Category Archives: Art and Photographic History

Clifford Rowe (1904–1989) The painter for the people

The Fried Fish Shop | Art UK

I very much admire this painting, “The Fried Fish Shop”, its composition and the limited range of colours which suits this painting which is in the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester. Rowe was an important active member of the Artist’s International Association https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artists%27_International_Association

An interesting Guardian Review of an exhibition in 2013 can be read at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/sep/13/exhibitionist-art-shows-14-sep

 

 

Thoughts on history in the making

We seem currently to be going through a period of iconoclasm which has an interesting history itself. One of my favourite plays is “Forty Years On” by Alan Bennett. It often seems to me that British, and particularly English, society resembles some sort of minor public school. Hence I can easily hear John Gielgud intoning Ecclesiastes 44-1:-

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. 2The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. 3Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: 4Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions.

Now, when I googled this a moment ago, I discovered that the first six words of the title refers to a book written some 75 years ago by Agee and Evans with photographs of tenant farmers and their dreadful plight in the depression. The verse from Ecclesiastes was obscured and immediately raises the question about how the meaning of the past can be changed or indeed obscured. It also raises the questions about for whom history might be written, recorded or commemorated.

However, before examining the text, consider the last sentence….” meet For the people, WISE and ELOQUENT are their instructions”. Well it would be nice if the present incumbents of the senior management team were wise and concerned for the people and by no means can the repetitive bumbling be described as eloquence.

(Incidentally, I remember hearing that controversial Cornishman D.M. Thomas remarking once that we had moved from reading Isaiah to watching dire television in two generations!)

Now before we start praising famous men, let alone building statues to them, we also need to consider women and children. The statue which really brought pimples to the skin and still does was near the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin which shows those children going to the West in the Kindertransport and those from whom they have been sundered, facing the death camps in the East. Then, also very moving is the statue by Kathe Kollwitz. This sculpture is under an oculus and exposed to the rain, snow and cold symbolising the suffering of civilians during World War II. It is a pieta- a woman with her dead child. She had lost her son, Peter on the battlefield in the First World War.

At this point I should like to recommend a book and close with a couple of quotations which I think are worth pondering. The book is by Rachel Hewitt and is called “A Revolution in Feeling” It deals with the changes of feelings during the 1790s. To quote from the dust jacket;” Every society in every age, feels differently, and from the seismic shifts of the 1790s Britain emerged the contours of our contemporary attitude to need, longing and emotion”.

Now from that complex but original thinker Walter Benjamin, This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

WALTER BENJAMIN, Theses on the Philosophy of History

Here we return to eloquence again, a reminder that style in historical writers engage our interest from Hazlitt-

The history of mankind is a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of POETICAL JUSTICE; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the few is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havoc in the chase, though they do not share in the spoil.

WILLIAM HAZLITT, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays

Finally

Finally, I listened to a radio programme last night about refugees in camps across the Channel in France desperate to escape persecution and many of them, children in conditions cramped as in a slave ship. What are we going to do to alleviate their situation?

When German trains saved Jewish kids - EXBERLINER.com

Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture 'Mother with her Dead Son', Neue Wache ...

Notes

On Iconoclasm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_Iconoclasm

There may be elements of magical thinking in relation to monuments as clearly their destruction does not entail the erasure of the past or the racist structures still in existence. It might be argued that in their removal they can become instrumental towards that aim. Some may also consider that they are works of art which raises further questions about aesthetics – content and form etc.

 

 

Martin Lewis-The man who mentored Edward Hopper

More detailed information can be found at https://boomers-daily.com/2020/03/22/painters-of-the-1930s-moonlight-ballad-the-art-of-martin-lewis-2020/

These lovely etchings go well with Auden’s  wonderful poem “As I Walked Out One Evening”

As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
   ‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on.

Paris in colour before the First World War

Baudelaire wrote of the strolling poet  in the Paris crowd:-

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself of someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man’s personality. For him alone everything is vacant; and if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting.

The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in this universal communion. The man who loves to lose himself in a crowd enjoys feverish delights that the egoist locked up in himself as in a box, and the slothful man like a mollusk in his shell, will be eternally deprived of. He adopts as his own all the occupations, all the joys and all the sorrows that chance offers.

The Paris, a few years after Baudelaire’s passing is shown in these remarkable pictures taken between 1900 and 1917. Baudelaire died in 1867 but his remarks are interesting and pertinent to some of the following photographs, which were shot in direct colour using the Autochrome process developed by the famous Lumière brothers in 1903.

In the original French from Spleen (1869)

Le poète jouit de cet incomparable privilège, qu’il peut à sa guise être lui-même et autrui. Comme ces âmes errantes qui cherchent un corps, il entre, quand il veut, dans le personnage de chacun. Pour lui seul, tout est vacant ; et si de certaines places paraissent lui êtres fermées, c’est qu’à ses yeux elles ne valent pas la peine d’être visitées.

Le promeneur solitaire et pensif tire une singulière ivresse de cette universelle communion. Celui-là qui épouse facilement la foule connaît des jouissances fiévreuses, dont seront éternellement privés l’égoïste, fermé comme un coffre, et le paresseux, interné comme un mollusque. Il adopte comme siennes toutes les professions, toutes les joies et toutes les misères que la circonstance lui présente.

 

Robert Doisneau – Poetry in Photographs

3

The above photograph comes from an interesting website called http://www.streetphotographyintheworld.com/masters-of-street-photography-by-carlo-traina/masters-of-street-photography-robert-doisneau/

How might we read such a photograph? It has a surreal quality about it that we might associate it with Magritte. The artist, musician and his instrument appear in a classical composition like the three graces. They are starkly outlined against the white Paris sky in front of the descending staircase. The two men seem isolated in their solitude and their is a feeling of expectation and a gentlemanly respect for the instrument whose feminine shape seems implied.

<span class="title">Man at Flea Market with Vinyl Player, France<span class="title_comma">, </span></span><span class="year">c.1950</span>

There is a humane quality which suffuses Doisneau’s work- a magical charm. The photograph makes a nice comparison with the famous HMV poster. It is impossible to say weather the subject is more enchanted by the splendid device or the music emerging from the cumbersome, jolly gramophone. Probably he is entranced by both. His posture and beret adds to the general levity of the scene.

Les Pains de Picasso, 1952

Doisneau photographed many great artists and this photograph captures the master, Picasso in his characteristic striped jersey with his penetrating gaze. The photographer makes a marvellous joke with the distorted fingers of bread rolls. It seems likely that this was contrived between them. A morphic distortion and also an interesting game with perspective too.

 

Musee Antoine Bourdelle- Montparnasse -Entry Nine Euros

I did not know when I arrived here that students in the 18th Century used to stand on a nearby hill  and recite their poems. Hence the nickname Mount Parnassus. Like many a modern flaneur, however. I associated the quartier with the jazz loving Americans of the 1920s. The habitués of the Café du Dôme rubbed shoulders with the ‘crowd’ as they called themselves; Ernest Hemmingway, Sylvia Beach, John Rodrigo Dos Passos and Ezra Pound. This was the Lost Generation fleeing prohibition living it up in cheap dodgy hotels – later to be followed by Henry Miller. These fading lyrical echoes in the shade contrasted with the undistinguished entrance to the hidden charms of the Musee.

Once into the museum, you enter the creative space of Antoine Bourdelle(1861-1928), the pupil of Rodin and the teacher of both Matisse and Giacometti. It was in 1926 that this typical Parisian atelier was to be turned into a museum. The quiet sanctuary of the front garden gave me the first glimpse of four sculpted figures including La Victoire (Victory) and l’Eloquence (Eloquence) surrounded by a secluded peristyle. At the time of my visit, I was unaware that there were over 500 works of art here. I simply sat and made a few sketches of the first few of these impressive statues.

Passing into the Great Hall, which was built in 1961, for the centenary of the artist’s birth, I encountered an impressive array of magnificent figures some of which towered way above the visitors. Interspersed between these at the further end were brightly colourful dresses by famous contemporary couturiers. This museum has frequently had special exhibitions and this focussed on the fashion of dresses from the back. (Dos à la mode}.However my attention was taken by the famously energetic sculpture of Hercules the Archer.

Bourdieu made some 12 versions of this dynamic sculpture. The model was a certain athletic Commandant Doyen-Parigot who twisted his muscular body into the required difficult posture. He contorted his body in demanding fifteen-minute sessions. Bourdelle also famously used his rather primitive Kodak camera to facilitate his project. A wealthy financier, Gabriel Thomas was deeply impressed by this statue of Hercules in 1910. Thomas together with Gabriel Astruc, the impresario that brought Rubenstein, Caruso, Toscanini and famously Diaghilev to Paris, set up a real estate company to build a new theatre. This became the Theatre des Champs-Elysee, the façade and inner atrium were, under Thomas auspices, to be decorated by Bourdelle. This was to be the debut of Art Deco style, a feature of the new modernism.

Returning through the studios there were many fine sketches by Bourdelle including those he made of the dancer Isadora Duncan. Proceeding through an outlying corridor I came across the Beethoven heads. These imaginative and expressive works began around the time he started his association of 15 years with Rodin. Altogether he made some 40 of such masterpieces.

In the tranquillity of the ivy leafed inner garden I encountered a huge and towering bronze. This was the statue of Centaure Mourant. From just where I stood, I could not see more than the torso of the horse and only by moving gingerly around the piece could I discern the twisted direction in which the head lay. Inspired by classical myth and considering its construction in 1914, Bourdelle was asked why does the centaur die? Bourdelle replied in Nietzschean mode, “He dies like all the gods- because no one believes in him any more.”

 

 

 

 

A Rispetto on Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning, 1950

From window bay she looks out towards morning

light.  Sun rays illuminate pale blue wooden

cladding. Bent forward in desperate longing,

she seeks relief from her worries. Chiming ten

the clock is unheard by the woman leaning,

scanning beach and beyond  urgently searching

for her son’s return.She discerns no footstep

nor boy coming with wet net dragging to drop.

 

I have been reading about John Berryman and Robert Lowell on the Cape and looking at photographs of this interesting location. Next day, after trying to write this fairly simple verse form I came across an article about the topicality of Edward Hopper in The Guardian and this can be seen at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/mar/27/we-are-all-edward-hopper-paintings-now-artist-coronavirus-age

Details of the Italian form Rispetto can be found along with other simple fotms at

https://owlcation.com/humanities/10-Types-of-Short-Poetic-Forms

 

 

Self Portraits- Jean Eve

Jean Eve was born into a working-class family. Entering the Colonial School of Le Havre in 1918, he became involved in the colonial  troop called Spahis and drew watercolours during his travels. Returning to Douai, he enlisted in the railways and then worked in a foundry workshop. Leaving painting , it was then that he had the revelation at the Petit Palais during the Gustave Courbet exhibition. But having a dependent family, he is only allowed to paint on Sundays.

In 1929, Jean Eve met Moses Kisling, who brought him closer to the editor of L’Art Vivant, who decided to organize a support committee for him to devote himself only to painting, which allowed him to quickly exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants. At the invitation of Henri Bing and Maximilien Gauthier, he participated in the exhibition “The Popular Masters of Reality” in 1936. This was the beginning of the fame for Jean Eve.

He then exhibited in New York and Switzerland and received the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honour and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Jean Eve’s painting is characterized by its sincerity and simplicity. As Maximilian Gauthier said, “he painted what he saw, simply, with all his heart.”

“My real workshop is nature” Jean Eve

This self portrait is somewhat reminiscent of Lucien Freud’s earlier work currently on display at the Royal Academy. Eve’s work is on display in the Musee Maliol in Paris.

Harry Ousey-Neglected Colourist amongst the St Ives Artists

 

Very recently I attended an intriguing talk by Sue Astles, Ousey’s neice about this little known Northern  Artist. I found myself wondering just how such a brilliant colourist could seemingly be rather overlooked. Further information and background can be found at

https://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/out-about/harry-ousey-exhibition-at-the-salford-museum-and-art-gallery-1-4082392

and at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Ousey

There are two possible factors which one might surmise for this aberration. Firstly, it seems that his interest in experimenting in so many various styles may have mitigated his being recognised for any definite style. His restless interest in both conventional and abstract work is not difficult to recognise. There is a certain interest in certain themes such as stone wall construction and the sea horizon. Certain influences seem to be lurking in the background from Miro, Dufy and perhaps Rothko. However, the multiplicity of his painting styles, doubtless including original work, could have inhibited proper recognition.

Such recognition might have been easier if he had access to gallery display. My second point is that I surmise that the influence of more recognised and prominent figures in the St Ives nexus made this difficult. Artists like Denis Mitchell and Terry Frost would have understood this. There was a social class barrier to surmount and I am fairly sure this is a pressure that a less wealthy northern painter would have encountered this even in the more enlightened postwar period. A glass ceiling even amongst progressives and bohemians!

Image result for harry ousey artist

Image result for harry ousey artist

Ousey’s later interest in environmental compositions reminded me also of the not dissimilar work of Margaret Mellis. (Not to be confused on grounds of alliteration with the abstract Penwith artist Marlow Moss!)