The Tiger, The Hedgehog, and The Grand Decoration

The tiger is George’s Clemenceau, great friend of hedgehog Claude Monet, who turns out to be the last of the impressionists. The story picks up long after Monet had moved to his lovely garden home in Giverny, about halfway upriver from Paris on the way to Rouen. And may recall Rouen because that’s home to the ancient cathedral that Monet painted more than thirty times under all sorts of light. Monet was that kind of artist—obsessive, meticulous, perfectly happy to spend endless hours interpreting the London fog or wheat stacks (similar to hay stracks) not far from his home in the country. When author Ross King picks up Monet’s story, the artist is less enthusiastic about travel, but eager to serve and take healthy part in a lavish lunch before touring the beautiful Giverny garden, visiting the pond and lily pads, or showing off his latest work, most often very large paintings. By now, Monet is far more active than many men his age, still active enough to build a new studio adjacent to the house and fill it with new paintings. Cataracts and other health problems make seeing, and therefore painting with the specific colors he requires, a terrifying challenge. And there is a Great War on the horizon, so his life’s work may be destroyed by the German forces already notorious for precisely this sort of mayhem.

He is also an extraordinarily difficult, insecure, proud man who feels that he must do more for France, provided that doing more is possible on his own exacting terms.

Caught in the middle of what always seems to be a dramatic mess is his faithful friend George’s Clemenceau, who happens to be the nation’s top politician, the man who runs France’s war effort, and is, for much of the book, the only person in the world who can control (and at times, even speak to) the artist.

And so begins the tale of Monet’s oversized, overwrought, absolutely spectacular series of giant water lily paintings—and the custom-redesigned building, The Orangerie, their central Paris home. It is a struggle to the death… the extreme uncertainty that amonet’s temperament, and eyesight, would remain in good working order until the grand decoration, as he called the collective works, were complete.

It’s easy to marvel at Monet’s paintings, but the difficulty he endured in bringing these paintings to life, protecting his work and his artistic soul, and stubbornly insisting that the work be displayed in a very particular way is awesome in the true sense of the word. Is this the craziness and crankiness of an older man who knows the end is near? It would be difficult to argue against that assessment. But here we are, more than a century later, visiting Paris and enjoying the artist’s work in precisely the way he wished, and it’s not easy to claim that his approach was wrong. At the time, sure he was difficult. In the long term, perhaps he was right. And there’s a lesson in there somewhere, not for all, but certainly for some creative professionals. some of the time. Perhaps stubbornness is under-rated.

Author Ross King is both experienced and skillful in recounting the stories of great artists in their prime. One of his best titles is Brunelleschi’s Dome, another in the “is he a madman, or is he a genius?” genre that he handles so well. The best-selling Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling is a story that has been told in motion picture form–The Agony and the Ecstacy–but his treatment of the material is especially vivid. High marks to Leonardo and The Last Supper, too.

(You should certainly spend time at The Orangerie’s website. It includes a wonderful history, and a virtual tour so you can see all of the great decoration paintings.)

 

 

 

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Old-School Selfies

DurerGosh, I am so tired of hearing the term “selfies.” It’s been named ‘word of the year’ for Oxford University’s Dictionary. You’d think they’d choose something more interesting.

Charley Parker put together a far better definition of the term, in pictures.

Three links, all worth a visit, as are so many of his posts on the altogether wonderful Lines & Colors blog: Selfies, More Selfies, and Selfies #3.

Among Charley’s selections, I think I like the self-portrait drawn by Albrecht Dürer best. Dürer was thirteen years old when he drew that picture. Think about that for a moment: he was thirteen in 1494, just two years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And now, we’re reposting the teenager’s drawing image on a website.

There are a lot of self-portraits on the three posts, but I think I like N.C. Wyeth’s portrait second-best. Pictured below, I think this particular image is one of N.C.’s  best.

As for iPhone selfies, no so much.

Last year’s OED word of the year was “omnishambles” – “a situation that has been comprehensibly mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunder and miscalculations.” As in so many situations that involve the word (you saw this coming a mile away): “selfies.”

Wyeth

Next Spring, Near Paris

Start saving your money. Next May, go to Paris. Leave early on the morning–there’s an 820AM from Paris’s Saint-Lazare Station to Vernon, and then, there’s the taxi. The train arrives at 9:05AM at Vernon, and the cab will get you to the front entrance of Monet’s home and gardens by about 9:15AM. You want to arrive early, perhaps catch the mist rising from the water garden, perhaps take a few pictures or just gaze before the crowds populate every view. (Get there earlier, if you can; it’s always best to arrive first-in-line here.)

Sigh.

Summer is ending. There is autumn color: the purples and luminous yellows, the garish reds and the beginnings of orange trees reflected in the water. But there is nothing like spring.

In 1883, Claude Monet settled in Giverny, a village fifty miles outside paris. He rented a house with an orchard, the future Clos Normand, the flower garden at the front of the house that broke with the traditional idea of a pleasure garden.

9781419709609So begins the tale, told mostly in large, vivacious images, of Claude Monet’s extraordinary gardens (and home), told with love and with style through Jean-Pierre Gilson’s photographs, with text by Dominique Lobstein. Published by Abrams–one of the best in the world at this type of book, the visual tour begins, as it should , in the purple haze and tangled wisteria branches hanging over the famous Japanese bridge. The photograph is subdued; there are no bright colors yet. On the next two-page spread, there are brightly–colored bushes and their quiet reflections, house peeking out of the background behind some trees. Flip to the next of these several two-page spreads and it’s a riot of roses, glowing in the sun, red, pink, nearly white, braced by green leaves so dark and sometimes so nearly translucent, bold as can be. The text begins.

And on the next spread, so does spring. After the prelude, spring commences with a field of pink tulips, clean green fences and stair rails, dark green-blue leaves, and the stunning-but-simple house with its own pink facade and blue-green shutters. The effect is stunning, as if in a painting–and here, that’s precisely the effect that the master painter intended. To be at Giverny is to live inside a Monet painting, at least for a morning.

It’s not all cluttered with noisy flowers and oh-so-subtle impressionist gardening. “Monet wanted a garden that could ‘breathe’ with flowers, bushes and an open vista…” so he removed the many trees from the old orchard, and replaced them with Japanese cherry trees that yield, at least for a brief time in the spring, lighter-than-air blossoms, punctuated, here and there, as in any number of his paintings, with spots of bright color; here, red and purple tulips.

I wish I knew the name of every flower (and I wish the author’s captions included this information!). The phenomenal two-page spread showing yellow towers of flowers two stories high, dappled with pink-and-purple irises, golden yellow somethings (frustrated…), and it’s followed by several more. (I want to it to be spring today, and I want to go to Giverny tomorrow.)

And then, when your head is beginning to explode because Monet was such a genius, there’s a pair of small green rowboats, a field of happy daffodils, and in the distance, the Japanese bridge that he painted so often. Here, with a less exhausting spectrum, it’s possible to rest and reflect, and observe. The yellowy green of the locust leaves in contrast with the deep green of the background trees–with just a hint of small violet flowers to set the counterpoint.

The flighty, wavy petals of mauve tulips surprise me every time I see them. Here, they’re pictured with the famous lily pad pond in the fuzzy distance, and the sharp, sun-dappled orange wallflowers in the foreground. Another two-page spread, one of my favorite two-page spreads in the book.

Just checking–I’m not even half way through the book. Some surreal lily pad images–two look as though they were made for a science fiction film, but they are real–and then, with a page turn, there are paths of dry ochre leaves on the ground, paths with strong color of fall, not spring. The quiet beauty of barren trees and cool skies, the yellowing willow and golden hour light, it’s bittersweet. Moreso because the last set of images show the house with shutters now closed tight.

But then, we get to go inside. A row of old copper pans artfully hung in front of a blue-and-turquoise tiled wall with cabinets. A yellow dining room whose walls are filled with Japanese prints (Monet collected them, and they are a highlight of every Giverny tour, but few people spend the time to look at them as closely as the artist once did). It’s a classy old country home, less formal than most. And then, there’s a small staircase leading down to a room with Persian carpets on the floor and a whole lot of miscellaneous Monet paintings almost haphazardly scattered on the walls. It’s his studio.

The book closes with snow. Which means spring is coming again. Soon.

The Global Art Gallery

oil229SAbove, a lovely British landscape, described, in the words of the artist Rob Adams on his Painter’s Blog, as follows:

This is towards the end of the day on the charmingly named “Hogs Trough Hill”. The light was super, though once I stopped it was very cold! 20in by 12in.”

Here’s another picture by Rob, one that he likes very much, and I do, too.

2010S01S

I mention Rob, and his paintings, in part because I enjoyed my visit to his site and the art I found there, but also to note a remarkable phenomenon.

Rob’s site is filled with his work. Some of it is very, very good. Some of it, by his own admission, needs more time and attention, and yet, he is perfectly comfortable posting both the good and the not-great, along with comments that detail where he feels he fell short, what he intends to complete or rework later on.

In itself, this is a rather new way to think about the interactions between artists and their public. It’s very much like visiting an artist in his (or her) studio, and being allowed to see everything the artist has on hand, including works-in-progress, complete with extensive commentary. Rob is a good writer, too, and he often writes interesting essays about his work, some instructional, some musings, many quite interesting. So here we are, citizens of the world, with the newfound ability to visit art studios throughout the world, to gain insights from artists about their work, and, if we like, we can grab the occasional jpeg or png and use their work as digital wallpaper (with or without their knowledge or permission–a pitfall of the present system).

Some of Rob’s artwork is oil, a bit of it is acrylic, much of it sketchbook work from life drawing classes, and, to my delight, some of it is watercolor.

Water116SI have never met Rob, but he mentioned that he enjoys painting old church graveyards, even though nobody buys those paintings. That made me think about my role in all of this. A few hours ago, I did not know that Rob existed. I’ve enjoyed Rob’s portfolio this evening, and I liked this particular painting enough to show it to you, and to suggest that you explore the carousel of images available by clicking on the graveyard work. So here I am, promoting the efforts of an artist in a far off nation, and here you are, contemplating the way he gets the texture of the stones just right, how the light plays in the path and on the green grass, and maybe, just maybe, you will click on the image to see more of his work. Who knows, you might even buy one of his paintings.

We’ve all been at this internet thing for a good long while now. It never ceases to amaze me, the ways that we’re all connected, the ways in which we influence one another’s time and behavior via little more than a screen, a keyboard and some circuitry.

Rob, I wish I could paint half as well as you do. I learned a lot by looking at your paintings. And I will do so again, soon.

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