Posts Tagged ‘still life

07
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Unsettled Lens’ at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 14th May 2017

 

Not a great selection of media images… I would have liked to have seen more photographs from what is an interesting premise for an exhibition: the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown.

The three haunting – to haunt, to be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind) – images by Wyn Bullock are my favourites in the posting.

Marcus

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

 

 

Since the early twentieth-century, photographers have crafted images that hinge on the idea of the uncanny, a psychological phenomenon existing, according to psychoanalysis, at the intersection between the reassuring and the threatening, the familiar and the new. The photographs in this exhibition build subtle tensions based on the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown. By converting nature into unrecognisable abstract impressions of reality, by intruding on moments of intimacy, by weaving enigmatic narratives, and by challenging notions of time and memory, these images elicit unsettling sensations and challenge our intellectual mastery of the new. This exhibition showcases new acquisitions in photography and photographs from the permanent collection, stretching from the early twentieth-century to the year 2000.

 

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York' 1904, printed 1981

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York
1904, printed 1981
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

William A. Garnett. 'Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California' 1954

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928) 'Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado' 1955, printed 1980

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928)
Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado
1955, printed 1980
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Raymond W. Merritt

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Navigation Without Numbers' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Navigation Without Numbers
1957
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

In “Navigation Without Numbers,” photographer Wynn Bullock comments on life’s dualities and contradictions through imagery and textures: the soft, inviting bed and the rough, rugged walls; the bond of mother and child, and the exhaustion and isolation of motherhood; and the illuminated bodies set against the surrounding darkness. The book on the right shelf is a 1956 guide on how to pilot a ship without using mathematics. Its title, Navigation Without Numbers, recalls the hardship and confusion of navigating through the dark, disorienting waters of early motherhood.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Child in Forest' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child in Forest
1951
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Child on Forest Road' 1958, printed 1973

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child on Forest Road
1958, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

“Child on Forest Road,” which features the artist’s daughter, brings together a series of dualities or oppositions in a single image: ancient forest and young child, soft flesh and rough wood, darkness and light, safe haven and vulnerability, communion with nature and seclusion. In so doing, Bullock reflects on his own attempt to relate to nature and to the strange world implied by Einstein’s newly theorized structure of the universe.

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006) 'In the Box - Horizontal' 1962

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006)
In the Box – Horizontal
1962
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) 'Untitled [dead bird and sand]' 1967

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (dead bird and sand)
1967
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Balzac, The Open Sky - 11 P.M.' 1908

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Balzac, The Open Sky – 11 P.M.
1908
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

 

Edward Steichen, who shared similar artistic ambitions with Symbolist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, presented Rodin’s Balzac as barely decipherable and as an ominous silhouette in the shadows. In Steichen’s photograph, Balzac is a pensive man contemplating human nature and tragedy, a “Christ walking in the desert,” as Rodin himself admiringly described it. Both Rodin and Steichen chose Balzac as their subject due to the French writer’s similar interest in psychological introspection.

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939) 'Untitled (Woman with statue)' 1974, printed 1981

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
Untitled (Woman with statue)
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Carol and Ray Merritt

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006) 'Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA' 1974

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA
1974
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002) 'Barbed Wire and Tree' 1987

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002)
Barbed Wire and Tree
1987
Platinum print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. Jack Coleman

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951) 'Untitled (Web 2)' 1988

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951)
Untitled (Web 2)
1988
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

 

In “Untitled,” New York sculptor and photographer Zeke Berman sets up a still life in the Dutch tradition – the artist presents a plane in foreshortened perspective, sumptuous fabric, and carefully balanced objects – only to dismantle it, and reduce it to a semi-abandoned stage. Spider webs act as memento mori (visual reminders of the finitude of life), while the objects, seemingly unrelated to each other and peculiarly positioned, function as deliberately enigmatic signs.

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960) 'Roof of the Ruskin Plant' 1992

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960)
Roof of the Ruskin Plant
1992
Chromogenic print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

 

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday: noon – 5 pm
Closed: Monday and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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02
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st July – 8th November 2015

 

A scintillating exhibition at NGV International which showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Exhibition design is outstanding (particularly the floor tiling), as are the Da Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Flemish still life. Among my favourites is a small Watteau Savoyard with a Marmot (1716) which is absolutely still, delicate and exquisite: I thought of the photographs of Atget, his street sellers, when I saw this painting; and Frans Snyders’ tour-de-force Concert of birds (1630-40) which has such presence.

Well done to the curators, the Hermitage Museum and the NGV for staging such a magnificent exhibition.

Marcus

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

All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

 

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Featuring works by artists including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck, the exhibition offers a dazzling array of works including the finest group of Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia.

This exclusive Melbourne exhibition will also highlight the innovation and vision of Catherine the Great, whose inexhaustible passion for education, the arts and culture heralded a period of enlightenment in the region. The extraordinary works sourced and commissioned by Catherine during her thirty-four year reign, created the foundations for the Hermitage today – considered to be one of the world’s greatest treasure houses of art and decorative arts. The exhibition will offer audiences an immersive experience, recreating the rich atmosphere of the Hermitage to showcase these exquisite works.

German-born Catherine the Great (Catherine II) came to power in 1762, aged thirty-three, and ruled Russia for the next thirty-four years, until her death in 1796. She saw herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, she modernised Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from Antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe. A fluent speaker of Russian, French and German, Catherine was largely self-educated, independent, idealistic and visionary.

While her reign was not always peaceful, Catherine sought to bring order, stability and prosperity to the vast Russian Empire. Her ideals of abolishing serfdom and ensuring the equality of all citizens under the law were ahead of her time, and strongly resisted by the nobility of the day; however, she achieved numerous other reforms, including the introduction of paper money and modernisation of Russia’s education system. French philosopher Denis Diderot, who visited St Petersburg in 1773, described an audience with Catherine as being ‘more like study than anything else: she is a stranger to no subject; there is no man in the Empire who knows her nation as well as she’.

 

Room 1 Catherine the collector

Between 1762 and 1796, the years of her reign, Catherine the Great oversaw a period of cultural renaissance in Russia. The world of ideas in which she was deeply involved from an early age found tangible expression in the material world the Empress later created around herself. The great complexes of imperial buildings Catherine constructed reflected her informed interest in both Classical and Chinese culture.

Catherine not only assembled a collection of Old Master paintings equal in scale and quality to leading European collections, but also paid considerable attention to the acquisition of contemporary art. While the richness and technical perfection of her diverse collections of decorative arts aimed to dazzle and please, they also had the more practical purpose of raising standards of artistic production in Russia. The fact that more than 400 exemplary works of art from her personal collection, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, porcelain, silver and precious gems, are seen here for the first time in Australia is cause for celebration.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-93) Portrait of Catherine II 1776-77

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Sèvres Cameo Service

The Sèvres Cameo Service relates to Catherine’s great passion for collecting engraved gemstones. Comprising 797 individual pieces designed to serve dinner, dessert and coffee to sixty people, the Cameo Service was commissioned from the celebrated Sèvres porcelain manufactory outside Paris as a present for Catherine’s court ‘favourite’, Prince Grigory Potemkin. The Empress’s monogram, ‘E II’ (the Russian version of her name being Ekaterina), woven from garlands of flowers and surmounted by a crown, adorned almost every object in the service.

Production of the service was both time consuming and labour-intensive. The exquisite blue element alone – made from separate layers of copper enamel that gradually seeped into the porcelain and set the pure colour – required five firings. In addition to the hundreds of porcelain objects decorated with painted and sculpted cameos and related silverware, the service also included grand central table decorations fashioned from biscuit, or unglazed cream-coloured porcelain, by the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot. These decorations illustrated tales from Greek mythology, and were presided over by a grand biscuit statue of Catherine the Great as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Exhibition passageway

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

Room 2 Italian art

When Catherine the Great began collecting European art, opportunities to acquire fine Italian Old Master paintings were already severely limited. Demand from wealthy collectors was high and the marketplace was saturated with misattributed works, some of which inevitably made their way to the Hermitage and other great collections.

Despite this, Catherine achieved great success collecting sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings, particularly from Venice, including great paintings by Titian, Paris Bordone and the enigmatic Lorenzo Lotto. These are complemented by fine examples of Roman and Florentine paintings, such as the famous Female nude (Donna nuda), by an artist very close to Leonardo da Vinci. This select group of paintings beautifully illustrate developments in figurative art, portraiture and religious art in Italy from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

In the early years of her reign, Catherine the Great acquired en masse several large collections of drawings representing all the main European schools. This set the foundations for the current Hermitage Museum’s outstanding Cabinet of Drawings. In terms of quality, Catherine’s acquisitions of Italian drawings were of the highest standard. The majority of these date from the mid sixteenth to late eighteenth centuries and include many rare and precious works.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) Portrait of an actor 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623)
Portrait of an actor
1620s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Domenico Fetti was court painter to Gerdinand II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, when he made this striking portrait of an actor. It is though to be Tristano Martinelli who made his fame working in the commedia dell’arte tradition. It is believe that Marinelli created and popularised the standard roll of the Harlequin in theatre. Fetti himself was involved with the theatre in both Mantua and Venice.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) Portrait of a lady with a boy Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71)
Portrait of a lady with a boy
Mid 1530s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This work by Venetian artist Paris Bordone is a typical example of formal Renaissance portraiture. Bordone’s main aim was to show the high social standing of the sitters, so he painted their luxurious costumes in great detail. He draws our attention to the sumptuous sleeves of this woman’s dress, he headgear resembling a turban, as well as her opulent jewellery. Bordone was one of Titian’s most talented pupils whose work is characterised by a level of precision not often present in his master’s work. This painting entered the Hermitage as a work by Giorgione.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) 'Portrait of a young man' 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) Portrait of a young man 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine 1529-30

 

Portrait of a young man by the Venetian master Domenico Capriolo captures the intellectual values of Renaissance art. Everything that surrounds this youth speaks of his interests, such as the church that indicates his piety; the statue of Venus that reveals his passion for Antiquity; and the folder (containing verses or drawings) that illustrates the richness of his inner world. The painting is dated 1512 and the artist’s name symbolised by a medallion containing a Capreolus, or deer, which is a play on his name. Such allusions were common in Renaissance art and would have been readily understood by his contemporaries.

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556)
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine
1529-30
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Lorenzo Lotto is a much admired sixteenth-century Venetian artist. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine has the typical dynamism of Lotto’s work, achieved not only through the poses, gestures and movement of the foliage, but also through his intense colour palette and the juxtaposition of resonant blues with red and yellow tones. Here, the Holy Family has been joined by Saint Justine of Padua, martyred in 304 AD, identifiable through her attribute of a sword piercing her breast. Justine was a very popular subject for artists of Northern Italy.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) Female nude (Donna Nuda) Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of)
Female nude (Donna Nuda)
Early 16th century
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This painting entered the Hermitage collection as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, but is now widely accepted to be by one of his close followers, possibly his pupil Salai. Perhaps more important is that it may be a close copy of a lost painting by Leonardo. Female nude (Donna Nuda) also shares some of the qualities of the famous Mona Lisa c. 1503-19, in the Louvre Museum, Paris; namely the repetition of the pose, the position of the hands and the landscape setting seen behind a stone ledge in front of which the figure is set. This is the most refined of numerous variants of this composition in existence.

 

 

Room 3 Flemish art

In the seventeenth century, Flanders comprised the Catholic-dominated Southern Netherlands or ‘Spanish’ Austrian Netherlands, an area larger than modern Belgium. Thanks in large part to the talents of artist Peter Paul Rubens, the Flanders or ‘Flemish’ school in this era became very prestigious. While chiefly a painter, Rubens had far-reaching stylistic influence on many visual art forms, from prints to silverware and architecture. Every leading artist of seventeenth-century Flanders studied in, passed through or was connected with Rubens’s studio.

A diplomat and court insider, Rubens operated on an international stage. His art was correspondingly monumental; characterised by large forms modelled with loose brushstrokes in glowing, brilliant colours. Rubens’s pupil Anthony van Dyck and collaborator Cornelis de Vos led the way in bringing new naturalism to portraiture. While they catered to different markets (van Dyck to the nobility and de Vos to a rich merchant class) their mutual influence is apparent.

Flanders was a nation built on trade, and Flemish artists travelled widely, especially to Italy. From Italy they brought back new pictorial trends, such as the theatrical naturalism of Caravaggio. Flemish artists excelled in naturalistic effects, which they applied even to traditionally humble subjects, such as still lifes and animal pictures, seen to brilliant effect in the art of Frans Snyders and David Teniers II.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

room-three-installation-e

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640) The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1620 at centre

 

Rubens painted the subject of the Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1) more often than any other episode from Christ’s life. Rendered at life-sized scale, this painting combines the humility of Christ’s birth with splendid, worldly pageantry. Three Kings from the East are shown crowding into Christ’s stable (portrayed as a cave, in an allusion to Christ’s later interment) wearing gold- embroidered silks and satins, and offering gifts. The eldest king, Caspar, kneels before Christ with gold; behind him is Melchior, with frankincense; and Balthazar with myrrh, used for embalming. With the help of his studio, Rubens produced more than sixty altarpieces during his career.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577–1640) 'Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)' c. 1612

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577-1640)
Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)
c. 1612
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero) depicts a story told by the Roman historian Valerius Maximus in his Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX (Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings), written around 30 AD. The story involves Cimon, an old man awaiting execution in prison who was not given food. Cimon’s daughter Pero visited him, and suckled him at her breast like a child. Pero’s nourishing of Cimon was considered an outstanding example of paying honour to one’s parents.

 

 

Room 4 Dutch art

The Hermitage holds the finest collection of Dutch art outside the Netherlands. While Peter the Great (1672-1725) had a passion for Dutch art and acquired some notable masterpieces, Catherine the Great established the depth and breadth of this extraordinary collection, beginning in 1764 with her first acquisitions. In that year Catherine purchased 317 paintings that had been assembled for Frederick II of Prussia by the German merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Among this substantial group were more than 100 Dutch paintings by the most notable masters.

In 1769 Catherine purchased the collection of Count Heinrich von Brühl, which included spectacular landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, Isaack Jansz. van Ostade and Aert van der Neer, as well as four Rembrandt portraits, including the wonderful Portrait of a scholar, 1631. For the rest of her life Catherine continued to add outstanding Dutch works to her rich collection. Although the paintings and drawings from the Dutch school included here are only a fragment of the extensive and diverse collection assembled by Catherine the Great, they reveal her artistic preferences and taste.

 

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 4 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Rembrandt. Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69) Portrait of a scholar 1631 at centre.

 

Rembrandt painted Portrait of a scholar shortly after moving from his native Leiden to Amsterdam in 1630. He had already established a growing reputation in Leiden and was enticed to the capital by the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, father of his future wife Saskia. Once completing the move, Rembrandt rapidly became the city’s leading artist, mainly on account of dazzling portraits such as this early masterpiece. He then secured the most prestigious commissions from wealthy and powerful citizens of Amsterdam.

 

 

Room 5 French taste

The Russian aristocracy spoke French and modelled their manners and style on those of the French Court. Catherine followed the vast intellectual strides of the French philosophes with passionate interest. She also embraced the arts, luring French artists, architects and craftsmen to St Petersburg.

Catherine relied on agents and advisors in France and Germany to identify and acquire works of art on her behalf. In this way she acquired the collection of Paris banker Louis Antoine Crozat, Baron de Thiers and other important bodies of work in France. Her holdings of French art came to encompass works by Renaissance masters as well as seventeenth-century landscapes and history paintings.

Catherine also acquired examples of work of her own century by Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau. The playful, erotic and at times wistful art of Watteau’s generation gave rise to the intimate and worldly art of François Boucher, whose pictures Catherine also purchased. The Empress collected modern masterpieces created in reaction to French courtly and decadent styles. Her paintings by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin are premier examples of a new, moralising directness in ambitious French art.

Catherine’s buying in France was not limited to French art. Also in this room are paintings by great German, Spanish and Italian masters that were acquired in Paris from prestigious collections under the direction of Catherine’s French advisors.

 

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 5 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne.

 

 

Room 6 Catherine and the world

For Catherine the Great, collecting art was part of a wider economic and diplomatic program designed to stimulate economic and cultural activity at home and abroad. At a meeting in December 1762 with the Moscow Senate, Catherine suggested that consuls be stationed in Spain, Holland and England not only to promote maritime trade but also to source luxury goods and works of art as examples for Russian artists and manufacturers to aspire to.

Through Catherine’s consuls and agents, such items began to flow into St Petersburg, steadily elevating that city into a vibrant centre of European culture. While her cultural sympathies were French, Catherine was also very curious about Britain – the economic success story of the age. She informed herself about Britain’s trade, commerce, manufacturing, philosophy and political system, and purchased works by modern British neoclassical masters, such as Joseph Wright of Derby and Joshua Reynolds. Examples of Spanish, Italian and German art were often not sourced in their own countries of origin but acquired as a part of larger collections.

 

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 6 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with the 1773 sculpture Catherine II by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741-1826) at centre.

 

 

Room 7 The Walpole collection

In 1779 Catherine the Great acquired 198 paintings from a celebrated collection formed by Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, Britain’s first prime minister. They were bought from the family estate, Houghton Hall, and sold by Walpole’s grandson, George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford, who approached the Russian ambassador to Britain directly about the sale. At more than £40,000, the price was high, but the transaction was concluded in only two months. Attempts were made to keep this famous collection in Britain, to no avail.

The Walpole collection was outstanding in quality, and significantly enhanced the Hermitage’s range of Flemish and Italian works. The Russian ambassador to Great Britain, Alexey Musin-Pushkin, who organised the valuable purchase, wrote to Catherine the Great: ‘The greater part of the nobility here are displaying general dissatisfaction and regret that these paintings are being allowed out of this country, and are setting in train various projects to keep them here … No little assistance comes from Lord Orford’s zealous desire to unite [the collection for] the gallery of Your Imperial Majesty, rather than to sell it to parliament itself or, least of all, to divide it through sale to different individuals’.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Concert of birds, 1630-40 at right and Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) Cook at a kitchen table with dead game, c. 1636-37 second left
Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

An important place in Flemish seventeenth-century painting is occupied by two specific genres: animal painting and the still life. One of the most important animal and still-life painters was Frans Snyders, a very close collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens who often painted still-life details and animals on the master’s canvases. Snyders’s superb skill as a painter of animals is revealed by Concert of birds, based on a subject from Aesop’s Fables. It shows a gathering of feathered creatures screeching and singing under the direction of an owl seated on a dried branch in front of an open music score.

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds (detail)
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) 'Cook at a kitchen table with dead game' c. 1636-37 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68)
Cook at a kitchen table with dead game (detail)
c. 1636-37
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Frans Snyders was the son of the owner of one of Antwerp’s largest wine and eating houses. His dramatically realistic still lifes celebrate the exotic variety of rare fowls available at Antwerp’s markets. Images of dead animals being prepared for a banquet were understood in Snyder’s time as lessons in Christian morality. Many Dutch and Flemish still lifes featuring the sacrifice of an animal for the table functioned as allusions to Christ’s Passion and the transience of the flesh.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with, at left in the bottom image, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641) Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton, 1640

 

This is one of the most charming portraits of children paint by van Dyck, who had particular talent for such works. It is one of a group of family portraits commissioned from can Dyck by Philip, Lord Wharton in the late 1630s. Van Dyck worked in England for approximately ten ears and brought a new standard of elegance and style to English portraiture. He largely conveyed this through his flair for painting lavish costumes and sumptuous fabrics, a sensibility he carried through to his portraits of children.

 

 

Room 8 China

Eighteenth-century Enlightenment fascination with the East, particularly China, is reflected by Catherine the Great’s architectural and landscaping works completed in St Petersburg and at her summer and winter palaces, as well as by her collecting of Oriental curiosities and philosophical texts. Russian interest in China can be traced to the reign of the Romanov tsars in the seventeenth century, when several missions brought back Chinese treasures and goods to the Russian Court. Importantly, in 1689 the first treaty between Russia and China was signed at Nerchinsk, outlining the border between the countries and rules about caravan trade.

Like many educated people of her time, Catherine was fascinated by the concept of the enlightened ruler thought to be found in China, such as the Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662-1722), Yongzhèng Emperor (reigned 1723-35), and Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736-95). One of her regular and most influential correspondents was French philosopher Voltaire, who praised the Celestial Kingdom, its monarchs and men of wisdom; only in China, he thought, was a man’s life, honour and property truly protected by law. Such a clear link between Catherine’s desire for justice and order in Russia and general perceptions of good Chinese government, combined with the Enlightenment fashion for curiosities of all kinds, led to great Russian interest in China in the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 8 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours for exhibition
10am – 5pm daily

NGV Masterpieces from the Hermitage website

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05
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Chris Round / Inversion’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd – 26th July 2014

 

My apologies to Chris Round that I did not get this posting up during the short run of the exhibition. It was a bit of a crowded time with the exhibition Out of the closets and Nite Art on.

The work, shown in the small black gallery at Edmund Pearce, had great presence and beauty. The backgrounds had a luminous pastel affect, much more so than in the reproductions shown here. The objects seemed to float off the paper. This is experimental work for Round (vis a vis his landscape practice) but the influences for the work can be seen in the two landscape photographs that I have included here.

I really enjoyed the beauty, serenity and context of these metaphorical landscapes.

Marcus

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

 

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #5' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #5
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #4' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #4
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Nowra, NSW' 2013

 

Chris Round
Nowra, NSW
2013
Archival inkjet print
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #2' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #2
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #1' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #3
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Ulladulla harbour, NSW' 2012

 

Chris Round
Ulladulla harbour, NSW
2012
Archival inkjet print
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #1' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #1
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

 

Inversion marks a departure from my normal landscape based work and in to experimental still life. This series is an investigation into form and visual illusion using functional, mass-produced objects. By removing context – using a reflective surface that’s not immediately apparent and at times changing colours – I’m interrogating the duality of the real and the imagined, the prosaic and the beautiful. I’m also exploring the physicality of depth and space, re-evaluating both utilitarian aesthetic and function simultaneously.

Text by the artist on the Edmund Pearce website

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #6' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #6
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #7' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #7
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #8' 2014

 

 

Chris Round
Inversion #8
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

 

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000
T: (03) 9023 5775

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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30
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013’ at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12t June – 6th July 2013

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“They’re thoughtful pictures that arouse curiosity rather than desire.”

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Robert Nelson

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A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie. It seems churlish to repeat writing about the themes and mythologies exhibited in the work after they have been so excellently delineated in the catalogue essay by Dan Rule. Everything that you need to know about the work is in that concise piece of writing.

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

Marcus

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

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Birth of Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Birth of Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 133cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Birdfingers' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Birdfingers
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Beauty and Artifice

Catalogue Essay by Dan Rule

“There’s a particular acuteness to the various strands, cues and counterpoints informing Petrina Hicks’ by now extensive body of work. Her highly keyed brand of hyperrealism is at once incisive in tenor and rich in historical, referential and allegorical depth.

An obvious vantage has long been that of the advertised image. Hicks’ subjects, palette and props are enveloped in a slickened and stunningly sickening sheen that is all too familiar. Augmented, buffed and polished, her works are traces of the highly aestheticised and fetishistic images that proliferate throughout the popular visual language. The skin, hair, clothing, surface and light assume an all but unsettling patina. The index is set askew amid the insidious markers of style and desire.

But Hicks’ highly constructed images aren’t mere transgressions of what has become a gleaming vernacular form. Every encroachment into the frame, every flat, luridly coloured backdrop has an implication and a consequence. In previous works, she has broached creation mythologies; she has recast religious subplots and in gloss and saccharine. Her 2011 series Hippy and the Snake – which comprised a painstakingly realised 25-minute video work alongside a collection of large-scale photographs – might have been read as a flirtation with Eve’s dalliance with the serpent in a re-imagined Garden of Eden.

Sex, birth and death also lurk amid Hicks’ latest series of images, presented as the central strand of her Selected Photographs exhibition. Set against a muted, neutral backdrop, these large-format photographs broach both the portrait and the still life, teasing out a taxonomy of sensuous allegories and sinister omens. In the somewhat aptly titled Bird Fingers, a young girl intently studies her fingertips, each of which is adorned with a tiny bird’s skull, as if a finger puppet or a jewel. That the girl’s expression is neither one of fear nor admiration – but rather, a measured intrigue – gives this work a fascinating twist. Her reaction to death is unlearned; she studies and surveys and pieces together the evidence. Another work, The Hand That Feeds, sees another young protagonist calmly offering her palm to a crow – an avian so often cast with the pall of death.

Venus, meanwhile, sees a woman hold a glossy, pink conch shell – fleshy and open – before her face as if a beacon. The accompanying Birth of Venus is a still life comprising a conflation of symbologies and references. An overfilled champagne glass perches beside the aforementioned shell, a string of pearls draped across and within its span. It delves deep into both art and socio-feminist history. While the pearl has long invoked purity and femininity throughout mythology, the conch engenders that of fertility. But these works also echo with a more contemporary resonance – one perhaps found in second-wave feminism. While the champagne might be read as an allusion to upward mobility and financial independence, the string pearls almost resemble birth control pills (perhaps an allegory for the emancipation of the female reproductive organs?). In New Age, a jagged crystal takes the place of pubic hair, resting hard and sharp against the softness and fragility of the flesh. This symbol for healing only works to amplify the vulnerability of the body. That Hicks’ engages with such themes in 2013 points to the folly of complacency. The notion that we can sleep in the wake of  feminism is bogus, null and void.

Indeed, Hicks’ retrieval and reinterpretation of mythologies and social precedents suggests that history repeats. While her images of children suggest minds unsullied by the scourge of learned prejudices and social mores, Venus and her like describe the continuum of the sexualised male gaze. That Hicks’ co-opts a visual language so often used to hock products and desires serves as the ultimate repost. Human complexity can continue to exist, even amid the cycle and the cynicism of the commercial artifice.”

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Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

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Installation views of Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Hand That Feeds' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Hand That Feeds
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Beauty of History' 2010

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Petrina Hicks
The Beauty of History
2010
Pigment print, Edition of 8
85 x 85cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'New Age' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
New Age
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Helen Gory Galerie
25, St. Edmonds Road,
Prahran, Vic 3181

Opening hours:
Wed – Fri 11 – 5pm
Sat 10 – 4pm

Helen Gory Galerie website

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18
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 31st January – 26th May 2013

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“I like it when one is not certain of what one sees.
We don’t know why the photographer has taken such a picture.
If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”

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“It is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it.”

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“After the age of 75 you should not be photographed.
You should be painted by Rembrandt or Hals, but not by Caravaggio.”

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Saul Leiter

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How brave is this photographer, occluding most of the colour image in darkness, something that had never been done before and has rarely been seen since. Look at the last three photographs in this posting to understand what I mean.

Considering that Saul Leiter’s colour photography predates William Eggleston and Stephen Shore by a couple of decades, it can truly be said that he is one of the early masters of colour photography. As the curator Ingo Taubhorn comments, “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography.”  Well said.

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

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Saul Leiter. 'From the El' c. 1955

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Saul Leiter
From the El
c. 1955
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Nude' 1970s

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Saul Leiter
Nude
1970s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' c. 1957

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Saul Leiter
Taxi
c. 1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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KUNST HAUS WIEN is devoting a major retrospective to the oeuvre of the 89-year-old photographer and painter Saul Leiter. The exhibition, which was developed in cooperation with House of Photography / Deichtorhallen Hamburg, presents the wide range of this versatile artist’s works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, fashion images, painted photographs of nudes, paintings and a number of his sketchbooks. One section of the exhibition is devoted to Saul Leiter’s most recent photographs, which he continues to take on the streets of New York’s East Village.

It is only in the last few years that Saul Leiter has received due recognition for his role as one of the pioneers of colour photography. As early as 1946, and thus well before the representatives of the so-called “new colour” photography in the 1970s, such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, he was one of the first to use colour photography for artistic shots, despite its being frowned upon by other artists of the day. “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography,” comments curator Ingo Taubhorn.

Saul Leiter has always considered himself both a painter and a photographer. In his painting and in his photographs he clearly tends towards abstraction and two-dimensionality. One often finds large deep-black areas, produced by shadows, taking up as much as three quarters of his photographs. Passers-by are not presented as individuals, but as blurred clouds of colour, filtered through misty panes of glass or wedged in between walls of buildings and traffic signs. The boundaries between the abstract and the representational in his paintings and photographs are virtually fluid. Saul Leiter’s street photography – a genre in which his work is matchless – is, in essence, painting metamorphosed into photography.

In Leiter’s works, the genres of street photography, portraiture, still life, fashion photography and architectural photography coalesce. He finds his motifs, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and – time and again – umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he has now lived for almost 60 years. The indeterminateness of detail, the blurring of movement and reduced depth of field, the use of shadows or deliberate avoidance of the necessary light, as well as the alienation caused by photographing through windows or as reflections, all combine to create the muted colour vocabulary of a semi-real, semiabstract urban space. These are the works of an as yet almost undiscovered modern master of colour photography.

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About Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter discovered his passion for art at an early age and started painting as a teenager at the end of the 1940s. His family did not support him in his artistic endeavours; his father, a renowned Talmudic rabbi and scholar, had always hoped his son Saul would one day follow him in the family tradition and become a rabbi. Leiter was self-taught, but by no means uneducated. He read and learned a great deal about art, so that his knowledge and understanding constantly grew. In this way, he made sure that his own ideas and artistic works were duly related to the historical context.

In 1946, shortly after he had moved to New York, Leiter became acquainted with Richard Poussette-Dart, who introduced him to photography, a medium that appealed to Leiter very much and that he quickly made his own. Leiter soon resolved to use photography not only as a means of making art but as a way of earning a living. He started taking fashion photographs, and thanks to his good eye, his playful sense of humour, and his pronounced sense of elegance, swiftly emerged as an extraordinary fashion photographer. In the 1950s, “Life” magazine published photo spreads of Saul Leiter’s first black-and-white series. He took part in exhibitions, for example “Always the Young Strangers” (1953) curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. From 1958 to 1967, Leiter worked for “Harper’s Bazaar.” Altogether he spent some 20 years photographing for various classic magazines as well as more recent ones: after “Esquire” and “Harper’s” he also worked for “Show”, “Elle”, “British Vogue”, “Queen” and “Nova”.

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Saul Leiter. 'New York' 1950s

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Saul Leiter
New York
1950s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Sign Painter' 1954

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Saul Leiter
Sign Painter
1954
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Graffiti Heads' 1950

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Saul Leiter
Graffiti Heads
1950
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Shirt' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Shirt
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Harlem' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Harlem
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Hat' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Hat
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Street Scene' 1957

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Saul Leiter
Street Scene
1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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The exhibition chapters

Abstract Painting

Although his photographic oeuvre has dominated his image as an artist, Saul Leiter sees himself first and foremost as a painter. He began his artistic career as a painter, and while working as a photographer he never stopped painting and drawing. Leiter’s passion for art began when he was just a child, even though his ambitions received no support from his family. As a teenager he spent many hours in libraries studying art books. He found inspiration in the paintings of such artists as Vermeer, Bonnard, Vuillard and Picasso, as well as in Japanese graphic art. Leiter, who was self-taught, painted his first pictures in 1940. Most of them were lyrical, abstract compositions that reflected his admiration for the new American avant-garde. His ardent feeling for colour is recognisable even in these early paintings, as is his lifelong predilection for painting small format pastels and watercolours on paper.

After moving to New York in 1946, he sometimes presented his works together with abstract expressionist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. His studio was located on 10th Street in the East Village, which at that time was a neighbourhood very popular with avant-garde artists. Leiter shared these artists’ interest in abstraction and the use of colour, gesture and the element of chance, but he chose a radically different format for his works. Whereas many of his contemporaries, such as Jasper Johns or Franz Kline, painted wall-sized paintings that physically filled the beholder’s entire field of vision, Leiter worked in an intimate, small format. His works were also exhibited at the Tanager Gallery, one of the most important artist-run cooperatives in the East Village at that time. After switching the main focus of his work to photography in the late 1940s, however, Leiter stopped exhibiting his paintings.

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Figurative Painting

Saul Leiter’s abstract painting frequently unites qualities of intimacy and familiarity with a sense of space reminiscent of an open landscape. Occasionally he also makes figurative sketches. Often these give mere intimations of a face or a body, perhaps a pointed nose, eyes and a mouth. Some of his male figures wear hats, similar to those worn by the religious Jews that peopled Leiter’s world in his youth. Most of these works focus on a single figure; only occasionally do we see a couple, or several figures grouped together. The quality of the line and the subtle suggestion of figures or heads in these paintings are reminiscent of paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, in which facial features are hinted at through lines and fine shadings of color rather than being defined by careful modelling.

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Street Photography

When, in 1947, Saul Leiter attended an exhibition of works by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, he became convinced of the creative potential of this medium. He bought himself a 35mm Leica camera at a bargain and began, without any previous training, to take photographs on the streets of New York. At first he used only black-and-white film, but in 1948 he also started using colour film. His black-and-white photographs exhibit some elements of documentary photography but are nevertheless far removed from a photojournalistic style. Rather, they are subjective observations, often concentrating on a single individual in the big city. Leiter’s complex, multilayered works evoke feelings of alienation, melancholy and tension. Leiter underscores this impression by experimenting with strong contrasts, light and shadow, and asymmetrical compositions containing large areas in which the images are blurred.

Thematically and stylistically, there are great similarities between Leiter’s works and the works of other representatives of New York street photography of the same era, for example Ted Croner, Leon Levinstein, Louis Faurer and later Robert Frank and William Klein, today generally known as the New York School. Their radical new, subjective photography had a psychological component that revealed an unusual sensitivity to social turbulences and the uncertainty felt by many Americans during the years following the Second World War.

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Colour Photography

Until well into the 1970s, colour photography was used almost exclusively for advertising and fashion magazines. Many photographers considered the vivid colours unsuitable for artistic expression. Moreover, they were unable to develop their colour film themselves, which made it a very expensive undertaking. It was not until 1976 that the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave its first exhibition devoted to colour photography, when it presented “Photographs by William Eggleston”.

Saul Leiter was one of the few photographers who did not reject colour photography. As a painter, he took a particular interest in street photography as a genre in which to experiment with colour film. As early as 1948, at the beginning of his career, he bought his first roles of 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film, which had been on the market since 1936. In order to save money, he often used film that had passed its sell-by date. Leiter particularly liked the resulting pictures with their delicate, muted colours.

The innumerable early colour photographs that Leiter took between 1948 and 1960 are of a unique painterly and narrative quality. They stand in contrast to the works of other photographers, in which colour is often the defining element of the composition. This circumstance, coupled with Leiter’s tendency towards abstraction, links Leiter’s photography with his painting. But in contrast to his painting (and his black-and-white photographs), his colour photographs are highly structured. It is the incomparable beauty of these works that has brought Leiter recognition as one of the masters of 20th-century photography.

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Fashion Photography

In the late 1950s, Saul Leiter worked successfully in the fields of fashion photography and advertising. From the very first, his style was unmistakeable. His images were multilayered and complex, characterised by soft, impressionistic qualities and cubist changes of perspective. He was given his first commercial assignment in 1958 by Henry Wolf, at that time the new Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, with whom Leiter became friends. Harper’s Bazaar was one of the leading American fashion magazines, presenting trail-blazing fashion series by photographers such as Richard Avedon or Lillian Bassman.

Subsequently, Leiter was given more and more prestigious assignments, and over the years began to spend almost all his time doing commercial work. Apart from Harper’s Bazaar, his fashion and advertising photos appeared in Elle and Show, in British Vogue and Queen and also in Nova. The amazing thing is that during this period, Leiter managed to retain his own narrative, stylised aesthetic, whereas other fashion photographers favoured a rather brittle, graphic style. In the 1970s, partly due to his own dwindling interest in commercial photography, Leiter received fewer and fewer assignments. In 1981 he gave up his studio on Fifth Avenue and in the following years led a quiet life far from the public eye.

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Saul Leiter. 'Carol Brown, 'Harper's Bazaar'' c. 1958

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Saul Leiter
Carol Brown, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’
c. 1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Soames Bantry, 'Nova'' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Soames Bantry, ‘Nova’
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Walking' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Walking
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Reflection' 1958

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Saul Leiter
Reflection
1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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“I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learnt to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything.”

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Saul Leiter

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Art critic Roberta Smith wrote in 2005: “Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.” (from Lens Culture)

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Saul Leiter. 'Shopping' c. 1953

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Saul Leiter
Shopping
c. 1953
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Kutztown' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Kutztown
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Pizza, Patterson' 1952

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Saul Leiter
Pizza, Patterson
1952
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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17
Jan
11

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Still Life’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 14th September 2010 – 23rd January 2011

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Many thankx to The J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Armand-Pierre Séguier (French, 1803 – 1876)
‘Still Life with Plaster Casts’
1839 – 1842
Daguerreotype 8 x 6 in.
Accession No. 2002.41
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, 1868 – 1949)
‘Glass and Shadows’
1905
Photogravure
Image: 8 3/4 x 6 9/16 in.
Accession No. 84.XP.463.22
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Charles Aubry (French, 1811 – 1877)
[An Arrangement of Tobacco Leaves and Grass]
about 1864
Albumen silver print
Image: 47 x 37.3 cm (18 1/2 x 14 11/16 in.)
Accession No. 84.XP.394
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: Still Life, a survey of some of the innovative ways photographers have explored and refreshed this traditional genre, on view at the Getty Center in the Center for Photographs from September 14, 2010 – January 23, 2011.

“Still life photography has served as both a conventional and an experimental form during periods of significant aesthetic and technological change,” said Paul Martineau, assistant curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “One of our goals for the exhibition was to show how still life photographs can be both traditional and surprising.”

With its roots in antiquity, the term “still life” is derived from the Dutch word stilleven, coined during the 17th century, when painted examples enjoyed immense popularity throughout Europe. The impetus for a new term came as artists created compositions of increasing complexity, bringing together a greater variety of objects to communicate allegorical meanings. Still life featured prominently in the early experiments of the pioneers of the photographic medium and, more than 170 years later, it continues to be a significant motif for contemporary photographers.

Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition includes photographs by Charles Aubry, Henry Bailey, Hans Bellmer, Jo Ann Callis, Sharon Core, Baron Adolf De Meyer, Walker Evans, Roger Fenton, Frederick H. Hollyer, Heinrich Kühn, Sigmar Polke, Man Ray, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Paul Outerbridge, Louis-Rémy Robert, Baron Armand-Pierre Séguier, Paul Strand, Josef Sudek, and Thomas R. Williams.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically and includes a broad range of photographic processes, from daguerreotypes and albumen silver prints made in the 19th century to gelatin silver prints, and cibachrome prints made in the 20th century, to digital prints from the 21st century.

Newly acquired works will be on display for the first time: Still Life with Triangle and Red Eraser (1985) by American Irving Penn, Lorikeet with Green Cloth (2006) by Australian Marian Drew, and Blow Up: Untitled 15 (2007) by Israeli Ori Gersht (Gersht loosely based his Blow Up series on traditional floral still life paintings. His arrangements of flowers are frozen and then detonated. The explosion is captured using synchronized digital cameras, with the fragmentary detritus caught in remarkable detail. 

This diptych (pair) belies the notion of still life as something motionless as it explores the relationships among painting and photography, art and science, and creation and destruction.)

For Bowl with Sugar Cubes, photographer André Kertész created a still life out of a simple bowl, spoon, and sugar cubes, demonstrating the photographer’s interest in the compositional possibilities of layering basic geometric forms on top of one another – three rectangles in a circle (sugar cubes and bowl) and a circle in a square (bowl and the cropped printing paper). A visual sophistication is achieved through his adroit use of simple objects and dramatic lighting.

Other selections from In Focus: Still Life include Edward Weston’s Bananas and Orange, which depicts a symmetrical fan of bananas punctuated by one oddly shaped orange, and Frederick Sommer’s The Anatomy of a Chicken, which uses the discarded parts of a chicken to create a visual commentary. Influenced by Surrealism, Sommer embraced unexpected juxtapositions and literary allusions to express his intellectual and philosophical ideas. In Anatomy of a Chicken, a severed head, three sunken eyes, and eviscerated organs glisten on a white board. Evoking biblical imagery, medieval grotesques, and heraldic emblems, Sommer calls on the viewer to consider the endless cycle of birth and death, the cruel reality of the food chain, and man’s role in this violence.

In Focus: Still Life will be the seventh installation of the ongoing In Focus series of exhibitions, thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection. Previous exhibitions focused on The Nude, The Landscape, The Portrait, Making a Scene (staged photographs), The Worker, and most recently, Tasteful Pictures.”

Press release from The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890 – 1976)
‘Dead Leaf’
1942
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/2 x 7 13/16 in.
Accession No. 84.XM.1000.55
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
[Black Bottle]
negative about 1919; print 1923 – 1939
Gelatin silver, on Cykora paper print
Image (trimmed to mount): 32.7 x 24.8 cm (12 7/8 x 9 3/4 in.)
Sheet: 34.4 x 27.1 cm (13 9/16 x 10 11/16 in.)
Mount (irregular): 35.1 x 27.8 cm (13 13/16 x 10 15/16 in.)
Accession No. 86.XM.686.5.1
Copyright: © Aperture Foundation
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Irving Penn
‘Still Life with Triangle and Red Eraser, New York, 1985’
dye-bleach print
Image: 22¾ x 18 1/8in. (57.8 x 46cm.)
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy, 1905 – 1999)
‘The Anatomy of a Chicken’
1939
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.1 x 19.1 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Accession No. 94.XM.37.96
© Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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“Still life derives from the Dutch word stilleven, coined in the 17th century when paintings of objects enjoyed immense popularity throughout Europe. The impetus for this term came as artists created compositions of greater complexity, bringing together a wider variety of objects to communicate allegorical meanings.

Still life has come to serve, like landscape or portraiture, as a category within art. Although it typically refers to depictions of inanimate things, because it incorporates a vast array of influences from different cultures and periods in history, it has always resisted precise definition.

This exhibition presents some of the innovative ways photographers have explored and refreshed this traditional genre. During the 19th century, still life photographs tended to resemble still life paintings, with similar subjects and arrangements. Beginning in the 20th century, still life photographs have mirrored the subjects and styles that have more broadly concerned photographers in their time.

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A New Medium

Still life featured prominently in the experiments of photography inventors Jacques-Louis-Mandé Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot. They did this in part, for practical reasons: the exceptionally long exposure times of their processes precluded the use of living models.

In the late 1830s, Baron Armand-Pierre Séguier, a close associate of Daguerre, created this elegant daguerreotype that features small-scale copies of famous sculptures in the Louvre and Uffizi museum collections.

In the mid-1800s, Charles Aubry was an accomplished practitioner of still-life photography who came to the medium by way of his professional interest in applied arts and industrial design. After working as a pattern designer for carpets, fabrics, and wallpapers, he formed a company to manufacture plaster casts and make photographs of plants and flowers.

Aubrey’s detailed prints of natural forms – like this close-up of plants on a lace-covered background – were intended to replace lithographs traditionally used by students of industrial design.

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Photography as Art

By the first decade of the 20th century, art photographers like Baron Adolf de Meyer employed soft-focus lenses and painterly darkroom techniques to make photographs that resembled drawings and prints. The vogue at the time was to produce images that reflected a handcrafted approach, while asserting photography as an art medium in its own right.

Here, De Meyer photographed an arrangement of objects through a scrim. The pattern of thin, woven fabric softens the backlit objects and helps replicate the subtle tonal effects prized in etchings and aquatints.

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Modernism

Several decades into the twentieth-century, the American artist Man Ray emerged as a pioneer of two European art movements, Dada and Surrealism, in which the element of surprise figured prominently. This image seems both unusual for Man Ray in its apparent straight-forward approach, but also typical in its somewhat dark emotional tone.

By selecting a dead leaf with a claw-like appearance and photographing it against a wood-grain board, Man Ray updated the concept of memento mori (“remember that you must die”), a motif popular in centuries-old still-life paintings.

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New Directions

In that same vein, the best contemporary still-life photographs recall past styles of art while containing a paradox relevant to today. Contemporary photographer Sharon Core became known for re-creations of painter Wayne Thiebaud’s pop-art dessert tableaux. Her series of still-life compositions, inspired by the 18th-century American painter Raphaelle Peale, followed.

For this series, entitled “Early American,” Core studied the compositional structure of his paintings, replicated the mood of the lighting, and when she couldn’t find the right vegetables and flowers, grew her own from heirloom seeds.

The stilled lives of objects have served so well as both experimental and conventional forms in the past, that still life may well be the anchor that allows photographers to explore new and yet unimagined depths.”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Ori Gersht (Israeli, 1967 – )
‘Blow Up: Untitled 15’
2007
Digital chromogenic prints
Accession No. 2009.46
© Ori Gersht
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Edward Weston (American, 1886 – 1958)
‘Bananas and Orange’
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.9 x 23.7 cm (7 7/16 x 9 5/16 in.)
Accession No. 84.XM.860.4
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894 – 1985)
[Bowl with Sugar Cubes]
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.7 x 16.4 cm (6 9/16 x 6 1/2 in.)
Accession No. 84.XM.193.46
© Estate of André Kertész
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Sharon Core (American)
‘Early American – Still Life with Steak’
2008
Chromogenic print
Image: 17 3/16 x 23 7/16 in.
Accession No. 2009.78
© Sharon Core
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Marian Drew (Australian, born 1960)
‘Lorikeet with Green Cloth’
2006
Digital pigment print
Image: 71.8 x 89.5 cm (28 1/4 x 35 1/4 in.)
Sheet: 73 x 90.2 cm (28 3/4 x 35 1/2 in.)
Accession No. 2009.44
Copyright: © Marian Drew
Object Credit: Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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