Archive for the 'portrait' Category

27
Sep
16

Review: ‘Polixeni Papapetrou: Eden’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 3rd September – 1st October 2016

 

This end of (life) cycle is the last body of work that Polixeni Papapetrou will make. It is the completion of an imaginative, bold and strong body of work that stretches from the late 1980s through to this series, Eden. Papapetrou has remained true to her vision as an artist, one that documents performative identities within constructed landscapes.

In this series Papapetrou again cleverly stitches together space and time: flowers stitched together in wreaths; prints of period dresses; and further prints in the backdrop made from postwar backcloth. This “fabrication” of the picture plane has been a constant throughout the artistic life of Papapetrou. If we look at the formal construction of an early work, Drag queen wearing cut out dress (1993, below), we can still see the same concerns for flattened perspective in this new series. The wrapping up of space (fabric, dress, flowers, body) in an intricately overlapping, planar field of view with no vanishing point.

The work desires to celebrate the beauty of nature and honour its transience through the symbology of beauty and death associated with flowers. But for me, the use of facsimiles or simulacra – prints of flowers on dresses and repeated patterns of flowers on cloth – diminishes the relationship between the sitters and the flowers, thus undermining the conceptualisation of the series. The sitter is no longer embedded in the cycles of life and, on this level, the work fails to engage with how we are nature. The sitters exist in a masked reality (like the wreaths in front of the girls faces), which is a masquerade or act, a disguise which takes us away from our true being. As in much of Papapetrou’s work, camouflage – to hide or disguise the presence of (a person, animal, or object) – is to the fore, but this time these photographs don’t transcend their origins as studio set pieces.

Further, I have never been a great fan of “dead pan” photography and what I find curious here is the closed nature of the girls. They are stiff, focused inwards, looking off into nowhere. They don’t feel that they are in a state of reflection. For a series that seeks to show “the condition of becoming from childhood to adolescence to adulthood”, the photographs seem to lack the energy vital for such a journey. The exuberance of nature doesn’t seem to extend beyond the prints and flowers. As I said of her work in an earlier posting, “what springs to mind, with the use of masks to disguise youth positioned within the decorous landscape, is the notion of “passing”. Passing on (as in dying), passing through (as in travelling), in passing (as in an aside) and just “passing” (passing yourself off as someone or something else) to hide your true character or feelings.” Like a bower bird collecting colourful things for its nest, there are bits of all of that and more in this new series.

This is not my favourite body of Papapetrou’s work. No matter. What we should do is honour this talented and determined artist for creating memorable images over the years, for following her passion and her heart with courage and conviction. For the rest of my life I will always remember the spaces, the ambiguous vistas, the fantastical archetypes, the fables of her work. Images of drag queens and Dreamkeepers, Ghillies and goblins are etched in my memory. I will always remember them. You can’t ask much more from the work of an artist than that.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to Poli and Stills Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The loss of Eden is
personally experienced by
every one of us as we leave
the wonder and magic and
also the pain and terrors
of childhood.

.
Dennis Potter

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Drag queen wearing cut out dress' 1993

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Polixeni stitches space together in the same way that flowers are stitched together in a wreath – the one wand entwined within the space of the other – or vines or branches are woven on a trellis. The very word bower derives from a knot, a bow (as Shakespeare acknowledges with his ‘pleached bower’),[1] a tying together around an armature, where strands are interwoven, locked in, both strengthened and encumbered with their unity. They are ‘Together intertwin’d and trammel’d fresh’,[2] as the romantic poet Keats expressed it in his Endymion, a heady poem itself enmeshed with flowers and vine. In Polixeni’s photographs, however, the trammelled armature is the human herself…

In Eden, Polixeni weaves together much more than space but metaphor, metaphors of growth, nature, life-cycles, the sacred, the ideal; and even the all-over aesthetic field constitutes a kind of metaphor, the rhapsodic, the imaginary, the connected. The space that she has created is almost nothing but a metaphor, ‘her close and consecrated bower’;[13]…

Polixeni’s bower is fantastic in old and new ways: old, because it has forms of painting and sculpture within it where blooms and other plant-matter are brought together; and new because they gesture to a place so far beyond the studio…

This exclusivity along gender lines, like the image of the unicorn in the garden of a virgin, is also metaphoric: it stands for the preserve of the individual, the quintessentially safe place that is the interior, the inner realm of thought, the preserve of an unaffected psyche, an emotional haven, a bower of immanence. It has love in it, but deferred, otherworldly, imaginary and eternal.

Extract from Robert Nelson “Rhapsodies from the bower: Polixeni Papapetrou’s ‘Eden'” 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Blinded' from 'Eden', 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Blinded
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Delphi' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Delphi
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

The name Delphoi comes from the same root as δελφύς delphys, “womb” and may indicate archaic veneration of Gaia… In Greek mythology, Gaia (/ˈɡ.ə/ or /ˈɡ.ə/ from Ancient Greek Γαῖα, a poetical form of Γῆ , “land” or “earth”) also spelled Gaea, is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities. Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life: the primal Mother Earthgoddess.

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Heart' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Heart
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Flora' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Flora
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

In Roman mythology, Flora (Latin: Flōra) was a Sabine-derived goddess of flowers and of the season of spring – a symbol for nature and flowers (especially the may-flower). While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime, as did her role as goddess of youth. Her name is derived from the Latin word “flos” which means “flower”. In modern English, “Flora” also means the plants of a particular region or period.

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Psyche' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Psyche
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Psyche (/ˈsk/, Greek: Ψυχή, “Soul” or “Breath of Life”). The basic meaning of the Greek word ψυχή (psūkhē) was “life” in the sense of “breath”, formed from the verb ψύχω (psukhō, “to blow”). Derived meanings included “spirit”, “soul”, “ghost”, and ultimately “self” in the sense of “conscious personality” or “psyche”… Portrayals of Psyche alone are often not confined to illustrating a scene from Apuleius, but may draw on the broader Platonic tradition in which Love was a force that shaped the self.

 

 

Colourful, abundant and compelling, Polixeni Papapetrou’s new series Eden arose out of a commission by the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in Melbourne to create works in response to the Melbourne General Cemetery. Papapetrou, photographed flowers obtained from the cemetery against a black backdrop to invoke ideas about mourning and remembrance. For Papapetrou, whose own plot is in the cemetery, and who, through illness, has faced her own mortality, it was a challenging and thought provoking assignment.

The commission led Papapetrou to delve into the language of flowers. The history of art is replete with images of flowers and they have a rich metaphorical resonance. In true Papapetrou spirit, what she has created in Eden, following on from the CCP work, is positive, philosophical and beautiful. Eden invites us to celebrate the beauty of nature and honour its transience. We, like flowers, are subject to seasons of growth, blossoming, and wilting. The young women in the photographs, in the Springtime of their lives, are surrounded by flowers; on backdrops, on dresses; held or worn, they adorn and overrun them. The lush colours and patterns are interrupted only by the faces and arms of the sitters, their expressions solemn and thoughtful, in contrast to the extravagance of the blooms.

Papapetrou has returned to photograph these subjects, including her daughter Olympia, at different stages of their lives. Eden uses the language of flowers to explore life itself, reflecting on the young womens’ metamorphosis from child to adolescent and adolescent to adult, and a oneness with the world, fertility and the cycles of life. They are enclosed in a floral embrace that symbolises their unity and acceptance of this miraculous thing we call life.

In addition to Eden, we will also exhibit a small selection of Papapetrou’s early Phantomwise works. These large-scale black and white photographs feature her young daughter Olympia between the ages of four and six wearing Victorian masks and performing various identities. As with Eden, these early works consider the potential for metamorphosis and the ambiguity between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’, an ambiguity inherent in photography itself.

Press release from Stills Gallery

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Amaranthine' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Amaranthine
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

The word is taken from ancient Greek and means everlasting or immortal (the same as the amaranth flower)

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Amaryllus' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Amaryllus
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Eden' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Eden
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Traditionally, the favored derivation of the name “Eden” was from the Akkadian edinnu, derived from a Sumerian word meaning “plain” or “steppe”. Eden is now believed to be more closely related to an Aramaic root word meaning “fruitful, well-watered.” The Hebrew term is translated as “pleasure” in Sarah’s secret saying in Genesis 18:12

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Rhodora' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Rhodora
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) "The Rhodora" from 'Poems' 1847

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
“The Rhodora” from Poems
1847

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Spring' 2016

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Spring
2016
From the series Eden
Pigment print
127.3 x 85 cm
Courtesy of the artist and STILLS Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
Phone: +61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Wed to Sat 11am – 5pm

Stills Gallery website

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23
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Danny Lyon: Message to the Future’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 25th September 2016

Curator: Julian Cox

 

 

This man is a living legend. What a strong body of socially conscious work he has produced over a long period of time. Each series proposes further insight into the human condition – and adds ‘value’ to series that have gone before. It is a though the artist possesses the intuition for a good story and the imagination to photograph it to best advantage, building the story over multiple encounters and contexts to form a thematic whole.

In a press release for a currently showing parallel exhibition titled Journey at Edwynn Houk Gallery the text states, “Continuing in the tradition of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Lyon forged a new style of realistic photography, described as “New Journalism,” where the photographer immerses himself in his subject’s world.” This reference to immersion is reinforced by the second quotation below, where “the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents.”

While the observation is correct that the artist immerses himself in the cultures and communities he documents, this is different to the tradition of Robert Frank and to a lesser extent, Walker Evans. Frank was a Swiss man who imaged his impressions of America on a road trip across the country. His “photographs were notable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society” which pictured the culture as both alienating and strange, “skeptical of contemporary values and evocative of ubiquitous loneliness”. This is why The Americans had so much power and caused so much consternation when it was first released in 1959 in America, for it held up a mirror to an insular society, one not used to looking at itself especially from the position of an “outsider” – where the tone of the book was perceived as derogatory to national ideals – and it didn’t like what it saw. The American Walker Evans was also an outsider photographing outsiders, journeying through disparate towns and communities documenting his impressions how I can I say, subjectively with an objective focus, at one and the same time. He never immersed himself in the culture but was an active observer and documenter, never an insider.

Lyon was one of the first “embedded” social documentary photographers of the American street photography movement of the 1960s who had the free will and the social conscience to tell it like it is. His self-proclaimed “advocacy journalism” is much more than just advocacy / journalism. It is a vitality of being, of spirit, an inquiry of the mind that allows the artist to get close, both physically and emotionally, to the problems of others through becoming one with them – and then to picture that so that others can see their story, so that he can “change history and preserve humanity.” But, we must acknowledge, that humanity is mainly (good looking) males: outlaw motorcycle clubs, mainly male prisons, mainly male civil rights, tattoo shops, and male Uptown, Chicago. Women are seemingly reduced to bit-players at best, singular portraits or standing in the background at funerals. This is a man’s world and you better not forget it…

Having said that, can you imagine living the life, spending four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. How exhilarating, how enmeshed with the culture you would become – the people, the travel, the ups and downs, the life, the danger – and then when you get photographs like Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee (1966, below) with the manic look in Funny Sonny’s eyes, how your heart would sing. If I had to nominate one image that is for me the epitome of America in the 1960s it would be this: Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below): all Easy Rider (an 1969 American road movie) encapsulated in one image. The structure and modernism / of the two bridges frames / the speeding / wicked bike / helmet lodged over the headlight; the man / wearing a skull and crossbones emblazoned jacket / helmet-less / head turned / behind / hair flying in the wind / not looking where / he is going / as though his destiny: unknown.

Danny Lyon IS one of the great artists working in photography today. He is a rebel with his own cause. Through his vital and engaging images his message to the future is this: everyone has their own story, their own trials and tribulations, each deserving of empathy, compassion, and non-judgemental acceptance. Prejudice has no voice here, a lesson never more pertinent than for America today as it decides who to elect – a woman who has fought every inch of the way or a narcissistic megalomaniac who preaches hate to minorities.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Closeness, both physical and emotional, is a recurring theme throughout the 175 works in “Message to the Future,” Lyon’s Whitney Museum retrospective, a quietly brilliant affair curated with panache by Julian Cox. (Later this year, the show will travel to the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, which organized it; Elisabeth Sussman oversaw the Whitney installation.) We see here a photographer who was witness to a changing America and, occasionally, other places in the world. Since the early ’60s, Lyon has been infiltrating outsider groups – talking to and photographing bikers, Texas prison inmates, and hippies, and learning from them by becoming close with them. It’s as if Lyon has no sense of personal space. That, as this revelatory show proves, is his greatest attribute…

Lyon is a deft stylist who cares deeply about his subjects, to the point of exchanging letters with them for years after taking their pictures. What results is something more intimate, more political, and, in some ways, better than traditional photojournalism – a fuller portrait of America since the ’60s.”

.
Alex Greenberger on the ArtNews website

 

“Self-taught, and driven by his twin passions for social change and the medium of photography, the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents. This was evident early on in his series ‘Bikeriders’ (1968; reissued in 2003 by Chronicle Books), which evolved from four years spent as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. And ‘Conversations with the Dead’ derived from his close study of the Texas prison system; it also revealed Lyon’s novel and distinctive approach to the photobook, which often sees him splicing images with texts drawn from various sources, including interviews, letters, and even fiction.”

.
Text from the Edwynn Houk Gallery website

 

 

In his 1981 book, “Danny Lyon: Pictures From the New World,” he wrote of starting out in the early ’60s. “Photography then seemed new and exciting, and all America, which I regarded with mystery and reverence, lay before me.”

That sense of newness and excitement fills the show. What we’re discovering now, Lyon was discovering then – not just seeing or observing, but discovering, with the sense of revelation that brings. Mystery and reverence are here, too, but complicatedly. Framing them – debating with them? – are the clarity of precision the camera affords and a skepticism born of a forthrightly ’60s sensibility. Several photographs of the Occupy movement attest to how vigorous that sensibility remains…

He was working as a documentarian but not a photojournalist. That’s an important distinction. These images are implicitly polemical – inevitably polemical, too. Rarely in our nation’s history has the distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong been as clear cut. Yet then as now, people matter more to Lyon than any ideological stance. Outsiders attract Lyon and populate the show: civil rights demonstrators, transgender people (in Galveston, Texas, of all places), lower Manhattan demolition crews, inmates, undocumented workers, Indians, Appalachian whites transplanted to Chicago, motorcycle gangs…

Enclosure and entrapment are not for Lyon – nor, for that matter, is the absence of people (a very rare condition in his work). A larger restlessness in Lyon’s career reflects the energy so often evident within the frame – within the frame being another form of enclosure and entrapment. The South, Chicago, lower Manhattan, Texas, New Mexico, China, Haiti, Latin America share space in the show. Even so, sense of place doesn’t signify as much for Lyon as a sense of a place’s inhabitants. More likely he’d say that the two are indistinguishable. Looking at his pictures, you can see why he’d think so.”

Mark Feeney. “Outsiders fill compelling Danny Lyon photography show,” on the Boston Globe website 8th July 2016 [Online] Cited 10/09/2016

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-portrait, Chicago' 1965/1995

 

Danny Lyon
Self-portrait, Chicago
1965/1995
Gelatin silver print montage
Image 31.2 x 27.8 cm (12 1/4 x 10 15/16 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait, New Orleans 1964' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait, New Orleans, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 12.2 cm (7 3/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuts at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016. The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker. The presentation also includes a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums. A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice.

Photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon (b. 1942) has over the past five decades presented a charged alternative to the sanitized vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the standard detached humanism of the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history but helped to shape it.

Lyon committed intensively to photography from the beginning. In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, he hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the civil rights movement. He went on to photograph biker subcultures, explore the lives of the incarcerated, and document the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. He has traveled to Latin America and China, and has lived for years in New Mexico; the work he has made throughout these journeys demonstrates his respect for the people he photographs on the social and cultural margins.

Message to the Future, shaped in collaboration with the artist, incorporates seldom-exhibited materials from Lyon’s archive, including rare vintage prints, previously unseen 16mm film footage made inside the Texas prisons, his personal photo albums, and related documents and ephemera. In his roles as a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Lyon has reinvented the expectations for how the still photographic image can be woven together with journalism, books, films, and collage to present a diverse record of social customs and human behavior. His work, which he continues to make today, reveals a restless idealist, digging deep into his own life and those of his subjects to uncover the political in the personal and the personal in the political.”

Text from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Civil rights

In the summer of 1962, Lyon hitchhiked to Cairo, Illinois, to witness demonstrations and a speech by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organizations driving the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Inspired to see the making of history firsthand, Lyon then headed to the South to participate in and photograph the civil rights movement. There, SNCC executive director James Forman recruited Lyon to be the organization’s first official photographer, based out of its Atlanta headquarters. Traveling throughout the South with SNCC, Lyon documented sit-ins, marches, funerals, and violent clashes with the police, often developing his negatives quickly in makeshift darkrooms.

Lyon’s photographs were used in political posters, brochures, and leaflets produced by SNCC to raise money and recruit workers to the movement. Julian Bond, the communications director of SNCC, wrote of Lyon’s pictures, “They put faces on the movement, put courage in the fearful, shone light on darkness, and helped make the movement move.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia' 1962

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image 22 x 31.7 cm (8 5/8 x 12 1/2 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 24 cm (6 3/8 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.5 x 26 cm (6 7/8 x 10 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.3 x 26.8 cm (7 3/16 x 10 9/16 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.4 x 27 cm (7 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland
1964
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.5 x 22.2 cm (6 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; purchase with funds from Joan N. Whitcomb

 

Danny Lyon. 'Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 1/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The March on Washington' August 28, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The March on Washington
August 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 20.8 cm (11 3/4 x 8 3/16 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Anne Ehrenkranz

 

Galveston

Danny Lyon. 'Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.8 x 16.1 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Prisons

In 1967, Lyon applied to the Texas Department of Corrections for access to the state prisons. Dr. George Beto, then director of the prisons, granted Lyon the right to move freely among the various prison units, which he photographed and filmed extensively over a fourteen-month period. The result is a searing record of the Texas penal system and, symbolically, of incarceration everywhere.

Lyon’s aim was to “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.” This meant riding out to the fields to follow prisoners toiling in the sun, as well as visiting the Wynne Treatment Centre, which housed primarily convicts with mental disabilities. He befriended many of the prisoners, listening to their stories and finding the humanity in their experiences, and still maintains contact with some of them.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.4 x 33.2 cm (8 7/8 x 13 1/16 in.); sheet 27.7 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.4 x 32 cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.3 x 17.5 cm (9 9/16 x 6 3/4 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16 x 24 cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.2 x 23.8 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 31.3 cm (8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; purchase

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 17 x 24.2 cm (6 5/8 x 9 9/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.8 x 24 cm (6 5/8 x 9 91/6 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The destruction of Lower Manhattan

In late 1966 and into the summer of 1967, starting from his loft at the corner of Beekman and William Streets near City Hall Park, Lyon documented the demolition of some sixty acres of predominantly nineteenth-century buildings below Canal Street in lower Manhattan. With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, he photographed most of the buildings that would be torn down to make way for the World Trade Center. Lyon recalled later: “I wanted to inhabit [the buildings] with feelings and give them and their demise a meaning.”

Moving from the outside of the buildings to their deserted interiors, Lyon also took pictures of the workers involved in the demolition. The photographs, together with Lyon’s journal entries, became a book, published by Macmillan in 1969 and dedicated to his close friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero. The volume’s significance lies in part in its depiction of a city – and, more broadly, a culture – cannibalizing its own architectural history for the sake of development.

 

Danny Lyon. 'View South from 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
View South from 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 18.2 cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 18.2 cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 23.4 cm (9 5/16 x 10 7/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

 

The Bikeriders

Lyon purchased his first motorcycle – a 1953 Triumph TR6 – in 1962, after spending weekends watching college friend and motorcycle racer Frank Jenner compete at informal dirt track races across the Midwest. When he returned to Chicago in 1965 after leaving SNCC, Lyon joined the hard-riding, hard-drinking Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club and began making photographs with a goal to “record and glorify the life of the American bike rider.” With clubs like the Hells Angels making headlines for their criminal and vigilante activities at the time, bikeriders were simultaneously feared for their anarchism and romanticized for their independence.

Riding with the Outlaws, Lyon attempted to capture their way of life from the inside out. Their unapologetic pursuit of freedom and libertine pleasures compelled him to get close to them as people. Lyon’s images are intimate and familiar, whether taken during rides or at clubhouse meetings. He also used a tape recorder to document the bikers speaking for themselves, unobtrusively capturing their collective voice. The resulting photographs were gathered into the now classic book of the same name, published in 1968, combining his pictures with an edited transcription of the interviews.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Racer, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Racer, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 20.3 cm (5 1/2 x 8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 31.8 cm (8 x 12 1/2 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Route 12, Wisconsin' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Route 12, Wisconsin
1963
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 23.9 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Renegade's funeral, Detroit' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Renegade’s funeral, Detroit
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon Funny Sonny. 'Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Chicago' 1965 (printed 1966)

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Chicago
1965 (printed 1966)
Gelatin silver print, printed 1966
25.8 x 25.5 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois' 1966 (printed 2003)

 

Danny Lyon
Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois
1966 (printed 2003)
Cibachrome print
Image 22.8 x 32.5 cm (9 x 13 1/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cowboy, Rogue's Picnic, Chicago' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Cowboy, Rogue’s Picnic, Chicago
1966
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 15.9 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/4 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.5 x 17.2 cm (9 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

New Mexico and the West

Lyon headed west from New York in 1969. Tired of the hectic pace of the big city and in search of new surroundings, he settled in Sandoval County, New Mexico. He developed a great admiration for the region’s close knit communities of Native Americans and Chicanos. Lyon’s photographs and, increasingly, his films reflected his growing understanding of the cross-cultural flow between these disparate groups and how they interacted with the geography of the Southwest.

With the help of his good friend, a migrant laborer named Eduardo Rivera Marquez, Lyon built a traditional adobe home for his family in Bernalillo, in the Rio Grande Valley just north of Albuquerque. As Lyon’s family grew, his children also became a frequent subject, often depicted against the dramatic Western landscape. Though Lyon moved back to New York in 1980, New Mexico would remain a center of gravity for the artist, who returned every summer with his family to photograph and make films.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Eddie, New Mexico' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Eddie, New Mexico
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 23 x 34.5 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico' 1971

 

Danny Lyon
Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.3 x 33.8 cm (9 1/8 x 13 5/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Maricopa County, Arizona' 1977

 

Danny Lyon
Maricopa County, Arizona
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.8 x 33.5 cm (9 x 13 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico' 1969/1975

 

Danny Lyon
Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico
1969/1975
Gelatin silver print (decorated)
Image 16.7 x 25 cm (6 9/16 x 9 3/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 27.9 x 40.6 cm (11 x 16 in.); sheet 33 x 45.7 cm (13 x 18 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975

 

 

Films and montages

Lyon started making 16mm films in earnest in the 1970s, focusing on marginalized communities and injustice as he had in his photographs. His subjects included Colombian street kids in Los Niños Abandonados (1975) and undocumented workers from Mexico in El Mojado (1974) and El Otro Lado (1978). Lyon has explained that after leaving the Texas prisons he struggled to move forward, feeling that there were “no more worlds to conquer” in creating photography books. Filmmaking became the means by which he could continue to make sense of the beauty and inequality he saw in the world around him.

Lyon did not give up photography completely, however. He turned to assembling family albums and creating collaged works that he describes as montages, referencing the filmmaking practice of juxtaposing disparate images to form a continuous whole. Lyon’s montages combine multiple images and materials sourced from his archives. Initially meant as vehicles for reflection and, in the case of the albums, as family heirlooms, these deeply personal works bridge past generations of his family with his present.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Los Niños Abandonados
1975

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Mojado
1974
New Mexico, color, 14 minutes [The Wetback]
English and Spanish with subtitles
Aportrait of a hard-working undocumented laborer from Mexico produced by J.J. Meeker

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Otro Lado
1978
Mexico and Arizona, color, 60 minutes [The Other Side]
Spanish with English subtitles
An honest film infused with poignant beauty, without political rhetoric

 

 

Danny Lyon
Dear Mark
1981, New York and France, color and b&w, 15 minutes
A comedy in which the artist’s voice has been replaced by Gene Autry’s
Lyon’s homage to his friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero, from footage shot in 1965 and 1975.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Soc Sci 127
1969
Houston, color and b&w, 21 minutes
A comedy – Danny Lyon’s first film with the late great Bill Sanders and his “painless” tattoo shop.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Willie
1985
New Mexico, color, b&w, 82 minutes
Willie is a realistic film made in Bernalillo, home of Willie Jaramillo and filmmakers Danny and Nancy Weiss Lyon
Defiantly individual and implaccable in the face of authority, Willie is repeatedly thrown into jail for relatively minor offenses. The filmmakers gain access to jail cells, day rooms, lunatic wards, and the worst cellblock in the penitentiary where Willie is locked up next to his childhood friend and convicted murderer, Michael Guzman.

 

Knoxville

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville, Tennessee' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville, Tennessee
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Leslie, Downtown Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Leslie, Downtown Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 28.7 x 19.1 cm (11 1/4 x 7 1/2 in.); mount 56.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/8 x 18 in.)
Art Institute of Chicago; gift of Mr. Danny Lyon

 

Tattoo

Danny Lyon. 'Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 20.7 x 20.7 cm (8 3/16 x 8 3/16 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)

Collection of the artist

 

Chicago

Danny Lyon. 'Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners' 1974

 

Danny Lyon
Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners
1974

 

Danny Lyon. 'Children at an apartment entrance' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Children at an apartment entrance
1965
From series Uptown, Chicago
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.1 x 23.9 cm (9 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.4 x 16.4 cm (6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

New York

Danny Lyon. 'Subway, New York' 1966 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
Subway, New York
1966 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 23.7 x 24.1 cm (9 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 28.8 x 29.2 cm (11 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York' 1969

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image 15.6 x 23.5 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.2 cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanna Leonhardt Casullo, Niko Elmaleh, Lauren DePalo, Julia Macklowe, and Fern Kaye Tessler

 

Danny Lyon. 'John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York' 1969 (printed c. 2005)

 

Danny Lyon
John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York
1969 (printed c. 2005)
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Image 22.3 x 33.3 cm (8 13/16 x 13 1/8 in.); sheet 27.6 x 35.4 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.9 x 16.2 cm (9 3/8 x 6 3/8 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Colombia

Danny Lyon. 'Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.1 x 25.3 cm (6 3/4 x 10 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia' 1966 (printed 2008)

 

Danny Lyon
Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia
1966 (printed 2008)
Cibachrome print
Image 25.7 x 25.7 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuted at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016.

The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker as well as a photographer. The presentation also includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums.

A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has presented a charged alternative to the vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history, but helped to shape it.

“We are delighted to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Since the early 1960s, Lyon’s photographs and films have upturned conventional notions of American life. The Whitney has long championed Lyon’s work and we are thrilled to present this retrospective, which encompasses more than half a century of important work.”

In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, Lyon hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the Civil Rights movement. His other projects have included photographing biker subcultures, exploring the lives of individuals in prison, and documenting the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. Lyon has lived for years in New Mexico, and his commitment to personal adventure has taken him to Mexico and other countries in Latin America, China, and the less-traveled parts of the American West.

“Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working in photography today,” said Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. “Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations sets him apart from many of his peers.”

Press release from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Ongoing activism

Lyon’s first encounter with Latin America was through a trip to Colombia in February 1966, during which he photographed extensively in and around Cartagena. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lyon’s self-described “advocacy journalism” took him to Bolivia, where he captured the hard lives of rural miners; Mexico, where he photographed undocumented workers moving back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border; back to Colombia, where he made the film Los Niños Abandonados, chronicling the lives of street children; and to Haiti, where he witnessed firsthand the violent revolution overthrowing Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.

More recently, Lyon made six trips between 2005 and 2009 to Shanxi province in northeast China. Aided by a guide, he photographed the people living in this highly polluted coal-producing region. As in his work in the civil rights movement and the Texas prisons, Lyon’s photographs from his travels are examples of his advocacy journalism, part of his effort to “change history and preserve humanity.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti' February 7, 1986

 

Danny Lyon
Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
February 7, 1986
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.3 x 32.1 cm (8 3/8 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Occupy

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles
2011
Inkjet print
Image 24.5 x 32.9 cm (9 5/8 x 12 15/16 in.); sheet 32.7 x 40 cm (13 x 15 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 24.6 x 33 cm (9 3/4 x 13 in.); sheet 27.3 x 38 cm (10 3/4 x 15 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Friday and Saturdays: 10.30 am – 10 pm

Whitney Museum of American Art website

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18
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘The Intimate World of Josef Sudek’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th June – 25th September 2016

 

A poetry of the everyday

Josef Sudek, a one-armed man lugging around a large format camera, is one of my top ten photographers of all time.

His photographs, sometimes surreal, always sensitive, have a profound sensibility that affect the soul. Melancholy and mysterious by turns, they investigate the inner life of objects which stand as metaphors for the inner life of the artist. A form of healing after his horrific injuries and the loss of his arm during the First World War, the photographs purportedly look outwards upon the world but are actually interior meditations on life, death and the nature of being. Light emerges from the darkness; understanding from tribulation; and Sudek, in Jungian terms, integrates his ego into his soul through the process of (photographic) individuation – whereby the personal and collective unconscious (his hurt and damage) are brought into consciousness (eg. by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche and, in Sudek’s life, was integral to his healing from the vicissitudes of war.

Using Pictorialism as the starting point for his exploration of the world, Sudek never abandons the creation of “atmosphere” in his photographs, even as the images become modernist, surrealist and offer a new way of seeing the world. Having myself photographed extensively at night, and from the interior of my flat, I can understand Sudek’s fascination with both locations: the quiet of night, the stillness, the clarity of vision and thought; the interior as exterior, the projection of interior thoughts onto an external surface reflected back into the camera lens. “Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.” Except the cloak of darkness is not impenetrable, as light cannot exist without darkness.

Pace, his photographs are breath / taking. They are exhalations of the spirit.

Sudek’s ability to transcend the literal, his ability to transform the objectal quality of photography ranks him as one of the top photographers of all time. He synthesises  a poetry of objects, a poetry of the everyday, and projects the folds of his mind onto the visual field (through “tears” of condensation on the window, through labyrinths of paper and glass, such as in Labyrinth on my table, 1967, below). As a form of self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming – Sudek’s photographs interrogate that chthonic darkness that lurks in the heart of everyone of us, our dark night of the soul. In that process of discovery (who am I, what kind of human being am I, how can I heal myself), he finds redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

If you would like to read more about the life and work of Josef Sudek, please read the excellent article by Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

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

 

 

“… [Sudek] referred to photography as meteorology to describe the significance of the atmosphere, and how a photographer must predict the right conditions for photographing and enlarging prints. His work became sharper with richer tones, and his compositions became more illusive. The foregrounds and backgrounds of his photographs, particularly in his “Window” series began to oscillate. These achievements were perhaps made more attainable by his focus on inanimate objects over which he had more control than living things. Most of his cityscapes became deserted, as he directed his camera at statues or replaced what would have been a living subject with such emulative sculptures.

In effect, Sudek’s substitution of the inanimate for the animate brought the objects he photographed to life in his mind. He called the enormous decaying trees in the woods of Bohemia “sleeping giants” and would take portraits of masks and statuary heads, transforming them into frozen, worn grotesqueries. His personification of objects is even more vivid in his studio photography, particularly after 1939, the oncoming of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Prague. As the city was oppressed by German troops, the artist retreated into his studio and insulated himself sentimentally with still lifes. To an interviewer, he explained, “I love the life of objects. When the children go to bed, the objects come to life. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects.” He devoted endless hours to arranging and photographing the everyday – apples, eggs, bread, and shells – and special objects given to him by friends, such as feathers, spectacles, and watches, which he called “remembrances” of that person. A photograph from his series “Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician,” for example, portrays objects respectfully placed in a row on a desk, as if artifacts from an archeological site, from which the history of a life or character of a man could be divined.

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” Sudek said, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.” This statement is perhaps telling of Sudek’s relationship to death and life, as a result of the loss of his arm and the manner in which he suffered the loss. In the 1963 film, “Zit Svuj Zivot” (Living Your Life), a documentary portrait of Sudek by Evald Strom, we see a sensitive man describing his efforts to photograph the reality of the objects around him, not as if he were bringing the objects to life, but as if it was his purpose to represent the lives of objects as they truly are. Of the image of a vase of wildflowers, he says “This is a photograph of wildflowers, my attempt to photograph wildflowers,” and of an old lamp, “This is a celebrated lamp; it holds a lot of memories.””

Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

 

 

“I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects, to relate something mysterious: the seventh side of a dice,” mused Josef Sudek. “Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” he explained, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.”

 

 

 

 

“On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print. The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography.

The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography. Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence – feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

The first part of the exhibition features images that herald the photographer’s later work, showing his early landscapes, portraits of fellow patients at Invalidovna, the Prague hospice for war invalids like Sudek, his hesitant foray into modernism, and his interior shots of St. Vitus Cathedral. Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart. The exhibition “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek” provides a fascinating panorama of the work of this unique artist.”

Text from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Beginnings

Sudek’s first photographic prints – small and largely assembled in albums – were mainly views of the countryside taken along the Elbe River when he travelled from Prague to Kolín to visit his mother between 1916 and 1922.

Using processes such as gelatin silver and bromoil he showed a talent for printing his pictures in a style that favoured soft edges and broad swathes of tone. Here Sudek was not so much studying the effects of light as he was observing the conventions of Pictorialism, a photography movement that straddled the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, and was based on a strong Romantic ethos. Pictorialist photographers enhanced atmospheric effects with such processes as carbon and gum bichromate. Sudek began using the carbon process regularly and in a personally expressive manner in the late 1940s.

His Invalidovna and St. Vitus Cathedral series in Prague, begun in the first half of the 1920s, show him exploring interior spaces where light emphasizes both the profane and the sacred. The play of bands of sunlight and darkness is a central feature of the composition and, indeed, of the life of the photograph.

 

Josef Sudek. 'St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic' c. 1926

 

Josef Sudek
St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic
c. 1926
Silver gelatin print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín' c. 1922–1926

 

Josef Sudek
Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín [Sunday afternoon at Kolín island]
c. 1922–1926
Gelatin silver print
28.4 × 28.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 2000
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Rue de Prague' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Rue de Prague
1924
Gelatin silver print
8.3 × 8.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Portrait de mon ami Funke' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Portrait de mon ami Funke [Portrait of my friend Funke]
1924
Gelatin silver print
28.5 × 22.6 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 1985
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“”Josef Sudek: The World at My Window” is the first exhibition in France since 1988 to cover Sudek’s entire career and spotlight the different phases of his work. Coming in the wake of several exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume devoted to Eastern European photographers of the early twentieth century, among them André Kertész and Francois Kollar, this one comprises some 130 vintage prints by the Czech artist. Bringing to bear a vision at once subjective and timeless, Sudek captures the ongoing changes in Prague’s natural world and landscapes.

His early profession as a bookbinder came to an abrupt halt when he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in Bohemia and sent to the Italian front. After the First World War he came back to Prague wounded; the loss of his right arm meant abandoning bookbinding, and he turned to photography. After revisiting the battlefield in Italy once more he returned, in despair, to Prague: “I found the place,” he recounted, “but my arm wasn’t there. Since then I’ve never gone anywhere. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

A study grant enabled him to train at the state-run school of graphic arts in Prague, where he mixed with practitioners of Pictorialism, a photographic movement aiming at achieving colour and texture effects similar to those of painting. He started concentrating on architectural details, always waiting until the light was absolutely perfect. Little by little he gave up the Pictorialist ambiences of his views of St Vitus’s cathedral, opting for a pure, straightforward approach which the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz summed up as “maximum detail for maximum simplification”.

During the Second World War Sudek began photographing the window giving onto his garden, the result being the celebrated Window of My Studio series. He then shifted his focus to the accumulated jumble of objects in the studio, producing a further series titled Labyrinths. Light was an inexhaustible theme in his work, orchestrating the seasons, making the invisible visible and transporting us into another world. As if to escape the leaden context of the War and then of Communism, Sudek took refuge in music, especially that of his compatriot Leoš Janáček. A true music lover, he gradually built up a substantial collection of recordings which he played to his friends during improvised concerts in his studio.

The second half of his career saw Sudek abandon photography’s traditional subjects as he explored the outskirts of Prague with his black view camera on his shoulder. Known as “the poet of Prague”, he became an emblematic figure in the Czech capital. Discreet and solitary, he gradually withdrew from the city’s art scene, leaving his studio only to prowl the streets at night with his imagination as his guide.

Sudek’s photographs rarely include people; his focus was more on empty urban and rural spaces. Fascinated by the streets of Prague, the city’s deserted parks and public gardens, and the wooded Bohemian landscapes his mastery of light rendered sublime, he preferred the un-enlarged contact print as a means of preserving all the detail and authenticity of the places he roamed through.  His work moved towards experiments with light. In photographs shot through with simplicity and sensitivity, Sudek foregrounds a kind of poetry of the everyday, using the interplay of light and shade to achieve a kind of fluctuation between interior and exterior.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1948

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1948
Gelatin silver print
17 × 11.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek, 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1954

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1954
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 16.8 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1950

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1950
Gelatin silver print
28.1 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

The world from my window

Sudek was not content with making single, unrelated images. He generally worked in projects or series, creating extended visual explorations of the phenomena and scenes he viewed – often from the closed window of his studio, which separated his private studio-home from the exterior world. In the serie From My Window it was the endlessly varying states of transformation of droplets of water that he watched streaming down his windowpane. His images invite us to contemplate, with great fascination, the physical cycles of water and the phenomenon of rivulets coursing down a surface – like human tears. Reminding us even of [Paul] Verlaine’s “There is weeping in my heart like the rain upon the city…” Sometimes the melancholy mood of these images is leavened by a rose in a vase on the windowsill or tendrils of leaves announcing the arrival of spring.

 

There is weeping in my heart
like the rain falling on the town.
What is this languor
that pervades my heart?

Oh the patter of the rain
on the ground and the roofs!
For a heart growing weary
oh the song of the rain!

There is weeping without cause
in this disheartened heart.
What! No betrayal?
There’s no reason for this grief.

Truly the worst pain
is not knowing why,
without love or hatred,
my heart feels so much pain.

Paul Verlaine. “Il pleure dans mon coeur”

 

Josef Sudek. 'Quatre saisons: l’été' c. 1940-1954

 

Josef Sudek
Quatre saisons: l’été [Four seasons: summer]
c. 1940-1954
From the series “La Fenêtre de mon atelier” [The window of my studio]
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 17.1 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Dernière Rose' 1956

 

Josef Sudek
La Dernière Rose [The Last Rose]
1956
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 23.2 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession Josef Sudek

 

 

Night walks

Sudek’s preoccupation with darkness dates to the Nazi Occupation of Prague from March 1939 until the end of the war. Experiencing his city plunged into nights of enforced darkness Sudek explored the absence of light in his pictures. We know that this was more than a technical exercise, for he wrote “Memories” and “Restless Night” on the verso of one nocturnal photograph dated 1943.

The curfews imposed on citizens at the time made it unlikely that Sudek ventured out into the city after dark during wartime. Neither agile nor inconspicuous with his large-format camera slung over his increasingly hunched back, Sudek would have risked his life had he done so. The small courtyard of his studio on Ujezd street was hidden from the road, however, and one or two lights in neighbouring apartments served as beacons. Well after sundown he would photograph the syncopated play of blurs of light against the wall of impenetrable blackness.

 

The spirit of place

Sudek visited and photographed places that held either personal or spiritual significance for him: the landscape along the Elbe River, Invalidovna, St. Vitus Cathedral, his studio, Prague’s complex streets and open squares, the majestic Prague Castle, the city’s surrounds, and Frenštát pod Radhoštĕm where he spent summers with friends. Hukvaldy, home of Leoš Janaček, the composer whose music he loved, was a particularly favoured haunt. This was true also of the ancient Mionší Forest where he navigated his way through dense brush and forests by way of shortcuts that he created and playfully named. The Beskid Mountains also served as spiritual retreat. Although he was an urbanite in many respects, Sudek’s love of nature and sense of despair for its desecration is strongly expressed in Sad Landscapes, his series of images made in the Most region where industrialization ravaged the countryside in the 1950s.

 

The life of objects

Sudek collected everything. Today he would be known as a hoarder. But his obsession served him well, for out of the chaos of his small studio and living spaces he carefully selected a variety of these objects to photograph. From delicate feathers to crumpled paper and tinfoil, multi-faceted drinking glasses, flowers, fruit, seashells, envelopes, flasks, frames, prisms, candelabras, string and shoe moulds, the subjects ranged from the mundane to the exotic. Once chosen, the set-up was lovingly composed – often in subtly changed configurations with other objects – and carefully lit before being memorialized in either pigment or gelatin silver prints.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin Royal' c. 1940–1946

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin Royal [The Royal Garden]
c. 1940-1946
Procédé pigmentaire au papier charbon [Carbon pigment on paper]
16.1 × 11.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]' 1950

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
1950
Gelatin silver print
22.8 × 29 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12 × 16.7 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12.2 × 17.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin de Rothmayer' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin de Rothmayer [The Rothmayer Garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
16.9 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“Entitled “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek”, this exhibition is the first of this scale to revisit the life and work of Josef Sudek (Kolín, 1896 – Prague, 1976) within its sociogeographical and historical context: Prague during the first half of the twentieth century, at a time when the Czech capital was a veritable hub of artistic activity. The exhibition features a selection of 130 works spanning the totality of Sudek’s career, from 1920 to 1976, and allows the public to examine the extent to which his photography was a reflection of his personal relationship to the surrounding world. On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print.

The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography. The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography.

Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence—feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

New ways of seeing

Although more influenced by prevailing photographic conventions in the beginning, Sudek came to show an openness to experimenting with new ways of composing and printing his images. In the late 1920s, Sudek photographed objects designed by modernist Ladislav Sutnar, thus creating angled views of furniture with reflective surfaces and ceramics of pure form.

Sudek’s most successful foray into modernism is his experimentation with grotesque (surreal) subjects such as mannequins, decaying sculptures and the accoutrements of the architect Otto Rothmayer’s garden. There is little doubt that in the fragmented figurative sculptures Sudek was recalling some of the human devastation that he witnessed on the battlefields of the First World War.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Statue' c. 1948-1964

 

Josef Sudek
Statue
c. 1948-1964
Gelatin silver print
9 × 14 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dans le jardin' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Dans le jardin [In the garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
17 × 23.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe sur ma table' 1967

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe sur ma table [Labyrinth on my table]
1967
Épreuve gélatino-argentique
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe de verre' c. 1968-1972

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe de verre [Glass Maze]
vers 1968-1972
Gelatin silver print
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre)' 1951

 

Josef Sudek
Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre) [Untitled (Still life on the windowsill)]
1951
Montage par le photographe c. 1960.
Two silver gelatin prints, glass plate, lead
48.2 × 39.2 cm.
Musée des arts décoratifs, Prague.
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Tel: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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16
Sep
16

Review: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

This is a magnificent exhibition, well paced and beautifully hung in the gallery spaces. It is gratifying to see a “blockbuster” at the National Gallery of Victoria that does not rely on papered walls or patterned floors, that just allows the work to speak for itself. There is an excellent chronological trajectory to the work, showcasing the holistic development of the artist in one interweaving arc: from the early history paintings, where Degas is educating himself not only in the history of art but also in the practicalities of the history of painting (how actually to paint) … through to the late, bravura pastels.

Pastel is Degas’s strongest medium and it was incredible to observe close up how he could make pastel look like oil paint and vice versa. My favourite was Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (c. 1894, below) were the flattened perspectival image disintegrates before your eyes: “As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.” Abstraction eat your heart out.

His “impressions” of reality rely on a keen eye, a wonderful understanding of space and the refractions of light, and the use of depth of field. The paintings I like best were not of the ballet, but rather the everyday “observational” paintings of the theatre box, a conversation and, particularly, The laundress ironing (c. 1882-86, below) with its simplified planar colour fields that run in different directions. These “punctures” of reality, or punctum to use a photographic term, elevate mundane everyday occurrences into a revelatory state – as though these encounters were taken from the flow of space and time, one frame out of a non-linear narrative.

The paintings of women at the toilettes are not voyeuristic but show a love and passion for an intimacy with women which he perhaps never achieved in real life, brought forth in observations of the female form “that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models”. Melbourne arts blogger Natalie Thomas observes that, “”Women and girls are everywhere in this show, but strangely absent too,” writes Thomas. Despite the fact the majority of Degas’ work explores femininity and the female body, the show, she says, fails to provide a female perspective.” (Natalie Thomas quoted in Shad D’Souza, “Gender and the NGV: ‘More white male artists than you can shake a stick at’,” on The Guardian website 15 September 2016 Cited 16/09/2016).

While I agree with Natalie Thomas that these paintings fail to provide a contemporary female perspective, that is not all that these paintings are about. Of course, they are a privileged white male gaze looking upon the body of a female and we must accept and acknowledge that is what they are. But that is just one element of their narrative. It’s all very well critiquing the work from the present day and saying there is no female perspective, but in the era in which these “sensational” paintings emerged – it was an epoch where the privileged, powerful male gaze could look upon the female body. Yes, please look at the paintings from a contemporary perspective while understanding the conditions under which they were created, and then try to say something more interesting about them: the perspective, the colours, the form, the position of the painter, the framing of the scene, the possible disappearance of the artist to the sitter, as though the camera (his eyes) had disappeared: where someone is so used to the other being there, that they are natural (do not act or perform), unselfconscious in front of them. Then, and only then, do the paintings perhaps become something else – about women, their lives and habits/habitats. A different perspective from trotting out the usual “we are objectified/ subjugated/ defiled” trope.

The sculptures are the revelation of the exhibition. Again, the male gaze pushing and prodding at the female form… except, these sculptures seem to erupt from within – like bubbling hot mud that seems to emanate from deep within the artist, erupting into the glorious form of the female body. Dark and mysterious, I would have loved to have seen one of the wax models, just one, to see the colour and feel the fragility of that form, over the robustness of the bronze.

And finally to the last room, the late works. There is an essentialness to the late work, the form stripped bare, heavily applied pastel in layers, dark heavy outlines with the frame filled with an “orgy of colours” – he “developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.” But he could still feel what he was doing and we can feel it too: the working of the medium, the working of the theme to its final resolution.

While I didn’t know much about the work of Degas other than the ballet pictures before this exhibition after three visits, perhaps I know just a little more.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Cafés-concerts: 1870s

The time that Degas spent overseas in New Orleans made him surprisingly nostalgic for everything he had left behind in Paris. The simple reason he gave was that ‘One loves and gives art only to the things to which one is accustomed’. Although delighted by the new sights and sensations he experienced in New Orleans, he felt that ‘ new things capture your face and bore you by turns’. With these words, Degas expressed what would become his credo for the rest of his career.

After this time, Degas refused invitations to travel to exotic locales and put aside the search for new subjects, focusing instead on the same themes: dancers, rockets, women in the bath. The novelty of what he had discovered in America also led him soon afterwards to retreat into himself. seeing inspiration in introspection. For Degas the exotic could be found perfectly well at home, especially in the new evening venues of 1870s Paris, the café-concerts. He delighted in exploring the tension and psychological preparation that lay behind the surface glamour of stage performances conducted within an artificial other-reality.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)]' (installation view) 1879

 

Edgar Degas
Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)] (installation view)
1879
Gouache, pastel and oil paint on silk
Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State
Gift of Mr and Mrs W. Hilding Lindberg

 

 

[Dancers (Fan, design) belongs to a group of fans made in the late 1870s that reflect Degas’s fascination at this time with Japanese art. Highly aestheticised, these fans show how Degas took advantage of this unusual format to explore new compositional possibilities. Here, for example, the balletic action taking place on stage competes for the viewer’s attention with the theatre’s screening machinery, as well as with the group of black-clad abonnés (subscribers with back stage passes) gathered in the wings in the middle distance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Theatre box (1885) and at right, Theatre box (1880)

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1885

 

Edgar Degas
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1885
Pastel
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The Armand Hammer Collection

 

 

In contrast with his numerous ballet works, Degas produced relatively few studies of the spectators at the Opera and other theatrical venues. Theatre box is one of his most captivating studies of the magical effects created by artificial stage lighting. Its contrast between the shadowy reality of the viewer in her dimmer theatre box and the vividly illuminated fantasy being performed before her onstage is as compelling as it is radical.

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1880

 

Edgar Degas
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
The Lewis Collection, Houston

 

 

When exhibited at the fifth ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in Paris in 1880, this pastel attracted the attention of the critic Charles Ephrussi, who wrote glowingly of how it shoed ‘a profound knowledge of the relations between tones, producing the most unexpected and curious effects: the wine-coloured draperies of the spectator’s box and the yellowish glow of the footlights are projected onto the face of a diminutive theatre-goer, who thus finds herself illuminated by violet and brilliant yellow; the impression is strange, but captured with perfect reality’.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Theatre box' 1880

 

Edgar Degas
Theatre box
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
66.0 x 53.0 cm
The Lewis Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'In a café (The Absinthe drinker)' c. 1875-76

 

Edgar Degas
In a café (The Absinthe drinker)
c. 1875-76
Oil on canvas
92 x 68.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1984)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Martine Beck-Coppola

 

 

Edgar Degas biography

Edgar Degas was born in 1834 into a wealthy banking family. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his family were supportive of his artistic talent and desire to become an artist.

Degas resisted being labelled an ‘Impressionist’ yet was at the core of the movement’s most important manifestations. Classically trained, Degas initially aspired to be a painter of historical narratives. As he matured, however, he made the depiction of daily life the central focus of his art. He was drawn primarily to the human figure engaged in movement and work, sketching on the spot then working up his finished compositions indoors in his studio. Degas’ obsession with the theatre and ballet in particular enabled him to explore his fascination with artificial light, which set him apart from the other Impressionists who preferred to work out-of-doors capturing the transient effects of natural daylight.

Degas absorbed many diverse influences, from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism, and reinterpreted them in innovative ways. Degas obsessively revisited and experimented with his favourite themes which saw him fashion varied and unusual vantage points and asymmetrical framing. His depictions of ballet dancers alone number in the hundreds. Such endeavours helped him to achieve the innovative and distinctive style which is explored in Degas: A New Vision.

Degas served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and began to experience eyesight deterioration by the late 1880s. He increasingly took up sculpture as his eyesight weakened. In his later years, he was preoccupied with the subject of women bathing unselfconsciously and developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.

Degas continued working to as late as 1912. He died five years later in 1917, at the age of eighty-three.

 

 

All that gesture in theatre summon,
or that the agile and mendacious tongue
of ballet speaks to those who comprehend
the silent eloquence of limbs in motion.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier' 1872

 

Edgar Degas
Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier
1872
Oil on canvas
32.7 x 46.3 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance rehearsal' c. 1870–72

 

Edgar Degas
The dance rehearsal
c. 1870-72
Oil on canvas
40.6 x 54.6 cm
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
Gift of anonymous donor, initiated 2001, completed 2006

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The rehearsal (c. 1874), and at right The dance class (c. 1873)

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874

 

Edgar Degas
The rehearsal
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

While the friendships he established in the 1860s with musicians such as Désiré Dihau, a bassoon player with the Paris Opéra, brought Degas into the orbit of ballet performances in the French capital, the full extent of his access to this world prior to the mid-1880s remains unknown. This may explain why his many depictions of dancers practising backstage in rehearsal rooms in the 1870s were his own studio inventions rather than accurate depictions of the Opéra’s foyers de la danse.

Degas’ favourite theatrical venues – the Opéra in the rue le Peletier that was destroyed by fire in October 1873 and its replacement, the Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875 – were both located in the 9th arrondissement, close to his studio. Degas exhibited ballet compositions at the ‘impressionist’ group exhibitions from 1874 onwards, all the while resisting the label, arguing that his own art was Realist and meticulously crafted in the studio instead of spontaneously created before nature. When the Galeries Durand-Ruel began acquiring Degas’ paintings in 1872, the artist’s first sales at this time were of ballet subjects. Unlike the romantic perspective through which these scenes are viewed today, Degas’ contemporaries recognised in them a rejection of the surface glamour of ballet’s front of house in favour of a serious study of the gritty reality of life backstage. There, junior impoverished dancers jostled for attention from their trainers, all too frequently prostituting themselves on the side so they could afford to stay in competition for coveted stardom.

While The rehearsal and other similar depictions such as The dance class, c. 1873, are ostensibly based on direct observations of dance rehearsals at the Paris Opéra in the rue Le Peletier, their different treatments of architecture hint at the degree to which Degas constructed their compositions from memory. This painting shows a radical cropping of the spiral staircase at left connecting the stage level to the rehearsal room, down which the disembodied limbs of young ballerinas descend. In the background to the right the celebrated dance instructor Jules Perrot can be seen.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873

 

Edgar Degas
The dance class
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2 cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The dance class (installation view)
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2 cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage (installation views)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997
Image © Lyon MBA – Photo RMN / Ojeda, Le Mage

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' (detail) c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage (detail)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997

 

 

Dancers on the stage looks back to the experiments with pictorial space and repoussoir compositional staging that had so characterised Degas’s ballet works of the 1870s and early 1880s. Repoussoir was a favourite technique for Degas, a technique in which an object place prominently in the foreground of a work serves to emphasise the recession of physical space in the rest of the composition. In an unusual choice for the artist, Degas shows here a dress rehearsal on stage. The attention of the dancers is focused upon the diminutive figure of the dave master in the far left background whose presence ignites a diagonal magnetism that animates the whole painting.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Finishing the arabesque' 1877

 

Edgar Degas
Finishing the arabesque
1877
Oil and essence, pastel on canvas
67.4 x 38 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 4040)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

Curator Dr Ted Gott talking to the media

 

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Victoria talking to the media, standing in front of Degas’s Dancer with bouquets c. 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view detail)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer with bouquets (installation view and detail)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4 cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer with bouquets
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4 cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler

 

 

Sculptures

Although Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, The little fourteen-year old dancer, he worked in this medium in privacy in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. His primary subjects were thoroughbred racehorses, female dances and women at the toilette, and he modelled his sculptures in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly. As Degas’s eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly side that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’s death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze of seventy-four of the most intact of Degas’s sculptures. While many of Degas’s original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing the sculpture cases

 

Edgar Degas. 'The tub' 1888-89

 

Edgar Degas
The tub
1888-89, cast 1919-32
Bronze
22.5 x 45.0 x 42.0 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 26 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'The masseuse' c. 1896–1911

 

Edgar Degas
The masseuse
c. 1896-1911, cast 1919-32
Bronze
43.0 x 38.0 x 30.0 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 55 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Seated woman wiping her left side' c. 1901–11

 

Edgar Degas
Seated woman wiping her left side
c. 1901-11, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.0 x 30.5 x 30.4 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 46 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice' 1882–95

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice
1882-95, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.2 x 15.9 x 11.8 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 64 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot' (Second study) c. 1900-10

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot (Second study)
c. 1900-10, cast 1919-37 or later
Bronze
47.3 x 24.3 x 20.8 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 59 (cast T)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Leigh Clifford AO and Sue Clifford, 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The laundress ironing (installation view)
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7 cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86

 

Edgar Degas
The laundress ironing
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7 cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The Conversation (installation view)
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0 cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895

 

Edgar Degas
The Conversation
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0 cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

Walter Sickert recalled Degas speaking of his obsession with observing women at their most private moments. He wanted to look at their private activities through keyholes, according to Sickert: ‘He said that painters too much made of women formal portraits, whereas their hundred and one gestures, their chatteries, &c., should inspire an infinite variety of design’. The Conversation reflects the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints and their frequently intimate subject matter. The specifics of setting are only alluded to in this exquisite pastel, the emphasis being placed instead upon the close relationship between these two elegant Parisiennes.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rose Caron' c. 1892 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Rose Caron (installation view)
c. 1892
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

 

 

Women at their toilettes: 1880s and 1890s

In 1875 pastel became one of Degas’s favourite techniques. Gustave Moreau had introduced him to this medium during their time together in Italy during the late 1850s, and the increasing interest in pastel in artistic circles during the 1870s influenced Degas’s choice to explore its potential. At the eighth and last ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in 1886 Degas exhibited a suite of pastel studies of women bathing that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models. George Moore wrote tellingly of these nudes: ‘The effect is prodigious. Degas has done what Baudelaire did – he has invented un frisson nouveau (a new sensation)’.

Because intimate access to female ablutions was rarely experience by husbands in bourgeois married life at the time, it was assumed by critics and audiences that Degas’s female nudes were performing their toilettes in a brothel setting. The close observation of undressed women engaged in private acts of washing and drying themselves led Degas’s ongoing status as a bachelor to become a topic of speculation in both the art world and wider social circles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, from left to right, Nude woman lying down (c. 1901), Dancer in a leotard (c. 1896) and Toilette after the bath (c. 1890)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, The Bather (La Baigneuse), c. 1895

 

Edgar Degar. 'La Baigneuse [The bather]' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas
The Bather (La Baigneuse) (installation view)
c. 1895
Pastel and charcoal on paper
Bequest, Henry K. Dick Estate

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at he toilette] c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at he toilette] (installation view)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (installation view)
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099 mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette]
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099 mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The repetitive work involved in a woman’s daily maintenance of her hair appealed greatly to Degas. As early as 187 he asked whether he could observe Geneviève Halévy, a cousin of his old school friend Ludovic, performing this private tasks. Woman at her toilette is a fascinating study of a woman’s labour-intensive morning routine, drawn with a sense of pathos and human frailty. As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.

 

Edgar Degar. 'Woman in a Tub' 1883

 

Edgar Degas
Woman in a Tub
c. 1883
Pastel on paper
70.0 x 70.0 cm
Tate, London
Bequeathed by Mrs A.F. Kessler 1983
© Tate, London 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Woman at her bath
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Woman at her bath (installation view)
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck (installation view)
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95

 

Edgar Degas
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] c. 1884-86

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself]' c. 1884-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] (installation view)
c. 1884-86
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

 

Horse racing

 

Broken staccato heralds its approach,
strong, steaming breath, as early as the dawn,
kept to its straining pace by stable lad,
the fine colt gallops throwing up the dew.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Out of the paddock (Racehorses)' c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78

 

Edgar Degas
Out of the paddock (Racehorses)
c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78
Oil on wood panel
32.5 x 40.5 cm
Private collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Chevaux de courses [Racehorses] (installation view)
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchase 1950

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99

 

Edgar Degas
Racehorses
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1950
Photo © NGC

 

Edgar Degas. 'Before the race' c. 1883-90

 

Edgar Degas
Before the race
c. 1883-90
Pastel
49.0 x 62.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection

 

 

Photography

“By the time he began making photographs in 1895, Degas was 61 years old and the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition was a decade behind him. Daniel Halévy, son of his old friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, introduced Degas to photography, prompting the artist to acquire a camera that required glass plates and a tripod. In a burst of creative energy that lasted less than five years, he made a body of photographs of which fewer than 50 survive…

Exactly why Degas took up photography remains unknown. Clearly, photography provided a new pair of eyes during the period when his eyesight was failing. The illness and death of his sister, Marguerite, in 1895 and his brother Achille in 1893 may also have played a role. Photographs were for Degas a powerful tool of memory to recall his loved ones, and the activity of photographing bound him closely to an extended family-the Halévys-that embraced him in his time of grief…

Degas often illuminated his subjects with a single bright light source. The figures seem to emerge from darkness. In a series of individual portraits he made of Daniel and Louise Halévy in the autumn of 1895, each sitter is pictured in the same armchair in their home, under this Rembrandtesque light. They are seen in original contact prints (about 3 x 4 inches) and in enlargements. Altogether, these images show the artist’s picture-making process and reveal Degas’ manipulations of space, scale, focus, and emotional effect. In Louise Halévy Reading to Degas (J. Paul Getty Museum), another enlargement from a contact print done about the same time, Degas conveys unusual intimacy. It shows a vulnerable man’s dependence upon a friend in reading the newspaper at a time when his eyesight was failing.”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

“These days, Degas abandons himself entirely to his new passion for photography,” wrote an artist friend in autumn 1895, the moment of the great Impressionist painter’s most intense exploration of photography. Degas’s major surviving photographs little known even among devotees of the artist’s paintings and pastels, are insightfully analyzed and richly reproduced for the first time in this volume, which accompanies an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Bibliothéque Nationale de France.

Degas’s photographic figure studies, portraits of friends and family, and self-portraits – especially those in which lamp-lit figures emerge from darkness – are imbued with a Symbolist spirit evocative of realms more psychological than physical. Most were made in the evenings, when Degas transformed dinner parties into photographic soirees, requisitioning the living rooms of his friends, arranging oil lamps, and directing the poses of dinner guests enlisted as models. “He went back and forth … running from one end of the room to the other with an expression of infinite happiness,” wrote Daniel Halévy, the son of Degas’s close friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, describing one such evening. “At half-past eleven everybody left; Degas, surrounded by three laughing girls, carried his camera as proudly as a child carrying a rifle.”

Text from The Met website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé (16 December 1895)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Bartholome's Weeping girl' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Bartholomé’s Weeping girl (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

 

Edgar Degas. 'Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Genevieve Mallarme' 16 December 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé
16 December 1895
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Edgar Degas. 'Daniel Halévy' 14 October 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Daniel Halévy
14 October 1895
Gelatin silver print
40.0 x 29.4 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 5b
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Gift of the children of Mme Halévy-Joxe (PHO 1994-1 2)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

Late works

Edgar Degas. 'Three dancers' 1896-1905

 

Edgar Degas
Les Trois Danseuses [Three dancers]
1896-1905
Pastel
51.0 x 47.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees (35.249)
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Pastel entitled Les Trois Danseuses, depicting three ballet dancers, apparently making an entry, wearing yellow ballet skirts.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges] (installation view)
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges]
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

Pastel entitled Les Jupes Rouges, depicting three ballet dancers in red skirts – in posing practice.

Throughout his career Degas produced more than 700 works in pastel. In the 1870s he often worked ‘wet’, employing pastel à l’eau (crushing pastel sticks to powder which, mixed with water, could be applied with a brush) to create smooth, seamless textures. By the mid 1890s he worked increasingly with layers of pastel cement together over applications of fixative. This created shimmering optical effects that celebrated the crumbly texture of the pastel medium.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at the barre' 1900

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers at the barre
1900
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
111.2 x 95.6 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1921
Photo © NGC

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dancers at the barre (1900)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, The Russian dancer (1895)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at a rehearsal' c. 1895-98 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers at a rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1895-98
Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal

 

 

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13
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Ken Domon: Master of Japanese Realism’ at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Rome

Exhibition dates: 27th May – 18th September 2016

 

Social Realism

I love most Japanese photography of the post-war period (1950s-1970s) and this artist’s work is no exception. What a absolute master of photography, not just of Japanese photography, he was.

Direct, focused, gritty, unflinching, the work of this initiator of social realist photography lays bare “the direct connection between the camera and the subject” in the most forthright way. While professing that the photographs are “an absolutely non-dramatic snapshot” (just like the Bechers professed that their gridded, ordered photographs were just about form and nothing else), this artist produced quality work that narrates a transcendent story of life in Japan. His images are music, and visions, from the heart of a nation. You only have to look at the photograph Gemella non vedente (1957, below) from the series Hiroshima to understand what I mean. There is just this feeling in your synapses about his pictures, as though you yourself were holding the camera …

In his portrait photographs there is quietness and contemplation; in his other work anger, sadness, joy, humour. A direct connection to reality is at the forefront of his understanding. This connection is miraculously (as in, something that apparently contravenes known laws governing the universe) transformed into other spaces and feelings – the twirling of umbrellas, the lizard on the head, the raised arms and white gloves of the traffic policeman (shot from a crouching position). While he is not an artist who creates change he certainly documents the results of change in a magnificent way. I love them all.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Museo dell’Ara Pacis for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ken Domon. 'Allenamento degli allievi del corpo della Marina [Students of the Navy training]' 1936

 

Ken Domon
Allenamento degli allievi del corpo della Marina [Students of the Navy training]
1936
Yokosuka
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]' 1938

 

Ken Domon
Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]
1938
Azabu, Tokyo
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

For the first time ever outside Japan, an exhibition of work by Ken Domon (1909-90), recognized as a master of realism and one of the most important figures in the history of modern Japanese photography, is being held in Rome at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. It features about 150 photographs taken in black and white as well as colour between the 1920s and the 1970s, which illustrate the author’s path towards social realism. From the first shots of the period before and during World War II, which display a vision linked to photojournalism and propaganda, through photography of the social sphere, the exhibit follows Ken Domon’s production up to the crucial work documenting the tragedy of Hiroshima, which the photographer undertook as though in response to a call and a humanitarian duty.

Regarded as an absolute master of Japanese photography and initiator of the realistic movement, Ken Domon marked a pivotal chapter in the history of post-war Japanese photography, laying the foundations for contemporary photographic production and remaining a constant point of reference for Japanese enthusiasts. According to Domon, “The fundamental gift of quality work lies in the direct connection between the camera and the subject.” The master’s aim was indeed always to capture a wholly realistic image devoid of drama. Against the background of the renewed spirit of the post-war period, he focused on society in general and everyday life: “I am immersed in the social reality of today but at the same time in the classical culture and traditions of Nara and Kyoto. This twofold involvement has the common denominator of a search for the point at which the two realities are linked to the destinies of people, the anger, sorrow and joy of the Japanese people.”

The realistic photograph, described as “an absolutely non-dramatic snapshot”, therefore plays the leading part in an exhibition thematically laid out to illustrate the master’s vast production, transversally encompassing the whole of Japanese culture. From the early work of a photojournalistic nature and at the service of pre-war propaganda and the cultural promotion of Japan overseas (Photojournalism and Pre-War Propaganda; The Post-War Period: Towards Social Realism) to a focus on recording everyday life and the city’s transformation and westernization with ever-greater attention to social themes. His social realism is expressed in particular through two series emblematic of this period, namely Hiroshima (1958), regarded by the Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe as the first great modern work of Japan, and The Children of Chikuhō, a series on poverty in the mining villages of southern Japan with a broad range of lively portraits of children encountered in the streets.

This is followed by Portraits, comprising photographs of famous figures in the worlds of art, literature, culture and science such as Yukio Mishima, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Tarō Okamoto and Yusaku Kamekura. The final section is devoted to his most important series, Pilgrimage to Ancient Temples, photographs of Buddhist sculptures, buildings and treasures as well as views of landscapes taken on journeys throughout Japan in search of the beauty of the sacred places of the past. Landscapes that conjure up the fascination of cultural diversity and the exotic.

Ken Domon’s work can be described as autobiographical, documentation that is private rather social, always selected on personal criteria that transform the shot into a moment of dialogue with the subject. His vision of the subject, be it a landscape, a sculpture, a person or an object, is a vehicle of the universal beauty seen through the lens, which does not omit the physical characteristics of the form captured. A multifaceted figure whose photography embraces the whole of Japanese culture before and after the war, Ken Domon is also the first photographer to have a personal museum devoted entirely to his vast work in his hometown of Sakata, inaugurated in 2003. Together with friends and other leading figures in the Japanese world of art, he initiated the cultural renewal that enabled Japan to emerge definitively from the defeat in war and led to the contemporary aesthetic that is still a point of reference for the entire world.

The show is part of a vast programme of events that will represent the cultural and technological world of Japan in Italy all through 2016: major exhibitions of art, productions from the great tradition of Noh and puppet theatre (bunraku), concerts, performances of modern and traditional dance, film festivals, exhibits of architecture, design, comics, literature, sport and so much else. The occasion is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first treaty of friendship and trade between Italy and Japan, signed on 25 August 1866, which initiated diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Press release from the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

 

Ken Domon. 'Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]' 1938

 

Ken Domon
Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]
1938
Azabu, Tokyo
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pesca all'ayu' 1936

 

Ken Domon
Pesca all’ayu
1936
Izu, Prefettura di Shizuoka
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Foto commemorativa della cerimonia di diploma del corpo della Marina [Commemorative photo of the Marine Corp graduation ceremony]' 1944

 

Ken Domon
Foto commemorativa della cerimonia di diploma del corpo della Marina [Commemorative photo of the Marine Corp graduation ceremony]
1944
Tsuchiura, Ibaragi
1047 x 747 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

The pre-war period

From photojournalism to propaganda photography

Domon began to work in photography in 1933 at the age of 24, carrying out the humble duties of an apprentice at Miyauchi Kōtarō’s studio in Ueno. Right from the start he won prizes and began to write for photography magazines and journals, publishing his first photo in Asahi Camera in August 1935. The 10th of October of the same year marked an important turning point in his career. He replied to an advertisement published by the Nippon Kōbō studio in Ginza, which was looking for a photo technician. Founded by Natori Yōnosuke (1910-1962) when he returned from his experience in Berlin at the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, the studio spread in Japan for the first time concepts such as editing and reporting and a new system of production based on the collaboration between photographer and graphic designer under the supervision of an art director, which led to the large-scale diffusion of photojournalism.

Domon began his first reportage for the magazine Nippon, published in English in order to promote Japanese culture abroad with a mix of information and propaganda. The first photographic reportage was on the traditional Shichigosan Festival on the occasion of the presentation of children in the Meiji Jingu shrine, realised with his model C Leica. This was followed by services that presented handicrafts, traditions, industrial and military progress and the progressive aspects of Japan, which in the 1930s had become increasingly nationalistic.

The war years and the bunraku puppet theatre

During the years of maximum Japanese expansion in the Pacific, immediately prior to the Second World War, even photography had to comply with the strict rules of military policy. Only few selected professional photographers could obtain photographic materials for assignments deemed to be “essential”, and naturally the “essential” photographic services were subject to the requirements of government propaganda, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Tourism Agency and the International Cultural Relations Company.

Thus many photographic publications were discontinued, with economic repercussions for photographers. In fact, Domon had difficulty maintaining a family of seven. He also had the added anxiety of the probable arrival of a “red card” that would have called him to arms and probably to the front in a group of photo-reporters. In response to this critical situation, Domon decided to retire from the public scene, dedicating himself to culture, in particular to Buddhist temples and the bunraku puppet theatre.

On the 8th of December, 1941 he was in the backstage of the Yotsubashi Bunraku Theatre in Osaka when he read the special edition of a newspaper announcing the declaration of war to the United States. It was not easy to gain the respect and collaboration of the master puppeteers – national living treasures such as Yoshida Bungorō, Yoshida Eiza and Kiritake Monjūrō – in the key moment of taking the shot with a camera that did not go unnoticed due to its size and long exposure times. However, by 1943 he had shot about 7,000 negatives, which were collected in the book entitled Bunraku published in 1972.

 

Ken Domon. 'Vigile urbano a Ginza 4-chōme [Traffic policeman in Ginza 4-chōme]' 1946

 

Ken Domon
Vigile urbano a Ginza 4-chōme [Traffic policeman in Ginza 4-chōme]
1946
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Donne a passeggio [Women walking]' 1950

 

Ken Domon
Donne a passeggio [Women walking]
1950
Sendai
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'L'attrice Yamaguchi Yoshiko [The actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi]' 1952

 

Ken Domon
L’attrice Yamaguchi Yoshiko [The actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi]
1952
535 x 748 mm.
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pescatrici di perle (ama san) [Pearl fisherwomen]' 1948

 

Ken Domon
Pescatrici di perle (ama san) [Pearl fisherwomen]
1948
457 x 559 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Sit-in studentesco a Tachikawa contro l'ampliamento della base americana [Student sit-in in Tachikawa against the expansion of US base]' 1955

 

Ken Domon
Sit-in studentesco a Tachikawa contro l’ampliamento della base americana [Student sit-in in Tachikawa against the expansion of US base]
1955
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

The postwar period

The affirmation of realism in photography

The tragic events related to the Second World War and to the defeat of Japan, marked by the atrocities of the atomic bomb, revealed the great deception of the war propaganda. Defeat led to the collapse of the imperial myth and state Shintoism, which had been the basis of military ideology.

If on the one hand, by the end of the 1940s there had been considerable intellectual rebirth leading to a rapid resumption of the diffusion of magazines, publications, exhibitions and artistic circles, on the other hand there was no language that seemed suitable for expressing such a tragic reality. There was a need to document a society undergoing profound change and in this sense Domon became the promoter of realistic photography, becoming a landmark for amateur photographers. He embraced the western trends that had taken over the city, but also the alleys and the poorest sectors of the population.

The high point of the realist tendency was reached around 1953, thanks to the exhibition, Photography Today: Japan and France, held in 1951 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, provided the opportunity to make comparisons with names such as Cartier Bresson, Brassai, Doisneau. Domon’s last word on realism appeared in the magazine Photo Art in 1957 with an article that debated the two fundamental concepts of photography: jijitsu, reality, and shinjitsu, truth.

 

Ken Domon. 'Bambini che fanno roteare gli ombrelli [Kids twirling umbrellas]' c. 1937

 

Ken Domon
Bambini che fanno roteare gli ombrelli [Kids twirling umbrellas]
c. 1937
Dalla serie Bambini (Kodomotachi)
From the series Children (Kodomotachi)
Ogōchimura
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Sorelline orfane, Rumie e Sayuri [Orphan sisters, Rumie and Sayuri]' 1959

 

Ken Domon
Sorelline orfane, Rumie e Sayuri [Orphan sisters, Rumie and Sayuri]
1959
Dalla serie I bambini di Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Rumie' 1959

 

Ken Domon
Rumie
1959
Dalla serie I bambini di Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Lucertola [Lizard]' 1955

 

Ken Domon
Lucertola [Lizard]
1955
Dalla serie I bambini di Kōtō (Kōtō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pioggerella [Drizzle]' 1952 - 1954

 

Ken Domon
Pioggerella [Drizzle]
1952 – 1954
Dalla serie Bambini (Kodomotachi)
From the series Children (Kodomotachi)
Atami
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Children and miners’ villages

Domon adored children. His first services for Nippon were focused on the Shichigosan Festival and then on children fishing in Izu. But in 1952 he began to photographing children all over Japan, capturing the vitality of the streets and of the poorer neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Ginza, Shinbashi, Nagoya and Osaka and in particular in the Kōtō area where he lived. Probably due to the loss of his second child in 1946 in an accident, Domon moved increasingly toward a realist if not a socialist approach, which allowed him to deal with current themes in an indirect way through the innocent eyes of children.

Several books were dedicated to this theme: The Children of Kōtō (Kōtō no kodomotachi), whose publication was stopped by Domon himself, dissatisfied with his work in 1956; The Children of Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi), published in January 1960, and its continuation which followed in November, The Father of Little Rumie is Dead (Rumie chan has otōsan ga shinda), which showed the miserable conditions of children in the villages of the mining area on the island of Kyūshū, and in particular the story of two orphan sisters, whose story moved Japan becoming a best seller. Lastly, the collection Children (Kodomotachi), published in 1976 by master of graphics and friend, Yūsaku Kamekura, and published by Nikkor Club, the amateur photographers’ association linked to Nikon and Domon.

 

Ken Domon. 'Bagno presso il fiume davanti allo Hiroshima Dome [Bath at the river in front of the Hiroshima Dome]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Bagno presso il fiume davanti allo Hiroshima Dome [Bath at the river in front of the Hiroshima Dome]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'La morte di Keiji [The death of Keiji]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
La morte di Keiji [The death of Keiji]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Paziente in ospedale [Hospital patient]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Paziente in ospedale [Hospital patient]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Donna in cura per le lesioni da bomba atomica [Women being treated for injuries from atomic bomb]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Donna in cura per le lesioni da bomba atomica [Women being treated for injuries from atomic bomb]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Gemella non vedente [Blind twin (female)]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Gemella non vedente [Blind twin (female)]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Hiroshima

Published in March 1958, the year prior to the first brain hemorrhage to strike Domon Ken, the Hiroshima collection presents 180 photographs introduced by a short explanatory essay. The work, completed thirteen years after the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki, focused the attention of the world once again on the still open but almost forgotten wounds of Hiroshima, with a strong social impact.

The importance of this event in the life of the photographer is also evidenced by Domon’s recording in his notebook in the day and time of his arrival: July 23rd, 1957, 2.40 pm. From then until November he went there six times, for thirty-six days, producing more than 7,800 negatives, of which Hiroshima is only the synthesis. Domon realized that until then he had ignored and been afraid of what Hiroshima had actually meant. With his 35mm camera he revealed the places and people directly and indirectly affected by the atomic bomb, coldly recording with tears in his eyes the material damage, physical injuries, scars, deformations, and the plastic surgery and transplants undergone by the victims of the bomb, dedicating 14 pages at the beginning of the book to the progress made in the field of plastic surgery, which became a real photographic dossier.

The public shock that followed the publication of the dossier made him the object of harsh criticism that, however, failed to undermine his determination to represent reality. In an article published in the magazine Shinchō in 1977 the Nobel Prize winner Ōe Kenzaburō defined Hiroshima as the first work of modern art that dealt with the theme of the atomic bomb, talking about the living instead of the dead.

 

Ken Domon. 'Autoritratto [Self-portrait]' 1958

 

Ken Domon
Autoritratto [Self-portrait]
1958
Pubblicato sul numero di novembre della rivista Sankei Camera
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Shiga Naoya (scrittore/writer)' 1951

 

Ken Domon
Shiga Naoya (scrittore/writer)
1951
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Shiga Kiyoshi (medico ricercatore/medical researcher)' 1949

 

Ken Domon
Shiga Kiyoshi (medico ricercatore/medical researcher)
1949
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Takami Jun (scrittore/writer)' 1948

 

Ken Domon
Takami Jun (scrittore/writer)
1948
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Kuga Yoshiko (attrice/actress) and Ozu Yasujirō (regista/director)' 1958

 

Ken Domon
Kuga Yoshiko (attrice/actress) and Ozu Yasujirō (regista/director)
1958
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Ushi (Bue), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Ushi (Ox), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]' 1941-1943

 

Ken Domon
Ushi (Bue), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Ushi (Ox), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]
1941-1943
Murōji, Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Hitsuji (Pecora), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Hitsuji (Sheep), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]' 1941-1943

 

Ken Domon
Hitsuji (Pecora), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Hitsuji (Sheep), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]
1941-1943
Murōji, Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Portraits (Fūbō)

In 1953 the publication of the Portraits (Fūbō) collection of photographs, which came out in paperback the following year, concluded fifteen years of work dedicated to the portrait that had begun with the first photograph in May 1936 portraying the writer Takeda Rintarō, continuing during the war and until the year in which the collection was published. Domon gathered in a single volume 83 portraits of friends and acquaintances, personalities from the world of entertainment, literature, theatre and politics, stressing in the introduction that they were “[…] people I respect and like and am close to […] The choice of people was surprisingly subjective and random and no claim to any strictly historical or cultural meaning can be made.”

It seems that the initial choice of the faces to be included in the collection was made by Domon with a list written in ink on a sliding door on the second floor of his house in 1948. This list was subjected to the comments and opinions of friends and publishers who went to his house and subsequently underwent substitutions and changes. Through familiar faces and less well-known personalities, Domon bears witness to a crucial era in Japan, one of great writers such as Mishima, Kawabata and Tanizaki, of actors and directors of the caliber of Mifune and Ozu, of great artists who were often his friends and gave rise to a new important artistic trends in the country, such as the sculptor Noguchi, the graph artist Kamekura, the founder of the Ikebana School, Sōgetsu Teshigahara, or painters like Fujita, Umehara, Okamoto. Each picture is accompanied by the name of the subject, their occupation and the date it was taken. There are also short texts describing the relationship between Domon and the person depicted, in addition to the atmosphere created during the shooting.

Sometimes subjects were exasperated by the professional stubbornness of Domon, as is clear in the portrait of Umehara that reveals an air of irritation close to intolerance. Outrightness and instantaneousness, which were always Domon’s objectives, became easier to achieve thanks to technological developments. He passed from a camera assembled for cabinet card portraits – with a dry plate and flash that worked with magnesium powder, used before the war – to a small Leica in the post-war period.

 

Ken Domon. 'Ōnodera, campana e ciliegi [Onodera, bell and cherry trees]' 1977

 

Ken Domon
Ōnodera, campana e ciliegi [Onodera, bell and cherry trees]
1977
Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pagoda del Murōji con la neve [Pagoda Muroji with snow]' 1978

 

Ken Domon
Pagoda del Murōji con la neve [Pagoda Muroji with snow]
1978
Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Buddha Shaka ligneo a figura intera presso il Mirokudō del Murōji [Buddha Shaka wooden full-length at the Mirokudō Muroji]' c. 1943

 

Ken Domon
Buddha Shaka ligneo a figura intera presso il Mirokudō del Murōji [Buddha Shaka wooden full-length at the Mirokudō Muroji]
c. 1943
Nara
457 x 560 mm.
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Pilgrimage to the ancient temples (Kojijunrei)

Murōji

The Murōji temple, small and immersed in the greenery of the Nara mountains, was for Domon the first stage of a “pilgrimage to the ancient temples”, a sort of journey of the soul that accompanied him throughout his life and from which came the encyclopaedic work Kojijunrei (Pilgrimage to the Ancient Temples). It all began in 1939 with a simple excursion, suggested by friend and art historian Mizusawa Sumio (1905-1975): an experience that changed his life. In the first year alone he returned more than forty times and on many more occasions over the course of the following years.

At first Domon focused his photographic work on buildings, from the five-story pagoda – the smallest in Japan – to the architectural details, focusing on the sculptures inside, but also on the imposing profile of the Miroku Buddha of Ōnodera, excavated on the rocky wall facing the river along the road that leads to Murōji. Later he concentrated on wooden statues (kōninbutsu) of the Heian era (794-1185) inside the temple and starting with wide, overall shots he then moved on to capture the most minute details of the wood, so as to emphasize the folds and hems of the vestments and the gestures of the hands and eyes. His favourite statue was of Buddha Shaka, enthroned Mirokudō, who with his “beautiful and compassionate face” was, he claimed, the “most beautiful man on earth.”

For this particular job he used a basic Konishiroku (now Konika) camera made of wood, especially suitable for cabinet card portraits that he had purchased in 1941, but also an Eyemo with a tripod, often carried by his assistants. Evidence of Domon’s numerous pilgrimages and countless photographs can be found in the 1954 Murōji collection. The expanded, definitive edition of this work, Nyonin Takano Murōji, was published in 1978 and includes photographs taken subsequently with the new post-war techniques.

 

Pilgrimage to the ancient temples (Kojijunrei)

Around the temples

The thousands of shots that Domon took in 39 temples from 1939 to the seventies made up the Pilgrimage to the Ancient Temples (Kojijunrei), the masterpiece of his career for which, even today, he is known worldwide. It consists of five volumes published over a number of years (the first in 1963, the second in 1965, the third in 1968, the fourth in 1971 and the fifth in 1975) which put together 462 colour pictures and 325 photogravures of temples and statues built between the seventh and the sixteenth century, following a subjective criterion and not expecting such large proportions. It is first and foremost a work that documents the beauty of architecture, sculpture, gardens and landscapes around the temples and shrines selected by Domon. And yet it is also a testimony of the progression of photographic technique in those years, such as the transition to colour film of 1958, and of Domon’s health problems that influenced his choices.

In December 1959 he suffered a brain haemorrhage that paralysed the right part of his body, thus making it impossible to hold the camera, even after a long period of rehabilitation. Therefore, he resolved to use a tripod. He suffered a second haemorrhage on the June 22nd, 1968, which this time confined him to a wheelchair. And even with this umpteenth misfortune he did not stop taking photographs. With the help of assistants and by moving his point of view further down, he continued to work. He had a third haemorrhage in 1979, followed by a long stay in hospital and his death on the September 15th, 1990.

 

 

Museo dell’Ara Pacis
Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome

Opening hours:
Daily 9.30 am –  19.30 pm

Museo dell’Ara Pacis website

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09
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous: Works from the Collections of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch’ at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

Exhibition dates: 4th June – 11th September 2016

Curator: Keith Hartley

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Self-portrait with gryphon and Miro (Head of a Catalan Peasant) tattoo' 1998

 

Marcus Bunyan
Self-portrait with gryphon and Miró (Head of a Catalan Peasant) tattoo, both by Alex Binnie, London
1998

 

I have the five elements in tattoos. In the Head of a Catalan Peasant by Miró featured in the posting, the red hat – in the form of a triangle – signifies ‘fire’ in Western occult mythology.

 

 

“Surrealism is not a movement. It is a latent state of mind perceivable through the powers of dream and nightmare.”

Salvador Dalí

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“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” 

Comte de Lautréamont

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“A constant human error: to believe in an end to one’s fantasies. Our daydreams are the measure of our unreachable truth. The secret of all things lies in the emptiness of the formula that guard them.”

Floriano Martins

.
Marcus

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Many thankx to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Francis Picabia (1879-1953) 'Fille née sans mère [Girl Born without a Mother]' c. 1916-17

 

Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
Fille née sans mère [Girl Born without a Mother]
c. 1916-17
Gouache and metallic paint on printed paper
50 x 65 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, purchased 1990

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Au seuil de la liberté (On the Threshold of Liberty)' 1930

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Au seuil de la liberté (On the Threshold of Liberty)
1930
Oil on canvas
114 x 146 cm
Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Formerly collection of E. James), purchased 1966

 

André Masson (1896-1987) 'Massacre' 1931

 

André Masson (1896-1987)
Massacre
1931
Oil on canvas
Collection: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Max Ernst (1891–1976) 'La Joie de vivre [The Joy of Life]' 1936

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
La Joie de vivre [The Joy of Life]
1936
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 92.5 cm
Collection: National Galleries of Scotland
Purchased with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund 1995

 

Max Ernst. 'The Fireside Angel (The Triumph of Surrealism)' 1937

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
The Fireside Angel (The Triumph of Surrealism)
L’ange du foyer (Le triomphe du surréalisme)
1937
Oil on canvas
114 cm x 146 cm

 

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik [A Little Night Music]' 1943

 

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik [A Little Night Music]
1943
Oil on canvas
40.7 x 61 cm
Collection: Tate (formerly collection of R. Penrose)
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 1997

 

 

Apart from three weeks she spent at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art in 1930, Tanning was a self-taught artist. The surreal imagery of her paintings from the 1940s and her close friendships with artists and writers of the Surrealist Movement have led many to regard Tanning as a Surrealist painter, yet she developed her own individual style over the course of an artistic career that spanned six decades.

Tanning’s early works – paintings such as Birthday and Eine kleine Nachtmusik (1943, Tate Modern, London) – were precise figurative renderings of dream-like situations. Like other Surrealist painters, she was meticulous in her attention to details and in building up surfaces with carefully muted brushstrokes. Through the late 1940s, she continued to paint depictions of unreal scenes, some of which combined erotic subjects with enigmatic symbols and desolate space. During this period she formed enduring friendships with, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, and John Cage; designed sets and costumes for several of George Balanchine’s ballets, including The Night Shadow (1945) at the Metropolitan Opera House; and appeared in two of Hans Richter’s avant-garde films.

Over the next decade, Tanning’s painting evolved, becoming less explicit and more suggestive. Now working in Paris and Huismes, France, she began to move away from Surrealism and develop her own style. During the mid-1950s, her work radically changed and her images became increasingly fragmented and prismatic, exemplified in works such as Insomnias (1957, Moderna Museet, Stockholm). As she explains, “Around 1955 my canvases literally splintered… I broke the mirror, you might say.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) 'La Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase)' 1935–41

 

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
La Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase)
1935-41
Sculpture, leather-covered case containing miniature replicas and photographs of Duchamp’s works
10 x 38 x 40.5 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, presented anonymously 1989

 

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) 'L'Appel de la Nuit (The Call of the Night)' 1938

 

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
L’Appel de la Nuit (The Call of the Night)
1938
Oil on canvas
110 x 145 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Purchased with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund 1995

 

 

Delvaux’s paintings of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which feature nudes in landscapes, are strongly influenced by such Flemish Expressionists as Constant Permeke and Gustave De Smet. A change of style around 1933 reflects the influence of the metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico, which he had first encountered in 1926 or 1927. In the early 1930s Delvaux found further inspiration in visits to the Brussels Fair, where the Spitzner Museum, a museum of medical curiosities, maintained a booth in which skeletons and a mechanical Venus figure were displayed in a window with red velvet curtains. This spectacle captivated Delvaux, supplying him with motifs that would appear throughout his subsequent work. In the mid-1930s he also began to adopt some of the motifs of his fellow Belgian René Magritte, as well as that painter’s deadpan style in rendering the most unexpected juxtapositions of otherwise ordinary objects.

Delvaux acknowledged his influences, saying of de Chirico, “with him I realized what was possible, the climate that had to be developed, the climate of silent streets with shadows of people who can’t be seen, I’ve never asked myself if it’s surrealist or not.” Although Delvaux associated for a period with the Belgian surrealist group, he did not consider himself “a Surrealist in the scholastic sense of the word.” As Marc Rombaut has written of the artist: “Delvaux … always maintained an intimate and privileged relationship to his childhood, which is the underlying motivation for his work and always manages to surface there. This ‘childhood,’ existing within him, led him to the poetic dimension in art.”

The paintings Delvaux became famous for usually feature numbers of nude women who stare as if hypnotized, gesturing mysteriously, sometimes reclining incongruously in a train station or wandering through classical buildings. Sometimes they are accompanied by skeletons, men in bowler hats, or puzzled scientists drawn from the stories of Jules Verne. Delvaux would repeat variations on these themes for the rest of his long life… (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Photograph album: International Surrealist Exhibition, London 1936, made 1936 - 1939 Images taken by Chancery. Images titled by Roland Penrose

Photograph album: International Surrealist Exhibition, London 1936, made 1936 - 1939 Images taken by Chancery. Images titled by Roland Penrose

 

Photograph album: International Surrealist Exhibition, London 1936
Made 1936 – 1939
Images taken by Chancery. Images titled by Roland Penrose
32.00 x 26.00 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Photo: Antonio Reeve

 

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) 'Mae West Lips Sofa' 1937-38

 

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Mae West Lips Sofa
1937-38
Wood, wool
92 x 215 x 66 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam © Fundacion Gala – Salvador Dalí, Beeldrecht Amsterdam 2007.
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS, 2015

 

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) 'Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages [Couple with their Heads Full of Clouds]' 1936

 

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages [Couple with their Heads Full of Clouds]
1936
Oil on canvas
Left figure: 82.5 x 62.5 cm; right figure: 92.5 x 69.5 cm
Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Formerly collection of E. James)
Purchased with the support of The Rembrandt Association (Vereniging Rembrandt) 1979
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS, 2015

 

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) 'Impressions d'Afrique (Impressions of Africa)' 1938

 

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Impressions d’Afrique (Impressions of Africa)
1938
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 117.5 cm
Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Formerly collection of E. James)
Purchased with the support of The Rembrandt Association (Vereniging Rembrandt), Prins Bernhard Fonds, Erasmusstichting, Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht Rotterdam and Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1979
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS, 2015

 

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) 'The House Opposite' 1945

 

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
The House Opposite
1945
Tempera on board
33 x 82 cm
West Dean College, part of the Edward James Foundation

 

“I painted for myself…I never believed anyone would exhibit or buy my work.”

Leonora Carrington was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud, as were other Surrealists in the movement. She instead focused on magical realism and alchemy and used autobiographical detail and symbolism as the subjects of her paintings. Carrington was interested in presenting female sexuality as she experienced it, rather than as that of male surrealists’ characterization of female sexuality. Carrington’s work of the 1940s is focused on the underlying theme of women’s role in the creative process. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Masterpieces from four of the finest collections of Dada and Surrealist art ever assembled will be brought together in this summer’s major exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA). Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous will explore the passions and obsessions that led to the creation of four very different collections, which are bound together by a web of fascinating links and connections, and united by the extraordinary quality of the works they comprise.

Surrealism was one of the most radical movements of the twentieth century, which challenged conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, the world of dreams and the laws of chance. Emerging from the chaotic creativity of Dada (itself a powerful rejection of traditional values triggered by the horrors of the First World War) its influence on our wider culture remains potent almost a century after it first appeared in Paris in the 1920s. World-famous works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, René Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Giorgio de Chirico, André Breton, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Yves Tanguy, Leonor Fini, Marcel Duchamp and Paul Delvaux will be among the 400 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, artist books and archival materials, to feature in Surreal Encounters. The exhibition has been jointly organised by the SNGMA, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, where it will be shown following its only UK showing in Edinburgh.

Dalí’s The Great Paranoiac (1936), Lobster Telephone (1938) and Impressions of Africa (1938); de Chirico’s Two Sisters (1915); Ernst’s Pietà or Revolution by Night (1923) and Dark Forest and Bird (1927), and Magritte’s The Magician’s Accomplice (1926) and Not to be Reproduced (1937) will be among the highlights of this exceptional overview of Surrealist art. The exhibition will also tell the personal stories of the fascinating individuals who pursued these works with such dedication and discernment.

The first of these – the poet, publisher and patron of the arts, Edward James (1907-84) and the artist, biographer and exhibition organiser, Roland Penrose (1900-84) – acquired the majority of the works in their collections while the Surrealist movement was at its height in the interwar years, their choices informed by close associations and friendships with many of the artists. James was an important supporter of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte in particular, while Penrose was first introduced to Surrealism through a friendship with Max Ernst. The stories behind James’s commissioning of works such as Dalí’s famous Mae West Lips Sofa (1938) and Magritte’s The Red Model III (1937) and the role of Penrose in the production of Ernst’s seminal collage novel Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) will demonstrate how significant these relationships were for both the artists and the collectors. Other celebrated works on show that formed part of these two profoundly important collections include Tanning’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943); Magritte’s On the Threshold of Liberty (1937); Miró’s Head of a Catalan Peasant (1925); and The House Opposite (c. 1945) by Leonora Carrington

While the Penrose and James collections are now largely dispersed, the extraordinary collection of Dada and Surrealist art put together by Gabrielle Keiller (1908-95), was bequeathed in its entirety to the SNGMA on her death in 1995, the largest benefaction in the institution’s history. Keiller devoted herself to this area following a visit to the Venice home of the celebrated American art lover Peggy Guggenheim in 1960, which proved to be a pivotal moment in her life. She went on to acquire outstanding works such as Marcel Duchamp’s La Boîte-en-Valise (1935-41), Alberto Giacometti’s Disagreeable Object, to be Thrown Away (1931) and Girl Born without a Mother (c.1916-17) by Francis Picabia. Recognizing the fundamental significance of Surrealism’s literary aspect, Keiller also worked assiduously to create a magnificent library and archive, full of rare books, periodicals, manifestos and manuscripts, which makes the SNGMA one of the world’s foremost centres for the study of the movement.

The exhibition will be brought up to date by the inclusion of works from the collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, who have spent more than 40 years in their quest to build up an historically balanced collection of Surrealism, which they have recently presented to the city of Berlin, where they still live. The collection features many outstanding paintings by Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, André Masson, Leonor Fini, Ernst, Tanguy, Magritte and Miró; sculptures by Hans Arp and Hans Bellmer; and works by André Breton, the leader of the Surrealists. Highlights include Masson’s Massacre (1931), Ernst’s Head of ‘The Fireside Angel’ (c. 1937), Picasso’s Arabesques Woman (1931) and Arp’s sculpture Assis (Seated) (1937).

The exhibition’s curator in Edinburgh, Keith Hartley, who is Deputy Director of the SNGMA, has said, “Surrealist art has captured the public imagination like perhaps no other movement of modern art. The very word ‘surreal’ has become a by-word to describe anything that is wonderfully strange, akin to what André Breton, the chief theorist of Surrealism, called ‘the marvellous’. This exhibition offers an exceptional opportunity to enjoy art that is full of ‘the marvellous’. It brings together many important works which have rarely been seen in public, by a wide range of Surrealist artists, and creates some very exciting new juxtapositions.”

Press release from SNGMA

 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) 'Tête [Head]' 1913

 

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Tête [Head]
1913
Drawing, papiers collés with black chalk on card
43.5 x 33 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Purchased with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund 1995
Photo: Antonia Reeve
© DACS / Estate of Pablo Picasso

 

Max Ernst. 'Pieta or Revolution by Night' 1923

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Pieta or Revolution by Night
1923
Oil on canvas

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Magician's Accomplice' 1926

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Magician’s Accomplice
1926
Oil on canvas

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'L’Esprit comique (The Comic Spirit)' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
L’Esprit comique (The Comic Spirit)
1928
Oil on canvas
75 x 60 cm
Collection: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) 'Femme aux arabesques (Arabesque Woman)' 1931

 

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Femme aux arabesques (Arabesque Woman)
1931
Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Max Ernst (1891–1976) 'Jeune homme intrigué par le vol d’une mouche non-euclidienne [Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly]' 1942–7

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Jeune homme intrigué par le vol d’une mouche non-euclidienne [Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly]
1942–7
Oil and paint on canvas
82 x 66 cm
Collection: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976) 'Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness]' 1934

Max Ernst (1891-1976) 'Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness]' 1934

 

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness]
1934
Collage graphic novel

 

 

Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness] is a graphic novel and artist’s book by Max Ernst, first published in 1934. It comprises 182 images created by cutting up and re-organizing illustrations from Victorian encyclopedias and novels.

The 184 collages of Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness] were created during the summer of 1933 while Max Ernst was staying at Vigoleno, in northern Italy. The artist took his inspiration from wood engravings, published in popular illustrated novels, natural science journals or 19th century sales catalogues. With infinite care, he cut out the images that interested him and assembled them with such precision as to bring his collage technique to a level of incomparable perfection. Without seeing the original illustrations, it is difficult to work out where Max Ernst intervened. In the end, each collage forms a series of interlinked images to produce extraordinary creatures which evolve in fascinating scenarios and create visionary worlds defying comprehension and any sense of reality.

After La Femme 100 têtes [The Woman with one Hundred Heads] (1929) and Rêve d’une petite fille qui voulut entrer au Carmel [A Little Girl dreams of taking the Veil] (1930), Une semaine de bonté was Max Ernst’s third collage-novel. Ernst had originally intended to publish it in seven volumes associating each book with a day of the week. Moreover, the title referred to the seven days in Genesis. Yet it was also an allusion to the mutual aid association ‘La semaine de la bonté’ [The Week of Kindness], founded in 1927 to promote social welfare. Paris was flooded with posters from the organisation seeking support from everyone. Like the elements making up the collages, the title was also “borrowed” by Max Ernst.

The first four publication deliveries did not, however, achieve the success that had been anticipated. The three remaining ‘days’ were therefore put together into a fifth and final book. The books came out between April and December 1934, each having been bound in a different colour: purple, green, red, blue and yellow. In the final version, two works were taken out. The edition therefore consists of only 182 collages. (Text from the Musée D’Orsay website)

 

Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) 'Sans titre, ou Composition surréaliste (Untitled, or Surrealist Composition)' 1927

 

Yves Tanguy (1900-1955)
Sans titre, ou Composition surréaliste (Untitled, or Surrealist Composition)
1927
Oil on canvas
54.5 x 38 cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

 

Tanguy’s paintings have a unique, immediately recognizable style of nonrepresentational surrealism. They show vast, abstract landscapes, mostly in a tightly limited palette of colors, only occasionally showing flashes of contrasting color accents. Typically, these alien landscapes are populated with various abstract shapes, sometimes angular and sharp as shards of glass, sometimes with an intriguingly organic look to them, like giant amoebae suddenly turned to stone. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) 'Voltage' 1942

 

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)
Voltage
1942
Oil on canvas
29 x 30.9 cm
Collection: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) 'Objet désagréable, à jeter [Disagreeable Object, to be Thrown away]' 1931

 

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Objet désagréable, à jeter [Disagreeable Object, to be Thrown away]
1931
Wood
19.6 x 31 x 29 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, purchased 1990
© Bridgeman Art Library

 

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1996) 'Assis (Seated)' 1937

 

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1996)
Assis (Seated)
1937
Limestone
29.5 x 44.5 x 16 cm
Collection: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Joan Miro (1893-1983) 'Peinture (Painting)' 1925

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Peinture (Painting)
1925
Oil on canvas
130 x 97 cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg/ Pietzsche Collection

 

Joan Miró. 'Peinture' 1927

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Peinture [Painting]
1927
Oil on canvas
33 x 24.1 cm
Collection: National Galleries of Scotland
Bequeathed by Gabrielle Keiller 1995

 

Joan Miró. 'Tête de Paysan Catalan [Head of a Catalan Peasant]' 1925

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Tête de Paysan Catalan [Head of a Catalan Peasant]
1925
Oil on canvas
92.4 x 73 cm
Collection: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Purchased jointly with Tate, with the assistance of the Art Fund 1999

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Le Modèle rouge III (The Red Model III)' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Le Modèle rouge III (The Red Model III)
1937
Oil on canvas
206 x 158 x 5 cm
Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Formerly collection of E. James)
Purchased with the support of The Rembrandt Association (Vereniging Rembrandt), Prins Bernhard Fonds, Erasmusstichting, Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht Rotterdam Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Foundation 1979

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'La reproduction interdite (Not to be Reproduced)' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
La reproduction interdite (Not to be Reproduced)
1937
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
© Beeldrecht Amsterdam 2007
Photographer: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

 

 

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Road
Edinburgh EH4 3DR
Tel: 0131 624 6200

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06
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

A magnificent exhibition of the work of Edgar Degas at NGV International. So nice to see a blockbuster without papered walls or patterned floors, an exhibition that just allows the work to speak for itself. Review to follow in part 2 of the posting.

“Il y a quelque chose plus terrible encore que le bourgeois – c’est l’homme qui nous singe [There’s something even more awful than the bourgeois – it’s the man who apes us]”

Edgar Degas as noted down by Oscar Wilde when he met him in 1883.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Female nude

 

Edgar Degas. 'Female nude' 1905

 

Edgar Degas
Female nude
1905
Charcoal and brown pastel
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Gift of Mr Noah Torno, 2003

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1863

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1863
Oil on canvas
89.5 x 66.7 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2650)
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)

 

 

At the start of the 1860s Degas’s family still acted as his primary models for portraiture. In early 1863 he painted this engagement portrait of his sister Thérèse. He shows her as a young woman all dressed up to go out; in fact, to go abroad. Timidly she show off her engagement ring before a view of Naples, her face serene, the sky blue with future happiness. She was to move to Naples after her marriage in Paris on 11 April 1863 to her first cousin Edmondo Morbilli, the son of Rose Morbilli, the sister of Degas’s father.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, in the centre, Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar

 

Edgar Degas. 'Degas's father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar' after 1874

 

Edgar Degas
Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar
after 1874
Oil on canvas
81.6 x 65.1 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bequest of John T. Spaulding
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (two of four states) (installation view)
1857
Etching and drypoint
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (third of four states) (detail)
1857
Etching and drypoint
23.0 x 14.4 cm (plate), 34.9 x 25.7 cm (sheet),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

While studying in Rome as a young man degas became increasingly interested in printmaking and also in the portraits of Rembrandt, which he first saw in publication by the French art writer Charles Blanc. The effects of light and shadow in Rembrandt’s portraits inspired Degas to undertake a series of self-portraits including this, his only self-portrait etching, which he produced in four separate states. He experimented with altering the appearance of these etchings through leaving varying amounts of ink on the plate before printing. Degas was very pleased with this exercise, and gave away examples of these trials to his friends.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne including at left, Thérèse De Gas (c. 1855-56)

 

Traces of Ingres’s influence on the young Degas are clearly visible here in the clean, firm contours delineating the face of his hen fifteen-year-old sister Thérèse De Gas. Offsetting the crisp edge drawn along her cheek i a subtle modelling of the chin and cheeks produced with smudged pencil, recalling the sfumato (soft or blurred) effects of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1855-56

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1855-56
Black crayon and graphite on brown paper
32.0 x 28.4 cm (sheet)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Julia Knight Fox Fund
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edgar Degas. 'René De Gas' 1855

 

Edgar Degas
René De Gas (installation view)
1855
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Purchased 1935

 

 

Degas’s family members were his principal models in the early years of his career. His first art lessons were undertaken with Louis Lamothe, a loyal follower of the Neoclassical master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This portrait of his younger brother René, the family darling, betrays Degas’s resolve to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Ingres, whose work was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in September 1854. Degas visited the elderly master of Neoclassical portraiture in 1855, the year the he undertook this portrait. Preparatory drawings show that degas radically simplified his composition, eliminating a complex interior setting in favour of a dramatic dark background reminiscent of the Mannerist Old Master, Angolo Bronzino.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women]

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women] (installation view)
1857
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Purchased 1960
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

This work is both a portrait and a genre scene, but it leans towards the former in that there is little trace of narrative, local colour or exotic reference. Degas details the marks of old age, fatigue and poverty – wrinkled skin, gnarled hands, the motley garments of a pauper – along with the faded colours that he recorded in a contemporary notebook: ‘figure of an old woman / very tanned skin, white veil / cloak thrown over / shoulder faded brown / faded free dress / a little like the back wall / of my room / yellow apron’

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, Family portrait also called The Bellelli family 1867

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family (installation view)
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

 

In 1858-59, during an Italian sojourn, Degas stayed in Florence for nine months with his aunt Laure and her husband, Baron Gennaro Bellelli. There he embarked on the largest painting he would ever create – a monumental portrait of Laure, Gennaro and their daughters, Giovanna and Giulia. A study of marital discontent presented on the scale of a history painting, Family portrait, also called The Bellelli family, reflected Degas’ recent study of the dignified sitters in the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck’s early seventeenth-century portraits, which he had seen in Genoa. He worked on this painting continuously after his return to Paris, completing a final version of it for the Paris Salon of 1867. Alive to the unhappy marital dynamics between Laure and her husband, a political exile from Naples, Degas showed his morose relatives in their rented apartment, physically separated from one another by items of furniture and Giovanna (on the left) and Giulia. Although expecting her third child, Laure Bellelli (la Baronne) stands proud and aloof, in full mourning for her recently deceased father (Degas’ grandfather) Hilaire Degas, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind her. Meanwhile, her husband, conspicuously not in mourning, sits in comfort by the fire. Adults and children are compressed into a shallow plane, an airless, static vacuum. The uneasy ambience is accentuated by Giulia’s absent leg and the family dog, shown without its head, in the right foreground.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Monsieur Reulle (1861) and at right, Portrait de jeune femme [Portrait of a young woman] (1867)

 

In this portrait of Monsieur Ruelle, Degas shows his father’s former bank cashier as a man of seriousness and restrained sophistication, dressed in a dinner suit and black bow tie as if preparing to go the opera. In its combination of informality and masculine severity the portrait conforms to a convention among ninetieth-centruy Realist artists of portraying each other and their friends as modern men of leisure and the metropolis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Étude pour Jeunes Spartiates s’exerçant à la lutte [Study for The young Spartans exercising] (installation view)
c. 1860-61
Oil on paper on paper on cardboard
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Friends of the Fogg Museum

 

 

On returning to Paris from Italy in 1860 Degas began work on scenes from the Bible and ancient history, including this preparatory oil sketch for a vignette from an ancient greek subject. In the foreground two groups of adolescents are seen confronting each other on the plains of Sparta, watched over by the white-haired law-giver Lycurgus and the teenagers’ mothers. The subject has conventionally been read as the exercises traditionally undertaken by Spartans in preparation for war, but it has also been suggested that it represents Spartan courtship rites. In the Life of Lycurgus  it was noted that display of physical prowess by girls assisted young men in choosing strong mothers, who would produce strong children.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

installation-p

 

Edgar Degas
Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartan girls challenging boys] (installation views)
c. 1860
Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli' c. 1865

 

Edgar Degas
Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli
c. 1865
Oil on canvas
116.5 x 88.3 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

An exhibition of one of the world’s most beloved artists, Edgar Degas, opens to the public from tomorrow at NGV International showcasing significant works never-before-seen in Australia.

In its world premiere, Degas: A New Vision presents the largest display of Degas’ works to ever come to Australia, and forms the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre in decades. Featuring more than 200 works, Degas: A New Vision reveals Degas’ talent in a new light; not only as a great master of painting, but also as a master of drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. The works travel to Melbourne from 65 lenders in more than 40 cities across the globe.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, said, “Degas: A New Vision is a coup for the NGV and for Victoria. Local audiences will be the first in the world to experience this incredible exhibition – another example of how we are leading the way as the creative state. Part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, this exhibition continues the tradition of creating drawcard cultural events for locals and visitors and bringing must-see art to our city each year.”

Some of Degas’ most famous masterworks are presented including the bronze sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer, 1879-81, and In a café (The Absinthe drinker), c. 1875-76. World-renowned paintings, never-before-seen in Australia, are also exhibited such as the celebrated ballet paintings The rehearsal, c. 1874, and Finishing the arabesque, 1877, and Degas’ monumental portrait The Bellelli family, 1867.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “Presenting Edgar Degas’ magnificent oeuvre in a fresh and reinvigorated light showcases him as one of the defining artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated and significant artists, his influence upon modern and contemporary art is undeniable. Degas: A New Vision provides audiences with a rare experience to truly be immersed in the creativity and originality of his art, giving visitors a deeper and richer understanding of his brilliance.”

Degas: A New Vision is presented thematically, grouping together the subjects which Degas continually returned to throughout his career, including not only his famous ballet scenes but also arresting portraits, the nude, horse-racing, the social world of Parisian nightlife, and women at work and leisure. The exhibition also explores the great technical, conceptual and expressive freedoms that Degas achieved in his later years, and reveals his experiments with a range of mediums including sculpture and photography. This approach emphasises Degas’ obsessive and highly creative working methods, and allows visitors to enjoy the development of Degas’ art from its beginnings.

Degas was fascinated by aspects of modern life – voraciously painting Paris’ dance halls and cabarets, cafés, racetracks, opera and ballet stages. He also studied the simple, everyday gestures of working women: milliners, dressmakers and laundresses. He was drawn to explore movement that was precise and disciplined, such as that of racehorses and ballet dancers, and absorbed a diverse range of influences from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism.

The National Gallery of Victoria is pleased to be working with the world’s pre-eminent expert on Edgar Degas, Henri Loyrette, former Director of the Musée du Louvre (2001-13) and Musée d’Orsay (1994-2001), who is principal curator of the exhibition. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, are both staging this major retrospective, which has been developed by both institutions in association with Art Exhibitions Australia. Degas: A New Vision travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in October 2016.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre left, Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring (1867-68) and, a centre right, Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet The Spring) (1867-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas
Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring
1867-68
Oil on canvas
130.8 x 145.1 cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood, 1921

 

Edgar degas. 'Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas 
Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet ‘The Spring’] 
(installation view)
1867-68
Oil on canvas
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Portrait d’homme [Portrait of a man] (c. 1866) and a right, Victoria Dubourg (1868-69)

 

 

Among Degas’s circle of Realist painters were some outstanding practitioners of still life, a genre that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity following the revival of interest in the French eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. The identity of the man in this portrait is unknown, although he seems to be a still-life artist. He is depicted by Degas in his studio, informal seated with hands clasped, surrounded by the standard props of his trade: hunks of meat, white cloths, glassware and sketches of past still lives displayed on a wall as aides-mémoire – a masculine counterpart to the portrait of Victoria Dubourg that is also displayed here.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Victoria Dubourg' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Victoria Dubourg
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 64.8 cm
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Levis

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

 

Berthe Marie Jeantaud was the wife of Charles Jeantaud, with whom Degas served in the artillery company under the command of Henri Rouart in 1870-71, during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune. Following Berthe Marie’s marriage to Jeantaud in 1872, Degas produced this as well as a second portrait of her. Her cousin was Vicomte Ludovic Lepic, a landscape painter and etcher who taught degas methods of manipulating plate tones in his monotypes. In this remarkable candid and economical oil sketch, Degas depicts Madame Jeantaud at home with her two small dogs at 24 rue de Téhéran.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877 (detail)

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view detail)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871–72

 

Installation view of Degas’s Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas
Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène
1871-72
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 74.9 cm
Courtesy of Acquavalla Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

So cordial were Degas’s relations with Henri Rouart and his brother Alexis, who was also an art collector, that he dined with Alexis on Tuesdays and Henri on Fridays. In 1906 Degas wrote to his sister Thérèse that the Rouarts were his only remaining family in France. This portrait of Henri with his daughter Hélène was the first of many portraits. Henri is seen here as a paterfamilias, head of his household (a role that Degas esteemed) and in front of one of his landscapes, which degas also admired enough to invite Henri to exhibit with the ‘impressionists’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dead fox in the undergrowth (1864-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dead fox in the undergrowth' 1864-68

 

Edgar Degas
Renard mort, sou-bois [Dead fox in the undergrowth]
1864-68
Oil on canvas
35.0 x 58.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais

 

 

While his colleagues exhibition plein-air landscapes as ‘Impressionists’, degas adhered to his position as a ‘Realist’ during the 1860s and 70s, with at times awkward results. Dead fox in the undergrowth displays the powerful sense of physical presence that can be achieved by studying a dead fox in the studio under artificial light, and by using a brush to render the fox’s luscious pelt. Less convincing is the forest setting, which is invited and only roughly blocked out. Here Degas applied thin slashes of green and brown paint to suggest trees and forest floor, emulating, some have suggested, the Realist technique of Gustave Courbet.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The little fourteen-year-old dancer (1879-81) and at centre bottom, The song rehearsal (c. 1872-73)

 

Edgar Degas. 'The little fourteen-year-old dancer' 1879-81, cast 1922-37

 

Edgar Degas
The little fourteen-year-old dancer
1879-81, cast 1922-37
Bronze with cotton skirt and satin ribbon
99.0 x 35.2 x 24.5 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 73 (cast unlettered)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

 

At the 1881 ‘impressionist’ group exhibition Degas unveiled a large wax sculpture of an immature ballerina (of which this is a bronze version), which he provocatively clad in real clothing. Critics were scandalised, accusing him of having dredged ‘the lower depths of dance’, choosing his dancer from among the ‘most hatefully ugly’. Degas’ model, ballet student Marie Van Goethem, the daughter of a tailor and a laundress and part-time prostitute, was later to abandon her dance studies and disappear into Paris’ underworld.

Degas produced sculptures in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. He modelled them in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly, his primary subjects being thoroughbred racehorses, female dancers and women at their toilette. As Degas’ eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly said that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’ death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze, by the Adrien-A. Hébrard Foundry, Paris, and their Milanese master craftsman Albino Palazzolo, of seventy four of the most intact of Degas’ sculptures. While many of Degas’ original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The song rehearsal' c. 1872–73

 

Edgar Degas
The song rehearsal
c. 1872-73
Oil on canvas
81.0 x 64.9 cm
House Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Cotton merchants in New Orleans' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Marchands de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Cotton merchants in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gift of Herbert N. Strauss

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' (installation view) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

 

In October 1872 Degas travelled to New Orleans in the United States, where he stayed for five months with his late mother’s brother Michel Musson and the extended Musson family. The artist’s younger brothers René and Achille had already relocated there, and had opened a wine import business financed by the Parisian Degas family bank. During his stay in Louisiana, Degas painted A cotton office in New Orleans, 1873, which reflected his observations of the industry that was central to that city. This now celebrated painting, which became the first work by Degas to enter a public collection when acquired by Pau’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in 1878, depicts Michel Musson in the foreground sampling cotton fibre in the office of his cotton export business.

René and Achille De Gas appear as relaxed visitors – René reading a newspaper and Achille casually observing the other men at work – in this complex group portrait of fourteen men, which has echoes of the artist’s love of seventeenth-century Dutch guild portraits. A cotton office in New Orleans was the prototype for many of Degas’ works of the 1870s and 1880s: framing that cuts to the heart of the subject and slices through men and objects alike; a de-centred composition viewed from slightly overhead, with a steep, diagonal perspective; a depth of field that creates close-ups while miniaturising anything farther off; and contrasts provided by light sources and, more particularly, by the frequently reproduced backlighting effect.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Cour d’une maison à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch)] (installation view)
1873
Oil on canvas
Ordeupgaard, Copenhagen
Bequest of the Danish government, 1951

 

The partially finished state of Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) reflects Degas’s experiences in the city, as he struggled to fulfil social obligations with his American relatives. The view here looking out from a shaded interior also indicates that Degas was already experiencing problems with his eyesight, which was affected by the harsh Louisiana sunlight.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The pedicure' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
The pedicure
1873
Oil and essence on paper on canvas
61.5 x 46.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1986)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

The young girl being attended to by a chiropodist in this painting is believed to be Joe Balfour, daughter of Degas’s widowed cousin Estelle Musson, whose husband had been killed in 1862 during the American Civil War. Degas here uses a technique he invented, peinture à l’essence (which entailed using oil pigments with most of the oil blotted away, thinned out with turpentine). Applied like watercolour, it dried with a soft matt finish that Degas preferred to the glossy sheen of traditional oil paintings.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Edgar Degas Interior c. 1868-69 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing Interior (c. 1868-69)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Interior' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Interior
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 114.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Degas ironically referred to this painting as ‘my genre picture’, by which he understated the gravitas of this domestic scene. This drama of seeming violation perpetrated on a young working-class woman b a man displaying the clothing and posture of a young bourgeois acquired in Degas’s hands the breadth and intensity of history painting. The muted colours and dim light accentuate the unspoken violence, anguish and simmering tension between the two people. The open box on the round table at the centre of the painting is a telling symbol of lost virginity. The rosy interior of the gaping jewel-case is brutally expired by the lamp standing next to it.

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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