Archive for the Flora & Fauna Category

Monkey Business: The Paintings of Ferdinand van Kessel

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting with tags , , , , , , on May 4, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Ferdinand van Kessel, Monkey’s Feast

Ferdinand van Kessel’s (1648-1696) humorous and engaging monkey paintings feature many types of monkeys and apes indulging in various human activities. Like other painters of the 17th century, van Kessel was very interested in the natural sciences and painted all kinds of specimens and wildlife very much in the cabinet of curiosities style. The monkey paintings are a hybrid of his natural history and allegorical work.

Ferdinand van Kessel, Landscape with Birds, 1681
Oil on copperplate
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

In the history of western art, monkeys have appeared in several different guises. Earlier on, monkeys were often depicted chained or tethered—representing man trapped by his senses and earthly desires. Monkeys were also often depicted eating an apple, symbolizing man’s fall from grace. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as interest in natural history grew, monkeys in art were no longer symbols of sin and enslavement, but mimics of the foolish behavior of humans. It is only in some of the great natural history illustrations of the 19th century, that monkeys, drawn in their natural habitats, are depicted with autonomy, respect and dignity–although it is still very rare that human characteristics and expressions are not attributed to them.

Albrecht Dürer, Virgin and Child with Monkey, c. 1498
Copperplate engraving
The British Museum

18th century engraving from a painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625)
Courtauld Institute, London

Frans Francken and David Teniers, The Interior of a Picture Gallery, c. 1615-50
Oil on panel
Courtauld Institute, London

There is not much information available about Ferdinand van Kessel. All that I’ve really been able to determine is that he is the son of the great Jan van Kessel of Antwerp, and thus a part of the extended van Kessel/Brueghel family that produced so many great artists.

Circle of Jan van Kessel, Study of Birds and Monkeys, c. 1660-1670
Oil on copper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Circle of Jan van Kessel, Study of Birds and Monkeys, c. 1660-1670
Oil on copper
National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Ferdinand’s father, Jan van Kessel (1626-1679), was the grandson of Jan Brueghel, and largely continued in his tradition, painting still-lifes of flowers, insects and animals. Jan van Kessel also painted allegorical works depicting animals, the four elements and the senses. Accuracy was very important to him—he worked both from nature and scientific texts. Jan van Kessel worked mostly in oil on copper—his paintings are small-scale gems, intensely colored and filled with meticulous detail.

Jan van Kessel was very influenced by the scientific naturalism of Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600), particularly his studies of flowers and insects. A folio of fifty-two of Hoefnagel’s engravings, Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii, based on his father Georg’s watercolor paintings, was published in Frankfurt in 1592.

Joris Hoefnagel, detail of frontispiece from Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii

Jan van Kessel, A Cockchafer, Beetle, Woodlice and other Insects, with a Sprig of Auricula, c. 1650s
Oil on copper
The Ashmolean, Oxford

Here are three more of Ferdinand van Kessel’s monkey paintings. I wasn’t able to find out where they are located, so I’ll assume for now that they are in private collections. I’d love to know more about them, if anyone has information, please join the conversation.

Ferdinand van Kessel, The Painting Monkey

Ferdinand van Kessel, Apes Celebrating in the Kitchen

Ferdinand van Kessel, A Monkey Smoking and Drinking with an Owl

In the future, Venetian Red will do a second installment about primates in art, discussing the work of Chardin, Watteau and others—leading up to the multitude of monkey paintings as social commentary in the age of Darwin.

Et in Arcadia Ego: Still-Life with Strawberries

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contains Video Elements, Drawing, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Wicker Basket with Wild Strawberries, 1761
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Recently, while looking at Chardin’s Wicker Basket with Wild Stawberries, a beautiful, elegiac passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited crossed my mind:

At Swindon we turned off the main road and, as the sun mounted high, we were among dry-stone walls and ashlar houses. It was about eleven when Sebastian, without warning, turned the car into a car track and stopped. It was hot enough now to make us seek the shade. On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine—as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together—and we lit fat Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-grey smoke rose, untroubled by any wind, to the blue-green shadows of foliage, and the sweet scent of the tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us and the fumes of the sweet, golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us suspended.

—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Book I, Et in Arcadia Ego

It was Chardin’s strawberries, luxuriating in their rich atmosphere of air and light, glowing with ripeness and warmth from the sun, that I imagined Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder feasting on in their summer idyll—not the bloated, tasteless behemoths that pass for strawberries these days.

So, here is a visual ode to the strawberry, as brought to vivid life in a handful of favorite still-life paintings. I apologize, dear reader, that I cannot deliver a basket to your door—but, by all means, open a bottle of Château Peyraguey, and feast your eyes.

Georg Flegel (1566-1638) Still Life with Pygmy Parrot, n.d.
Water color drawing
Staatliche Museum, Berlin

Adriaen Coorte, Still Life with Strawberries in a Wan-Li Bowl, detail, 1704
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Eloise Harriet Stannard (1829-1915) Birds and Strawberries, c. 1852-93
Oil on canvas

Pierre-August Renoir, Strawberries, 1905
Oil on canvas
Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Édouard Manet, Strawberries, 1882
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Insects in Art: The Busy Bee Has No Time for Sorrow

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Illustration, Installation, Painting, Printmaking, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Seest thou the little winged fly, smaller than a grain of sand?
It has a heart like thee, a brain open to heaven and hell,
Withinside wondrous and expansive; its gates are not closed;
I hope thine are not.                       — William Blake

While rather squeamish about actual insects, I am entranced by images of insects in art—in still-life, natural history illustration and design. As Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) wrote:

It is indeed true that art is omnipresent in nature, and the true artist is he who can bring it out.

Albrecht Dürer, Stag Beetle, 1505
Watercolor on paper
Getty Museum

Dürer’s beautiful and dignified watercolor of a beetle is an early embodiment of the Renaissance respect for nature—Dürer was among the first of his contemporaries to give an insect center stage in a work of art. In antiquity, insects had been included in trompe l’oeil and memento mori paintings to demonstrate technical virtuosity and as symbols of evil and death, while butterflies represented transformation and resurrection. Insects in themselves were considered unworthy of consideration as subjects for painting.

By the 17th century, the obsession with natural history—and with insects as a miraculous part of the natural world—took precedence, and symbolism was left behind. Insects became subjects of study and fascination. Dürer, as always, ahead of his time, brings his masterful draughtsmanship to his watercolor, of a beetle—which he considered a finished work of art, not a study.

Francesco Stelluti‘s Melissographia, 1625, was the first scientific illustration done with the aid of a microscope and included three magnified views of a bee.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Forty-One Insects, Moths and Butterflies, 1646
Etching from Muscarum Scarabeorum
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) was a Czech-born master printmaker, whose natural history illustrations have an elegant sense of pattern and design. Cabinets of curiosity were the rage among collectors of the day, and assemblages such as this would part of the display. Hollar’s illustrations were likely influenced the engravings that Jacob Hoefnagel did from his father Georg Hoefnagel‘s original drawings.

Like many still-lifes of the period, Hoefnagel’s natural history studies often had a somber message. The title of his piece, below, which features flowers, a chrysalis, insects and a moth above a dead mouse reads: Nasci. Patri. Mori. (I am born. I suffer. I die.)

Jacob Hoefnagel, Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagel, 1592
Engraving
Private collection, Switzerland

Alexander Marshal (c.1620-82) is famous for his beautifully drawn florilegium (flower-book) which he worked on for thirty years, until his death. This lovely butterfly study, above, was painted from one in the collection of naturalist, gardener and plant-hunter John Tradescant the Younger (1608-62) when Marshal was a guest at his house in London in 1641.

Robert Hooke, Ant, from Micrographia
London, 1665
The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

John Covel, Natural History and Commonplace Notebook, 1660-1713
Drawings and notations by Robert Hooke and others
The British Library

Robert Hooke, Eye of a Fly, from Micrographia, 1665
Engraving
The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

The work of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) is extraordinary in its detail and accuracy. Hooke’s Micrographia is a landmark work in natural history illustration. It contains thirty-eight copperplate engravings, his subjects all brilliantly translated from his keen observations under the microscope to an authentic, beautifully rendered two-dimensional image.

Mark Catesby, Nightjar and mole cricket, detail, c. 1722-6

Mark Catesby‘s (1682-1749) life work was his The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. His work really captures the life force of his subjects, and in this case, the predatory demands of survival.

William Blake, The Sick Rose, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1789

No artist captured the contradictory aspects of nature with more force and beauty than the great visionary Romantic poet, illustrator and printmaker, William Blake (1757-1827.) Blake, who described the human imagination as “the body of God,” and died singing and clapping his hands at the vision of heaven that awaited him—was nevertheless able to beautifully describe the dark, destructive aspect of nature.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Lens Aldous, Head of the Flea, c. 1838
Hand-colored lithograph, poster for Entomological Society of London
Hope Library, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Two more impossibly detailed images of the heads of insects. Above, Lens Aldous was a specialist in micrographic illustration. The year this image was made, Charles Darwin was Vice-President of the Entomolgical Society of London.

Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature; Or, The History of Insects, 1758
Engraving
Cambridge University Library

The drawing, above, of the head of a male bee, is in a book from Charles Darwin’s personal library. Microscopic studies were extremely important to the development of Darwin’s theories about evolution.

R. Scott, Arachnides, Myriapoda, c.1840

This illustration, above, is not just an inventory of types of spiders, it also shows the predatory nature of these creatures—note the bird in the grasp of the giant spider.

Jan van Kessel, Insects and Fruit, c. 1636-1679
Oil on copper
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jan van Kessel, Insects on a Stone Slab, c. 1660-70
Oil on copper
Kunstmuseum, Basel

My favorite painter of insects is Jan van Kessel (1626-1679.) As with his bird tableaus, van Kessel created mini-universes teeming with life in his natural history scenes. His works are mostly small oil paintings on copper or wood. Often studies like these were made into prints for natural history collectors.

Justus Juncker, Pear with Insects, 1765
Oil on oakwood
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

There are many 17th century still-lifes in which insects do not have center stage but instead play a supporting role. This beautiful painting by Justus Juncker (1703-1767) presents the pear as a sculptural form—the dramatic lighting and its isolation on the pedestal gives it a mysterious and monumental presence. Again, there are intimations of mortality—the plinth is chipped and cracked, and the small tears in the skin of the fruit has attracted insects.

Maria Sibyla Merian, Branch of guava tree with leafcutter ants, army ants, pink-toed tarantulas, c. 1701-5

I can think of no more intriguing examples of botanical art than the work of artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717.) Merian began her entymological studies at thirteen, when she embarked on a study of flies, spiders and caterpillars.  In 1705, Merian published her stunning Metamorphosis, a folio of 60 engraved plates of the life cycle of the butterflies and insects of Surinam, where she’d been on expedition from 1699-1701. I love the way Merian plays with scale, conflates species and creates drama with her lively and energetic compositions.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Passion flower plant and flat-legged bug, c. 1701-5

Maria Sibylla Merian, Vine branch and black grapes, with moth, caterpillar and chrysalis of gaudy sphinx, 1701-5

Insects also fired the imagination of Victorian fairy painters. Their work was full of creatures that were half-human/half-insect—and elves and fairies ride around on the backs of butterflies and birds. This costume sketch, below, is from Charles Kean‘s production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream which was produced at Princess’s Theatre, London, in 1856. Shakespeare’s play was an abiding theme in paintings of this genre.

Joseph Noël Paton, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, detail, 1849
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh

John Anster Fitzgerald, Faeries with Birds, detail

In the area of design, textile designers have also made good use of insect imagery, for example, this charming and colorful insect design from France, c. 1810.

And, below, Dagobert Peche‘s vibrant Swallowtail design done for the Weiner Werkstätte c. 1913.

In 1926, master of French Art Deco design, Emile-Alain Seguy painted this beautiful pattern of butterflies and roses.

Seguy was perhaps most famous for his amazing series, Insectes, done in collotype with pouchoir.

Contemporary artist Jennifer Angus creates large-scale installations made from petrified insects that are reminiscent of Victorian cabinets of curiosities. Angus’ work, with its kaleidescopic imagery, is an amalgam of science and art. It is highly decorative but is also meant to educate the viewer about the important role of insects in our environment.

Jennifer Angus, Grammar of Ornament, 2004
Installation, University of Wisconsin

Angus gets most of her bugs through harvesters in Southeast Asia, and recycles insects from piece to piece. A link to a podcast about Angus’ 2008 show at the Newark Museum, Insecta Fantasia, is below:

Before humans drew plants, landscapes or images of themselves—they drew animals and insects. The fascination with the natural world and the creatures that share our planet is ancient and enduring. I am grateful to the artists whose sustained intense observation and attention to detail have brought these creatures to life on the page.

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom,
No clock can measure…
—from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

The Still Life Examined: Asparagus in Art

Posted in Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Food, Painting with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Édouard Manet, Asparagus, 1880
Oil on canvas
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

In honor of the arrival of spring, I thought I’d continue my exploration of the art of the still life by concentrating on images which depict that quintessential spring vegetable, asparagus. The subtle whites, mauves, purples and greens of asparagus are beautifully portrayed in this famous image (above)—Édouard Manet’s single white asparagus, which was a gift from Manet to Charles Ephrussi. Manet had just sold A Bunch of Asparagus (below) to Ephrussi for 800 francs. When Ephrussi sent him 1000 francs instead, Manet painted this single white spear and sent it to Ephrussi with the note: “There was one missing from your bunch.”

Édouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus, 1880
Oil on canvas
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

Through the use of subtle color, volume, atmosphere and light, a beautifully rendered still life takes something that no longer exists—and shows it to us as a palpable, living thing. The Golden Age of still life painting was  1500-1800 and flourished in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Still-life painting was not merely an aesthetic exercise, although technique and composition was extremely important. It was also meant to provide a record of familiar objects—china, flowers, vegetables, fruits, dead birds, game and fish, et al—and to provide reference points for the flow of the seasons, the passing of time and mortality (tempus omnia terminat—time brings an end to all things.) Still life painting also reflected the wealth and social standing of the patrons—and often the sources of that wealth and position were depicted in the work: exotic spices, Venetian glass, porcelain from China.

Cornelis de Heem, Vegetables and Fruit before a Garden Balustrade, 1658
(detail)
Oil  on copper
Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Art historians like to ascribe an iron-clad iconography to still life painting, where every element is depicted for a specific reason, each with absolute symbolic meaning. This may be largely true, but I believe that individual artists also included objects based on aesthetic and personal criteria that superceded the established iconography.

Asparagus has been around a long time. The oldest known recipe for cooking asparagus appeared in Apicius’ De re coquinaria, Book III, in the third century. Since the 17th century, it has been highly valued for its culinary and medicinal properties.

The only painter I have come across, prior to Manet, who made asparagus a primary subject in his work, is Adriaen Coorte (active c. 1683-1707.) This 17th-century Dutch master, whose work was largely unknown until the 1950s, painted many pictures where asparagus is a very important—or sole—element in the composition. This was unusual among his peers, not least because asparagus was a luxury item in the 17th century.

A. Coorte, Still Life with Asparagus and Spray of Red-Currants, c. 1696
Paper on cardboard
Pieter C.W.M. Dreesmann Collection

Adriaen Coorte, A bundle of Asparagus, 1703
Paper on canvas
The Fitzwilliam, Cambridge

Adriaen Coorte, Still Life with Asparagus, Cherries and a Butterfly,
c. 1693-95
Paper on panel
Private collection, Switzerland

Many 17th-century European artists painted asparagus in combination with other still life elements. The painting below is one of almost two identical compositions by German painter Peter Binoit (1590/93-1632/39)—only in this version, he added a squirrel.

Peter Binoit, Fruit and Vegetables, Roses in a Glass Vase, and a Squirrel, probably 1631
Oil on wood
Private collection

Isaak Soreau, Basket of Fruit and Vegetables, c. 1628
Oil on wood
Private collection

François Habert, Kitchen Bench with Carp, c. 1645-1651
Oil on canvas
Hessiches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt

French artist Louise Moillon (1610-1696) had a long and successful career as a painter of Naturalist still life. She was noted for her sensitive rendering of plants and her exceptional use of chiaruscuro. Moillon was raised in a family of painters and her father also owned a prominent art gallery on the Left Bank.

Louise Moillon, Still Life with a Basket of Fruit and a Bunch of Asparagus, 1630
Oil on panel
The Art Institute of Chicago

Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670), known as the miniatura (miniaturist)  was an accomplished still life painter who had a long and successful career. Her paintings, mostly gouache or tempera on vellum, were collected by the Medicis and other aristocratic families and were highly prized and valued. This painting, unusual with it’s white background, has an extremely light and contemporary feel. A contemporary art historian, Emanuele Tesauro, wrote that Garzoni had the ability “to penetrate the most minute and subtle causes underlying every subject.”

Giovanna Garzoni, Plate of Asparagus with Carnations and a Grasshopper, undated
Gouache on vellum
Private collection, Italy

I will close my homage to the asparagus with this amusing 18th century etching which I found on Bibliodyssey. Elaborate wigs were all the rage at the time and many satirical artists found it irresistible to parody them. Among the vegetables and herbs adorning this creation, note the large bunch of asparagus at the top.

Wider connections

The Magic of Things, Still-Life Painting 1500-1800, edited by Jochen Sander

The Still Lifes of Adriaen Coorte 1683-1707 by Quentin Buvelot

Venetian Red Bookshelf: The Age of Wonder

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Science, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by Christine Cariati

Venetian Red Bookshelf is a monthly feature which highlights books of interest from our bookshelves and studio worktables.

William Blake, Urizen as the Creator of the Material World, 1794
title page, Europe, A Prophecy

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

The Age of Wonder is truly an exhilarating book. Richard Holmes deftly captures the sense of curiosity and wonder about the natural world that inspired the explorers and scientists of the 18th century in their quest for discovery in the face of daunting hardships. The book discusses discoveries in the fields of botany, natural history, astronomy, meteorology and chemistry.

Undated portrait of explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806)

The Age of Wonder isn’t just about science, it’s about culture. Holmes illuminates the work of the scientists, artists and poets of the Romantic Age (1770-1830) and beautifully illustrates how these disciplines were intertwined. The book has a large and engaging cast of characters, including botanist Joseph Banks, astronomers William Herschel, his sister Caroline and son John, explorer Mungo Park, chemist Humphry Davy and doctor Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802).

Amelia Curran, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

These scientists shared a romantic imagination about nature with poets like William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron—and Holmes quotes these poets to great effect in his text. During this intoxicating period of discovery, the writers and poets of the day were as intensely interested in science, as scientists were in the work of the poets. Many of these scientists and poets were also intimate friends, and a few of the scientists also wrote poetry, as did Humphry Davy and Erasmus Darwin. Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, addresses his speculations about evolution in his book-length poem, The Botanic Garden (1791).

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Joseph Banks, 1771-73
Oil on canvas, Private collection

The Age of Wonder pivots on the life of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), who used his influence and passion for science to develop a culture in which the scientists and explorers of  the late eighteenth century could flourish. In 1768, Banks, as a young botanist, sailed with Captain James Cook on the Endeavor, making a three-year journey to the South Seas. One of the goals of this voyage was to observe the Transit of Venus on June 3, 1769. Banks also brought back many botanical specimens from the South Seas and the eastern coast of Australia, many of which plants bear his name today. Upon his return, Banks became a life-long friend of King George III, who shared his interest in botany, and in whose many improvements to Kew Gardens, Banks played a large part. In 1781, Banks was knighted for his tremendous accomplishments as Director of Kew Gardens. Banks introduced many exotic species and planted over 50,000 shrubs and trees, transforming it from a rambling estate into a beautiful scientific and botanical paradise.

Camille Pissarro, Kew Gardens, the Path to the Main Greenhouse, 1892
Oil on canvas, Private collection

Banks was elected president of the Royal Society in 1778, a post he held for forty-two years. During his tenure at the Royal Society, he exerted tremendous influence on the work and careers of many giants of the age, including the astronomer William Herschel. One of the interesting points that Holmes makes, is that Banks, like Herschel and others, believed that science was best done by amateurs. For those without private means, Banks helped to obtain backing from King George III and other aristocrats who had an interest in science.

Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries
The first crossing of the English Channel in a hot-air balloon, 1785

While The Age of Wonder explores the link between science and poetry, it also has some interesting things to say about the art of the day. In his chapter on the invention of the hot air balloon, Balloonists in Heaven, Holmes talks about how this invention spawned the new field of meteorology. As well as inspiring the poetry of Coleridge and Shelley, the Romantic Age fascination with the substance and beauty of clouds was influential on the paintings of J. M. W. Turner and John Constable.

J. M. W. Turner, Sunset, 1830-35
Oil on canvas
Tate Gallery, London

John Constable, Weymouth Bay from the Downs Above Osmington Mills, 1816
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

There was also an overheated, excessive side to this romantic view of science—the idea of the solitary, obsessed scientist, willing to make a Faustian bargain with the devil in order to unearth the secrets of existence. Aspects of this idea were brought to vivid life in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written in 1817, when Shelley, the wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was only nineteen years old. Shelley might have been partially inspired by the argument then raging about Vitalism, a doctrine which posited the existence of a Life Force that animates all living creatures. She was perhaps also influenced by accounts of  hideous experiments conducted by Giovanni Aldini to revive dead animals—and human corpses—by applying electrical current. However, in Shelley’s moving book, Frankenstein’s creature was a poetic, lonely philosopher, who laments his fate—not the amoral, wrathful monster of later plays and films.

Theodore Von Holst, frontispiece to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1831
Steel engraving, Private collection

Perhaps we are approaching another golden age where the great minds of science and art come together, and science is once again viewed as a romantic adventure. In the meantime, I urge you to read Holmes’ engrossing and engaging book about the cultural impact of scientific discovery.  — Christine Cariati

Wider Connections

Interview with computer scientist and author David Gelertner on the interconnection of art science:


The (Mostly) Peaceable Kingdom: Animals in Art

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Illustration, Painting, Printmaking, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Franz Marc, Gelbe Kuh (Yellow Cow), 1911
Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

The other day, while cleaning out a drawer, I came across a post card of this exuberant painting by the German painter Franz Marc (1880-1916.) In 1911, Franz Marc, along with August Macke and Wassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). They were a diverse group stylistically, but they held common beliefs in the spiritual nature of art, the link between visual art and music and the symbolic use of color to depict emotion. Marc’s paintings of animals, mostly horses, had fluidity, grace and deep emotion. Sadly, while waiting for the paperwork on his artists’ military exemption to come through, Marc was killed by a shell splinter to the head in the Battle of Verdun.

Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I (Blue Horse I), 1911
Oil on canvas
Stadtische Galerie em Lenbochhaus, Munich

Revisiting Franz Marc’s animals brought to mind other images of animals in art that have caught my attention over the years. They are quite varied in style and tone, but I believe they all say something interesting or profound about the way we see and relate to animals.

Karl Joseph Brodtmann, Lion, c. 1842
Lithograph from Nâturhistorische Bilder Galerie aus dem Theirreiche

The Swiss artist Karl Joseph Brodtmann (1787-1862) was an expert 19th-century lithographer whose natural history studies capture a wealth of detail. His animal portraits are dignified and convey a sense of respect and wonder for his subjects.

René Magritte, Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940
Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Belgian painter René Magritte (1898-1967) painted Le Mal du Pays at an unsettled time in his life—the Germans had invaded his home town, and he was having marital problems. Magritte was thirteen years old when his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the river, so we can probably safely assume that the angel in black on the bridge, contemplating the void, is Magritte. The meaning of the lion is perhaps more ambiguous, but in his elegant, calm yet alert pose, he seems to be serving as guardian for his human counterpart.

detail from The Unicorn at the Fountain,
second tapestry of the series, The Hunt of the Unicorn,  Flemish, c.
1500
The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lions are very popular subjects in a variety of media. Above, a lion and lioness lounge among the flowers, in a detail from the medieval Flemish tapestry, The Hunt of the Unicorn.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Lion and Tulip, c. 1662

A personal favorite, from Bohemian artist/engraver Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). Hollar was most famous for his etchings of London before and after the Great Fire of 1666, but produced an astonishing quantity and variety of work—portraiture, studies of costumes and contemporary dress, architecture, allegory, landscape, maps and natural history studies of animals and shells.

Nilgai (Blue Bull) Mughal, c. 1620
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

detail, Shah Jahan Hunting Deer with Trained Cheetahs, Rajasthan, c. 1710
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tiger Approaching a Waterhole, Kotah, c. 1790
Watercolor and opaque watercolor

detail, Two Princes Shooting Deer; Dogs Hunting Down Boar, Kotah, c. 1660
Opaque watercolor, gold

Indian miniatures are full of wonderful depictions of animals, both peaceful and fierce. Many Indian miniatures have scenes of the hunt, giving the artist an opportunity to paint graceful herds of leaping deer and ferocious tigers, leopards or cheetahs.

Marc Chagall, To My Betrothed, 1911
Gouache
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Marc Chagall, Fantastic Horse Cart, 1949
Gouache and paste;
Blanden Memorial Art Gallery, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Marc Chagall, Monkey Acting as Judge Over the Dispute Between
Wolf and Fox
, 1925-27
Gouache, Perls Gallery, New York

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) incorporated animals into his work in fantastical ways—a man with a head of a bull or a gravity-defying horse and cart are easily integrated into more realistic elements. In his dreamy work, there’s a fluid coexistence between animals and humans—often their characteristics are interchangeable.
Monkey Acting as Judge Over the Dispute Between Wolf and Fox
is one of 100 gouaches that Chagall did to illustrate the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95). The image doesn’t literally illustrate the story, but Chagall does give us a sense of the essence and spirit of their characters.

Chauvet Cave, Lion panel

Chauvet Cave, Black bison superimposed on clawmarks and engravings

The lyric quality of Chagall’s animals brought to mind the cave paintings from Chauvet. These caves, undisturbed for thousands of years, were discovered  in December, 1994. These paintings of lions, bison, aurochs, mammoths, hyenas, cave bears and rhinoceroses are over 30,000 years old, twice as old as the art in the caves at Lascaux. They are beautifully rendered with a tremendous sense of motion and accurate perspective.

William de Morgan, Design for a tile
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Closer to home we have some more domesticated animals. In the example above, William de Morgan (1839-1917) was creating a decorative motif, but he also captured something very endearing and lyrical in these rabbits.

Richard Whitford, A Prize Shropshire Ewe, 1878

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) owned several of Richard Whitford’s (1821-1890) paintings, thus earning him the epithet, “Animal Painter to the Queen.” Whitford mostly painted farm animals, particularly sheep. At the time, breeders of pedigree farm animals would often commission paintings of their prize-winning stock to display alongside their medals and citations. I always thought this sheep had tremendous dignity and presence and I love the way he is integrated into the surrounding landscape.

Mark Tansey, The Innocent Eye Test, 1981
Oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mark Tansey’s (b. 1949-) The Innocent Eye Test seems like the perfect painting to close out this brief review of animals in painting. Tansey, who is known for his monochromatic palette, is interested in exploring  opposites and contradictions, “how different realities interact with each other.” His paintings are imagined narratives that deal with the fact that in the 19th century, photography replaced the traditional function of painting, which was to represent reality. His work, Tansey says, “is based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformative, fictional.” The Innocent Eye Test is a humorous take on history painting that works on many levels. The assembled “experts,” Tansey’s send-up of art critics, stand by, observing the cow’s reaction to a large-sized painting of two cows in a field. Note the man with the mop on the left. The painting that the cow is gazing at is based on an actual painting, The Young Bull, 1647, by Dutch painter Paulus Potter (1625-54).

Wider Connections:

Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky

Franz Marc, 1880-1916 by Susanna Partsch

Rene Magritte, 1898-1967: Thoughts Rendered Visible by Marcel Paquet

The Unicorn Tapestries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Adolfo Salvatore Cavallo

The Man Who Drew London: Wenceslaus Hollar in Reality and Imagination by Gillian Tindall.

Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah, Edited by Stuart Cary Welch

Indian Court Painting, 16th-19th Century by Steven Kossak

Marc Chagall: Painting as Poetry by Ingo F. Walther

Return to Chauvet Cave: Excavating the Birthplace of Art by Jean Clottes

The Designs of William de Morgan by Martin Greenwood

William de Morgan Tiles by Jon Catleugh

The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation by Mark C. Taylor

Gods, Serpents, Leaves and Flowers: Indian Silver for the Raj

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Chinar Leaf Bowl, Kashmir, c. 1885
Paul Walter Collection

Note: All objects shown in this post are from the Paul Walter collection unless otherwise indicated.

The Raj, the period of British occupation in India, lasted from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. During this time, the silversmiths of India produced an incredible array of beautiful luxury tableware—including tea services, bowls, goblets, ewers, cutlery, gravy boats and card cases. Initially these pieces were made as gifts and for use in the homes of the British in India. They were also exhibited widely in Europe at expositions and shows. One of these was the Paris exposition of 1878, where the tea service for 12 given by a maharaja to the visiting Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1876 was on display, along with many other examples of Kashmiri silver. Indian silver soon became very sought-after in British and European markets. The London establishments Liberty & Co., Regent Street and Proctor & Co., Oxford Street, set up workshops in India to meet the demand.

Calling Card Case featuring Krishna, Madras, c. 1880

A tradition of European silversmithing had been established in Madras and Calcutta in the 1760s, but by the 1860s the Indian silversmiths had made it their own—wedding their traditional designs and love of embellishment with objects to suit the needs of the British.

Chinar Leaf Tea Service, Kashmir, c. 1885

The British love affair with tea began when they came across it in China, and silver tea services had long been a staple in the elegant English home. So when the British came to India and discovered that two of Indian’s greatest natural resources were tea (from northern India) and silver, the result was inevitable.

Workshop drawings of Oomersee Mawjee & Sons of Kutch
various dates, c. 1899-1904

What makes this work so fascinating is the ingenious blending of Indian motifs with western forms. These pieces have tremendous visual interest, intricate detail and texture. The Indian silversmiths created a wonderful hybrid, objects no longer strictly Indian or western, but an interesting amalgam of the two.

Kutch Silversmith at Work
Sketch by Percy Brown after John Lockwood Kipling, 1902-03

Another fascinating aspect of silver work produced during the Raj is that the various Indian regional design traditions, adapted for these new uses, were reflected in the objects. The silver from Kutch in Gujarat, in far western India, is heavily embossed, filled with all-over curves and arabesques. The patterns appear quite abstract and are often embellished with wonderful details such as a tea pot handle fashioned in the shape of a serpent, or a spout in the form of an elephant’s head.

Kutch teapot with snake handle and elephant-head spout, c. 1880
Private collection

Calling Card Case with Floral Pattern, Kutch, c. 1880

Four Pepper Pots, Kutch, c. 1885-1910

The silver produced in Calcutta contains very different imagery, depicting idyllic scenes from rural Bengali life—workers picking fruit, fetching water, planting or harvesting grain—as well palm trees, and an occasional cow or itinerant holy man.

Beaker with Village Scenes, Calcutta, c. 1885

The so-called Swami silver produced in Madras was filled with Hindu imagery—gods and temples, processions and scenes of music and dance. Much of this work was produced by P. Orr & Sons, a British firm established in India in 1876.

Five-piece Tea Service (detail)
P. Orr & Sons, Madras, c. 1876

P. Orr & Sons showroom, Madras, c. 1899
Courtesy: City Palace Museum, Udaipur

Gravy Boat, Madras, c. 1890

The silversmiths of Kashmir produced some of the most beautiful pieces of the period, highly embellished with botanical imagery. The British had a presence in Kashmir by the early 19th century and greatly admired the crafts of Kashmir, including the weaving. Of particular interest was the “shawl pattern” or paisley. The paisley, which looks like an elongated and stylized mango, got its name from the town of Paisley in Scotland, where many shawls of this pattern were woven. By 1887, silversmiths were incising paisley designs on plain silver against a background of intricately incised leaves, flowers and trees of the region, three of which dominated the designs. Coriander was depicted on the stem, often in continuous scroll work. The poppy, a very popular motif in Mughal art, was depicted both as closed buds and in full flower. The chinar leaf (from the Oriental plane tree (platanus orientalis) was often used in repoussé, with a background design of poppies or coriander (see a superb example at top of post.)

Lobed Stemmed Bowl, Kashmir, c. 1880

Chinar Leaf Plates, Kashmir, c. 1890

Until the late 20th century, the silver for the Raj, like other art of mixed heritage, was not widely valued by scholars who considered it “impure” and outside classical traditions. Fortunately, aesthetic horizons have expanded in recent years and this wonderful work is now getting the attention it deserves.

Wider Connections

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj by Vidya Dehejia
The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

Flora Delanica: Art and Botany in Mrs. Delany’s “paper mosaicks”

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Embroidery, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Mixed Media, Textiles with tags , , on December 4, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Mary Delany, Pancratium Maritinum, 1778
Collage of colored papers with watercolor
British Museum

For much of her long life, Mary Delany (1700-1788) was in many ways a typical 18th century society woman of accomplishments. She was an excellent “amateur” artist and also mastered the arts of japanning, silhouettes and embroidery. She was a prolific letter writer and, influenced by the work of Samuel Richardson, wrote a novel, Marianne, which she illustrated. Mrs. Delany was also an avid student of botany, zoology and the natural sciences. But it was at the age of 72 that Mary Delany began the work that brought her lasting renown: her Flora Delanica—nearly 1000 botanical collages that she completed over the following decade. These “paper mosaicks,” as she called them, are incredibly intricate and delicate, the level of detail and botanical accuracy is stunning. Many of the works are comprised of hundreds of impossibly tiny fragments, yet every tendril retains a lovely, graceful line. Admirers of Mrs. Delany’s work included artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who said that her mosaics

were the only imitations of nature that he had ever seen, from which he could venture to describe botanically any plant without the least fear of committing an error.

John Opie, Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, 1782
Oil on canvas, The Royal Collection

Mrs. Delany was never very wealthy and held no powerful positions at court, but she was extremely well-connected and respected in the influential circles of Georgian Britain. She knew Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, George Frederic Handel, John Wesley and Samuel Johnson and was a great friend of the Duchess of Portland. Born Mary Granville to a younger son of a Tory aristocrat in Wiltshire, she was married at the age of 17 to Alexander Pendarves, an M.P. 40 years her senior, who died four years later. While she was Mary Pendarves, she designed a stunning court dress, an intricate and delicate floral on black satin—in this work we can see the beginnings of her later masterful collages.

Mary Delany, court dress, detail, silk embroidery on satin, 1740-41

While visiting Dublin she met her second husband, Patrick Delaney, an Anglican cleric and a close friend of Jonathan Swift. After their marriage in 1743 the Delanys lived on an estate in Ireland, but continued to make frequent trips to London and visits to the court.

Mary Delany, A Seat in Wood Island at Holly-Mount, 1745
Pen and ink and wash over graphite
National Gallery of Ireland

After her husband’s death in 1768, Delany spent her summers at Bulstrode, the estate of the Duchess of Portland. At Bulstrode, the Duchess—who introduced Mrs. Delany to George III and Queen Charlotte—had a vast, renowned and well-curated natural history collection.

Mary Delany, Fort St. Davids Bull, 1755
(drawn from the life by Mrs. Delany at Bulstrode)
Ink on paper, private collection

The Duchess employed entomologists, botanists and ornithologists and the estate housed a zoo, aviary and botanical garden. At Bulstrode Mrs. Delany was exposed to the work of respected and cutting-edge botanists employing the Linnaean method, and her observations and studies there helped provide her with the thorough botanical knowledge displayed  in her intricate collages.

Mary Delany, Horse Chestnut, 1776
Collage of colored papers with watercolor
British Museum

Mary Delany, Passiflora Laurifolia (detail), 1777

To read more about Mrs. Delany, Venetian Red recommends Mrs. Delany & Her Circle, edited by Mark Laird & Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, published to accompany the exhibition of the same name that originated at Sir John Soane’s Museum and may now be viewed at the Yale Center for British Art until January 3, 2010.

A Different Canvas: Charles Burchfield’s Landscapes for Interiors

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags on November 18, 2009 by Christine Cariati

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles and wallpaper.  For all posts in the series, click here.

by Christine Cariati

Charles Burchfield, Morning Glories, c.1925
Design for fabric
Burchfield Penney Art Center

When Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was a young man in Ohio he painted experimental watercolors of nature and insects in an expressionistic and exuberant style where color had deep emotional resonance and even sounds were depicted through an invented calligraphic shorthand. In 1930, the newly-opened Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted Burchfield’s work in their inaugural solo exhibition.

Charles E. Burchfield, The Insect Chorus, 1917
Opaque & transparent watercolor w/ink, graphite & crayon
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York

In the 1930s and 1940s Burchfield shifted gears and began to paint the masterful, quiet yet dramatic portraits of industrial small town and city life for which he became very well known. These paintings were mostly watercolors but had the solidity and palette more commonly found in oil painting.

Charles Burchfield, Freight Cars Under a Bridge, 1933
Watercolor, Detroit Institute of Arts

Then, in 1943, when Burchfield was fifty years old, he returned to the landscape and created a stunning body of work. These large-scale, semi-abstracted landscapes vibrate with energy that lovingly reflects on and explores the landscape of upstate New York—the change of seasons, weather, clouds and flora—in a deeply inspired and spiritual way that has strong psychological and emotional resonance.

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radiant Spring), 1950
Watercolor on paper
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
photo courtesy Gary Mamay

VR recently discovered that in 1921, after studying at the Cleveland School of Art, the young Burchfield relocated to Buffalo, New York (where he lived the rest of his life) to work as a wallpaper designer at M.H. Birge & Sons. He also designed coordinating fabrics for interiors. These designs are harbingers of Burchfield’s later work, celebrating nature and the seasons in a decorative yet very painterly and beautiful way. It’s an interesting variation on the theme of established artists venturing into textile design and yet another example of the fruitfulness of embracing both decorative and fine art.

Charles Burchfield, Bleeding Hearts, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, Robins and Crocuses, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, September, c. 1925

A retrospective of Burchfield’s work, Heatwaves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, is at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through January 3, 2010.

Artists in Conversation: Stephanie Peek’s Uncertain Riches

Posted in Artists Speak, Bay Area Art Scene, Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting, XC with tags , , , , on September 23, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

This is the first in an occasional series in which Venetian Red interviews a contemporary artist about recent work.

PeekGlimmering,jpgStephanie Peek, Glimmering, 2009
Oil on linen, 30″ x 30″

Venetian Red: What was the inspiration for the paintings in Uncertain Riches, your current exhibition at Triangle Gallery?

Stephanie Peek: When I was looking for ways to add color to my Dark Arcadia series (night garden paintings done at the American Academy in Rome and during a Borsa di Studio in the gardens of La Pietra in Florence), an old friend emailed me images of Dutch still lifes he had recently collected, which I have dropped into the dark atmosphere of the night gardens.

I have floated tulips, roses and other flowers from 17th century still life paintings through the dark smoky atmosphere of my earlier paintings of night gardens. The dramatic light and rich colors refer to the work of Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch. The softer, lighter paintings reflect the melancholy of early 18th century French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.

Peek, Watteau IIStephanie Peek, Watteau II, 2009
Oil on panel, 20″ x 20″

Venetian Red: Why are you painting flowers at this time in your career?

Stephanie Peek: I find that painting can be a site of meditation, suspending time, making time irrelevant, and can put me in touch with that which does not decay. Suspended in silence, flowers speak for me—of fragile beauty and the ephemeral nature of worldly delights.

Venetian Red: This work creates an extremely elegiac, contemplative mood.

Stephanie Peek:  These paintings refer to the tradition of memento mori (falling flowers being more subtle than skulls), The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama, and our contemporary version of “tulipmania.” Materiality cannot be trusted—and yet, how beautiful, even luscious, painting can be. Vita brevis, ars longa.

Venetian Red: Can you talk about the source material for these paintings?

Stephanie Peek: Referring to the hybrid nature of our culture, I used as sources not only photographs of paintings of flowers, but also photographs of flowers in my neighborhood, actual live flowers in my studio, artificial flowers from roadside memorials—and a few invented ones too.

Peek, RequiemStephanie Peek, Requiem, 2009
Oil on panel, 30″ x 30″

Venetian Red: In your work you return again and again to nature and the garden. Tell us about how these themes have evolved over recent years.

Stephanie Peek: After working with the idea of the garden as a refuge for several years, it was natural for me to return to that safe place after 9/11. I “protected” this space by camouflaging the garden, dissolving the edges of the forms and bringing the background to the foreground, going simultaneously flat and deep. Thus an overall pattern of marks developed on the surface which became increasingly complex.

This led me to the study of the history of military camouflage in a series called Uniform Language. At the beginning of the 20th century, American painter Abbot Thayer had introduced his studies of the “concealing coloration” of animals and birds in nature to the United States military for use in concealing ships, weapons and soldiers. Governments throughout the world hired artists to design a wide variety of camouflage depending on the environment.

My intent was to reclaim these patterns of concealment by re-contextualizing the camouflage of countries in the news into abstract paintings, translating these patterns from military usage to a more peaceful purpose.

PeekSurvivalTacticsStephanie Peek, Survival Tactics, 2002
Oil on canvas, 80″ x 70″

Venetian Red: I’m very interested in the way you explore nature as pattern, can you talk a bit about that?

Stephanie Peek: For years the subject central to my art practice has been nature: from gardens as refuge, camouflage patterns and the complex compilations of fragments of color seen in leaves.

A spray of dried eucalyptus leaves in my studio was my subject for three years, and heightened my attention to the most minute of differences and variations in shifting viewpoints with each painting.

In revisiting the classic genre of still life my project was to translate light into color.

These leaves provided the occasion for a study of the subtle shifts of hue from dusty roses to cool green. Analyzing colors in these leaves, in their shadows and reflections, in the grounds, resulted in multitudinous color patches which formed patterns of brush marks on the surface of the paintings.

When I pulled back from a concentrated focus on the color relationships, I was surprised to see a kind of joy in these paintings. The melancholy quality of evanescence implicit in the subject of dried leaves was transcended through attention to the colors right in front of my eyes.

Peek, Dark LightStephanie Peek, Dark Light, 2005
Oil on canvas, 45″ x 45″

Stephanie Peek’s current show, Uncertain Riches, is at Triangle Gallery in San Francisco through October 17, 2009.

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