 September 1932.
21. Ibid.
22. Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig. 215, p. 310.
23. David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, p. 60.
24. William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922-1938, London 1939, p. 276.
25. Ibid., p. 16.
26. Quoted in Richard Shone, Sickert in the Tate, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1989, p. 13.
27. Richard Morphet, ‘The Modernity of Late Sickert’, Studio International, vol. 190, July-August 1975, p. 35.
28. Cicely Hey, Walter Sickert 1860-1942: Sketch for a Portrait, 10 February 1961, BBC Home Service, LP 26655, Side 1.
29. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Engraving, Etching, Etc.’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 23 November 1934, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p. 661.
30. Rebecca Daniels, ‘Richard Sickert: The Art of Photography’, in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, p. 27.
31. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Artists and the Camera’, Times, 15 August 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 591.
32. Reproduced at National Gallery, London, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hilaire-germain-edgar-degas-princess-pauline-de-metternich, accessed March 2011.
33. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘The Sculptor of Movement’, in Exhibition of the Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London 1923, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 457.
34. Reproduced in David Bomford, Art in the Making: Degas, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2004, p. 62.
35. Walter Sickert, ‘Squaring up a Drawing’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 2 November 1934, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 637.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor) 1930 below; at second right, The Servant of Abraham 1929 below; and at right Lazarus Breaks His Fast 1927 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)' 1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)
1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 762 mm
Frame: 824 × 950 × 100 mm
Tate
Purchased 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast' c. 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast
c. 1927
Oil paint on canvas
152 x 121cm
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Purchased from the artist, 1960

 

 

This work is the first of a series of three self-portraits with biblical titles that Sickert painted in the late 1920s. Made soon after he had recovered from a serious illness, the title refers to a man who Christ raised from the dead. The composition was based on a photograph of Sickert take by his wife Thérèse Lessore. Imitating the tonal contrast of the photograph allowed Sickert to abandon line, constructing the painting from loosely painted patches of colour. Sickert was also interested in how photography could freeze a dramatic moment.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Servant of Abraham' 1929

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Servant of Abraham
1929
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
Frame: 815 × 717 × 78 mm
Tate. Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1959

 

 

In contrast to the unkempt and vulnerable figure in Lazarus Breaks his Fast, displayed nearby, here Sickert presents himself as a powerful biblical figure. Although the picture is relatively small, the artist’s head is larger than life-size. He appears to loom over the viewer, evoking a forceful presence. The dramatic framing can be compared to modern form of image-making such as photography and cinematography. Sicker imagined the work as part of a larger wall-painting stating, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’.

Wall text

 

This is, in fact, a self-portrait. Sickert painted himself many times, and during the 1920s he sometimes depicted himself as a biblical figure. He made this at the age of sixty-nine, working from a squared-up photograph which had been taken by his third wife, Thérèse Lessore. He intended that it should look like part of a larger wall-painting and observed, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’. Abraham was an Old Testament patriarch, but it is not known why Sickert chose this title, or why he felt it applicable to himself.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert was an English painter and printmaker who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century.

Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who often favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. His work also included portraits of well-known personalities and images derived from press photographs. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Sickert was born in Munich, Germany on 31 May 1860, the eldest son of Oswald Sickert, a Danish-German artist, and his wife, Eleanor Louisa Henry, who was an illegitimate daughter of the British astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. In 1868, following the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, the family settled in Britain, where Oswald’s work had been recommended by Freiherrin Rebecca von Kreusser to Ralph Nicholson Wornum, who was Keeper of the National Gallery at the time. The family obtained British nationality. The young Sickert was sent to University College School from 1870 to 1871, before transferring to King’s College School, where he studied until the age of 18. Though he was the son and grandson of painters, he first sought a career as an actor; he appeared in small parts in Sir Henry Irving’s company, before taking up the study of art in 1881. After less than a year’s attendance at the Slade School, Sickert left to become a pupil and etching assistant to James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert’s earliest paintings were small tonal studies painted alla prima from nature after Whistler’s example.

In 1883, he travelled to Paris and met Edgar Degas, whose use of pictorial space and emphasis on drawing would have a powerful effect on Sickert’s work. He developed a personal version of Impressionism, favouring sombre colouration. Following Degas’ advice, Sickert painted in the studio, working from drawings and memory as an escape from “the tyranny of nature”. In 1888 Sickert joined the New English Art Club, a group of French-influenced realist artists. Sickert’s first major works, dating from the late 1880s, were portrayals of scenes in London music halls. One of the two paintings he exhibited at the NEAC in April 1888, Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s, which portrayed a well known music hall singer of the era, incited controversy “more heated than any other surrounding an English painting in the late 19th century”. Sickert’s rendering was denounced as ugly and vulgar, and his choice of subject matter was deplored as too tawdry for art, as female performers were popularly viewed as morally akin to prostitutes. The painting announced what would be Sickert’s recurring interest in sexually provocative themes.

In the late 1880s, Sickert spent much of his time in France, especially in Dieppe, which he first visited in mid-1885, and where his mistress, and possibly his illegitimate son, lived. During this period Sickert began writing art criticism for various publications. Between 1894 and 1904 Sickert made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography; it was during his last painting trip in 1903-1904 that, forced indoors by inclement weather, he developed a distinctive approach to the multiple figure tableau that he further explored on his return to Britain. The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, with whom Sickert may have had sex.

Sickert’s fascination with urban culture accounted for his acquisition of studios in working-class sections of London, first in Cumberland Market in the 1890s, then in Camden Town in 1905. The latter location provided an event that would secure Sickert’s prominence in the realist movement in Britain. On 11 September 1907, Emily Dimmock, a prostitute cheating on her partner, was murdered in her home at Agar Grove (then St Paul’s Road), Camden. After sexual intercourse the man had slit her throat open while she was asleep, then left in the morning. The Camden Town murder became an ongoing source of prurient sensationalism in the press. For several years Sickert had already been painting lugubrious female nudes on beds, and continued to do so, deliberately challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” – giving four of them, which included a male figure, the title, The Camden Town Murder, and causing a controversy which ensured attention for his work. These paintings do not show violence, however, but a sad thoughtfulness, explained by the fact that three of them were originally exhibited with completely different titles, one more appropriately being What Shall We Do for the Rent?, and the first in the series, Summer Afternoon.

While the painterly handling of the works inspired comparison to Impressionism, and the emotional tone suggested a narrative more akin to genre painting, specifically Degas’s Interior, the documentary realism of the Camden Town paintings was without precedent in British art. These and other works were painted in heavy impasto and narrow tonal range. Sickert’s best known work, Ennui (c. 1913), reveals his interest in Victorian narrative genres. The composition, which exists in at least five painted versions and was also made into an etching, depicts a couple in a dingy interior gazing abstractedly into empty space, as though they can no longer communicate with each other.

Anonymous text on the Arts Dot website Nd [Online] Cited 08/05/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, High-Steppers about 1938-1939 below; and at right, Variation on ‘Othello’ c. 1933-1934 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'High-Steppers' about 1938-1939

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
High-Steppers
About 1938-1939
Oil on canvas
132.00 x 122.50cm
Framed: 149.50 x 139.50 x 10.00cm
National Galleries of Scotland
Purchased 1979

 

 

High-Steppers is probably Sickert’s last painting to show a theatre scene, one of his favourite subjects. It is his third painting of the Plaza Tiller Girls, a dance troupe who performed at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, entertaining the audience before the start of the film. Although Sickert was a frequent visitor to the theatre, he never made any drawings or paintings there; instead, he preferred to work from press photographs. All three paintings of the Plaza Tiller Girls were based on a photograph which appeared in The Evening News in 1927.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on 'Othello'' c. 1933-1934

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on ‘Othello’
c. 1933-1934
Oil paint on canvas
1100 × 730 mm
Bristol Culture: Bristol Museums & Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing in the bottom photograph at top left, King George V and his Racing Manager – A Conversation Piece at Aintree 1927 below; at second left, Edward VIII 1936 below; and at right, The Seducer c. 1929-1930 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree' 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree
1927
Oil on canvas
The Royal Collection Trust

 

 

This portrait was closely based on a press photograph published in ‘The News Chronicle’ in March 1927, showing King George V, in profile, alongside Major Fetherstonhaugh, his racing manager from 1922-31. The King attended Aintree on 25 March, without Queen Mary and his Diary recalls: ‘Rained in sheets all the morning. Cleared up before the first race. There were large crowds. The Grand National was won by Mrs Partridges’s “Sprig”…, there were 37 runners, a very good race and no one hurt at all.’

Sickert blatantly acknowledged the source of the painting in the inscription on the upper left: ‘By Courtesy of Topical Press… 11 + 12 Red Lion / Court E.C.4. / Aintree 25.3.27’, and he allowed the painting and the photograph to be reproduced side by side. This act brought into focus the continuing debate on originality in art and the relationship between painting and photography. In a lecture in 1934 he recalled that ‘… neither knew they were being photographed. In those circumstances you get much more information… the expression that Major Featherstonaugh’s face was so very interesting’.

Sickert was to paint the King again in 1935, on this occasion with Queen Mary on a Jubilee drive (private collection). This portrait was also painted from a press photograph and it similarly captures the immediacy of a sudden, fleeting moment. It is interesting to recall that in 1883 Sickert met Edgar Degas, who too used photographs throughout his working life often wishing to create an intimate view, painted as if ‘through a keyhole’.

The painting was offered to Glasgow City Art Gallery in 1931, but deemed insufficiently majestic. It was also rejected by the Tate, the Victoria Art Galley, Bath and by George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 before its eventual purchase by Queen Elizabeth in 1951.

Text from the Google Arts & Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Edward VIII' 1936

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Edward VIII
1936
Oil on canvas

 

 

The last gallery astounds, even today, with its photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s. Alexander Gavin Henderson, 2nd Lord Faringdon descends a staircase, all in white, like a bleached Luc Tuymans. Edward G Robinson and Joan Blondell leer out of the limelight of a gangster movie poster in an amazing work of proto pop. Most haunting of all is a portrait of Edward VIII emerging from a limousine in 1936. It shows Sickert as the most incisive – and premonitory – of history painters. The king’s legs are spindly, his sideways gaze shifty and he holds a busby to himself like an impotent shield. He is fading out already, eyes and face growing spectral in Sickert’s pale paint. Two months later, he will abdicate.

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Seducer' c. 1929-1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Seducer
c. 1929-1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 425 × 625 mm
Frame: 589 × 766 × 70 mm
Tate
Purchased 1989

 

 

The Seducer is an example of Sickert’s late work which he called ‘echoes’. These were subject pictures and portraits based on and ‘echoing’ black and white 19th century prints and illustrations. Sickert’s father had been an illustrator and the ‘echoes’ are replete with a sense of nostalgia for the Victorian era. This example is based on an original by Sir John Gilbert (1819-1897) whose romantic and melodramatic narratives Sickert admired.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Pimlico' c. 1937

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Pimlico
c. 1937
Oil on canvas
Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery & Museums Collections)
Purchased in 1938 with income from the Macdonald Bequest

 

 

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22
May
22

Exhibition: ‘André Kertész: Postcards from Paris’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 29th May, 2022

Curator: Elizabeth Siegel, curator of photography and media at the Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Grands Boulevards' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Grands Boulevards
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper, 1926-1935
Image: 3 1/16 × 45/16″ (7.8 × 10.9cm)
Sheet: 3 5/16 × 5 1/16″ (8.4 × 12.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

The next two postings focus on the creation and distribution of carte postale – in this posting fine art photographs taken by an artist experimenting with photography at the beginning of his career, intimate images cropped and printed for carte postale (postcard) photographic paper and distributed in very limited numbers to friends and family; and in the next posting social documentary photographs taken by mainly anonymous artists, printed in larger numbers by publishers for public consumption.

Arriving in Paris in 1925 Kertész used to his camera to document his feelings towards his new city, a city that was to become his spiritual home no matter where he lived. I have the same feeling towards Paris. One day I will live there, wander the streets and continue to take photographs of this beloved city. “Kertész used his camera to document his explorations of Paris in his first days there. During long walks, he photographed activity along the Seine, overlooked scenes behind buildings, and the tents at local fairgrounds. With few expectations to satisfy beyond his own ambition, the artist was free to explore and record, refining his eye as he composed his images in the camera and as he reviewed and printed them as cartes postales.”

In this posting there are only four external scenes of Paris including two crisp Modernist photographs of the same homeless man with street posters; an enigmatic image of the Eiffel Tower; and the highlight for me, an atmospheric high angle view of a fairground. Other highlights in the posting include Kertész’s vibrant, expressive Satiric Dancer (1927, below); his modern, simple and unpretentious Fork (1928, below) and Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses (1926, below) so clearly and crisply observed; and the most famous of all his photographs, the serene and beautiful Chez Mondrian (1926, below) in which Kertész said “Everything was there before me.” It only required his awareness and recognition of the scene to tell the story. My particular favourite is Kertész’s seeming homage to Eugène Atget, Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy’s Cousin) (1927, below) … an Atget interior and perspicacious portrait combined.

The key is to see things clearly and intelligently in order to express the story you want to tell with feeling and empathy. As Kertész tells it, to have enough technique to then forget about it. “I believe you should be a perfect technician in order to express yourself as you wish and then you can forget about the technique.” He insightfully observes, “You have beautiful calligraphy, but it’s up to you what you write with it.”

It’s about the story you tell and not (just) about technique and an empty beauty (as with much contemporary photography).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the High Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1925, photographer André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) arrived in Paris with little more than a camera and meager savings. Over the next three years, the young artist carved out a photographic practice that allowed him to move among the realms of amateur and professional, photojournalist and avant-garde artist, diarist and documentarian. By the end of 1928, he had achieved widespread recognition, emerging as a major figure in modern art photography alongside such figures as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott. During this three-year period, he chose to print most of his photographs on carte postale, or postcard paper. Although this choice may have initially been born of economy and convenience, he turned the popular format toward artistic ends, rigorously composing new images in the darkroom and making a new kind of photographic object.

Postcards from Paris is the first exhibition to bring together Kertész’s rare carte postale prints. These now-iconic works offer new insight into his early, experimental years and reveal the importance of Paris as a vibrant meeting ground for international artists, who drew inspiration from each other to create new, modern ways of seeing and representing the world.

 

 

Kertész was an expert printer and a precise technician, even as he strove for spontaneity and naturalism in his imagery and, with the exception of cropping, was apparently averse to manipulations such as experimental darkroom techniques and photomontage.8 He was opinionated on the subject of how his photographs should be made: in 1923, still struggling for recognition, he refused to reprint in bromoil an image he had submitted to a competition, which cost him the silver medal. He later said of the episode, “I have always known that photography can only be photography.”9 In a letter from 1926 Jenö complimented his work, calling it technically impeccable, but Kertész also believed that technical perfection by itself “overshines the boot,” explaining, “You have beautiful calligraphy, but it’s up to you what you write with it.”10 In an interview near the end of his life Kertész said, “Technique is only the minimum in photography. It’s what one must start with. I believe you should be a perfect technician in order to express yourself as you wish and then you can forget about the technique.”11

.
Nancy Reinhold. “Exhibition in a Pocket: The Cartes Postales of André Kertész,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg (eds.,). Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Self-Portrait' July 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Self-Portrait
July 1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Estate of André Kertész, courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

 

Kertész sent this print to his brother Jenő with the inscription, “To my younger brother, Bandi.” (“Bandi” was André’s family nickname.) Although the photographer frequently mailed his carte postale prints to family and friends, he sent them in envelopes rather than affixing a stamp to the back and posting them directly in the manner the manufacturers intended. Moreover, rather than signing them on the back, as one would a postcard, he almost always signed them on the front, like a finished work of art. The paper’s utilitarian format nonetheless may have inspired him to circulate his pictures through the mail and use them to communicate with his family.

 

A Portrait of the Artist

With this self-portrait, André Kertész declared himself a cosmopolitan artist. He appears surrounded by objects that refer to both his birthplace of Hungary and his new home in Paris.

Kertész printed this image on postcard paper and sent it home to his family. Rather than writing on the back of the card and adding postage, he mailed it safely in an envelope as proof that he was surviving and even thriving in his new city and still resolved to become a photographer.

 

From Immigrant to Insider

Kertész arrived in Paris in fall 1925 with little other than his cameras and some savings. His first years were filled with experimentation as he learned from a community of other expatriate artists. Kertész hung a portrait of his mother on the door to his small apartment [see below]. Made at a professional studio in Budapest, it was printed on carte postale paper, the same kind he used to make his self-portrait and most of his work in Paris.

 

A Memento of Home

Kertész arranged himself at a table covered by a cloth from Hungary embroidered by his mother with the initials K.A., for Kertész Andor, his name before he adopted the French “André.”

Kertész’s apartment also featured a life mask, a plaster cast of his own face, which he kept as he moved from Hungary to Paris and later to New York. It appears as an alter ego – a strategy of doubling that he used often in his photographs.

Kertész presented himself as cultured and educated, with an overflowing bookshelf behind him and an open book before him on the table. Although he spoke three languages, Kertész later said, “My English is bad. My French is bad. Photography is my only language.”

Hanging prominently above the artist’s head is his take on an iconic Parisian landmark, the Eiffel Tower [see below]. One of the earliest photographs he made in Paris, this image – enlarged for the wall – symbolises his new home.

 

Romer Erzs Studio (Hungarian) Budapest. 'Kertesz's Mother' Before 1925

 

Romer Erzs Studio (Hungarian) Budapest
Kertesz’s Mother
Before 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Eiffel Tower' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Among Kertész’s earliest Parisian photographs is this view of the Eiffel Tower [see on the wall behind the artist in his Self-Portrait 1927, above]. Taken from a window in the apartment of a Hungarian architect, the moody image is less a typical tourist snapshot than a specific vision of the landmark captured from the perspective of a local. In a self-portrait, an enlarged version of this work can be seen hanging prominently on the wall of the photographer’s apartment – a decorating choice emblematic, perhaps, of his immersion in his adopted city. Kertész used his camera to document his explorations of Paris in his first days there. During long walks, he photographed activity along the Seine, overlooked scenes behind buildings, and the tents at local fairgrounds. With few expectations to satisfy beyond his own ambition, the artist was free to explore and record, refining his eye as he composed his images in the camera and as he reviewed and printed them as cartes postales. He maintained decades after he left the city, “Paris became my home and it still is. Paris accepted me as an artist just as it accepted any artist, painter, or sculptor. I was understood there.”

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'József Csáky' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
József Csáky
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.2cm
Card: 12.9 × 7.5cm

 

 

Joseph Csaky (also written Josef Csàky, Csáky József, József Csáky and Joseph Alexandre Czaky) (18 March 1888 – 1 May 1971) was a Hungarian avant-garde artist, sculptor, and graphic artist, best known for his early participation in the Cubist movement as a sculptor. Csaky was one of the first sculptors in Paris to apply the principles of pictorial Cubism to his art. A pioneer of modern sculpture, Csaky is among the most important sculptors of the early 20th century. He was an active member of the Section d’Or group between 1911 and 1914, and closely associated with Crystal Cubism, Purism, De Stijl, Abstract art, and Art Deco throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Csaky fought alongside French soldiers during World War I and in 1922 became a naturalised French citizen. He was a founding member of l’Union des Artistes modernes (UAM) in 1929. During World War II, Csaky joined forces with the French underground movement (la Résistance) in Valençay. In the late 1920s, he collaborated with some other artists in designing furniture and other decorative pieces, including elements of the Studio House of the fashion designer Jacques Doucet.

After 1928, Csaky moved away from Cubism into a more figurative or representational style for nearly thirty years. He exhibited internationally across Europe, but some of his pioneering artistic innovation was forgotten. His work today is primarily held by French and Hungarian institutions, as well as museums, galleries and private collections both in France and abroad. …

 

Legacy

Joseph Csaky contributed substantially to the development of modern sculpture, both as a pioneer in applying Cubism to sculpture, and as a leading figure in nonrepresentational art of the 1920s.

After fighting alongside the French underground movement against the Nazis during World War II, Csaky faced many difficulties: health issues, family problems and a lack of work-related commissions. Unlike many of his friends, whose names became widely known, Csaky was appreciated by fewer people (but they notably included art collectors, art historians and museum curators).

“Today, however,” writes Edith Balas, “in a postmodernist atmosphere, those aspects of his art that made Csáky unacceptable to the more advanced modernists are readily accepted as valid and interesting. The time has come to give Csáky his rightful place in the ranks of the avant-garde, based on an analysis of his artistic innovations and accomplishments.”

Text and more information on the artist can be found on his Wikipedia entry

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Pierre Mac Orlan' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Pierre Mac Orlan
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Unmarked recto; inscribed verso, on paper, along left edge, sideways, in graphite: “6” [one arrow extending from the left and the right side, running along the left edge]”; verso, upper centre, sideways, in graphite: “Pierre McOxlan / 1927.”; verso, lower centre, sideways, in graphite: “142”; printed verso, along right edge, sideways, in black ink: “CARTE POSTALE / Correspondance Adresse”
Image: 10.8 × 7.8cm
Card: 11.1 × 18.1cm

 

 

Pierre Mac Orlan, sometimes written MacOrlan (born Pierre Dumarchey, February 26, 1882 – June 27, 1970), was a French novelist and songwriter. His novel Quai des Brumes was the source for Marcel Carné’s 1938 film of the same name, starring Jean Gabin. He was also a prolific writer of chansons, many of which were recorded and popularized by French singers such as Juliette Gréco, Monique Morelli, Catherine Sauvage, and Germaine Montero.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

In 1925, photographer André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) arrived in Paris with little more than a camera and meager savings. Over the next three years, the young artist carved out a photographic practice that allowed him to move among the realms of amateur and professional, photojournalist and avant-garde artist, diarist and documentarian. This spring, the High Museum of Art will present “André Kertész: Postcards from Paris” (Feb. 18-May 29, 2022), the first exhibition to focus exclusively on his rare cartes postales, precise prints on inexpensive yet lush postcard paper.

Organised by the Art Institute of Chicago, “Postcards from Paris” brings together more than 100 of these prints from collections across Europe and North America and offers insight into Kertész’s early experimental years, during which he produced some of his now-iconic images and charted a new path for modern photography. The exhibition will also reveal the importance of Paris as a vibrant meeting ground for international artists, who drew inspiration from each other to create fresh ways of seeing and representing the world.

“We are delighted for the opportunity to share these rare prints by one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking photographers of the 20th century,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.

“Kertész was one of the most consequential photographers of the 20th century, and this exhibition focuses on his most innovative and prolific period,” said Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “He was a pioneer who mastered intimate portraiture, dynamic street photography and precise interior studies, moving effortlessly between his personal and commercial work. These distinctive carte postale prints are some of the finest examples of his iconic early photographs.”

Kertész moved to Paris due to the limited opportunities in his native Hungary, and by the end of 1928, he was contributing regularly to magazines and exhibiting his work internationally alongside well-known artists such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott. The three years between his arrival in Paris and his emergence as a major figure in modern art photography marked a period of dedicated experimentation and exploration for Kertész. During that time, he produced most of his prints on carte postale paper, turning this popular format toward artistic ends, rigorously composing images in the darkroom and making a new kind of photographic object. “Postcards from Paris” pays careful attention to the works as both images and objects, emphasising their experimental composition and daringly cropped formats.

The exhibition includes vintage prints of images that would come to define Kertész’s career, including “Chez Mondrian” (1926), an exquisitely composed scene of Piet Mondrian’s studio emphasising the painter’s restrained geometry; “Satiric Dancer” (1927), uniting photography with dance and sculpture by fellow Hungarians in Paris; and “Fork” (1928), declaring that photography could transform even the humblest of objects into art.

“Postcards from Paris” is curated by Elizabeth Siegel, curator of photography and media at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition will be presented in the Lucinda Weil Bunnen Photography Galleries on the Lower Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.

 

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition catalogue unites all of André Kertész’s known carte postale prints, including portraits, views of Paris, careful studio scenes and exquisitely simple still lifes. Essays shed new light on the artist’s most acclaimed images; themes of materiality, exile and communication; his illustrious and bohemian social circle; and the changing identity of art photography. The book’s design reflects the spirit of 1920s Paris while underscoring the modernity of the catalogue’s more than 250 illustrated works. It was selected as Photography Catalogue of the Year for Aperture’s 2021 PhotoBook Awards Shortlist.

“André Kertész: Postcards from Paris” is organised by the Art Institute of Chicago.

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Quartet' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Quartet
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Kertész often radically revised the images he captured with the camera. He produced all of his cartes postales as contact prints by placing the negative in contact with the postcard paper during exposure instead of using an enlarger. He made this photograph of Feri Roth’s string quartet by masking the negative (blocking out certain sections with tape) before printing to highlight just a small section of a publicity picture the group had commissioned. By cropping out the players’ heads to concentrate on their angled bows and the lines of the music stand, Kertész abstracted the idea of a quartet to hands, instruments, and a white rectangle of sheet music. He left a dramatic ratio of the postcard paper blank to emphasise the image’s unusual placement at the top of the support. He then trimmed the card to custom proportions, as he did with nearly all his cartes postales, underlining the interplay between image and paper as an indispensable component of the artwork. Kertész saw these bold interventions as a way to distinguish his art from his budding commercial career: the whole image was for them, he later said in an interview; the cropped print was for him.

 

A Close Look at André Kertész’s Quartet

André Kertész’s image of the Feri Roth string quartet is tiny, but it packs a wallop.

Four musicians gather to play, with four sets of hands holding their bows at different angles. Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) zooms in to concentrate on the lines of the bows and the music stand, resulting in a dynamic composition that abstracts the idea of a quartet to hands, instruments, and a white rectangle of sheet music.

Printed on intimately scaled carte postale (postcard) paper, this print could have been held in the hand, sent home to his family in Hungary, or passed along to a widening circle of international artist friends at the café tables Kertész frequented in 1920s Paris. In its subject and in its form, Quartet represents a key moment in the photographer’s career as he carved out a new, modern photographic practice in his adopted city.

The photograph began as a commission for his friend Feri Roth, a Hungarian musician whose renowned string quartet toured in Europe throughout the 1920s and was in need of publicity photographs. Kertész stood on a chair or stool to get an elevated position (a favourite technique) and made a wide picture that showed the complete scene.

The camera Kertész typically used produced negatives about the same size as the carte postale paper, which allowed for easy contact printing – meaning he placed the negative in direct contact with the postcard paper during exposure instead of using an enlarger. For this image, however, Kertész employed a larger camera, which allowed him to make some dramatic changes in the darkroom as he made his contact print: he cropped out all of the players’ heads and tilted the image slightly to orient it around the geometrical forms of the music stand. The photographer saw these interventions in the negative as a way to distinguish his art from his budding commercial career – the whole image was for them, he later said in an interview; the cropped print was for him.

Kertész’s approach in this print was typical of his work in his early years in Paris. He often made creative revisions in the darkroom, where he could produce a more refined composition by cropping out selected portions of the image. As was his habit with nearly all his carte postale prints, he precisely trimmed the card to custom proportions and carefully signed it on the front. Here, however, Kertész took an even more dramatic step in the print: he left most of the expanse of the postcard paper as empty white space, further emphasising the image’s cropping and its unusual placement at the top of the card. All of these actions elevated these humble materials of mass culture and underlined the interplay between image and paper as an indispensable component of the artwork.

Kertész also adapted this method of making a new composition out of an older one to his camera technique. Take, for example, his portrait of his friend Paul Arma (Imre Weisshaus), a Hungarian composer and pianist. Kertész first made a more traditional seated portrait showing the upper half of the musician’s body, his hands against the chair back holding his distinctive glasses. In another picture from the same sitting, he zoomed in on that gesture in an abstracted portrayal. Here, selected elements stand in for the whole subject, distilling Arma’s persona down to his instrument-playing hands and his particular vision.

Beyond demonstrating Kertész’s experimental approach, Quartet also tracks his expanding network, as he began connecting first to Hungarian – and soon to international – artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. He had built a community of creatives in his native Budapest, and in Paris he linked up with a group of Hungarian expatriates that included painter Lajos Tihanyi, sculptors Joseph (József) Csáky and Étienne (István) Beöthy, experimental puppeteer Géza Blattner, and dancer Magda Förstner, among others – all of whom he made carte postale portaits of. As his French improved and his circle widened, Kertész got to know and came to photograph French writer Pierre Mac Orlan, the poets Tristan Tzara (French-Romanian) and Paul Dermée (Belgian), Swedish painter Gundvor Berg, Spanish ceramicist Josep Llorens Artigas, Russian painter and gallery owner Evsa Model, and especially the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, whose spare painting and studio left a deep impression on the photographer.

Quartet is one of over one hundred rare carte postale prints brought together for the first time in the exhibition André Kertész: Postcards from Paris. This exhibition takes a focused look at a three-year period in the artist’s career – his first years in Paris – when he explored new compositions and techniques and printed most of his work in the intimate carte postale format. As a reminder of Kertész’s daring experimentalism in photography, the importance of understanding his works as objects as much as images, and proof of his widening network and expansive artistic influences, this small photograph has a big impact.

~ Elizabeth Siegel, curator, Photography and Media

Elizabeth Siegel, “A Close Look at André Kertész’s Quartet,” on the Art Institute of Chicago website October 26, 2021 [Online] Cited 17/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Arma' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Arma
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 7.9 × 7.9cm
Card: 13.5 × 8.1cm

 

 

Paul Arma (Hungarian: Arma Pál, aka Amrusz Pál; né Weisshaus Imre; 22 November 1905, in Budapest – 28 November 1987, in Paris) was a Hungarian-French pianist, composer, and ethnomusicologist.

Arma studied under Béla Bartók from 1920 to 1924 at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, after which time he toured Europe and America giving concerts and piano recitals. Béla Bartók influenced Arma in his love for folksong and collection. He left Hungary in 1930, eventually settling in Paris in 1933, where he became the piano soloist with Radio Paris. His music is generally characterised by modernist tendencies, although his varied output includes folk song arrangements, film music, popular and patriotic songs, in addition to solo, chamber, orchestral and electronic music.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Paul Arma is a crucial figure in the history of French Resistance music, both because of the songs he composed and because of his tireless efforts to preserve the enormous body of music created during the war. Arma saw the songs of the Resistance not simply as sources of hope and acts of wartime courage, but also as important artifacts to be saved as symbols of France’s national spirit. Born in 1905 as Imre Weisshaus, the Hungarian pianist, conductor, and composer Paul Arma studied with Bartok at the Academy of Franz-Liszt in Budapest. He worked as a conductor of orchestras and choirs in Berlin and Lepizig until 1933, before being arrested by the SS in Leipzig for spying against the Germans and for his connections with the intellectual and artistic avant-garde. Though deemed not enough of a threat to be imprisoned, Arma was subject to a mock execution by the SS prior to being released. He subsequently fled to Paris, where he worked until 1939 as a pianist for Radio-Paris and wrote songs supporting the Republican Spanish for the International Brigades such as ‘Madrid’ and ‘No pasaran’ (Do not pass). After the arrival of the Nazis, Arma composed ‘Les chants du silence’ (Songs of silence) on texts of Vercors, Eluard, Romain Rolland and Paul Claudel among others, writing: ‘During a period when, in France, freedom had to take place in prescribed silence … I sang silence in order to blackmail life.’ During the war, Arma secretly collected over 1,800 French songs, transcribing the melodies together with his wife. After the war, he sent out an appeal on radio and in national newspapers in France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, the Ukraine, Armenia and Bulgaria, seeking additional songs for his collection. The response was enormous: listeners sent in over 1,300 songs. From October to December 1945, Arma broadcast a number of these songs on the radio as part of a series entitled La Résistance qui chante (Resistance singing). …

From 1954-1984 Arma conducted research into electromagnetic music, as well as making 81 sculptures out of wood and metal on the theme of music, called Musiques sculptées (sculpted music). In the 1980s he became a French national, was awarded the S.A.C.E.M. Enesco prize, and was made a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, an Officer of the National Order of Arts and Letters, and an Officer of the National Order of Merit. He died in 1987 and his wife donated his music collection to the Musée Régionale de la Résistance et de la Déportation de Thionville (Regional Museum of the Resistance and Deportation at Thionville).

Daisy Fancourt. “Paul Arma,” on the Music and the Holocaust website Nd [Online] Cited 11/04/2021

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Arma's Hands, Paris' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Arma’s Hands, Paris
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 24 × 18 cm
Mount: 36.8 × 27.3cm
Art Institute of Chicago
Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Lajos Tihanyi' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Lajos Tihanyi
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.9cm
Card: 11.2 × 8.1cm

 

 

Lajos Tihanyi (29 October 1885 – 11 June 1938) was a Hungarian painter and lithographer who achieved international renown working outside his country, primarily in Paris, France. After emigrating in 1919, he never returned to Hungary, even on a visit.

Born in Budapest, as a young man, Tihanyi was part of the “Neoimpressionists” or “Neos”, and later the influential avant-garde group of painters called The Eight (A Nyolcak), founded in 1909 in Hungary. They were experimenting with styles of Post-Impressionism and rejected the naturalism of the Nagybánya artists’ colony. Their work is considered highly influential in establishing modernism in Hungary to 1918, when the First World War and revolution overtook the country.

After the fall of the Hungarian Democratic Republic in 1919, Tihanyi left and lived briefly in Vienna. He moved on to Berlin for a few years, where he connected with many Hungarian émigré writers and artists, such as Gyorgy Bölöni and the future Brassaï. By 1924 Tihanyi and numerous other artists moved to Paris, where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

In Paris, Tihanyi gradually shifted to more abstract styles in his work. His paintings and lithographs are held by the Hungarian National Gallery, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City, among other institutions, and by private collectors. With the centenary of The Eight’s first exhibition, Tihanyi has been featured in five exhibitions since 2004, including ones held in 2010 and 2012 in Hungary and Austria, and another in 2012 devoted to a solo retrospective of his work.

Text and more information on the artist can be found on his Wikipedia entry

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Satiric Dancer' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Satiric Dancer
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

“Do something with the spirit of the studio corner,” Kertész told his subject before he took this picture. He captured Hungarian dancer Magda Förstner in sculptor Etienne Beöthy’s studio, her contorted pose playfully mimicking the angular form of the work next to the sofa, Beöthy’s Direct Action. “She just made a movement. I took only two photographs. No need to shoot a hundred rolls like people do today. People in motion are wonderful to photograph. It means catching the right moment – the moment when something changes into something else.” Although Satiric Dancer, as it eventually came to be known, was not published or exhibited much during Kertész’s Paris years, it later became one of the artist’s most recognised images. Linking dance, sculpture, and photography, it evokes the ethos of sexual freedom and experimental self-expression that some women embraced in the 1920s as they shed patriarchal constraints, an ethos in which Kertész was steeped during his early years in Paris. It also reflects Förstner’s creative ends: she upends the traditional relationship between male artist and female model, such that Beöthy’s sculpture serves as inspiration for her own artistry.

 

Etienne Beöthy (Hungarian, 1897-1961)

István (Etienne) Beöthy (1897 – 27 November 1961) was a Hungarian sculptor and architect who mainly lived and worked in France.

After the First World War, in which he served, Beöthy began to study architecture in Budapest. There he was in contact with the avant-garde poet and painter Lajos Kassák, who familiarized him with the tenets of constructivism and suprematism. His earliest work as an architectural draftsman, from 1919, displayed constructivist tendencies. In that same year he would write the manifesto “Section d’Or” (The Golden Section), which did not appear in Paris until 1939.

From 1920 to 1924, Beöthy studied under János Vaszary at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. He travelled on a grant to Vienna, from where he undertook other travels to western Europe, until in 1925 he settled in Paris. Beöthy found a place in the Parisian art scene and took part in the exhibit of the Salon des Indépendants. In 1927 he married Anna Steiner, and in 1928 he had his first one-man show in the Galerie Sacre-Printemps.

In 1931, Beöthy co-founded the group Abstraction-Creation with sculptor Georges Vantongerloo and painter Auguste Herbin, and was its vice-president for a time. From 1931 to 1939, he had an exclusive contract with Leonce Rosenberg’s Galerie de l’Effort Moderne, and in 1938 he organised an exhibit in Budapest, which was the first exposure of his nonfigurative art to the public in Hungary. Like Herbin, he later explored parallels to other forms of self-expression, particularly music. His sculptures after this point develop along the lines of harmonies, which interact with each other like musical notes.

During World War II Beöthy designed fliers for the French Resistance. In 1946, he became a founding member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, and the Galerie Maeght in Paris showed a retrospective of his work. In 1951, he became a founding member of another group, “Espace”, and founded the journal “Formes et Vie”, with Fernand Léger and Le Corbusier. For a short time between 1952 and 1953, he gave lectures on colour and proportion to architecture classes at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in his subsequent years he worked together with architects and was otherwise part of the planning for the expansion of Le Havre.

Beöthy died in Paris on 27 November 1961.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Magda Förstner' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Magda Förstner (Standing in the doorway of Etienne Béothy’s studio)
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper, c. 1929
Image: 3 9/16 × 1 1/2″ (9.1 × 3.8cm)
Sheet: 5 1/8 × 1 11/16″ (13 × 4.3cm)
Mount: 14 1/2 × 10 11/16″ (36.8 × 27.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

In the year he met Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), André Kertész became acquainted with an aspiring [Hungarian] actress and cabaret singer named Magda Förstner (dates unknown). She was also his model for the celebrated Satiric Dancer.

Text from the Getty Museum website

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy's Cousin)' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy’s Cousin)
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 3  7/8 × 3 1/16″ (9.8 × 7.8 cm)
Sheet: 4 15/16 × 3 3/16″ (12.6 × 8.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Fork' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Fork
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, purchased 1978

 

 

On the edge of a dinner plate, Kertész posed an ordinary fork. Its shadow traces a faithful double across the tabletop and bends into slanted stripes along the plate’s lip. Clean and modern, simple and unpretentious, this photograph asserted that art could be made with the humblest objects so long as they were carefully observed. Fork, as it came to be known, was an instant icon, featured in numerous international exhibitions and publications almost immediately after its making. One review of an exhibition in which it appeared read, “Among the still lives, one must above all admire a fork by André Kertész – yes, simply a fork – which is almost moving in its purity and its tones. It is perhaps the only image that gave me the impression of a true work of art.” Fork may have been the last image Kertész printed in the carte postale format. In 1928 he acquired a smaller, lightweight 35mm Leica camera, which gave him increased mobility and spontaneity but produced negatives too small for contact printing. He began photographing regularly for Parisian magazines, allowing them to crop and sequence works according to their own preferences. And his work was included in more international exhibitions, for which larger prints were more desirable. Nevertheless, he must have appreciated seeing Fork at carte postale scale, since he printed it at this size on different papers around the same time.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Legs' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Legs
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

On the back of this print, which he mailed home to Hungary, Kertész wrote, “Interesting coincidence. They claim it as being surrealistic, if it suits people better.” He recognised that the erotically suggestive image of overturned mannequin legs in a sculptor’s studio would have appealed to artists like photographer Man Ray, with whom he was becoming associated in exhibitions and criticism. But Kertész never embraced a fantastical approach to his work, maintaining firmly, “I am not a Surrealist. I am absolutely a realist.”

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Gundvor Berg in Her Studio' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Gundvor Berg in Her Studio
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.2cm
Card: 13.6 × 7.6cm

 

 

Andre Kertész: Postcards from Paris; Edited by Elizabeth Siegel; With essays by Sarah Kennel, Sylvie Penichon, and Elizabeth Siegel. Distributed for the Art Institute of Chicago

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Jean Sliwinsky, Herwarth Walden, and Friends at Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Jean Sliwinsky, Herwarth Walden, and Friends at Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

At the Exhibition

Kertész took this photograph at his first major exhibition, held only a year and a half after he arrived in Paris. The 30 photographs showcased the fruits of an extraordinarily productive period. The works on the wall in the background of this photograph focused on still lifes and scenes of Paris.

This group of Kertész friends includes the gallery’s owner, Jan Sliwinsky [seated centre in the photograph]. Sliwinsky, who was a composer and pianist, was instrumental in connecting expatriate artists, musicians, and writers.

Included in the exhibition was a print of Chez Mondrian [bottom row second from right in the above photo; and below], which later became one of Kertész’s most well known images. Made in painter Piet Mondrian’s meticulously arranged studio, it is a study in contrasts: rectangles against curves, smooth surfaces against rough, and light against shadow.

Kertész made more carte postale prints of this image than of any other from the period, evidence, perhaps, of how much he esteemed it at the time of its making.

The works on view reflect Kertész’s engagement with the Parisian avant-garde and his widening circle of international artist friends.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
10.8 × 7.9 cm (image/paper); 37.2 × 27.4 cm (mount)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, gift of Jean and Julien Levy

 

 

Kertész’s encounter with Dutch painter Piet Mondrian marked a turning point in the photographer’s early Paris years. The geometry and balance of Mondrian’s painting – which extended to his rigorously controlled studio space – had a lasting effect on Kertész’s work. He captured the painter and his living space several times, culminating in this image showing the door of Mondrian’s studio opening onto a common stairway. Kertész later recalled the moment he took the picture: “I could see how the inside and the outside contrasted and yet balanced each other, aided by the natural light and shadows… Everything was there before me.” Kertész made at least eight prints of Chez Mondrian in the carte postale format, more than of any other image, an indication of how much the artist appreciated it at the time of its making. The photograph eventually became one of his most famous and enduring works. Kertész trimmed and mounted the version here in the style he favoured for exhibition.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Sculptures' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Sculptures
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Patricia Corkin Kennedy and John Kennedy in honour of Jane Corkin

 

 

This photograph captures a tabletop sculpture by the German handcraft artist Hilda Daus. It can be seen third from left in the middle row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Hilda Daus' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Hilda Daus
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Jane Corkin, Toronto

 

 

Hilda Daus was a German handcraft artist; Kertész also made a carte postale print of her delicate tabletop sculptures. He included the image here in his first exhibition in Paris, in 1927 at the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps, where Daus also exhibited.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Dermée' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Dermée
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Belgian poet Paul Dermée was one of the founders of L’Esprit Nouveau, an avant-garde art journal that had ceased publication some years before but which he helped revive for one more issue in 1927. The issue, which debuted one month after Kertész’s exhibition at the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps, placed his photographs among works by an international group of artists active in Paris and elsewhere in Europe. Dermée also penned a poem in honour of the exhibition, which was featured on the invitation.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Wall of Posters' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Wall of Posters
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, The Manfred Heiting Collection

 

 

The exhibition also included Kertész’s scenes of Paris streets, made in a diaristic fashion on exploratory walks through his new city. This photograph [fifth from the left on the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph] demonstrates the artist’s new interest in the geometry of typography as well as his sympathy for the city’s clochards, or vagrants.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Fairground, Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Fairground, Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Private collection, courtesy of Corkin Gallery, Toronto

 

 

Fairgrounds were particularly appealing to the photographer. Visitors could also have carte postale prints made of themselves playing games or posed in whimsical scenes. In this image [see third from left on the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph], Kertész capitalised on an elevated view, something he often explored in his portraits of artists in their studios.

Kertész’s exhibition shared the space with the abstract paintings of Ida Thal, another Hungarian artist. As the photographer absorbed formal lessons from avant-garde painters, sculptors, and designers, his work became more carefully composed.

Kertész’s exhibition drew praise from critics. The Chicago Tribune, reviewing the show, called him “one of the few talented photographers who recognise that their medium possesses the necessary qualifications for being an independent art.”

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) and are gelatin silver prints on carte postale paper.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian's Pipe and Glasses' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

With this photograph [second from left in the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph], Kertész perfected his technique of making a portrait in the absence of the sitter, evoking the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian with only his glasses, pipe, and ashtray. Whereas his images of Mondrian’s studio emphasised the straight lines and right angles of the space, here Kertész highlighted circular elements that allude to human shapes amid a rectilinear environment.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian's Studio' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Studio
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
4 3/16 × 2 5/8″ (10.7 × 6.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
4 5/16 × 3 1/8″ (10.9 × 7.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Géza Blattner' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Géza Blattner
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
3 1/16 × 3 1/4″ (7.7 × 8.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

 

Géza Blattner (Hungarian, 1893-1967)

Hungarian puppeteer, painter/stage designer and director who worked mostly in France. Géza Blattner studied painting in Munich (Germany) with the Hungarian painter Simon Hollósy. He became involved with puppetry during World War I by collaborating on productions of the Budapest City Theatre. To the great dismay of his parents he then dedicated himself fully to puppetry and completed his training with Richard Teschner in Vienna and Paul Brann in Munich.

In Budapest, in 1919, he held his first “secessionist” puppet show for adults entitled Wajang játékok (Wayang Plays), (see Wayang) using flat figures animated by strings to present works by famous Hungarian authors such as Dezső Kosztolányi and Béla Balázs. Between 1919 and 1925, he attempted to recreate fairground shows with Antal Németh (1903-1967), who later became a famous Hungarian theatre personality and an influential advocate of puppetry. Blattner also experimented with new lever-operated puppets (also called keyboard puppets) which he later improved upon after he immigrated to France in 1925.

Géza Blattner settled in Paris where he established the Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) Puppet Theatre. Artists from all over gathered around him: Constantin Detre, Sándor Toth, Marie Vassilieff … Others joined them later: Paul Jeanne, Frédéric O’Brady, Sigismund Walleshausen. The first important public show was in Paris at the 2nd UNIMA Congress in 1929. Up until 1934, Blattner performed experimental, “grotesque” or aesthetic pantomime productions with his puppets, and then later added classic mysteries and a variety of dramatic works.

Géza Blattner was one of the first to break with the traditional style of dialogue and naturalism to create a visual theatre that introduced new values in puppetry performance. He exerted a strong influence in Europe, especially in France and Hungary.

Géza Balogh. “Géza Blattner,” on the World Encyclopaedia of Puppetry Arts website (translated Anne Nguyen) 2013 [Online] Cited 11/04/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris' 1926-1929

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris
1926-1929
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 3 1/8 × 3 7/8″ (7.9 × 9.8cm)
Sheet: 3 5/16 × 5 3/16″ (8.4 × 13.2cm)
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

 

The postcards are beautifully executed and finished works. Mondrian’s Studio (1926; MoMA 1722.2001) is one of several prints made from a single negative, as Kertész refined this now-famous image by cropping it. Most of the prints, such as Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris (1926-1929, above), have been expertly retouched or etched with a sharp tool in order to remove technical flaws in the image, such the dust spots that inevitably occur during printing (fig. 13). Kertész also retouched his negatives to reduce what might be considered flaws in the appearance of his subjects, such as, in Mondrian (fig. 15), the lines around the artist’s mouth (fig. 16). Other prints show slightly more invasive interventions, where various design elements have been reinforced with an unidentified medium that has been so skilfully applied with a brush that it is difficult to see even under magnification (fig. 14). Such subtle alterations have been used by photographers since the invention of the medium.

Nancy Reinhold. “Exhibition in a Pocket: The Cartes Postales of André Kertész,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg (eds.,). Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

 

'André Kertész – Postcards from Paris' book cover

 

André Kertész – Postcards from Paris book cover

 

 

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17
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something’ at the Museum of the City of New York

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 31st December 2022

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928) 'Christmas Shoppers' 1954

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928)
Christmas Shoppers
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Happy Easter to everyone around the world!

I had to have an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday night. Due to complications with low blood pressure and a reaction to the general anaesthetic I nearly didn’t pull through. I turned blue on the operating table, twice, for thirty seconds. Home now but not feeling so well just taking it easy… therefore a short text.

A fabulous exhibition in New York of photographs about New York: working, going, shopping, playing, gathering, loving, gazing, being, reflecting and buildings. Some excellent photographs that I have never seen before which evidence the soul of this imaginative city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

At left: Joseph Maida. Ben with fan 2001

At right: Mitch Epstein. Untitled [New York #3] 1995

 

Installation views of the exhibition Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something at the Museum of the City of New York, showing in the bottom photograph at left, Bruce Cratsley’s Brooklyn Bridge Centennial 1983
Photos: Brad Farwell

 

 

Celebrating the City: Recent Photography Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something highlights a gift that has dramatically advanced the Museum’s already exceptional photography collection. Juxtaposing striking recent images with work by some of the 20th century’s most important photographers, including the Museum’s first images by Robert Frank and William Klein, the exhibition is a moving celebration of the power of photography to capture New York and New Yorkers.

Since the invention of photography, the streets of New York City have lured picture-makers from across the world. Each borough, neighbourhood, and corner offers and opportunity to see something new through the lens, yielding images as varied as the street life itself. New York’s diverse built environment provides a backdrop for the true subject of many photographers: the varied lives of New Yorkers.

The photographers in this exhibition have immortalised this ever-changing urban centre. Each has created a distinctive vision of the city, providing a window into a vast and complex metropolis. The have also made use of the changing technology of photography itself to produce images whose meanings range from apparently objective reflections of reality to highly crafted expression of the artists’ responses to the people and the city around them.

 

Introduction

New York City may always be in flux, but shared activities and experiences connect New Yorkers across time and space. For more than a century, many of the world’s best photographers have used their cameras to capture iconic scenes of New Yorkers in action – from mundane daily routines to special events of gathering and ritual. They have sought out the deeply personal moments that occur within this city of millions and have capture both the “New Yorkiness” of its inhabitants and he ways New York experiences are linked to the larger human condition.

The photographs in this gallery are arranged into themes that capture these quintessential New York moments without consideration to chronology. The images allow us to see a range of photographic styles applied to experiences that are common to so many New Yorkers, while also highlighting the ever-changing state of the city over many decades.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Working

 

Michael Spano. 'Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)' 1994

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)
1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Michael Spano has made New York City the constant subject of his work over a long career, while exploring the possibilities of the medium, from print solarisation to collage. This photograph exemplifies Spano’s keen observational eye and attention to composition, with repeating patterns and visual dichotomy produced through light and shadow. Several other examples of work by this artist are on also on view in this gallery, including photographs from the series “Auto Portraits” and “Splits.”

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947) 'Flag Day' 1917

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947)
Flag Day
1917
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Pizza Delivery' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Pizza Delivery
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York City #21)' 1997

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York City #21)
1997
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Going

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'A Llama in Times Square' 1957

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
A Llama in Times Square
1957
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Inge Morath

 

 

The noted photojournalist Inge Morath made this photograph of a llama in Times Square, easily her most recognisable photograph, for Life magazine in 1952. Although the image looks spontaneous, it was part of a highly planned assignment. The image was published in a one-page story, in the magazine’s humorous “Animals” section, and was entitled “High-paid llama in big city.” The piece featured a menagerie of television animals – including, in addition to the llama, dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a kangaroo, and a miniature bull – living at home with their trainers in a Manhattan brownstone. Morath’s full caption for the image reads, “Linda, the Lama [sic], rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s ABC studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.”

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949) '5th Ave. & the Park' 2005

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
5th Ave. & the Park
2005
From the series Auto Portraits
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Going Slushy Street, Times Square' 1948

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Going Slushy Street, Times Square
1948
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was an American photographer, described as an influential member of the New York school of photography during the 1940s and 1950s. His images are said to represent the best example of this movement.

Born in Baltimore in 1922 and raised in North Carolina, Croner developed an interest in photography while in high school. He honed his skills while serving as an aerial photographer in World War II before settling in New York City in 1947. At the urging of fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives, he enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s class at The New School where he studied with Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lisette Model. During this period he produced many of his most memorable images including “Taxi, New York Night, 1947-1948”, which appears on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times. Another of Croner’s photographs was used on the cover of Luna’s album Penthouse.

Croner also had a successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer – his work was published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He also worked extensively with corporations such as Coca-Cola and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was born in Baltimore, MD. and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the army during World War II, Croner worked as an aerial photographer with the United States Army Air Corps stationed in the South Pacific. In1946, Croner went to New York where he and Bill Helburn, another former Air Corps photographer, used their G.I. Bill aid to open a small photography studio on West 57th street in Manhattan. Shortly after that, Croner enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s photography class at the New School. Perhaps Croner’s best-known work, Taxi – New York Night, 1947-1948, was taken while he was a student in Brodovitch’s legendary “design laboratory”.

In 1948 Edward Steichen, then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chose to include Croner in two exhibitions at the Museum: “In and Out of Focus” and “Four Photographers” which included three other photographers: Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan and Lisette Model. Other exhibitions of Croner’s work followed. As he continued to accept commercial work at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Croner pursued his own photography, producing vigorously experimental, cinematic images of cafeterias, solitary diners and the city after dark.

Interest in Croner’s work was revived with the publication of The New York School, Photographs by Jane Livingston in 1992 which followed the 1985 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. For the cover of the book, Livingston chose a picture by Croner, “New York at Night, 1948” which shows a Manhattan skyline reduced to abstract slashes of white light among black tall buildings against a gun-metal grey sky. This was followed by inclusion in the exhibition “By Night” at The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 1996, the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition “American Century Part II” and in 2005, in the exhibition “At The Crossroads of Time: A Times Square Centennial” at the Axa Gallery in New York, and in “Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959” at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Anonymous text from the Howard Greenberg Gallery website [Online] Cited 11/02/2022

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Home of the Brave, Times Square' late 1940s

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Home of the Brave, Times Square
late 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Street – Design for a Poster' 1903

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Street – Design for a Poster
1903
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was perhaps no more important figure for the advancement of photography’s position in the arts than Alfred Stieglitz. At a time when photography was viewed as a fact-based, scientific craft, Stieglitz had an unerring ambition to prove that the medium was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. This photograph, taken at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, with its moody scene and soft-focused, impressionistic aesthetic, exemplifies the painterly qualities Stieglitz espoused (sometimes described as Pictorialism). In later years, the photographer changed course and embraced “straight” sharp-focused photography as the best representation of the artistic qualities of the medium.

 

 

Shopping

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006) 'Chick's Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY' 1938

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006)
Chick’s Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY
1938
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Walter A. Rosenblum (1919-2006) was an American photographer. He photographed the World War II D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. He was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp.

Rosenblum was a member of the New York Photo League where he was mentored by Paul Strand and Lewis Hine. He became president of the League in 1941. He taught photography at Brooklyn College for 40 years.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936 (detail)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets (detail)
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

A llama in Times Square… fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge… polar bears playing in a pool at the zoo… subways, skylines, shadows, and stolen moments… all these things and more tell the varied story of New York City, captured by the lenses of many of the medium’s greatest photographers. Now, these images will be on view as part of “Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something,” opening February 18th at Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition will feature approximately 100 photographs selected from the more than 1,000 images recently gifted to the Museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the photographic arts.

“Photographs of New York are instantly recognisable and help us celebrate and elevate the many stories of our vibrant city that might otherwise go unnoticed,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of Museum of the City of New York. “As we continue to emerge from the challenges of the COVID pandemic, this magnificent gift from the Joy of Giving Something dramatically advances MCNY’s already stellar 400,000+ image photography collection and gives us an even greater ability to share the stories of our beloved city and its inhabitants.”

“JGS is extremely pleased to donate a substantial group of prints from our collection to the Museum of the City of New York. Most of the work in our donation features New York as subject and it is a great match that the photographs stay in New York to be enjoyed by audiences far and wide,” says Jeffrey Hoone, President of Joy of Giving Something (JGS). “New York continues to be a subject for photographic artists from around the world and JGS is proud to help continue that legacy as we support younger artists through our many different programs. We applaud the Museum for their forward-thinking programs and their commitment to preserving and celebrating New York as a vibrant subject for photographers past, present, and future.”

Devoted to the field of photography, and ever on the search for its very best practitioners, JGS founder Howard Stein never limited himself to a single genre or style. Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, eventually forming one of the most comprehensive collections in private hands, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries. His understanding of the photographic medium and discerning eye for print quality and condition yielded a remarkable collection shared through exhibition loans around the world.

With images ranging from documentary to quirky, architectural to atmospheric, “Celebrating the City” features selections from this transformative donation, which notably includes works by 30+ creators new to the MCNY collection (see list on Page 4). The exhibition presents multiple images from Helen Levitt‘s dynamic and celebrated street photography; Sylvia Plachy‘s playful and eccentric examination of the people, animals, and moments of NYC; and Michael Spano‘s slice-of-life city shots spanning the 1990s and 2000s. Other key figures in 20th century photography are incorporated into the show, including Ilse Bing, Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, and Paul Strand, to name a few – all capturing indelible, sometimes implausible, intimate, and often incredible moments of the city.

MCNY’s “Celebrating the City” is organised into 10 categories, from working, going shopping, playing, and gathering to loving, gazing, being, reflecting and building, all illustrating the universality of the city and offering the opportunity to compare how some of the best-known photographers have returned to the same subjects again and again.

Some exhibition highlights include:

  • Bruce Cratsley’s “Brooklyn Bridge Centennial” (1983)
  • Bruce Davidson’s “Square Riggers, South Street Seaport” (1996)
  • Elliott Erwitt’s “New York City” (1955)
  • Larry Fink’s “Studio 54” (1977)
  • Ken Heyman’s “Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York” (1985)
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Alice (Alice Rose George)” (1987)
  • Inge Morath’s “A Llama in Times Square” (1957)
  • Sylvia Plachy’s “Baseball Plié” (1982)

.
“In addition to offering glimpses of life in the city, ‘Celebrating the City’ juxtaposes various picture-making approaches, showing the different ways in which photographs are created as well as illuminating the decision-making process behind photography, collecting, and curation,” says Sean Corcoran, senior curator of prints and photographs, Museum of the City of New York. “We’ve paired the JGS photographs with a handful of recently acquired works – presented in the anteroom – in an effort to tell the story of a diverse and contemporary city from a range of perspectives.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Playing

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Dogs' Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York' 1985

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York
1985
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009) 'Dog in Central Park' c. 1955

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009)
Dog in Central Park
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Paul Himmel

 

 

Paul Himmel (1914 – February 8, 2009) was a fashion and documentary photographer in the United States.

Himmel was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. He took up photography as a teenager and studied graphic journalism under art director Alexey Brodovitch. From 1947 to 1969, he worked as a professional photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and several of his photographs were included in Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition.

In the 1950s, Himmel started his own projects, including series on boxers, the circus and ballet. He experimented with grain structure in his negatives and prints, using a series of silhouetted and elongated forms abbreviated almost to the point of abstraction.

Himmel took his last photograph in 1967, and by 1969, he became disenchanted with photography and retrained as a psychotherapist. An exhibit of his photographs in New York City in 1996 brought him back to public attention. Himmel’s photographs are fresh and unusual. Many are high-contrast, emphasising the design and patterns contained in an image. His subjects ranged from New York City scenes to nudes reduced to grainy vestiges to colour abstractions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941) 'Studio 54' 1977

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941)
Studio 54
1977
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Larry Fink was born in Brooklyn in 1941. In the 1960s, he studied with noted photographer Lisette Model. This photograph from Studio 54, made in 1977 in the hedonistic heyday of the disco era, is a well know image from Fink’s series “Social Graces,” which explored social class in America by comparing two different worlds: that of urban New Yorkers of “high society” and that of rural, working-class Pennsylvanians through social events like birthday parties. Fink has described his approach to his subject in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner, “The one thing I was trained in being was non-hierarchical. I don’t have an internal class system. Who you are is who is in front of me and who I am in the same, and that’s how we have to relate to each other.”

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Soccer Game' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Soccer Game
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Pablo Delano. 'Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954) 'Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

 

Gathering

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'New York City' 1955

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954) 'Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn' 1978

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954)
Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1978
From the series Williamsburg, Brooklyn Portfolio
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947) 'Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY' 1995

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947)
Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY
1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Ed Grazda, from Flushing, Queens, had been photographing in Pakistan and Afghanistan for almost 15 years when the underground garage at the World Trade Center became the site of a car bomb attack, on February 26, 1993. The explosion killed six people and injured more than a thousand; in both print and televised media, the grisly scene was often accompanied by the phrase “Muslim terrorist.” As a counter to the spreading media stereotypes, Grazda began a new effort: to document some of the dozens of communities of New Yorkers who practice Islam. He engaged both the immigrant populations and the native New Yorkers, including converts, the longstanding African-American Muslim community, and a growing Latino-Muslim community. This project was eventually published as the book New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York in 2002.

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Men in Park' 2001

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Men in Park
2001
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Loving

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Top Hats at Horse Show' 1947-1949

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Top Hats at Horse Show
1947-1949
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming, NYC' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming, NYC
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

 

After Stephen Barker graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1980, he became an assistant for noted portraitist Hans Namuth and architectural photographer Wolfgang Hoyt. In response to the growing AIDS crisis, Barker became an activist, working with ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and managing the Brooklyn Needle Exchange for two years. He also took his camera into New York City’s sex clubs. Given the necessity for anonymity, many of the figures that appeared in this work, entitled Nightswimming, appear indistinct at first glance. The settings are often darkened cinemas and hallways, yet there are flashes of intelligibility – tenderness, passion, and even introspection.

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #9)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #9)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Since the 1970s, Mitch Epstein has been an early proponent of colour photography as a fine art, which he often uses to subtly examine American society. This photograph, and several others on view in this gallery, are drawn from a body of work entitled “The City.” The photographer describes the collection as a “series of photographs that reveal the blurred line between New York City’s public and private space and question its increasing surveillance. These pictures describe a chaotic and layered city, where people create an intimate solar system of family, friends, and associates to survive the brute anonymity of public space.”

 

 

Gazing

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) 'New York (Woman and taxi)' 1982

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York (Woman and taxi)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013) 'Dick and Adele, the Village' c. 1947

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013)
Dick and Adele, the Village
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929) 'Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx' 1954

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929)
Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

George S. Zimbel (born July 15, 1929) is an American-Canadian documentary photographer. He has worked professionally since the late 1940s, mainly as a freelancer. He was part of the Photo League and is one of its last surviving members. Born in Massachusetts, he settled in Canada about 1971. His works have been shown with increasing frequency since 2000, and examples of his work are part of several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He has been described as a humanist. He has published several books of his photographs and in 2016 was the subject of a documentary retrospective film co-directed by his son Matt Zimbel and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956) 'Brooklyn, NY' 2000

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956)
Brooklyn, NY
2000
From the series The Glass Between Us
Chromogenic development print

 

 

Rebecca Norris Webb has lived in New York City for more than 25 years. Originally a poet, she brings a lyrical sensibility to her photography and often interweaves text into her imagery. This photograph is part of a larger series published as a book entitled The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures (2006), that examines people’s complex relationship with animals in cities, primarily in the context of “conservation parks” such as zoos and aquariums. This image, taken at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, uses reflections and distortion of the water tanks to blur the boundaries between the young boy and the aquatic life he is observing.

 

 

Being

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Willie' 1962

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Willie
1962
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

 

Ken Heyman met noted anthropologist Margaret Mead while attending Columbia University. The two became friends and worked together on several projects; the experience influenced Heyman to focus his photography on human relationships and interactions. Heymen went on to become a leading photojournalist, working for Life, LOOK, and TIME magazines. In the mid-1950s Haymen photographed “Willie,” a four-year-old boy from Hell’s Kitchen, over the course of several months in an attempt to observe him negotiate his one-block world. The results were published in Heymen’s first book in 1962. He went on to publish 45 additional books, including collaborations with composer Leonard Bernstein, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and artist Andy Warhol.

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951) 'Alice (Alice Rose George)' 1987

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Alice (Alice Rose George)
1987
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, currently lives in New York City.He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with other notable New York-based photographers David Armstrong and Nan Goldin. Beginning in the 1980s, he created an influential body of work that blurred the lines between fact and fiction, blending a documentary style with staged photography techniques. The resulting photographs, often depicting mundane moments of life, are known for their dramatic cinematic quality. This image of noted writer, curator, and photography editor Alice Rose George exemplifies the taut psychological quality of diCorcia staged tableaux.

 

DiCorcia alternates between informal snapshots and iconic quality staged compositions that often have a baroque theatricality.

Using a carefully planned staging, he takes everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality, trying to inspire in his picture’s spectators an awareness of the psychology and emotion contained in real-life situations. His work could be described as documentary photography mixed with the fictional world of cinema and advertising, which creates a powerful link between reality, fantasy and desire.

During the late 1970s, during diCorcia’s early career, he used to situate his friends and family within fictional interior tableaus, that would make the viewer think that the pictures were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life, when they were in fact carefully staged and pre-planned. His work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography. He would later start photographing random people in urban spaces all around the world. When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject, often isolating them from the other people in the street.

His photographs give a sense of heightened drama to accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions of those passing by. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached from the world around them, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity. Each of his series, Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, A Storybook Life, and Lucky Thirteen, can be considered progressive explorations of diCorcia’s formal and conceptual fields of interest. Besides his family, associates and random people he has also photographed personas already theatrically enlarged by their life choices, such as the pole dancers in his latest series.

His pictures have black humour within them, and have been described as “Rorschach-like”, since they can have a different interpretation depending on the viewer. As they are pre-planned, diCorcia often plants in his concepts issues like the marketing of reality, the commodification of identity, art, and morality.

In 1989, financed by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship of $45,000, DiCorcia began his Hustlers project. Starting in the early 1990s, he made five trips to Los Angeles to photograph male prostitutes in Hollywood. He used a 6×9 Linhof view camera, which he positioned in advance with Polaroid tests. At first, he photographed his subjects only in motel rooms. Later, he moved onto the streets. When the Museum of Modern Art exhibited 25 of the photographs in 1993 under the title Strangers, each was labeled with the name of the man who posed, his hometown, his age, and the amount of money that changed hands.

In 1999, diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and took a series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights. This resulted in two published books, Streetwork (1998) which showed wider views including subjects’ entire bodies, and Heads (2001), which featured more closely cropped portraits as the name implies.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Reflecting

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival' 1950

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival
1950
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Louis Faurer was born in Philadelphia, where he worked as a photo technician in portrait studios. After serving in the U.S. Signal Corps of Philadelphia during World War II, he began to commute to New York City for work at magazines and attended classes at Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory. There, he met fellow photographer Robert Frank. The two became fast friends and Faurer eventually moved into Frank’s large loft and used his darkroom. At the time, Faurer worked for various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Vogue, and the short-lived Flair.

This image, made in those early days in New York, reflects Faurer’s close relationship with Frank and his then-wife Mary. The late 1940s and 1950s were especially important to Faurer’s development as a photographer and were when he created his most memorable images of New York. As in this photograph, Faurer concentrated his image making on people out on the streets, reflections of store windows, and the bright city lights. This psychologically charged work highlights the complexity and energy of city life.

 

Louis Faurer (August 28, 1916 – March 2, 2001) was an American candid or street photographer. He was a quiet artist who never achieved the broad public recognition that his best-known contemporaries did; however, the significance and caliber of his work were lauded by insiders, among them Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Edward Steichen, who included his work in the Museum of Modern Art exhibitions In and Out of Focus (1948) and The Family of Man (1955).

“Faurer … proves to be an extraordinary artist. His eye is on the pulse [of New York City] – the lonely “Times-Square people” for whom Faurer felt a deep sympathy. Every photograph is witness to the compassion and obsession accompanying his life like a shadow. I am happy that these images survive while the world keeps changing.” ~ Robert Frank

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Andrea on Third Avenue' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Andrea on Third Avenue
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Swiss-born Robert Frank immigrated to New York in 1947 to work for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Frank continued to create editorial work for magazines such as Life, LOOK, and Vogue until he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955. The award freed him to travel throughout the country for two years to make the photographs that would result in his seminal book, The Americans. This photograph, of Frank’s daughter Andrea in their apartment near Astor Place on Third Avenue, is emblematic of much of the photographer’s work; it is tender and intimate while remaining slightly enigmatic.

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943) 'Virgil Thomson' 1986

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943)
Virgil Thomson
1986
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896 – September 30, 1989) was an American composer and critic. He was instrumental in the development of the “American Sound” in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neo-romantic, a neoclassicist, and a composer of “an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment” whose “expressive voice was always carefully muted” until his late opera Lord Byron which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to “moments of real passion”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #11)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #11)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #3)' 1995

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #3)
1995
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Buildings

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York
1915
Plate from Camera Work No. 49/50, June 1917
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956) 'East River, New York' 1914

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956)
East River, New York
1914
Platinum print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Arthur D. Chapman (1882-1956) was born in Bakersfield, California. An amateur photographer, he moved to New York and worked as a printer for The Globe and Commercial Advertiser and The New York American; he also listed himself in the New York City directories as a bookbinder (1913) and a photographer (1917). Chapman lived in Greenwich Village from 1911 until 1917 and, in his afternoons off from work, photographed everyday scenes around Manhattan. In his own neighbourhood, he chose to show not the Bohemian image the Village then projected, but rather what the residential Village looked like. With the use of shadow, Chapman was able to give depth and character to his photographs, and those focused down a street usually featured a striking foreground. His subjects include rooftops, buildings, and street scenes with such titles as “9½ Jane Street,” “Clinton Court,” and “Kelly’s Alley.” Most of the photographs are from the 1910s and show a quaint side of the Village that has all but vanished.

During the early 1950s Chapman thought it would be of historical interest to re-shoot some of the areas in Manhattan he had photographed almost a half-century before, in order to document how time had changed those places. Unfortunately, some of the scenes he wanted to photograph were still considered too “sensitive” so soon after the Second World War, and he was unable to obtain permission from the city government.

The New-York Historical Society bought this collection from Chapman between 1950 and 1955 as he, in his retirement, found and printed from old negatives which had lain hidden in his extensive collection. In 1953, Chapman gave two self-portraits to the Society as a gift, one taken in New York in 1913 and the second taken in 1953 in New Jersey. Both show him working with his photographic equipment.

In 1921, following his World War I service in France with the Photographic Section of the Army Signal Corp Chapman moved to New Jersey, where he continued with his “hobby” until his death on June 5, 1956. He was a member of Pictorial Photographers of America, and a member of New York Typographical Union No. 6 for over fifty years.

Anonymous text from the New York Historical Society website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'A Brick-Built Wall, New York' 1961

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
A Brick-Built Wall, New York
1961
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998) 'Brooklyn Bridge Centennial' 1983

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998)
Brooklyn Bridge Centennial
1983
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

John Reid. 'Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC' c. 1870

 

John Reid
Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC
c. 1870
Albumen print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

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09
Apr
22

Photographs: ‘Circus performers in America’

April 2022

 

Chicago Photo Co. 'Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)' early 1900s

 

Chicago Photo Co., 389 State Street, Chicago (John B. Wilson, photographer)
Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)
early 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

A selection of albumen photographs on cabinet cards and cartes de visite of wonderful human beings. I have added biographical and other information about the photographers and subjects where possible.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education and teaching. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y. 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y.
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

About Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann was an American photographer. His work, which dates from the Victorian-era “Gilded Age” (1870-1890), focused almost exclusively on the “freaks” of the circuses, sideshows, and living museums of New York’s Bowery area. The subject matter was profitable enough to provide a living for both Eisenmann and Frank Wendt, his successor in the business.

Eisenmann was born in Germany in 1850 and emigrated to the United States some time before 1870, settling in New York City. At an early age, Eisenmann established a photography studio in the Bowery. A lower class area that was the hub of popular entertainment, the Bowery was known for its cheap photographic galleries and dime museums. Here Eisenmann discovered his clientele. Dime museums were modelled on P.T. Barnum‘s American Museum on Broadway which exhibited various human “curiosities” as well as many unusual and questionable “scientific” exhibits. Similar in many respects to the circus sideshows, these museums featured human “freaks” who displayed their odd physiognomies and performed before gawking visitors. To help these performers market themselves, Eisenmann and his successor Frank Wendt supplied them with small photographs that they could sell or distribute to publicists. Precisely why Eisenmann was drawn to and focused on this peculiar clientele is not known, though there was evidently money to be made.

Among Eisenmann’s subjects were the famous as well as obscure. They included the “father” of the sideshow, P. T. Barnum, and performers like General Tom Thumb, Jo Jo the Dog-faced Boy, the Wild Men of Borneo, Annie Jones the Bearded Lady, and the Skeleton Man. He also photographed Siamese twins, giants, dwarfs, armless and legless “wonders,” albinos, tattoo artists, and even abnormal animals, such as two-headed cows. While many of these “freaks” were genuine, many were not, having been created out of the imagination and costuming talents of sideshow managers.

Eisenmann’s career in New York began to decline around 1890, and in 1899 he relocated to Plainfield, New Jersey. Wendt joined Eisenmann during this period, at first becoming his business partner, and then son-in-law. Around this same time the warm-toned albumen print process began to disappear, and to be replaced by the cooler silver gelatin process. The change in process did not favour Eisenmann’s techniques. …

The verso of many of Eisenmann’s photographs contained his characteristic tagline, “extra inducements to the theatrical profession,” which reflected the emphasis he placed on his primary clientele.

Anonymous text. “Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs,” on the Syracuse University Library website 1998 updated 2016 [Online] Cited 02/04/2022

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Serpent Queens

Snake charming was another speciality that moved from being an almost exclusively male occupation to domination by women. In fact, as snake charming and handling moved into the twentieth century it became almost exclusively a female calling.

Large exotic snakes were exhibited in early museums, and the 1876 and 1893 world fairs imported male snake charmers as part of native villages. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when demand for freaks was so high, people, especially partially clad and exotic-looking women, handling or “charming” boas, anacondas, rattlers, cobras, and other serpents became common freak show fare.

Snake charmers – or serpent enchantresses, as they were also called – were, like tattooed persons and Circassians, easy to come by. Although there were tricks to make large snakes lethargic and poisonous snakes benign, some acts contained a distinct elements of danger. For the most part, however, snake charming involved little skill and, aside from the ability to master repulsion and fear, few personal qualifications. There was a seemingly unending supply of charmers – more charmers than snakes by far. Indeed, the cost and supply of snakes was a bigger factor in controlling the number of acts than the number of applicants. While charmers became commonplace and never demanded the high salaries of featured attractions, there was always a place for them on the platform. Audiences continued to squirm in delighted disgust year after year, and, as with human art galleries, innovation provided a continuous element of novelty. After Circassians became commonplace, there were Circassian snake-charmers. In search of novelty, one man wrestled pythons in a five-hundred-gallon tank. Although the types and number of snakes the charmer worked with provided some variety as well, the most important element of the exhibit was the presentation.

There were snake charmers and serpent queens who claimed to be from the East, having learned their skill through apprenticeship to mystics. Others claimed to be born with serpent power. Even though a few who practiced the art probably were from India and other far-off places, most were homegrown Americans…

Whether a domestic exotic or an import, one’s story and stage presence were important elements of success. The difference between a fill-in and an attraction was ingenuity and flair. But most snake charmers were minor attractions, and we know very little about the women around whom the snakes wrapped themselves. A few, however, like Amy Arlington who as with Barnum and Bailey in the 1890s, left many photo portraits of themselves entwined by serpents. Some “true life” booklets are preserved, and, although less elaborate and sophisticated than those of featured stars, they do provide a glimpse of their presentation – a presentation in the high exotic mode.

Robert Bogdan. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 256-258

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Charles B. Tripp "Armless Wonder"' 1888

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Charles B. Tripp “Armless Wonder” (33 years old)
1888
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Albumen print on original studio mount features the armless Tripp drinking tea with his feet. Notice the date “1888” near Tripp’s right foot.

 

 

Charles B. Tripp (Canadian-American, 1855-1930) was an artist and sideshow performer known as the “Armless Wonder”.

A native of Woodstock, Ontario, Tripp was born without arms but learned to use his legs and feet to perform everyday tasks. He was a skilled carpenter and calligrapher and started supporting his mother and sister when he was a teenager. In 1872, Tripp visited P. T. Barnum in New York City and was quickly hired to work for Barnum’s Great Traveling World’s Fair. He worked for Barnum (and later James Anthony Bailey) for twenty-three years, then toured for the Ringling brothers for twelve years.

On stage, Tripp cultivated a gentlemanly persona and exhibited his skills in carpentry and penmanship. He also cut paper, took photographs, shaved, and painted portraits. For extra income, he signed promotional pictures of himself with his feet. Tripp often appeared in photographs with Eli Bowen, a “legless wonder” from Ohio. In the photographs, the two rode a tandem bicycle, with Tripp pedalling and Bowen steering.

By the 1910s, Tripp was no longer drawing large crowds for the major circuses, so he joined the traveling carnival circuit. He was accompanied by his wife, Mae, who sold tickets for midway attractions. Tripp died of pneumonia (or asthma) in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he had been wintering for several years. He was buried in Olney, Illinois.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann (October 5, 1855 – December 8, 1927) was a famous New York photographer during the late 1880s who worked in the Bowery district.

Eisenmann’s photography was sold in the form of Cabinet cards, popular in this era, available to the middle class. Eisenmann also supplied Duke Tobacco Company with cheesecake photography to stuff in their tobacco cans. The book Victorian Cartes-de-Visite credits Eisenmann with being the most prolific and well known photographer when it comes to Cabinet cards.

His work was the subject of a 1979 monograph, Monsters of the Gilded Age, focusing on his work on human oddities from the Barnum and Bailey circus, with a notable widely circulated picture of Jojo the Dog-faced Boy. Although a number of his photographs were of obvious fakes (called “gaffed freaks”), many others were genuinely anomalous, including the giant Routh Goshen, the four-legged girl Myrtle Corbin, and the Siamese twins Chang and Eng and Millie and Christine. …

 

Humbugs

In his book, Secrets of the Sideshows, Joe Nickell points out that Eisenmann used a number of notable humbugs or gaffs. These included his “Circassian beauties”, women with teased, large hairdos who were said to have escaped from Turkish harems. The models were locals from the Bronx with hair made frizzy and wild by washing in beer, who earned money for posing. …

 

Victorian society and circus freaks

In the late 1880s, A new phenomenon appeared with Victorian society’s fascination and sympathy for people who appeared to have genetic abnormalities. There was much publicity, for example, over Princess Alexandra’s attention to Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man.”

Eisenmann saw the golden opportunity in this fascination, and photographed circus people dressed as Victorian society, and conversely Victorian society with circus props. In New York city circus people were quite well received, as evidenced by the proliferation of dime museums and the PT Barnum circus located in New York.

One of Eisenmann’s subjects, Charles Stratton (Major Tom Thumb) was quite well known, and his wedding was quite the affair. “The couple’s elaborate wedding took place in Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. The Astors and the Vanderbilts were said to have attended as Barnum sold tickets for $75.”

Other prestigious clients included Mark Twain, and Annie Oakley. In some ways Eisenmann can be considered a kind of Annie Leibovitz of the Victorian Bowery district. His career suffered a downturn with the introduction of Gelatin silver process photography which made photographs more inexpensive and available for mass consumption. Also, Vaudeville overtook circuses in popularity at this time as well. In 1898 Eisenmann closed his studio and was succeeded by Frank Wendt. Frank was a sort of intern of his. For a few years, he sold photographic equipment and took conventional portraits in Plainfield, New Jersey but by 1907 he had disappeared from the public record, some believing he went to Germany. This was the second time he went off the radar, the first time being when his first wife died. At that time he was believed to have gone to Asia.

Eventually, in the early 1900s, he resurfaced as the head of the photography department for DuPont taking pictures of employees. He died in 1927.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Rossa is presumed from Paris, as one photo of her is marked “born in Paris” but nothing much else is known about her.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age' c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). "Bearded Girl and her Mother" c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
“Bearded Girl and her Mother”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York. 'Waino and Plutano "The Wild Men of Borneo" (60-70 years old)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York
Waino and Plutano “The Wild Men of Borneo” (60-70 years old)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
Image: 5 1/2 x 3 7/8 in. (14 x 9.8cm)
Mount: 6 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (16.5 x 10.8cm)

 

 

Wild Men of Borneo

The Wild Men of Borneo, Waino and Plutanor, were a pair of exceptionally strong dwarf brothers who were most famously associated with P. T. Barnum and his freak show exhibitions.

 

Life

Waino and Plutanor were actually Hiram W. and Barney Davis, two mentally disabled brothers from Pleasant Township, Knox County, Ohio farm, born in 1825 in England and 1827 in Ohio respectively. The 1850 census for them suggests they were born slightly later in 1829 and 1831. Their parents were David Harrison Davis and Catherine Blydenburgh. After their father’s death in 1842, their mother remarried to William Porter. They were each 40 inches tall (100cm) and weighed about 45 pounds (20kg), yet could perform feats of great strength such as lifting heavy weights and wrestling with audience members on stage. Discovered and subsequently promoted by a traveling showman known as Doctor Warner in 1852, Hiram and Barney were given new names, Waino and Plutanor, and a sensational back story – they were said to be from the island of Borneo, where they had been captured after a great struggle with armed sailors. They initially had modest success, but at least one newspaper believed them to be dwarves from the United States. The two soon went on to be exhibited at state fairs across the United States. At the time of the 1860 census they were living in Somerville, Massachusetts in the household of Henry Harvey, a showman. At some point in the next few years management of the pair was transferred to a relative of Doctor Warner, Hanford A. Warner.

In 1874 they were valued at $50,000. In January 1877 they were performing at the New American Museum located in Manhattan. In June 1880 at the time of the federal census, they were touring with William C. Coup’s circus and were enumerated under their assumed identities. By 1882 Waino and Plutanor became involved with P. T. Barnum and his traveling exhibitions. With Barnum’s fabled promotional skill, the careers of the Wild Men of Borneo took off and over the course of the next 25 years, the pair earned approximately $200,000, which was an enormous sum in that era, equivalent to $6,000,000 today. Their exhibitions primarily consisted of performing acts of great strength, such as lifting adult audience members and wrestling with both audience members and each other. They were said to be able to lift up to 300 pounds (140 kg) each. In November 1887 they were performing at Eugene Robinson’s Dime Museum and Theatre. In the 1890s Hanford’s son Ernest took over the management duties of the Davis brothers due to the elder Hanford becoming blind.

In 1903 the brothers were withdrawn from exhibitions by the Warner family. Hiram died in Waltham, Massachusetts on March 16, 1905. Barney stopped working after his brother’s death. Their former manager Hanford Warner died in 1910. Barney died on May 31, 1912 at Waltham, Massachusetts at the Warner family home. The two are buried together in Mount Vernon, Ohio, under a gravestone marked “Little Men.” Newspapers from the time report them being buried in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is unknown when their bodies were moved to Ohio.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939). 'Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack' c. 1890s

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939), Newark, NJ
Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 3/4 x 4 1/4″

 

 

The long-haired sharpshooter posing with a revolver at his waist and three rifles at his side.

Stated on the verso of Yogg’s cards: “If you have beauty, come, we’ll take it; if you have none, come, we’ll make it.” Where Yogg was challenged by lack of beauty, he used accessories in an effort to enhance the sitter’s appearance. The photographer was at 162 Springfield Ave. between 1885-1914.

 

Charles Stacy (American) 'Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn Col. W. F. Cody "Buffalo Bill"' c. 1900s

 

Charles Stacy (American) Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn
Col. W. F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”
c. 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

 

Ettie Rogers was an albino woman who featured in many traveling shows, notably P. T. Barnum’s travelling museums.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1880s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Card imprinted with Chang’s height and weight, advertising that he is now appearing with Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson

 

Abraham Bogardus

Abraham Bogardus (November 29, 1822 – March 22, 1908) was an American daguerreotypist and photographer who made some 200,000 daguerreotypes during his career. …

Wanting to retire in 1884, Bogardus advertised in the Philadelphia Photographer: “Wishing to retire from the photographic business, I now offer my well-known establishment for sale, after thirty-eight years’ continuous existence in this city. The reputation of the gallery is too well known to require one word of comment. The stock of registered negatives is very valuable, containing a large line of regular customers, and also very many of our prominent men, Presidents, Senators, etc., and for which orders are constantly received. They include Blaine and Logan. Entire apparatus first-class; Dallmeyer lens, etc. For further information, address Abraham Bogardus & Co., 872 Broadway cor. 18th St., New York.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Bogardus thought extensive retouching of images a kind of representational violence. In national venues he spoke in favour of minimal intervention on the negative – “I retouch but very little, just enough to smooth down the rough parts of the picture, and remove the freckles or spots, or anything we want removed, and soften down the heavy lights.” For Bogardus, altering some defect of a sitter’s appearance for the better violated the verisimilitude of the photographic resemblance, that very thing that made the image true and valuable. This modesty stood at odds with the aesthetic of Sarony, and particularly Mora, who wished to push celebrity images in the direction of the ideal. For this reason, Bogardus enjoyed a particularly high regard among prominent male sitters. He was the only photographer that Cornelius Vanderbilt allowed to sell his image. Politicians, churchmen, plutocrats, and soldiers reckoned him the reliable artist who could fix their characters on paper.

Bogardus had a second talent that rivalled his skill with a camera. He was an excellent writer, with a familiar plain style, and an orderly way of presenting complex subjects. For much of the 1880s he edited an eight-page monthly entitled The Camera, cherished as a fund of wit and common sense. He contributed frequently to the pages of the photographic journals. He retired from active business in 1887, and spent the remainder of his life restoring daguerreotypes, insuring that the first popular vehicle of “light writing” remained in pristine condition for posterity to experience.

Like most of the successful New York celebrity photographers, Bogardus hired a chief camera operator and a good chemist as a head of his print processing department. In the 1880s these assistants, Charles Sherman and A. Joseph McHugh, were granted a credit line on prints, and in 1889 took over the running of the portrait aspect of the business. This partnership ceased in 1895.

Anonymous. “Abraham Bogardus,” on the Broadway Photographs website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893), ‘The Chinese Giant’

Born in the Canton Province, China, Gow grew to the height of 7 feet and 8.75 inches (235.5cm) tall. Well-travelled, he was a man of exceptional intelligence, speaking at least 10 languages. Believed to be the tallest man in the world, he earned money through appearances billed as ‘The Chinese Giant’, becoming a popular tourist attraction. In Australia he met his second wife Catherine who bore him two sons, Edwin (born in Beijing) and Ernest (born in Paris). After appearing in Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ he tired of 30 years of travelling the world as a marvel and retired. To cure his suspected tuberculosis, the family settled in Bournemouth (1890), establishing an Oriental-bazaar and tea-room business at their home. He became a popular local ‘attraction’ in Bournemouth when he and his wife took walks in the evenings, now known as ‘The Gentle Giant’ he was always kind and friendly, but he sought a quiet life. Heartbroken at the death of his wife, he died 4 months later. Still mourning the loss of his wife, on his deathbed he requested a quiet funeral. His funeral was therefore kept a secret to prevent hundreds of onlookers from attending. He was buried in an unmarked grave alongside his wife in a coffin said to be eight and a half feet long.

Anonymous. “Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893),” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm) (each)

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther (American, b. 1859), Buffalo, NY
Gustavo Arcaris Knife-Thrower
c. 1890
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther, born 1859 in NY, and was working into the early 1930’s in Buffalo, is said to have started his Buffalo photography business in 1884.

Sepia-toned albumen print on original studio mount of a knife (and other weapons) thrower, Arcaris, and his female assistant with her body outlined in knives against a board.

 

Gustavo Arcaris, Father of Modern Knife Throwing

Gustavo Arcaris, better known as “The Great Arcaris”, was discovered by P. T. Barnum in Italy in the late 1880s. Barnum brought him to the US to act as a show man for the Barnum circus. The woman who performed as his assistant was Gustavo’s sister Kate.

Gustavo Arcaris and his wife were born in Italy. He came from Naples and in 1887 he emigrated with his wife Mary to America, first living in Illinois and then settled in Detroit, Michigan. In 1897 he and his wife were naturalised. According to the 1920 census he was living with his wife Mary and their four children in Detroit. The couple is listed with their three sons, Salvatore, Louis, and George, and one daughter, Virginia – who was still with the circus.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Nettie Littell' c. 1885

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Nettie Littell
c. 1885
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Early albumen print of Littell, with pencil inscription on verso reading “Capt. Nettie Littell Champion Long Distant (sic) Rider of America”. Littell was a Colorado long distance rider and shooter.

 

 

Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), Bowery N.Y.
Mille Mojur, Sword Walker
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Other than Charles Eisenmann, Frank Wendt was the most well-known freak and dime museum photographer of the 19th century. Wendt was Charles Eisenmann’s protege, successor and son-in-law, taking over his father-in-law’s business in 1875 at 229 Bowery in New York City.

Anonymous text. “Frank Wendt, photographer,” on the Show History website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Mille Mojur posing by a ladder made of swords. Signed faintly in pencil on the verso, likely by the performer herself.

 

 

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03
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Marion Kalter. Deep Time’ at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 22nd May, 2022

Curators: Barbara Herzog, Kerstin Stremmel

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Arles' 1975

 


Arles
1975
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist
© Bildrecht, Vienna, 2022

 

 

The blink of an eye

To my great chagrin I have to admit that after 30 years of studying photography I had never come across the work of the the Austrian artist Marion Kalter. No longer. While it is difficult, nah impossible, to portray the lifetime’s work of an artist in so few photographs, I hope this posting gives some insight into Kalter’s portrayal of her own mortality and the absence / presence of her family … and through her portraits of notable human beings reflect on how, when looking at photographs, we “participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” (Sontag)

Kalter is a storyteller. In one section of the exhibition Deep Time the artist extrapolates the concept – in 1788 Scottish geologist James Hutton “posited that geological features were shaped by cycles of sedimentation and erosion, a process of lifting up then grinding down rocks that required timescales much grander than those of prevailing Biblical narratives” – by plunging into the abyss of time to create photographs that transcend yet somehow affirm humanity.

While the Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Berry (1914-2009) explored the spiritual implications of the concept of Deep Time by proposing “that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species,”2 Kalter applies this understanding of the macrocosm of the universe to the microcosm of her family history as a guide to her own effective functioning. As the press release states, the photographs are “an investigation of how she has tried to gain a better understanding of her origins and family history and an exploration of how she has tried to reconstruct them visually. There are historical photographs on display, as well as images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. These sensitively staged photographs, which capture different layers of time, bring Kalter’s complex family history to life.” The complex history of an intimate deep time.

The highlight of the exhibition are the exceptional portrait photographs. Kalter is really good at taking portraits. And I mean really really good: i.e. one of the best portrait photographers I have seen in a very long time. Unlike the scientific, experimental and lumpy portraits by Man Ray (“I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer”), Kalter’s portraits just sing with music and energy, with spontaneity and consequence. What do I mean by consequence? I mean that these photographic portraits are an important testament to the existence of these human beings – they serve as a sign, or evidence, of the quality of these people’s lives, their presence and their aura. Here is Kalter’s joy at “picturing” these human beings: such a sharp eye, such a responsive, intuitive blink of an eye – the shutter is essentially a blink as it opens and closes – which reveals something of the spirit of these people, made up as they are of atoms of the cosmos and linked as they are to the deep time of the universe. Atoms to atoms, dust to dust.

Heidegger states. “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

Now and then, the photographer artist has entered this room: a room full of wonder and mystery, of happenstance and previsualisation – just look at the spontaneity of the photograph being taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson of Jean Paul Riopelle, not even looking through the camera, and Katler’s instantaneous response – the trained eye of the artist approaching the mystery of life with aware and unblinkered eyes.

Through a slight pause in motion (the blink of an eye), dwelling in the world in a totally different way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. David Farrier and Aeon. “How the Concept of Deep Time Is Changing,” on The Atlantic website November 1, 2016 [Online] Cited 03/04/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Deep Time,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 03/04/2022
  3. Martin Heidegger. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56

.
Many thankx to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Marion Kalter’s (Salzburg, AT, 1951) photographs are always about human beings – they already captured the artist’s interest when she launched her career as a journalist. Celebrated writers including Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag as well as visual artists like Joan Mitchell and Meret Oppenheim and the filmmaker Agnès Varda were among her sitters. The jazz poet Ted Joans also played an important role for her. They met in 1974, and it was through him that Kalter came into contact with the jazz scene and Surrealism. Kalter met photographers mostly at the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles in the mid-1970s.

Deep Time is a search for the traces of Kalter’s childhood. Exhibited here are historical photographs and images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. Kalter’s sensitively staged photographs allow the different chronologies of these images to bring her complex family history vividly to life. Her unconditional way of experimenting with coincidence has enabled her to create a dense fabric of images over the years. It ends here with a series from 2017: a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Hartmann Books of Stuttgart has brought out a publication in German and English to accompany this exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: Arles, 1975; and at second left, Bank Pietrasanta, 1974

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: private photos of my father’s life, 1933-1948; and at right, private photos of my mother’s life, 1939-1945

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

at left: Armoire; at second left bottom, self-portrait; and at centre right, self-portrait – all from the Different Trains 2019

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

At left: Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis, Paris 1977; and at third left, Pol Bury at home watches television in Paris, 1975

Installation view of the exhibition 'Marion Kalter. Deep Time' at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

 

Installation views of Marion Kalter. Deep Time at Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2022
© Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Foto: Rainer Iglar

 

 

The photographs of Marion Kalter (Salzburg, AT, 1951) are always about people. As a young journalist, she was already interested in human subjects, such as the authors Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag and the artists Joan Mitchell and Meret Oppenheim. Kalter’s encounter with the artist, musician, and performer Ted Joans proved to be decisive for her life and career as a photographer – Joans was an important figure in the American Beat Generation, which was centered around Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and was a charismatic jazz poet. Kalter got to know Joans in Paris in 1974, where she was attending courses at the Académie des Beaux-Arts after having studied painting and art history in the United States. Kalter became close friends with Joans and accompanied him through Paris with her camera, going to the American Cultural Center and to galleries and readings at the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. She also went with him on trips to North Africa.

This immersion in the art, literature, and music worlds of Paris could be described as Kalter’s artistic awakening: she developed participatory observation into an intuitive artistic strategy – the art of being there and capturing the zeitgeist. Her photographs of well-known personalities in the Parisian art and culture scene testify to an open, curious photographic eye, aware of both what was “staged” and the game of chance involved in the pictorial exploration of unintentional events and situations.

It is thus no coincidence that one chapter of this exhibition, and of its accompanying publication, is entitled “Cadavre exquis.” With this title (which translates to “exquisite corpse”), Kalter refers to a famous parlour game that the Surrealists developed, in 1925, with the purpose of testing new ways of associative thinking. A sentence or drawing is created by several people on a piece of paper, which is folded so that no one sees what those before them have contributed. The resulting unpredictable combination of words, ideas, and images evokes a strangely hybrid, dreamlike visual world in which chance and collective authorship are united. Kalter refers to the law of chance as a creative concept, and assembled an impressive gallery of personalities whom she encountered at the time: Berenice Abbott, Gisèle Freund, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agnès Varda, Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Annette Messager, John Cage, Chantal Akerman, Claude LéviStrauss, Marguerite Duras, Meret Oppenheim, and many more.

Kalter became acquainted with other photographers, including David Hurn, Mary Ellen Mark, Marc Riboud, and Ralph Gibson at the legendary Rencontres de la photographie in Arles in the mid-1970s and, at times, also acted as their translator. She saw photography no longer as solely a medium for recording reality but as a pictorial means of expression, interpretation, enactment, and personal memory.

The exhibition Deep Time is also a search through Kalter’s childhood: an investigation of how she has tried to gain a better understanding of her origins and family history and an exploration of how she has tried to reconstruct them visually. There are historical photographs on display, as well as images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. These sensitively staged photographs, which capture different layers of time, bring Kalter’s complex family history to life. Her parents met and married in Salzburg after the Second World War and moved to the United States after Marion Kalter was born. The family returned to Europe a few years later, and Kalter grew up in France, which remains her primary place of residence. In the late 1970s, when she was still a budding photographer, Kalter began a series of staged self-portraits at her family home in Chabenet, in the heart of France. They are characterised by a melancholic longing to reclaim the physical place, the time that had lapsed, and the life story of her late mother, all through the medium of her deceased mother’s papers and belongings – that is, through the poetics of things. It was at this time that Kalter was given her first commissions by the magazine Le Monde de la musique. This work regularly took Kalter back to her native city and made her a sought-after chronicler of the Salzburg Festival.

Kalter’s uninhibited delight in experimenting with the coincidences of life has over the years created a dense meshwork of images. It finds a provisional final chord in the present exhibition with her documentation of a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2017. She traveled to Beijing in the footsteps of her great-uncle Oscar Aaron, who had been compelled to make that same journey in 1940 to escape being murdered in Germany. Once again, a memory that must not be lost was what prompted Kalter’s journey – this time along the route taken by a man escaping persecution.

Press release from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1975

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chasseneuil' 1976

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France, 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France, 1979

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' France 1978

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Armoire' Nd

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Chabenet' 1983

 

 

 

My father and my mother’s father in a frame, France 1983

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'HERSTORY' 1953-2015

 


HERSTORY
1953-2015

 

 

My mother in Washington DC 1953

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Private photos of my father's life' 1933-1948

 


Private photos of my father’s life 1933-1948
Nd

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Private photos of my mother's life' 1939-1945

 

 

 

Most of these self-portraits were taken after my mother’s premature death (I was 16) in the family house in France where I grew up. It took me years to find out that both of my parents had kept their during-the-war-memories hidden, each in their own wardrobe. They had taken “different trains” during WWII. While my father had fled Germany with his mother and sister, my mother started a career as an actress first in Vienna, then in Berlin and Warsaw. She played in the “German Theater” as well as with the KdF (“Kraft durch Freude” or Strength through Joy) organisation for the entertainment of German troops.

Directly after the war, my father came back to Europe as an American and began work as an assistant at the Nürenberg “IG Farben” trial. Just like the plot of the film by Axel Corti and George Stefan Troller Welcome in Vienna, my parents met in Salzburg. The “meet-cute”: the German Jew returning to work for the American Army meets the Austrian actress entwined in post-Nazi Germany.

I have chosen to show family photographs and documents from that period along with my self-portraits.

Marion Kalter artist statement on her website 2019 [Online] Cited 12/03/2022

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Untitled (self-portrait)' Nd

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Bank Pietrasanta' 1974

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Agnès Varda' Paris, 1977

 

 

 

Agnès Varda (French, born Arlette Varda, 30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019) was a Belgian-born French film director, screenwriter, photographer, and artist. Her pioneering work was central to the development of the widely influential French New Wave film movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Her films focused on achieving documentary realism, addressing women’s issues, and other social commentary, with a distinctive experimental style.

Varda’s work employed location shooting in an era when the limitations of sound technology made it easier and more common to film indoors, with constructed sets and painted backdrops of landscapes, rather than outdoors, on location. Her use of non-professional actors was also unconventional for 1950s French cinema. Varda’s feature film debut was La Pointe Courte (1955), followed by Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), one of her most notable film narrative films, Vagabond (1985), and Kung Fu Master (1988). Varda was also known for her work as a documentarian with such works as Black Panthers (1968), The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnès (2008), Faces Places (2017), and her final film, Varda by Agnès (2019).

Director Martin Scorsese described Varda as “one of the Gods of Cinema”. Among several other accolades, Varda received an Honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, an Academy Honorary Award, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. She was the first female director to be feted with an honorary Oscar.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Elvin Jones' Juan-les-Pins, 1975

 

 

 

Elvin Ray Jones (September 9, 1927 – May 18, 2004) was an American jazz drummer of the post-bop era.

Most famously a member of John Coltrane’s quartet, with whom he recorded from late 1960 to late 1965, Jones appeared on such widely celebrated albums as My Favorite Things, A Love Supreme, Ascension and Live at Birdland. After 1966, Jones led his own trio, and later larger groups under the name The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. His brothers Hank and Thad were also celebrated jazz musicians with whom he occasionally recorded. Elvin was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1995. In his The History of Jazz, jazz historian and critic Ted Goia calls Jones “one of the most influential drummers in the history of jazz.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Pol Bury at home watches television in Paris' 1975

 

 

 

Pol Bury (1922-2005) was a Belgian artist involved with the CoBrA group. He is primarily known for his kinetic sculptures, though he also produced collages and paintings. “I am searching for the point which exists between the moving and the non-moving,” the artist said of his practice. Born on April 26, 1922 in La Louvière, Belgium, Bury studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Mons from 1938 to 1939, where he became influenced by the work of René Magritte and Yves Tanguy. In 1952, after seeing the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder for the first time, Bury began creating motor-propelled weathervane-like sculptures. In the late 1960s, the artist created his first public work, a fountain on the campus of the University of Iowa Museum of Art in Iowa City. Bury died on September 28, 2005 in Paris, France.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Annette Messager at her studio in Paris 1977' Paris, 1977

 


Annette Messager at her studio in Paris 1977
Paris, 1977

 

 

Annette Messager (born 30 November 1943 in Berck, France) is a French visual artist. Messager is known mainly for her installation work which often incorporates photographs, prints and drawings, and various materials. Her work rejects traditional methods in visual arts such as painting in favour of “bricolage” works that combine media and subvert value systems, often making experimental use of methods traditionally designated to a “so-called feminine sensibility.” “I found my voice as an artist when I stepped on a dead sparrow on a street in Paris in 1971. I didn’t know why, but I was sure this sparrow was important because it was something very fragile that was near me and my life,” states Messager. The sparrow was soon joined by others and became the exhibit The Boarders, which launched her career in 1972.

In 2005, she represented France at the Venice Biennale, where she won the Golden Lion for her Pinocchio-inspired installation that transformed the French pavilion into a casino. One of her most famous pieces is her exhibition The Messengers, which showcases an installation of rooms that include a series of photographs and toy-like, hand knit animals in costumes. For example, some of the animals’ heads were replaced by heads of other stuffed animals to reflect the ways in which humans disguise themselves or transform their identities with costume.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'John Cage in the house of Dorothea Tanning' Paris 1979

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Meret Oppenheim' Paris 1977

 

 

 

Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim (Swiss, 1913-1985) catapulted to fame in 1936 with Object, a fur-covered tea set that became her most iconic work. Alongside her contemporaries Man Ray, André Breton, Dora Maar, and Max Ernst, Oppenheim developed an expansive multidisciplinary practice that embraced the uncanny and psychosexual. Throughout her paintings, drawings, jewellery, and mixed-media work, she riffed on everyday objects and explored themes of femininity, fantasy, dreams, identity, and the erotic. Oppenheim has been the subject of retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern, Moderna Museet, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, among other institutions. In addition to her studio practice, Oppenheim collaborated with avant-garde Italian designer Elsa Schiaperelli on accessories and famously posed for Man Ray’s Erotique voilée (1933). Object now belongs in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Text from the Artsy website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Karlheinz Stockhausen, Salzburg' 1995

 

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Karl Kalter, Fasching' Munich 1995

 

 

 

Karl Kalter: My father in 1995 two weeks before his death in Munich during Carneval

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Michel Leiris' Paris, 1979

 

 

 

Julien Michel Leiris (French, 20 April 1901 in Paris – 30 September 1990 in Saint-Hilaire, Essonne) was a French surrealist writer and ethnographer. Part of the Surrealist group in Paris, Leiris became a key member of the College of Sociology with Georges Bataille and head of research in ethnography at the CNRS.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'James Baldwin, Ted Joans' Paris 1976

 

 

 

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American writer and activist. As a writer, he garnered acclaim across various mediums, including essays, novels, plays, and poems. His first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, was published in 1953; decades later, Time Magazine included the novel on its list of the 100 best English-language novels released from 1923 to 2005. His first essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, was published in 1955.

Baldwin’s work fictionalises fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin’s protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, and gay and bisexual men frequently feature prominently in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, which was written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.

His reputation has endured since his death and his work has been adapted for the screen to great acclaim. An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016), which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards. One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.

In addition to writing, Baldwin was also a well-known, and controversial, public figure and orator, especially during the civil rights movement in the United States.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Theodore Joans (July 4, 1928 – April 25, 2003) was an American jazz poet, surrealist, trumpeter, and painter. His work stands at the intersection of several avant-garde streams and some have seen in it a precursor to the orality of the spoken-word movement. However he criticised the competitive aspect of “slam” poetry. Joans is known for his motto: “Jazz is my religion, and Surrealism is my point of view”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis' Paris 1977

 


Andy Warhol signs the shirt of Alain Pacadis
Paris 1977

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Berenice Abbott and Gisèle Freund' Paris, 1977

 

Berenice Abbott and Gisèle Freund
Paris, 1977

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Susan Sontag' Paris, 1979

 

 

 

I am especially moved by two portraits in this series. The first is of Susan Sontag, author of the famous essays collected in On photography (1973-1977), who was so devoted both to Paris, where she is buried, and to photography. She described herself as an “eternal photographic virgin,” but in fact she loved the camera and understood composition, as we see here and see so often in the photographs taken by her friend Annie Leibovitz, reflecting a state of both relaxed affection and that “density of abandonment” that her friend Barthes spoke of in connection with Robert Mapplethorpe’s Young Man with his Arm Extended (1975). And lastly there is Roland Barthes, standing at his window, lost in thought, expressionless – neither happy nor sad, neither present nor absent, drifting but not vague, the man who wrote such beautiful things about photography in Camera Lucida (1980). But one of his most astonishingly banal remarks is to be found in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1977). In the margin of a photo of himself as a toddler, he wrote: “Contemporaries? I was learning to walk, Proust was still alive, and finishing La Recherche (1913-1927).” Sontag sees it differently: “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” To conclude: in that blink of an eye – the shutter is essentially a blink as it opens and closes – the photographer artist has entered this room; she, too, is in that bed, sitting beneath a framed picture, or covered by a white cloth, in a (fortuitous) echo of photographs by Duane Michals and Hervé Guibert, a phantom image hidden under the white sheet of the darkroom.

Extract from Renaud Machart. “The frame and the void,” on the Marion Kalter website November 2013 [Online] Cited 04/04/2022

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Roland Barthes' Paris, 1979

 


Roland Barthes
Paris, 1979

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Marguerite Duras, Yann Andréa' Paris, 1981

 

 

 

Marguerite Germaine Marie Donnadieu (French, 4 April 1914 – 3 March 1996), known as Marguerite Duras, was a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Her script for the film Hiroshima mon amour (1959) earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Yann Andréa was born on December 24, 1952 in Guingamp, Brittany, France. He was an actor and writer, known for Cet amour-là (2001), I Want to Talk About Duras (2021) and L’homme atlantique (1981). He died on July 10, 2014 in Paris, France.

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Pierre Boulez rehearses a work by Luciano Berio with the Ensemble Intercontemporain' Paris, 1989

 


Pierre Boulez rehearses a work by Luciano Berio with the Ensemble Intercontemporain
Paris, 1989

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Jean Paul Riopelle' Tanlay 1989

 


Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Jean Paul Riopelle
Tanlay 1989

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'Daido Moriyama in Paris' 2018

 

 

 

Museum der Moderne Salzburg
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5020 Salzburg, Austria
Phone: +43 662 842220

Opening hours:
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Wednesday: 10am – 8pm
Monday: closed

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26
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved’ at the Museo Picasso Málaga

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2021 – 3rd April 2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
30 x 40cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

A quick text today as I’m still not well with bronchitis.

I really struggled to get images for this posting, the museum supplying 12 of the 21 photographs while I gathered the rest after seeing an installation image from the exhibition and deciphering further images from the preview to the catalogue of the exhibition on the Amazon website.

If you are interested in the subject matter – photographs of an environment where Picasso was in his element, a volcano at the epicentre of a vibrant, creative city – then I think the catalogue would be the way to go… but at close to $100 for just 152 pages the cost might seem a little excessive.

My favourite images in the posting are the two atmospheric photographs of Picasso’s sculptures in his studios.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Museo Picasso Málaga for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris' 1947

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
23 x 17.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris' 1930

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris
1930
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.3cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Au Cochon Limousin' 1935

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
‘Au cochon limousin’, rue Lecourbe, Paris
1935
Gelatin silver print, modern copy
29.8 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
27.6 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Trapeze artists, Medano Circus' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Trapeze artists, Medano Circus
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard' 1933

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris' 1930-1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris
1930-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

  • The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved, presented by Museo Picasso Málaga, shows the work of one of the most famous European photographers of the first half of the 20th century. With his work, Brassaï helped to create the universal public image of Paris, the Eternal City. It is displayed here alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux, and with period piece films, posters, sheet music and a large quantity of documentary material.
  • Brassaï’s photographs invite the viewer to wander through Paris, with its river Seine, Notre Dame, its brothels and its markets. His conjured up a superb depiction of society in his many shots of the intellectual, literary, and artistic scene of 1930s and 1940s Paris, ranging from Sartre to Beckett.
  • This exhibition has been organised with sponsorship from Fundación Unicaja and the special collaboration of Estate Brassaï succession, Paris; Institut Français, Seville, and Musée national Picasso-Paris. It sheds light on the professional relationship and friendship between Brassaï and Picasso, who considered Brassaï to be the best photographer of his work.

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Brassaï arrived in Paris from Hungary in 1924. Little by little, he discovered the dynamic nature and the social idiosyncrasies of the great metropolis. While he initially explored the city’s nightlife, over time he began to create a precise X-ray of its architecture and its people. He joined the fascinating intellectual and artistic avant-garde community of which Picasso was a member, becoming one of its finest eyewitness photographers. But Brassaï was not just a photographer, he was also a versatile artist who drew, made sculptures, decorated, and made films.

As a photographer, Brassaï constructed a visual topography of the city of light (and shadows) in the 1930s and 40s, but this exhibition also aims to show him as a prolific creative artist. The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved features over 300 works, with photographs, drawings and sculptures that come mainly from the Brassaï family archives (Estate Brassaï Succession). Also on display are photographs and artworks by Pablo Picasso, alongside works by Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux.

Films, posters, musical scores, theatre programmes and a large quantity of documentary material from the Paris of that period, make up an exhibition that takes the visitor back to an unforgettable city and time.

The structure of the exhibition comprises four sections that relate to film, the visual arts, literature, and music, based on the photographic work of one of the most famous photographers of the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition layout begins with Who is Brassaï? which displays artistic works whose main feature is their expressive freedom. Paris by Day features scenes from everyday life as if they were being shown for the first time: Paris by Night is a journey through a city of shadows that evokes the melancholy that emanated from the streets and characters. Conversations with Picasso brings together work by the two artists who enjoyed a long-lasting professional and personal relationship.

 

The Eye of Paris

Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula Halász (1899-1984), a Hungarian photographer who was best known for his work on Paris, the city where he made his career. When he was three years old, his family moved to the French capital, in the year that his father, a professor of literature, was teaching at the Sorbonne. As a young man, Brassaï studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, before joining the Cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. In 1920, he went to live in Berlin to work as a journalist and to study at the University of the Arts. In 1924, he moved back to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. He soon made friends with writers Henry Miller (who described him in one of his books as “the eye of Paris”), León-Paul Fargue and Jacques Prévert. Inspired by his frequent night-time walks around Paris, Gyula Halász asked to borrow a camera to capture the beauty of the streets and gardens in the rain and fog. He used poetic metaphors in these pictures, leading more than one graphic reporter to describe him as a poet with a camera. He then began to sign his work with the pseudonym Brassaï. It means “the man from Brasso”, his birthplace, which is now part of Romania.

In the 1930s, Paris was by no means a feast. Various events were leaving their mark on a new age, with major financial and political repercussions. The decade began with one of the greatest financial crises the world had ever experienced: the Great Depression. This was to lead to the collapse of the financial system and to poverty for thousands of families. Europe was facing the possibility of new wars and uprisings that would lead to the rise of totalitarianism. Culture and art were not blind to these events, but art dealers and artists were irresistibly drawn to Paris, seeking in the City of Light a new artistic and personal life that matched their ideals, along with the necessary freedom to make them happen.

Brassaï’s photographic work during these years helped to construct the image we have today of the French capital, with its depictions of artistic, social and intellectual life. He took X-ray-like shots of the great city, during the day and at night, from its dark alleyways to it dazzling social and artistic scene. The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved shows the modern, cosmopolitan city par excellence, in a Europe that bore the hallmarks of the great changes brought about by 19th-century industry and by the international exhibitions of the early 20th-century. It was a city that Brassaï loved, as did his colleague and friend, Pablo Picasso.

 

Night Walks

In 1932 he published his first photographic book, “Paris de Nuit”. It contained high-contrast night shots with full bleed and no margins that feature the play of light and shadow, taken on streets, squares, rooftops, street corners, gardens, buildings and monuments. During his nocturnal wanderings, smoking cigarette after cigarette, the gaslights, fog and car headlights lit up a unique Paris, transforming its rigorously classical architecture and capturing the strange beauty of the fleeting shadows. His negatives became black and white photographs with a strong sense of mystery. They are pictures that alter your perception of the familiar. “Paris de Nuit” was a cultural sensation and a well-deserved success that caught the attention of leading art magazines such as Minotaure, one of the most important cultural publications of the time.

Brassaï liked to say that his birthplace was very close to that of Count Dracula, and that, like him, he was a nocturnal creature. For this reason, in several of his unforgettable photobooks he showed an alternative Paris, with scenes in brothels and bars where young gay men, lesbians and transvestites are all seen having fun. They also contain scenes from the city’s social life, high society, and intellectual circles.

 

Portraying the Intellectual Circles

The photographer himself described 1932 and 1933 as the most important years of his life. It was during these years that he met the key figures of Parisian cultural life, many of whom were also foreigners, and he evolved alongside the intellectual milieu and the artistic avant-garde movements that were flourishing in Paris at the time.

His earliest works coincided with the rise of Surrealism in France. The movement believed that photography encouraged a division of the poetic personality simultaneously into subject and object. But although his pictures display the same attraction to the dreamworld expressed by the surrealists, and his series on graffiti indicates his interest in the wonder of random discovery and the primitive world, Brassaï always denied belonging to the movement. His photographs, based on the traditional realist style, are evocative images that condense the atmosphere of a brief moment, without becoming documentary photography.

Brassaï was part of the Paris intellectual circle, as was Picasso, at a time when art was flourishing. He took photographs of artists who were to become the sacred monsters of our age, many of whom were his friends: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, as well as leading writers of the time such as Jean Genet and Henri Michaux. His portraits reveal his great skill at capturing the personality of his sitters, creating a collective portrait of the intellectual circle.

 

On the Walls of Paris

Brassaï was the first person in the history of modern photography to intuitively consider the camera as a tool with which to dissect urban life. “The eye of Paris”, as Henry Miller dubbed him in one of his essays, also directed his gaze at the drawings, marks and doodles on Paris walls. He came across these popular anonymous signs and imprints on walls during his walks along Parisian alleyways: faces, symbols, animals, handprints, the scratched-on outlines of sketches… They were captivatingly primitive, and he elevated them to the status of “Art Maudit” or Damned Art because, for him, they were more than just ways for people to express themselves.

Over the years, Brassaï compiled a catalogue of the marks that the capital’s inhabitants left on its walls, with photos that no editor would publish, until at last they were collected together in a book, Graffiti (1961), after Edward Steichen declared his admiration for this work and his intention of organising an exhibition at MoMA in New York. When Brassaï immortalised these street pictures, the term graffiti had not yet been coined, and it was not until the 1980s that it finally became classified as Urban or Street Art.

Brassaï was a prolific creative artist who also produced drawings and sculptures, wrote numerous articles and published 17 books. His film Tant qu’il y aura des bêtes won the award for the best original short film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956, and in 1978 he won France’s Grand Prix National de la Photographie.

 

Brassaï / Picasso. A Friendship

Photography constantly accompanied Picasso, not only as a testimony to his life, but often revealing his personality, work and inner circle. Of all the many relationships he struck up in Paris with writers, essayists, playwrights and visual artists, the Museo Picasso Málaga exhibition focuses on the close and prolific professional relationship between Brassaï and Pablo Picasso.

In December. 1932, the art critic Tériade invited Brassaï to take pictures of Picasso, his studio and his sculptures, to illustrate the first issue of Minotaure. This collaboration led to a long and sincere friendship that was sustained by mutual admiration. Brassaï was fascinated by Picasso’s personality, and Picasso admired the photographer’s unbiased gaze. The two friends were both foreigners in the big city: one of them was to become one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and the other, the great artist who changed the history of art. They shared an extraordinary gift for observation, as well as great curiosity. They both collected strange objects that had been thrown away and found again by chance, and they shared a keen interest in primitive art, art brut, bones, poetry and graffiti. They also had a common dislike of focussing on a single discipline, in their urge to explore other creative fields.

This obvious and very special complicity meant that Brassaï became an exceptional witness to Picasso’s private world: the places where he created art, the works themselves, his family life and his friends. Brassaï was one of the few people Picasso allowed free access to his studios, and he was the first to photograph his sculptures. The Málaga-born artist opened the doors of his studios to him in Boisgeloup, La Boétie and Grands Augustins, successively. Brassaï had a great sense of detail, he knew how to put order into disorder, and he composed his photographs in an almost architectural way, giving a new dimension to the works Picasso created and the objects and materials with which he surrounded himself.

One of the most important books in terms of getting to know Picasso, is Brassaï’s Conversations with Picasso (1964), a fascinating text that is outstanding for the immediacy and detail of a man who wrote in the same way he took pictures. This chronicle, which Brassaï illustrated with over 50 photographs, runs from September 1943 – eleven years after he first met Picasso – to September 1962. It provides us with two decades-worth of the artist’s story and, above all, of an environment where Picasso was the epicentre, while at the same time describing the history of art and the main events of those years. The relationship between Brassaï and Picasso remained intact until the Spaniard’s death in 1973. Brassaï died in the South of France in 1984 and was buried in Montparnasse cemetery, in the city that both he and Picasso loved.

For the occasion, Museo Picasso Málaga and La Fábrica have jointly published the photobook Brassaï (Paris & Picasso), which contains 105 full-page photographs and an excerpt from the text in which Henry Miller dubbed Brassaï “The eye of Paris”. This bi-lingual hardback edition is printed on coated paper, to highlight the photographs’ half-tones and nuances of light and shade. The book is now available to purchase from the Museo Picasso Málaga bookshop and is due to be distributed to Spanish, European and US bookshops.

Press release from the Museo Picasso Málaga

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The fireplace in Pablo Picasso's studio, Rue La Boétie' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The fireplace in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Rue La Boétie
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
28.1 x 21.8cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

“When I enter the studio, I leave my body at the door… I only allow my spirit to go in there and paint”

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Pablo Picasso

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso's studio, Boisgeloup' December 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Boisgeloup
December 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

In 1930, Picasso acquires a house and land near Gisors, Normandy, with the aim of creating monumental sculptures. Of those he creates there, La femme au vase (Woman with Vase), a piece from 1933, stands out for its great symbolic weight, given that it is placed on the artist’s tomb in the Château of Vauvenargues. But it is above all the busts of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his young secret lover, who both Brassaï and Boris Kochno capture with their respective lenses in attempts to recreate the peculiar atmosphere of that country studio, inhabited by strange creatures. While Kochno’s report is that of an amateur, Brassaï’s is a commission for the first issue of Minotaure art magazine, from 1933, accompanying a text by André Breton, “Picasso dans son élément” (Picasso in his Element), which reveals Picasso as a sculptor, a facet of his work that was completely unknown until then.

Anonymous text from the Museo Picasso website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Weekend, Paris' 1936

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Weekend, Paris
1936
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.7cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris' 1939

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1939
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris' Paris, 26 February 1945

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris
Paris, 26 February 1945
Oil on canvas
80 x 120cm
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands- Augustins, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
27.7 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup' 1934

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup
1934
Original plaster varnished
38.5 x 27.5 x 21cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
On temporary loan to the Museo Picasso Málaga
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato' 1931

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The Sun King, Paris' 1930-1950

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The Sun King, Paris
1930-1950
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
40 x 29.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Le Poussin' 1955

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Le Poussin
1955
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

Museo Picasso Málaga
Palacio de Buenavista C/ San Agustín, 8
29015 Málaga, Spain

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 7pm

Museo Picasso Málaga website

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05
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus’ at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2021 – 27th March 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Armando Cristeto (Mexico, b. 1957) Apolo urbano, c. 1981; Antonio Reynoso, La Gorda, c. 1960; Herb Ritts, Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood, c. 1987

 

 

I’m working from my iPad at the moment as my computer has gone down, so this will be short and sweet.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, that in this day and age a museum provides so few media images on such an important theme that I had to spend many hours digging around trying to find images for this posting. I examined the labels on the installation photographs, and then looked at the museum’s Instagram account where there was much more information, before searching for large enough images online for the posting. Some artists are little known so this proved very difficult.

It’s good to see Arlene Gottfried’s strong, brash, direct photographs of gay icons, Jewish bodybuilders and street urchins but they are standard clubbing / street fare and there is little subtlety in her work.

While Gottfried may have survived to tell her story her own way the work only documents. For a photograph is that ever enough? Here the photographs in no way provide a fresh perspective on a clubbing street aesthetic grounded in the milieu of the mid 70s to early 80s Studio 54, pre-AIDS, groovy, disco party vibe. Nostalgia, history and memory are their appeal today.

Tastes have changed. Personally I find more power and sensitivity in Kike Arnal’s Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) (2018, below) than most of Gottfried’s graphic photographs – her subjects caught as if the lights had come up in the club at 6am (believe me this has happened many times, all of us looking like startled rabbits). Strike a pose!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Cobra Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Shohei Miyachi, Untitled, c. 2018; Leonard Freed, Handcuffed, New York City, from Police Work series, c. 1978; Larry Clark, Chuck, c. 1981

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach' 1976

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 27.9 x 35.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

How does your gender impact your work as an artist? The candid photographs of Arlene Gottfried have become everlasting memories of New York’s fast-evolving culture(s). For over 40 years, Gottfried photographed the intimate stories of the American domestic life, as well intrepid snapshots of the Puerto Rican community or the wild nights inside Studio 54.

She emphasised that being a female photographer back in the 70s was very different than now:

‘A lot of the male photographers [in the past] felt threatened and didn’t like it. […] It’s changed so much with women working. They’re more visible now. I don’t know the statistics on museums and how many are being collected. But on an everyday level, you see women in jobs that used to be male – bus driver, train conductor – typically male jobs that now have female employees and photography was the same. It used to be only guys, really. And actually, in my first photography class, I was the only young woman in the class and I had a lump in my throat, like I wanted to cry, only guys there. But it wound up being a very supportive environment and I learned a lot.

Unless you’re doing something that’s a very feminine kind of a topic, I don’t think gender is really all that visible.’

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Guy With Radio, East 7th Street' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Guy With Radio, East 7th Street
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

The legendary street photographer who captured more than neutral subjects, but also the living faces and bodies of people along with their memories. Arlene Harriet Gottfried photographs preserve cultural heritage of the urban atmosphere.

One of the most quintessential projects Gottfried produced was a black-and-white series of street photography from the 1970s and 80s in New York. Her work will form part of our exhibition Clandestine. This is a photo exhibition about the human body. One of the most dominant themes in the exhibition is the constant dialogue between culture and bodies. This is something Arlene Gottfried captures particularly well. Arlene Gottfried documented scenes of ordinary daily life. The everyday life from the past that still lives vividly in her photographs. Her work embodied stories and memories of people who although you will never get to know, you can easily feel familiarised.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page