Archive for the 'painting' Category

14
Aug
20

Pamphlet: ‘Australian Aboriginal Art’ with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

August 2020

 

Cover of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Unknown artist. Cover of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art, National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

 

I found this rare pamphlet in an op shop (charity shop). I have decided to publish it on Art Blart as part of a historical record, so that it is available to researchers into Indigenous Australian culture and art. While I believe that the text and images contain no information of secret sacred importance, if anyone has any concerns please contact me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au.

What is fascinating about the text is that it was originally published by the National Museum of Victoria in 1929, and then reprinted verbatim for this pamphlet in 1952. In other words, no new scholarship had taken place in the intervening 23 years that was noteworthy enough for the Museum to feel it needed to update the text. Other interesting facts are that Aboriginal Art was housed within the Australian Ethnology section, art as an outcome of the study of the characteristics of different people, and that it was known as “primitive art” made by “primitive peoples”. Even the National Gallery of Australia had a “primitive art” gallery up until the 1980s!

Of course, the texts are of their time. In the first text “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett, he questions the quality, authenticity and age of the rock paintings at Mootwingee – whether they are a few centuries old or of old antiquity it – and apparently, it makes no difference. Barrett then praises the magic making art of Indigenous Australians, while at the same time encouraging us to look upon their art as merely pictures (Barrett, p. 11). He seems to be equally attracted and repulsed by “primitive art”, as an expression of man’s artistic tendency, in cave paintings and rock-carvings whose forms are grotesque and even repulsive.

Barrett admits that their finest decorations, on weapons and sacred objects, are magic: “Here is a magic truly; no “Art for Art’s sake.” (Barrett, p. 12). And then in the next paragraph, while extolling that we should have more interest in the Australian race, and learn its culture, he announces that Indigenous Australians are “living fossils” and are failing. Using the terminology of Edward S. Curtis (who photographed the First Nations Peoples of America in the early 20th century), they are The Vanishing Race (1904), the title of his photograph of Navajo riding off into an indeterminate distance. Destined for extinction. Further, Barrett states that every “relic” of the Aboriginals is worth preserving, as though all Indigenous people were already a historical artefact, no longer living. The use of the word relic is informative: its derivation comes from Old French relique (originally plural), from Latin reliquiae, the latter mid 17th century Latin, feminine plural (used as a noun) of reliquus ‘remaining’, based on linquere ‘to leave’. In other words, they remain and leave at one and the same time, the remainder only a husk of the original.

In the second text “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon, the researcher and psychologist into Indigenous art is urged, indeed must, divest themselves of all civilised conceptions and mentality and assume those of a prehistoric man – or that of a child. “Prior or the British settlement of Eastern Australia – to be precise, prior to Governor Phillip establishing his colony at Port Jackson, there appears to be no record of aboriginal paintings or carvings.” (A.S. Kenyon, p. 22) What Kenyon seems to be suggesting is that it is only through the influence of the “civilised” Europeans that Indigenous Australians begin painting and carving. A description of the various representational techniques of Indigenous Australian art making follows, the art divided into two classes: fixed and portable. “In the first class, those of fixed objects, we have (a) rock-paintings; (b) rock-carvings; (c) tree-carvings; (d) tree-paintings; (e) ground-paintings; (f) ground-models. In the second, or portable class, there are (a) figures or models; (b) weapons, implements and utensils, decorated either by painting or carving; (c) ceremonial objects; (d) ornaments or personal adornment; (e) bark-paintings. (A.S. Kenyon, p. 27)

I believe it is important to have these texts (which are less than 100 years old), and the paradoxical historical attitudes towards Australian Indigenous culture and art they contain, published online. The pamphlet recognises Aboriginal culture yet also rules a ledger under it. (Professor Tom Griffiths’ observations on Geoffrey Blainey’s book Triumph of the Nomads). The attitude was that while this “primitive art” was worthy of study, ultimately it belonged to an archaic, fragile culture which was destined to be consigned to history.

I am so glad that this spiritual culture (and the changing Western understanding of Australian Indigenous art and culture) has proved the authors wrong.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Title page of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Title page of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon 1952

 

Preface of the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 5

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6-7

 

Mootwingee Rock Carvings

 

Unknown photographer. “Mootwingee Rock Carvings. Pecked Type,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 6

 

Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales

 

Unknown photographer. “Great Rock Shelter at Mootwingee, New South Wales,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

Rock Engraving, Mootwingee

 

Unknown photographer. “Rock Engraving, Mootwingee,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 7

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 8-9

 

from North Queensland

 

“Painted Shields from North Queensland,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 9

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 10-11

 

Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile

 

“Bark Drawing. Northern Territory. Native in canoe spearing crocodile,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 11

 

"The Primitive Artist" by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12-13

 

Rock Painting, South Africa

 

“Rock Painting, South Africa,” in “The Primitive Artist” by Charles Barrett from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 12

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14-15

 

 

“Native Corroboree. Drawn by Tommy Barnes, a Mission Aboriginal, showing European influence,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 14.

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16-17

 

Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures

 

“Prehistoric Rock Painting, Spain. Showing superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 16

 

Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures

 

“Stone Churingas from Central Australia. Showing symbolic and totemic figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 17

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 18-19

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 20-21

 

Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures

 

“Rock Paintings. Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. Superimposed figures,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 21

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 22-23

 

Bark drawing representing Settler's Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria

 

“Bark drawing representing Settler’s Homestead, Lake Tyrrell, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 23

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 24-25

 

Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type

 

“Rock Carvings, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Grooved type,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 25

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26-27

 

Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw's original sketch

 

“Rock Painting, Prince Regent River, North-west Australia. From Bradshaw’s original sketch,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 26

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 28-29

 

Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Stencilled Hands in the Cave of Hands, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 29

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30-31

 

Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria

 

“Rock Painting, Cave of the Serpent, Langi Ghiran, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 30

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32-33

 

Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne

 

Edmund Milne. “Carved Tree. From a photograph by Edmund Milne,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 32

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34-35

 

Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted

 

“Decorated Shields, Carved and Painted,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 34

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36-37

 

Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory

 

“Painted Bark Bags, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 36

 

"The Art of the Australian Aboriginal" by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet 'Australian Aboriginal Art' by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon

 

“The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon in the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38-39

 

Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory

 

“Bark Paintings, Alligator River, Northern Territory,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 38

 

Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. “Making Tracings of Rock Paintings, Glen Isla Rock Shelter, Victoria Range, Victoria,” in “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal” by A.S. Kenyon from the pamphlet Australian Aboriginal Art with texts by Charles Barrett and A.S. Kenyon (text reprinted from the 1929 exhibition), National Museum of Victoria, 1952, p. 39

 

 

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22
Jul
20

Exhibition: ‘2020 Vision: Photographs, 1840s-1860s’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd December 2019 – closing date to be announced due to the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. ‘The Chess Players’ c. 1845 (detail)

 

Likely by Antoine-François-Jean Claudet (French, Lyon 1797 – 1867 London)
Possibly by Nicolaas Henneman (Dutch, Heemskerk 1813 – 1898 London)
The Chess Players (detail)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from paper negative
Sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 11/16 in. (24.5 × 19.6cm)
Image: 7 13/16 × 5 13/16 in. (19.8 × 14.7cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

An excellent selection of photographs in this posting. I particularly like the gender-bending, shape-shifting, age-distorting 1850s-60s Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits by an unknown artist. I’ve never seen anything like it before, especially from such an early date. Someone obviously took a lot of care, had a great sense of humour and definitely had a great deal of fun making the album.

Other fascinating details include the waiting horses and carriages in Fox Talbot’s View of the Boulevards of Paris (1843); the mannequin perched above the awning of the photographic studio in Dowe’s Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois (1860s); and the chthonic underworld erupting from the tilting ground in Carleton E. Watkins’ California Oak, Santa Clara Valley (c. 1863).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Metropolitan 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.

 

 

When The Met first opened its doors in 1870, photography was still relatively new. Yet over the preceding three decades it had already developed into a complex pictorial language of documentation, social and scientific inquiry, self-expression, and artistic endeavour.

These initial years of photography’s history are the focus of this exhibition, which features new and recent gifts to the Museum, many offered in celebration of The Met’s 150th anniversary and presented here for the first time. The works on view, from examples of candid portraiture and picturesque landscape to pioneering travel photography and photojournalism, chart the varied interests and innovations of early practitioners.

The exhibition, which reveals photography as a dynamic medium through which to view the world, is the first of a two-part presentation that plays on the association of “2020” with clarity of vision while at the same time honouring farsighted and generous collectors and patrons. The second part will move forward a century, bringing together works from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. ‘The Chess Players’ c. 1845

 

Likely by Antoine-François-Jean Claudet (French, Lyon 1797 – 1867 London)
Possibly by Nicolaas Henneman (Dutch, Heemskerk 1813 – 1898 London)
The Chess Players
c. 1845
Salted paper print from paper negative
Sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 11/16 in. (24.5 × 19.6cm)
Image: 7 13/16 × 5 13/16 in. (19.8 × 14.7cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Lewis Carroll (British, Daresbury, Cheshire 1832 - 1898 Guildford) '[Alice Liddell]' June 25, 1870

 

Lewis Carroll (British, Daresbury, Cheshire 1832 – 1898 Guildford)
[Alice Liddell]
June 25, 1870
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Sheet: 6 1/4 × 5 9/16 in. (15.9 × 14.1cm)
Image: 5 7/8 × 4 15/16 in. (15 × 12.6cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Eighteen-year-old Alice Liddell’s slumped pose, clasped hands, and sullen expression invite interpretation. A favoured model of Lewis Carroll, and the namesake of his novel Alice in Wonderland, Liddell had not seen the writer and photographer for seven years when this picture was made; her mother had abruptly ended all contact in 1863. The young woman poses with apparent unease in this portrait intended to announce her eligibility for marriage. The session closed a long and now controversial history with Carroll, whose portraits of children continue to provoke speculation. In what was to be her last sitting with the photographer, Liddell embodies the passing of childhood innocence that Carroll romanticised through the fictional Alice.

 

Unknown photographer (American) '[Surveyor]' c. 1854

 

Unknown photographer (American)
[Surveyor]
c. 1854
Daguerreotype
Case: 1.6 × 9.2 × 7.9cm (5/8 × 3 5/8 × 3 1/8 in.)
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This portrait of a surveyor from an unknown daguerreotype studio was made during the heyday of the Daguerreian era in the United States, a time that coincided with an increased need for survey data and maps for the construction of railways, bridges, and roads. The unidentified surveyor, seated in a chair, grasps one leg of the tripod supporting his transit, a type of theodolite or surveying instrument that comprised a compass and rotating telescope. The carefully composed scene, in which the angle of the man’s skyward gaze is aligned with the telescope and echoed by one leg of the tripod, conflates its surveyor subject with an astronomer. As a result, the lands of young America are compared to the vast reaches of space, with both territories full of potential discovery.

 

Unknown photographer (American) '[Surveyor]' c. 1854

 

Unknown photographer (American)
[Surveyor]
c. 1854
Daguerreotype
Case: 1.6 × 9.2 × 7.9cm (5/8 × 3 5/8 × 3 1/8 in.)
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Alphonse Delaunay (French, 1827-1906) 'Patio de los Arrayanes, Alhambra, Granada, Spain' 1854

 

Alphonse Delaunay (French, 1827-1906)
Patio de los Arrayanes, Alhambra, Granada, Spain
1854
Albumen silver print from paper negative
10 in. × 13 5/8 in. (25.4 × 34.6cm)
Gift of W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, 2017
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

One of the most talented students of famed French photographer Gustave Le Gray, Delaunay was virtually unknown before a group of his photographs appeared at auction in 2007. Subsequent research led to the identification of several bodies of work, including the documentation of contemporary events through instantaneous views captured on glass negatives. Delaunay also was a particular devotee of the calotype (or paper negative) process, with which he created his best pictures – including this view of the Alhambra. Among a group of pictures he made between 1851 and 1854 in Spain and Algeria, this view of the Patio de los Arrayanes reveals the extent to which Delaunay was able to manipulate the peculiarities of the paper negative. He revels in the graininess of the image, purposefully not masking out the sky before printing the negative, so that the marble tower appears somehow carved out of the very atmosphere that surrounds it. In contrast, the reflecting pool remains almost impossibly limpid, its dark surface offering a cool counterpart to the harsh Spanish sky.

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887) '[Classical Head]' probably 1839

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887)
[Classical Head]
probably 1839
Salted paper print
6 1/2 × 5 7/8 in. (16.5 × 15cm)
Purchase, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This luminous head seems to materialise before our very eyes, as if we are observing the moment in which the latent photographic image becomes visible. Nineteenth-century eyewitnesses to Hippolyte Bayard’s earliest photographs (direct positives on paper) described a similarly enchanting effect, in which hazy outlines coalesced with light and tone to form charmingly faithful, if indistinct, images. These works, which Bayard referred to as essais (tests or trials), often included statues and busts, which he frequently arranged in elaborate tableaux. In this case, he photographed the lone subject (an idealised classical head) from the front and side, as if it were a scientific specimen. The singular object emerges as a relic from photography’s origins and now distant past.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 - 1877 Lacock) 'Group Taking Tea at Lacock Abbey' August 17, 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 – 1877 Lacock)
Group Taking Tea at Lacock Abbey
August 17, 1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
Mount: 9 15/16 in. × 13 in. (25.3 × 33cm)
Sheet: 7 3/8 × 8 15/16 in. (18.7 × 22.7cm)
Image: 5 in. × 7 1/2 in. (12.7 × 19 cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Although Talbot’s groundbreaking calotype (paper negative) process allowed for more instantaneous image making, works such as this one nevertheless reflect the technical limitations of early photography. Here, he adapts painterly conventions to the new medium, staging a genre scene on his family estate. The stilted arrangement of figures – rigidly posed to produce a clear image – belies Talbot’s attempt to show action in progress. To achieve sufficient light exposure, he photographed the domestic tableau outdoors, arranging his subjects before a blank backdrop to create the illusion of interior space.

 

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

 

Unknown artist (American or Canadian)
[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]
1850s-60s
Albumen silver prints
5 15/16 × 5 1/8 × 2 1/16 in. (15.1 × 13 × 5.3cm)
Bequest of Herbert Mitchell, 2008
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Beginning in the late 1850s, cartes de visite, or small photographic portrait cards, were produced on a scale that put photography in the hands of the masses. This unusual collection of collages is ahead of its time in spoofing the rigidity of the format. The images play with scale and gender by juxtaposing cutout heads and mismatched sitters, thereby highlighting the difference between social identity – which was communicated in part through the exchange of calling cards – and individuality.

 

Unknown artist (American) '[Studio Photographer at Work]' c. 1855

 

Unknown artist (American)
[Studio Photographer at Work]
c. 1855
Salted paper print
Image: 5 1/8 × 3 13/16 in. (13 × 9.7cm)
Sheet: 9 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. (24.1 × 14.3cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In this evocative image, picture making takes centre stage. Underneath a canopy of dark cloth, the photographer poses as if to adjust the bellows of a large format camera. The view reflected on its ground glass would appear reversed and upside down. Viewers’ expectations are similarly overturned, because the photographer’s subject remains unseen.

 

Unknown artist (American) '[Boy Holding a Daguerreotype]' 1850s

 

Unknown artist (American)
[Boy Holding a Daguerreotype]
1850s
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Image: 3 1/4 × 2 3/4 in. (8.3 × 7cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The boy in this picture clutches a cased image to his chest, as if to illustrate his affection for the subject depicted within. Daguerreotypes were a novel form of handheld picture, portable enough to slip into a pocket or palm. Portraits exchanged between friends and family could be kept close – a practice often mimed by sitters, who would pose for one daguerreotype while holding another.

 

James Fitzallen Ryder (American, 1826-1904) 'Locomotive James McHenry (58), Atlantic and Great Western Railway' 1862

 

James Fitzallen Ryder (American, 1826-1904)
Locomotive James McHenry (58), Atlantic and Great Western Railway
1862
Albumen silver print
Image: 7 3/8 × 9 1/4 in. (18.7 × 23.5cm)
Mount: 10 × 13 in. (25.4 × 33cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In spring 1862, the chief engineer in charge of building the Atlantic and Great Western Railway – which ran from Salamanca, New York, to Akron, Ohio, and from Meadville to Oil City, Pennsylvania – engaged James Ryder to make photographs that would convince shareholders of the worthiness of the project. Ryder’s assignment was “to photograph all the important points of the work, such as excavations, cuts, bridges, trestles, stations, buildings and general character of the country through which the road ran, the rugged and the picturesque.” In a converted railroad car kitted out with a darkroom, water tank, and developing sink, he processed photographs that make up one of the earliest rail surveys.

 

Attributed to Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, Wayland, Massachusetts 1808 - 1901 Crawford Notch, New Hampshire) Winter on the Common, Boston' 1850s

 

Attributed to Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, Wayland, Massachusetts 1808 – 1901 Crawford Notch, New Hampshire)
Winter on the Common, Boston
1850s
Salted paper print
Window: 6 15/16 × 8 15/16 in. (17.6 × 22.7cm)
Mat: 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Having originally set his sights on a career as a painter, Josiah Hawes gave up his brushes for a camera upon first seeing a daguerreotype in 1841. Two years later, he joined Albert Sands Southworth in Boston to form the celebrated photographic studio Southworth & Hawes. Turning to paper-based photography in the early 1850s, Hawes frequently depicted local scenery. This surprising picture, which presents Boston Common through a veil of snow-laden branches, shows that Hawes brought his creative ambitions to the nascent art of photography.

 

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
[California Oak, Santa Clara Valley]
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
Image: 12 in. × 9 5/8 in. (30.5 × 24.5cm)
Mount: 21 1/4 in. × 17 5/8 in. (54 × 44.8cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

For viewers today, the crown of this majestic oak tree, with its complex network of branches, might evoke the allover paintings of Abstract Expressionism with their layers of dripped paint. As photographed by Carleton Watkins, the dark, flattened silhouette of the tree feathers out across the camera’s field of view. The sloped horizon line, uncommon in Watkins’s output, both echoes the ridge in the distance and grounds the energy of the tree canopy, ably demonstrating his masterful command of pictorial composition.

 

George Wilson Bridges (British, 1788-1864) 'Garden of Selvia, Syracuse, Sicily' 1846

 

George Wilson Bridges (British, 1788-1864)
Garden of Selvia, Syracuse, Sicily
1846
Salted paper print from paper negative
Image: 6 15/16 × 8 9/16 in. (17.7 × 21.7cm)
Sheet: 7 5/16 × 8 13/16 in. (18.5 × 22.4cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

The monk’s gesture of prayer in this image by George Wilson Bridges is a touchstone of stillness against the impressive landscape and vegetation that rise up behind him. Bridges was an Anglican reverend and friend of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the calotype (paper negative), who instructed him on the method before it was patented. Bridges was also one of the earliest photographers to embark upon a tour of the Mediterranean region; he wrote to Talbot that he conceived of the excursion both as a technical mission to advance photography and as a pilgrimage to collect imagery of religious sites.

 

Pietro Dovizielli (Italian, 1804-1885) '[Spanish Steps, Rome]' c. 1855

 

Pietro Dovizielli (Italian, 1804-1885)
[Spanish Steps, Rome]
c. 1855
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 14 11/16 × 11 5/16 in. (37.3 × 28.8cm)
Sheet: 24 7/16 × 18 7/8 in. (62 × 48cm)
Gift of W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Made in late afternoon light, Pietro Dovizielli’s picture shows a long shadow cast onto Rome’s Piazza di Spagna that almost obscures one of the market stalls flanking the base of the famed Spanish Steps. Rising above the sea of stairs is the church of Trinità dei Monti, its facade neatly bisected by the Sallustiano obelisk. In the piazza, a lone figure – the only visible inhabitant of this eerily empty public square – rests against the railing of the Barcaccia fountain. Keenly composed pictures like this led reviewers of Dovizielli’s photographs to proclaim them “the very paragons of architectural photography.”

 

Edouard Baldus (French (born Prussia), 1813-1889) '[Amphitheater, Nîmes]' c. 1853

 

Edouard Baldus (French (born Prussia), 1813-1889)
[Amphitheater, Nîmes]
c. 1853
Salted paper print from paper negative
Overall: 12 3/8 × 15 3/16 in. (31.5 × 38.5cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Instead of photographing the entire arena in Nîmes, as he had two years earlier, Baldus focusses here on a section of the façade, playing the superimposed arches against the vertical, shadowed pylons in the foreground. The resulting composition manages to isolate and monumentalise the architecture, while creating a rhythmic play of light and dark that energises the picture. The photograph was part of a massive, four-year project, Villes de France photographiées, in which the views from the south of France were said to surpass all of the photographer’s previous work in the region.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800-1877 Lacock) 'View of the Boulevards of Paris' 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 – 1877 Lacock)
View of the Boulevards of Paris
1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
Mount: 9 in. × 10 1/16 in. (22.8 × 25.6cm)
Sheet: 7 3/8 × 10 1/8 in. (18.7 × 25.7cm)
Image: 6 5/16 × 8 1/2 in. (16.1 × 21.6cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

In May 1843 Talbot traveled to Paris to negotiate a licensing agreement for the French rights to his patented calotype process. His invention used a negative-positive system and a paper base – not a copper support as in a daguerreotype. Although his negotiations were not fruitful, Talbot’s views of the elegant new boulevards of the French capital were highly successful.

Filled with the incidental details of urban life, architectural ornamentation, and the play of spring light, this photograph appears as the second plate in Talbot’s groundbreaking publication The Pencil of Nature (1844). The chimney posts on the roofline of the rue de la Paix, the waiting horses and carriages, and the characteristically French shuttered windows evoke as vivid a notion of mid-nineteenth-century Paris now as they must have 170 years ago.

 

Lewis Dowe (American, active 1860s-1880s) '[Dowe's Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois]' 1860s

 

Lewis Dowe (American, active 1860s-1880s)
[Dowe’s Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois]
1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 5 7/8 × 7 5/8 in. (14.9 × 19.3cm)
Mount: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Above a bustling thoroughfare in Sycamore, Illinois, boldface lettering advertises the services of photographer Lewis Dowe, a portraitist who also published postcards and stereoviews. Easier to miss in the image is a mannequin perched above the awning to promote the studio. The flurry of activity below Dowe’s storefront and the prime location of the outfit, poised between a tailor and a saloon, speak to the important role of photography in town life.

 

E. & H. T. Anthony (American) '[Specimens of New York Bill Posting]' 1863

 

E. & H. T. Anthony (American)
[Specimens of New York Bill Posting]
1863
Albumen silver prints
Mount: 3 1/4 in. × 6 3/4 in. (8.3 × 17.1cm)
Image: 2 15/16 in. × 6 in. (7.5 × 15.3cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Benefit concerts, minstrel shows, lectures, and horse races all clamour for attention in this graphic field of broadsides posted in the Bowery neighbourhood of Manhattan. The stereograph format lends added depth and dimensionality to the layered fragments of text, transporting viewers to a hectic city sidewalk. Published for a national market, the scene indexes a precise moment in the summer of 1863, offering armchair tourists an inadvertent trend report on downtown cultural life.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'The Diamond and Wasp, Balaklava Harbour' March, 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
The Diamond and Wasp, Balaklava Harbour
March, 1855
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 8 in. × 10 1/8 in. (20.3 × 25.7 cm)
Mount: 19 5/16 × 24 3/4 in. (49 × 62.9 cm)
Gift of Thomas Walther Collection, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Fenton’s view of the Black Sea port of Balaklava, which the British used as a landing point for their siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, shows a busy but orderly operation. The British naval ships, HMS Diamond and HMS Wasp, oversaw the management of transports into and out of the harbour, which explains the presence of ships and rowboats, as well as the large stack of crates near the rail track in the foreground. Against claims of “rough-and-tumble” mismanagement of Balaklava in the British press, Fenton (commissioned by a Manchester publisher to record the theatre of war) offers documentation of a well-functioning port.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'The Mamelon and Malakoff from front of Mortar Battery' April, 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
The Mamelon and Malakoff from front of Mortar Battery
April, 1855
Salted paper print from glass negative
Image: 9 1/8 × 13 1/2 in. (23.1 × 34.3cm)
Sheet: 14 3/4 × 17 13/16 in. (37.5 × 45.3cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Fenton’s extensive documentation of the Crimean War – the first use of photography for that purpose – was a commercial endeavour that did not include pictures of battle, the wounded, or the dead. His unprepossessing view of a vast rocky valley instead discloses, in the distance, a site of crucial strategic importance. Fort Malakoff, the general designation of Russian fortifications on two hills (Mamelon and Malakoff) is just perceptible at the horizon line. Malakoff’s capture by the French in September 1855, five months after Fenton made this photograph, ended the eleven-month siege of Sevastopol and was the final episode of the war.

 

Felice Beato (British (born Italy), Venice 1832-1909 Luxor) and James Robertson (British, 1813-1881) [Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem] 1856-57

 

Felice Beato (British (born Italy), Venice 1832-1909 Luxor) and James Robertson (British, 1813-1881)
[Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem]
1856-57
Albumen silver print
Image: 9 in. × 11 1/4 in. (22.9 × 28.6cm)
Mount: 17 5/8 in. × 22 1/2 in. (44.8 × 57.2cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This detailed print showing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem provides a sense of the structure’s natural and architectural surroundings. Felice Beato depicted the religious site from a pilgrim’s point of view – walls and roads are given visual priority and stand between the viewer and the shrine. Holy sites such as this were the earliest and most common subjects of travel photography. Beato made multiple journeys to the Mediterranean and North Africa, and he is perhaps best known for photographing East Asia in the 1880s.

 

R.C. Montgomery (American, active 1850s) '[Self-Portrait (?)]' 1850s

 

R.C. Montgomery (American, active 1850s)
[Self-Portrait (?)]
1850s
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Image: 3 1/4 × 4 1/4 in. (8.3 × 10.8 cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The insouciant subject here may be the daguerreotypist himself, posing in bed for a promotional picture or a private joke. His rumpled suit and haphazard hairstyle affect intimacy, perhaps in an effort to showcase an informal portrait style. Because they required long exposure times, daguerreotypes often captured sitters at their most stilted. With this surprising picture, the maker might have hoped to attract clients who were in search of a more novel or natural likeness.

 

 

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17
Jul
20

Exhibition: ‘Hilma af Klint – Artist, Researcher, Medium’ at Moderna Museet Malmö

Exhibition dates: 4th April 2020 – 21st February 2021

Curators: Iris Müller-Westermann and Milena Høgsberg

 

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, The Eros Series, No. 2' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, The Eros Series, No. 2
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

 

The third secret

Af Klint is one my favourite painters. At such an early date (preceding any man), she created new forms from her imagination, abstract forms, that connect to, and exist, on a celestial plane.

af Klint studied Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, expanding her consciousness, trusting that “knowledge of a deeper spiritual reality could be achieved through focused attention on intuition, meditation, and other means of transcending normal human consciousness.” All from 1906-07 onwards.

Her paintings and drawings emit an aura, her aura “drawn” into a cosmic aura, as a revelation of spirit – invisible dimensions that exist beyond the visible world – a connection from our reality to the spirit of the cosmos. Childhood; youth; adulthood; primordial chaos; eros; evolution; the altar and the tree of knowledge. All knowledge that allows us access to the divine, that opens us not to phenomena, but to the noumenal experiences of the felt, spiritual sublime.

Imagine af Klint painting her huge canvases on the floor of her studio, so many years before Jackson Pollock attempted the same connection to altered consciousness, and creating these symbolic and sensation/al masterpieces. Then to have the prescience to understand that the world was not ready for her art, would not understand it, had no way of comprehending the enormity of her artistic enquiry. To leave “a radical body of work – unprecedented in its use of colour, scale and composition – which she hoped future audiences might be better able to sense and decode.” All in hope!

Leaving everything to her nephew, she instructed him not to even open the boxes of her abstract art (which she never exhibited during her lifetime) until 20 years after her death in the late 1960s. In the ultimate irony, in 1970 her entire collection was offered to the Moderna Museet as a gift – the very museum in which this exhibition is being staged – AND THEY REFUSED THE GIFT.

What were the big wigs and curators (probably all men) at the Moderna Museet thinking in 1970? Didn’t they use their eyes, didn’t they sense the bravery of af Klint’s artistic enquiry, or feel the ecstatic (involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence) ecstasy of her work – that rapture of an emotional divine!

I am SO happy her work is now being acclaimed. For the force was truly with her.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Moderna Museet Malmö for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The exhibition opens with the joyful series dedicated to Eros, the Greek god of love, associated with fertility and desire. Full of life, these pink-hued works take up the theme of polarity between male and female as the driving force of evolution. These abstract works completely differ from the classic representation of Eros.

In the series “The Seven-Pointed Star” (1908), Hilma af Klint experimented with a greater economy of line, depicting spiralling energy expanding outwards and forming new centres. As is the case with most of af Klint’s work, there is no singular meaning. Seven is a sacred number in many cultures, associated with divine order, and also the eternal harmony of the universe. In Theosophy the star cluster, known as the Seven Stars or the Pleiades, transmits spiritual energy that eventually reaches the human plane.

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, The Eros Series, No. 8' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, The Eros Series, No. 8
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

During the spring and summer of 2020, Moderna Museet Malmö will give its visitors an opportunity to become acquainted with the fascinating and ground-breaking Swedish artist Hilma af Klint in a comprehensive presentation. The exhibition will present, among other works, the series “The Ten Largest,” which will be shown in it’s entirety.

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a pioneer of abstraction. As early as 1906 she had developed a rich, symbolic imagery that preceded the more broadly recognised emergence of abstract art. Since her retrospective at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2013, interest in the Swedish artist has increased all over the world. The exhibition “Hilma af Klint – Artist, Researcher, Medium” further expands our understanding of this groundbreaking artist and researcher.

Hilma af Klint studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm from 1882 to 1887 where she focused on naturalistic landscape and portrait paintings. Like many of her contemporaries, af Klint also had a keen interest in invisible dimensions that exist beyond the visible world. When painting she was convinced that she was in contact with higher consciousness, which conveyed messages through her. Her major series, “The Paintings for the Temple”, became the crux of this artistic inquiry.

The exhibition centres on three aspects of Hilma af Klint’s life and interests – as artist, researcher and medium – that are key to revealing and understanding her art. With few exceptions, af Klint never exhibited her abstract works during her lifetime. Yet she left us with a radical body of work – unprecedented in its use of colour, scale and composition – which she hoped future audiences might be better able to sense and decode.

Hilma af Klint made paintings for the future, and that future is now.

 

Artist and Medium

Like many of her contemporaries at the turn of the twentieth century, Hilma af Klint sought to expand her consciousness in order to gain a wider perspective on what we perceive as reality. Consciousness remains one of the deepest mysteries in our time, a subject eagerly explored in neurology, psychology, quantum physics and epigenetics. As part of her spiritual practice, af Klint meditated, adhered to a vegetarian diet, and studied Theosophy and Rosicrucianism. These two esoteric schools thought knowledge of a deeper spiritual reality could be achieved through focused attention on intuition, meditation, and other means of transcending normal human consciousness. Over a period of ten years, af Klint met weekly with four other women, known as De fem (“The Five”). They trained their capability to access or “channel” higher levels of consciousness through contact with spiritual guides known as De Höga (“The Masters”). Af Klint received a specific assignment, which she accepted, known as “The Paintings for the Temple”. She worked throughout her life to understand the deeper meaning embedded in these works.

“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke.” 

.
The artist described how she painted the series as a medium, where shapes, colours and compositions came to her. Although af Klint perceived these works as flowing uninhibitedly through her guided hand, she very much applied herself and all her skills in the process: she worked methodically and sequentially in series, divided into thematically and formally focused groups exploring different aspects of cosmic and human evolution.

 

The Paintings for the Temple

Between 1906 and 1915, Hilma af Klint created “The Paintings for the Temple”. It comprises 193 paintings and drawings, divided into series and groups. Works produced between 1906 and 1908 are on view in the Turbine Hall; works from the second part of the series from 1912 to 1915 are on view in the upstairs galleries at Moderna Museet Malmö.

The overall theme of the series is to convey different aspects of human evolution, instigated by polarity. “The Paintings for the Temple” also thematises different stages of development that every human being goes through during life on earth. The temple in the title refers not only to a physical building, which af Klint imagined would house the work, but also to the body as a temple for the soul.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 1, Childhood' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 1, Childhood
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

Like many of the other series within “The Paintings for the Temple”, “The Ten Largest” seems somehow unfettered by limitations of place and time. Across ten canvases, swirling shapes in soft pastel colours rhythmically interact with cursive letters, forming a kind of visual poem. Petals, ovaries, flowers and spirals pulsate in constant sparks of creation. Hilma af Klint attributed this series to the exploration of the human life cycle, from childhood and youth to adulthood and old age. The artist created the ten works between November and December of 1907 on large sheets of paper later glued onto canvas. Given the unusual scale of the works, it is likely that af Klint painted each canvas, while it was lying flat on her studio floor.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 4, Youth' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 4, Youth
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 5, Adulthood' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 5, Adulthood
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, no. 6' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 6
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Ten Largest, No. 8, Adulthood' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Ten Largest, No. 8, Adulthood
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

On June 16, Moderna Museet Malmö opened again after having been closed for a time in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Finally, Hilma af Klint – Artist, Researcher, Medium, a comprehensive presentation of the artist with 230 works occupying the entire museum building, can be experienced by the public.

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was an artist who allowed herself to take a broader perspective on life and who wanted to open up new ways of looking at reality. Her achievement as a pioneer of abstract art has been celebrated before, but with the exhibition Hilma af Klint – Artist, Researcher, Medium, Moderna Museet Malmö now wants to offer new insights into the artist’s systematic research.

“Hilma af Klint radically turned away from the portrayal of a visible reality,” says Iris Müller-Westermann. “For her, art making was about visualising contexts that lie beyond what the eye can see. Af Klint was convinced that she was connected to a higher level of consciousness when she was making her works. The exhibition argues that her spiritual practice was inextricably linked to her artistic practice. First and foremost, however, Hilma af Klint believed in the power of images.”

The whole Moderna Museet Malmö has been transformed into Hilma af Klint’s temple. The exhibition spans the artist’s entire career, and the selection of works examines the artist’s research into nature and the links between the visible and invisible worlds. In addition, the comprehensive exhibition touches on the artist’s own thoughts about her work and its various methods.

“Hilma af Klint had an inquisitive mind,” says Milena Høgsberg. “For her, painting was both an artistic activity and a spiritual one. When she was painting she meditatively allowed something bigger to pass through her and manifest itself in works of art. She then spent her life, systematically and analytically trying to understand the meaning behind her paintings, drawings, and writings.”

The heart of the exhibition are The Paintings for the Temple (1906-15), which the artist considered her most important works. They also include the magnificent series The Ten Largest from 1907.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a comprehensive and richly illustrated catalogue has been produced, with essays by Iris Müller-Westermann, Milena Høgsberg in conversation with Tim Rudbøg, Hedvig Martin, Ernst Peter Fischer, and Anne Sophie Jørgensen. The exhibition catalogue has been published in two editions – one in Swedish and one in English.

Hilma af Klint – Artist, Researcher, Medium will be on view at Moderna Museet Malmö until September 27, 2020.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation views, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'De tio största, nr 9, Ålderdomen, grupp IV' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
De tio största, nr 9, Ålderdomen, grupp IV
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/UW, nr 25, The Dove, No. 1' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/UW, nr 25, The Dove, No. 1
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

“The Dove” (1915) depicts the creation process. It draws upon Christian symbols such as the dove for spirit, peace and unity. It also thematises the battle between the forces of light and darkness through the allegory of Saint George and the Dragon.

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Dove, no. 9' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Dove, no. 9
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation view, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing at left The Dove, No. 1, and at right The Dove, No. 9
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5' 1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group I, Primordial Chaos, No. 10' 1906

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Group I, Primordial Chaos, No. 10
1906
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group I, Primordial Chaos, No. 15' 1906-1907

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Primordial Chaos, No. 15
1906-1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

“Primordial Chaos” (1906-07) is devoted to the creation of the physical world. From the original unity a polarised world arose out of spirit, shown here as feminine (blue and the eyelet) and masculine (yellow and the hook), and also as W (material) and U (spirit). These works are full of spirals of energy and sparks of creation, of symbols of fertility and rebirth (sperm, snakes, crosses).

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation view, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing at left works from the series Evolution, and at centre works from the series Primordial Chaos
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group VI, The Evolution, No. 7' 1908

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Group VI, The Evolution, No. 7
1908
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

The theme of the evolution of consciousness runs throughout “The Paintings for the Temple”. In the series “Evolution” (1908), the process of development is shown through the interplay between polarities: male and female, light and darkness, good and evil. Compositionally these works strive to find a balance, in horizontal and vertical mirroring. Hilma af Klint’s exploration seems aligned with the theosophist notion of evolution as a spiritual process, extending beyond the biological perspective on human development that, with the publishing of Darwin’s “The Evolution of the Species” fifty years earlier, had gained widespread notoriety. This series ends the first part of “The Paintings for the Temple”, as the commission was paused between 1908 and 1912.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group VI, The Evolution, No. 9' 1908

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Group VI, The Evolution, No. 9
1908
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group VI, The Evolution, No. 10' 1908

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Evolution, No. 10
1908
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation view, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing work from the series The Swan
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, nr 1., The Swan, No. 1' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, nr 1., The Swan, No. 1
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

When Hilma af Klint resumed her work on “The Paintings for the Temple” in 1912, her abstraction became more geometric in nature, and Christian symbols became increasingly pronounced. When working, the artist was still in contact with higher planes of consciousness but was encouraged to interpret spiritual messages more freely.

Viewed in sequence, “The Swan” (1914-15) has a distinct visual rhythm. Often a horizontal line breaks the canvases into two sections where opposite forces meet – light and dark, male and female, life and death. These poles unfold as a black and white swan. Eventually, figuration gives way to abstraction in a fuller spectrum of colour. In the final work in the series, the swan pair returns, unified at the centre, intertwined yet distinct and balanced as male and female poles.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Swan, No. 8' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 8
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 9' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 9
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 16' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 16
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 21' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 21
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 23' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 23
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation view, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing work from the series The Swan
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Altarpiece Grupp X, No. 1' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Altarpiece Grupp X, No. 1
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Altarpiece Group X, No. 2' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Altarpiece Group X, No. 2
1915
Oil and metal leaf on canvas
93.75 x 70.5 inches
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

Hilma af Klint understood the three powerful “Altarpieces” (1915) as the essence of “The Paintings for the Temple”. These works capture the two directions of spiritual evolution: the ascension from the material world back to unity (the triangle pointing to the golden circle) and the descension from divine unity into the diversity of the material world (the inverted triangle). In the third and final painting, a small six-pointed star within the large golden circle is an esoteric symbol for the universe.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation views, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing work from the series Altarpieces
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Altarpiece Grupp X, No. 3' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Altarpiece Grupp X, No. 3
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Parsifal Grupp I, No. 1' 1916

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Parsifal Grupp I, No. 1
1916
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

The title of this series from 1916 may refer to the legend of King Arthur, in which Parsifal, one of the Knights of the Round Table, takes part in the quest for the Holy Grail. On 144 sheets, of which a selection is on view, Hilma af Klint depicts the search for knowledge as a journey through various levels of consciousness. In the first image this is marked by a winding path through the darkness towards the white light at the centre of the spiral. In other works, a young boy, shown in different ages, attempts to balance between matter and spirit, up and down. This exploration is continued in radically conceptual yellow monochromes, inscribed with words marking direction: “Nedåt” (downward), “Framåt” (forward), “Bakåt” (backward), “Utåt” (outward) and “Inåt” (inward). Parsifal’s journey also mirrors the artist’s own process in the inward journey she has undertaken by accepting, completing and trying to understand “The Paintings for the Temple”.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Parsifal Grupp II, No. 69' 1916

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Parsifal Grupp II, No. 69
1916
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Parsifal Grupp III, No. 110' 1916

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Parsifal Grupp III, No. 110
1916
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Parsifal Grupp III, No. 117' 1916

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Parsifal Grupp III, No. 117
1916
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'No title, No. 22' 1917

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
No title, No. 22
1917
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

De Fem – Drawings

Between 1896 and 1906, Hilma af Klint and four other women formed the group “De Fem” (“The Five”). They met weekly to meditate, read spiritual literature and accesses higher consciousness through communication with spirit guides, “De Höga” (“The Masters”). These meetings were meticulously recorded in writing and led even to automatic drawings. The women took turns to wield the pen during their sessions, but individual authorship was not important, and rarely indicated on the drawings. The pastel works on view exhibit elements that recur in af Klint’s later work – for example, spiral, stylised floral motifs and other geometrical forms.

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation views, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020 showing at bottom left, the Tree of Knowledge series 1915; and at centre right, work from Late Series
Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet

 

 

New Gallery is dedicated to Hilma af Klint the researcher, specifically her effort to process and understand the deeper meaning of her spiritually guided work in paintings, drawings and writing, from the 1890s to 1930s. Af Klint had an inquisitive mind. She came from a family of naval officers and nautical cartographers and approached her artistic practice with structured rigour. While she had the courage to open herself to let something larger flow through her while painting, she approached the resulting body of work in a systematic and analytic way. 

Throughout her life, af Klint took copious notes, regarding her experiences and interpretations of the messages she apprehended through her spiritual practice. After completing “The Paintings for the Temple”, the artist tried to methodically gain an overview of her work and its possible meanings. In the spirit of a scientific researcher, she edited and reorganised her early notes, created a dictionary of the symbols that appeared in her works and catalogued all the works in “The Paintings for the Temple” in a portable portfolio. Remarkably, af Klint understood all of her works of art as a unified project – a notion radical for the time, but also a testament to the fact that she believed her work to have a higher purpose.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Tree of Knowledge, No. 3' 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Tree of Knowledge, No. 3
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

 

In the series the “Tree of Knowledge” (1913-15), Hilma af Klint maps the different spiritual planes of existence in order to picture the complexity of existence and the connection between the earth and the divine. In later series like “Series IV” (1920) and “VII” (1920), af Klint seems to focus her research on symbols such as the cross, the circle and the triangle as well as the six-pointed star and processes these sacred symbols instigate. Many of these works are characterised by a geometric idiom and involve analysis on both the macrocosmic and microcosmic level.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Tree of Knowledge, No. 5' (Kunskapens träd, nr 5) 1915

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Tree of Knowledge, No. 5
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Group 2, No title, No. 14a - No. 21' 1919

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Group 2, No title, No. 14a – No. 21
1919
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

 

Installation view, 'Hilma af Klint', Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

Installation view, Hilma af Klint, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2020

 

 

The Blue Books

In 1917, Hilma af Klint had a studio built on Munsö, where for the first time she had the possibility of seeing all “The Paintings for the Temple’s” different series in their entirety. Perhaps this is what precipitated the creation of the ten blue-bound books, a portable overview of “The Paintings for the Temple”. On each spread, a work is represented by a black-and-white photograph and a watercolour intended to give an accurate impression of the original. In some of the watercolours, af Klint adds close-ups and lets us examine the work as if through a microscope in order to further clarify what was not clear enough in the paintings. The works were organised in concordance with the order of the series. This tremendous effort demonstrates that af Klint wanted to reinvestigate and reflect on her life’s work in a systematic way and perhaps to share it more easily with others.

Text from the Moderna Museet Malmö website

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'The Atom, No. 5' 1917

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
The Atom, No. 5
1917
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

 

 

In “The Atom Series” from 1917, Hilma af Klint explored another aspect of life that could not be perceived by the human eye: the world of atoms and their energy, a science popular at the time. Apart from the first two drawings, all feature two renderings of an atom: a large one in the lower right, which represents the energy of a physical atom, and a smaller one in the upper left, which represents the atom on an etheric or metaphysical plane. In handwritten notes, af Klint describes the atom as embodying human properties. For the theosophists, whom the artist studied, the discovery of atoms, sub-particle waves etc., were seen as proof of an invisible reality beyond the perceptible world. For af Klint, atoms and thus humans were spiritual entities connected to the centre of the universe.

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Violet Blossoms with Guidelines, Series I' 1919

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Violet Blossoms with Guidelines, Series I
1919
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

 

Botanical Studies

Throughout her life, Hilma af Klint had a deep interest in nature and botany. Her early botanical studies up to the late watercolours, convey that she was not only a keen observer, but also possessed a rigorously analytic mind, which she could apply in her endeavour to perceive aspects of existence beyond the visible.

Her botanical studies reveal a shifting focus from naturalistic renderings of plant-life as she observed it, to renderings intended to express the spiritual essence or presence beyond the visible body. In “The Violet, Blossoms with Guidelines, Series 1” (1919) she combines naturalistic renderings of the flower with a diagram of its essence. In “Blumen, Moose, Flechten” [Flowers, Moss, Lichens] (1919-20), represented here as a facsimile, af Klint continues with her systematic investigation of the plant kingdom. She combines a diagram with the plant’s Latin name and the date of investigation, alongside properties such as joy, humility and devotion, which one can attempt to come in contact with through contemplation on the plant in question. By 1923, af Klint made yet another stylistic shift, influenced by Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical views on aesthetics and her visits to the The Goetheanum, the centre for the anthroposophical movement in Dornach, Switzerland. Here af Klint gave up painting geometric compositions and began instead portraying the spiritual dimension of nature in fluid watercolours.

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Vid betraktandet av blommor och träd' (When considering flowers and trees) 1922

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Vid betraktandet av blommor och träd (When considering flowers and trees)
1922
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944) 'Titel saknas' 1924

 

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)
Titel saknas
1924
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

 

 

Moderna Museet Malmö
Gasverksgatan 22 in Malmö

Moderna Museet Malmö is located in the city centre of Malmö. Ten minutes walk from the Central station, five minutes walk from Gustav Adolfs torg and Stortorget.

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Thursday – Sunday 11-17
Wednesday 11-19
Mondays closed

Moderna Museet Malmö website

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13
Feb
20

Exhibition: ‘Dora Maar’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2019 – 15th March 2020

Curators: Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Hand-Shell)' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Hand-Shell)
1934
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 289 mm
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

 

What a creative woman. But yet another abused by the ego of a male, that of her lover, Picasso.

Beth Gersh-Nesic observes, “Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.”

What we can say is that Maar left behind a strong body of photographic work – from fashion and commercial, to restrained, classical formalism with surrealist inflections; from street photography to “the stuff of delirium and nightmare, [which] taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime”, her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) reminding me strongly of William Blake’s painting The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819). Ubu is “a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect… [an idea] something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.” Ubu is a her dark notion of a street “urchin”.

Her warped photomontages are technical marvels. “”She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in.”

But her images are more than a bit of this and a bit of that. They possess a utilitarian feeling in the enunciation of their menace, which makes them all the more effective when impinging on our waking dreams. Susan Sontag notes, “Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognise as modern” (Sontag, On Photography, p. 2). Thicken is the critical word. Maar’s photographs thicken our atmospheric (and mental) miasma, prescient of our modern world full of dark passages: pitch black sewers, fatbergs, drone strikes, bush fire skies, virus, murder and mayhem. In the back of my head. My eyes. Roll, roll, roll. Skewered. Roasted.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” (below) a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (below) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

.
Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

 

During the 1930s, Dora Maar’s provocative photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism.

Her eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial photography, including fashion and advertising, as well as to her social documentary projects. In Europe’s increasingly fraught political climate, Maar signed her name to numerous left-wing manifestos – a radical gesture for a woman at that time.

Her relationship with Pablo Picasso had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work, Guernica 1937. He painted her many times, including Weeping Woman 1937. Together they made a series of portraits combining experimental photographic and printmaking techniques.

In middle and later life Maar withdrew from photography. She concentrated on painting and found stimulation and solace in poetry, religion, and philosophy, returning to her darkroom only in her seventies.

This exhibition will explore the breadth of Maar’s long career in the context of work by her contemporaries.

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph' c. 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Child with a Beret' c. 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Child with a Beret
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop
1933
Silver Gelatin Print
48.7 x 38.8 cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Fotogasull

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.3 x 29.3 cm (15 1/2 x 11 9/16 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets
1933
Gelatin silver print
Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
1934
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 24.3 × 18 cm (9 9/16 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Gift of David and Marcia Raymond

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens
1934
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 28 x 24 cm (11 x 9 7/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day
1935
Gelatin silver print
Tate
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Carousel at Night' 1931-1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Carousel at Night
1931-1936
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 25 x 19.8 cm (9 13/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing, in the bottom image, the photographs Untitled (Nude) 1930s (left) and Untitled (Nude) c. 1938 (right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Assia' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Assia
1934
Gelatin silver print
26.4 x 19.5 cm

 

 

This autumn, Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective of the work of Dora Maar (1907-97) whose provocative photographs and photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism. Featuring over 200 works from a career spanning more than six decades, this exhibition shows how Maar’s eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial commissions, social documentary photographs, and paintings – key aspects of her practice which have, until now, remained little known.

Born Henriette Théodora Markovitch, Dora Maar grew up between Argentina and Paris and studied decorative arts and painting before switching her focus to photography. In doing so, Maar became part of a generation of women who seized the new professional opportunities offered by advertising and the illustrated press. Tate Modern’s exhibition will open with the most important examples of these commissioned works. Around 1931, Maar set up a studio with film set designer Pierre Kéfer specialising in portraiture, fashion photography and advertising. Works such as Untitled (Les années vous guettent) c. 1935 – believed to be an advertising project for face cream that Maar made by overlaying two negatives – will reveal Maar’s innovative approach to constructing images through staging, photomontage and collage. Striking nude studies such as that of famed model Assia Granatouroff will also reveal how women photographers like Maar were beginning to infiltrate relatively taboo genres such as erotica and nude photography.

During the 1930s, Maar was active in left-wing revolutionary groups led by artists and intellectuals. Reflecting this, her street photography from this time shot in Barcelona, Paris and London captured the reality of life during Europe’s economic depression. Maar shared these politics with the surrealists, becoming one of the few photographers to be included in the movement’s exhibitions and publications. A major highlight of the show will be outstanding examples of this area of Maar’s practice, including Portrait d’Ubu 1936, an enigmatic image thought to be an armadillo foetus, and the renowned photomontages 29, rue d’Astorg c. 1936 and Le Simulateur 1935. Collages and publications by André Breton, Georges Hugnet, Paul and Nusch Eluard, and Jacqueline Lamba will place Maar’s work in context with that of her inner circle.

In the winter of 1935-6 Maar met Pablo Picasso and their relationship of around eight years had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work Guernica 1937, offering unprecedented insight into his working process. He in turn immortalised her in the motif of the ‘weeping woman’. Together they made a series of portraits that combined experimental photographic and printmaking techniques, anticipating her energetic return to painting in 1936. Featuring rarely seen, privately-owned canvases such as La Conversation 1937 and La Cage 1943, and never-before exhibited negatives from the Dora Maar collection at the Musée National d’art Moderne, the exhibition will shed new light on the dynamic between these two artists during the turbulent wartime years.

After the Second World War, Maar began dividing her time between Paris and the South of France. During this period, she explored diverse subject matter and styles before focusing on gestural, abstract paintings of the landscape surrounding her home. Though these works were exhibited to acclaim in London and Paris into the 1950s, Maar gradually withdrew from artistic circles. As a result, the second half of her life became shrouded in mystery and speculation. The exhibition will reunite over 20 works from this little-known – yet remarkably prolific – period. Dora Maar concludes with a substantial group of camera-less photographs that she made in the 1980s when, four decades after all but abandoning the medium, Maar returned to her darkroom.

Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue jointly published by Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Untitled (Study of Beauty) (c. 1931, below)

 

Dora Maar. 'Untitled (Study of Beauty)' c. 1931

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Study of Beauty)
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Lee Miller)' c. 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Lee Miller) (multiple exposure)
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)
c. 1932-1935
Gelatin silver print enhanced with colours
29.9 x 23.8cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© ADAGP, Paris, 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
300 x 200 mm
Collection Therond
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Model in Swimsuit' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Model in Swimsuit
1936
Gelatin silver on paper
197 x 167 mm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Lise Deharme, chez elle devant sa cage a oiseaux
Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage 
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn' 1934-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn
1934-1935
Silver gelatin print on a flexible support in cellulose nitrate
17.6 x 24 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Associated with Pierre Kéfer from 1930 to 1934, she collaborated in 1931 on the photographic illustration of the art historian Germain Bazin’s book Le Mont Saint-Michel (1935). She then shared a studio with Brassaï, after which Emmanuel Sougez, the spokesman for the New Photography movement, became her mentor. Her work met the aesthetic criteria of the time: close-ups of flowers and objects, and photograms in the style of Man Ray. She also took portraits, original publicity shots, and fashion and erotic photographs. In 1934, while traveling alone in Spain, Paris and London, she shot a vast number of urban views (posters, shop windows, ordinary people). Both a passionate lover and committed intellectual, she became the mistress of the filmmaker Louis Chavance and of the writer Georges Bataille, whom she met in a left-wing activist group. She signed the Contre-Attaque manifesto and rubbed shoulders with the agitprop artistic group Octobre. A close friend of Jacqueline Lamba, who became Breton’s wife, she was fully involved in the surrealist group, of whose members she made many portraits. At the height of her creativity in 1935-1936, she composed strange and bold photomontages, the most famous being 29, rue d’Astorg and The Simulator (both below). Some of her compositions verge on eroticism, like the photomontage showing fingers crawling out of a shell and sensually digging into the sand (Untitled, 1933-1934, top). She also used her city photographs as backdrops for unsettling scenes: her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) – in fact the picture of an armadillo foetus – conforms to the surrealists’ fascination for macabre and deformity.

Anne Reverseau. “Dora Maar,” from the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices on the Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les yeux' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les yeux (The eyes)
c. 1932-1935
Silver print on flexible media
29.5 x 23.5 cm
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, © ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1935
Photomontage
232 x 150 mm
Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou (Paris, France)
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

 

When Maar began her career, the illustrated press was expanding quickly. This created a growing market for experimental photography. Maar embraced this opportunity, exploring the creative potential of staged images, darkroom experiments, collage and photomontage.

Most of Maar’s work had one thing in common: an uncanny atmosphere. Her connection to the surrealists led her to create fantastical images. This included using photomontage to bring together contrasting images and reflect the workings of the unconscious mind.

Unlike many other photomontage creators of this time, Maar did not use photographs taken from illustrated newspapers or magazines. Instead the images often came from her own work, including both street and landscape photography. This experimentation and obvious construction became a defining feature of Maar’s work.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Arcade (1934, see below)

 

 www.actingoutpolitics.com Dora Maar. 'Arcade' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Arcade
1934
Photomontage

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Danger' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Danger
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '29 rue d'Astorg' c. 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
29 rue d’Astorg
c. 1936
Photograph, hand-coloured gelatin silver print on paper
294 x 244 mm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Simulator' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Simulator
1936
Silver gelatin print printed on a carton
27 x 22.2 cm (excluding the margin)
Gift from Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach in 1973
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Maar’s early photomontages look almost as modish and styled as her fashion work. From a shell resting on sand, a dummy hand protrudes, with delicate fingers and painted nails, just like Maar’s own (see top image). In a way, the image could be by one of many photographers of the period – Cecil Beaton, say, or Angus McBean – who politely surrealised their pictures, as if the artistic movement were merely a visual style. Except: there is something ominously self-involved about this hybrid thing. The shell and hand recall Bataille’s obsessions with crustaceans, mollusks, and orphaned or butchered body parts. The hand rhymes with similar ones in the photographs of Claude Cahun, where they sometimes have masturbatory implications. And what are we to make of the storm-lit, gothic sky that looms over this auto-curious object?

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” (above) a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (above) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Dora Maar also participated in the Surrealists’ group exhibitions, such as the one at Charles Ratton’s Gallery in 1936, wherein her Portrait of Ubu became the “icon of Surrealism,” according to her biographer Mary Ann Caws in her exceptional book Picasso’s Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar (2000). “She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” (p. 20) Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in. (p. 71)

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Ubu (1936, left), Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934, top middle) and Danger (1936, bottom right) Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Ubu' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Ubu
1936
Silver gelatin print
24 x 18 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

In 1936, at the summit of her celebrity as a photographic artist, Dora Maar showed her picture “Portrait of Ubu” in the International Surrealist Exhibition, at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Named after a scatological, ur-Surrealist play by Alfred Jarry, from 1896, the black-and-white photograph shows a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect. Maar would never say what the clawed, scaly creature was, nor where she had come across it. Her Ubu has elements of Jarry’s porcine, louse-like original, and, with its doleful eye and drooping ears, it also resembles an ass or an elephant. Scholars generally agree that the monster is in fact an armadillo foetus, preserved in a specimen jar. It is also an idea: something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing her series of portrait photomontages from the mid-1930s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Double Portrait with Hat' c. 1936-37

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Double Portrait with Hat
c. 1936-37
Gelatin silver print, montage with handwork on negative
Image: 29.8 x 23.8 cm (11 3/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

To produce this complex image, Maar sandwiched together two negatives of the same model, one frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality. frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Profile portrait with glasses and hat' 1930-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Profile portrait with glasses and hat
1930-35
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
Courtesy art2art Circulating Exhibitions
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved​

 

 

Maar became involved with the surrealists from 1933 and was one of the few artists – and even fewer women – to be included in the surrealists’ exhibitions. She became close to the group because of their shared left-wing politics at a time of social and civil unrest in France.

Maar’s photography and photomontages explore surrealist themes such as eroticism, sleep, the unconscious and the relationship between art and reality. Cropped frames, dramatic angles, unexpected juxtapositions and extreme close-ups are used to create surreal images. Contrasting with the idea of a photograph as a factual record, Maar’s scenes disorientate the viewer and create new worlds altogether.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Nusch Éluard (1935, left) and Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You) (1932, right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Nusch Éluard' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Nusch Éluard
1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les années vous guettent' (The Years are Waiting for You) 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You)
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1940

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
68 x 60 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
66 x 66 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d'Astorg' Winter, 1935-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d’Astorg
Winter, 1935-35
Silver gelatin negative on flexible support in cellulose nitrate
12 x 9 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Pablo Picasso' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Pablo Picasso
1936
Pastel on paper
57.5 x 45 cm
Private collection, Yann Panier
Courtesy Galerie Brame and Lorenceau
© Adagp, Paris 2019
© The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1937

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1937
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Guernica' May-June, 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Guernica
May-June, 1937
Gelatin silver print
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar's painting 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s painting The Conversation 1937
Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Conversation
1937
Oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
© FABA © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Photo: Marc Domage

 

 

“I must dwell apart in the desert,” the artist and surrealist photographer Dora Maar once said. “I want to create an aura of mystery about my work. People must long to see it.

“I’m still too famous as Picasso’s mistress to be accepted as a painter.”

These words form part of a conversation recorded by Maar’s friend, the art writer James Lord, in his memoir “Picasso and Dora.” During the exchange, the French artist also explains how she rationalised the work of her later years, given that she rarely exhibited and was not in demand. …

With its deliberate focus on their art, the exhibition doesn’t address certain troubling questions about the pair’s unequal personal relationship. In her memoirs, Picasso’s later lover, Françoise Gilot, recounted the brutal bullying to which the artist subjected Maar. Picasso once described the time that Maar and a previous lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, came to blows in his studio as one of his “choicest memories.”

It’s a subject Maar didn’t shy away from in her art, painting herself alongside Walter in “The Conversation,” one of the works on show at the Tate Modern. Maar is depicted facing away while Walter looks directly at the viewer.

During the aforementioned exchange with James Lord, Maar told the writer that Picasso’s portraits of her were “lies.” But the struggle for recognition she went on to describe is more insightful – that she had to survive in the “desert” to be celebrated on her own terms.

Max Ramsay. “Dora Maar is no longer Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’,” on the CNN website 20th November 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Dora Maar seated' 1938

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Dora Maar seated
1938
Ink, gouache and oil paint on paper on canvas
Support: 689 x 625 mm
Frame: 925 x 685 x 120 mm
Tate
Purchased 1960

 

 

In late 1935 or early 1936, Maar met Pablo Picasso. They became lovers soon afterwards. She was at the height of her career, while he was emerging from what he described as ‘the worst time of my life’. He had not sculpted or painted for months.

Their relationship had a huge affect on both their careers. Maar documented the creation of Picasso’s most political work, Guernica 1937, encouraged his political awareness and educated him in photography. Specifically, Maar taught Picasso the cliché verre technique – a complex method combining photography and printmaking.

Picasso painted Maar in numerous portraits, including Weeping Woman 1937. However, Maar explained that she felt this wasn’t a portrait of her. Instead it was a metaphor for the tragedy of the Spanish people. Picasso also encouraged Maar to return to painting. The flattened features and bold outlines of the cubist-style portraits Maar made at this time suggest Picasso’s influence. By 1940 her passport listed her profession as ‘photographer-painter’.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing portraits of the artist by numerous artists, some of which you can see below

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Self-portrait with Fan' 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Self-portrait with Fan
1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972) 'Dora Maar' Paris, 1934

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972)
Dora Maar
Paris, 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Dora Maar considered the French commercial photographer Emmanuel Sougez (1889-1972) her mentor. Her first commission was a book on Mont-Saint-Michel written by art critic Germain Bazin. She collaborated with the stage-set designer Pierre Kéfer in 1931. From that experience they formed a business partnership, set up at first in his parents’ garden in Neuilly and then moving to their own studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première, lent by the Polish photographer Harry Ossip Meerson (1910-1991), younger brother of the cinema art director Lazare Meerson (1900-1938), who had worked with Kéber at Film Albatros studio in the mid-1920s. Harry Meerson also lent out his darkroom to the Hungarian photographer Brassai (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984), who became Dora Maar’s close friend. Her contact with Brassai brought her into the Surrealist circle.

The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio produced glamorous, innovative images for advertising and portraits, becoming part of the booming industry of commercial photography in glossy magazines. It was a fertile context for Dora Maar’s imagination. Her perspective on the modern women of the 1930s produced models oozing with elegant sensuality. Cool, natural, sometimes athletic, sometimes aristocratic, the Kéfer-Dora Maar female gave off a whiff of eroticise insouciance that emanated from Dora’s own disposition. This conceptualisation of contemporary beauty fed the appetite for luxury and leisure time activities, despite the Great Depression. It was a fantasy for some, a reality for others. During this period of working intensely with Pierre Kéfer, Dora had affairs with the filmmaker Louis Chavance (c. 1932-33) and the erotically transgressive writer Georges Bataille (late 1933-1934). The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio closed in 1934.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein) 'Dora Maar, Paris' 1941

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein)
Dora Maar, Paris
1941
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (16.5 x 11.4 cm)

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984) 'Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie' 1943

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984)
Dora Maar dans son atelier rue de Savoie (Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie)
1943
Gelatin silver print
© Adagp, Paris 2019 / Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980) 'Dora Maar' 1946

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980)
Dora Maar
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Israëlis Bidermanas (17 January 1911 in Marijampolė – 16 May 1980 in Paris), who worked under the name of Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who worked in France and is best known for his photographs of French circuses and of Paris.

Upon the liberation of France at the end of World War II, Izis had a series of portraits of maquisards (rural resistance fighters who operated mainly in southern France) published to considerable acclaim. He returned to Paris where he became friends with French poet Jacques Prévert and other artists. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography – also exemplified by Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Sabine Weiss and Ronis – with “work that often displayed a wistfully poetic image of the city and its people.”

For his first book, Paris des rêves (Paris of Dreams), Izis asked writers and poets to contribute short texts to accompany his photographs, many of which showed Parisians and others apparently asleep or daydreaming. The book, which Izis designed, was a success. Izis joined Paris Match in 1950 and remained with it for twenty years, during which time he could choose his assignments.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn. 'Dora Maar' France 1948

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Dora Maar
France 1948
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still life' 1941

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still life
1941
Oil on canvas
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still Life with Jar and Cup' 1945

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still Life with Jar and Cup
1945
Oil on canvas
45.5 x 50 cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Landscape in Lubéron' 1950's

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Landscape in Lubéron
1950’s
Private collection of Nancy B. Negley
© Adagp © Brice Toul

 

 

Although the late works are not as significant contributions to the history of art as her Surrealist photomontages, they inform our knowledge of this Parisian artist’s accomplishments in general and beg the question: Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s paintings and photograms from the 1950s-1980s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1957

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1957
Watercolour
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907 - 1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 17.4 cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Abstract photogram

 

 

The 1940s brought a series of traumas. Maar’s father left Paris for Argentina, her mother and best friend Nusch Eluard both died suddenly, her relationship with Picasso ended, and friends went into exile. The difficulty of this time is reflected in some of her work from this period.

Maar was included in many group and solo exhibitions in the 1940s and 1950s. In the mid-1940s she began to spend more time in rural surroundings of Ménerbes in the south of France. Here she regained her confidence as a painter and developed her own style of abstract landscapes. Exhibited across Europe, this work received very positive reviews.

In the 1980s, Maar returned to photography. However, she was no longer interested in photographing life on the street. Instead, Maar was interested in what she could create in the darkroom and experimented with hundreds of photograms (camera-less photographs).

Dora Maar died on July 16, 1997, at 89 years old. Throughout her life she created a vast and varied range of work, much of which was only discovered after her death. (Text from the Tate website)

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 30 cm (9 1/4 × 11 13/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Silver Gelatin Print
9 x 6 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Silver gelatin print
9 x 6 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

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Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

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02
Feb
20

European research tour exhibition: ‘William Blake’ at Tate Britain, London Part 2

Exhibition dates: 11th September 2019 – 2nd February 2020

Visited October 2019 posted February 2020

Curators: Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, and Amy Concannon, Curator, British Art 1790-1850

 

Room 3 continued…

Patronage and independence

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Visions of divine damnation

I believe. I am a believer… a person who believes in the truth and/or existence of something, that ineffable something, that is the magic of the art of William Blake.

I believe that it would take a lifetime of scholarship to begin to fully understand the mythology, symbolism, and poetry of this man. I do not possess that knowledge. What I do posses is the ability to look at these images, process their form, colour, movement and, possibly, feel their spirit.

From academic beginnings Blake develops a unique artistic language. The rebellious, radical symbolism of his books, humanist veins, tap into the un/bound scrimmage of pleasure and pain, f(l)ights of good and evil told through visual poems, paeans to the diabolical munificence of the cosmos.

When I look at Blake I am swept along in the sensuous, writhing curves of the body. I feel their lyrical movement, whether they are partner to themes of childhood and morality, or suffering and social injustice for example. I feel that they touch my soul, deeply. Suffused with melancholy, damnation, joy, redemption and forgiveness his forms raise me up from the everyday. They challenge me to understand… to understand the work, myself and the world in which I live. They have as much relevance today as they ever did. They are revelatory.

The startling a/symmetry and interweaving of forms that characterises so much of his work is particularly affective. The symmetry of the hands in Small Book of Designs: Plate 11, Gowned Male Seen from behind (1794) with the diagonal sweep of the leg; the interwoven leg and arms of The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea (c. 1805); and the glorious design for The Angel Rolling away the Stone (c. 1805) with its suffused colour scheme and ethereal light are three examples in this rich tapestry of creation. His work seems to float as if a breathless cloud, suffused with sex and spiritual ecstasy, imbibing of the realm of the sublime and the imagination.

In this second part of the posting, most impressive were the twelve large colour prints (below), a series of 12 large ‘frescos’ as Blake called them. To stand in a gallery and be surrounded by such powerful images was incredible. One after the other took your breath away through their musical form and colour. The binary opposites of The Good and Evil Angels (1795 – c. 1805), the Active Evil angel – “strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling” – with his sightless eyes transfixing you. The hybrid of man and beast that is Nebuchadnezzar (1795 – c. 1805), “crawling the Earth on his hands and knees, skin like hide, toes turning into griffin’s talons.” Or the question mark of the form that is Newton (1795 – c. 1805), which shows “the mathematician and physicist completely absorbed in a geometrical problem, oblivious to the wondrous rock on which he sits.” Blind to the wonders of the world, here scientific rationalism is seen to be inadequate without the imagination and the creativity of the artist. Just a small detail, but the colouration of the rocks behind Newton will long live in my memory for its delicacy and radiance – a colour print enhanced with additional watercolour on paper, almost sponged on, like the under/world sponges at the bottom of the sea.

Other highlights in the second half of the exhibition was a recreation of Blake’s 1809 solo exhibition at his home at 28 Broad Street, London. Even though the paintings have darkened significantly over the years, the installation gave you an idea of how the paintings, highlighted with gold leaf, would have looked through the filtered light of Georgian windows, or would have shimmered under candlelight, as your eyes strained to see the forms of his paradise / lost. Another physiognomic “vision” – “the stuff of delirium and nightmare, [which] taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime” – was the painting The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819) used to illustrate John Varley’s Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828). In studying the work of Blake for this posting, I found it instructive to look at Blake’s preparatory sketches for his works which can be found online. They give you a good idea of the spontaneity of the drawing and the ideas that arise, transformed into the finished work. Here in the graphite on paper drawing of The Ghost of a Flea we can see Blake’s initial vision, a more static, pensive figure with serrated wings which morphs into a muscular, blood sucking monster set on a cosmic stage, of life framed by curtains and a shooting star. As the vision appeared to Blake he is said to have cried out: ‘There he comes! his eager tongue whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood, and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green.’

My favourite works in this exhibition were Blake’s two exquisite large paintings, The Virgin and Child in Egypt (1810) and An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (? 1811). Bearing in mind that these two paintings would have darkened over time and the colours have changed, I was completely mesmerised by the intimacy of these images. The Mannerist hands and beatific nature of the first, and the Ascension of the figures in the second were completely sublime. His largest surviving canvases are RADIANT, all triangular structure, shimmering paint and Buddhist, Northern European iconography. That’s something that I did notice that hardly anyone talks about – how some of his figures echo the Zen-like quality of Buddhist painting.

His celestial bodies seem to exist in a place outside of this world, but they speak to us today as strongly as ever, of the trials and tribulations of our contemporary world – the struggle for the existence of life, of the animals and creatures of this planet, against the avarice of the rich and powerful, of nations and corporations that rape and pillage. Blake was an artist of the imagination rather than reason, a champion of creativity and feeling. Humanity, nature, creatures and creation are still the stuff of life on earth. Our life on earth.

I was so fully immersed in Blake’s world I did not want to leave. The spirit of this man and his work places him at the pinnacle of artistic creation, up there with Michelangelo and Rembrandt. At the time that Blake was working (and was considered a crackpot and mad), Beethoven was still conducting his own symphonies and dedicating his ‘Eroica’ (heroic) symphony to the tyrant Napoleon in 1804 before, in a fit of rage, scrubbing out Napoleon’s name after he ignominiously named himself Emperor. Both Blake and Beethoven were inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and the liberty of the common man. Just think about that.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,137

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. All other installation photographs as noted by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The curators of this colossal survey, the first on such a scale in nearly 20 years, are wise to point out the almost impenetrable complexities of Blake’s thinking from the start. Their aim is to throw the focus on his works as images, as opposed to emblems – tiny, teeming visions of gods, monsters and wild scenarios taking place at the bottom of the ocean or outer space, but above all in the free world of Blake’s imagination. …

And Blake’s art remains irreducibly strange. Familiarity cannot diminish the utter singularity of his home-grown aesthetic: heads floating on columns of transparent Lycra-like material, rippling up towards multicoloured skies or gathering in tumultuous spirals. Saints diving through the firmament, devils flickering like fire, angels back-crawling through transparent seas. Lone bodies are shown in convulsion, drowning, paralysed or hunched tight as padlocks. Unbound, they appear spreadeagled, levitating, or hurtling upwards like the bellowed flames up a chimney.”

.
Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

Twelve large colour prints

Blake made these prints using a form of experimental monotype. This involved painting tacky ink onto a board and transferring it through pressure onto paper. He enhanced the basic printed image with ink and watercolour. The end result is very painterly, but with textures impossible to achieve by hand. Blake referred to these works as ‘frescos’. This reflects his wish to imitate the grand wall paintings of the ancient world and medieval times.

Thomas Butts purchased eight of these prints from Blake in 1805, and probably owned a full set. The subject matter comes from the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, as well as Blake’s imagination. There is no definitive sequence. Scholars have connected the prints in many different, inventive ways. (Wall text)

A collection of twelve large prints by William Blake have been brought together at Tate Britain. Over 200 years old, these fragile works are normally only shown in small groups for short periods of time, making this an unmissable opportunity to see the remarkable full series together. The striking prints were sold by Blake as a group in 1805 and included one of his most iconic images, Newton 1795 – c. 1805. Produced using an experimental form of monotype printing that was enhanced with ink and watercolour, they appear painterly but with some extraordinary textures which would be impossible to achieve by hand. The collection draws inspiration from the world of science, the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, as well as Blake’s own mind. Scholars have connected the prints in many different, inventive ways, but each image remains open to the viewers’ imagination.

Text from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
445 × 594 mm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

 

In his annotations to a text by Lavater, Blake claimed that ‘Active Evil is better than Passive Good’, rendering the figures in this picture somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps the chain attached to the ‘evil’ angel’s ankle suggests the curtailing of energy by misguided rational thought?

In constructing his figures, Blake evokes conventional eighteenth century stereotypes. The heavy build and darker skin of the ‘evil’ angel suggest a non-European character, described by Lavater as ‘strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling’, while the fair hair and light skin of the ‘good’ angel are consonant with ideas of physical – and intellectual – perfection.

Gallery label, March 2011

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Good and Evil Angels' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Good and Evil Angels (installation views details)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection (c. 1795) and at right, Nebuchadnezzar (1795 – c. 1805)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
54.3 x 72.5 cm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Nebuchadnezzar' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Nebuchadnezzar (installation view details)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The king of Babylon is a terrible warning to us all: “those that walk in pride, the Lord can abase”. Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar has been so abased it is by now a hybrid of man and beast, crawling the Earth on his hands and knees, skin like hide, toes turning into griffin’s talons.

Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Newton (1795 – c. 1805), the first impression, is another of Blake’s most famous images. It shows the brilliant mathematician and physicist completely absorbed in a geometrical problem, oblivious to the wondrous rock on which he sits. Its standard interpretation is that Newton’s scientific rationalism was inadequate without imagination and the creativity of the artist – a negative view of the man who is still considered a towering genius.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
460 x 600 mm
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

 

In this work Blake portrays a young and muscular Isaac Newton, rather than the older figure of popular imagination. He is crouched naked on a rock covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused on a diagram which he draws with a compass. Blake was critical of Newton’s reductive, scientific approach and so shows him merely following the rules of his compass, blind to the colourful rocks behind him.

Gallery label, October 2018

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Newton' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Newton (installation view detail)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Tate Britain has reimagined Blake’s paintings on the grand scale he envisioned, alongside recreating the humble reality of the only exhibition he staged in his lifetime. For the first time, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan c. 1805-9 and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth c. 1805 have been digitally enlarged to be projected onto the gallery wall. The original paintings are shown nearby in a reconstruction of Blake’s ill-fated exhibition of 1809.

William Blake had grand ambitions as a visual artist and proposed vast frescos that were never realised. The artist suggested that Nelson and Pitt be executed 100-feet-high, following in the tradition of Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Blake was confident he would ‘receive a national commission to execute these two pictures on a scale that was suitable to the grandeur of the nation’. However, the subjects he chose were ambiguous. Although depicting great British heroes of the time, each figure is shown commanding a vicious biblical beast, hinting at Blake’s own liberal and anti-war politics.

Blake first exhibited these images in 1809 above his family’s hosiery business in Soho. The architectural details of this small domestic space have been recreated at Tate Britain, allowing visitors to see the original works in context. The 1809 exhibition was a critical and commercial disaster and Blake consequently withdrew from public life. Attracting few visitors, the only review described ‘a few wretched pictures … a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain’.

Martin Myrone, Senior Curator, pre-1800 British Art, Tate said: “We are thrilled to celebrate Blake as a true visionary and to finally realise the full scale of his ambitions as a visual artist. It’s also important to set him in context, considering the reception of his work and how it was experienced by his contemporaries. Through the re-staging of the 1809 exhibition, as well as through the rare display of his illuminated books in their original bindings, visitors will be able to encounter Blake’s works as they were first seen over 200 years ago.”

Text from Tate Britain

 

Short Biography

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. What he called his prophetic works were said by 20th-century critic Northrop Frye to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. While he lived in London his entire life, except for three years spent in Felpham, he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.

Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of the Romantic movement and as “Pre-Romantic”. A committed Christian who was hostile to the Church of England (indeed, to almost all forms of organised religion), Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions. Though later he rejected many of these political beliefs, he maintained an amiable relationship with the political activist Thomas Paine; he was also influenced by thinkers such as Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite these known influences, the singularity of Blake’s work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th-century scholar William Michael Rossetti characterised him as a “glorious luminary”, and “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Pity (installation views)
c. 1795
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
425 x 539 m
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. Blake’s interest in the characters of different horses can also be seen in his Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims.

Gallery label, March 2011

 

And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. …

Act 1 Scene 7 of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Pity' c. 1795

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Pity
c. 1795
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
425 x 539 m
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Satan Exulting over Eve (c. 1795) and at right, Lamech and his Two Wives (1795)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London showing twelve large colour prints

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing at left, Lamech and his Two Wives (1795) and at right, Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (c. 1795)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (installation views)
c. 1795
Colour print finished in pen and ink, shell gold and Chinese white on paper
42.5 x 60 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by J. E. Taylor, Esq, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab (c. 1795) is another first impression, showing a slightly more familiar Biblical narrative from the book of Ruth, chapter 1, verses 11-17. Naomi, seen at the left in a black robe, and her two daughters-in-law have become widowed. She decides to leave the land of Moab to return to her kin in Judah. Ruth, who is embracing her, remains devoted to Naomi, and returns with her, but Orpah, walking off to the right, decides to stay. Interestingly, because of her place in the lineage of David and so that of Jesus, Blake gives Naomi a halo, but not Ruth.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab' c. 1795

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab
c. 1795
Colour print finished in pen and ink, shell gold and Chinese white on paper
42.5 x 60 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by J. E. Taylor, Esq, London
Image courtesy of and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The House of Death (installation views)
1795 – c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Blake produced a number of designs relating to plague, war, fire and disaster … This design has been linked to the poet John Milton’s vision of a ‘Lazar House’ – a hospital for infectious diseases – from Paradise Lost (1664).

The English poet John Milton, who died in 1674, was viewed by Blake as England’s greatest poet, worthy of emulation but by no means above criticism. It was inevitable that in the large colour prints, his most important printing project, Blake would include Miltonic subjects.This print illustrates lines from Book XI of Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. The Archangel Michael shows Adam the misery that will be inflicted on Man now he has eaten the Forbidden Fruit. In a vision of ‘Death’s ‘grim Cave” Adam sees a ‘monstrous crew’ of men afflicted by ‘Diseases dire’.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

The House of Death (1795 – c. 1805), sometimes known as The Lazar House (a lazar is someone afflicted with a disease), is the first impression. It is a rather grim image taken from Milton’s Paradise Lost book 11, lines 477-493. There, the Archangel Michael shows Adam the afflictions that man will suffer in the form of disease, now that he has eaten the Forbidden Fruit. So rather than the bodies being dead, they are in the throes of suffering the diseases which have been unleashed following the Fall.

The similarity of the figure, who should (by Milton) be the Archangel Michael, to Blake’s images of Urizen, is clear, and may refer back to his illuminated books, and to the French Revolution.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The House of Death' 1795 - c.1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The House of Death
1795 – c.1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Elohim Creating Adam (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Elohim is a Hebrew name for God. This picture illustrates the Book of Genesis: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground’. Adam is shown growing out of the earth, a piece of which Elohim holds in his left hand.

For Blake the God of the Old Testament was a false god. He believed the Fall of Man took place not in the Garden of Eden, but at the time of creation shown here, when man was dragged from the spiritual realm and made material.

Gallery label, May 2003

 

Elohim Creating Adam (1795, c 1805) is the only surviving impression of this work, which appears to have been listed by Blake as God Creating Adam. It is based on the book of Genesis chapter 2 verse 7:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Blake shows this fairly literally, with Adam’s body still being formed out of the earth, and a large worm (not a serpent) is coiled around his left leg. The worm is also a symbol of mortality.

Blake’s mythology for Elohim, the Hebrew word for God and judge, is different from the ‘standard’ Christian concept of God, and distinct from Urizen too. I am not convinced that Blake intended to show his Elohim or Urizen here, and therefore the work may better be titled simply as God Creating Adam.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 5 – The large prints, 1795,” on The Electric Light Company website November 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Elohim Creating Adam' 1795 - c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Elohim Creating Adam (installation views)
1795 – c. 1805
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Horse' c. 1805 (installation view)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing The Horse c. 1805
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Quote above The Horse

 

 

“For when Los joind with me he took me in his firy whirlwind My Vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeths shades He set me down in Felphams Vale & prepard a beautiful Cottage for me that in three years I might write all these Visions To display Natures cruel holiness: the deceits of Natural Religion Walking in my Cottage Garden, sudden I beheld The Virgin Ololon & address’d her as a Daughter of Beulah.”

.
William Blake, from Milton a Poem, c. 1804-11

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Horse' c. 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Horse (installation view)
c. 1805
Tempera and ink on copper engraving plate
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Room 4

Independence and despair

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents. & Genius – But whether he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass

.
This gallery traces a particularly tumultuous period in Blake’s life, from 1805 to 1812. In 1805 he secured work illustrating Robert Blair’s poem The Grave. Published in 1808, his designs were a critical success, praised by many leading artists and patrons. But Blake was disappointed that he did not get the work of engraving the illustrations as well as designing them. He also suspected the publisher, Robert Cromek, of stealing his idea to do an engraving of the pilgrims from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

In 1809 Blake organised a retrospective exhibition of his work. This was held in Broad Street, Soho, in the family home where his brother was now running the hosiery business. The exhibition catalogue set out his highly personal ideas about art and his ambitions as a painter of large-scale frescos. This room includes a recreation of the 1809 exhibition where you can experience Blake’s work as it would have been seen in Broad Street. There is also a projection showing his paintings at the gigantic scale he hoped to realise them.

The exhibition of 1809 was, however a critical and commercial disaster. Blake was bitterly disappointed and felt betrayed by his friends in the art world. Having made big claims about restoring ‘the grand style of Art’, he exhibited for the last time in 1812. He then withdrew from the public gaze for several years.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Death of the Good Old Man' 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Death of the Good Old Man' 1805 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Death of the Good Old Man (installation views)
1805
Pen and ink and watercolour over traces of graphite on paper
Collection of Robert N. Essick
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Death of the Strong Wicked Man (installation views)
1805
Ink, watercolour and graphite on paper Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment of Arts graphiques
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Death of the Strong Wicked Man' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Death of the Strong Wicked Man
1805
Ink, watercolour and graphite on paper Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment of Arts graphiques
© Photo RMN – Gerard Blot

 

 

The Grave

The materials gathered here relate to Blake’s work for an edition of Robert Blair’s poem, The Grave, published in 1808. Blake scholars have not given these images as much attention as illustrations of his original writings. But he took this project seriously, and it secured him a degree of acclaim at a difficult time in his career.

The illustrations were commissioned by Robert Cromek in 1805. This was the first publishing venture of Cromek, an engraver. Blake quickly produced the 20 drawings. He may have been invigorated by the themes of Blair’s poem, a reflection on death and the afterlife.

Cromek promoted The Grave tirelessly, taking Blake’s work to new places and new publics. As well as displaying them at his London house, Cromek toured Blake’s designs to Birmingham and Manchester. The illustrations were generally well received, but Blake came to feel betrayed by Cromek, who employed the fashionable engraver Luigi Schiavonetti to produce the prints.

Wall text from the exhibition William Blake

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) A Title Page for 'The Grave' 1806 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
A Title Page for The Grave (installation views)
1806
Ink and blue watercolour on paper
238 × 200 mm
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The 1809 Exhibition

The space opposite evokes the upstairs rooms at 28 Broad Street, Soho, where Blake held his one-man exhibition in 1809. This was an ordinary London town-house, built in the 1730s. The Blake family had lived there since the 1750s. We know the proportions of the front room on the first floor from archival records and images. Visitors probably gained access to the exhibition through the hosiery shop downstairs. In 1809 this was being run by Blake’s brother, James. This was a strange setting for an art exhibition.

It was even stranger given the visionary character of Blake’s works and the gigantic ambitions he expressed in the accompanying Descriptive Catalogue. There were only a handful of visitors, and a single published review which dismissed Blake as ‘an unfortunate lunatic’. Every 20 minutes two works in this recreated exhibition will be virtually ‘restored’. They will be illuminated so you can see how they would have looked in 1809. You will also hear Blake’s words about these pictures, expressing his ambition to be a painter of large-scale wall paintings. Blake’s words are spoken by the actor Kevin Eldon.

The projection shows details from two of Blake’s paintings at the scale Blake hoped his work might one day be seen. They depict the ‘spiritual forms’ of the Prime Minster, William Pitt, and the naval hero, Admiral Nelson. In the catalogue of his 1809 exhibition, Blake wrote of his ambition to execute these and other paintings 30 metres high or more, for display in public buildings.

Many artists in Blake’s time aspired to such ambitious paintings, inspired by the high-minded rhetoric of the Royal Academy. But Blake himself observed: ‘The Painters of England are unemployed in Public Works’. There was no state support for artists, and little patronage from the monarchy or Church of England. Artists were instead freelancers, dependent on the market.

Despite his aspirations, Blake must have known that his dreams would never be fulfilled. After the failure of his one-man show in 1809 he became increasingly withdrawn and bitter.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul's Church' c. 1793

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul’s Church
c. 1793
Ink, watercolour and gouache on paper
245 × 295 mm
Tate
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Jane Shore was a mistress of King Edward IV. After his death in 1483 she was accused of being a harlot and condemned to do public penance in St Paul’s Cathedral. The ‘golden glow’ of this watercolour comes from a very thick, now-yellowed glue layer that was almost certainly applied as a varnish by Blake. He varnished his temperas in a similar way. Once it had yellowed someone else added a picture varnish on top. This also went yellow but has since been removed. The subtle colouring of Blake’s painting is suppressed by the glue varnish.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels' c. 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels
c. 1805
Ink and watercolour on paper
42.0 x 30.2 cm
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Ruth the Dutiful Daughter in Law' 1803

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Ruth the Dutiful Daughter in Law
1803
Wash, graphite, and coloured chalk on paper
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

 

Blake’s one-man exhibition was organised during a period of war and social upheaval. His imagery is spiritual and allegorical. It may appear disconnected from contemporary politics. But Blake imagined a public role for art. In connection with his watercolour of angels hovering over the body of Christ, on display here, he wrote: ‘The times require that every one should speak out boldly; England expects that every man should do his duty, in Arts, as well as in Arms, or in the Senate’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing the recreation of the 1809 exhibition. From left to right on the wall were: Satan calling up his Legions (1800-1805, our of shot); The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c. 1805-9); The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (1805); and The Bard, from Gray (? 1809)

 

Frederick Adcock (British, 1864-1930) 'William Blake's house, Soho, London' 1912

Frederick Adcock (British, 1864-1930)
William Blake’s house, Soho, London
1912
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain
Birthplace of William Blake at No. 28 Broad (now Broadwick) Street, Soho, London. Demolished to make way for a block of flats.

 

 

28 Broad Street

Blake’s exhibition was held in the first-floor rooms of 28 Broad Street. The plasterwork and window surrounds were later 19th-century additions. In 1809 Blake’s sister, brother and his wife lived at this address and ran the hosiery and haberdashery shop on the ground floor.

 

 

“The execution of my Designs, being all in Water-colours, (that is in Fresco) are regularly refused to be exhibited by the Royal Academy, and the British Institution has, this year, followed its example, and has effectually excluded me by this Resolution … it is therefore become necessary that I should exhibit to the Public, in an Exhibition of my own, my Designs, Painted in Watercolours. If Italy is enriched and made great by RAPHAEL, if MICHAEL ANGELO is its supreme glory, if Art is the glory of a Nation, if Genius and Inspiration are the great Origin and Bond of Society, the distinction my Works have obtained from those who best understand such things, calls for my Exhibition as the greatest of Duties to my Country.”

.
William Blake, from ‘[Advertisement of] Exhibition of Paintings in Fresco, Poetical and Historical Inventions’, 1809

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost')' 1800-1805 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton's 'Paradise Lost')' 1800-1805 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan calling up his Legions (from John Milton’s Paradise Lost) (installation views)
1800-1805
Tempera and gold leaf on canvas
533 × 496 mm
National Trust Collections, Petworth House, (The Egremont Collection)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan' c. 1805-9

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan
c. 1805-9
Tempera and gold on canvas
762 x 625 mm
Tate. Purchased 1914

 

 

Blake showed this painting in his 1809 exhibition. It was exhibited alongside The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth. He provided a long commentary on his ‘spiritual forms’ of both Pitt and Nelson. The recently-deceased Prime Minster William Pitt and naval hero Admiral Nelson had both led Britain in the war against France. Blake shows these national figures guiding biblical monsters bringing chaos and destruction to the world. The symbolism used is complex. In the picture of Nelson ‘The Nations of the Earth’ are shown as contorted figures enveloped by the serpent. A figure of colour in chains lies collapsed at the bottom. He appears to be freed of the serpent’s coils, perhaps suggesting that such destruction could also lead to new freedoms and spiritual rebirth.

This work is cracked and damaged because Blake used a thin canvas and chalk-based ground. The ground layer has darkened due to the conservation treatment of ‘glue’ lining; this is only suitable for oil paintings. Layers of glue in some of Blake’s paints have also darkened. The orange tonality comes from remnants of a discoloured varnish. The contraction of the glue-rich layers and the movement of the thin canvas has created stress, causing cracking.

Gallery label, October 2019

 

Blake provided a long commentary on his ‘spiritual forms’ of Pitt and Nelson. The recently deceased Prime Minister William Pitt and naval hero Admiral Nelson had both led Britain in the war against France. Blake shows these national figures guiding biblical monsters bringing chaos and destruction to the world. The symbolism is complex. In the picture of Nelson ‘The Nations of the Earth’ are show as contorted figures enveloped by the serpent. A figure of colour in chains lies collapsed at the bottom. He appears to be freed of the serpent’s coils, perhaps suggesting that such destruction could also lead to new freedoms and spiritual rebirth. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth
1805
Tempera and gold on canvas
740 x 627 mm
Tate. Purchased 1882

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth' 1805

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth
1805
Tempera and gold on canvas
740 x 627 mm
Tate. Purchased 1882
Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain

 

The subject of this picture is the prime minister, William Pitt. Blake showed this work in his exhibition in 1809, describing Pitt as ‘that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war.’

Pitt had led Britain into war against France after the 1789 Revolution. Blake saw him as one ‘ordering the Reaper to reap the Vine of the Earth, and the Plowman to plow up the Cities and Towers’. The words reflect Blake’s apocalyptic vision of war. The huge beast, Behemoth, is under Pitt and at his command.

Gallery label, December 2004

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing paintings from the 1809 exhibition
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Understanding the objectives behind Blake’s exhibition is far from straightforward. Although this display of sixteen works could be considered as a retrospective exhibition, Blake seems to have had several principal aims. Both the exhibition advertisement issued by Blake and the text of the Descriptive Catalogue itself make clear that the works on display were for sale. At the same time Blake was promoting and seeking subscriptions for his engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims (issued in 1810). Moreover, the exhibition displayed Blake’s painting of Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (Pollok House, Glasgow) as a deliberate challenge to Thomas Stothard’s rival version of the same subject, The Pilgrimage to Canterbury 1806-7 (Tate). Blake complained that his works were not accepted by the two most important exhibition venues of the time, the Royal Academy and the British Institution, because they were in the form of watercolours (rather than oil paintings). That might seem to be motivation for setting up this independent show. However, his works had been accepted at the Royal Academy on six different occasions, the last time being the year before his 1809 exhibition. And the exhibition was promoting what Blake called his latest invention: the ‘portable fresco’ (a kind of tempera painting). Blake explained that he could enlarge such fresco works and decorate public buildings. The Spiritual Form of Nelson and The Spiritual Form of Pitt (nos. I and II in the Descriptive Catalogue) were intended as monuments to the heroes of his country. This aspiration, expressed amidst the Napoleonic wars, at a time of rampant nationalism when several public monuments were commissioned and executed by sculptors, shows that Blake was hoping to gain a state commission. He thus associated his fresco productions with patriotic works and the advancement of the English School of art.

Above all, however, I believe that Blake’s exhibition was intended to present Blake as a painter, and the ‘inventor’ of subjects and techniques. He asserted unequivocally that this was an exhibition of ‘paintings’ or ‘pictures’ and designated them as ‘poetical and historical inventions’. His portable fresco, for example, as Aileen Ward has argued, was Blake’s attempt, ‘to circumvent the Academy prejudice against watercolour’ in the hope of being elected at the Academy as a painter.

Extract from Kostantinos Stefanis. “Reasoned Exhibitions: Blake in 1809 and Reynolds in 1813,” Tate Papers no.14 Autumn 2010 on the Tate website [Online] Cited 26/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Bard, from Gray' ? 1809 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Bard, from Gray (installation view)
? 1809
Tempera and gold on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1920
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

A bad iPhone photo I know but it gives you an idea of how dark these paintings were

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Bard, from Gray' ? 1809

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Bard, from Gray
? 1809
Tempera and gold on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1920

 

 

This tempera has greatly altered since it was painted. Blake used a very thin, white, preparatory layer of chalk and glue. This was impregnated with more glue during a conservation ‘lining’ treatment more appropriate to an oil painting. This reduced the effect of transparent colours over a white background, and displaced some details painted in shell gold. Blake’s paint medium has also darkened greatly. The opaque red vermilion used for the line of blood, glazed over with madder lake, has survived better than blue areas.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s work The Virgin and Child in Egypt (1810)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Virgin and Child in Egypt (installation views)
1810
Tempera on canvas
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This painting demonstrates Blake’s enduring ambition to work on a larger scale. He adopted the ‘Tüchlein’ technique of 16th-century Netherlandish painting, using tempera (glue-based paint) on linen. Blake had seen such paintings on the London art market. It is one of four life-size figure paintings done for Thomas Butts in 1810.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Virgin and Child in Egypt' 1810

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Virgin and Child in Egypt
1810
Tempera on canvas
Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing Blake’s work An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (? 1811)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man' ? 1811 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (installation views)
? 1811
Ink and tempera on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This is the largest surviving painting by Blake. The title is not Blake’s, and the subject matter remains open to interpretation. The symmetrical composition evokes large-scale European church paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

 

 

A new kind of man

After years of obscurity, Blake enjoyed a burst of creativity in the last ten years of his life. In 1818 he met a younger, more business-savvy artist, John Linnell. Together with fellow artists Samuel Palmer and John Varley, Linnell provided Blake with employment, friendship and a new sense of recognition.

Buoyed by their material and moral support, Blake produced some of his most extraordinary works. He completed his last and most ambitious illuminated book, Jerusalem, in 1820. He also found new purchasers for his older books and relief-etchings. He created a series of ‘visionary heads’ to indulge Varley’s spiritualist interests. For Linnell he made a long series of large and vivid watercolours illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy and engravings for the biblical Book of Job, undertaken in the antiquated style he had always admired.

Blake spent his last years living with Catherine in modest accommodation in Fountain Court off the Strand, with a view onto the Thames. For the younger, more materially successful artists who gathered around him, he represented an ideal of creative integrity and spiritual authenticity. Their memories of him have been crucial in shaping modern perceptions of the artist. An influential 1863 biography drew on Blake’s followers’ recollections of him as ‘a new kind of man, wholly original’.

Text from the Tate website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing in bottom image at second right, Capaneus the Blasphemer (1824-1827) and at fourth right, Cerberus (1824-7)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Capaneus the Blasphemer' 1824-1827

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Capaneus the Blasphemer
1824-1827
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Inferno XIV, 46-72)
Pen and ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with sponging and scratching out
374 x 527 mm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Cerberus' (from Illustrations to Dante's 'Divine Comedy') 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Cerberus
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Cerberus, the terrifying three-headed monster, guards the circle of Hell where gluttons are punished.

Blake drew this design with charcoal as well as pencil and, later, pen and ink. The distant flames of Hell are contrasts of deep red vermilion, a brownish-pink lake pigment that is probably brazilwood, and yellow gamboge. Brazilwood was one of the cheaper and less popular red/pink lake colours. Blake was always careful not to overlay colours or drawing media. This served him in good stead here because, as he undoubtedly knew, charcoal tends to absorb a lot of colour from red lakes.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Cerberus is the horrifying three-headed canine monster shown in Blake’s late illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, painted between 1824-27. This refers to Dante’s Inferno, canto 6 verses 12-24, where Dante and Virgil enter the Third Circle, in which gluttons are punished. Blake is true to his source, except that he adds a cave to signify the weight of the material world. There are two versions of this painting: this in the Tate, and another in The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

Cerberus is a good example of the redeployment of pre-Christian mythology into Christian beliefs: it was originally the guardian of the Underworld, and prevented those within from escaping back to the earthly world. It even features in the twelve labours of Heracles (Hercules), in which he captured Cerberus. Dante – with Virgil’s explicit involvement – incorporates it into his Christian concepts of the afterlife.

Most recently, Cerberus has been used in a more faithful transliteration from the Greek as Kerberos, a computer network authentication protocol. Such are the changes that have taken place in human mythology.

Hoakley. “Tyger’s eye: the paintings of William Blake, 16 – A miscellany,” on The Electric Light Company website December 28, 2016 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

Cerberus, cruel monster, fierce and strange,
Through his wide threefold throat, barks as a dog
Over the multitude immersed beneath.
His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard,
His belly large, and claw’d the hands, with which
He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs
Piecemeal disparts. Howling there spread, as curs, ~
Under the rainy deluge, with one side
The other screening, oft they roll them round,
A wretched, godless crew.

 

 

The Divine Comedy

The last three years of Blake’s life were dominated by a major commission from Linnell. This was to illustrate The Divine Comedy by medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri. This epic poem describes a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Blake threw himself into the task and apparently learned Italian especially. The young artist Samuel Palmer observed him at work on the watercolours, ‘hard working on a bed covered with books… like one of the Antique patriarchs, or a dying Michael Angelo.’

In his designs Blake uses colour to convey the transition from dark, menacing Hell to luminous Paradise. No other British artist since Flaxman had attempted to illustrate the poem in its entirety. Sadly the project, totalling 102 watercolours and seven engravings, remained unfinished at Blake’s death. Even in its unfinished state, this series demonstrates the power of Blake’s imagination, his unceasing creative energy and technical skill. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Blake' at Tate Britain, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Blake at Tate Britain, London showing work from Blake’s The Divine Comedy
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Inscription over the Gate' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Inscription over the Gate (installation view)
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
527 × 374 mm
Tate
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Here Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, stand before the gates of Hell. The sublime landscape is populated by souls trapped in alternating circles of fire and ice.

Three quarters of Blake’s Divine Comedy illustrations depict Hell. Displayed nearby are Blake’s interpretations of its resident beasts and the various painful fates suffered by sinners. A corrupt Pope is plunged into a fiery pit, and a thief, Agnello Brunelleschi, undergoes a grotesque mutation, becoming half-man, half-serpent. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Inscription over the Gate' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Inscription over the Gate
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
527 × 374 mm
Tate

 

 

In his Divine Comedy, Dante describes the pilgrimage he made with the poet Virgil, travelling into Hell, up the Mountain of Purgatory to reach Paradise at last. Entering the Gate of Hell was a moment when Dante (in red) wept with fear.

Dante describes the ‘dim’ colours which contribute to his terror. Blake’s dark shadows of pure black pigment next to areas of unpainted white paper contribute to this. He used Prussian blue for the blue areas, and indigo blue mixed with yellow for the green foliage, so that they contrast. The blue, green and vermilion red do not overlap.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

 

Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

Such characters, in color dim, I mark’d
Over a portal’s lofty arch inscribed.

 

Dante is being led by Virgil, the Roman poet, through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Here they are shown entering the Gate of Hell. Once inside, they shall first pass through the region where the souls of the uncommitted (those who lived their lives without doing anything notably good or bad) reside. They shall then be ferried by Charon across the river Acheron into Hell proper. Virgil is the right-hand figure in blue, Dante the left-hand one in grey.

Notice how the greenery framing the outside of the gate contrasts with the bleak panorama of fire and ice inside. If you look carefully you can see tiny figures in torment on the hills. These successive hills represent the different circles of hell, where the souls of people guilty of different sins are punished in an appropriate manner. Those guilty of the sin of lust, for example, are buffeted about by the winds of passion and desire in the second circle.

Text from “William Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 27/01/2020

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati (installation view)
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati
1824-7
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

In Hell, Dante and Virgil see a thief, in the guise of a serpent ‘all on fire’, preparing to attack another thief, named Buoso de’Donati.

Here Blake’s figures show subtle effects of light and shade, particularly in their flesh tones. He used small brushstrokes of red, blue and black for this, laying the colours side by side rather than mixing them. The robber Donati (right) is about to be punished by being turned into a serpent. Blake’s technique and colour give form to his figure, but the blue also shows human life draining away into coldness.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Lawn with the Kings and Angels' 1824-7 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Lawn with the Kings and Angels (installation view)
1824-7
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108)
Ink and watercolour over black chalk and traces of graphite, with sponging on paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920
through the the Art Fund 1919
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Lawn with the Kings and Angels' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Lawn with the Kings and Angels
1824-7
Illustration for The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108)
Ink and watercolour over black chalk and traces of graphite, with sponging on paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920

 

 

Purgatorio VII, 64-90 and VIII, 22-48 and 94-108. The poets are now accompanied by Virgil’s fellow Mantuan, the poet Sordello and have come to a lawn scooped out from the mountainside. Here they see a group of Negligent Rulers singing sacred songs. Two angels appear with blunted, flaming swords to guard the kings from a serpent. Dante describes the richly coloured grass and flowers, but Blake shows the kings in a grove of trees, the symbol of error.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot' 1824-1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot' 1824-1827 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Matilda and Dante on the Banks of the Lethe with Beatrice on the Triumphal Chariot (installation views)
1824-1827
From Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Lent by The British Museum, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Matilda is a beautiful woman who represents the active life of the soul. She stands on the Earthly Paradise side of the river Lethe, and offers to answer Dante’s questions. She tells him to look at Beatrice’s procession, which can be seen in Blake’s painting behind Matilda. Blake illustrated Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1824, a commission he undertook in 1824 at the request of John Linnell. A reverse Newtonian rainbow hangs above the scene.

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) 'William Blake wearing a hat' c. 1825 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) 'William Blake wearing a hat' c. 1825 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882)
William Blake wearing a hat
c. 1825
Graphite on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Linnell made this seemingly spontaneous portrait of Blake during one of their regular walks on Hampstead Heath, to the north of London. Linnell, who lived by the Heath, was Blake’s most important friend during his final years. Their families became close and through Linnell Blake’s social circle expanded. He met landscape artist John Constable at Linnell’s house. Looking at Constable’s drawing of trees on Hampstead Heath, Blake exclaimed that it was ‘not drawing, but inspiration!‘ (Wall text)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) and John Varley (British, 1778-1842) 'The Blake / Varley Sketchbook' 1819 (installation view)

 

John Linnell (British, 1792-1882) and John Varley (British, 1778-1842)
The Blake / Varley Sketchbook (installation view)
1819
Book
Private collection

 

Varley gave Blake sketchbooks to record his nocturnal visions. This page shows Rowena, a Saxon queen renowned for her beauty.

 

 

The ‘Visionary Heads’

In October 1819 Blake began a series of extraordinary sketches of spirits. He claimed to have seen and even spoken with the spirits in ‘visions’. John Varley encouraged him. He provided Blake with drawing materials to make these so-called ‘Visionary Heads’. He also attended the séance-like sessions when the spirits appeared to Blake. Varley described sitting with Blake ‘from ten at night till three in the morning sometimes slumbering and sometimes waking, but Blake never slept’. According to Linnell, Varley believed in Blake’s visions ‘more than even Blake himself’.

Over a period of about six years Blake made over 100 ‘Visionary Heads’. They depict real historical figures such as medieval kings, as well as legendary characters like Merlin and a range of imagined beasts. Blake’s contemporaries debated whether his nocturnal visions were a sign of mental ill health or a charming quirk. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea (installation views)
c. 1819
Tempera heightened with gold on mahogany
214 x 162 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea
c. 1819
Tempera heightened with gold on mahogany
214 x 162 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949

 

 

The Ghost of a Flea is one of Blake’s most bizarre and famous characters. As the vision appeared to Blake he is said to have cried out: ‘There he comes! his eager tongue whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood, and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green.’ John Varley watched Blake make the original sketch of this character. He also owned this painting showing the creature on a stage, flanked by curtains with a shooting star behind. Varley was a keen astrologer. He paid Linnell to engrave Blake’s drawings, including the Flea, to illustrate his Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828). (Wall text)

Artist and astrologer John Varley encouraged Blake to sketch the figures, called ‘visionary heads’, who populated his visions. This image is the best known. While sketching the flea, Blake claimed it told him that fleas were inhabited by the souls of bloodthirsty men, confined to the bodies of insects because, if they were the size of horses, they would literally drain the population. Their bloodthirsty nature is shown by the eager tongue flicking at the ‘blood’ cup it carries. This intense disorientating image, the stuff of delirium and nightmare, taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime.

William Blake, The Ghost of a Flea c. 1819-20, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Ghost of a Flea' c. 1819 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Ghost of a Flea
c. 1819
Graphite on paper
Private collection
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Creation of Eve
1822
Illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton (VIII, 452-77)
Pen and brown and black ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with stippling and sponging
50.4 × 40.7 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Creation of Eve' 1822 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Creation of Eve (installation views)
1822
Illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton (VIII, 452-77)
Pen and brown and black ink and watercolour over pencil and black chalk, with stippling and sponging
50.4 × 40.7 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1920
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826 (installation view detail)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils (installation views)
c. 1826
Ink and tempera on mahogany
Tate. Presented by Miss Mary H. Dodge through the Art Fund 1918
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' c. 1826

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils
c. 1826
Ink and tempera on mahogany
Tate. Presented by Miss Mary H. Dodge through the Art Fund 1918
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The first owner of this tempera was George Richmond, a member of the ‘Ancients’. This was a circle of young artists who gathered around Blake in the 1820s.

In the biblical text this work refers to, Satan is given permission by God to torture Job in order to test the limits of his faith. The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve and the set of engravings to the Old Testament Book of Job (displayed nearby) reprise work that Blake had made for Thomas Butts 20 years earlier. (Wall text)

The biblical ‘Book of Job’ addresses the existence of evil and suffering in a world where a loving, all-powerful God exists. It has been described as ‘the most profound and literary work of the entire Old Testament’. In ‘Job’, God and Satan discuss the limits of human faith and endurance. God lets Satan force Job to undergo extreme trials and tribulations, including the destruction of his family. Despite this, as God predicted, Job’s faith remains unshaken and he is rewarded by God with the restoration of his health, wealth and family. Here Blake shows Satan torturing Job with boils.

William Blake, Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils c. 1826, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013.

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (installation views)
c. 1826
Ink, tempera and gold on mahogany
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the 1820s Blake’s work took on a richer appearance. He began to use more vibrant colour and to apply gold leaf more frequently. Another new practice was his use of a mahogany support. These innovations were perhaps inspired by Northern European art of the late 15th century, which adapted ideas of the Italian Renaissance. Blake and Linnell often visited such works in private and public collections across London. Blake’s use of gold may have been facilitated by the fact that one of his Fountain Court neighbours was a gilder. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve' c. 1826

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve
c. 1826
Ink, tempera and gold on mahogany
Tate. Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949
Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come (1678) was a popular religious text in Blake’s day. It is not known why Blake embarked on this series of illustrations. They were left unfinished at his death.

Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a challenging journey. Taking place in the realm of a dream, it follows the character Christian as he travels from the City of Destruction (earth) to the Celestial City (heaven) in the hope of unburdening himself of his sins.

Although it contains some of Blake’s most imaginative and original imagery, Pilgrim’s Progress has not received the same level of attention as his other late projects. One reason for this may be that Catherine, Blake’s wife, is thought to have been involved in colouring the illustrations. For nearly all their married life Catherine helped Blake to print and hand-colour his works. Her creative and practical influence is only beginning to be fully appreciated. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Christian in the Arbour' 1824-7

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Christian in the Arbour
1824-7
Illustration to Pilgrim’s Progress
Watercolour and ink over graphite and chalk on paper
Private collection

 

 

Reader! lover of books! lover of heaven,
And of that God from whom all books are given,
Who in mysterious Sinais awful cave
To Man the wond’rous art of writing gave,
Again he speaks in thunder and in fire!
Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:
Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,
Within the unfathomd caverns of my Ear.
Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:
Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony
I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans

I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create

.
William Blake

 

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Jerusalem', plate 28, proof impression, top design only 1820

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Jerusalem, plate 28, proof impression, top design only
1820
Relief etching with pen and black ink and watercolour on medium, smooth wove paper
111 x 159 mm
Yale Center for British Art (New Haven, USA)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'The Sea of Time and Space' 1821 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
The Sea of Time and Space (installation views)
1821
Ink, watercolour and body colour on gesso ground on paper
National Trust Collections, Arlington Court (The Chichester Collection)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The subject of this detailed and richly coloured painting is a mystery. It appears to relate to the theme of choice. The kneeling figure has been identified as divine inspiration and imagination. Its title comes from Blake’s poem Vala, or the Four Zoas and was only applied in 1949.

It is shown in its original frame, which was made by John Linnell’s father, the framer James Linnell. It is thought that Colonel John Palmer Chichester, of Arlington Court, may have purchased it directly from Blake. (Wall text)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827 (installation view)

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ (installation views)
1827
Relief etching with ink and watercolour on paper
232 x 120mm
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Europe' Plate i: Frontispiece, 'The Ancient of Days' 1827

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’
1827
Relief etching with ink and watercolour on paper
232 x 120mm
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

 

 

Tate Britain’s major William Blake retrospective ends with what is believed to be the artist’s final work. On his deathbed, Blake is said to have coloured this impression of Ancient of Days 1827, claiming with satisfaction that it was ‘the best I have ever finished’. This ominous figure was created as a frontispiece for Blake’s 1794 prophetic book Europe a Prophecy. Along with its partner publication America, a Prophecy 1793, these epic and highly symbolic texts relate to the French revolution and revolutionary war in America respectively. Blake created several known versions of the work in his lifetime, including one thought coloured by his wife Catherine. One of Blake’s own favourite works, the image has since been embraced in popular culture and has been used to cover books and albums in recent years. It is reported that upon finishing this version the artist turned to Catherine, a constant source of support and inspiration, and proclaimed ‘you have ever been an angel to me’. He died only days later on 12 August 1827.

Text from Tate Britain

 

In his final days Blake is said to have coloured an impression of this work. He is reported to have claimed it ‘the best I have ever finished’. Though small in size it has become one of Blake’s best-known images. Its central figure is Urizen. He represents the scientific quest for answers. Urizen measures the world below with his golden compass. This act symbolises a threat to freedom of thought, imagination and creativity. For Blake, these were the cornerstones of human happiness. (Wall text)

The divine white-beard, reaching down from his burning disc to measure the Earth below with his shining dividers. For all the force and similarity, this is not in fact God but Blake’s Urizen, the despised personification of Reason and Science.

Laura Cumming. “William Blake review – a rousing call to arms,” on The Guardian website Sun 15 Sep 2019 [Online] Cited 18/01/2020

 

 

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10
Jan
20

European research tour exhibition: ‘Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, UK Part 1

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2019 – 19th January 2020

Visited October 2019 posted January 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art' at the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

I saw this exhibition in London in October, my last on my European research trip.

Having been a clubber since 1975, I was fascinated to see the history of cabarets and clubs in modern art. I remember going to gay clubs such as Scandals in Soho in the 1970s with their Saturday Night Fever lit up glass dance floor – except this one had a revolving glass turntable at its centre; or Adams under the the Leicester Square Odeon (I think it was the Odeon?) with walls padded and buttoned in red velvet, where they played the latest funk and international disco. Sylvester was the first out and out gay disco star, still beloved, who was taken from us by AIDS. And then there was Heaven, at the time of its opening in December 1979 the biggest gay club in Europe, housed in the arches beneath Charing Cross railway station – the site of many a debauched evening of gay disco, then hi-energy, and sex. We could dance for hours on that huge dance floor, under the lasers and neons, only leaving to get water at the bar, just dancing on pure energy, and then cruise the famous tunnels and bars of the club. Fabulous.

Getting back to the exhibition, Into the Night was a tale of two halves, as can be seen in the installation photographs. The upper level gallery at the Barbican was stirring, intoxicating, mesmerising, especially the sections on Vienna and the Cabaret Fledermaus (see below) and Berlin and the Weimar Nightlife 1920s-30s, always a favourite avant-garde era of mine (see part 2 of the posting). The lower level featured 3 separate rooms, recreations of the bar at the Cabaret Fledermaus; the Ciné-Dancing space of L’Aubette; and the shadow theatre of Chat Noir: interesting to see as a walk through but nothing more – then followed by some sparse sections on London’s Cave of the Golden Calf, Harlem’s Jazz Clubs and Cabarets and Tehran’s Rasht 29 (Part 2 of the posting). It felt to me as though the curators ran out of money / time? objects? and curatorial inspiration for the last sections of the exhibition.

Whatever the case, looking at the exhibition as a whole, this was a fascinating insight into cabaret and club art, architecture and design with gems such as Jeanne Mammen’s glorious watercolour paintings on queer female desire and Lohse-Watchler’s dark scenes of Hamburg nightlife. The complex breadth of bohemian and artistic culture covered in the exhibition was truly breathtaking.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Barbican Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the media photographs in the posting. All installation images are iPhone images by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Catalogue cover for 'Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art' at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Catalogue cover for Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican Art Gallery, London