Posts Tagged ‘portraits

05
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Erwin Olaf’ at the Gemeentemuseum den Haag and Fotomuseum Den Haag / the Hague Museum of Photography

Exhibition dates: 16th February – 16th June 2019

Curators: Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography)

 

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Joy' 1985

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Joy
1985
Gelatin silver print

 

 

As a storyteller, Erwin Olaf is a contemporary photographer whose work addresses most current concerns of the world – discrimination, gender, sexuality, taboo, climate change, reality, equality, power, racism, freedom of expression and democracy – through staged studio and outdoor photographs of incredible technical and visual skill.

The key to his work is the twist that he gives his cinematic, perfect worlds – the hidden crack in the facade, the unhinging of the link between reality and representation. These not so perfect worlds are often inspired by stories of the past, whether those stories may be present in the works of Vermeer, the still lives of the Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century, Caravaggio, the Olympic Games of 1936, Norman Rockwell paintings, film noir, or clothes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The stillness and silence of the photographs subjects let the viewer examine the details of the mise en scène… the perfectly placed Coke bottle and apple, the shredded American flag in Palm Springs, The Kite (2018); the bandaged knee, the dripping ice cream in Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour (2004); and also admire the beautiful textures and lighting of the finished “product”, for Olaf’s aesthetic riffs on subverting theatrical performances and magazine fashion shoots.

Olaf let’s the viewer’s eye move without restraint across the terrain of the photographs, letting them soak up the atmosphere of his hyperreal tableau vivant. Both seductive and disturbing, his photographs challenge us to interrogate our own story – who are we, what do we really believe in, and what can we do to change prejudice and bigotry in a hostile world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

“What I want to show most of all is a perfect world with a crack in it. I want to make the picture seductive enough to draw people into the narrative, and then deal the blow.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“In 1982, I saw an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe in Amsterdam that blew me off the socks. I just had a Hasselblad, I was inspired by his craftsmanship and the beautiful prints, and I thought: this is what I want too. In the series ‘Squares’ (1983-93) you clearly see his influence. I started asking people that I knew from the nightlife if they wanted to pose for me in my studio, which I had decorated in a squat of a friend. For example, the boy with the champagne bottle worked in the wardrobe of my favourite disco.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

“My earliest work reflects my life in that time. I was a moth – I really loved the nightlife. In the late seventies, the early eighties was a hedonistic period: Disco and the beginning of the punk, the sexual revolution. I loved watching people play with gender, the theatrical of the nightlife, all the roles they could take.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“The camera offered me a possibility to enter a world that was not mine. I was able to hide behind the camera, but also be part of what I saw. As a photographer, you can look at people. You’re observing. I wanted to focus my gaze on groups that were outside the ‘normal’ society. One of my first photography assignments for school had as a theme ‘what’s normal?’. I still ask myself that.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography are to honour one of the Netherlands’ most famous photographers, Erwin Olaf (b. 1959), with a double exhibition. Olaf, whose recent portraits of the royal family drew widespread admiration, will turn sixty this year – a good moment to stage a major retrospective. The Hague Museum of Photography will focus on Olaf’s love of his craft and his transition from analogue photojournalist to digital image-maker and storyteller. Olaf will himself bring together some twenty photographs by famous photographers of the past who have been a vital source of inspiration to him. Gemeente Museum Den Haag will show non-commissioned work by Olaf from 2000 to his most recent series, including the work he produced in Shanghai and his most recent series Palm Springs, on display for the first time. Olaf will be showing his photography in the form of installations, in combination with film, sound and sculpture.

 

Erwin Olaf – Palm Springs: behind the scenes

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Squares, Pearls' 1986

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Pearls
1986
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XVII' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XVII
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“Chessmen was inspired by a chance meeting with my former photography teacher at the School for Journalism. A few years after I graduated there, I met him on the street. When I showed him my work in my studio, he said, “Say, would you like to publish a book?” He had recently taken over a publishing house for a pittance. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough work for a book. “Oh,” he said, “you only need sixty-four pages. And if you leave a page white next to each photo, you will need thirty-two photos. “At home I thought about it while listening to the radio – a chess program was just going on. At one point the presenter said: “This is an attacking game with thirty-two pieces. A war game. “I knew immediately: I’m going to make chess pieces. Those few words on the radio were all I needed; I had a clear picture in mind. Earlier I had been thinking about how I could do something with the theme of power. Power is something weird. Why do people abuse their power? Or why do you want it? Why do some people allow others to exercise power over them? From those questions came the idea of ​​a power game and the people who play it. ”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XXIV' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XXIV
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Blacks, Esmeralda' 1990

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Blacks, Esmeralda
1990
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“The Blacks series is largely inspired by Janet Jackson’s album Rhythm Nation 1814. In one song, she sings: “In complete darkness we are all the same / It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us / Don’t let your eyes deceive you.” A few years earlier I had been hitchhiking to Paris and southern France, together with a friend with an Indonesian background. I was admitted without problems in all kinds of clubs, but they refused him at the door. At that time I became much more aware of the fact that the amount of pigment in your skin can have serious consequences. So when I heard Janet Jackson sing, I thought: this is my theme. I can create a group of people where everyone is equal.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

 

Journalistic training

Erwin Olaf was studying journalism in Utrecht in the 1980s when, having noticed that he was unhappy, one of his lecturers pressed a camera into his hands. ‘I loved the thing right from the word go,’ says Olaf, ‘the weight, the cool metal in my hand. It felt so natural. And when I took my first photographs, I knew I had found my calling.’ Olaf began taking journalistic photographs of theatre performances, worked for progressive magazines and volunteered for COC Nederland (which represents LGBTI interests). In his early work Olaf often depicted the human body quite graphically, breaching the restrictions on sexuality, the body and gender. He describes himself at that time as an angry adolescent, though his taboo-breaking work was highly significant in terms of visual freedom in the Netherlands.

 

Early work at The Hague Museum of Photography

The exhibition at The Hague Museum of Photography will start with his early work. Chessmen (1987-88) was one of Olaf’s first non-commissioned series, which came about when he was given the opportunity to produce a photobook. He had to fill 32 pages and he wanted to focus on the theme of power. He had heard an item on the radio about chess, a game of war consisting of 32 pieces. Olaf portrayed the game in a series of provocative images, featuring visible genitals, small half-naked people with kinky attributes, and extremely fat women in bondage outfits. The series did not go unnoticed. He received criticism for it, but also the Young European Photographers Prize.

 

Skill

Another early series shows the engagement that has remained important throughout Olaf’s career. Blacks (1990) is based on a song by Janet Jackson with the line, ‘In complete darkness we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us’. The series reflects Olaf’s battle for equality, and also his technical skill. In these baroque portraits, literally everything is black as coal, yet Olaf managed to give the images a rich tonality, both with his camera and in the developing process. A self-taught photographer, he has shown himself to be a master, not only of old-fashioned darkroom processes, but also of new techniques that have emerged in rapid succession since the digital revolution. He did pioneering work with Photoshop in the famous series Royal Blood (2000). Thanks to this new technique, he is even better able to experiment to his heart’s delight in his staged photography.

 

Sources of inspiration

Besides his own work, at The Hague Museum of Photography Erwin Olaf will be bringing together some twenty photographs by photographers who are his most important sources of inspiration, ranging from a vintage still life with roses by the late nineteenth-century photographer Bernard Eilers to self-portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra. The work of these photographers inspired him, made him look in a different way at his own artistic practice, or pushed his photography in a new direction. By showing these pictures alongside his early work, which is imbued with his love of his craft, Olaf will give visitors to the Museum of Photography an idea of what has shaped him as a photographer.

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will begin, even before the entrance to the galleries, with the life-sized installation Keyhole (2012). The exterior has two long walls with panelling above which framed photographs hang, as in a classic interior. But visitors can watch two films through the keyhole in the doors on either side of the installation. It will be immediately apparent that the Gemeentemuseum is highlighting a new development in the work of Erwin Olaf. Here, he is going one step further, presenting his photography in exciting combinations of film, sound and sculpture.

 

Social engagement

Erwin Olaf’s work has always been highly personal and socially engaged. The clearest influence on the development of his work has been the events surrounding 9/11. Since then, the bombastic, baroque staging of his previous work has made way for more vulnerability and serenity. This has produced images that are very popular with the public: highly stylised film scenes staged perfectly down to the smallest detail, often bathed in light as if they were paintings, with an uncomfortable underlying message. As in the series Rain (2004), which appears to capture the moment between action and reaction after a shocking event. The series Grief (2007), shot in a 1960s setting, is about the first moment of response, the first tear.

Recent events are also reflected in Olaf’s work. He made the Tamed & Anger self-portraits (2015) in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In other works he addresses issues like the position of the individual in a globalising world, the exclusion and stereotyping of certain groups of people, and taboos associated with gender and nudity. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will thus afford a glimpse inside Olaf’s turbulent and sometimes dark mind. A visit to the exhibition will be like wandering through his head.

 

Palm Springs: final part of a triptych

Erwin Olaf’s most recent series, Palm Springs (2018), will premiere at the exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum. It is part of a triptych about cities undergoing change, the other two parts being Berlin (2012) and Shanghai (2017). The Berlin series was produced in a period when dark clouds were gathering above Europe. It highlights Olaf’s concerns about freedom of expression and democracy, and the transfer of power from an older to a new generation. Shanghai is a hypermodern metropolis in China with a population of 24 million. The series made in this city explores what happens to the individual in an environment like this. In Palm Springs, Olaf again focuses on topical issues. One of the key themes is climate change, though at the same time the images also recall the America of the 1960s. In a beautiful series of portraits, landscapes – this was the first time Olaf had photographed landscapes – still lifes and filmic scenes he refers to issues like teenage pregnancy, discrimination, religious abuses and polarisation. The series tells the story of people withdrawing into gated communities as reality invades their paradise.

 

Photographs of royal family

A very special addition to the double exhibition will be Erwin Olaf’s photographs of the Dutch royal family. As part of the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum he will bring together many of the photographs that the Government Information Service commissioned him to take of the royal family. He also took the picture that the family used as a Christmas greeting last December. ‘I’m proud of the royal family,’ says Olaf, ‘because they are a binding factor in a democracy that is sometimes very divided. I’m happy to be able to contribute to that.’

 

Successful artist

The double exhibition will show how Erwin Olaf has developed from angry provocateur to one of the Netherland’s most famous and popular photographers. His work now features in the collections and exhibitions of museums the world over, including China, Russia, The United States of America and Brazil. In 2008 The Hague Museum of Photography showed his Rain, Hope, Grief and Fall series. In 2011 he won the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Prize, and in 2018 the Rijksmuseum purchased almost 500 photographs and videos by Erwin Olaf.

 

Biggest retrospective to date

Together, the exhibitions at the Gemeentemuseum and the Museum of Photography will constitute the biggest retrospective of Olaf’s work ever staged, spanning the period from the early 1980s to his most recent work. In the words of Erwin Olaf: celebrating 40 years of visual freedom.

The double exhibition has been curated by Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography), and has come about in close collaboration with Erwin Olaf and his studio.

Press release from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag [Online] Cited 04/05/2019

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Royal Blood, Di, †1997' 2000

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Royal Blood, Di, †1997
2000
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“I made the Royal Blood series to celebrate Photoshop as the new craft. I wanted to make something that was clearly fiction and would be impossible without Photoshop. A theme that was in the air at the time was that violence was suddenly identified with glamor. I never understood why criminals, even murderers, have fans. People worship them! And every cinema is chock full of people watching violence every week. I wanted to expose the attraction of blood, violence and celebrity – that live fast, that young ideal. Now I could no longer do this type of work. The emotion behind it has disappeared – I have already told that story. But it remains an important part of my legacy.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour' 2004

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour
2004
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Hope, The Hallway' 2005

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Hope, The Hallway
2005
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012 [Masonic Lodge Dahlem]
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Keyhole #6' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Keyhole #6
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2' 2017

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2
2017
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Kite' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Kite
2018
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Erwin Olaf

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Family Visit - Portrait I' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Family Visit – Portrait I
2018
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17:00

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag website

Fotomuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Den Haag website

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13
Apr
19

Exhibition: ‘Carte-o-mania!’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2018 – 22nd April 2019

Curator: Jo Gilmour

 

 

The Photographic Society of Victoria, Melbourne. 'Thomas Pearce (age 18 in 1878)' c. 1878

 

The Photographic Society of Victoria, Melbourne
Thomas Pearce (age 18 in 1878)
c. 1878
Albumen paper carte de visite
Support: 10.2 x 6.5 cm
Image: 9.1 x 5.6 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010

 

 

A friend of mine is really ill at the moment in hospital. At 87 years old, she is a fiercely independent woman, possessing amazing intelligence and insight, a wicked sense of humour, stubborn, opinionated, passionate… and one of the most incredible human beings I have met during my life. If I had not met her, my life would have been so much poorer. It is a privilege to know her.

These Australian cartes des visite and cabinet cards give small insight into now largely forgotten lives, of both photographer and sitter. If only for a brief instant, we can pull back the curtain of time and enquire into their lives and existence. In a small way, we can reanimate their earthly spirit.

“Each photograph is like a miniature world of its own with an incredible story embedded in it. The poses, the props and the fashions throw an intriguing light onto the world of the nineteenth-century studio, while the stories of the photographers and their subjects combine to create a rich and vivid archive of Australian society at a precise moment in time. Rich or poor, male or female, famous or infamous, powerful or anonymous: everyone was captured in these tiny photographs.”

It is such a pity that we have to loose the knowledge that age brings, the powerful sages full of wisdom that could stop the human race repeating the mistakes of the past over and over again.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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PS. What is unsaid in these stories and images, is that most riches are built on the back of oppression, built on the bones of the Indigenous people of Australia. Rich whites, buying up land, pastoralists, sending their children to school in the Old Country… just because they can.

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

 

 

The Photographic Society of Victoria, Melbourne. 'Thomas Pearce (age 18 in 1878)' c. 1878 (detail)

 

The Photographic Society of Victoria, Melbourne
Thomas Pearce (age 18 in 1878) (detail)
c. 1878
Albumen paper carte de visite
Support: 10.2 x 6.5 cm
Image: 9.1 x 5.6 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010

 

 

Thomas Pearce (c. 1860-1909) was a young apprentice on board the English merchant vessel the Loch Ard, which departed chilly Gravesend, England, for warmer climes in Australia in March 1878. There were 37 crew and sixteen passengers aboard. In stormy weather on 1 June 1878, just days from completing the three-month voyage, the captain of the magnificent iron-hulled clipper mistakenly thought the ship was 50 miles from the coastline when she was dashed by heavy surf onto the rocks of Muttonbird Island. Only two survived the wreckage: eighteen-year-old Pearce and eighteen-year-old Irish emigrant, Eva Carmichael. Supported by the upturned hull of a lifeboat, Pearce was washed ashore in a small cove, now known as Loch Ard Gorge. When he heard Eva Carmichael’s cries and saw her clinging to wreckage, ‘he at once divested himself of his unnecessary clothing, plunged in the sea, swan out to her, and brought her safely to the beach’. Lauded for his brave and gallant act, Pearce was presented with a valuable gold watch and chain by governor George Ferguson Bowen as a ‘slight token of the respect and admiration in which your noble conduct is held by all classes in this colony’. He was also presented with the first gold medal issued by the Royal Humane Society of Victoria. Popular sentiment was for a permanent union; but Eva returned to Ireland having lost her parents and siblings in the wreck. Pearce became a ship’s captain. According to an ‘interview’ published in the Argus in 1934, Carmichael returned Pearce’s favour some years later when, ‘living on the Irish coast’, she and her husband Captain Townsend were called on to help survivors from wrecks and that ‘on one occasion who should fall into her care but Tom Pearce!’.

As sole survivors of the wreck, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael experienced a period of celebrity during which the sensational story of the Loch Ard created much fodder for newspapers. The 6 July issue of the Australasian Sketcher featured wood engravings of the scene of the sinking, an engraved portrait of Eva, ‘drawn from life’, and one of Tom based on this carte de visite, which was captioned as being ‘from a photograph by Mr Burman’. There were four photographers named Burman in Melbourne in 1878: brothers Frederick, William and Arthur Burman, and their father, William Insull Burman, all of whom took photographs of Pearce and Carmichael. The Burmans were among the photographers later contracted to produce photographs relating to Ned Kelly’s activities, and many souvenir photos of him, his gang, his captors and the Glenrowan incident bear the Burman stamp. The Photographic Society of Victoria was formed in 1876 to ‘bring photographers together in a friendly spirit, in order to advance the art and science of photography in the colony’. At the time of the first annual meeting on 9 March 1877 there were 61 members, five whom were ladies. Members included well-known Melbourne photographers Charles Hewitt and Charles Nettleton as well as Joseph Turner of Geelong.

The Photographic Society of Victoria was formed in 1876 to ‘bring photographers together in a friendly spirit, in order to advance the art and science of photography in the colony, without any attempt at binding or dictating to members any special trading rules, such as charges for photographs or hours or days for closing or opening their respective establishments.’ At the time of the first annual meeting on 9 March 1877 there were 61 members, five whom were ladies. Members included well-known Melbourne photographers George William Perry, William Hall, Charles Hewitt, Charles Nettleton, and David Wood as well as Joseph Turner of Geelong.

 

Thomas Pearce (1860-1909)

Thomas Pearce (1860?-1909) was an apprentice on the English merchant vessel the Loch Ard, which embarked for Victoria in March 1878 carrying 37 crew and 16 passengers, many from the Carmichael family. In stormy weather on 1 June 1878, just days from completing the three-month voyage, the Loch Ard wrecked against Muttonbird Island. Supported by an upturned lifeboat, the teenaged Pearce was washed ashore in a small bay, now known as Loch Ard Gorge; but when he spotted eighteen-year-old Eva Carmichael clinging to wreckage in the ocean, he swam out and struggled back to shore with her. As sole survivors of the wreck, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael became celebrities and posed for a number of Melbourne photographers after their recuperation. Pearce was presented with the first gold medal of the Royal Humane Society of Victoria. Popular sentiment was for a permanent union; but Eva returned to Ireland, and Pearce became a ship’s captain. Several drowned members of Eva’s family are buried in a clifftop cemetery above Loch Ard Gorge. A porcelain figure of a peacock, made by English pottery Minton, was washed up from the wreck intact. Now on display at Warrnambool’s Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, the ‘Loch Ard Peacock’ is Australia’s most valuable shipwreck artefact, valued at $4 million.

 

Thomas Foster Chuck (Australian, born London 1826-1898) 'The Burke and Wills Monument' 1869

 

Thomas Foster Chuck (Australian, born London 1826-1898)
The Burke and Wills Monument
1869
Albumen paper photograph on carte de visite
Support: 10.1 x 6.4 cm
Image: 9.3 x 6.2 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2001

 

 

From its outset, the Victorian Exploring Expedition (later renamed the Burke and Wills Expedition) provided much material for artists. William Strutt, for example, made portraits of expedition members and depictions of its preparations at Royal Park, while Burke and Wills both sat for the Melbourne photographer Thomas Adams Hill shortly before their departure in August 1860. Their deaths less than a year later, however, generated a plethora of portraits in a variety of formats. Sculptor Charles Summers (1825-1878) created waxworks of Burke and Wills soon after news of their lamentable deaths became known and was subsequently awarded the commission to create their official memorial. The monument was installed at the intersection of Collins and Russell Streets in 1865 and was the largest bronze casting carried out in Australia to that date. Thomas Foster Chuck, photographer and entrepreneur, also sought to cash in on the epic failure of the expedition. In early 1862, he and several others – including artist William Pitt, a scene painter for George Selth Coppin’s Theatre Royal – devised a ‘Grand Moving Diorama’ which toured south-eastern Australia in 1862 and 1863. Based on first-hand accounts and sketches by Strutt and others, the diorama consisted of sixteen painted scenes – one of which featured ‘Novel and Dioramic Automaton Effects’ in the form of mechanical camels ‘ and was billed as ‘the most interesting and superior Entertainment ever exhibited in Australia’.

Thomas Foster Chuck had studios in Melbourne and Daylesford from the mid-1860s and exhibited examples of his work at the Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. In Melbourne, he traded as the ‘London Portrait Gallery’ from this address on Collins Street and later from the Royal Arcade on Bourke Street. In 1870, he commenced work on his mammoth Historical Picture of The Explorers and Early Colonists of Victoria, a photographic mosaic of over 700 individual portraits. It was completed in 1872 and was something of a money-spinner for Chuck, who sold individual cartes de visite of the sitters as well as prints of the composite image. A selection of Chuck’s portraits received an honourable mention in the photographic section of the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition of 1873, and were awarded a gold medal at the London International Exhibition in 1874. In 1876 he moved to Ballarat where he opened his ‘Gallery of Art’ and continued to produce various types of photographic works, including hand-coloured ‘chromatypes’ (he was one of several photographers who claimed to have invented this process) and his much-admired composite portraits.

 

Thomas Foster Chuck (1826-1898)

Thomas Foster Chuck (1826-1898), photographer and entrepreneur, was born in London and arrived in Victoria in 1861. The following year he produced and toured a ‘Grand Moving Diorama’ of dramatic painted scenes from the Burke and Wills expedition. By 1866 he had established a studio in Daylesford and examples of his work were shown at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition that year. Returning to Melbourne, he occupied a series of studios before opening the ‘London Portrait Gallery’ in rooms in the Royal Arcade on Bourke Street. There, in 1870, he commenced work on his mammoth Historical Picture of The Explorers and Early Colonists of Victoria, a photographic mosaic composed of over 700 individual photographs of prominent citizens. The work was finally completed in 1872 and is said to have been quite a boon for its creator, with Chuck selling individual cartes de visite and enlarged prints of many of the portraits as well as reduced prints of the composite image. Chuck submitted hand-coloured enlargements of his portraits of Justices Redmond Barry and Edward Eyre Williams to the Intercolonial Exhibition; in January 1873, the Argus reported that ‘Photographic portraits, finished in oil, watercolours, and mezzotints’, and an ‘untouched solar enlargement’ by Chuck received an honourable mention in the photographic section of the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition. Chuck forwarded the same works and a selection of smaller plain and coloured photographs to the London International Exhibition in 1874, winning a gold medal there. In 1872, he was awarded a contract to photograph the National Gallery’s collections; this resulted in eighteen photographs which were issued between 1873 and 1874 and published as Photographs of the Pictures in the National Gallery of Melbourne. In 1876 Chuck sold his Melbourne studio and moved to Ballarat where he opened his ‘Gallery of Art’ and continued to produce various types of photographic works, including hand-coloured ‘chromatypes’ (a process he claimed to have invented) and his much-admired composite portraits.

 

W & D Downey (William Downey (1829-1915) and Daniel Downey, British photographers). 'Lillie Langtry (age 32 in 1885)' c. 1885

 

W & D Downey (William Downey (1829-1915) and Daniel Downey, British photographers)
Lillie Langtry (age 32 in 1885)
c. 1885
Albumen silver carte de visite
Support: 103 x 62 mm
Image: 98 x 51 mm
National Portrait Gallery, Ca
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Malcolm Robertson inberran memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018

 

 

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton in Jersey in 1853. Aged nineteen she married the son of a Belfast shipowner with whom she moved to London. There, she rose to prominence as a professional beauty and style-setter whose acquaintances included various members of the social and cultural elite. She thus came within the orbit of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (known as Bertie to his family), Queen Victoria’s eldest son and heir to the throne, whose dalliance with the Irish actress Nellie Clifden in 1861 had already created scandal. His liaison with Langtry commenced in 1877 and lasted three years. It was an open secret, generating notoriety and cachet for Langtry in equal measure. Around 1880 she began a relationship with Prince Louis of Battenberg (Louis Mountbatten), with whom she had a daughter. This precipitated the deterioration of her marriage which ended in 1881. Being without a conventional means of support she decided to earn a living as an actress and made her professional stage debut in London in December 1881. Capitalising on her beauty and reputation, she then formed her own theatre company with which she toured to the United States several times between 1882 and 1889. That year, having established independent wealth through investments in racehorses and real estate, she returned permanently to England. In 1899 she married the heir to an English baronetcy who was eighteen years her junior. She retired to Monaco after World War One and published her memoir The days I knew in 1925.

Brothers William Downey (1829-1915) and Daniel Downey opened their first photographic studio in 1863 in Newcastle-on-Tyne. In 1872 the business expanded to London, William running the new studio in Belgravia while Daniel maintained the business in Newcastle. The firm became known for carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of celebrities and the aristocracy and is said to have been particularly favoured by Queen Victoria, whom they photographed on many occasions from the late 1860s until the 1890s. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was also a significant patron. W & D Downey’s 1868 carte-de-visite of his wife the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) piggy-backing her baby daughter Princess Louise was extraordinarily popular, selling some 300,000 copies. William’s son William Edward Downey (1855-1908) also became a photographer.

 

William H. Bardwell. 'Self portrait (age 34 in 1870)' 1870

 

William H. Bardwell (Australian)
Self portrait (age 34 in 1870)
1870
albumen silver carte de visite photograph
Support: 10.6 x 6.3 cm
Image: 9.4 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2015

 

 

Photographer William H. Bardwell (life dates unknown), worked at various studios in Ballarat from 1858 until 1895. In 1859, he was in partnership with Saul Solomon; they specialised in portraiture and providing photographs of the town from unusual vantage points, some of which were lithographed for The Ballarat Album (1859). Together, he and Solomon exhibited portraits at the 1862 Geelong Industrial Exhibition, where they received special commendation for their ‘sennotype’ process, a process consisting of two albumen prints, one waxed and one hand-coloured, mounted with glass plate. The two also exhibited their portraits in the 1863 Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute Exhibition. The same year, the Argus reported that Bardwell had captured the laying of the foundation stone of the Sturt Street Burke and Wills memorial from the roof of the Post Office. In the late 1860s he photographed a visiting troupe of Japanese gymnasts, and in 1871 he took photographs of Chang the Chinese Giant and his entourage. Bardwell exhibited photographs of Ballarat at the Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney in 1870, offering prints at the substantial price of £6 each, and had a photographic panorama of Ballarat among his views of its buildings and streets in the Victorian section of the London International Exhibition of 1873. From his studio at 11 Royal Arcade, Melbourne, William Bardwell exhibited photographs at the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition 1888-1889. In this self-portrait we see Bardwell in standing pose, dressed in stately attire, his frock coat with lowered waistline and three-piece suit characteristic of the period. Supported by a chair and his walking cane, Bardwell projects a stately figure with his hat tidily atop his head.

In 1866, William Bardwell established the Royal Photographic Studio independently of Solomon, an advertisement in the Clunes Gazette announcing, ‘The studio is every way replete with suitable accommodation for the preparation of toilet and rooms are provided for both ladies and gentlemen. Mr Bardwell’s long and practical example will entitle him to the claim to the first position in Ballarat as a photographer’. Bardwell took advantage of his studio’s close proximity to the Theatre Royal, producing photographs for visiting theatre groups and operatic companies. Along with actresses and actors coming and going, Bardwell catered for the upper echelons of Ballarat society. Boasting the ‘best appointed Studio in the colonies’, one could imagine Bardwell’s studio was flooded with natural light, his darkroom in complete darkness for the meticulous preparation of plates, paper and photographic chemicals used to render surfaces sensitive to light. Bardwell went into partnership with John Beauchamp at Ballarat for some part of 1878, before relocating to open his studio in Melbourne later that year. Bardwell’s Royal Studios at Ballarat remained active throughout the 1880s under the operation of Mr Williams while William Bardwell remained in Melbourne.

 

Timothy Noble. 'Charles Blondin (age 50 in 1874)' 1874

 

Timothy Noble (active 1871-1888)
Charles Blondin (age 50 in 1874)
1874
Albumen photograph on carte de visite
Support: 10.2 x 6.2 cm
Image: 9.3 x 5.6 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2018

 

 

The famed nineteenth century French tightrope walker and aerial acrobat, Charles Blondin, born Jean Francoix Gravelet (1824-1897), was known for thrilling audiences world-wide with his acrobatic feats. The ‘crazy, bearded little Frenchman’ is said to have crossed Niagara Gorge on over 300 occasions, at first performing simple crossings then amazing onlookers with increasingly bizarre and challenging stunts. Encouraged by Australian entrepreneur and agent Harry (HP) Lyons, ‘The Great Blondin’ followed his North American tour with a visit to Australia in 1874, performing for enthralled onlookers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. On 25 July he made his first appearance in Australia, thrilling over 3,500 onlookers when he crossed the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on a tightrope measuring 76 metres in length and suspended 24 metres above the ground. He first danced across the tightrope in knight’s armour before performing several acrobatic stunts including balancing on his head for ten seconds, cooking an omelette on a stove while drinking a glass of champagne, balancing on two legs of a wooden chair, and carrying his assistant, Mr Niaud, pick-a’-back from one end to the other. Blondin’s performance captivated the audience for one hour and 45 minutes, during which time he would consistently toy with the crowd, pretending to stumble and fall to heighten the drama. The Maryborough Chronicle reported that Blondin’s appearance ‘produced the curious effect known as bringing the heart into the mouth’. Blondin’s popularity in Australia was such that to ‘blond’ on the back of the fence was the ambition of every kiddie. He inspired at least five Australians to emulate his feats, the most famed being the funambulist and aeronautical balloonist, Henri L’Estrange, commonly known as ‘the Australian Blondin’.

Photographer Timothy Noble worked from a number of addresses in Melbourne between 1871 and 1884 before relocating to Sydney. At the time of Charles Blondin’s visit to Melbourne in 1874, Noble’s studio was at 135 Bourke Street, not far from George Selth Coppin’s Theatre Royal. It was there that Blondin made his inaugural Victorian appearance, the Age advising readers on 20 October 1874 that ‘Chevalier Blondin, The Hero of Niagara’ would be visiting the Theatre the following evening, and advising that ‘Early application should be made for seats and tickets’. In early November the paper reported that ‘We have received from Mr. Noble, photographer, of Bourke-street, a very good likeness of M. Blondin, with all his honours. The medals shown in the photograph have quite a history attached to them. Among them is the order of her Catholic Majesty the Queen of Spain’. Blondin’s pose likewise suggests his courageous spirit, while the pair of binoculars at his side is perhaps an allusion to the means by which some witnessed his thrilling and spectacular performances. The State Library of Victoria has 30 of Noble’s photographs, including portraits of actresses Hattie Shepparde and Maggie Moore, and impresario J.C. Williamson.

 

About the exhibition

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

In May 1860 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children sat for the London photographer John Jabez Edwin Mayall. With Her Majesty’s approval, the resultant photographs were made available to the public as a series of cartes de visite titled ‘The Royal Album’. Sales went crazy, netting Mayall £35,000 and propelling the carte de visite from relative obscurity to fervent, widespread popularity.

The diminutive-format albumen photographs, mounted on cards measuring ten by six centimetres, had been conceived of in Paris in 1854. Yet in the English-speaking world it wasn’t until the Queen saw fit to have herself documented in this way – and in relatable semblances and settings – that the populace began to embrace cartes as a novel, affordable way of collecting images, whether of royals and other luminaries or, increasingly, of themselves.

Cartes enabled people from various strata of society to acquire multiple portraits for a matter of shillings, providing ‘the opportunity of distributing yourself among your friends, and letting them see you in your favourite attitude, and with your favourite expression’.

Occupying a mid-point between the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 and the advent of the Kodak camera in the 1880s, the carte de visite was the first truly democratic form of portraiture. Collections of cartes, and the outputs of their exponents, thus often constitute the most inclusive of portrait galleries and the most comprehensive archives of a nation’s faces.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery [Online] Cited 20/03/2019

 

Unknown artist. 'Thomas Wentworth Wills (age 21 in 1857)' c.1857 or c.1864 (printed c.1905-1910)

 

Unknown artist
Thomas Wentworth Wills (age 21 in 1857)
c.1857 or c.1864 (printed c.1905-1910)
Gelatin silver photograph on grey paper support on card
Support: 11.0 x 9.0 cm
Image: 9.6 x 7.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Thomas Wentworth (Tom) Wills (1836-1880), is popularly thought of as the ‘inventor’ of Australian Rules football. Born in Sydney and named for his father’s good friend (and lawyer), William Charles Wentworth, Tom was not yet four when he took part in the journey by which his father, Horatio Spencer Wills, relocated from New South Wales to the Port Phillip district in 1839. Tom received some of his schooling in Melbourne before, at fourteen, being sent ‘home’ to be educated at Rugby, where he proved an adept sportsman but not much of a scholar. He then attended Cambridge but did not matriculate, once again earning greater distinction for his on-field prowess, particularly in cricket. He later played for Kent and the Marylebone Cricket Club, continuing his cricket career on returning to Victoria in late 1856. In all, between 1857 and 1876, in addition to playing for Richmond, the Melbourne Cricket Club, and several other teams, he represented Victoria in twelve matches against New South Wales, scoring a total of 319 runs and taking 72 wickets at the impressive average of ten for 23. His significance to Australian sporting history, however, arguably resides primarily in his instigating a local code of football as a means of keeping cricketers fit during winter. In 1858, Wills helped establish the Melbourne Football Club; in 1859, he led the group that set down the code of laws for what became known as Victorian or Australian Rules football – elements of which, some historians have argued, may have their origins in marngrook, a traditional game involving a possum-skin ball played by the Aboriginal people of the Western District, and which Wills may have witnessed and played as a boy.

In 1861, Tom along with at least 25 of his father’s employees (and 10,500 sheep), overlanded from Brisbane to Cullin-la-ringo, a property Horatio Wills had leased near Emerald in Queensland. Sent on an errand to another station soon after the party had arrived, Tom was absent from Cullin-la-ringo when a group of Aboriginal people camped nearby mounted a violent raid on the property, killing nineteen people, his father included. Tom remained at Cullin-la-ringo nevertheless, initially making an attempt to run it while resorting increasingly to alcohol as a method of quelling the demons occasioned by the circumstances of his father’s death. Back in Victoria permanently by 1864, he returned to sport, playing football for both Melbourne and Geelong, representing his state again in inter-colonial cricket, and serving in administrative capacities in both sports. In 1866, he was engaged as the captain-coach of a team of Aboriginal players that subsequently played a number of fixtures in Victoria and New South Wales but which disbanded prior to a planned tour to England in 1867. By the mid-1870s, however, the career of the so-called ‘Grace of Australia’ was unravelling, his performances routinely blighted by drunkenness. In his final years, he lived at Heidelberg with his partner, Sarah Barber (whom his family never recognised). Fearful that he would harm himself, in April 1880 Sarah had Tom admitted to the Melbourne Hospital for restraint. He absconded and died soon afterwards, having stabbed himself with a pair of scissors while in a state of delirium tremens.

 

William Edward Kilburn. 'William Robertson' 1863

 

William Edward Kilburn (British, 1818-1891)
William Robertson
1863
Albumen paper carte de visite
Support: 10.2 x 6.5 cm
Image: 8.6 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018

 

 

William Robertson (1839-1892), lawyer, politician and pastoralist, was the second eldest son and third child of merchant and landowner William Robertson and his wife Margaret. William senior had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1820s, building a successful business in Hobart before relocating to Victoria. William junior was educated in Hobart and then at Wadham College, Oxford. While there ‘he entered with zest into the athletics of the place, and he rowed in the Oxford and Cambridge annual boat race on the Thames in 1861’. He graduated in 1862 and the following year, in Tunbridge Wells, he married Martha Mary Murphy (1844-1909). On returning home William and Martha settled initially in Hobart before William was admitted to the bar in Victoria. He his brothers John, George and James each inherited property on their father’s death in 1874, William acquiring The Hill, ‘a stretch of very rich agricultural and grazing land’ near Colac. As Robertson Brothers the four managed the family’s various pastoral concerns, developing a reputation for their shorthorn cattle. William was a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in the 1870s and 1880s, ‘but his interest in politics was not very keen’. ‘He was much better fitted to shine in social life’, his obituary said, ‘being a man of amiable disposition and high private character’. He died while undergoing surgery for cancer in 1892.

William Edward Kilburn (1818-1891) was one of London’s earliest exponents of the daguerreotype. He opened his first studio on Regent Street, London, in 1847 and in 1848 Prince Albert acquired Kilburn’s daguerreotypes showing a large Chartist gathering at Kennington. This led to Kilburn being appointed ‘Her Majesty’s Daguerreotypist’ and began an association with the Royal Family that resulted in a number of portraits over the next several years. Leading members of society admired Kilburn’s work, which was often finely hand-coloured or engraved for publication in illustrated newspapers. Kilburn adapted easily to the waning popularity of the daguerreotype and the advent of paper photographs, his studio becoming a leading London supplier of cartes de visite in the late 1850s, and sitters such as Florence Nightingale and Benjamin Disraeli had cartes de visite taken by him. He is perhaps of especial interest to historians of Australian photography as the brother of Douglas Kilburn, who is considered Melbourne’s first professional photographer. Douglas’s early advertisements state that ‘Mr Kilburn, having just received materials and the latest information from his brother, in London (Photographic Artist to the Queen), will be ready next week to TAKE LIKENESSES by the Daguerreotype Process’.

 

S. Milbourn Jnr (1863-1897) 'Adam Lindsay Gordon' 1890-1894

 

S. Milbourn Jnr (1863-1897)
Adam Lindsay Gordon
1890-1894
Albumen silver photograph on cabinet card
Support: 16.5 x 10.7 cm
Image: 13.1 x 10.6 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2008

 

 

Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870), poet and horseman, arrived in Adelaide in 1853 and joined the South Australian Mounted Police. After two years he resigned and found work as a horse-breaker and also began establishing himself as a steeplechase rider at country race meetings. On his mother’s death in 1859 he came into a £7,000 inheritance, much of which was later squandered in various imprudent investments. Meanwhile, he’d married, served a term in the South Australian parliament, and started writing. Gordon’s poems began appearing in newspapers in 1864 and in 1867 he published his first two volumes of verse. He then moved to Ballarat and joined the Light Horse but suffered a serious horse-riding accident in early 1868 which compounded other misfortunes: the failure of yet another business venture and the death of his infant daughter. He nevertheless built on his reputation for hunting and horsemanship; and continued to publish and garner praise for his poetry, a third volume of which, Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, appeared in 1870. Very shortly after its publication, however, and having failed to secure another inheritance that would have assuaged some of his financial worries, Gordon committed suicide, shooting himself on the beach at Brighton. ‘The bold resolute man, the accomplished scholar in whose heart burned true poetic fire, and the warm-hearted friend’ was buried in the Brighton cemetery, his grave becoming a site of pilgrimage for his admirers for many years to come.

 

S. Milbourn Jnr (1863-1897)

S. Milbourn Junior is listed as operating as a photographer in Glenelg, South Australia, from 1890 to 1894, though there are scant details of his practice in existing texts on Australian photography. Over the course of the 1890s S. Milbourn Junior wrote various pieces of music, including ‘The Broken Hill Schottische’, ‘Eden-love’, ‘Friends no Longer’, ‘Love’s Guardian’, ‘Love’s Memories’ and the ‘Yacht Club Mazurka’. Milbourn’s music is advertised for sale on the reverse of these photographs, but the music advertised was written many years after the death of the writers depicted. Milbourn is unlikely to have taken the original photographs of Kendall and Gordon, but it is possible that he composed and fabricated the images on offer, using photographs taken many years before.

 

 

About the exhibition

The National Portrait Gallery is bringing the Victorian era back to life in a special exhibition exploring the colour and character of post-goldrush Australia.

Opening on Thursday 8 November, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the cute, quirky, intimate medium of the carte de visite – a diminutive style of studio photograph that took portraiture by storm in the 1860s.

Exhibition Curator Jo Gilmour says the National Portrait Gallery has never had an exhibition like this before. ‘When the Portrait Gallery first began, we had very few carte de visite photographs in the collection – but in recent years our collection of them has grown to over 100.

Each photograph is like a miniature world of its own with an incredible story embedded in it. The poses, the props and the fashions throw an intriguing light onto the world of the nineteenth-century studio, while the stories of the photographers and their subjects combine to create a rich and vivid archive of Australian society at a precise moment in time. Rich or poor, male or female, famous or infamous, powerful or anonymous: everyone was captured in these tiny photographs.

What I love about Carte-o-mania! is its wit and its fun factor. All of the portraits in the show will be displayed in showcases and albums, giving viewers the opportunity to get up close and immerse themselves in the photographs, which became part of a widespread collecting fad’.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery [Online] Cited 20/03/2019

 

Batchelder and O'Neill. 'Lady Anne Maria Barkly (age 25 in 1863)' 1863

 

Batchelder and O’Neill (active 1857-1863)
Lady Anne Maria Barkly (age 25 in 1863)
1863
Albumen silver carte de visite
Support: 10.7 x 6.2 cm
Image: 9.0 x 5.7 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2014

 

 

British botanist, Anne Maria Barkly née Pratt (c. 1838-1932) collected and drew plant specimens while accompanying her husband, Sir Henry Barkly, on his governing duties abroad. Following Sir Henry’s time as Governor of Victoria from 1856 to 1863, Lady Barkly accompanied her husband and his daughter by his first wife, Emily, to South Africa to assume the position of Governor of Mauritius (1863-1870). It was here that Lady Barkly corresponded with Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker at Kew Gardens about the plants of the island. In 1870, she journeyed to South Africa to join her husband in his newly appointed position as the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope. During their seven year stay on the Cape, Lady Barkly along with step daughter Emily Blanche Barkly made drawings of the plants that Sir Henry collected. Copies of their drawings of Stapeliae (odoriferous succulents in which her husband was very interested) were sent with Sir Henry’s descriptions of the living plants to Kew Gardens. Lady Barkly also collected plants herself, mainly pteridophyta. In 1875, she compiled and published A Revised List of the Ferns of South Africa. A set of her ferns was arranged at the Albany Museum in 1890. She is listed in the Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists, as is her step-daughter. In 1860, Nicholas Chevalier designed a fancy-dress costume for the new Lady Barkly, trimmed with sheepskin and gemstone nuggets, appliquéd with fern motifs and accessorised with a lyrebird-inspired fan. In this carte de visite, Lady Barkly is depicted in day dress with double-puff bishop sleeves, her small, elegant hat with frill detail perched on top of her head. The detailing of her fur-trimmed shawl is reflected in the mirror behind, while her hands rest gently on a lace shawl with leaf motif.

The preeminent Melbourne photographic firm Batchelder & O’Neill had its origins in the studio founded on Collins Street in 1854 by the Massachusetts-born photographer Perez Mann Batchelder (1818-1873), who had come to Victoria after several years in California. Batchelder’s brothers Benjamin (1826-1891), Nathaniel (1827-1860) and Freeman (life dates unknown) joined him in Melbourne in February 1856. The firm promised ‘Portraits taken on Glass and Silver Plates by the Collodion and Daguerreotype Process, in the highest perfection of the art’ and ‘in a style surpassed by none in the colonies’. The studio also offered tuition in photography and ‘supplied [the trade] with apparatus and materials of every description’. Perez Batchelder left Victoria in 1857 and another American, Daniel O’Neill, joined the business. By late 1864, Batchelder & O’Neill – with O’Neill as sole partner – had relocated to Swanston Street. O’Neill later moved to Sydney, where in April 1868 he advertised the availability of his carte de visite of the Duke of Edinburgh’s would-be assassin Henry O’Farrell a week before his execution. Meanwhile, Perez Batchelder had returned to Boston, where he died in 1873. By 1866 the old firm no longer existed, but other photographers traded under the names ‘Batchelder’s Portrait Rooms’ and ‘Batchelder & Co.’ from 1866 to 1895.

 

Johnstone O'Shannessy & Co. 'Martha M. Robertson (age 22 in 1866)' 1866

 

Johnstone O’Shannessy & Co (Henry James Johnstone and Emily Florence Kate O’Shaughnessy)
Martha M. Robertson (age 22 in 1866)
1866
Albumen photograph on carte de visite
Support: 10.5 x 6.2 cm
Image: 9.7 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018

 

 

Martha Mary Robertson (née Murphy, 1844-1909) married barrister William Robertson (1839-1892) in England in 1863. Like her husband, Martha was from a fabulously successful colonial family. Her father, John Robert Murphy (1806-1891), was your archetypical self-made man, a brewer by profession, who had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land and then – like William’s father – availed himself of the opportunities presented by expansion to the Port Phillip district in the 1830s. Murphy, according to his obituary, initially took up land at Warrnambool before moving to Melbourne, opening a brewery, and investing ‘in the purchase of city and suburban lands, all of which proved to be investments of the first class’. By 1850 Murphy was in position to take his children to England to be educated, and it was presumably through their Tasmanian/Victorian connections that Martha and William met there, William having graduated from Oxford in 1862. Their first child, a son, was born in England in 1864. Another four children, three girls and one boy, were born after they’d returned to Victoria. In 1874 the family moved to The Hill, near Colac, one of a number of properties William and his brothers inherited on their father’s death and which they managed in partnership until the early 1890s. William was a keen amateur photographer and his images include those of family life at The Hill, where he died in 1892. Martha outlived him by seventeen years, spending the latter part of her life in Armadale.

Henry James Johnstone was born in Birmingham in 1835 and studied at the Birmingham School of Design before joining his father’s photographic firm. He arrived in Victoria in 1853 and spent three years on the goldfields before returning to Melbourne and opening a studio in Bourke Street with Emily Florence Kate O’Shaughnessy in 1862. Initially trading as Johnstone & Co, it became Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co in 1864. They operated in premises next door to the GPO until 1886 and were awarded a medal at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition. Johnstone meanwhile continued his art studies, taking lessons from Charles Summers and Louis Buvelot, and later under Thomas Clark at the National Gallery School. According to one historian, Johnstone toured Victoria with HRH Prince Alfred The Duke of Edinburgh during his visit in 1867-1868, by which stage Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co. was one of Melbourne’s most fashionable photographic studios. O’Shaughnessy – whose name appears always to have been misspelt – is believed to have left the business around 1870, although the studio continued to trade under the Johnstone O’Shannessy name. From 1872 Johnstone exhibited paintings with the Victorian Academy of Arts. He left Melbourne in the late 1870s and was reported to be living in California when four of his paintings were shown at the Victorian Academy of Arts exhibition in 1879. By 1881 he was in England, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy until 1900. He died in 1907.

 

Davies & Co. 'Julia Matthews (age 20 in 1862)' c. 1862

 

Davies & Co
Julia Matthews (age 20 in 1862)
c. 1862
Albumen paper carte de visite
Support: 10.5 x 6.4 cm
Image: 9.0 x 5.7 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010

 

 

Legend has it that Julia Matthews (1842–1876) was one of the main reasons why Robert O’Hara Burke signed up for the ill-fated expedition he led to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860-1861. An actress and singer twenty-one years his junior, Matthews first encountered Burke in 1858 when she toured to Beechworth, where Burke was police inspector. He reportedly saw all of her performances there and was so enamoured that he asked her to marry him. She refused. Undeterred – and purportedly thinking that the glory he expected to achieve by the expedition would make him an irresistible prospect – he proposed again on evening of the expedition’s departure from Melbourne in August 1860. She declined to give him a definitive answer, but Burke had sufficient inducement to give her a miniature portrait of himself regardless, having two days earlier made her his sole beneficiary in the event of his death. Matthews is said to have urged a search party once rumours of the expedition’s failure began to circulate in Melbourne, and soon after news of her would-be suitor’s demise was confirmed she placed a notice in the newspapers offering a reward to anyone who recovered the portrait of Burke she claimed to have lost while walking in the Botanic Gardens. Whether this was a publicity stunt or arose out of genuine sadness at losing the memento is unclear. Following the end of a six-year marriage to a faithless drunkard husband, Matthews toured the UK and the United States to support her three children. She died in Missouri in May 1876.

English photographer William Davies had arrived in Melbourne by 1855. He is said to have worked with his friend Walter Woodbury and for the local outpost of the New York firm Meade Brothers before establishing his own business in 1858. By the middle of 1862, ‘Davies & Co’ had rooms at 91 and 94 Bourke Street, from where patrons could procure ‘CARTE de VISITE and ALBUM PORTRAITS, in superior style’. Like several of his contemporaries and competitors, Davies appears to have made the most of his location ‘opposite the Theatre Royal’, subjects of Davies & Co cartes de visite including leading actors such as Barry Sullivan and Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, and comedian Harry Rickards. Examples of the firm’s work – portraits and views – were included in the 1861 Victorian Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1862; and at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition the firm exhibited ‘Portraits, Plain and Coloured, in Oils and Water Colours’ alongside a selection of views for which they received an honourable mention.

 

Arthur William Burman. 'Clara Crosbie' c. 1885

 

Arthur William Burman
Clara Crosbie
c. 1885
Albumen photograph on carte de visite
Support: 10.1 x 6.1 cm
Image: 8.9 x 5.6 cm
Courtesy of John McPhee

 

 

Clara Harriet Crosbie was twelve years old when she went missing in the bush near Yellingbo in the Yarra Valley in May 1885. ‘The child had been sent on a visit to a neighbour about a mile from her mother’s house’, reported the Argus, but ‘as a town-bred girl, of warm affections and quick impulses … she resolved to find her way home, although she did not know the way’. Faced with the perilous wilds, Clara took shelter in the hollow of a tree for three weeks, crawling to a nearby creek to drink and trying to cooee her way to safety. Her cries for help were eventually heard – by chance – by two men named Cowan and Smith while they were in the vicinity searching for horses. A low sound, ‘like a young blackbird’s whistle’, had caught the acute ear of the two experienced bushmen and they followed the ‘wailing note borne softly on the breeze’ to its source. With the return of each low and piercing cooee, the men at last caught sight of the little girl, frail and woebegone. ‘The little creature was tottering towards us, in her ulster, without shoes or stockings on, but quite sensible’, they recounted. Following her convalescence in the Melbourne Hospital, Clara’s father leased her to Maximilian Kreitmayer, the proprietor of the waxworks on Bourke Street. From August to November 1885, ‘The Latest Attraction, CLARA CROSBIE’, performed to hordes of intrigued onlookers, explaining ‘How To Live For Three Weeks in the Bush Without Food’. In December 1885 she proceeded to Sydney to repeat the spectacle.

Throughout the nineteenth century there were several accounts of young children from settlements around Melbourne wandering off into the bewildering bush, never to be found again. Several painters of the period, including Frederick McCubbin, William Strutt and S.T. Gill, were inspired by these dramatic, melancholic tales of lost children. The theme also resonated deeply with the populace and became something of a mainstay of nineteenth-century Australian culture. McCubbin’s depiction of a young girl enveloped by bush in Lost (1886) is said to have been inspired by Clara’s story of survival, which McCubbin may well have heard first-hand at Kreitmayer’s Waxworks. In Arthur William Burman’s portrait of Clara, the studio is set up to simulate forbidding bushland, with the lost little girl’s bewildered eyes peering towards the lens. Burman was one of four siblings who followed their father into the photography profession. The various Burmans, and the several studios they operated either individually or in partnership, often sought to cash in on persons of ephemeral celebrity. Among the numerous other subjects of Burman cartes are Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce, the survivors of the 1878 sinking of the Loch Ard, for example, and Dominick Sonsee, ‘the Smallest Man in the World’, who was exhibiting himself at the Eastern Arcade on Bourke Street in 1880.

 

Arthur William Burman (1851-1915)

Arthur William Burman was one of the nine children of photographer William Insull Burman (1814-1890), who came to Victoria in 1853. Burman senior worked as a painter and decorator before establishing his own photography business in Carlton around 1863. Arthur and his older brother, Frederick, worked in the family business which, by 1869, operated a number of studios around Melbourne. Arthur is listed as operating businesses under his own name from addresses in East Melbourne, Carlton, Windsor, Fitzroy and Richmond between 1878 and his death in 1890.

 

Archibald McDonald. 'Chang the Chinese Giant with his wife Kin Foo and manager Edward Parlett' c. 1871

 

Archibald McDonald (1831-1873)
Chang the Chinese Giant with his wife Kin Foo and manager Edward Parlett
c. 1871
Albumen photograph on carte de visite
Support: 10.2 x 6.2 cm
Image: 9.3 x 5.9 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010

 

 

Chang Woo Gow (c. 1846-1893), aka ‘Chang the Chinese Giant’, is believed to have been born in either Fuzhou or Beijing and claimed to be from a line of scholarly, similarly proportioned forbears. He first exhibited himself in London in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, which functioned as ‘a cluster of speculative showcases for the miscellaneous entertainers who worked the London circuit’. A woman described as his wife, Kin Foo, and a dwarf were part of the spectacle. Hordes of people were reported to have attended Chang’s levées, readily paying for the privilege of looking upon ‘this most splendid specimen of a man’, dressed in his traditional Chinese robes and diverting his audiences with samples of the several languages he spoke fluently. Having fulfilled further engagements in the UK and Paris, Chang travelled to the USA, appearing in New York, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco among other cities before making his way to Melbourne in January 1871. Chang’s inaugural Australian levée was conducted at St. George’s Hall, formerly known as Weston’s Opera House. Like the Egyptian Hall, it was a venue that hosted a diverse assortment of ‘attractions’, such as the mesmerist Madame Sibly, who was ‘manipulating heads’ for packed houses nightly in early March 1871. Chang and his party then proceeded throughout country Victoria. By May they were in Sydney, appearing at the School of Arts with the Australian Tom Thumb, and they subsequently appeared in Maitland, Singleton, Scone, Muswellbrook and Newcastle. In November 1871 Chang married Catherine ‘Kitty’ Santley, a native of Liverpool, England, whom he had met in Geelong. In December it was reported that Chang, his ‘sister’ Kin Foo, and his wife had sailed from Auckland for Shanghai. After a stint with Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, Chang retired with his family to Bournemouth, where he opened a tearoom with a sideline in Chinese curios and fabrics.

Portraits had a role to play not just in the marketing but in the performances of those in the live exhibit profession, with accounts of Chang’s receptions indicating that the issuing of cartes de visite was part of the whole experience. In Chang’s case, and in keeping with the civility characterising his ‘levees’, the photographs may have been intended to function equally as a memento of having been in his ‘Celestial presence’ and as a miniature conversation piece or quirky, curious souvenir. Among the St George’s Hall tenants when Chang was appearing there in early 1871 was Archibald McDonald (1831-1873), a Canadian-born photographer who had first come to Australia in the late 1840s, working in Melbourne, Geelong, Tasmania and then Melbourne again, and establishing his gallery and studio in St. George’s Hall around 1864. McDonald was consequently among the various photographers to produce cartes of Chang and his entourage. It seems to have been standard to photograph him in either Chinese or English mode; and alongside those of average or dramatically different proportions so as to throw his own into greater relief. Both methods are in evidence in two photographs of Chang bearing McDonald’s studio stamp: one shows Chang and Kin Foo in traditional robes alongside his manager, Edward Partlett – seated atop a pedestal; and the second sees Chang in European clothes, seated, and flanked by four others including a Chinese boy. In April 1871 the Ballarat photographer William Bardwell created a number of cartes of Chang, one of which depicted him with Partlett tucked comfortably underneath his arm.

 

Batchelder and O'Neill. 'John Pascoe Fawkner (age 75 in 1867)' c. 1867

 

Batchelder and O’Neill (active 1857-1863)
John Pascoe Fawkner (age 75 in 1867)
c. 1867
Albumen silver carte de visite
Support: 10.5 x 6.3 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2008

 

 

John Pascoe Fawkner (1792-1869), sometimes called the ‘Founder of Melbourne’ was a pioneer and adventurer. The self-educated son of a convict, he spent his early years in Van Diemen’s Land, pursuing a variety of occupations from baker to builder to bush lawyer, often finding himself in trouble with the law largely because of debts but in 1814 for abetting an attempted escape by convicts. He launched the Launceston Advertiser in 1828 and edited it for the next two years, championing the emancipist class and attacking officialdom. In 1835 he organised an expedition to what is now Melbourne. Landing in Hobson’s Bay, Fawkner soon became a man of property and influence, acquired substantial lots of land, running a hotel and establishing the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser. A member of the Legislative Council from its introduction in 1851 until his death, Fawkner railed in his Port Phillip Patriot against the privileged squattocracy and was known as ‘the tribune of the people’.

 

Batchelder & O’Neill (active 1857-1863)

The American brothers Perez Mann, Benjamin and Nathaniel Batchelder worked in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s. Perez Batchelder had come to the colony from the Californian goldfields, which he had traversed making daguerreotypes. He and Benjamin Batchelder set up the Melbourne studio of PM Batchelder in 1852; the family also opened short-lived enterprises in Sydney in 1858 and Bendigo in 1866. Perez’s business, Batchelder and O’Neill, not only took photographs, but sold ‘photographic materials of every description’ which were illustrated in their free catalogues. The inaugural meeting of the Photographic Society of Victoria took place in Batchelder and O’Neill’s rooms in 1860.

 

Batchelder & Co. Photo. 'Richard Henry Horne (age 58 in 1860)' mid 1860s

 

Batchelder & Co. Photo
Richard Henry Horne (age 58 in 1860)
mid 1860s
Albumen paper carte de visite
Support: 10.5 x 6.3 cm
Image: 9.4 x 6.2 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by Graham Smith 2009

 

 

Poet Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884) arrived in Melbourne in 1852 hoping to make money on the goldfields but ended up instead in a variety of less remunerative prospects. Initially he was appointed to the command of a private gold escort; in 1853 he became assistant gold commissioner for Heathcote and Waranga but by the end of 1854 had been dismissed. In December that year, in the wake of the Eureka rebellion, he published an article defending miners’ grievances with the licensing system and alleging corruption on the part of some goldfields police, ‘especially in relation with sly-grog tents’. Though not exactly a model of propriety in his own life, Horne saw fit to decry colonial society and ‘social evils’ on a number of other occasions. In Australian Facts and Prospects (1859), for instance, he wrote that ‘with regard to drunkenness and prostitution [Melbourne] is far worse than Sydney, or any other city in the world’, citing the bar at the Theatre Royal as a case in point. ‘Between every act it is the custom of the audience to rush out to the bars for a nobbler of brandy, or other drinks. They all think they need it, whatever the weather may be’. Between 1855 and his return to England, disillusioned, in 1869, Horne stood for election to parliament (unsuccessfully); wrote plays, essays, articles and verse; was a member of the Garrick Club; and helped establish the Tahbilk Winery.

Batchelder & Co. was the last in a series of names applied to a photography business on Collins Street, Melbourne, that had been established in 1854. Its founder, Perez Mann Batchelder, came to Victoria having run a number of studios – including travelling ones – in California with his brother Benjamin. He and another two Batchelder brothers, Nathaniel and Freeman, came to Melbourne in 1856 to work in the business. Nathaniel Batchelder subsequently opened a branch in Sydney. The Melbourne business became Batchelder & O’Neill when Daniel O’Neill became a partner in 1857. By early 1865 John Botterill, Frederick Dunn and John Wilson had acquired the studio along with ‘all the negatives and other portraits, the accumulation of over 11 years of Batchelder and O’Neill’s business’. They traded as ‘Batchelder’s Portrait Rooms’ until 1867, after which it became known as Batchelder & Co. and continued until the mid-1890s.

 

 

National Portrait Gallery
King Edward Terrace
Parkes, Canberra

Opening hours:
Open daily 10 am – 5 pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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12
Feb
17

Exhibitions: ‘The Rebellious Image: Kreuzberg’s “Werkstatt für Photographie” and the Young Folkwang Scene in the 1980s’ at Museum Folkwang Essen / ‘Kreuzberg – Amerika: Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86’ at C/O Berlin, Germany

Museum Folkwang Essen exhibition dates: 9th December 2016 – 19th February 2017
C/O Berlin exhibition dates: 10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

It’s so good to see these essential, vital, rebellious images from Germany as a counterpoint and “additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School,” ie. the New Objectivity of Bernd and Hilla Becher with their austere “images of the water towers, oil refineries and silos of the fast-disappearing industrial landscape of the Ruhr valley.”

“A special artistic approach emerged from a dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between conceptual approaches and documentary narrations, between technical mediation and substantive critique and altered the styles of many photographers over time thanks to its direct access to their reality.”

I love the rawness and directness of these images. They speak to me through their colour, high contrast, frontality and narrative. A conversation in art and life from people around the world.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Museum Folkwang Essen and C/O Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs from The Rebellious Image exhibition unless it states differently underneath the photograph.

 

 

Uschi Blume. From the series 'Worauf wartest Du?' (What are you waiting for?) 1980

 

Uschi Blume
From the series Worauf wartest Du? (What are you waiting for?)
1980
Silver gelatine print
27.3 x 40.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Uschi Blume

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Untitled', from 'Portrait' 1983

 

Michael Schmidt
Untitled, from the series Portrait
1983
© Stiftung für Fotografie und Medienkunst, Archiv Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

C/O Berlin Kreuzberg America

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Menschenbilder Ausschnite' 1983/97

 

Michael Schmidt
Menschenbilder Ausschnite
1983/97
© Stiftung für Fotografie und Medienkunst, Archiv Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Larry Fink. 'Peter Beard and friends' 1976

 

Larry Fink
Peter Beard and friends
1976
From the series Black Tie
Gelatin silver print
35.8 x 36.4 cm
© Larry Fink

 

Ursula Kelm. 'Self portrait 4' 1983

 

Ursula Kelm
Self portrait 4
1983
© Ursula Kelm

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Wolfgang Eilmes. From the series 'Kreuzberg' 1979

 

Wolfgang Eilmes
From the series Kreuzberg
1979
© Wolfgang Eilmes

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Wilmar Koenig. 'Untitled', from the series 'Portraits', 1981-1983

 

Wilmar Koenig
Untitled, from the series Portraits, 1981-1983
© Wilmar Koenig

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Müller-/Ecke Seestraße' 1976-1978

 

Michael Schmidt
Müller-/Ecke Seestraße
1976-1978
from the series Berlin-Wedding
1979
© Foundation for Photography and Media Art with Archive Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Petra Wittmar From the series 'Medebach' 1979-83

 

Petra Wittmar
From the series Medebach
1979-83
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist
© Petra Wittmar

 

Wendelin Bottländer. 'Untitled' 1980

 

Wendelin Bottländer
Untitled
1980
From the series Stadtlandschaften (City landscapes)
C-Print
24 x 30.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Wendelin Bottländer

 

Andreas Horlitz. 'Essen Frühling' (Essen Spring) 1981

 

Andreas Horlitz
Essen Frühling (Essen Spring)
1981
© Andreas Horlitz

 

 

The exhibition The Rebellious Image (December 9, 2016 – February 19, 2017) – part of the three-part collaborative project Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-1986 , held in association with C/O Berlin and Sprengel Museum Hannover – sheds light on this period of upheaval and generational change within German photography, focusing on the photography scene in Essen.

Towards the end of the 1970s, two developments took place in Essen: the first was a revolt, a search for a new path, for a ‘free’ form of artistic photography beyond the confines of photojournalism and commercial photography; the second was the institutionalisation of photography which occurred with the foundation of the Museum Folkwang’s Photographic Collection. Some 300 photographs and a range of filmic statements and documentary material help to bring this era of change and flux in the medium of photography back to life: showing the evolution of new visual languages which – in contrast to the Düsseldorf School’s aesthetics of distance ‘ placed an emphasis on colour, soft-focus blurring and fragmentation.

The show sets out from the climate of uncertainty that developed in the wake of the death of Otto Steinert in 1978, who, as a photographer, teacher and curator, had been particularly influential in Essen in the field of photojournalism. In the area of teaching, photographic design began to come to the fore, while with the founding of the Photographic Collection at Museum Folkwang under Ute Eskildsen, the institutionalisation of artistic photography began. Young students – among them, Gosbert Adler, Joachim Brohm, Uschi Blume, Andreas Horlitz and Petra Wittmar – developed a form of photography that was divorced from typical clichés and commercial utility. The impulse behind this development was provided by the Berlin-based photographer Michael Schmidt. In 1979 and 1980, he taught in Essen and fostered a close dialogue with the Berlin and American scenes.

Over seven chapters, The Rebellious Image traces the development of photography in the 1980s in Germany: the show presents the early alternative exhibitions of these young photographers and provides an insight into the formative projects of the first recipients of the Stipendium Für Zeitgenössische Deutsche Fotografie (German Contemporary Photography Award) awarded by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung. It shows how these young photographic artists refined topographic and documentary photography through their work with colour and their deliberate adoption of the anti-aesthetics of amateur photography. The Rebellious Image reflects on the debates and themes of the exhibition Reste Des Authentischen: Deutsche Fotobilder der 80er Jahre (The Remains of Authenticity: German Photography in the 80s). The largest and most ambitious photographic exhibition of this era, it took place in 1986 at the Museum Folkwang. This exhibition brought together representatives of the Berlin Werkstatt für Photographie, graduates of the Essen School and artists from the Rhineland who were united by their postmodern conception of reality. As such, The Rebellious Image presents a different, subjective perspective, which developed parallel to the objectivising style of the Düsseldorf School and their aesthetic of the large-format images.

The exhibition brings together important and rarely exhibited groups of works by former students in Essen such as Gosbert Adler, Volker Heinze, Joachim Brohm, Uschi Blume, Andreas Horlitz and Petra Wittmar. References to the American photography of the time – such as Stephen Shore, Larry Fink, Diane Arbus, Larry Clark or William Eggleston – make the preoccupations of this young scene apparent. In addition, with works by Michael Schmidt, Christa Mayer and Wilmar Koenig, members of the Berlin Werkstatt für Photographie are also represented.”

Press release from Museum Folkwang Essen

 

C/O Berlin is presenting the exhibition Kreuzberg – Amerika from December 10th, 2016 to February 12th, 2017.  The exhibition is part of the project about the Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-1986, in which C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting the history, influences and effects of the legendary Berlin-based photographic institute and its key players in an intercity cooperation.

“We try to help students to recognise or even find their personality, where photography becomes irrelevant with regard to its commercial applicability.” – Michael Schmidt, 1979

Starting in the 1970s, a unique departure in photography took place in Germany. A younger generation in various initiatives quickly established a new infrastructure for a different perspective on photography and consciously defined the medium as an independent art form – to this very day. The Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography), founded in Berlin by Michael Schmidt in 1976, is one of these innovative models and as an institution was completely unique. That’s because it offered an openly accessible cultural production and intensified adult education beyond academic hurdles and without access limitations. A special artistic approach emerged from the unconventional dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between technical mediation and substantive critique as well as on the basis of documentary approaches. Its special access to reality defined styles for a long time. The Werkstatt für Photographie reached the international level through exhibitions, workshops and courses and established itself as an important location for the transatlantic photographic dialog between Kreuzberg, Germany and America. A unique and pioneering achievement!

In the beginning of the Werkstatt für Photographie, a strict documentary perspective prevailed that was based on the neutral aesthetic of the work of Michael Schmidt and concentrated on the blunt representation of everyday life and reality in a radical denial of common photographic norms. He and the young photographer scene later experimented with new forms of documentary that emphasised the subjective view of the author. They discovered colour as an artistic form of expression and developed an independent, artistic authorship with largely unconventional perspectives.

The Werkstatt für Photographie offered anyone who was interested a free space to develop their artistic talents. In addition to its open, international and communicative character, it was also a successful model for self-empowerment that at the same time was characterised by paradoxes. That‘s because the vocational school set in the local community developed into a lively international network of contemporary photographers. The students were not trained photographers but rather self-taught artists and as such had a freer understanding of the medium than their professional counterparts. Moreover, the majority of teachers had no educational training but were all active in the context of adult education. At that time, there were also no curators for photography in Germany but the Werkstatt für Photographie were already independently hosting exhibitions alternating between unknown and renowned photographers…

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Werkstatt für Photographie, C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting a joint exhibition project, which for the first time portrays the history, influences and effects of this institution and its key players divided between three stages. Furthermore, the three stages outline the situation of a changing medium, which focuses on independent, artistic authorship encouraged by consciousness of American photography. As such, they’re designing a lively and multi-perspective presentation of photography in the 1970s and 1980s that adds an additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School.

Text from the C/O Berlin website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andreas Gursky. 'Düsseldorf, Terrace' 1980

 

Andreas Gursky
Düsseldorf, Terrace
1980
C-Print
43.2 x 49.4 cm
© Andreas Gursky, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Courtesy of the artist + Sprüth Magers

 

Joachim Brohm. 'Revierpark Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen' (Parking area Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen) 1982

 

Joachim Brohm
Revierpark Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen
Parking area Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen
1982
From the series Ruhr, 1980-83
C-Print
22.2 x 27.2 cm
© Joachim Brohm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

Reining in the picture
Joachim Brohm

Born in Dülken, Brohm studied at the Gesamthochschule, Essen and was one of the few photographers who used colour photography in the late 1970s. In his series Ruhr he tries to create a new view of the Ruhr area through the occasional recording of urban space. Brohm’s approach coincides with the claim of the then current “New Topographics” to capture the social reality in the direct environment in a documentary style. In the German-speaking photo landscape here he took a leading role.

 

Larry Fink New. 'York Magazine Party, New York City, October 1977'

 

Larry Fink
New York Magazine Party, New York City, October 1977
1977
From the series Social Graces
1984 © Larry Fink

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

William Eggleston. 'Whitehaven, Mississippi' 1972

 

William Eggleston
Whitehaven, Mississippi
1972
© William Eggleston, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Gosbert Adler from the series 'Ohne Titel' 1982-83

 

Gosbert Adler
from the series Ohne Titel
1982-83
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

 

William Eggleston. 'Memphis' 1970

 

William Eggleston
Memphis
1970
Dye-Transfer
33.5 x 51.5 cm
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis

 

Wilmar Koenig. 'Floating Chair' 1984

 

Wilmar Koenig
Floating Chair
1984
From the series Die Wege (The Ways)
C-Print
162 x 126.8 cm
Courtesy Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
© Wilmar Koenig

 

 

“The working-class district of Kreuzberg at the end of the 1970s on the outer edge of West Berlin – and yet the lively center of a unique transatlantic cultural exchange. In the midst of the Cold War, the newly founded Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) located near Checkpoint Charlie started an artistic “air lift” in the direction of the USA, a democratic field of experimentation beyond traditional education and political and institutional standards. A special artistic approach emerged from a dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between conceptual approaches and documentary narrations, between technical mediation and substantive critique and altered the styles of many photographers over time thanks to its direct access to their reality. The Werkstatt für Photographie reached the highest international standing with its intensive mediation work through exhibitions, workshops, lectures, image reviews, discussions and specialized courses.

In 1976, the Berlin-based photographer Michael Schmidt founded the Werkstatt für Photographie at the adult education center in Kreuzberg. Its course orientation with a focus on a substantive examination of contemporary photography was unique and quickly lead to a profound understanding of the medium as an independent art form. When the institution was closed in 1986, it fell into obscurity.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Werkstatt für Photographie, C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting a joint exhibition project, which for the first time portrays the history, influences and effects of this institution and its key players divided between three stages. Furthermore, the three stages outline the situation of a changing medium, which focuses on independent, artistic authorship encouraged by consciousness of American photography. As such, they’re designing a lively and multi-perspective presentation of photography in the 1970s and 1980s that adds an additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School.

C/O Berlin is addressing the history of the Werkstatt für Photographie in its contribution entitled Kreuzberg – Amerika (December 10, 2016 – February 12, 2017). Within the context of adult education, a unique forum for contemporary photography emerged. A special focus is placed on the exhibitions of the American photographers that were often presented in the workshop for the first time and had an enormous effect on the development of artistic photography in Germany. The exhibition combines the works of faculty, students and guests into a transatlantic dialogue.

The Museum Folkwang in Essen is exploring the reflection of the general change of those years in its own Folkwang history with its work entitled The Rebellious Image (December 9, 2016 – February 19, 2017). After the death of the influential photography teacher Otto Steinerts in 1978, a completely open and productive situation of uncertainty reigned. Essen became more and more of a bridgehead for the exchange with Berlin and a point of crystallization for early contemporary photography in the Federal Republic. Along with Michael Schmidt, who made provocative points during his time as a lecturer at the GHS Essen, Ute Eskildsen counted among the key players at Museum Folkwang as a curator. Early photography based in Essen addressed urbanity and youth culture, discovered color as a mode of artistic expression, asked questions following new documentarian approaches, authentic images and attitudes and contrasted the objective distance of the Düsseldorf School with a research-based and subjective view.

The Sprengel Museum Hannover complements both exhibitions with a perspective in which the focus rests on publications, institutions and exhibitions that encouraged the transatlantic exchange starting in the mid 1960s. Using outstanding examples And Suddenly this Expanse (December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017) tells of the development of the infrastructure that laid the foundation for and accompanied the context of the documentarian approach. The photo magazine Camera also takes on an equally central role as the founding of the first German photo galleries such as Galerie Wilde in Cologne, Lichttropfen in Aachen, Galerie Nagel in Berlin and the Spectrum Photogalerie initiative in Hanover. The documenta 6 from 1977 and the photo magazines that emerged in the 1970s, particularly Camera Austria, have separate chapters devoted to them.

Werkstatt für Photographie 1976 – 1986
A cooperation between C/O Berlin, Museum Folkwang, Essen, and Sprengel Museum Hannover

Sprengel Museum Hannover
And Suddenly this Expanse
December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017
www.sprengel-museum.de

C/O Berlin
Kreuzberg – Amerika
Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
December 10, 2016 – February 12, 2017
www.co-berlin.org

Text from the Museum Folkwang Essen website

 

Larry Clark. 'Untitled' 1971

 

Larry Clark
Untitled
1971
From the series Tulsa
Silver gelatin print
© Larry Clark, Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

From the exhibition at  C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th Dezember 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

'Camera Nr. 8, August 1970' 1970

 

Camera Nr. 8, August 1970
1970
C. J. Bucher Verlag Luzern, Schweiz,
Title: John Gossage, Kodak TRI-X
Sprengel Museum Hannover

From the exhibition at Sprengel Museum Hannover And Suddenly this Expanse
December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017

 

Gosbert Adler. 'Untitled' 1982

 

Gosbert Adler
Untitled
1982
C-Print
38.4 x 29 cm
© Gosbert Adler
© VG-Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Heinze. 'Bill Eggleston' 1985

 

Volker Heinze
Bill Eggleston
1985
C-Print
85 x 62 cm
© Volker Heinze

 

Christa Mayer. 'Untitled' 1983

 

Christa Mayer
Untitled
1983
From the series Porträts aus einer psychatrischen Langzeitstation/Porträts auf einer Station für psychisch Kranke (Portraits from a long term psychiatric facility)
Gelatin silver print
28.3 x 28.1 cm
© Christa Mayer, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

From the exhibition at  C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th Dezember 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

 

Museum Folkwang
Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen

Opening hours:
Tue, Wed 10am – 6pm
Thur, Fri 10am – 8pm
Sat, Sun 10am – 6pm
Mon closed

Museum Folkwang website

C/O Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 22-24, 10623 Berlin

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am – 8 pm

C/O Berlin website

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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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25
May
09

Exhibition: ‘Thomas Ruff. Surfaces, Depths’ at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 21st May – 13th September 2009

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Interieur 2D (Tegernsee)' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Interieur 2D (Tegernsee)
1982
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

An exhibition of the work of the renowned photographer Thomas Ruff that concentrates on his new Cassini and Zycles series. His clinical photographs with their catatonic rigidity promote stupor in the viewer. The viewer becomes complicit in a platonic relationship (of forms) with the non-reality presented by the camera, directed by Ruff’s ironic, surgical gaze. Ruff corrupts and disturbs traditional binaries of presence/absence, truth/reality, surfaces/depths to challenge the very basis of seeing, the very basis of photography’s link to indexicality and presence in a contemporary digital world, something that William Eggleston seems to have lost the art of doing (please see the previous post).

As Maurice Blanchot has observed,

“The image has nothing to do with signification, meaning, as implied by the existence of the world, the effort of truth, the law and the brightness of the day. Not only is the image of an object not the meaning of that object and of no help in comprehending it, but it tends to withdraw it from its meaning by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance that it has nothing to resemble.”1

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There is no single truth; there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.2 In the splitting apart of image and meaning there is a crisis in control: it becomes illusory and is marked by doubt.

In Ruff’s photographs the relationship between image and context, between cause and effect becomes further layered until the very act of seeing is no longer framed or presupposed through relations of distance or perspective.3 Ruff’s photographs become a struggle of and for positionality in the physical, mental and emotional conflicts evidenced in the viewer as we look, askance? with a paradoxical intent? at these unemotional images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Blanchot, Maurice. The Gaze of Orpheus. New York: Barrytown, 1981, p. 85
  2. Townsend, Chris. Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p. 10
  3. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138

 

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Zycles 3048' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Zycles 3048
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK Wien, 2009

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Zycles 3045' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Zycles 3045
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK Wien, 2009

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 01' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 01
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Cassini 06' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 06
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 08' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 08
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 03' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 03
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

 

“Yet Ruff has always treated the medium of photography with skepticism: for him, the photographic surface is a thin foil which tricks the viewer with its illusion of extreme realism and at the same time reveals the fundamental impossibility of experiencing the world in our digital age. Ruff’s images seem emphatically to deny photography’s main attribute – that is, the offer of a reliable record of reality. Instead, through his mute images devoid of all emotion, Ruff presents us with a contemporary subjectivity defined by amnesia.”

Text from the Castello di Rivoli website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (A. Siekmann)' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (A. Siekmann)
1987
Chromogenic print
210 x 165 cm (82 11/16 x 64 15/16 in.)
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

During the late 1980s Ruff photographed his fellow students at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, combining the typological mode of his teacher Bernd Becher with the serial progressions and primary structures of Minimalism. The large scale and technical perfection of Ruff’s portraits refer to both the museum and the street – to billboards and heroic painting – while elevating the anonymous sitter to the stature and visibility of a public figure. Instead of presuming to depict the transcendent, individual essence of the sitter, however, Ruff’s portraits deliberately assume the neutrality of the mug shot, physiognomic study, and identity card, and, by extension, the entire brightly lit world of surveillance in which his subjects were raised. The age and milieu of his sitters are crucial to the pictures’ meaning: these young media-savvy people are not threatened by the camera eye but adjust themselves comfortably yet firmly to its probing vision. The results are both seductive and subtly disquieting, like studying a human specimen whose every pore and hair is available for careful study, yet whose thoughts and feelings are always just out of reach.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (A. Kachold)' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (A. Kachold)
1987
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (S. Weirauch)' 1988

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (S. Weirauch)
1988
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

“The reality in front of the camera is reality of the first degree, the representation of the reality in front of the camera is reality of the second degree, and then come any number of possible gradations and distortions.”

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Thomas Ruff

 

“To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.”

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Teilhard de Chardin, “Seeing” 1947

 

 

The work of Thomas Ruff, who numbers among today’s most important photographers, focuses our attention on such diverse everyday subjects as people, architecture, the universe, and the Internet. With its extensive solo presentation with a total of about 150 exhibits from 11 groups of works, Kunsthalle Wien offers a first comprehensive survey of the artist’s manifold oeuvre in Austria.

Thomas Ruff studied at the Dusseldorf Academy of Arts, graduating as a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher besides Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, and Thomas Struth, all of them celebrating an international career these days. The photographer strikes us as a sharp and concentrated observer of his motifs. To him, objectivity is nothing neutral though, but has to be redefined with each new photograph. The series of large-scale portraits which Ruff started working on in 1986 and for which he became known internationally, for example, fascinates us because of the determined detachment with which he captured his models that were mostly acquainted with him. This approach makes for a hyper-precise, chirurgic gaze reproducing everything down to the last detail as equivalent. It also demonstrates the degree of the artist’s interest in the history of photography, how critically he considers its subject, and the skeptical attitude he sometimes adopts toward the medium.

From his stereoscopic views of the urban development myth of Brasilia and his apparently anti-essayistic architectural photographs of buildings by Herzog & de Meuron, which are based on instructions, to his digital processing of images of the planet Saturn available free of charge on the NASA website, the artist explores the concepts of the exemplary, of objectivity, of reality, and of zeitgeist. Based on half of his about twenty thematic groups of works created so far, the exhibition examines the concept pair surface/depth, which seems to be quite simple at first sight, but reveals itself as strongly discursive on closer inspection, and focuses the attention on formal aspects one comes upon again and again in his entire oeuvre.

Right in time for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Thomas Ruff presents works from his most recent series Cassini – subtly manipulated pictures of Saturn and its moons taken by the Cassini spacecraft. It was the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who opened a window to the skies with his telescope 400 years ago. He thus revolutionised man’s image of himself in regard to the universe, but also his understanding of and his way of dealing with the concepts of nearness and distance, surface and depth.

Thomas Ruff. Surfaces, Depths conveys what these concepts, translated into pictures, do to the viewer on a phenomenological level and how they challenge him. The curves of Ruff’s zycles, distorted into the three-dimensional sphere, unfold the sensory experience of roaming virtual depths only reserved to the human eye. Yet, gazing at the represented motifs also elucidates the artist’s contentual objective of providing a critical comment on the various possibilities of the photographic apparatus to depict and manipulate reality.”

Press release from the Kunsthalle Wien website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff numbers among today’s most important photographers, his oeuvre encompassing such diverse subject areas as people, architecture, the universe, and the Internet. With its extensive solo exhibition presenting a total of about 150 works, the Kunsthalle Wien offers the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s manifold production in Austria.

Thomas Ruff strikes us as a sharp and concentrated observer rendering his motifs with a hyper-precise, chirurgic gaze. To him, the objective representation of reality is no neutral process, but something questioned with each new photograph. Running through the exhibition like a thread is the apparent pair of opposites of surface and depth and its highly variable manifestations. Next to his series of large-format portraits from the 1980s, for which Ruff received international acclaim, and his architectural photographs of buildings by Herzog & de Meuron, which are based on instructions, the show focuses on his most recent cassini and zycles series. Digitally processing images of the planet Saturn and its moons from the NASA website, the artist explores the notions of the exemplary, of reality, and of zeitgeist. Also depicting the pair of concepts surfaces/depths, the seemingly three-dimensional curves of Ruff’s zycles unfold the sensory experience of roaming virtual depths reserved to the human eye alone.

Text from the Kunsthalle Wien website

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Herzog & de Meuron, Ricola Mulhouse' 1994

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Herzog & de Meuron, Ricola Mulhouse
1994
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff. 'House Nr. 11 III' 1990

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
House Nr. 11 III
1990
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

“Thomas Ruff first became known through his portraits of houses and factory buildings, as well as the night sky, portrayed in a natural and objective manner. Ruff photographed the buildings either in strict frontality or at right angles to one another, always paying attention to regular sharpness and neutral lighting, and from the same standpoint. With his controversially discussed nudes of erotic, sometimes pornographic scenes from the Internet, which he projected onto unsharp large formats, he expanded the borders of photography in 1999. Since then, his Internet blow-ups with clearly emphasised pixel structures have been regarded as his ‘trademark’. Thomas Ruff started concerning himself with the medium of the image at the very beginning of his artistic career. In addition to self-produced analogue and digital photographs, he worked from the basis of existing pictures. He liked working with unspectacular, historically typical motifs and elaborated the images on the computer, whereby he was particularly interested in the technical side of photography. Often, a new group of works would start with the choice of a specific technique, for example, the night sky pictures from 1992 to 1995 which were made with the help of a camera and a night vision enhancer. Since the night vision enhancer is a visual instrument developed for the Gulf War, this series is a subliminal play on the medial dimension created by this war.

After digitally creating the Substrat series of 2002 abstract, psychedelic colour images from Manga comics, he began his latest zycles series, in which he worked with far more complexly abstract dimensions. These consisted of large-format inkjet prints on canvas that already created a furore at this year’s Art Unlimited in Basel. It is hard to believe that these compositions, which consisted of curved lines and were spread all over the image, originated in mathematics, or more precisely, in antiquated 19th century books on electro-magnetism that portrayed magnetic fields on copperplates. Thomas Ruff was particularly interested in translating these drawings into three-dimensional space. For this he used a 3D computer programme that translated mathematic formulas into complex, three-dimensional linear structures. Ruff recorded different detailed views from these virtually produced linear structures. The weave of lines developed in front of an open space of unspecified depth, sometimes filigree, sometimes accentuated. Their dynamics are reminiscent of the lines of magnetic fields, but also of informal line drawings. Either way, they invite the viewers to play with their own perceptions.”

Text by Dominique von Burg; translation: Maureen Oberli-Turner from the Mai 36 Galerie website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Jpeg icbm05' 2007

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Jpeg icbm05
2007
Chromogenic print

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Jpeg rl104' 2007

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Jpeg rl104
2007
Chromogenic print

 

 

Kunsthalle Wien
Museumsplatz 1
A-1070 Vienna

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 7 pm
Thursdays 11 am – 9 pm

Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich website

Kunsthalle Wien website

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26
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Francis Bacon’ at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd February – 19th April 2009

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych inspired by T.S. Eliot's 'Sweeney Agonistes'' 1967

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Triptych inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’
1967
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm (each)
Washington, D.C. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1972

 

 

Looks like an amazing exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work, one of my favourite artists – I wish I could see it!

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Many thankx to the Museo Nacional del Prado for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The exhibition is constructed in different sections

  • Animal
  • Zone
  • Apprehension
  • Crucifixion
  • Crisis
  • Archive
  • Portrait
  • Memorial
  • Epic
  • Late

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Bacon’s work demonstrates marked similarities to that of many of the Spanish artists he admired. (Manuela Mena, co-curator of the exhibition at the Prado, has written an excellent essay on this topic that can be found in the exhibition’s catalog.) The retrospective at the Prado provides a rare opportunity to compare Bacon to some of the Spanish masters that influenced him.

Start by meandering through the vast Bacon exhibition. Spread between two floors of the new wing of the Prado, the exhibition has brought together Bacon’s most important works from nearly his entire artistic production. It begins with the work that put Bacon on the map, “Three Studies for Figures at the Foot of a Crucifixion” (1944), and follows his work through the interpretations of Velázquez, crucifixion triptychs, his unique portraits and the late works through the years shortly before his death.

Text from the Prado website

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion' c. 1944

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
c. 1944
Oil on board
94 x 73.7 cm
London, Tate, presented by Eric Hall 1953

 

 

Animal

A philosophical attitude to human nature first emerges in Francis Bacon’s works of the 1940s. They reflect his belief that, without God, humans are subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust and fear as any other animal. He showed Figure in a Landscape and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in April 1945, and exhibited consistently thereafter. The bestial depiction of the human figure was combined with specific references to recent history and especially the devastating events of the Second World War. Bacon often drew his inspiration from reproductions, acquiring a large collection of books, catalogues and magazines. He repeatedly studied key images in order to probe beneath the surface appearance captured in photographs. Early concerns that would persist throughout his work include the male nude, which reveals the frailty of the human figure, and the scream or cry that expresses repressed and violent anxieties. These works are among the first in which he sought to balance psychological insights with the physical identity of flesh and paint.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X' 1953

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X
1953
Oil on canvas
153 x 118 cm
Des Moines, Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Arts Center, purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust

 

 

Zone

In his paintings from the early 1950s, Bacon engaged in complex experiments with pictorial space. He started to depict specific details in the backgrounds of these works and created a nuanced interaction between subject and setting. Figures are boxed into cage-like structures, delineated ‘space-frames’ and hexagonal ground planes, confining them within a tense psychological zone. In 1952 he described this as “opening up areas of feeling rather than merely an illustration of an object”. Through his technique of ‘shuttering’ with vertical lines of paint that merge the foreground and background, Bacon held the figure and the setting together within the picture surface, with neither taking precedence in what he called “an attempt to lift the image outside of its natural environment”.

A theme that emerged in the 1950s was the extended series of variants of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 (Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj), a work Bacon knew only from illustrations. He used this source to expose the insecurities of the powerful – represented most often in the scream of the caged figure. Through the open mouth Bacon exposed the tension between the interior space of the body and the spaces of its location, which is explored more explicitly in the vulnerability of the ape-like nudes.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Chimpanzee' 1955

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Chimpanzee
1955
Oil on canvas
152.5 x 117 cm
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie

 

 

Apprehension

Implicit throughout Bacon’s work of the mid 1950s is a sense of dread pervading the brutality of everyday life. Not only a result of Cold War anxiety, this seems to have reflected a sense of menace at a personal level emanating from Bacon’s chaotic affair with Peter Lacy (who was prone to drunken violence) and the wider pressures associated with the continuing illegality of homosexuality. The Man in Blue series captures this atmosphere, concentrating on a single anonymous male figure in a dark suit sitting at a table or bar counter on a deep blue-black ground. Within their simple painted frames, these awkwardly posed figures appear pathetically isolated.

Bacon’s interest in situations that combine banality with acute apprehension was also evident in other contemporary works. From figures of anxious authority, his popes took on malevolent attributes and physical distortions that were directly echoed in the paintings of animals, whose actions are also both sinister and undignified. Some of these images derived from Bacon’s close scrutiny of the sequential photographs of animals and humans taken by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), which he called “a dictionary” of the body in motion.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Three Studies for a Crucifixion' 1962

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Three Studies for a Crucifixion
1962
Oil on canvas
198.2 x 144.8 cm
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

 

 

Crucifixion

Bacon made paintings related to the Crucifixion at pivotal moments in his career, which is why these key works are gathered here. The paradox of an atheist choosing a subject laden with Christian significance was not lost on Bacon, but he claimed, “as a non-believer, it was just an act of man’s behaviour”. Here the instincts of brutality and fear combine with a deep fascination with the ritual of sacrifice. Bacon had already made a very individual crucifixion image in 1933 before returning to the subject with his break-through triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944. This is a key precursor to later themes and compositions, containing the bestial distortion of human figures within the triptych format. These monstrous creatures displace the traditional saints and Bacon later related them to the Eumenides – the vengeful furies in Greek mythology. In resuming the theme in the 1960s, especially in 1962 as the culmination of his first Tate exhibition, Bacon used references to Cimabue’s 1272-1274 Crucifixion to introduce a more explicitly violent vision. Speaking after completing the third triptych in 1965 he simply stated: “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses”.

 

 

Francis Bacon. 'Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)
1961
Oil on canvas
198 x 142 cm
The Hague, Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

 

 

Crisis

Between 1956 and 1961, Bacon travelled widely. He spent time in places marginal to the art world, in Monaco, the South of France and Africa, and particularly with Peter Lacy in the ex-patriot community in Tangier. In this rather unsettled context, he explored new methods of production, shifting to thicker paint, violently applied and so strong in colour as to indicate an engagement with the light of North Africa. This was most extreme in his series based on a self-portrait of Van Gogh, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888, destroyed), which became an emblem of the modern predicament. Despite initial acclaim, Bacon’s Van Gogh works were soon criticised for their “reckless energy” and came to be viewed as an aberration. They can now be recognised as pivotal to Bacon’s further development, however, and allow glimpses into his search for new ways of working. His innovations were perhaps in response to American Abstract Expressionism, of which he was publicly critical. Although he eventually returned to a more controlled approach to painting, the introduction of chance and the new vibrancy of colour at this moment would remain through out his career.

 

Archive

The posthumous investigation of Bacon’s studio confirmed the extent to which he used and manipulated photographic imagery. This practice was already known from montages recorded in 1950 by the critic Sam Hunter. Often united by a theme of violence, the material ranges between images of conflict, big game, athletes, film stills and works of art.

An important revelation that followed the artist’s death was the discovery of lists of potential subjects and preparatory drawings, which Bacon had denied making. Throughout his life, he asserted the spontaneous nature of his work, but these materials reveal that chance was underpinned by planning.

Photography offered Bacon a dictionary of poses. Though he most frequently referred to Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) survey of human and animal locomotion, images of which he combined with the figures of Michelangelo, he remained alert to photographs of the body in a variety of positions.

A further extension of Bacon’s preparatory practices can be seen in his commissioning of photographs of his circle of friends from the photographer John Deakin (1912-1972). The results – together with self-portraits, photo booth strips, and his own photographs – became important prompts in his shift from generic representations of the human body to portrayals of specific individuals.

 

A matrix of images

Bacon’s use of photographic sources has been known since 1950 when the critic Sam Hunter took three photographs of material he had selected from a table in Bacon’s studio in Cromwell Place, South Kensington. Hunter observed that the diverse imagery was linked by violence, and this fascination continued throughout Bacon’s life. Images of Nazis and the North African wars of the 1950s were prominent in his large collection of sources. Films stills and reproductions of works of art, including Bacon’s own, were also common. The dismantling of Bacon’s later studio, nearby at Reece Mews, after his death confirmed that the amassing of photographic material had remained an obsession. While some images were used to generate paintings, he also seems to have collected such an archive for its own sake.

 

The mediated image

From the 1960s, Bacon’s accumulation of chance images began to include a more deliberate strategy of using photographs of his close circle. They became key images for the development of the portraits that dominated his paintings at this time. Snap shots and photo booth strips were augmented by the unflinching photographs taken by his friend John Deakin. Bacon specifically commissioned some of these from Deakin as records of those close to him – notably his partner from 1962, George Dyer – and they served as sources for likenesses and for poses for the rest of his career.

 

The Physical Body

Bacon drew more from Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of human and animal locomotion than from any other source. These isolated the naked figure in a way he clearly found stimulating. He also, however, spoke of projecting on to them Michelangelo’s figures which for him had more “ampleness” and “grandeur of form”.

His fascination in photography’s freezing of the body in motion led him to collect sports photographs, particularly boxing, cricket and bullfighting. It was not just movement but the physicality of the body that Bacon scrutinised, using found images to provoke new ways of picturing its strength and vulnerability.

 

 

Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho' 1967

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho
1967
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

 

 

Portrait

During the 1960s, the larger part of Bacon’s work shifted focus to portraits and paintings of his close friends. These works centre on two broad concerns: the portrayal of the human condition and the struggle to reinvent portraiture. Bacon drew upon the lessons of Van Gogh and Velázquez, but attempted to rework their projects for a post-photographic world. His approach was to distort appearance in order to reach a deeper truth about his subjects. To this end, Bacon’s models can be seen performing different roles. In the Lying Figures series, Henrietta Moraes is naked and exposed. This unprecedented raw sexuality reinforces Bacon’s understanding of the human body simply as meat. By contrast Isabel Rawsthorne, a fellow painter, always appears in control of how she is presented. With a mixture of contempt and affection, Bacon depicted George Dyer, his lover and most frequent model, as fragile and pathetic. This is especially evident in Dyer’s first appearance in Bacon’s work, in Three Figures in a Room, in which he represents the absurdities, indignities and pathos of human existence. Everyday objects occasionally feature in these works, hollow props for lonely individuals which reinforce the sense of isolation that Bacon associated with the human condition.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych - August 1972' 1972

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Triptych – August 1972
1972
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm
London, Tate

 

 

Memorial

This room is dedicated to George Dyer who was Bacon’s most important and constant companion and model from the autumn of 1963. He committed suicide on 24 October 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon’s major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Influenced by loss and guilt, the painter made a number of pictures in memorial to Dyer. From this period onwards the large-scale triptych was his established means for major statements, having the advantage of simultaneously isolating and juxtaposing the participating figures, as well as guarding against narrative qualities that Bacon strove to avoid. But while evading narrative, Bacon drew more than ever from literary imagery; the first of the sequence, Triptych In Memory of George Dyer 1971, refers to a specific section of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). In addition to his own memory, for Triptych – August 1972 Bacon relied on photographs, taken by John Deakin, of Dyer in various poses on a chair. He confined his dense and energetic application of paint to the figures in these works. The dark openings consciously evoke the abyss of mortality that would become a recurring concern in Bacon’s later works.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych' 1987

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Triptych
1987
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm
London, The Estate of Francis Bacon, courtesy Faggionato Fine Art

 

 

Epic

References to poetry and drama became a central element in Bacon’s work from the second half of the 1960s. Alongside images of friends and single figures (often self-portraits), he produced a series of grand works that identified with great literature. Imbued with the inevitability and constant presence of death, the poetry of T.S. Eliot was a particular source of inspiration. The sentiments of the poet’s character Sweeney could be said to echo the painter’s perspective on life:

Birth, and copulation, and death.

That’s all the facts when you come to

brass tacks:

Birth, and copulation, and death.

The works in this room refer to and derive from literature. Some make direct references in their titles, others depict, sometimes abstractly, a certain scene or atmosphere within the narratives themselves. Bacon repeatedly stated that none of his paintings were intended as narratives, so rather than illustrations, these works should perhaps be understood as evoking the experience of reading of Eliot’s poetry or Aeschylus’s tragedies: their violence, threat or erotic charge. Thus, of the triptych created after reading Aeschylus, Bacon explained “I tried to create images of the sensations that some of the episodes created inside me”.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of John Edwards' 1988

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Portrait of John Edwards
1988
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm
The Estate of Francis Bacon, courtesy of Faggionato Fine Arts, London, and Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York

 

 

Late

When Bacon turned seventy in 1979, more than a decade of work lay ahead of him. Neither his legendarily hedonistic lifestyle nor his work pattern seemed to age him, but he was continually facing up to mortality through the deaths of those around him. This unswerving confrontation, however mitigated by youthful companions such as John Edwards, became the great theme of his late style. Constantly stimulated by new source material – for example the photographs and the poetry of Federico García Lorca which triggered his bullfight paintings – he was able to adapt them to his abiding concerns with the vulnerability of flesh. Exploring new techniques he also extended his fascination with how appropriate oil paint is for rendering the human body’s sensuality and sensitivity. A certain despairing energy may also be felt in the forceful throwing of paint that dominates some of these final works: the controlled chance as a defiant gesture. Ultimately, and appropriately, Bacon’s last triptych of 1991 returns to the key image of sexual struggle that had frequently recurred in his work. He faced death with a defiant concentration on the exquisiteness of the lived moment.

 

 

Museo Nacional Del Prado
Paseo del Prado, s/n,
28014 Madrid, Spain

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 8pm
Sunday 10am – 7pm

Museo Nacional del Prado website

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25
Feb
09

Exhibition: ‘Biografías’ by Óscar Muñoz at Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 14th June 2009

 

Óscar Muñoz. 'Biografías' 2002 installation view

Óscar Muñoz. 'Biografías' 2002 installation view

 

Óscar Muñoz
Biografías (installation views)
2002
5 video projections, 7 ‘, loop, without sound, DVD, mdf support, metal grids, variable dimensions

 

 

“How can one construe a notion of time in this immemorial setting? How can one assimilate and articulate in one’s memory all these events that have been happening for so many years now?”

“My work today … is based on my endeavour to understand the mechanism developed by a society which has ultimately suffered the routinisation of war… A past, a present and in all likelihood a future full of violent events on a daily basis, which are stubbornly repeated, in a practically identical fashion.”

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Óscar Muñoz

 

 

Óscar Muñoz is something of a gentle magician. His ‘disappearing’ drawings are poignant and beautiful, combining consummate skill with conceptual subtlety and rigour.

Muñoz is a senior Colombian artist. He plays an important role in mentoring younger artists but his own work is very focused on a personal language that is closely tied to the body and its disappearance. His work has always combined traditional drawing skills with video in a completely original and surprising way.

Although Muñoz is not assertively political, his work is more about mortality than specific acts of violence but it is impossible not to look at it in the context of Colombian life. A common technique for social control has become the ‘disappearing’ of people. The work shown in this exhibition, Biografías 2002 is structured to reflect this pervasive theme of disappearance.

Biografías is one of a series of works in which portraits slowly disappear, reflecting the disappearance of people on a regular basis in Colombia. Muñoz has made silk screen portraits of people but instead of forcing ink through the screen onto paper he has dusted fine coal dust through the screen onto a flat basin of water. The portrait in coal is then transferred to float on the surface of the water. After a while the water starts to drain out of a plug hole in the basin causing the image to begin to distort. Eventually the image is compressed becomes unrecognisable and finally disappears down the drain.

Five such portraits are shown in Biografías by projecting video of the performed drawings onto screens on the floor complete with plug holes beneath which you hear the sound of water running down the drain.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 22/02/2009 (no longer online)

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Many thankx to Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

Óscar Muñoz. 'Biografías' 2002 installation view

Óscar Muñoz. 'Biografías' 2002 installation view

Óscar Muñoz. 'Biografías' 2002 installation view

 

Óscar Muñoz
Biografías (installation views)
2002
5 video projections, 7 ‘, loop, without sound, DVD, mdf support, metal grids, variable dimensions

 

 

Óscar Muñoz Biografías

The work refers to the idea of death, disappearance and transience of memory, linked to acts of violence.

Muñoz is also known for his use of ephemeral materials, in poetic reflections upon memory and mortality.

 

 

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Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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