“Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil” at the Museum of Modern Art presents the work of the artist who led the development of the modernist movement in Brazil. During the 1920s, Tarsila, as she is widely known in Brazil, developed a distinctive style that was truly Brazilian. MOMA has assembled over 100 works drawn from various collections including some of her landmark paintings to document this development.
Tarsila was born in Capivari, a small town near Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1886. Her family owned coffee plantations. Although it was unusual at that time for girls from affluent families to pursue higher education, Tarsilia was allowed to pursue her interest in art, both in Brazil and in Barcelona, Spain. Her instructors were conservative, academic artists.
In 1920, after the end of her first marriage, Tarsila went to Paris in 1920 to study at the prestigious Academie Julian. Her studies were again in the academic tradition.
Meanwhile, a modern art movement had taken root in Brazil. The landmark Semana de Arte Moderna was a festival that called for an end to academic art. Upon Tarsila's return to Brazil, she discovered modern art became a leader in this movement, one of the five artists and writers in the Grupo dos Cincos.
In 1922, she returned to Paris and studied with several Cubist artists including Ferdinand Leger and Andre Lehote. However, she continued to think in terms of Brazil. She painted “A Negra,” an abstract portrait of an Afro-Brazilian woman.
Returning to Brazil, she embarked upon a tour around the country. The drawings of the countryside and everyday life she made while on this journey served as inspiration for later paintings. Her traveling companion was the writer Oswald de Andrade wrote a manifesto “Pau-Brasil” calling for truly Brazilian culture. She married Andrade in 1926.
Tarsila made another journey to Paris in 1928 where she came into contact with surrealist art. (It should be noted that Tarsila did not live like a starving artist in Paris. A renown beauty from a wealthy family, she lived a lavish lifestyle, mixing with famous personalities, artists, writers and intellectuals).
That same year, she painted “Abaporu” (the man who eats human flesh) as a birthday present for her husband. He used the image for the cover of his “Manifesto of Anthropology,” which called upon artists to cannibalize European culture and other influences in order to create a distinctive Brazilian culture. The painting and the manifesto are considered landmarks in the development of Brazilian culture.
Tarsila's family fortune was all but lost as a result of The New York Stock Exchange crash of 1929 and the following Depression. Her marriage to Andrade ended the following year.
In 1931, Tarsila traveled to Moscow with her new boyfriend, a communist doctor. There she was influenced by Socialist Realism. Her subsequent work was primarily concerned with social issues.
The exhibition at MOMA focuses on the decade beginning with her journey to Paris in 1920. It demonstrates how Tarsila's work evolved incorporating over time elements of Cubism, Brazilian folk art and Surrealism while retaining her own style. Although she was influenced by each of these schools, she did not become part of them.
Hers is a distinctive style: flat two dimensional; populated with simplified, distorted figures and landscapes; often with geometric backgrounds. It is also clearly Brazilian, not only in the choice of subject matter but in the selection of colors. In short, it is what Andrade was calling for - - a synthesis of a number of influences producing a truly Brazilian art.
The exhibit also includes some works after her trip to Russia. “The Workers” (1933) was one of the first paintings in Brazil dealing with social issues. It reflects the influence of Soviet painting both in subject matter and palette. Incorporation of this soulless style was not a happy addition to Tarsila's arsenal. The work does not have the life of her earlier works and the treatment of the subject matter is much like what numerous other artists were doing at the time. However, it does serve to spotlight how special her work was during the preceding decade.
“Power and Grace” at the Morgan Library and Museum is a small exhibition that beings together works on paper by three masters of the Flemish Baroque - - one of art's golden ages. Not only were these three artists contemporaries in Antwerp but they worked together. As seen in their drawings, this relationship clearly influenced their styles.
Peter Paul Ruebens was the preeminent artist of his day. Born in Germany, his family moved to Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands when he was 10 and that city became his base for the rest of his life. The son of a lawyer, his first job at the age of 13 was as a page to a countess but his desire was to become an artist led him to leave this prestigious job. He spent eight years traveling in Italy and Spain studying art. When he returned to Antwerp in 1608, he quickly established himself as a successful artist and was appointed court painter to the archduke and archduchess who governed the Spanish Netherlands on behalf of Spain.
In addition to his artistic talent, Rubens was a skilled diplomat. In this role, he traveled extensively in Europe. One such mission took him to England, where he was knighted by King Charles I. He also secured a commission to paint the ceiling of the Banqueting House in London. Thus, he combined diplomacy and art.
Rubens developed a large studio. Time did not allow him to do all of the commissions that he received from various royal courts, prosperous merchants and the church. As a result, drawing was very important to him, not only in developing ideas but in order to show his numerous assistants and pupils how he wanted his works completed.
Anthony Van Dyck was at one point Rubens' chief assistant. Indeed, the master referred to Van Dyck as the “best of my pupils.” The son or a prosperous silk merchant, Van Dyck was an established painter in his own right by the time he was 15.
Like Rubens, Van Dyck went to Italy to study art. Later, probably using recommendations furnished by Rubens, Van Dyck traveled to England. There, he was knighted and became principal painter to Charles I. Commissions poured in from the English court for portraits. Indeed, our image of Engliand's aristocratic society just prior to the English Civil War comes largely from Van Dyck.
To handle all of his commissions, Van Dyck maintained a studio of assistants. Following in Rubens' footsteps, Van Dyck used drawings to show his staff his visions. Van Dyck would do a sketch and then it was largely left to the assistant to enlarge it and turn it into a finished painting. How much involvement the master had with each work varied from commission to commission.
Like Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens was born in Antwerp to a prosperous merchant family. Unlike Van Dyck and Rubens, Jordaens did not go to Italy to study art. Indeed, throughout his life, he rarely left Antwerp.
Jordeans was nonetheless very influenced by Rubens. At that time, Ruebens was Antwerp's leading artist. On occasion, Rubens would employ Jordeans to enlarge and complete works based upon Rubens' concepts. When Rubens died in 1540, Jordeans became Antwerp's leading painter. (Van Dyck by that time was living in England. Moreover, Van Dyck would die in 1641).
The exhibit at the Morgan brings together approximately 30 works on paper from these three masters. Most of the works are from the Morgan's collection but there are some works loaned from other collections.
Not surprisingly given the relationship between these three artists, there is a great deal of similarity of style. This is perhaps most evident in three studies of male nudes: Rubens' “Seated Male Youth”; Van Dyck's “Study for the Dead Christ”; and Jordeans' “Study of a Male Nude Seen from Behind “ All are works on colored paper using black chalk heightened by white chalk. In each, the muscles are prominent and handled similarly.
There are also examples of preparatory sketches depicting scenes with religious themes. These are interesting for the economy of line that the artists used. Jordeans is the only one who used color but then he began his career using watercolor to create designs for tapestries.
All of these artists did portraits but of the three, portraiture is most associated with Van Dyck. Indeed, Van Dyck can be said to have been the primary influence on English portraiture for centuries after his death. The exhibit presents one of his portrait sketches. It is a preparatory sketch for a painting that he did of the wife of a fellow artist and her daughter. Van Dyck took great care and precision with regard to the woman's clothes and jewelry. However, the face again has an economy of line. There is no modeling. Instead, he uses lines to suggest the features and shadows.
A second portrait highlights the similarity in styles of these artists. “Portrait of a Young Woman” was for centuries attributed to Rubens. However, in the 1980s, that attribution was questioned and now the expert view is that it is one of the few portraits by Jordeans. Certainly, the use of bold lines and contrast is more similar to Jordeans' works elsewhere in the exhibit; Rubens' works are somewhat more vague. In any case, it is one of the most engaging works in the exhibition.
The centerpiece of Norwegian Breakaway's art collection is not hard to find. It is a work by Peter Max which covers 40,000 square feet of the ship's hull. "The artwork is a composite of New York City and cosmic imagery - -the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, a giant sunburst, planets, stars, and musical notes. That's my New York! And now Norwegian Breakaway is my New York cruise ship 'canvas.'" Mr. Max has explained.
Although several of the Norwegian Cruise Line ships that preceded Breakaway had colorful murals painted on their hulls, Breakaway was the first ship to have a mural by a well-known established artist on her hull. Mr. Max rose to prominence in the 1960s with his pop art images that captured the spirit of the psychedelic 60s. From that base, he continued to develop a distinctive colorful style through series involving images of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag as well as celebrity portraits. He has also found commercial success being designated Official Artist of five Super Bowls, six Grammy Awards, World Cup USA, The World Series, the United Nations Earth Summit, and numerous other events. His work has also been reproduced on the cover of the Yellow Pages and on a U.S. Postage stamp.
The Breakaway project was not Mr. Max's first large scale work. Prior to undertaking the project for Norwegian, he had painted a 777 airliner for Continental Airlines and had designed a 600 foot stage for the Woodstock Music Festival.
Of course, Mr. Max did not take a sable-hair brush down to the Manhattan piers and paint the sides of the ship. Rather, he created the design for the work which was then reproduced on the hull of the ship when it was under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany.
Being outdoors, subject to ocean waves and the blasting of salt spray, Mr. Max's mural is in a hostile environment. In order to maintain the work, Breakaway's crew regularly sprays the hull with fresh water to remove the accumulated salt. When the ship is in port, standing on rafts and using long handled rollers, they also re-touch the paint. This work is done by the sailors of Breakaway's deck department.
Mr. Max did not confine his vision to off-the-shelf colors of marine paint. Therefore, Breakaway carries a supply of unique colors needed to maintain the mural.
You also see images by Mr. Max inside the ship. Breakaway devotes a considerable amount of its public space to Park West Galleries, which sells works by Mr. Max as well as works by other artists. Naturally, given the ship's connection to Mr. Max, his works are often featured and on display. However, these works belong to the concessionaire rather than to the ship.
Finding works that belong to the ship is more difficult, The staircases and elevator lobbies where cruise ships often display their art collections are decorated with mirrors and photographic images of travel destinations on Breakaway. There are reproductions and photographs in the various specialty restaurants and bars. However, these are part of the décor of those venues rather than a serious art collection.
But there is an art collection. There is a giant modern chandelier in the atrium that pulses and changes colors in a variety of combinations creating different images and atmospheres. Forward on one of the public decks is an installation with (paper?) butterflies in a cornucopia shape. Also, in the Taste and Savor restaurants are a number of contemporary paintings that appear to be originals. I liked a series of paintings in Taste that look like monochromatic abstractions at first glance but on further study are scenes looking up at the surface of the sea from below. Unfortunately, there is no signage by these works crediting the artists or discussing the works.
It is disappointing that Breakaway does not have any ocean liner art like there is on Norwegian's Jewel class ships. Having owned the SS Norway (formerly SS France) and the SS United States, Norwegian has a strong connection to ocean liner history. But on Breakaway, Norwegian essentially cedes this subject matter to Cunard. Along the same lines, although the line uses the slogan “cruise like a Norwegian,” there is no Norwegian art or design on Breakaway, essentially ceding this area to Viking Cruises. With such a rich heritage, it seems like these are missed opportunities.
Above left: Sailors maintaining the Peter Max mural on Norwegian Breakaway.
Above right: Breakaway's atrium chandelier changes color.
Below left: The butterfly installation.
Below right: A painting in the Taste restaurant.
Visitors to The Bahamas mostly come for its great beaches, snorkeling, shopping and of course, the weather. However, there is also a deeper side to these islands and that ongoing story is being told at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas in Nassau. (See our profile of the NAGB)
The mission of the National Art Gallery is to develop, collect, and promote a national collection of art for the benefit of Bahamians and the international audience. The easy course for a museum with such a mandate to have taken would have been to view it as a license to go out and collect art from all over the world which would then serve as a general educational tool just as a library purchases books from all over the world.
Instead, the museum has chosen to develop and showcase Bahamian art. In doing this, the museum has placed itself in the midst of the conversation about what it means to be Bahamian. Topics such as colonialism, independence, tourism, religion, race, class and immigration are among the many topics dealt with by Bahamian artists. The museum does not impose its own views on these topics but rather lets the artists speak.
To illustrate, one form of art that developed before independence in 1973 is picturesque scenes of the islands' natural beauty and scenes of everyday life. Some in the Bahamian art community criticize such works as presenting a superficial view of the islands and catering to "neo-colonial" exploitation of the Bahamas by the tourist industry. However, this uniquely Bahamian art can be viewed as analogous to the American Hudson River School, which showcased to the world the beauty of the young United States without going into the social and political issues then-facing the young nation. Just as the Hudson River works are recognized as valid and important art so too the Bahamanian picturesque. The National Art Gallery provides a forum for such conversations.
This does not mean that only Bahamians will be interested in the National Art Gallery. By the end of my visit to the museum, I felt that I knew much more about the complexity of the Bahamian people and the issues they face. This added dimension to my visit to these islands. Furthermore, the works were visually appealing.
Because the museum is interested in the full span of Bahamian art, it does not specialize in one particular movement or style of art. During my visit, I saw works that were traditional European style landscapes, contemporary realism, abstract art, folk art, sculpture, conceptual art and works that combined elements of African, European and Caribbean influences.
One element that recurred throughout the exhibitions I saw was strong use of color. Perhaps this is a result of the light in the Bahamas, perhaps it is emotion, perhaps it is tradition, perhaps it is a desire to speak boldly but it does seem to be a unifying element.
I particularly liked the strong use of color in Ricardo Knowles' “Turtle Cliff”, Dorman Stubbs' “Flamingos” and Lynn Pavoritti's “Mangrovia.”
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas is not a store-front operation but rather a first class facility. It is housed in the historic Villa Doyle. Located just down the street from Government House, Villa Doyle was built as a mansion by Sir William Doyle in the 1860s and served as the home of the first Chief Justice of the Bahamas. It was enlarged by Sir Arthur Moore in the 1920s, becoming one of the premier residences of Nassau. After the colonial era ended, it fell into disrepair. However, in a seven year restoration project, it was transformed into an art museum while preserving the exterior architecture. It was a pleasure to stroll around the landscaped grounds and observe the building.
It is particularly commendable for the government and people of the Bahamas to have made such a commitment to art. Few other nations in the greater Caribbean have made such an investment. However, not only does the NAGB provide a vehicle for cultural self-examination by Bahamians but it also lets visitors see that this is a multi-faceted country with great creativity.
“Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents some 200 works by Michelangelo and his contemporaries. It includes 133 of Michelangelo's drawing as well as three of his marble sculptures gathered from 48 museums and private collections. It is a monumental exhibit.
Although Michelangelo considered himself to be primarily a sculptor in marble, he was also a painter and an architect. In this exhibition, we see that the foundation of his art in all of these disciplines was drawing. But more than mere draftsmanship, his drawing reflected a quality of design. The exhibition uses the Italian word disego to capture this concept.
Very few of the works in this exhibition were meant for public display. Rather, they were preparatory drawings made in order to work out ideas that would be used in paintings or sculptures. Others served to illustrate ideas for buildings. Because they were made further back in the creative process, they reveal something of how Michelangelo developed his ideas.
To illustrate how some of the drawings led to finished works, the exhibit has a one quarter size reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel displayed ion the ceiling of one of the galleries. Visitors can look up from Michelangelo's drawing and see how that idea was used in the final masterpiece.
The exhibit also places the drawings in context. For example, the exhibit is open about Michelangelo's love of young men and explains that his “divine heads” were drawings that he did of those men and as presents for them. It also discusses his platonic relationship with the poet Vittoria Colonna and presents the drawings that he did when he came under her influence.
It also looks at his relationship with other artists. To illustrate, Raphael began to achieve success in Rome at a time when Michelangelo was living in Florence. In order to compete with Raphael, Michelangelo fed ideas to the painter Sebastiano.
Michelngelo's powerful marble bust of Brutus is presented along with a Roman statue that inspired Michelangelo and a bust of Julius Caesar made by a contemporary of Michelangelo. This allows us to see the debt that Michelangelo owed to the ancients as well as how his work broke with what was fashionable when Michelangelo created his Brutus.
Michelangelo is one of the best known artists of all time. Yet, this exhibit sheds light on his creative process and career that may not have been generally appreciated before.
Holland America Line is one of the cruise lines known for investing in art for its ships. The line attracts well-educated passengers who appreciate culture and a sophisticated atmosphere. Consistent with this, the Holland America ships feature museum quality art collections.
The art is not presented as in a museum or a gallery. Although there are plaques next to each work giving information about the artists and the work, the works mix in with the overall décor of the ships' public areas.
Recently, I sailed on Holland America's Oosterdam. As discussed below, that ship's collection can be divided into three categories.
First, the ship has quite a few works by contemporary artists. Chief among these is a series of maritime paintings by Stephen Card. On each landing of the ship's forward staircase is a large oil on canvas depicting ships that have sailed for Holland America line. The style is traditional and understated. Although accurate, these are not mechanical drawings but rather scenes of the ships in various locations under various weather conditions. They evoke the spirit of the sea and invite the viewer to enter into the scene. Card is clearly the leading contemporary maritime painter.
Holland America has an arrangement under which musicians are supplied to Holland America's ships by the late BB King's organization. Just outside where the BB King All-Stars play on Oosterdam are a series of sketches by Wil van der Laan depicting Mr. King and other musicians. The style here is free and loose capturing visually the energy of the musical performances.
The second category in the Oosterdam's collection are contemporary works inspired by or done in styles of the past. For example on the landings of the midships stairway are a series of large medallions by Lebigre & Roger that are essentially enlargements of coins issued by the Dutch East India Company between 1600 and 1800. The same artists also created a set of traditional bronze Commedia dell' Arte figures, which are also in Oosterdam's collection.
Each of the Holland America ships has a large maritime painting done in traditional Dutch style. On Oosterdam, this monumental work is an oil on aluminum called “Maritime Relations” by Cees Muller. It depicts a Baroque era city with numerous sailing ships in the waters surrounding the city.
The final category of works is antiques. Most of these works are European sculptures. Although by lesser
known (or unknown) artists, these works are of good quality and help to create a more refined atmosphere aboard the ship. I particularly liked the charming small marble bust of a woman by Henri Weigele from 19th century France.
Several people have asked me to explain what I mean by “essential line drawing” as used on this website and in various postings that I have made on social media.
Essential line drawing is a term that I use to describe a type of drawing that I have been doing for many years now. I doubt that it is in any art dictionary but it is a handy way of describing this type of drawing.
Distilled to its essence, essential line drawing seeks to produce an image with the minimum number of lines that are needed to convey the concept that the artist is trying to express. For example, in a portrait, the image would be the minimum number of lines needed to convey the essence of the sitter. In a scene, it could be to the lines needed to express the emotions of the moment.
This is not meant to be an academic exercise. The objectives are simplicity and clarity. You are putting aside what is non-essential in order to allow that is essential to show through more clearly.
There are examples of essential line drawing in the works of many famous artists. Papblo Picasso and Henri Matisse did essential line drawings. More recently, you can find examples in the works of Peter Max. Each of these artists had their own approach but the basic concept is the same.
The end result often sits on the border between realism and abstraction. You can tell what the image is but it is far from being a photographic image.
From a techncal perspective, the biggest difficulty often is doing too much. If you put in too many lines, it becomes a standard line drawing. More importantly, they obscure the concept. Again, the objectives are simplicity and clarity.
This is not to say that the essential line approach is the only way to produce art. It is simply one approach that I use.
There are examples of essential line portraits and essential line figure drawings on Beyondships Art.
Rodin At The Met is a salute to the sculptor Auguste Rodin on the 100th anniversary of his death. It is an entirely fitting tribute as the then-young museum was a supporter of this artist during his lifetime to the extent of opening a gallery dedicated to his work in 1912. Rodin showed his appreciation by giving the Met additional works. This exhibit of some 50 works includes not only the works that the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired during the artist's lifetime but also works that it has collected subsequently.
Auguste Rodin was from a working class family that lived in Paris. He received his basic training in art at the Petit Ecole. However, he was refused admission to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the leading art academy in France. Although this forced Rodin onto a much more difficult road to success, he also avoided indoctrination into the lifeless Neo-classical style that was the trademark of that school.
Instead, Rodin slowly built his own style along with his reputation, first as an apprentice to other artists and then on his own. One turning point was his visit to Italy in 1876 during which he was very impressed by the sculptures of Michelangelo.
Even after he achieved fame, Rodin's style was not what people expected. There is story after story of how individuals and public authorities commissioned works only to be shocked by Rodin's final product. Those that were rejected are now recognized as some of the greatest works of 19th century art.
Rodin found fame in the United States after some of his works were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Here again, some of his works were found so shocking that they were exhibited behind a curtain in an area that required special permission to enter. However, private collectors and museums were soon purchasing his works.
The Met has casts of several of Rodin's best known pieces including The Thinker, the companion sculptures Adam and Eve, the Age of Bronze and a study for the Monument to Balzac. Rodin modeled his sculptures in clay. Plaster casts were then made to preserve the sculpture. From these, bronze casts were made or marble carved often by studio assistants. This explains why the same work can appear in multiple museums.
There is a discernible difference between Rodin's bronzes and marbles. You can see the power of the sculptor's fingers working the underlying clay in the bronzes. The marbles tend to be less distinct, smoother and gauzier, almost dream-like.
In either case, you can clearly see Rodin's works were a clear break from the allegorical figures and gods and goddess so popular at the time. While some have titles that relate back to mythology or the bible, these works are of real people with real emotion.
A particularly fascinating part of this exhibit is Rodin's works on paper. In addition to sculpture, Rodin also did watercolors and drawings. Some of these were in preparation for sculptures but mostly they were another means of communication. It is said that Rodin would draw without removing the pen from the paper and without taking his eyes off the model. The results were images that border on abstraction and which are full of emotion.
Along with Rodin's works, the Met has hung examples of works done by his friends. One such friend was Claude Monet who also was leading a revolution in art in 19th century France. The two artists held a joint exhibition in 1889. These contemporary works help to place Rodin's works in context
Major exhibitions of drawings seem to be proliferating. In recent weeks, I have reviewed such exhibits at the Morgan Library and Museum, the National Portrait Gallery in London and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This attention is well-deserved because as the Met correctly says “drawing is the foundation of all the visual arts.”
“Leonardo to Matisse” is a survey of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. It is done through works from such masters as Leonardo, Rembrandt, Duerer, Tiepolo, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Matisse. Moreover, because it is done utilizing works from the collection of one person, viewing the exhibit is a conversation with one connoisseur about art.
The works on exhibit are from the Met's Robert Lehman Collection. Robert Lehman graduated from Yale University in 1913 and by 1925 he was the head of the family-business, the investment banking house Lehman Brothers. He expanded that firm, bringing in outside partners, and made it into a financial powerhouse.
Mr. Lehman's interest in art began at an early age. His father and mother collected art and by the time Robert was a teenager, he had begun collecting on his own. Over the years, he accumulated a massive collection focusing on European Art from the 14th to the 20th century. By 1962, it had become so massive that he used the townhouse that he grew up on New York's West 54th Street solely as a repository for his collection.
It was not just a large collection but an important collection. Parts of it had been exhibited by the Louvre in Paris, the first private American collection to be so honored. Lehman took advice from experts in making his purchases but he also simply purchased what he liked.
Following Lehman's death in 1969, the Robert Lehman Foundation bestowed the collection of some, 2,600 works to the Metropolitan, where Mr. Lehman had been a trustee and chairman of the board. A new wing was constructed to exhibit the collection in order to follow his stipulation that the works be exhibited together as a collection.
There were more than 750 drawings in the collection. This exhibit presents some 60 works, which the Met describes as presenting “the full range of Robert Lehman's vast and distinguished drawings collection.”
We can see from this exhibit that Mr. Lehman was interested in a broad span of European art. Although the signage tells us that his first interest was in Italian Renaissance drawing, the works include sheets from other times, other parts of Europe and a wide range of styles. Indeed, the works extend up to Modernism and Neo-Impressionism. Some of the works were acquired directly from living artists.
Lehman also preferred finished drawings. This is not to say that all these works were finished in the sense that they were meant for public display. To the contrary, many were clearly done for the artist's own benefit in preparation for a painting or sculpture or to work out some problem of proportion or lighting etc. Indeed, Durer's self-portrait is on a sheet with a large study of a hand and Degas' dancer has other drawings on the reverse side. Rather, they are finished in the sense that the artist completed the concept. Few of the works are hasty sketches.
Most of the drawings are relatively small. Consequently, they require close viewing which in turn creates an intimacy with the work. A collector would not have purchased these to decorate a large room but rather to examine from time-to-time.
Very few of the drawings have color. Most are drawings done in black, brown or sometimes a combination of black, white and red chalk. Only one, a delightful tiny watercolor by Renoir, makes use of vibrant color.
The exhibit is on the lower floor of the Robert Lehman Wing. Many of the paintings that Lehman collected are on display on the upper floor. While the drawings are excellent, they are overshadowed by the paintings, which include masterpieces by Ingres, Goya and Raeburn and the Impressionist masters Monet, Pissaro and Renoir.
Beyond Caravaggio was an exhibition designed to highlight the influence of Caravaggio on European Art. The exhibit was a collaboration of the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Scottish National Gallery. I saw the exhibit in Edinburgh.
Michaelangelo Mersi was born in Milan in 1571. To escape the plague, his family moved to the town of Caravaggio, which gave the artist the name which he is known by today.
After studying art in Milan, Caravaggio moved to Rome where he established a reputation painting everyday subject matter. This drew the attention of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte and numerous commissions from the church followed. Indeed, the majority of Caravaggio's works have a religious theme.
Caravaggio came on the scene at a time when the Catholic Church was seeking to counter the Protestant Reformation. His work was quite different than earlier religious painting. It was dramatic and realistic and thus appealed to the masses. Conequently, it found favor and he became quite famous.
This artist was not a pleasant person. He was quarrelsome and became involved in numerous brawls. He consorted with prostitutes and it has been suggested that he was also a pimp. In 1606, he had to flee Rome because he murdered a man over a game of tennis.
He fled to Naples where he once again established himself as an artist. But then he had to flee again after a quarrel.
Caravaggio went to Malta where he was made a knight of Malta. However, after injuring one of the senior knights in a fight, he was expelled from the order for being “rotten.”
He went to Sicily where he again found artistic success. But enemies forced him to leave and return to Naples.
Seeking a Papal pardon, Caravaggio set out for Rome but died en route in 1610. The cause of death is unclear. He may have died from a fever or been poisoned by the lead contained in the paint he used. He also could have been murdered by one of his many enemies.
During his lifetime, Caravaggio was one of the most famous painters in Europe. His work was quite influential in the development of Baroque art. However, for a long time his work fell out of favor only to be revived in the 20th century. Today, he is once again very popular.
Several factors seem to support his modern popularity.
First, there is his trademark dramtic use of light. Hs makes extensive use of chiaroscuro, making stark contrasts between deep shadows and brilliant highlights. This gives his work an almost theatrical appeal.
Second, Caravaggio's works are highly realistic foreshadowing the hyper-realism which has become so popular today.
Third, the figures in Caravaggio's works are typically common people, not idealized figures. As a result, it is easier for audiences to identify with the scenes depicted by Caravaggio.
Fourth, the psychological realism of the paintings is appealing. The thoughts and emotions of the characters are clear.
Lastly, the scenes depicted by Caravaggio are often not very pleasant, involving torture, death or other stressful situations. Like horror films and Brutalist architecture, such negativity seems to speak to 20th and early 21st century audiences.
While the exhibit is about Caravaggio's influence on art, it is dominated by four major works by Caravaggio himself. We see in the other works that later artists adapted parts of Caravaggio's lighting style and/or his psychological realism but none of these works has the same impact as the works by the master.
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.