Archive for June, 2009

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , on June 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Legion of Honor—John Baldessari: A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer. July 11—Nov. 8.

Room for Painting Room for Paper, 49 Geary Street—Rachael Jablo, Under a Circus Sky. July 2—August 1.

Aurobora Press, 370 Brannan , SFSummer Off South Park, revolving show of gallery artists, including Richmond Burton (above), David Ireland, Wes Mills, Laurie Reid and others. Through August 31.


A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Beatrice d’Este

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on June 27, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

 

Da Vinci—Bearice d'Este

Leonardo da Vinci or Ambrogio de Predis, Beatrice d’Este, ca. 1490
Oil on canvas
(Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy)

Our history begins with Beatrice d’Este, despite the fact that in this portrait she wears no lace. Although lace is explicitly mentioned in documents as early as the 13th century, the first detailed portraits of figures wearing lace generally don’t appear until the 16th century, when lace was widely fashionable among the nobility and growing merchant classes.

It is somewhat curious that Beatrice wears no lace in this portrait. Lace, which could require as many as ten hours of concentrated work to produce a single square inch, was available and highly-coveted. Indeed, an Este family inventory dating from 1493 lists, among a vast array of jewels and personal property, ricamo a reticellapunti and lavoro ad ossa (bone lace), all common laces of the period.

And yet, the portrait is emblematic of its time. Completed at the dawn of the Renaissance (commonly set at 1492), the painting hints at the transformation of the world to come, during which great power and wealth would be accumulated by families in a position to profit from the re-emerging trade along Silk Route. And those families would impress the world with their unapologetic and ostentatious display of wealth, the legacy of which has reached us in the form of various “masterpieces.”

Beatrice was a member of the Este-Sforza family, which joined by marriage two of the oldest reigning and already powerful houses in Italy. The house of Este, which held court in Ferrara, traced its lineage to the 11th century Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria. Beatrice’s father, Ercole I ruled the Ferrara commune for 34 years, catapulting the city-state (and the Estes with it) to an unmatched level of economic prosperity and cultural prominence. The family was renowned for its love of letters and patronage of the arts.

By comparison, the Sforza (“force”) dynasty were young upstarts. At the time of this portrait, the Sforzas controlled another rising city-state, the Duchy of Milan. (Although this would not be for long, as the French ousted Beatrice’s husband Ludvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in 1498, and this led to centuries of skirmishes between various European factions for control of Milan.)

The houses of Este and Sforza had always been on friendly terms. Since Ludvico was one of the most powerful princes in Italy, he might have been expected to eventually woo the Este daughters. His first choice for a wife was Beatrice’s older sister, Isabella. Ercole I readily saw in the alliance an opportunity to ally Ferrara with powerful Milan as a safeguard against the rival Papal State and Venice. Unfortunately, Isabella was already spoken for. So Ercole proffered up his younger daughter (then under 10 years old). The two were subsequently married in the winter 1490 when Beatrice was 16.

The true attribution of Beatrice’s portrait is still in doubt. Ludvico Sforza was accomplished as a warrior, businessman, and a patron of the arts, who over time commissioned both Ambrogio de Predis and Leonardo for various projects.  De Predis was already employed in the Sforza court when Ludvico first invited Leonardo to Milan in 1483 to design an equestrian statue of his father, Duke Francesco Sforza. (Though the Leonardo model was never cast, a “replica” prances today outside the Ippodromo in Milan.)  The Duke may have had his doubts throughout the duration of the project, but the patron and artist must have stayed on good terms. Leonardo remained at court, helping the couple with all manner of additional projects, even the interior decor for the marriage celebration. Regrettably, no documentation of a portrait by Leonardo of either the Duke or his wife exists. Further complicating matters, de Predis was known to have assisted Leonardo with many of his Milanese commissions.

We may never know who executed this portrait, but that need not deter from an appreciation of its singularity.  Following the portraiture convention established by painters of the Quattrocentro, the artist has chosen to portray his sitter in profile. In doing so, he magnificently captures essence of his sitter, a girl on the threshold of womanhood.  Bedecked in the adornments—silk, velvet, pearls and embroidery (brocade) crafted of spun gold threads—afforded her by birthright and marriage, Beatrice looks forward in noble serenity. And at the same time her profile with its upturned nose and slight smile betrays an innocence that must have been the basis of the oft-repeated epithet: la più zentil donna in Italia” (“the sweetest lady in Italy”).

Wider Connections

Sir Kenneth Clark—Leonardo da Vinci (Revised Edition)
Cristoforo Romano: bust of Beatrice d’Este
Fashion: Beatrice d’Este’s tomb
Ambrogio de Precis only signed and dated work: Maximilian I
Niccolò Machiavelli—The Prince

Venetian Red Notebook: God Is In The Details

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2009 by Christine Cariati

A septet of paintings and tapestries spanning the 15th-20th centuries. All very different in mood and intent, yet each filled with exquisite, finely-patterned detail.

KlimtGustav Klimt, Die Tanzerin (The Dancer)
Oil on canvas, c 1916-18
Courtesy: Neue Galerie

bonnardnudePierre Bonnard, Nude in the Bath and Small Dog, 1941-6
Courtesy: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

tapunicornLa Dame a La Licorne, Le Toucher (detail)
Tapestry, wool & silk, end of 15th century
Courtesy: Reunion des musees nationeaux, Paris

jpgWilliam Blake, Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car, 1824-7
Pen and watercolor
Courtesy: the Tate Gallery, London

TangkaParamasukha—Chakrasamvara (detail) Tangka, Gouache on cotton
Tibet, late 15th-early 16th century
Courtesy: Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Private Collection  Photo: Kaz Tsuruta

TapbirdsThe Hunt of the Unicorn, Flemish, c 1500
Detail, Fourth tapestry in the series, The Unicorn Defends Himself
The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art

vuillardEdouard Vuillard, Mother and Sister of the Artist, c 1893
Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Art

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Series Prologue

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: Today Venetian Red begins a short series on the history of lace, as depicted through seven portraits that span five centuries. Lace is delicate and fragile textile, and much of what we know about the styles and customs of lace, especially before the 17th century, are derived from the clues provided in paintings.

This is the first installment in the series. Other chapters include: Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in this series.



Duchesse Bobbin Lace Collar, ca. late 19th century.

It is the one costly wear which never vulgarises; jewels worn without judgment can be rendered offensive to good taste in their too apparent glitter, but lace in its comparatively quiet richness never obtrudes itself and is recognised in its true worth and beauty only by those whose superior taste has trained them to see its value. . .

—Mrs. F. Nevil Jackson, A History of Hand-Made Lace, ca. 1900.


“It’s difficult to see why lace should be so expensive; it is mostly little holes.”

—American author Mary Wilson Little (ca. 1904)


Chantilly Fan19th-century fan with Chantilly lace covering.

It’s safe to say that the average person today doesn’t think much about lace as a fashion statement. Prince aside, if it is worn at all by average people, lace is usually worn mainly by women and then generally out of sight in undergarments or as part of a specific “costume.” (We’re thinking of brides and Madonna.)  Since machines fabricate pretty much everything in our world (including lace), it’s easy to understand how a frilly item once made laboriously by hand, never mind an article of clothing once de riguer for men, seems outmoded and quaint.  Lace hasn’t disappeared (lace as table top linens is still widely available), but it has been relegated to the fashion specialty bin.

Yet, for many centuries, lace enjoyed a substantial and luxurious life as a fashion accoutrement. The history of lace is intertwined with the history of another class of luxury goods—fine art.  It’s no accident that northern Italy and Flanders, the two pillars of lace-making during the era of its greatest prominence—the 15th through 17th centuries—rose to become principal artistic centers. Local populations made affluent through trade with the East were eager to telegraph their prosperity and power through display of their de luxe possessions.

16th c laceCuff of Maltese lace, probably 17th century.

Technically different from woven fabrics, true lace (vrai dentelle) is an ornamental open-work textile produced by looping threads around one another to form an intricate pattern. Lace is related to, but distinguishable from, other open-textured woven fabrics such as gauze; from knotted openwork such as net and macramé; from tatting; and from knitted openwork like crochet. Textile experts refer to these forms as “Other Laces.”

The origin of lace is speculative. Open-work fabrics were certainly produced in the ancient civilizations. However, the earliest existing samples of openwork, which date to dynastic Egypt, are simply woven fabric with holes created by removed threads, not lace as we understand it. (These are often referred to as drawn thread work). Because the fishermen’s net, among the oldest of human implements, is a form of lace, many textile experts believe that lace derived from netting, not from embroidery, its other cousin.

Punta in Aria lace panel, 1620Punta in Aria lace panel, ca. 1620.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance, however, that looping threads around each other became the accepted method for making lace. Beginning in the 15th century, lace proliferated, along the way acquiring both prosaic names for the places in which it originated—Belgian, Irish, Reticella, Chantilly, Valenciennes—as well as more poetic names relating to its various styles—Point Arabe, Punta in Aria, Ave Maria. Regardless, all descend from two common ancestors—Punto Tagliato and Point Coupé. Hand-made lace is still made according to one of two techniques: by using a needle to interlock the threads, principally an Italian method derived from passementerie, or through the interweaving of bobbins wound with threads, a method associated principally with Flanders.

Beginning in the mid-18th century, machines have also produced lace.  With large-scale improvements in production made during the Industrial Revolution lace came within the financial reach of the middle class. Gradually machines replicated most of the lace patterns previously made by hand.

19th century table linen.

Once a vital visual ornament and a viable alternative to jewelry, lace, like other forms of decorative ornament, fell out of favor during the 20th century.  Perhaps, it too was a victim of the severe modernist aesthetic. As architect Adolf Loos proclaimed at the dawn of the 2oth century: “the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.”

Despite this condemnation, one cannot fail to appreciate lace as a luscious form of decorative adornment.

Queen VictoriaAlex Bassano, Portrait of Queen Victoria (for her Jubilee Celebrations),
1887
(Note the exquisite veil in the Florentine style.)

Portraits offer us an insightful commentary on the evolving varieties of lace and the style conventions associated with them. Conversely, the depiction of this delicate substance might well be the best test of a painter’s virtuosity.

Wider Connections

Judith Gwynne—The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace
Lace collections around the World
Evolution of Lace
A Lace Lovers Diary
Is the veil of modernism lifting? Lace Trends for 2008

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Drawing, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Creativity Explored, 3245 16th Street, SF—Inscriptions. Though the artists working and exhibiting here may have developmental disabilities, that hasn’t prevented them from communicating movingly and often quite beautifully through their art.  Possibly there’s an undiscovered  Martín Ramírez working here. . .

De Young—Toward Abstraction: Photographs and Photograms (June 20-Nov.15). This exhibit features the work of Edward Weston, Arthur Siegel, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Imogen Cunningham, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

(Photo courtesy zincsaucier442.)

1 AM Gallery, 1000 Howard, SF —Into the Darkness. 60 artists present toy creations under the manifesto “Vinyl is the new canvas.”


Venetian Red Notebook: The Long and Winding Road

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , on June 21, 2009 by Christine Cariati

stanthony

Master of the Osservanza Triptych,
St. Anthony Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold

Tempera on panel, c 1435
The Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This amazing small painting (approximately 19 x 14 inches) is one of my favorites in the visual feast that is the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been visiting this painting for decades and never tire of it, always see something new. The painting was once thought to be by the 15th century Sienese master, Sassetta, but has since been attributed to the Master of the Osservanza Triptych.

The painting is one of eight panels that narrate the story of the life of St. Anthony Abbot. St. Anthony wanders through this lonely landscape under a brilliantly blazing twilight sky. His path has taken him past a stark though luminous church (painted in the transparent yet vibrantly rich Carthamus Pink) through a landscape of desolate rocky hills and bare trees, softened only by the benign presence of some lovely, docile beasts. The first time I saw this painting I was confused by the saint’s apparent recoil from a sweet little rabbit at the base of the tree, until I read that a pot of gold, the symbol of all earthly temptation, was originally painted on the left foreground, and had, early in the painting’s long history, been scraped away.

stanthonydetail

Venetian Red Notebook: Artemisia’s Hand

Posted in Christine Cariati, Drawing, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , on June 19, 2009 by Christine Cariati

righthandPierre Dumonstier, Right Hand of Artemisia Gentileschi Holding a Brush
Black and red chalk, 1625, British Museum
photo courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652), the first woman artist to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno, led a very tempestuous life. Leaving aside all the controversy and melodrama, however fascinating and instructive, I’d simply like to reflect briefly on this drawing of her right hand by her contemporary Pierre Dumonstier (1585-1656). It is a lovely, expressive drawing that suggests both skill and strength, which seems apt, because in Gentileschi’s historical, religious and allegorical paintings, the eye is often drawn to her depiction of women’s hands. Whether clutching a paintbrush, drapery or a sword, her female subjects have powerful, expressive, strong hands. No where more so than in her arresting self-portrait as the allegory of painting, La Pittura.

AGLaPitturaArtemisia Gentileschi, La Pittura, c1630
Royal Collection, Kensington Palace, London

The Dastardly (and Delicious) Spell of Struwwelpeter

Posted in Book Review, Illustration, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Note: June 13 marked the 200th anniversary of author Heinrich Hoffman’s birth.


struwwelpeterCOVER

Struwwelpeter cover (courtesy Frederick Warne & Co, now Penguin).

In 1844, unable to find suitable instructional material for his young son, Heinrich Hoffman penned Struwwelpeter and presented it to the three year old as a Christmas gift.

In 1962, perhaps for the same reason, my grandmother gave my youngest brother, then five, the English edition of Struwwelpeter, also as a Christmas gift.

I was 9 at the time, dutifully trudging through rather bland books like Mary Poppins, while attempting more challenging reads like  The Phantom Tollbooth (this one with the interpretive help of my father). The Tollbooth notwithstanding (it was after all a fable), I took no interest Struwwelpeter at first. Wherever I was in the lexicon of children’s lit, I knew that I was beyond “fairy tales.”

Nevertheless, Struwwelpeter quietly and permanently cast its spell upon me.

Eventually, curiosity pushed me to purloin the book from my defenseless brother. (Dastardly fun!) The cover telegraphed that these were no garden-variety fairy tales.  Once inside, I honed in on the charming cartoon-like illustrations, which transported me to a era not altogether unfamiliar to me, surrounded as we were by items passed down through generations of family.

Cartoon depicting Heinrich Hoffmann’s jubilee celebration with caption “Papa, we congratulate you.”

The verses were another matter. They were dark, much darker than even the grimmest Grimm tale.  The stories may have started in a playful mode, but they invariably ended badly, as a child paid the Draconian consequences for disregarding parental advice.  Some of the outcomes were cruel, others gruesomely violent. Whatever the case, they were altogether unlike the tales of “normal” childhood that were being served up to me by mid-20th-century authors.  No, the Struwwelpeter stories were truly scary, because the things that happened to these children—e.g. severed fingers, dog bites, burning hair, wasting away, drowning—conceivably could befall a careless 20th-century child.

Below: “Cruel Frederick” from Struwwelpeter (courtesy Frederick Warne & Co, now Penguin). Click to enlarge images.

struwwelpeter3

And yet, those über-didactic tales were fascinating. I not-so secretly laughed in the naughty antics of those children and the punishments that befell them. As the oldest child, I was adjusting to sharing the limelight with my closest sibling, yet another brother, and the first son of the family. Imagine my glee upon finding his eponymous story in the collection! For a moment, I reveled in the possibility that my brother Frederick might too someday be bitten by a dog and end up miserably in bed. That he too would be visited by a doctor bearing further unpleasantries—

The Doctor came, and shook his head,
And made a very great to-do,
And gives him nasty physic (i.e. medicine) too.

struwwelpeter2

struwwelpeter

I’m guessing that I was not alone in my glee, that generations of children received their first lessons in Schadenfreude from the Struwwelpeter stories.

REWARD1

A 19th century “reward of merit” for a well-learned lesson. 

Are the tales sadistically cruel or humorously entertaining? On the one hand, Dr. Hoffmann earned a reputation as a caring and humane psychiatrist. Further, the German subtitle translates to “amusing stories and droll pictures,” indicating perhaps a more humorous intent. But 19th-century society possessed very different notions than we about childhood and child development;  children were considered little more than savage creatures, who required strict guidance in order to behave as adults. Few allowances were made for unruly behavior; beatings were acceptable and routine.  A particularly thorough discussion of the question appears in Barbara Smith Chalou’s—Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror.

In any case, the Germans were not alone in producing tales of horror—19th-century English and American children’s books often made use of violent cruelty. (See Original Poems for Infant Minds for particularly gruesome examples.) Further, Struwwelpeter‘s success has not been limited to Germany.  To date, some 30 million-plus copies of the book have been sold worldwide.  The book has inspired contemporary spin-offs—a “junk” opera (see clip below), an NPR show, Bob Shaake’s updated illustrated tale (link below) and even a parody,  Struwwelhitler (also below).

The charming Struwwelpeter illustrations will always inspire the better angels of my (aesthetic) nature. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether I’ve really left its verse-inspired Schadenfreude completely in my childhood. . .

Disclosure: I still have the purloined book. Just for the record, I’m never giving it back.

Wider Connections

Struwwelpeter (English)—Project Gutenberg version

Struwwelpeter Museum, Frankfort

Shockheaded Peter (The Junk Opera)

Above: Wyld Stallyon’s animation of Bob Staake’s Struwwelpeter (Tom Waits soundtrack particularly effective)

Struwwelhitler2

“Struwwelhitler” from Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories & Vile Pictures

London’s Children in the 19th Century

The Play’s the Thing: A History of Toy Theater in Three Acts

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contains Video Elements, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Paper, XC with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

FireworkstheaterOmbres Chinoise, A Toy Theater
Fireworks on the Seine during the Exhibition Universelle, Paris 1900
Mauclair-Dacier, French, colored lithograph, 13 7/8 x 18 1/4in.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein

Act One: “A Penny Plain, Twopence Coloured”
The history of miniature theater, once a very popular form of domestic entertainment, is fascinating and engaging. Toy theaters flourished in 19th-century England where it was known as Juvenile or Toy Theatre. It was also popular throughout Europe—Papiertheater in Germany, Teatrini di Carta in Italy, Kindertheater in Austria, Imagerie Francais in France, El Teatro de los Ninos in Spain and the Dukketeater in Denmark. With some variations, the format was essentially the same—characters and scenery (complete with back drops, side wings, top drops and prosceniums) were printed on paper. Children then colored these sets and figures, cut them out, mounting some pieces on cardboard or light wood. The characters in the dramas were sometimes attached to flat wooden sticks that were moved across the the stage from side to side. On these tiny stages, large dramas were enacted.

GuignolGuignol, France, 1900s

In England, the early theaters were printed from copper-plate engravings and could be purchased colored or uncolored—hence the catchphrase “a penny plain and twopence coloured.” Because these theaters were exact reproductions of sets and scenery being presented on the contemporary stage, these theaters often provide the only visual record of the history of the London stage of that period. The toy theaters in England were predominantly melodramas and pantomimes, and plays by Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott.

ToytheaterToy Theatre by A. How Mathews, England, c1900
courtesy Peter Baldwin

In Germany, they were often plays by Goethe, Schiller and their contemporaries; and operas by Wagner, Mozart and Rossini as well as popular comic operas of the day. In Denmark, beginning in around 1880, the firm of Jacobsen  printed colored lithographs for theaters largely depicting plays about Danish history and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson. Many of these are still published today by the firm of Prior, in Copenhagen.

dukketeater-mogensDukketeater, Prior, Copenhagen

In England, paper theater began with William West, who first sold sheets of characters for the popular pantomime, Mother Goose, in 1811, and soon went on to publish sets and characters for a number of plays then enjoying success in London. These were very popular and other publishers joined in. Eventually, the style of theater productions changed and became less suitable for toy theater production—after 1860 only a couple of publishers continued to produce and hand-color the old plays up until the 1930s. One of these publishers was Benjamin Pollock. After the war, production was revived, and Pollock’s plays and theaters, now printed in color, can still be purchased today at Pollock’s Toy Museum in London.

ep-pollock-interiorInterior of Pollock’s Toy Museum

WestPirate

The fascinating history of toy theaters, lavishly illustrated and discussed in great detail, can be found in Toy Theatre, edited by Kenneth Fawdry, (published by Pollock’s Toy Theatres Ltd., London) and Peter Baldwin’s excellent Toy Theatres of the World (Zwemmer, London, 1992.)

pollocksToy Theatre display, Pollock’s Toy Museum, London

Act Two: Not For Pleasure Alone
One of the most fascinating things about toy theaters is that while adults enjoyed them as well, they were intended for children. Imagine the dexterity, concentration, imagination and thoughtfulness required to assemble and produce these performances. Quite a far cry from the offerings of today’s dumbed-down children’s entertainment industry. These miniature impresarios took their work very seriously—sets were constructed, speaking parts rehearsed, musical accompaniment (usually piano, perhaps a small ensemble) organized. The footlights were tiny candles with metal reflectors. Often tickets were sold at the door. This was a total performance experience.

For a wonderful glimpse of the magic of toy theater, watch the opening scene from Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, Fanny and Alexander. About 35 seconds in, you will see Alexander playing with his toy theater. Notice that his theater has the motto of the Royal Theater in Copenhagen inscribed on the proscenium: “Ej Blot Til Lyst”—Danish for Not for Pleasure Alone.

However, toy theater also had its adult enthusiasts—Goethe was inspired to write for the theater by home performances he saw as a child. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote lovingly of stopping in the street and peering into the window of a shop in Edinburgh that displayed a working miniature theater. G.K. Chesterton was a life-long aficionado of toy theater. Here he is, cutting out characters for his miniature theater play, George and the Dragon:

GKCtoytheater

Chesterton wrote: “Has not everyone noticed how sweet and startling any landscape looks when seen through an arch? This strong, square shape, this shutting off of everything else, is not only an assistance to beauty; it is the essential of beauty…
This is especially true of toy theatre, that by reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events…Because it is small it could easily represent the Day of Judgement. Exactly in so far as it is limited, so far it could play easily with falling cities or with falling stars.”

The artist Jack Butler Yeats, son of painter John B. Yeats and brother of poet William B. Yeats, loved toy theater, and wrote and performed plays every Christmas for local children. Included in Jack B. Yeats, Collected Plays, is Yeats’ introduction to his plays for toy theater, My Miniature Theatre. In it Yeats says: “As to the plays, I write them myself. So what shall I say of them but that I like the piratical ones best.”

JBYplayadPhoto courtesy The Collected Plays of Jack B. Yeats by Robin Skelton
Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1971

Yeats designed sets for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, which also produced three of his own plays. This watercolor, of a performance at the Old Mechanics’ Theatre (later the Abbey) wonderfully invokes his enthusiasm for the theater—both large and small.

Jack Yeats

Jack B. Yeats, Willy Reilly at the Old Mechanics’ Theatre
Watercolor, Courtesy of the Abbey Theatre

Another toy theater aficionado, the writer Jean Cocteau, said: “When I had scarlet fever or German measles and was kept in bed…I would design scenery for my toy theater…I think that was when I caught the red and gold disease of the theater, from which I never recovered.”

jcferdessins2-1

Act Three: Toy Theater today

greatsmallworksjpgStephen Kaplin, banner for Great Small Works’ Travelling Toy Theater Festival, 1997
photo by Jeff Becker

Traditional toy theaters, now understandably difficult to find, are avidly collected by antiquarians and Pollock’s produces 20,000 reproduction toy theaters a year. However, the love of miniature theater is not just an exercise in nostalgia, there is a thriving international community of toy theater enthusiasts who create wonderful contemporary works of wildly varying content and complexity.

Great Small Works has produced seven Toy Theater Festivals that have featured the work of hundreds of theater and visual artists from around the world. I invite you to take a minute to peruse their web site and find links to information about upcoming performances and festivals.

In closing, here is a wonderful newsreel from the 1920s which shows Mr. Pollock printing and constructing a toy theater. Feel free to try this at home!


Dark Day Picks—Biennale Round Up

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , on June 15, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art. Today we present a selection of random reflections on this year’s Venice Biennale (“Making Worlds”)—

Double screen screen projection from MASBEDO.

Thomas Ball (Diary of a Filmmaker/Telos): War of the Worlds

Hans-Peter Feldman, Shadow Play, 2002-2009. (Photo courtesy Tommaso Dorigo)

Tommaso Dorigo (Scientific Blogging)—Highlights from La Biennale 2009

Bruce Nauman’s Topological Gardens for the USA Pavillion, Giardini, Venice Biennale, 2009

Your Studio Blog

Dossier

Odd Tag—highlights of the country pavillions

Michael Kimmelman (NY Times)—Small World Crammed on Biennale’s Grand Stage

Sebastian Snee (Boston.com)—Venice Sees a Flood of Creativity

Artforum—roundup of international opinion

Artipedia—The Perpetual Gypsy Pavilion

Biennale URL

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