Richard Long online

Just had a quick look at the Richard Long online exhibition at Tate. One of the stunning wall pieces is pretty large and it's often difficult or impossible to get a really close look at the relationship between material (in this case Avon mud) and surface. The gestural marks left by Long's vigorous application of the mud to the wall are quite beautiful and the slideshow/film does a great job of allowing you to linger over close-ups in a way that would be almost impossible in the gallery. This raises some interesting questions about the way new technologies mediate our relationship to art objects. Very thought-provoking!

Lost and Found

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Found (Compositional Study) 1854 – 1855

I was reflecting again today on Manet's depiction of a prostitute in "Olympia" and how topical the subject was in late 19th century Paris. The I remembered that the subject of female virtue (and loss thereof) was also an obsession of British artists and writers during the same period. The British Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were, in many ways, the counterparts of the Impressionists in France. Despite the fact that many of their subjects were taken from medieval history and literature (Shakespeare was a particular favourite) and sometimes tend towards the mawkish, they also revolutionised the use of colour through painting on a white ground (as opposed to the dark red ground favoured by academic painters) which had the effect of making colours glow on the canvas. The best PRB paintings also deal with contemporary issues like work, emigration and, in the case of this work and the related finished painting, prostitution.

Here, a man from the countryside recognises a former sweetheart who has moved to the city to find work. She has turned, out of poverty, to prostitution and turns her ahead towards the wall in shame. This preparatory study, along with many other PRB works, can be seen at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I remember spending many a happy afternoon here in my youth but it's been a while since I was able to see the magnificent PRB collection at first hand. Fortunately, our favourite designers TAK! (the guys responsible for creating the front end of the Thomas Tallis School website) have completed an online PRB resource which displays all the PRB works and supplies related learning resources. Each of the images can be explored in fine detail using the amazing Silverlight application from Microsoft. Once you've downloaded the program, you can zoom in as far as you like to check out the incredible details.

I really recommend this site, especially the thoughtfully written and brilliantly illustrated thematic collections. My particular favourite is the Gender and Sexuality set of resources. Rossetti's image above is part of the "Working Women" section, for obvious reasons. I'm very keen on the kind of art history that attempts to place works of art in their historical and political contexts and uses contemporary research and theoretical perspectives to re-read art works that may appear well-known but have, in fact, been partially understood. This quality online resource is a brilliant example of how new technologies can add even more value to the experience of re-discovering great works of art.

Why do you think prostituion was such an important subject for late 19th century artists? How would you compare Rossetti's treatment of the poor prostitute in this study with Manet's depiction of "Olympia"? Can you find any other famous examples of works of art featuring working women?

Alberti's Window

Alberti's Window is a really interesting Art History blog that I discovered following the author's comment on a recent discussion here about Samson and Delilah. One of the recent posts concerns the critical reception of Manet's "Olympia". Check it out. I really like the way the posts are labeled chronologically for ease of cross reference. I've added the rss feed to this blog on our blogroll.

Manet and Goya

Edouard Manet - Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1867

Francsico de Goya - The Third of May 1808, 1814

In 1861, President Benito Ju├írez of Mexico passed a law that ended the repayment of Mexican debts to European nations. Napoleon III responded by invading Mexico and installing the Austrian noble Maximilian von Habsburg as Emperor. The intervention was a disaster. By 1865, the French military was on the retreat, and the end of the American Civil War meant that the United States might intervene on Mexico’s behalf. In February of 1867, Napoleon III withdrew all the remaining French troops. Maximilian was stranded. He was tried for treason by the Mexican government, found guilty, and executed on June 19, 1867. Manet was clearly moved by these historical events and painted five versions of the Execution of the Emperor Maximilian. The best of them was completed in 1869. It is clearly a direct artistic response to Francisco de Goya's painting Third of May, 1808.

Both artists were painting during times of great historical upheaval. Goya responded to the first Emperor Napoleon's invasion of Spain and the subsequent brutality of the French troops. The cultural context for his painting was Romanticism - a reaction to the Enlightenment - a term which describes a set of attitudes to the power of the imagination, a commitment to the truth of feeling and a sensitivity to contemporary political events. The context for Manet's art is the urban expansion of Paris, rapid industrialisation and the emergence of new ways of seeing in response to modern life. 50 years after Goya's celebrated painting, another French Emperor was responsible for distant acts of violence and Manet seems to have drawn on both the newspaper reports of the execution and Goya's composition for his own version of events.

Some art historians claim Manet as the Father of Modern Art because he was so responsive to the texture of modern life. His brushwork is alive. He rejects the super-smooth finish of academic painting, preferring a superb range of effects which suggest the continual flux of life in the modern city. And yet Manet's way of seeing is grounded in art history. We have seen how he responded, controversially, to Titian's example. What I'd like to know is how you feel about these two paintings of an executution. How has each artist composed the scene? How have they dealt with pictorial space? How would you describe the use of light, the roles of the various characters in the paintings (the victims, the soldiers, the onlookers) and each artist's attitide to the events depicted? What, would you say, is the main difference between the two works?

Check out the excellent Museum of Modern Art online exhibition of Manet's Maximilian paintings for further insights into this great series of paintings.

Tate Britain

The latest installation in the Duveen Galleries is a huge sculpture by Eva Rothschild. Stretching the full length of the galleries and made of aluminium box tubing, "Cold Corners" is a spidery tangle of black lines that resembles a computer generated scribble in three dimensions. I love the contrasts in colour and form with the surrounding architecture and the way the work darts about in the space like a child high on artificial preservatives. To quote from the exhibition info board: "Cold Corners is too large and complex to be taken in at a single glance. Instead it can be experienced over time as the visitor walks around or through it."

-- Post From My iPhone

Manet and Titian comparison

Edouard Manet - Olympia, 1863

Titian - The Venus of Urbino, 1538

I watched a really interesting documentary last night on TV about Manet. It had its tabloid headline moments but there was a really thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between Manet's infamous "Olympia" and its historical precedent, Titian's "Venus of Urbino". I would be very interested in what you think about these images, in particular the relationship between the female subject and the gaze of the viewer. Manet's image caused a huge uproar when it was exhibited in the Paris Salon. Can you suggest why? What are the interesting similarities and differences between these two celebrated images?

Judith-Carravagio and Titian

These two paintings are both believed to depict the story of Judith and Holofernes. Where the Jewish widow Judith (seduces possibly and) makes the Asyrian general Holofernes drunk and then beheads him. There is a whole book in the bible named after Judith because she is a Jewish Heroine, having saved them from their aggressors the Assyrians. Titian's depiction arouses some question as to whether it is truely about Judith, or Salome and John the Baptiste, because the lady subject hold the head of the man on a platter like in the story of Salome and John the Baptiste, but there is also a girl servent at her side and neither are dressed in regal clothes mirroring the story of Judith. This could be because Titian wanted the painting to be versatile and used for both stories.

When comparing the two paintings, Titian's (painted in 1515) uses the light very differently to Carravagio's (painted in 1598). Titian's depiction seems opposite to the quote about Tenebreism, he uses light not to create space or atmosphere, but purely to highlight the subject's faces and places of interest. The composition, to me, leaves much to be desired, because if the head on the platter was eliminated, the painting could be of the madonna, or a portrait of an important lady. The subject looks demure and incapable of murdering the man infront of her. Thus the subjects seem to even, placid, the combination of light and composition ignores a possible drama and story.
Carravagio however uses light for a specific purpose of creating a mood, drama, a scene. The subjects seem to intereact more in comparison to Titian's painting, involving the viewer more, interacting with them. Even though the old lady touches neither of the two other subjects, she still leans in, in interest and curiosoty. The painter is still able to dipict beatiful fabrics and interesting emotions even though not all are in ultimate light. A factor that Titian seems not to be aware of in the other painting.

p.s. Mr Nicolls, i cant edit the website because its on your user area

Not a beach read, but...

Definitely worth a look - great on context. You get a real feel for the competitive edge that drove the 'Renaissance man'.