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Self Portraits 1900-1912 (4) Stanisław Wyspiański

Self-portrait, 1902

“Stanisław Wyspiański (Polish pronunciation: [staˈɲiswaf vɨˈspjaɲskʲi]; 15 January 1869 – 28 November 1907) was a Polish playwright, painter and poet, as well as interior and furniture designer. A patriotic writer, he created a series of symbolic, national dramaswithin the artistic philosophy of the Young Poland Movement. Wyspiański was one of the most outstanding and multifaceted artists of his time in Europe. He successfully joined the trends of modernism with themes of the Polish folk tradition and Romantic history.” This is how Wikipedia introduces the man who is referred to as being the fourth Polish Bard; this must refer to Wyspiański’s literary skills since the other three are poets. The self-portrait that accompanies the article shows Wyspiański at the age of 33 in 1902. Why is this such an interesting portrait?

The Wawel on the left bank of the Vistula River in Kraków

It is executed in pastels and measures just 35cm by 35cm. It makes fine use of the whiteness of the paper to produce a crystalline, pellucid effect. This is clearly a symbolist work and shows his constant predisposition to add elaborate and striking floral designs. The self-portrait is to be found in the National Museum, Warsaw. However,he only visited Warsaw once.As is quite well-known, Stanisław Wyspiański came from Kraków, in whose general history and culture Wyspiański was deeply immersed. He was responsible for the design of furniture and interiors, and the development of Wawel, the astonishingly beautiful palace on a limestone hill overlooking the Vistula. In 1904 just before the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, gave the order to withdraw troops from Wawel, Wyspiański and the architect Władysław Ekielski worked on plans to develop the Warwel Akropolis. This is a location that he knew well.” His father, Franciszek, a sculptor, had an atelier at the foot of the Wawel hill, home to a cathedral rich with evidence of the strength of the former Polish state, and to a royal castle, by then an Austrian army barracks.” (http://www.culture.pl/web/english/resources-visual-arts-full-page/-/eo_event_asset_publisher/eAN5/content/stanislaw-wyspianski)

  Stanisław Wyspiański is associated with the movement which was referred to as “The Young Poland Movement”. It appears that some of its members attended the St Anne’s Secondary School in Kraków. Here the students were the pupils were taught in Polish-something which was unusual since the area was under Austrian domination and German used by the dominating power. Lectures were delivered upon Polish history and thus a counter-culture was inculcated.

A lovely presentation with a Chopin track can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpxtIs_aQhw

 

 

Portrait of Ireny Solskiej.1904. Pastel. 48 x 62 cm. Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań.

The Hidden Landscape

The purpose of this book is to explore the connection between the landscape and the geology underlying it, which in one of many vivid similes Fortey  compares, the surface personality with the workings of the unconscious mind beneath. He starts by describing a journey he once made from Paddington Station to Haverford West, a market town in Pembrokeshire and with it a passage back into the plutonic depths of geological aeons, indicated by the large 60cm monster trilobites that have been found in the Cambrian rocks near St David’s. Fortey describes the magnificence of the Cathedral constructed from the local purple sandstone and mottled with moisture loving lichens. He contrasts this with the anonymous character of a nearby brightly coloured service station, anonymous and synthetic, an invader cheaply built and out of context.

Fortey’s tour begins with the ancient Lewisian Gneiss of theNorth-WestHighlandsand the formation in their complex metamorphic variety. He explains how these were penetrated by dark dykes of igneous Scourie, the action of glaciers and how in places the Gneiss has been overlaid by the local mountains which are masses of sediment. These latter layers are called Torridonian. They are some 1000 million years old and contain single-celled algae. Whilst describing the full complexity of this ancient scene, Fortey provides a useful glossary of key The Hidden Landscape by Richard Forteydefinitions which reassure the reader wanting to understand this full detail. He proceeds to explain the fundamental divide of theIapetusOcean. (Illustrated also in the accompanying photographs.) This once separated northern from southernBritainsome 500 million years ago, the closure of which created the magnificent Caledonian mountains.

The reader is swiftly conveyed through the Caledonian landscape which is economically characterised, ”This is where population density plummets, and where the Gaelic language lingers in patches. This is the country where metamorphism rules.” Crossing the MidlandValley, he is brought to the Southern Uplands- attract of land which sweeps across through the Irish Seato Down and Armagh. Here the rocks are dark sedimentary shales, paler grits and green mudstones. What makes the account engaging to the reader, is the digression into the fascinating history of geology where Fortey takes us back to the discontinuities in the rock, specifically at Siccar Point, which led to the discoveries of Hutton in the mid-Eighteenth Century of the processes of folding and overlaying with later Devonian sediments. We are shown with clarity how the early discoveries were made and the modern comprehension of geology as a subject derived. Fortey writes about the fascinating early episodes of making geology with the same skill as Roger Osborne in his excellent book, ‘’The Floating Egg’’

In the softer rocks and slates ofWales, the fossil trilobites are altered in shape in a manner which gives evidence of the deformations to which the rock has been subjected. In brief and characteristically diverting remarks, the connection between the geology of with Avalonia (Newfoundland),Canadaand theAppalachiansare mentioned. Additionally, Fortey notes that Cambria-Roman Wales, the Ordivicians, the tribes whom the Romans conquered and the barbarian Silures have all given there names to the internationally recognised geological divisions of the Lower Paleozoic. Fortey writes with poetic feeling for that land which also inspired Dylan Thomas to write:-

The heavenly music over the sand

Sounds with the grains as they hurry

Hiding the golden mountains and mansions

Of the grave, gay seaside land

‘’’The Hidden Landscape’’’ conducts the reader on an extensive tour that joins the primeval geology with the soil and the lie of the land as it now exists today. The flora, fauna, the occupations and lifestyle of recent generations are explored in detail. So in a later chapter the reader is introduced to the gentler morphology of the Weald. Even, the taste of the waters in Spa towns like Tunbridge Wells depends upon the sensitivity of human taste to very small amounts of iron salts. Water from ferruginous beds and the ions it contains gives it a medicinal taste- the reason the wells were established there in 1606. InKentthere are cretaceous chalks, sands and the blue Weald clay that forms the vale to the west of Romney Marsh.

This intriguing book finishes with a chapter encouraging respect for the visible landscape. ‘Texture is bequeathed by time’, Fortey urges attention to the local building materials that contribute to the individuality of vernacular architecture. He praises the use of these resources by traditional craftsmen. This beguiling book finishes with praises for the campaigns of Natural England, for protection of Sites of Scientific Interest and congratulates the hard working volunteers of Regionally Important Geological Sites, in their endeavours to preserve the variety nature has produced in the countryside over aeons. Well written and pleasingly presented this is a grand introduction to a popular subject.

Another Ukranian Self Portrait from 1908 by Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (Russian: Казимир Северинович Малевич)-

Self-portrait 1908

Kazmir Malevich is an interesting figure in so many different ways and stands on the brink of so much change both cultural and political. He painted in a wide variety of styles and created many masterpieces in a comparatively short period of time. For more detailed information on this extraordinary Ukrainian/Polish artist it is worth referring to http://www.theartstory.org/artist-malevich-kasimir.htm

He is most well-known for the invention of “Suprematism (RussianСупрематизм) was an art movement focused on fundamental geometric forms (in particular the square and circle) which formed in Russia in 1915-1916. ” However, his earlier work is very attractive and appealing. His self-portrait 1908 already shows a simplicity of form, intensity and dramatic  use of colour and composition. If that appeals then there is a pleasing You-tube accompanied by Bruch’s “Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 26 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTkLh8NTXHA and another at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP31bqFiy6s which is rather short. At MOMA there is another useful introduction,supposedly for children at http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/1/2168

Head of a Peasant Girl
Self-portrait in 1933

A later self-portrait shows the influence of Stalinist art but retains a strong feeling of renaissance influence and a notably defiant expression and added his signature the picture with a tiny black-over-white square (the suprematist painting for which he is most famous).

Enlightening -Isaiah Berlin’s Letters from 1846-1960

A stenographer unscrambles taped musings of the polymath
A stenographer unscrambles taped musings of the polymath

Isaiah Berlin wrote in tribute to the memory of Dorothy de Rothschild of her personality, ”…..overwhelming charm, great dignity, a very lively sense of humour, pleasure in the oddities of life, an unconquerable vitality and a kind of eternal youth and an eager responsiveness to all that passed…” Reading this second volume of letters, now available in paperback, covering Berlin’s most creative period, these same characteristics might be aptly applied to Sir Isaiah himself. However, as this most self-aware of intellectuals recognised, his loquacity and compulsive socialising were driven by a persistent need to escape a sense of unreality, an inner void. In these letters he writes, ‘’my quest for gaiety is a perpetual defence against the extreme sense of the abyss by which I have been affected ever since I can remember myself…’’

He is at his clearest when actually writing rather than using the Dictaphone. His use of this device adds interest to the resulting text, transcribed by a sometimes confused stenographer. Here he is writing from Harvard to another editor of letters, in what he elsewhere termed his wretched Colefax-like hand,’’…my blindness to Mrs W’s true character makes you think of me as gazing through a telescope at remote, dimly distinguishable, dwarves round whom I construct mythologies which sometimes fit & sometimes don’t but always smother the subjects: I do that a little: I like rounded vignettes:& I cling to my hypotheses: it is the only sense I attach to understanding about people as opposed to moment-to-moment reactions to, or impressions of them…”

Berlin’s tendency to construct an overarching, grand scale view of people is interesting, indeed notable. When it comes to political philosophy it is the construction of universal systems, Marxism and Monism, theories he later studied and to coin the term, the ‘’counter-enlightenment’’, which overarching theories Berlin most deplores. The hesitancy and multiple qualifications in his communication, often results in a diffuse and difficult prose style. However, the thick impasto and layering of shades of meaning can also reflect, like some sort of rich expressionist painting, the intention of conveying a lasting and deep impression. If you can tolerate very lengthy sentences, laced with subordinate clauses, which are richly punctuated with colons and semi-colons; then memorable and multifaceted observations on the people, politics and those interesting times, emerge.

These were indeed both interesting and difficult times.The move from diplomatic service in the States to the daily grind of teaching and lecturing in post-war Oxford, Berlin found particularly irksome. Advising Chaim Weizmann and defending the newly found state of Israel in the period after the King David Hotel attack was a duty on which he focussed his considerable abilities and influence. Later he was to meet and to like Ben Gurion. However, as his interest turned once again to Herzen and Russian intellectual history, he was careful not to get side tracked. He was involved in Paris with the setting up the Marshall plan and frankly admitted his limitations when it came to discussions on economic practicalities. Yet he began to translate his beloved Turgenev and still found opportunities to advise government propagandists on what he saw as the dangers of mentioning Hegel and the imperative of countering Russian territorial ambitions. In addition to this involvement with high level politics he was pleased to be consulted by Churchill on his memoirs. When it came to making predictions, he agreed with his fellow don, Trevor-Roper on the accuracy of those proposed by that interesting Swiss cultural historian Joseph Burkhardt based on his study of the Italian renaissance.

At Oxford his coterie included brilliant talkers that included his mentor, Maurice Bowra, the witty Warden of Wadham; here described as having felt jaded in Greece, found Athens heavenly, full of jolly poets, and himself adored there. Sir Isaiah found a warm spot for that ‘’loveable scamp’’ Bob Boothby, talking over appeasement with which he recalled All Souls to be more than a little complicit. Then there was the scintillating company at lunch of the novelist Elisabeth Bowen. He entertains with the witty and erudite Lord David Cecil at New College, the renowned conversationalist and author of the brilliant biography of Lord Melbourne. We have only just begun the alphabet of Berlin’s extensive and amusing friends which extended far beyond the University to journalists, politicians, policy wonks (as they are termed in a less deferential age ), diplomats and heads of state. One of the pleasures of reading these letters lies in this investigation of this, the social hinterland of this philosopher of secular pluralism.

A supplementary reason for reading these letters is the insight they afford into Berlin’s relationship with women and otherchanging social attitudes. In 1956, he married Aline Halban, an exile from Russia, at the relatively late age of 46. There are indications of a developing maturity but there are also lapses into donnish backbiting, for instance A.L.Rowse is repeatedly characterised as a Malvolio in the fractious atmosphere of All Souls. This kind of gossiping is ultimately a sign of inanition and unworthy of an esteemed philosopher. However, it was a feature of the academic ambience at the time and Leslie, as Rowse is known amongst his Cornish friends, would probably have relished Berlin’s further remarks about his open emotionalism, ‘’Curious. In a way better than the stiff English upper lip, & stoicism, hypocrisy and inner rages..’’

Reading ‘’’Enlightening’’’ is no substitute for the study of Berlin’s works if you are interested in his approach to the history of ideas. On the other hand, given the range of his achievements, from founding Wolfson College to his friendship with Pasternak(he smuggled out ‘’Dr Zhivago’’ to the West) and also with the great poet Anna Akhmatova, these letters shine an interesting light on the author’s effervescent persona. In this splendid tome, his peculiar sort of Englishness, his fondness for vigorous debate and his concern to counter and defeat the monster of totalitarianism are sparklingly displayed.

Puvis De Chevannes The Poor Fisherman – Oil on canvas, 155 x 192.5 cm (5′ 1″ x 6′ 3 3/4″); Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The Poor Fisherman - Oil on canvas, 155 x 192.5 cm (5' 1

According to the Web Museum in Paris,”He had only modest success early in his career (when a private income enabled him to work for little payment), but he went on to achieve an enormous reputation, and he was universally respected even by artists of very different aims and outlook from his own. Gauguin, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec were among his professed admirers. His reputation has since declined, his idealized depictions of antiquity or allegorical representations of abstract themes now often seeming rather anaemic. He remains important, however, because of his influence on younger artists.

His simplified forms, respect for the flatness of the picture surface, rhythmic line, and use of non-naturalistic color to evoke the mood of the painting appealed to both the Post-Impressionists and the Symbolists.”

The influence of Jan Mateyko in Kraków; (June 24 1838 – November 1, 1893)

An influence upon Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907) whose self portraits and  literary works were produced in Kraków, Jan Mateyko focused  on major themes in Polish history. As Wikipedia says,”Stanisław was adopted by his aunt Joanna Stankiewiczowa and her husband Kazimierz. The Stankiewicz family belonged to a bourgeois and intellectual class. In their house Wyspiański became acquainted with painter Jan Matejko, who was a frequent visitor. Matejko soon recognized that the boy had artistic talent and gave him the first artistic guidance.”…….It continues,” As far as literature was concerned, Wyspiański created a dramatic interpretation of Matejko’s painting Stefan Batory pod Pskowem (Bathory at Pskov).”

Stefan Batory pod Pskowem 1872 (Matteyko)

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Again Wikipedia comments,”During the Livonian War (1578-1582), between Ivan the Terrible of Russia and Stefan Batory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the city was besieged by Polish forces. Poland failed to capture the city, but forced Russia to return other territories and gained Livonia. The siege was the setting of this painting. The siege of Pskovfrom the Polish perspective: Batory at Pskov, 1579. Painting by Jan Matejko in 1872. Matejko’s allegoric painting illustrates the concept of romantic nationalism: the Muscovites are represented doing homage to the Polish king, which appear victorious, although in reality Pskov never fell to the Poles, as the conflict ended with negotiationsbefore the siege was concluded.”

An impression of Wyspianski’s work may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc_jSeibnUE and with the accompaniment of Chopin at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQQC-H7lXFc&list=FLoIY4Tgwcvs1qr51MdHS5Zg&index=3&feature=plpp_video. Enjoy!

Two other influences on Wyspianski in France were Gaugin and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Copernicus, in Conversation with God, (1872) by Jan Mateyko
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Self-Portraits 1900-1912 (3) Zinaida Serebryakova

This portrait, At the Dressing Table was painted in 1909 and is remarkable for the dynamism of its composition; it also looks thoroughly modern as does Zinaida, who having been born in 1884, was then just 25. The sweep of the hair which extends from the mirror behind, combined with the arms adds to the energy and sense of novelty in the portrait. The hat pins in the foreground are splayed and are perhaps a reminder that this is a painting that according to the fashions, is indeed some hundred years old. This is a candid and charming, beguiling portrait. The lightness of the colours, the contrast and the surrounding items all engage the attention as does the intimacy and immediacy of the artist herself.

At the Dressing Table 1909

Zinadia Serebryakova was born on  December 10, 1884into what is now the Ukraine, on the estate of Neskuchnoye near Kharkov. Her maiden name was Lanceray. She was born into the cultured and artistic family known as the Benois – a fascinating family of architects, musicians, painters and sculptors. Her name in Ukranian is Зінаїда Євгенівна Серебрякова; and the Benois were the descendants of the French confectioner Louis Jules Benois, who came to Russia in 1794 after the French Revolution. More information can be easily found  about the talented Benois at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benois_family. There is also a moving piece about her on another wordpress blog at http://01varvara.wordpress.com/tag/zinaida-serebyakova/

Self-portrait 1921

In 1901, Zinadia studied painting under the famous Russian artist, Ilya Yefimovich Repin, also a Ukranian artist perhaps most famous for the grandeur of his panoramic realistic paintings like the “Religious Procession in Kursk Province“, 1880–83. He also painted an interesting portrait of Tolstoy and the chemist, Dmitry Mendeleyev, who made the discoveries which led to the Periodic Table. After studying under other portrait painters, Serebryakova, went to Paris in 1905 after visits to Italy. It was the year in which she married her first cousin, Boris who became a railway engineer.

Maxim Gorky reading in “The Penates” his drama Children of the Sun. Compressed charcoal and sanguine on paper. 28 × 49.5 см.(1905)
Medeleeff by Ilya Repin

She must have felt stimulated and perhaps at home in Paris, where she was later to return and forced to stay when exiled in 1924. In the intervening period she was to experience the full force of the repression following the October Revolution. Her husband died in a Bolshevik jail in 1919. However, the period of 1906 to 1916 were happy and productive. She lived in St Petersburg and Moscow  as well as upon her country estate. She was a wonderful painter of the countryside and of children, especially her own. Having been widowed and with the family estate plundered she was sadly left responsible for raising her four children and caring for her mother at a time of penury and impinging civil strife.

On the terrace in Kharkov-1919

In fact what is remarkable about Serebryakova’s work is its variety and its elegant peacefulness. It would seem that her work has become much more recognised in Russia with more frequent exhibitions. She lived in Paris without seeing her older two children for some 36 years and only achieved recognition in the Soviet Union in 1966. However, her innate zest for life and her inner serenity shines through her work and in the treatment of her sitters. An awesome selection of 411 of her works may be seen as a slideshow at http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/zinaida-serebriakova.Another interesting website in French may be found at http://femmes-russes.russian-women.net/femmes-russes/Zinaida-Serebriakova.shtml. There is also an intriguing short photographic sequence in colour circa 1910 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ8VRxS4nkE.There is a very useful and detailed link at http://artoftherussias.wordpress.com/category/ukraine/zinaida-serebriakova/-enjoy!There is also a short new You Tube Clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=Wo8v6EWrUmk If you are interested in her ballet paintings and want to improve your Russian there is also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot17l5na1Zw

Portrait of Katya the Artist
Soviet Union Stamp 1988

Sketch of Anna Akhmatova