I recognize I am following the contemporary crowd by accepting Lucian Freud as our greatest artist of my generation. But some things seem so eminently true. I have never been enamoured of the BritArt YBAs such as Damein Hirst and Tracey Emin; they leave me cold. I am far happier with (I admit it) the older generation of Freud and Bacon and Hockney.
Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon are a fascinating pair to me. Bacon is like one too many hits off a Jamaican bong late at night, and Freud is the getting up next morning and eating a hearty breakfast. Bacon was often outrageous, and yet it is Freud who apparently has acknowledged more than 40 illegitimate children.
Anyway, this reverie was sparked by re-reading a fascinating review in the New York Review of Books of three recent publications on the artist. It’s a good read.
Readers may recall that Gilles Hebert was assaulted and killed in Grandview Park two years ago. A long-time resident of the Drive, Gilles was also an artist and I am glad to see his work on exhibition at Britannia.
On this day in 1940, the Lascaux caves in central France were discovered by four teenagers. As they entered the long shaft down into the cavern, the boys saw vivid pictures of animals on the walls.
When the site was made available in the later 1940s, this cave art was wildly popular with the public. More importantly, it allowed everyone, both public and scientists, to understand more clearly that the so-called “cave men” were far more than the mindless brutes of previous imagination.
At about 17,000 years old, the Lascaux images are far from being the earliest known cave art today — several caves in Europe and Indonesia have art from about 40,000 years ago, and a recent “sketch” on a rock in South Africa may be much older. However, the enormous trove of images (more than 900 animals identified) at Lascaux combined with the encouragement of tourist traffic to the location has allowed this cave complex to become the best known of all cave art.
The discovery at Lascaux marked an important anniversary in our understanding of who we are and where we came from.
We spent some time down at English Bay today. It was sunny but blustery, and a great change from our normal routine. We always enjoy the marvelous A-Maze-Laughter sculpture by Yue Minjun which I consider one of the great public works of art.
Jstor.org has a great article about the history and development of the art we all recognize from the sides of orange crates.
Soon after the first railcar of oranges came out of California in 1877, “orchardists and fruit associations across California were using brightly colored box labels to build an identity for their orchards and advertise their produce.”
Well worth the read, with many more examples of the art.
Christie’s online magazine has a useful guide to the movement that began in revolutionary Russia and swept across the world with far greater success than the politics of the same origin.
“As supporters of the political ideologies propagated by Russian revolutionaries, Constructivists imagined art as an active agent in the Socialist cause. Art should reflect the modern industrial world, and, above all, be accessible to the masses. Members of the group strived to make art that was relevant in a rapidly changing world, that was free from academic tradition, and devoid of any emotive or subjective properties.”
“Constructivists considered their art a product of an industrial order, rather than a unique commodity, and a precursor to the factory-produced mass-made object. They often explored collective ways of working, and regarded the object-maker as a builder or engineer rather than as an individual artist … Many of their works, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional in form, are characterised by their austere, angular geometric shapes.”
Their influence in early Soviet life was profound.
Textile designs by Varvara Stepanova
However, after Stalin suppressed the Constructivists, the movement moved abroad influencing the Bauhaus, De Stijil, Zero, and Geometric schools through the 1980s. The precepts of the movement has inspired artists such as Paul Klee, Piet Mondran, Vasily Kandinsky.
Peter Struyken, “Structuur II” (1969)
Does Constructivism survive today?
“Absolutely. Constructivism has influenced many contemporary artists making art with computer programmes, with a lot of today’s abstract art having roots in the Constructivist movement of the 1970s.”
When I was a boy, one of the first artists who’s work I fell in love with was Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, master of still life and portraiture. I saw his work in the National Gallery in London and the Louvre and was enchanted by his style.
However, to be honest, I haven’t thought of him in years. So a flood of great memories overtook me when reading today that his wonderful 1761 painting of a basket of strawberries …
…. had sold this month for €24 million: a record price for a Chardin or, indeed, for any 18th century French artist, and way above the €15 million pre-sale estimate.
It is good to know that such splendid workmanship never goes out of style.
When I first came to Vancouver and visited the Art Gallery, I was astounded to see a room full of paintings by Emily Carr. They were a shock to me, vibrant in their blues and greens and browns, different from any works I had seen before: I didn’t understand them, and I didn’t care for them at all. Now, some forty-odd years later, while I still perhaps don’t understand them completely, I have grown to appreciate them — indeed, love them — both as local and global treasures.
Today we celebrate what would have been her 150th birthday and we celebrate her ever-growing reputation.
The last time Frieda Kahlo’s self portrait Diego y yo was auctioned in 1990, it sold for $1.4 million, making her the first South American artist to break one million dollars. This week at Sotheby’s it sold again, this time for $34.9 million — the highest price by far ever achieved by a South American artist.
Each September I celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of the Lascaux Caves and the revelation of the glorious 17,000-year-old images to be found there. The historical value of Lascaux lies in the fact that they were the first such art gallery to be found. However, they are far from the oldest art that we now know about.
As the discovered art got older, it also shifted eastwards. The ancient art in Europe, at Lascaux and Altamira is dated to the period immediately following the last global maximum of the Ice Ages, 15,000 – 20,000 years ago. The caves at Chauvet are from about 30,000 years ago, but Indonesia has images firmly dated to 40,000 years, and the Sulawesi pigs can now be dated to 45,500 years ago. Images in India and China may even be older.
“The discoveries in Sulawesi could imply that representational art began in Asia, but more likely, [archaeologist Adam] Brumm says, it’s just part of a trail of representational art through human history. He expects the oldest rock art will eventually turn up from before Homo sapiens’ diaspora out of Africa.”
But, as this fascinating article from PNAS illustrates, the issue of what is the oldest art is inextricably linked to an answer to the question: “What is art?”
“The most common criterion for what’s considered art is behavior without any apparent practical use … Still other archaeologists would like to see stronger evidence that the art was actually intended to convey some kind of aesthetic principle or meaning … Beads, for instance, are decorative but can also signal group identity… Evidence of abstract images dates as far back as 500,000 years ago, when Homo erectus etched zig zag lines into a seashell in Java (5). And just this year, archaeologist Dirk Leder discovered 51,000-year-old abstract triple L-shaped patterns carved in deer bone
Is this art? Or do we only want to think about representational images, such as the Sulawesi pigs? Perhaps, as the article concludes, they may be two strands — one symbolic, one practical — of independent derivation that will not be forced into a linear history.
One of my favourite paintings, Vermeer’s Girl Reading A Letter at an Open Window, has been revealed to be something other than what we have all grown to know.
Recent restoration has shown that the blank white wall in the background originally contained a large picture of Cupid, probably indicating that the letter in question was a love missive.
“Behind [the girl] there was an empty white wall. But in 2017, we started with a big restoration and research project to do the restoration of the painting,” Uta Neidhardt, senior curator at Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, Germany.
Laboratory tests indicate the overpainting was done about 70 years after the painting was completed, and after Vermeer’s death in 1675. One theory is that the picture had been attributed to Rembrandt and the cupid was removed as it was not a detail usually associated with Rembrandt; the alteration thus added to the valuable — but wrong — attribution when the painting was presented to a Saxon prince in the 1740s.