Wednesday, October 31, 2012

With Fish and Cat

Joan Brown "Self-Portrait with Fish and Cat"  1970
San Jose Museum of Art
If you've got a fish, and a cat and a paintbrush, you are pretty set. I'm not sure what the symbology meant to Brown but to me the cat stands for companionship. the brush for creative life and the fish symbolizes food, nourishment. Plus, the big size of the fish is pretty funny. The red background speaks of energy and warmth. Looking at this painting definitely gives me a pleasant sense of satisfaction on several levels. How about you?

Joan Brown (1938-1990) grew up in San Francisco and attended the California School of Fine Arts. Studying with Elmer Bischoff, Brown eventually became part of the second generation Bay Area Figurative Movement. Her work is usually characterized by a playful spirit contrasted with an elegant sense of composition which includes pattern and line elements. Her earlier work was more like Bischoff's own, but her later work became more linear and flat, with bright colors and a distinct sense of humor. Brown's work is in major museums world-wide and has received numerous honors and grants including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977.

Brown has said, " Iʼm not any one thing: Iʼm not just a teacher, Iʼm not just a mother, Iʼm not just a painter, Iʼm all these things plus, and the more areas I can tap, the richer each one of the others will be."

Canvas' Eye View

Alexandra Tyng "Canvas' Eye View"  2005
Contemporary Philadelphia-based painter Alexandra Tyng puts a unique spin on self-portraiture as seen by the canvas about to be painted upon! Tyng is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including First Place in the Portrait Society of America's 2012 International Portrait Competition.  She is represented by several galleries, including Dowling Walsh, FischbachGross McCleaf and gWatson.  Tyng, the daughter of two architects, did not originally intend on a career in the arts but attended Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania where she studied psychology and education.  Tyng still relies on these interests in order to clearly convey a strong sense of place and convey emotion in both her landscapes and portraits.

Alexandra Tyng "Painters on Cadillac Mountain"  2009
 Here Tyng paints her friends and fellow painters Diana Ansley (red hair) and me, Nancy Bea Miller, (blonde ponytail) on a painting trip we took in Maine. The grand vista with the intimate details is a leitmotif of Tyng's beautifully textured work.

Nancy Bea Miller "Alexandra Tyng Painting" 2009

On the same trip I myself whipped off this little (12 x 9 inch) painting of Alex as we painted at Beaver Pond in Acadia National Park. I'd finished my bigger piece but Alex had a little more to do on hers so I grabbed an extra panel and used up the rest of my palette paint. The bigger piece I eventually discarded but this little "extra", roughed out in about thirty minutes, ended up being the keeper! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

With One of Her Sisters

Rosalba Carriera  "Self Portrait Holding a Picture of her Sister"   1715  Uffizi Gallery
 This pastel painting is also known as Artist and her Sister Naneta. But Carriera had two sisters, one named Angela and one named Giovanna. I don't know from which name the nickname "Naneta" is derived. If anyone out there knows, please let me know! Both Carriera's sisters were known to have assisted her at times in her studio. 

Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) was an internationally acclaimed and admired portrait artist of the Italian Rococo. Her family was from the lower-middle-class in Venice, and it is said that she began her artistic career as a child by making lace patterns for her mother, who was engaged in the lacemaking trade. Perhaps as a result of her earliest training Carriera had an unusual ability to represent textures and patterns, faithfully re-creating rich fabrics, gold braid, lace, jewelry and furs, which showed off the opulent and materialistic life-style of her wealthy patrons.

It is not known definitively with whom she studied, but Carriera began painting snuff box lids, which were all the rage at this period, and gradually evolved from these tiny painted miniatures on ivory into making larger sized  portraits with pastel. In fact she was one of the pioneers of the pastel portrait in the 18th century and was respected by the other great artists of her day such as Antoine Watteau who famously posed for Carriera in the last year of his life.  That same year, in 1721, Carriera was elected to the French Royal Academy.

Rosalba Carriera  "Allegory of Painting" ca. 1720  National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

This piece by Carriera (above) is often titled "Self-Portrait as the allegory of painting" but as there is almost no detectable resemblance between this painter's face and Carriera's own, seen in numerous self-portraits and drawings, I suspect this is incorrect. Or perhaps the artist did use a mirror rather than a model when she created this very stylized woman's portrait but representing an ideal rather than an actual person. Executed in pastel, you can see the progression of the artists's technique as she became ever lighter and more graceful in touch. It is gently ironic that this piece, singing the praises of painting was in fact executed in pastel. There has long been some debate as to which art category pastel work belongs, either drawing or painting. As always, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Life Raft

Katie O'Hagan   "Life Raft"  2011

New York state-based contemporary painter Katie O'Hagan was born and raised in Scotland, moving to the U.S. in 1993. Formally trained as a silversmith at the Edinburgh College of Art, she began painting in oils in about 2004. Raising two young children precluded formal instruction in the craft of painting but with her previous training, innate sense of design and the mentorship of a neighboring artist, Paul McCormack, O'Hagan has quickly made up for lost time. This painting won a 2012 Portrait Society of America Certificate of Excellence and is a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s current Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

Life Raft is a self-portrait depicting O'Hagan's emotional state during some difficult personal circumstances, but this piece speaks to many people because painting is certainly a life raft for artists for all kinds of reasons. O'Hagan's father in Scotland is said to have helped his daughter by collecting the wood for the raft. More of the artist's work can be seen on her website here

In a Freezing Studio

JaFang Lu  "Self Portrait (in a Freezing Studio)"  2009

Contemporary painter JaFang Lu (b. 1976) studied at the City College of New York and received a merit scholarship to the Art Student's League. She came to Philadelphia to study with Nelson Shanks at Studio Incamminati, where she now teaches. More of her work, both still life and figurative, can be seen on her blog here.

Chilly studios are part of many artist's lives (mine included) but there is an interesting backstory to this particular painting. In the winter of 2008-09 Lu had just returned to Philadelphia from a residency in New Mexico and didn't have a permanent living or working space, nor did she have a lot of money, so she made a deal with a landlord who was renovating a building. "I got the space for very very cheap and the deal was that I agreed to move around as he renovated the building. What an insane idea!!!" says Lu. This piece was completed during the raging blizzard of 2009, a huge snowstorm that pretty much paralyzed the mid-atlantic region of the United States. Lu recalls, " I trudged through the snow to the station to catch the subway ride home [from the studio.] The snow was almost knee deep. The snow storm was so bad that the subway was the only public transportation still operating and the gate to the station was open so commuters could get on for free." 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Students of Painting

Daniel Garber  "Students of Painting"  1923 The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Daniel Garber (1880-1958) was an American Impressionist painter and a member of the New Hope art colony. He studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Both his landscape and his figurative works are usually characterised by a tightly structured composition and a high-key palette. This painting of art students is similar to several paintings Garber did of his daughter Tanis as a child, standing or sitting in front of a brilliantly lit window.

Daniel Garber  "Tanis"  1915  Philadelphia Museum of Art

In "Students of Painting" the young blonde woman is enveloped in a white painting smock standing in front of the large studio window. One wonders if it is indeed Tanis herself as young woman or just someone who reminded Garber of his daughter. Garber taught for over forty years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and must have had a long river of students, both male and female, pass through his classes.

The Work Day and Night

Rachel Constantine  "The Work Day"  2005  Private Collection

Contemporary painter Rachel Constantine attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia where she still lives and works.  She has received many awards and portrait commissions and her work has been exhibited widely. She is included in the 2009 book Alla Prima: a Contemorary Guide to Traditional Direct Painting written by PAFA teacher and artist Al Gury.

Rachel Constantine  "Self Portrait with a Man"  2011  
 Constantine works in the realist tradition integrating  some elements of impressionism.

David C. Wilson  "Night Painters"  2010  Private Collection

Constantine's exotic beauty is like catnip to her artist friends who frequently paint, draw, sculpt and photograph her. This piece by artist David Campbell Wilson shows Constantine working at night in the studio and cleverly includes a subtle self-portrait in the window reflection.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Works Progress Administration

Moses Sawyer "Artists on WPA" 1935  Smithsonian American Art Museum
Moses Sawyer (1899-1974) was born in Russia but emigrated to the US with his family in 1912. He grew up in New York City with his twin brother Raphael and younger brother Isaac, who were also artists. Sawyer studied at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. During the 1930s and 40s his work focused on the effects of the great depression, depicting the underpriviliged and the unemployed, as well as artists who were lucky enough to find work through America's WPA Artist's Project.

Running from approximately 1935 to 1943 the WPA provided almost eight million jobs to skilled and unskilled workers alike, including artists. Interestingly, there is now a project for the U.S. government to reclaim the art it paid for during this time; much of it was warehoused, donated to museums or simply forgotten about during the exigencies of World War ll and afterwards, and only recently has there been an initiative to reclaim it!

Moses Sawyer was employed by the WPA to help design murals and supervise mural teams throughout the country. This painting was almost certainly done during such a project. Unfortunately I can find no identification for any of the artists shown in this painting.

Moses Sawyer's work is found in major museums across the country such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney and the Phillips CollectionHe was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1963 and in 1966 to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Self In Series

Mary Beth McKenzie "Self Portrait (Matisee print and easel)"  1993
New Britain Museum of American Art

Contemporary figurative painter Mary Beth McKenzie has returned again and again to the theme of the self portrait over the years, including many examples of the working self portrait. Far from being symptoms of vanity, we see the painter gazing unflinchingly into the mirror, noting and accepting the bodily changes wrought by time.

McKenzie studied at various places including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Art Students League in NYC where she now teaches. McKenzie has received numerous honors including election to the National Academy of Design in 1994. Her work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Butler Institute of American Art, and the National Academy Museum, among others. She is represented by ACA Galleries in New York City.

Mary Beth McKenzie "Self Portrait (palette)"  2005

Mary Beth McKenzie "Self Portrait (standing with palette)"

Mary Beth McKenzie "Self Portrait (Tony and my mother)"  2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Have Painted Myself...

Caterina van Hemessen "Self Portrait Seated at an Easel"  1548
Kunstmuseum Basel 


This image is remarkable for being perhaps the very first Northern European self-portrait painting in which the artist shows him or herself at work!  It is not the first self-portrait of course, but artists tended to show themselves in their finest attire and at leisure or in prayer, similarly to the way they portrayed their wealthy patrons or church officials. This is, I believe, the first known instance of the working self-portrait in the history of European painting, by either a man or a woman. 

The flemish artist Caterina van Hemessen (1528 – 1587) painted this small work in oils on a wood panel, inscribing the piece with these words "I Caterina van Hemessen have painted myself / 1548 / Her aged 20" (The piece is said to now hang in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung in Basel, but a recent search of that institution returned "0 results". However, the piece turns up in the archived collection of the Kunstmuseum, Basel, which may simply be another branch or updated subsidiary of the former institution. "Caterina" is sometimes spelled "Catharina", in case you are interested enough to do some research of your own.) 

Van Hemessen was the daughter of painter, Jan Sanders van Hemessen (ca. 1500 - 1563), who was her teacher.  This self-portrait is probably her best known work but she went on to a healthy career making portraits of wealthy men and women, usually posed against a dark or neutral background. She was a member in good standing of the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp and was teacher to three male students, which indicate she was respected and successful. She gained an important patron in Maria of Austria, Regent of the Low Countries. When Maria resigned her post and returned to Spain, Caterina and her husband were invited to accompany her and did so. Two years later in 1558 when Maria died, Caterina was awarded a generous pension and she and her husband returned to Antwerp.

In Her Studio

Paula Rego "The Artist in Her Studio" 1993 Leeds Art Gallery
The painter and printmaker Paula Rego was born in Portugal but attended the Slade School of Art in England from 1952-1956. Rego met her future husband at the Slade, British painter Victor Willing. The couple divided their time between England and Portugal until about 1975 when they moved more permanently to England. Rego's meteoric career effectively began in 1962 when she began showing with The London Group, a long established artists' organization whose membership included such luminaries as Vanessa Bell, Stanley Spencer, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and David Hockney. 

Rego has received so many honors and awards that it would be tedious to list them here, but most recently she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2010 and in the same year won the MAPFRE Foundation Drawing Prize in Madrid. Earlier in 2012 she had a retrospective exhibition of her work at the new Gulbenkian Museum in Paris.
Rego is represented by Marlborough Fine Art, London.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Green

Amrita Sher-Gil "Self-Portrait in Green"  1934
Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) was born in India to a Sikh father and a Hungarian mother. Duality seemed to be the leitmotif of Sher-Gil's life, from her half-European half-Indian parentage, to her education and upbringing which spanned two continents, and which also informed her work which swung between European and Indian styles. She is sometimes called "India's Frida Kahlo" and although her life was considerably shorter than Kahlo's (she died at age 28) it was commensurately packed with art, glamour and notoriety. Her life has inspired several films and many books, albeit mostly in India.

I was unable to discover the current whereabouts of this painting. There is a chance it is in the Sher-Gil Collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art, India, whose website states 103 as the number of this artist's works it owns, without listing them by title or date. An interesting short video from her 2008 exhibition at the Tate Modern, featuring her nephew Vivan Sundaram, can be viewed here.

A Motion Picture

Margaret Foster Richardson  "A Motion Picture (self-portrait)"  1912  
I've loved this piece for many decades. It is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and when I was a student there I stood before "Miss Margaret" in awe, time and time again. She seemed to be breathing. I saw it again in the flesh a couple years ago at PAFA's wonderful show on self-portraiture called Narcissus in the Studio. You can't really see this painting too often IMHO! 

However, for such a knock-it-out-of-the-park work of art, there is not much biographical information readily available on its maker, Margaret Foster Richardson. She was an American, her dates are 1881-1945, and from what I can see in auction records it appears she worked mainly as a portrait painter.  She attended the MFA Boston school from 1905 to 1908, where she was a student of Edmund TarbellI found one slight and inconclusive mention of her in a long and rambling article on women artists of the Boston School. 

From this painting we can infer that she had excellent technical ability, a keen sense of humor and was interested in the technological advances of her time (the motion picture industry was burgeoning.) She also gives the impression of being a down to earth person, someone who didn't mind depicting herself in her shapeless working smock, with glasses glinting, hair messy and nose unpowdered.  (I really like that about her.) Anyway, if anyone reading this has more background information on Margaret Foster Richardson, please share!


Dana Schutz "Self-Portrait"
This is unusual subject matter for contemporary NYC-based painter Dana Schutz, who states that her work is emphatically NOT autobiographical. Schutz is known for her brightly colored works with such macabre themes as  "Self-Eaters and the People Who Love Them."  Her usual subject matter, very frequently death and dismemberment, is presented with such humorous silliness and bright deliciously swishy swathes of paint that they can make you smile and gag at the same time. This image is from the Rizzoli monograph on the artist from 2010.

When journalist Mei Chin interviewed Schutz for an article in Bomb magazine in 2006, she asked the artist about the fantastical nature of her imagery and Schutz replied, " I respond to what I think is happening in the world. The hypotheticals in the paintings can act as surrogates or narratives for phenomena that I feel are happening in culture."  In my own (likely flawed) assessment of Schutz's aesthetic motivation I believe what she is tackling is the duality of our culture's  aggressive "feel good" imperative which co-exists side by side with the ever-increasing awareness of the stark tragedies of life.  (Which thanks to world wide web and more media attention we now know more and more and more about.)  Schutz's paintings seem to me to be a brave, funny, yet at heart horrified way of trying to reconcile these two opposed streams of consciousness: the beauty of life and its ugliness.

A hard row to hoe. Hence all the Cadmium Yellow!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In the Studio of the Artist

Asta Nørregaard   "Portrait of Elisabeth Fearnley in the Studio of the Artist"  1892

Asta Nørregaard (1853 - 1933) was a Norwegian painter who is best known for her portraits of the wealthy and celebrated, rather like her American contemporary John Singer Sargent. I don't know the story behind this piece, which seems more personal.  Elisabeth Young Fearnley was the wife of shipping magnate Thomas Fearnley and sat to Nørregaard for a more conventional portrait as well, which can be seen here

By all accounts Asta Nørregaard was a zealous and ambitious artist. She won numerous prizes and studied abroad mainly with the painter Eilif Peterssen but also with Léon Bonnat. Thanks to a generous scholarship she lived and worked in Paris for several years, eventually returning to Norway to settle in Oslo in 1885, with later trips abroad for study and commissions. She received the King's Medal of Merit in gold in 1920. 

Working at Home

Sylvia Sleigh  "Working at Home"  1969

The figurative painter Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010) was born in Wales and studied art in England.  After her marriage to English art critic Lawrence Alloway, the couple moved to the U.S. in the early 1960s where Alloway took a position as a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

In the 1970s Sleigh became interested in the feminist art movement, and her work started to examine gender role reversal. She is famous for a series of paintings that portray nude men. Not explicitly sexualized, simply showing the male nude in poses often associated with the female nude, reclining or lounging, Sleigh's work gave a gentle visual shock to viewers who were more accustomed to seeing female bodies in these positions, making people reconsider their assumptions on gendered roles in art and life. 
Sleigh has been quoted as saying:  "I feel that my paintings stress the equality of men & women (women & men.) To me, women were often portrayed as sex objects in humiliating poses. I wanted to give my perspective. I liked to portray both man and woman as intelligent and thoughtful people with dignity and humanism that emphasized love and joy."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Digital Self Portrait

Mia Robinson  "Self Portrait lll"  2011
Contemporary artist Mia Robinson is one of the co-founders of iAMDA, the international association of mobile digital artists. Hailing from Washington, D.C., Robinson has shown her work widely in this country and abroad. She is just one of the growing number of artists who use the iPhone/iTouch/iPad mediums to create art.  

Painter in Her Atelier

Artist Unknown "Painter in Her Atelier" 1400s   Spencer Collection
This miniature is from an illuminated book entitled "Des cléres et nobles femmes." De mulieribus claris (Of Famous Women) was written by Giovanni Boccaccio and was first published in 1374. It became a runaway "bestseller" of its age and was copied and re-copied hundreds of times. This particular edition (MS. 33, f. 37v) is French and part of the Spencer Collection in the New York Public Library.

The painting shows the artist Marcia at work in her atelier. It is usually described as Marcia painting a self-portrait, as you can see the small mirror affixed to the arch next to the easel. The artist has set the painting in his or her "contemporary" 15th century France, but Marcia was actually an artist from ancient Roman times. From the wikipedia entry:

Iaia of Cyzicus ("Marcia") was a Roman painter, alive during the time of Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 BC).  She was a famous painter and ivory engraver. Most of her paintings are said to be of women. Among pictures ascribed to her was a large panel, in Naples, picture of an old woman and a self-portrait. She was said to have worked faster and painted better than her male competitors, Sopolis and Dionysius, which enabled her to earn more than them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

With Daughters

Zinaida Serebriakova  "Self Portrait with Daughters"  1921 

The Russian painter Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) painted this self-portrait posed with her daughters Ekatarina and Tatiana about two years after the death of her husband Boris from typhus. Shortly after completing this piece, now in the collection of the Rybinsk History and Art Museum, times would become so difficult for Serebryakova that she would be forced to give up oil painting, unable to afford the necessary materials and finding it difficult to sell her work during this period of Russian Civil War

In 1924 she traveled to Paris where she had obtained a large commission, and then found herself unable to return to Russia. Her mother took care of her four children back in Moscow. At some point Serebryakova managed to get the two younger children out of the country to join her in France, but she was unable to secure the necessary permissions for the two oldest, who remained in Russia. It was not until 1960 that Serebryakova was reunited with her oldest daughter Tatiana Borisovna Serebriakova (1912-1989.)

The Sunroom

Tom Root  "The Sunroom" 2001
Tom Root, a contemporary artist living in Tennessee, painted this portrait of his wife and one of their two children. Notice the green paint on the paintbrush? Peggy Root is a landscape painter.

With Three Children

Charely Toorop  "Self Portrait with Three Children"  1929  Groninger Museum
Here Dutch "moral realist" painter Charley Toorop (1891-1955) depicts herself with her three children. I am always kind of surprised when I come up against the still prevalent modern day myth that artists can't have children (or no more than one, perhaps) if they expect to be any good, especially women artists. I enjoy looking down the centuries and the many many outstanding women artists who had children, in fact, often multiple children! I am particularly drawn to Charely Toorop's work and as a mother of three myself I was delighted to find we are in at least that one "club" together!  "Surtout pas des Principes!"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Golden Age

Judith Leyster  "Self-Portrait" ca. 1630 National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
It is hard to believe that this piece was at some point attributed to various other Dutch golden age (male) painters, including Frans Hals. Judith Leyster  (1609-1660) was well-known in her time, and officially registered with the Guild of Saint Luke's in Haarlem, and there are even numerous court records of her various legal doings (including a successful suit of Frans Hals for apprentice-stealing.) Yet a few centuries later it was as though she had not existed. I find this baffling and somewhat chilling.

As a child who was frequently taken to art museums I recall hearing there was some controversy about this work, and a large old book (with slightly blurry tipped-in plates) that resided on my parent's bookshelf, did indeed attribute this piece to Hals. (I am 49. The book was probably a few decades older.)  At any rate, sometime in the last half century Leyster's existence was re-discovered, her oeuvre re-examined, and her reputation re-established. Golden indeed!

further musings: 
So, just thinking, many of the artists profiled here on WAP had children, and many of them had MANY children (see Lavinia Fontana who had 11, for instance.) Contrary to the common mythos, in the vast majority of cases we don't hear that having children brought these women's careers to an end. Far from it. However, in the case of Judith Leyster that does seem to have been the case. Once she married and had children (five) she stopped producing known work, although some historians have posited that she then assisted her lesser-known artist-husband with his work. I wonder if she just became submerged by a cascade of major life events (childcare, moving, lawsuits, sickness, etc.) from which she did not have a chance to break free before she died, at the relatively young age of fifty. I will have to read a more detailed biography and see what her biographers say...

Painting on a Vertical Scroll

Isoda Koryusai  ""The Yujo Koshikibu of Takeya painting on vertical scroll held by a young maid"
Societies which have had a Confucian influence in their organization have held a rather mixed position on women as visual artists. On the one hand, painting (paired with calligraphy) is considered to be one of the six arts, accomplishments that virtuous human beings must be constantly striving to attain. On the other hand, things are a little different for women than for men in Confucian ideology, and a woman's main duty in Confucian society is (as I, admittedly, only imperfectly understand it) to completely devote herself body and soul to the care of her family, upholding "the three subordinations." These conflicting views meant that historically the only women able to pursue the visual arts with societal approval were those whose family business happened to already be involved in the production of art (we can find several visual instances of women hard at work in the family woodblock printing "sweat shops" for instance) or those whose profession was that of courtesan or of concubine, women who had stepped entirely outside the familial circle of duty. An interesting exception to these two groups is women who acted as ladies-in-waiting, high-born attendants on royal or royally-connected women.

I am generalizing and simplifying, but in such cultures I get the sense that painting was considered an attractive accomplishment for courtesans and for ladies-in-waiting, as it served to show off their exquisite sensitivity and refinement. It was also a safe and respectable way to pass their time as they awaited the next visit from their patron (courtesan/concubine) or ceremonial duty (lady-in-waiting.)

I could not find out any more about Koshikibu of Takeya specifically, but as far as I am able to discover, the term Yujo means courtesan or licensed prostitute. Different copies of this woodblock print can be found in the collection of the British Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790) was a Japanese painter and printmaker. It is believed that he was born into a Samurai family, one of the elite warrior class, and was forced to take up the craft of printmaker when he became a ronin, or masterless samurai, but this point is hotly disputed by different historians. He was amazingly prolific and his talent was wide-ranging, including naturalistic studies of birds and elegant depictions of beautiful women. He also produced hundreds of shunga, erotic prints which were hugely popular during the Edo period in Japan.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Self-Portrait with Olive and Mae

Katy Schneider "Self-Portrait with Olive and Mae"  1997
Author Virginia Woolf famously discussed the necessity for a woman writer to have "a room of one's own," essentially, having the means and time to carve out a space in one's life for creative work. This is important for visual artists as well as writers. Contemporary New England painter Katy Schneider's studio space is in the basement of the home she shares with her painter husband and their three young children. While some might chafe at the restrictions imposed by such a space, Schneider has turned these limitations to her advantage, visually at least, creating small tableaux of modern family life, dramatically lit and chock-full of detail.  

Women Painting Mentor

Gabriela Dellosso  "Women Painting Mentor"  2010

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (see previous post) not only taught and mentored women artists of her own time (the 1700s) but has inspired women artists down the centuries, including contemporary painter Gabriela Dellosso.  In this large work (60 x 60 inches) which includes a self-portrait (the figure in the green skirt) Dellosso pays homage to Labille-Guiard and the long arm of art history  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Self-Portrait With Two Pupils

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard "Self-Portrait with Two Pupils" 1785 
This stunning painting, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was produced by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard just two years after she was admitted to the prestigious ranks of French Academicians. At that point, only four women at a time were eligible for membership in the French Academy, and this painting is thought to be a subtle propaganda piece for the rights of women. Madame Labille-Guiard portrays herself resplendent in full feminine regalia yet at the same time with great dignity and strength of character. She is at work on a large canvas watched by two admiring students, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie-Margeurite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788.)  Known as a witty conversationalist and intellectual, Madame Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) never ceased to quietly yet firmly champion the rights of women. Some might say that her most persuasive argument must certainly be her own ouevre of superbly executed masterworks.  

Marie Gabrielle Capet "Atelier of Madame Vincent (Labille-Guiard)"  1808

Years later Marie Gabrielle Capet paid homage to her beloved teacher with this painting depicting herself and Labille-Guiard (re-married and known as Madame Vincent) at work in her busy studio. This piece is in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. 

The Allegory of Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi "Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting"  1630s

This iconic painting by the Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) is in the Royal Collection in London, purchased in the 1600s by fanatical art collector Charles I of England. Signora Gentileschi's father Orazio Gentileschi was for a time court painter to this art-hungry monarch and in about 1638 Artemisia traveled to England to assist her parent with some large commissions. Signor Gentileschi died suddenly in 1639 and after winding up her own and her father's affairs, Signorina Gentileschi returned to Italy in about 1641, narrowly missing the start of the English Civil War and the subsequent beheading of her royal patron.

It has long been a common painterly conceit for an allegory of painting to have an idealized female figure represent the concept of painting . Historically, such scenes typically involve much garlanding with flowers and neo-classical architecture as a setting. There is usually very little actual painting being performed. It was typical of Signorina Gentileschi's idiosyncratic style to paint herself in so un-idealized a manner, hard at work in a cramped and dimly lit space. She is thought to have achieved this dynamic pose through the use of several mirrors.

The Artist Anne

Alexander Roslin "The Artist Anne Vallayer-Coster" 1783 private collection

There is no absolute consensus on whether this piece was executed by Swedish portraitist Alexander Roslin (1718-1793)  or if it is a self-portrait from the brush of French painter Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) but there is no dispute that Madame Vallayer-Coster is the subject of the piece.

Madame Vallayer-Coster was unusual for many reasons. She was one of only four women accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture prior to the french revolution, and this great honor she achieved at the young age of twenty-six.  She was known primarily for her still-life painting, a genre that was not held in high esteem in the aesthetic circles of the time. However, art critic and philosopher Denis Diderot spoke warmly of her work in the salon of 1771 commenting,"if all new members of the Royal Academy made a showing like Mademoiselle Vallayer's, and sustained the same high level of quality, the Salon would look very different!"

Alexander Roslin was born in Sweden, and moved around northern Europe painting statesmen and royalty. He settled in Paris in 1750 where he continued to practice his trade. Although most of his work was focused on capturing likenesses of the powerful and wealthy of his time, possibly his most well-known work is a playful and charming painting of his wife:

Aexander Roslin "Lady with a Veil (the Artist's Wife)" 1768 Nationalmuseum
In fact, this lovely lady, Roslin's wife, was a highly regarded artist herselfMarie-Suzanne-Thérèse Giroust (1734–1772), also known simply as Madame Roslin, studied with artists Joseph-Marie Vien and Maurice Quentin de La Tour.  She fell in love with Roslin after meeting him in Vien's studio and despite oppostion from her guardians (due to Roslin's being Protestant rather than Catholic) the couple married in 1759. They had six children. Madame Roslin died lamentably young, age 38, of breast cancer. Despite the limited size of her artistic output she is thought to have been one of the great pastel talents of the era.