Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sébastien Stoskopff

Many thanks to Kirby Olson for introducing me to this
early 17th Century artist - and especially the above painting,
recently acquired by the Met.

Kirby is a self-described "Lutheran Surrealist"
and though I have no idea what this might entail,
the above painting would seem to qualify.

It seems so mysterious, doesn't it ?
But it's just an ordinary box
beside some ordinary sea shells.

But what's extraordinary,
is how well everything fits together,
as if the universe,
from the bottom of the sea,
to the top of the woodworker's bench,
had produced each
only for the purpose of complementing
the visuality of the other.

(especially those happily placed metal
staples, and the fine proportions that
result from their placement)

the rest of Stoskopff's known work
is not so happily arranged,
and the larger paintings
begin to feel like catalogs
instead of revelations.

So... I've cut out the above wonderful detail
from a much larger painting

.. and did the same with this,
both of which come from the Kunstmuseum Basel
(which deserves full credit for being one of the very few museums
to provide big, fat, tasty reproductions of its collection online.)

Here's another complete painting
which I think belongs in the canon of Lutheran-Surrealist art.
(i.e. -- items which might be found on the set
of an Ingmar Bergman film)

Stoskopff (1597-1657) was almost
an exact contemporary of Zurbaran (1598-1664)
and it's interesting to compare the still-life painted by each.

Here , for example, is a Zurbaran version,
just as wacky and strange as Stoskopff,
but in its own Spanish/Moorish way.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Societe des Peintres et des Sculpteurs

In 1912, three American museums
(including the Art Institute of Chicago)
hosted an exhibit of the
"Societe des Peintres et des Sculpteurs"

This show was organized by Cornelia Bentley Sage,
then director of the Albright Gallery
(now called the "Albright-Knox Gallery"
of Buffalo, New York)
(and BTW she was the first woman to be director
of any major American art museum.

The complete catalog of this exhibit is now shown here
and the preface is copied above -- and highlighted below:

(and BTW - this catalog has a wealth of
biographical material about each of the artists)

PROPERLY to judge any movement, it is most essential to study the conditions that existed at the time when such a movement started and to analyze the natures that called it into existence. France has been the scene of the art struggle for a century. Absolutely robbed of all feeling by the classical Academic School, for a time art seemed doomed, but in addition to the brilliant work done by the French Impressionists, who form a school unto themselves, a new element has come forward, essentially sincere and immensely interesting, and strong in its appeal, especially to Americans. In this school, efforts to evade the usual and commonplace are plainly evident, and its aim is to give to the world feeling, forcefulness, and color, with a handling that is interesting, yet not too minute, nor, on the other hand, too careless.

This important group of men, which is known as the Societe Nouvelle .. has the distinction of claiming Rodin as its president. It is today emphatically the strongest and most homogeneous of the numerous societies whose varied exhibitions follow one after another in the Paris galleries. The group achieves the feat of uniting no less than thirty artists who are all men of great talent; nearly all the members are French, but America has the honor of contributing three celebrated painters, John Alexander, Walter Gay, and John Sargent. Canada gives it J.W. Morrice; Russia Prince Troubetzkoy; and Belgium two or three of her most able men.

So as you can see, in 1912 America,
the wicked old French Academy
was widely understood to be the primary antagonist
of those who loved the arts
(since I'm doubting that Miss Sage
or the trustees of the host museums
would be flouting the consensus of authoritative opinion)

But the question, of course, was
what would replace it ?
(the first Armory show of Modern Art would come a year later)

.."it was necessary to meet and win the confidence of all the artists and collectors -- it was known that theSociete Nouvelle had never been willing to leave Paris, even to exhibit in neighboring European countries, yet the Director of the Albright Art Gallery felt it worthy of a trial for the chance of accomplishment.

The artists were one and all courteous and charming, but two difficulties eclipsed all the others; first, no one was anxious to have works go so far; secondly, these men have such an international reputation that the majority of their painting have been purchased in Paris and carried to distant countries for important private collections and museums.

..a special privilege was accorded by the Luxembourg authorities who through their director, Monsieur Leonce Beneditte, have lent important works .. such a favor has never been granted before. .. through all her strenuous efforts..

Into the breach, charged the hard-working Miss Sage,
moving heaven and earth to get these charming but reluctant
French artistes to part with their masterpieces.

Though, I have no idea why they would be so reluctant,
since I'm doubting that this Societe des Peintres etc
was formed for any other purpose
other than to promote their work.

Auguste Rodin was the president,
but I suspect this was in name only,
and I've yet to find reference to this society
in the biographies of any of the artist members
(though many of their other associations are listed)

And, I have no idea,
other than for promotional purposes,
why they would be so dead-set against the academy
when this was where almost all of them had studied,
and these apples don't seem to have fallen
all that far from the tree.

I.e. -- today they would mostly be considered quite
conservative -even backward for their time
and most of their names have now been forgotten.

But not by me !

What follows is a presentation of the works
pictured in that 1912 catalog
(all in black & white)
accompanied by whatever else I could find by the
same artists on the internet
(all in color)
to offer the gentle reader
a little slice of the European artworld,
post-academy and pre-modern.

This is the American painter, John White Alexander (1856-1915)
(from the exhibit - and then from a piece currently in the Met)

The moody volumes and space of the exhibit's piece
(which remind me of Thomas Dewing
appeals to me more than the Met's,
which just seems to be
sharp illustration
(since it hasn't been pushed to
feel large/profound)

(It's my theory that depiction always starts out
feeling small -- and stays that way unless
there's some reason to make any extra effort)

Albert Besnard 1849-1934

No, I'm not really happy with this portrait either,
because it also feels small,
like an illustration

Here's another Besnard that I like more
because it feels more elegant,
but I still think it serves the client
more than us

as opposed to this dynamite portrait
of Besnard and his family.
But then, it pains me to report that Besnard
did not paint it --
it was done by another member of the Societe,
John Singer Sargent,
and doesn't it feel like the power of
spatial design has just been cranked up
two or three notches ?

Jacques-Émile Blanche (1861-1942)

This creepy Salome isn't making it for me

But the Blanche that I'm finding on the internet is
more appealing
(maybe because I need a Mediterranean vacation ??)

A female portrait that's a cut above the
last artist shown

and this just seems to be
a good portrait of James Joyce

And here's the artist himself,
again painted by John Singer Sargent.

Poor devil,
he looks like a man under pressure

Eugene Carriere (1849-1906)
(click on his name for more pictures)

Everyone who's been to the Hotel Biron,
knows the work of Rodin's good friend.

He was already dead at the time of this exhibition,
but his reputation has lasted better than most.

Emile Claus (1849–1924) was a Belgian painter
who seems to have specialized in cattle

But it looks like he was keeping an eye
on Monet as well.

as well as Pissaro

George Desvallieres (1861-1950)

This moody portrait seems better to illustrate
a character in a story
than to flatter a client,
and maybe that's why I couldn't
find any more portraits by him on the internet

while this vision reminds us that
this painter was a student of Gustave Moreau

Henri Duhem (1860-1941)

Duhem was a descendant from an old Flemish family.

I like his moody, slightly uncomfortable paintings,
but he was an active art collector as well,
leaving a collection that included:
Boudin, Carrière, Corot, Gauguin, Guillaumin, Monet,
Pissarro, Renoir, Rodin, Lebourg and Le Sidaner.

Antonio de La Gandara (1861 - 1917)
(click on his name for more pictures)

Apparently, he was a very fashionable portrait painter
among he glitterati of pre-war Paris

But I can see why his reputation faded soon after his death.
This work just looks so temporary

Gaston Latouche (1854-1913)

Ahhh.. the good life!
Maybe if this were in color,
it wouldn't make me long so much for Watteau

But I think this is quite a charming landscape,
and it feels like it could have been done 100 years later.

More of the good life,
with a fine erotic theme,
and yes, color does make a difference,
though it still seems more appropriate for
a contemporary townhouse on the goldcoast,
than for the palace at Versailles

Henri Martin (1860-1943)

Would this solid design improve with color ?

Yes... I think it would,
here's one of pieces in color,
and by the way,
this one recently sold at auction for $232,000

Had you ever heard of him ?

Here's the artist's portrait
(done by himself, this time, not by Sargent)
and I think it's quite a monument to
the life of a practicing aesthete
who loves the world
and wants to add some more beauty

Emile Rene Menard (1862-1930)

And here's a interesting piece of text
from the Musee d'Orsay website:

Fallen out of favour, these many lyrical scenes have often been removed from the places for which they were designed. This has allowed the Musee d'Orsay to present ten monumental paintings, executed between 1908 and 1915, for the various rooms of the Paris Law School. Among them, six paintings (in fact three diptychs called Antique Dream, The Golden Age and Pastoral Life), which were presented at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1909, were designed to be put on either side of the monumental doors of the Salle des Actes, where they stayed until the building was refurbished in 1970.

Here's a close-up of a drawing

And here's another.

Sweet, peaceful, full-bodied
Classical nudes -- look familiar ?

This is the graphic version of Maillol,
which, I confess, has me
completely enchanted

Here's one of those large, decorative panels
now in the Musee d'Orsay

And here, remarkably, enough
is the color reproduction
of the same painting that came to Chicago in 1912,
now on display in Musee d'Orsay

And as it turns out,
the "Societe des Peintres et des Sculpteurs"
did include, within its ranks,
another small band of artists
known as "Les Nubiens"
(not to be confused with the
" unconventional female duo that came out of Bordeaux, France, in the 1990s, who offered a jazzy, sophisticated style of R&B")

The group also included Lucien Simon, Charles Cottet and Andre Dauchez - whose paintings "were drawn entirely from philosophy and nature and were known for the harmonious tonality of their work."

The above is Menard's portrait of Charles Cottet.

I'm not sure that Menard's large panels serve as
anything more than pleasant decoration,
but it's hard to tell from the tiny jpg's.

I'm glad they've been rescued by the Musee d'Orsay,
but it looks like his work is still way under-valued at auction.

Charles Cottet (1863–1925)

I have difficulty imagining this one
looking any better in full color,
however Miss Sage, the curator of this exhibit,
acquired it for her museum in Buffalo.

But where is it now ?
I don't remember seeing it when I lived in Buffalo 30 years ago,
and recently the Albright-Knox transformed itself into a
museum that, according to Thomas Hoving :

"Has one of the most thumping modern and contemporary collections in the world."
(Gasp !)

This Cottet seascape looks more pleasant.

Andre Dauchez. (1870 - 1948)

This painting could have been done 50 years earlier,
but, of course, I'm not one to complain about that.

It's a beautiful day at a beautiful place

Lucien Simon (1861-1945)

A nice slice of life,
but then
doesn't literature do a better job of it ?
like the following text clipped
from Willa Cather's story called "Scandal"
(which happens to mention this artist by name)

The long front of Kitty's study was all windows. At one end was the
fireplace, before which she sat. At the other end, back in a lighted
alcove, hung a big, warm, sympathetic interior by Lucien Simon,

This painting made, as it were, another room; so that Kitty's study on
Central Park West seemed to open into that charming French
interior, into
one of the most highly harmonized and richly
associated rooms in Paris.
There her friends sat or stood about,
men distinguished, women at once
plain and beautiful, with their
furs and bonnets, their clothes that were
so distinctly not smart
--all held together by the warm lamp-light, by an
atmosphere of gracefuland gracious human living.

This is a portrait of Simon by Cottet
(both of them loyal "Nubians")

James Wilson Morrice (1865-1924)

This is the only Canadian in the show,
and I can understand why Canadians
are so proud of him

Many more works can be found here

His paintings feel so direct and honest to me

showing how he enjoys the world,
not how the world is supposed to be enjoyed

Here's a Canadian Madonna

and here's another,
these feel like such honest,
unpretentious women
(who keep their clothes on,
like good girls should)

Maybe I've lived too close to the Canadian border,
but this world just seems so real to me.

RENE XAVIER PRINET (French 1861-1946) (student of Gerome)

This is what I would an "illustration"
since only some attachable narrative
could compel any interest in this work.

(But I am interested in the lives of
active, creative women,
so I like these illustrations)

Raoul Andre Ulmann (French, 1867-1907)

I like this dark, damp
November of the soul

"Life as a day at the beach" ?
well, maybe..
but the kind of beach that invites melancholy
reflection rather than swimming

Jean Francois Raffaelli (1850-1924)

Raffaelli is currently one of the more famous
artists in the collection,
although I confess that I can't remember ever seeing him,
because what is the above
other than a charming postcard ?

But, as you can see from this self portrait,
he was as much an artist as Van Gogh

I imagine him as poor,
art obsessed art bum,
who can't help but make paintings
of what he sees

I've read that his earlier work
was "realistic scenes of working people"
(hopefully not all as sentimental as this one)

He hung out in artist cafes,
painted romantic ruins,
and he sure seems to be the kind of guy
you see in every European capitol,
selling drawings on the street

not really my kind of thing,
but there is a certain honest charm about it,
and if you squint just a little,
it does resemble a
nice strong, abstract painting
that might belong in the Armory Show.

Charles Despiau (1874-1946)

Moving on to the sculptures in this exhibit,
Despiau is one of the leading names in the 20th C. --
and featured here in my web gallery.

I think his powerful, simple portraits
(like this one, not from the 1912 exhibit)
are his major contributions to the tradition
(but what do I know ?)

Jane Poupelet (1878 - 1932)

I first discovered this sculptor
at a small exhibit of small sculpture
at the Institute of Chicago about 5 years ago.
(the above piece would fit into your hand)

I made an internet page for her here

She did lots of small animals,
but she also did a good job
with classical nudes

and actually -- she's one of my favorites
in this genre.
Robert Mileham is going to have to add her to his list
of sculptresses (although I feel her work to be a bit androgynous)

Her girls have a certain tension, purposefulness
about them that's missing from
the mythic bimbos of Maillol
(although I do like bimbos, too)

Count Troubetsky (1866-1938)

Yes, I'm also a big fan of this Russian/Italian/American
who just seemed to have a natural gift for
lively, balanced sculptural design
that puts him far ahead of his
naturalist contemporaries.
(who I'm sure could make a more
anatomically detailed horse, but
could not make that horse a sculpture)

I've begun a page for him here
but the best place to look so far
is in another Art Institute of Chicago catalog from 1912
found here (thanks, Robert, for the link)

Louis Dejean (1872-1954)

Dejean's career seems to have spanned the
two centuries -- beginning with the
rather blowsy romantic piece above

and culminating in the modern classicism of the
Palais de Chaillot (Trocadero)
where I first discovered him many years ago.

I prefer his classical style,
but since this entire monument's style was also preferred by
the National Socialists,
I don't think he's ready to be rehabilitated.

Eugene Lagare (1870-??)
And finally, we have the one
artist from this exhibit who is
completely invisible to the internet.

The catalog says that Rodin
considered him at the time
to be his "most promising pupil"
and that he had gotten some private
garden commissions in America.

But now seems to have fallen off the radar.

And finally, we have one photograph from the exhibit,
Edward Steichen's portrait of Rodin,
back from the days when
photography was first being promoted
as a fine art -- like painting and sculpture.

Obviously, the tactic here
was to make the photograph look like a painting or drawing.
Did it work?
Of course it worked !
And today, the same Art Institute that had this show a century ago,
has not given an exhibit to a living figure sculptor since ...
since before my time.
(while they currently specialize in post-modernist photography)


maybe it didn't work,
if you're at all sensitive to how things can be drawn
and can feel the morbid, dead-hand clumsiness
of the photographer's lens.


And that completes our tour of the 1912 exhibit catalog

(though many other artists were shown
who did not make it to the catalog)

One final note of interest --
is just how obscure so many of these artists are today,
i.e. they belong to the world of private but not public collections.

Even the Art Renewal Center ,
"The World's Largest On-line Museum"
which specializes in the 19th Century,
and has, as of today, 5,270 artists.

ARC includes less than half of the artists found in this show.
(the exact count, as of today, is 10 out of 24 )