Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Death And Life

The British artist George Romney painted Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) in 1776. The Mohawk leader traveled to London at the time and would wind up becoming a thorn in the side to the Americans during the Revolution, coming into Canada afterwards with his people. It is different from the William Berczy portrait of Brant that I showed you earlier in this series.

River Landscape With Cattle Watering And Ferry Boat is an oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough. done around 1754-56 after he had returned to his native Suffolk from time spent in London. It is an imagined landscape, but does evoke his surroundings.

The Death Of General Wolfe is a dramatic, large oil painting from 1770 by the American artist Benjamin West. This is the original and primary version of the painting (there are at least four others West made based on this, including at the ROM in Toronto, one in Michigan and two in Britain at Suffolk and in the Royal collection). It depicts the last moments of the British general James Wolfe after being wounded at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City. This was a pivotal part of the French and Indian War, or the Seven Years War as it's also called. West gives the fallen general a Christ-like depiction as he is surrounded by officers, soldiers, militia, and even an indigenous warrior. West deliberately paid attention to detail in regards to weapons and uniforms, going against the grain of artists at the time which was to depict them in classical attire. The painting made his reputation as an artist. 

From death to life- my favourite sculpture in the Gallery. Canova's Dancer is a life sized marble dancer on a pedestal, the second version of the sculpture. She stands down at the far end of this particular gallery space, and she makes an irresistible photo subject, looking lively and in mid-step.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Wrath Of Venus

Today I start things off with a pope. Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII is this sculpted bust by Gianlorenzo Bernini, standing in the Baroque Room. Even as a bust it has the feeling of movement, as if the pope is welcoming someone into his presence. Bernini worked for the Catholic church throughout his career (and, if you take Dan Brown too seriously, was a secret Illuminati master sculptor who laid out a trail of sculptures in Rome for Robert Langdon to follow in one preposterous evening, but let's not get silly). The bust humanizes him- Urban has lines around the eyes, stubble along his jaw- and feels quite true to life.

Nearby hangs this oil painting. Salvator Rosa painted The Return Of The Prodigal Son at some point between 1655-65, depicting the New Testament parable of a foolhardy son who demanded his inheritance early, spent it wastefully, came to ruin, and comes home to his forgiving father.

Another New Testament moment lies across the room in this oil painting. Christ And The Woman Of Samaria was painted in 1647 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barberi). It recounts the moment that Jesus meets a woman who has come to draw water from a well. He uses the notion of water as a metaphor for salvation: 'the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.' 

The Dutch artist Salomon van Ruysdael painted River Landscape around 1650, depicting life along a river close to home.

Aelbert Cuyp, another Dutch artist, painted this oil painting around the same time. Cattle, Herdsmen, And Rider depicts a country setting. Cuyp was known to repeat certain motifs in his work, including cows and horsemen, and here he depicts the results of a fertile and prosperous locale.

Here we have a second take on that biblical parable. Dutch artist Jan Weenix painted The Return of The Prodigal Son in 1668. It places the setting to suggest Italy.

Italian artist Pietro Rotari did this oil painting around 1754-56. Young Woman With A Fan gives us a woman who seems at ease, but aware of her observer.

Here we have a view of the other interior courtyard with the reflecting pool from above.

Today I finish off with a small sculpture, Venus Plucking The Wings Of Cupid. This bronze by Massimiliano Soldani recounts an element of the myth of Cupid & Psyche, and shows the goddess of love in an uncharacteristic wrathful state where her son is concerned.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Faith And Legends

I went up to the world art section at the National Gallery. First I have two views from above the interior garden courtyard.

Much of the surviving early art happens to be religious in nature, or sometimes mythological. I took advantage in this part of the Gallery to photograph some paintings that will turn up in my Easter Sunday post. Religious subject matter is certainly the case with Saint Anne And The Infant Virgin, circa 1330-35, by Ugolino di Nerio. Depicting the mother of Christ (looking far too wise for an infant) being held by her mother, this painting was the central panel of an altarpiece at one time. Ugolino was a follower of Duccio, a leading painter of the early Renaissance in Siena, and would end up going to Florence. It is likely he painted this there.

The Assumption Of The Virgin dates to circa 1455-56. Neri di Bicci received this as his first major commission, painting this for the Spini family chapel at Santa Trinita in Florence. It depicts Mary being taken up into heaven after her death, with the apostles looking on. It reminds me of a passage Mark Twain wrote in one of his travel books about going through Italy and finding the veneration of Mary to such a point that in terms of churches and shrines in the country, her name came up most often, while her son's presence seemed to be relatively further down the list.

Piero di Cosimo painted Vulcan and Aeolus around 1490. It is thought to depict the dawn of civilization. The Roman god of the forge, Vulcan, works at the forge, while Aeolus, the master of the winds, pumps the bellows. Men around them are beginning to learn their ways. The painting was done to decorate a domestic setting, and so is a rarity of the era, being a surviving example of that type.

This is one that I've shown before. Lucas Cranach the Elder is the artist behind Venus, an oil painting circa 1518, showing the Roman goddess of love. The accompanying panel gives some details- that Cranach depicted the goddess from time to time in his work, usually with her son Cupid- but there is much more to this painting. On a previous visit I chatted with a docent and learned a few things. The National Gallery acquired this painting in 1953, and yet it wasn't displayed for forty years. The painting needed that much time in terms of conservation work to restore it. The work of art restoration is a mix of art and science, of determining the artist's original intent and deciding what to remove and what to keep. And before the Gallery acquired it, the painting had been recovered and given back to its owner (or more likely a family member), as this painting had been taken by the Germans during the Second World War and was among the many found and saved by the group history remembers as the Monuments Men. Apparently Cranach's work was a favoured target of the Nazi program to steal classic art.

Here we have a rather macabre painting. Done at some point between 1510-15 by the German artist Hans Baldung (aka Grien), this is titled Eve, The Serpent, And Death. Eve grasps the serpent's tail in one hand, with the apple in the other. Adam has already tasted the apple, and is now in a decomposing state, transformed into Death.

The Baroque Room is a large interior space with paintings and sculptures that I love to stop in and have a look at.

Landscape With A Temple Of Bacchus is the title of this 1644 oil painting by Claude Lorrain, also called Claude Gellee. It was the classic literature of Greece and Rome that inspired in artists an interest in pastoral landscapes, and such is the case in this painting, a dream like late in the day setting before a temple of the Roman god, one that is starting to gradually fall into ruin.

For today I finish with this one. Painted circa 1636 by the Italian artist Guido Reni, this is The Abduction Of Europa. It shows Zeus (or Jupiter, as the Romans called him) in bull form about to carry off the princess Europa across the sea to Crete.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Canadian Character

I start today with this view near where I left off yesterday. The display case in the foreground features First Nations artifacts. In the background are three Tom Thomson paintings. At left, Burnt Land is a 1915 oil depicting the aftermath of a fire. Northern River is in the centre, and was done in 1914-15. The Jack Pine is one of his masterpieces, and it is at right. Finished in the year of his death, it depicts a tree at Grand Lake in Algonquin Park.

Carrying on with the Group of Seven's presence in this Gallery, here we have another Lawren Harris. Maligne Lake, Jasper Park is a 1924 oil painting showing the lake in the national park in Alberta.

Emily Carr was associated with the Group of Seven, and throughout her career as an artist was drawn to the totem poles and landscapes familiar to the Pacific Coast First Nations. British Columbia Landscape is the title of this painting circa 1934.

The Welcome Men is a 1913 oil painting by Carr, showing a potlatch figure at the village of 'Mimkwamlis near Alert Bay against a sunset.

Like the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group was a set of artists who exhibited together. Based out of Quebec, they exhibited for a briefer time- 1920-23, and had no single unified style. Unlike the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group also consisted of a roughly equivalent number of men and women. One of their number, Regina Seiden Goldberg, painted Nudes circa 1925.

Another member of the group was Prudence Heward, who was not as prolific an artist as others due to health issues, but is noted for her strong portraits of women. Girl In Yellow Sweater is a 1936 oil painting that certainly fits her motif.

Moving on, we have this painting by Carl Schaefer, who had studied with a couple of members of the Group of Seven. Summer Harvest, Hanover is a 1935 oil painting showing a landscape in southwestern Ontario. Incidentally, my grandparents had a farm in this area for years.

Charles F. Comfort painted a different kind of landscape. Tadoussac is a 1935 oil painting capturing a harbour view. Years later Comfort would serve as the director of the National Gallery, from 1959-65.

For something quite different, we turn to one I've shown you before. Alberta Blues is a 1966 oil painting by Alex Janvier, the Dene artist whose Morning Star is over at the Canadian Museum of History. Janvier's First Nations roots mix with abstract influences in a dazzling way. He had a major retrospective of his works here at the Gallery in 2017, and is still active today, with a studio bearing his name out in Cold Lake. I don't often go for abstract art, but Janvier's style tremendously appeals to me.

I came back out into the grand hall, where I photographed the view before heading up to the world art galleries. We'll start looking at that tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Dramatic Landscapes

A note to members of City Daily Photo: the theme day for the first of February is White. For my take on that theme, I can only borrow a phrase and say, Brace yourselves. Winter is coming. 

Carrying on with this visit to the National Gallery, The Group of Seven was a collection of landscape artists who actively exhibited together from 1920- 1933. There were ten of them in all, as members came and went, and a couple of other prominent Canadian artists, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, are often associated with them. Thomson, whose death came before the foundation of the group, was a significant influence on them. Many of their works can be found here at the National Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael gallery, and other places across Canada. The artists would often take small sketch canvases out in the field to capture what they saw, transferring and adapting thier ideas onto larger canvases in their studios over the winters.

J.E.H. MacDonald was one of the founders, and this 1915 painting, Snowbound, reflects the influences of a Swedish artist, Gustaf Fjaestad, who was known in Europe for his depictions of winter. MacDonald captures the nuances of colour and light in the snowy landscape.

Nearby is a large gallery space, named for a donor, with a traditional birchbark Indigenous canoe at its heart and works of the Group of Seven and other artists around it.

A.Y. Jackson, another member of the Group, painted March Storm, Georgian Bay in 1920.

Here we have another perspective of this space. There are enough assembled paintings on that wall that it is easier to place brochures with the painting names and artists at either end, as opposed to the usual panel beside one.  They make for quite a sight against the canoe in the foreground.

Here we have another MacDonald. The Solemn Land is a 1921 oil painting depicting the Montreal River valley in the Algoma region of northern Ontario. The accompanying panel notes that Algoma was a particular interest for MacDonald, and that Jackson had said, "I always think of Algoma as MacDonald's country."

Arthur Lismer was another member of the Group. This 1921 oil painting is titled A September Gale, Georgian Bay, and true to the motif of the Group, the aim is to not only show what a place looked like, but how it felt.

Here we see another angle of the space.

Lawren Harris was another member of the Group. This 1921 oil painting is Beaver Pond. Harris had an interest in how the beaver altered its surroundings, and depicts a scene at Birch Lake in Algoma.

Pine Island, Georgian Bay is the title of this painting developed between 1914-16. Tom Thomson, who met his end by drowning in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park in 1917, painted this over that period of time, his own style evolving. The lone pine motif was something that he would use from time to time in his art, which I'll show again tomorrow.

For today I finish off with another Jackson. November is the simple title of this 1922 oil painting, depicting a place in the Algoma region in late fall.