It’s no great secret I’m a lover of maps. When calling in to the Secretariat of State on the terza loggia of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican the other day, I was very pleased to see the cartographic murals there, including the two hemispheres done by Ignazio Danti in the 1580s. Moving to the next interior offices, however, the visitor is greeted by a much more recent mappa mundi, dating from the 1930s, replete with the glamour of empire’s heydey. (more…)
Much to my regret now, I never particularly learned nor pursued artistic skills, but this painting of St Patrick’s Church in Monaghan Town is one of the few fruits of art class from school days we’ve bothered preserving.
I think I was about 15 when this was done; the architecture was from a photo just to have something to stand out against the sunset. Our teacher was very good, but I was a poor student, and inattentive.
THIS YEAR MARKED the tenth anniversary of the Driehaus Prize, the annual award honouring a living architect who has contributed to the field of traditional and classical architecture. To commemorate the first decade of the Prize, the architectural painter Carl Laubin was commissioned to produce a splendid capriccio depicting the works of the first ten Driehaus laureates.
As Witold Rybczynski, a member of the Driehaus panel of jurors, writes:
In the foreground is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a bronze miniature of which is presented to each laureate. It’s fun to try and identify the individual works in this large (5½ by over 8 feet long) painting. But what is more striking is that Laubin has created a convincing urban landscape solely out of landmark buildings.
That, of course, is the advantage of classicism: however it is interpreted, it is a tradition that manages to produce a more or less coherent whole. Even Abdel-Wahed El Wakil’s mosque, standing next to a Seaside beach house by Robert A. M. Stern, doesn’t look too out of place.
The Driehaus Prize was founded in part as a rival to the more publicised Pritzker Prize awarded to modernist architects. But, Mr Rybczynski points out, the fundamental nature of modernist structures is that they thrive only as a visual contrast to buildings constructed in a traditional style.
Can one imagine a similar townscape of Pritzker Prize winners? Well, maybe with the work of some of the early laureates—Pei, Bunshaft, Tange, Siza—but modern buildings need a background of nineteenth and early twentieth century urbanism to shine. A town made up of only signature buildings by our current generation of stars would resemble a carnival or a theme park—Pritzkerland.
I’ve often thought this of the United Nations headquarters in New York, which, when it was first built, must have stood out brilliantly as a bright and fresh harbinger of a better future, but which has been rendered altogether rather boring by the construction of neighbouring buildings of third-rate plate-glass modernist designs.
The UN headquarters on the East River and Lever House on Park Avenue were breakthrough buildings, but the increasing replacement of their traditional stone-clad or brick neighbours by cheap, tawdry modernist structures has exposed how reliant this type of architecture — even when well-conceived and properly executed — is on being surrounded by a contrasting style. (more…)
WHEN IT COMES to styles, I am an omnivore. There are die-hard partisans, like Pugin, but I find the Baroque, the Gothic, the Classical — all are welcome to me. There is always some tiresome bore who, upon hearing any particular style of art or architecture praised, will immediately launch into a tirade against the more negative connotations commonly associated with that style. Gothic is close-minded! Mannerism is affected! The Biedermeier is bourgeois!
Well… ok… to an extent. But, in truth, we brush aside these pedants and appreciate whatever is beautiful wherever it is to be found. Art in its many forms is a giant sponge to squeeze and collect, savor, what comes out of it. (more…)
Among the surprises in store at the Collectors’ Preview of the Olympia antiques fair on Monday night were two works by the actress Grace Jones. When I was a wee bairn, “A View to a Kill” was one of my favourite Bond films, and Jones played May Day, the frightening sidekick to Christopher Walken’s Zorin. Apparently Grace Jones studied art for a period, and Charles Plante Fine Arts has two pictures by her amongst their offering: ‘An Eskimo rowing a boat’ (Charcoal with mixed media, 49 inches by 43 inches) and ‘Untitled abstract composition 1983’ (Mixed media on paper, 60 inches by 67 inches).
While the subjects of his works are varied, Carl Laubin has become best known for his architectural paintings. Born in New York in 1947, he veered into architectural painting when he was taken on by the London office of Richard Dixon — now part of Dixon Jones, the firm responsible for, among other projects, the Royal Opera House and the redesign of Exhibition Road. With an eye for detail, he has completed capriccios displaying the total built corpus of Hawksmoor, Cockerell, and, most recently, Vanbrugh, while the National Trust also commissioned him to paint a capriccio of all the houses currently within their care.
Blessed New Year
I wish all our readers the very best for this Christmas season and I hope we will all enjoy innumerable blessings in this coming year.
HAVING UNEXPECTEDLY been granted a day off (two, actually) I was quite content popping over to New Bond Street yesterday just in the nick of time to see Bonhams’ South African Sale before they went up for auction today. Out of pure ignorance, I used to think South African art was all mediocre before slowly discovering its small but noteworthy patches of brilliance. Francois Krige is one of them. Of the three galleries at Bonhams devoted to the South African Sale (Part II, strictly speaking) one of them darkened with individual lights highlighting the particular pieces hanging on the walls. (more…)
THERE IS SOMETHING vigorously American about the art of Bo Bartlett. The modern realist was born in Columbus, Georgia, and studied in Italy under the Arthur Ross Award laureate Ben Long (one of the “greatest draughtsman of the twentieth century” according to Philippe de Montebello) before moving on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. After completing a filmmaking degree at New York University, Bartlett embarked upon a five-year process creating a film covering the life and works of Andrew Wyeth, in collaboration with the artist’s wife Betsy. The artist’s work certainly shows the influence of Wyeth, as well as other American artists like Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer.
Hopper’s works, I’ve always found, have a particular quality of still abandonment, as if the scenes he depicts are living but just abandoned five minutes ago. Bo Bartlett’s paintings have a similar feel: they often exude a slight air of uncertainty and disquiet. There’s the looming threat of anarchy in The End of the 20th Century, also insinuated in So Far, as well as the reversal of the grounded American flag implied in Cradle. Other paintings, like Calling and Deer are peans to the animal kingdom. Still more are disturbingly quiet odes to the American coast — Bartlett divides his time between Puget Sound on the Pacific and Maine on the Atlantic. Whether beautiful portents of doom or eery celebrations of American life, the viewer suspects that there are stories not being told, and that the artist’s paintings conceal as much as they reveal. (more…)
In the 1930s, New Zealand devalued its pound in relation to sterling and a whole new series of coinage and bank notes were introduced under the authority of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The government commissioned the accomplished English numismatic artist George Kruger Gray to design the dominion’s new coinage, which included this very handsome half-crown. It’s a splendid convergence between Maori and European design, two cooperating strains of New Zealand’s national culture. The country’s shield of arms is topped by a Tudor crown and flanked by indigenous motifs. (more…)
IT’S A CRACKING photo; the sort of thing guaranteed to irk the puritanical and bring a smile to the good-humoured. The thirteen-year-old Yvonne Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn takes a swig from a bottle while her brother Alexander, just twelve, sits with a half-smoked cigarette. Taken aboard the yacht of Bartholomé March off Majorca in 1955, the photographer was Marianne “Manni” Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn — the mother of Yvonne and Alexander — who’s known by her photographic soubriquet of “Mamarazza”. (more…)
A Florentine Artist, The Madonna & Child Enthroned Flanked by Saints Bridget & Michael
1450; Tempera on panel, 72 in. x 85 in.
QUITE A FEW interesting pieces up for auction today as part of Old Master Week at Sotheby’s in New York. The above altarpiece has been attributed to various artists. For much of its life was called the Poggibonsi Triptych, but scholars now believe it to be the work of the Master of Pratovecchio. This attribution was supported by no less an authority than Roberto Longhi, who (as the catalogue notes point out) “considered him an artist of note who contributed to the Florentine transition from the early fifteenth-century serenity and intimacy of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi to the more dynamic forms found later in the century.”
The altarpiece, commissioned from a certain Giovanni di Francesco in 1439, was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, which is now auctioning to raise funds for future acquisitions. (more…)
My first encounter with the art of Christopher Rådlund was through the website of a friend. Bill Coyle is a poet and translator whose knowledge of the Swedish language gives him an insight into the rich and ingenious Scandinavian world. His January 2010 New Criterion article on the Swedish “retrogarde” was a fascinating insight into what is arguably one of the most fruitful multi-disciplinary artistic movements in Europe today, left almost completely unreported upon in the English-speaking world. Bill’s website displays one of Rådlund’s painting.
Christopher Rådlund was born in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1970 and now lives and works in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. In muffled tones, his paintings exhibit a melancholic coldness, like a modern baring-down of Caspar David Friedrich. Here is a small selection of his haunting but beautiful work. (more…)
The very name of Europe is feminine: Europa, the Phoenician princess of Greek lore, abducted by Zeus. From Strange Maps, we find this cartographic representation of Europe as a queen: Spain the crown, Germany the hearty bosom, Italy the graceful arm, and Sicily the Orb of Europe. The map was produced by Sebastian Munster in Basel in 1570 and was recently up for sale from Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps.
“During the late sixteenth century,” the map gallery writes, “a few map makers created these now highly prized map images, wherein countries and continents were given human or animal forms. Among the earliest examples is this map of Europa by Munster, which appeared in Munster’s Cosmography.”
“THE FIRST GROUP of photographs that I attempted of structures,” writes photographer David Goldblatt, “was a series made in 1961 on places of worship on the Witwatersrand. I came to this from two starting points. The first was a fascination with the idea of faith. Notwithstanding recurrent nightmares during childhood about the infiniteness of everlasting hellfire and uncertainty over the domicile of my unbaptised Jewish soul in the hereafter, arising from an otherwise happy primary school education by nuns, I don’t think I was ever able to believe in or pray to the deity with much conviction — except momentarily under extreme threat of imminent disaster. Neither nuns nor rabbi could ever enable me to transcend the banal with that leap of faith required of true believers. … I was — am — then, generally sceptical of believers’ beliefs but also in awe, and sometimes envious, of their ability to believe. If blind, unreasoning faith often repels me it sometimes moves and always intrigues.”
“Thus it was endlessly mysterious, even incredible to me that people — for the most part ‘ordinary’, ‘practical’ people, probably not much given to abstruse thought and discussion — should pour such effort and resource into the erection of structures devoted to so abstract an idea as God.” The photographer, understandably, doesn’t understand that, for we Christians, God is no less abstract than our father, mother, or neighbour down the street. “The ubiquity and persistence of the phenomenon, the immensity of humankind’s investment in God was to me quite awesome.”
“The second starting point for this early series of photographs of structures was an inchoate but growing awareness that whereas some structures seemed quite detached from this place, the Witwatersrand or, more broadly, South Africa, others grew almost viscerally from it. This seemed to have less to do with architecture than with indefinable qualities of ‘belonging’. I wanted to explore these notions and bring them into the light with the camera.” (more…)
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla was born in Malaga, Spain in 1590 but moved to New Spain in 1620, and was appointed choirmaster of Puebla Cathedral in 1628. His corpus is massive, with over 700 works surviving. His Stabat Mater is above, but you should also hear his Missa ego flos campi. (more…)
WELL, NOT THAT deep, really. The Mauritshuis museum in the Hague recently unveiled its plans to expand underground and across the street into a neighbouring building. The square-footage of the museum will double after the completion of the new project, which will include a new entrance, exhibition hall, café, and lecture theatre. The entrance to the museum, currently accessed from the side street, will return to the front of the Mauritshuis but underground rather than through the main doorway on the ground floor.
The building was originally constructed between 1636 and 1641 for Johan Maurits, Prince of Nassau-Siegen next to the Binnenhof palace. At the time, Prince Johan Maurits (a cousin of the stadtholder Frederik Henrik, Prince of Orange) was governor of the New Holland, the Dutch colony in Brazil. In 1820, the palace was purchased by the government to house the Royal Cabinet of Paintings. The Mauritshuis art museum was separated from the state by being transformed into a private foundation which enjoys the use of the building and the art collection on long-loan from the government. (more…)
While my admittedly small work on the Namibian jugendstil was recently published in Catalan, those who are interested in my review of Xander van Eck’s Clandestine Splendor: Paintings for the Catholic Church in the Dutch Republic can read it in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard.
Unfortunately the magazine’s website is mostly behind a paywall, so readers will have to swing by their local newsstand to obtain a copy.
THE ART SCENE in South Africa is widely varied in both style and quality, and the individual artist who is devoted solely to a single school is almost rare. The works of Cyril Coetzee (born in 1959) vary from quasi-figurative explorations of colour dynamics to multi-layered, almost mythological narrative paintings. His academic research at Rhodes University, located in his Eastern Cape hometown of Grahamstown, explored anthroposophic colour theory, so it’s no surprise part of his further studies were undertaken at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland (one of the sites covered in Stephen Klimczuk & Gerald Warner of Craigenmaddie’s Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries). Coetzee’s corpus also include a number of purely figurative portraits, many of which were commissioned by places of learning in South Africa. (more…)
FINLAND IS HIGH on my list of places to visit once I am re-situated across the pond, mainly because of the exceptional warmth and charm of the Finns I am blessed enough to call my friends. If the Finns themselves weren’t reason enough to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun, journalist & travel historian Magnus Londen has teamed up with copywriter Joakim Enegren and web operative Ant Simons to compile Come to Finland: Posters & Travel Tales 1851-1965. The art of poster design is one sadly neglected today, when advertising has developed into myriad other more pervasive yet less impressive forms. The book’s closing date, 1965, roughly marks the end of the golden years of poster design. Visitors to the book’s website can order postcards of the posters featured in the book, or copies of the posters themselves, more of which the dedicated poster-hunting authors are continually discovering. (more…)