Monday, April 29, 2013

Summer Self-Portrait

Snehal Page  "Summer Self-Portrait"  2013  

Snehal Rajeev Page (b.1984) lives and works in Pune, India. She has several degrees from Indian institutions and also studied for three years in the US at Studio Incammanati in Philadelphia. The artist paints landscape and still-life, but is perhaps best known for her figurative work. Her portraits are characterized by delicately expressive coloration, poetic restraint in composition and acute sensitivity of facial expression. Page leads workshops in color theory and portraiture and has won numerous awards including recent honors from the Art Society of India and the Art Renewal Center. The artist's website can be seen here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Utagawa Kunisada "Artisans"  1857  California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Artisans shows a group of women in a workshop producing woodblock prints, and is from the series A Parody of the Four Social Classes. It is a flight of fancy, because although there were some women working as ukiyo-e artists or as assistants in the workshop of well-known artists during the Edo period, it seems that women were not at that time employed to carve or print the blocks, which was considered an entirely different craft from the painting of the original image. (Women did of course assist in family-run businesses so I assume there were some exceptions.) Although this is an imaginary scene, the stages of the process are all accurately described. (Click image to enlarge!)

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) was a prolific ukiyo-e artist of the late Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime he was by far the most popular and successful artist among his contemporaries, which included Hiroshige, Hokusai and Kuniyoshi.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Medieval Sculptor

artist unknown Le Livre des Cleres et Nobles FemmesFrench, 15th C.
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Florentine author Giovanni Bocaccio's book De mulieribus claris ("Of Famous Women") was first published in 1371. The book was a smash hit, and was republished all over Europe in numerous translations and editions for several centuries. This painting comes from a 15th century French version and the illustrator has dressed his or her subject in the contemporary garb of 15th Century France.

Despite an amazing amount of confusion on the topic of the role of women in the European medieval workforce, there is ample evidence that medieval women worked in the building trade as stonemasons, bricklayers, hod carriers, trench-diggers and in fact in every building job there was. A great advantage to hiring women was that they could be paid far less than men or boys for the same work. In the skilled craftsman fields it is true that women were not at every period of time and in every country allowed to be full guild members, although it appears that there was quite a lot of shifting of supposedly inflexible rules, over the centuries, and many gray areas throughout. Widows and female orphans of skilled craftsmen were indeed often allowed some level of guild membership in even the most gender-segregated countries (for example, historically, Germany had stricter rules barring women from certain professional trades than the Netherlands.)

If you'd like to read some of the latest scholarship on this topic you may read a synopsis of an article here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Maia Zer "Big Self" 2003  private collection

Maia Zer (b.1962) is a contemporary Israeli artist. She studied at the Avni Institute of Art and Design in Tel Aviv from 1984-87, and additionally was a student of Israel Hershberg. Zer also spent several years painting in Amsterdam and in Paris. The artist maintains a large art library which is important to her process and to her inspiration. She states, "I see the dialog[ue] between artists through the ages as an essential tool in my work." It seems apparent when one views her ouevre that she has spent time in serial aesthetic discussion with Antonio García López, Avigdor Arikha, Gregory Gillespie and Lucian Freud, all artists of relatively recent demise. Zer credits her influences from the more distant past as "Ingres, Holbein, Balthus and so many more.."

Maia Zer "Twisted Self"  2012  Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Maia Zer "Sunset" 2001  private collection

 Zer has exhibited her work in numerous venues including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art from which she received the Haim Shiff Prize for Figurative-Realistic Painting in 2009. The artist's website can be seen here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Artist Painting Herself

Jean Alphonse Roehn "Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait" 19th . C   location unknown

Jean Alphonse Roehn (1799–1864) was a French painter who was born, worked and died in Paris. He was the son of a successful genre painter Adolphe-Eugène-Gabriel Roehn (1780-1867) who was his first teacher. Jean Alphonse left his father's studio at age fourteen to study at the École des Beaux Arts, working in particular with artists Jean-Baptiste Regnault and Antoine-Jean Gros. Roehn's early efforts were full of youthful ambition for grand religious themes, but after about 1827 he abandoned this type of work and, like his father, devoted himself to genre and portraiture, with the occasional small-scale history painting thrown in for good measure. He exhibited regularly at the yearly Salon, and these works were almost exclusively pieces drawn from everyday life, for which he had an obvious talent.

~Many thanks to artist Michael Lane for bringing this piece to my attention.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Kathryn Polk "Real Girls Make Prints Not Pies" 2009
Printmaker Kathryn Polk (b.1952) is originally from Tennessee, where she received degrees from the Memphis Art Academy and The University of Memphis. She now lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. She is the co-owner of a professional lithography studio called L VIS Press and she is known as a trailblazer in developing and promoting less toxic lithographic procedures and equipment.

Kathryn Polk "I make Prints Not Pies" 2010

Polk exhibits widely and her work is in many collections around the world such as The National Academy of Fine Art (Hangzhou, China), University of Wales (Aberystwyth, UK), and The University of Arizona Museum of Art (Tucson.) More information about the artist and her work can be found on her blog, Non-Indigenous Woman,  which can be seen here. 

Kathryn Polk "Spilt Milk" 2011

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Self-Portrait

Cornelia Hernes "Spring Self Portrait"  2010  location unknown

Cornelia Hernes (b.1979) was born in Norway, studied art in Canada and in Italy and currently teaches in Sweden! All this globe-trotting belies the quiet and very still nature of her work, like an indrawn breath held lightly for a moment. She exhibits at Jack Meier Gallery in Houston, Texas and her website can be seen here,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Finnish Plein Air Painter 1892

Pekka Halonen "In the Open Air" 1892  Location Unknown
Today is such a beautiful spring day that I feel compelled to get outside into the fresh air, even in my blog life! This quick little sketch looks like it was dashed off on the spot, which is fun but uncharacteristic of Pekka Halonen's more realized works. Halonen (1865-1933) was a Finnish painter of landscapes and people, which he often combined to excellent effect. He was one of the founders of the Finnish artist's community at Lake Tuusula, in southern Finland. Composer Jean Sibelius and painter Eero Järnefelt, and many other well-known artists, had houses at the lake. Halonen's house there, which he designed himself and named Halosenniemi, is now a museum, with its original furnishings and Halonen's art on the walls. I would love to visit it someday!

Halonen came from a farming family but one with a deeply artistic streak. His father loved to paint, and his mother was a talented composer. Halonen studied art in Helsinki, winning a scholarship to further his education abroad. He then studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and also studied for a time with Paul Gauguin before returning to Finland and immersing himself in Finnish subjects, its' people and countryside. In a 1932 interview Halonen said of his art, 
"Searching for peace and harmony through my art has become part of my religion, so to speak. Nature is my inspiration. For over 30 years, I have lived in the same place, surrounded by woodlands. I often feel as if I have the whole Louvre and the world’s most precious art treasures right here on my doorstep. I need but step into the forest to see the most wonderful works of art ever created – and I ask for nothing else. My paintings are not ‘naturalistic’, even though I do my best to portray nature as faithfully as I can. Nature is the skeleton, but the flesh of the painting is its atmosphere – the mood is everything. Whether it comes from inside or outside me, I cannot tell. I don’t waste time thinking about problems – I just go out, and one fine day I might find what I am looking for, and then I simply must capture it on canvas.”"

Halonen was a major figure in Finnish art, and his work is included in a current exhibition entitled Nordic Art: 1880-1920along with work by other Finnish artists Eero Järnefeldt, Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli Gallen Kallela. This exhibit is at the Groninger Museum, in the Netherlands, and runs through May 5, 2013. Dutch friends, let me know what I've missed if you get to go! ;-)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Maria!

Holly Trostle Brigham "Maria Sybilla Merian: Metamorphosis" 2010 Private Collection

I was astonished when a run-of-the-mill Google Search this morning showed me that today (April 2) is the birthday of the incredible Maria Sibylla Merian: she is the Google Doodle for today. Way go, Google! Anna Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was a German-Swiss artist and naturalist with strong ties to Holland. The confusion surrounding her nationality stems from her having been born in Frankfurt to a Swiss father and a German mother. Merian also spent some time living in Holland, where her artist/art dealer stepfather had business ties, and was later sponsored by the Dutch government to  make a historic and ground-breaking naturalizing expedition to Surinam.

artist unknown "Maria Sybilla Merian" date and location unknown

Merian's biological father,  Matthäus Merian der Ältere, a Swiss engraver and publisherdied in 1650 and her mother remarried, to artist/dealer Jacob Marrel. Marrel encouraged Merian in her natural affinity for drawing and painting. In 1665 Merian married Johan Graff, one of her stepfather's apprentices. Two years later she had her first child, and the family moved to Nuremberg which was Graff's hometown. Merian continued painting and drawing and because women in Germany at that time were not allowed to earn a living as fine artists, she used her considerable gifts to make design books for embroidery. She also contributed to the family's income by giving drawing lessons to the unmarried daughters of wealthy families. 

After a time, she also continued her serious work of botanical artist. She published, in Holland where no such prohibitions against women practicing art existed, several collections of engravings of plants, in 1675, 1677, and 1680. Even more unusually, she collected and observed live insects and created detailed drawings to illustrate insect metamorphosis. At that point in history, insects were called "beasts of the devil" and not believed to be of much scientific interest.  The life cycle and metamorphosis of insects was largely unknown, with the general thought being that they were "born of mud", through spontaneous generation.  Merian's careful observation of their life cycles was completely ground-breaking. Her work was popular with non-scientists because she wrote not in latin but in the vernacular. "However, it is should be noted  that her work was largely ignored by scientists of the time because the official language of science was still Latin." (Wikipedia)

Despite her lack of Latin, in 1699 the city of Amsterdam sponsored Merian to make a naturalizing expedition to their colony of Surinam accompanied by the younger of her two daughters, Dorothea Maria Graff, who was also a practicing artist. The two women spent over two years traveling around the colony of Surinam, sketching the flora and fauna and recording local native names for plants as well as their uses. Merian outspokenly criticized the Dutch planters' treatment of their black slaves and the indiginous people. A severe bout of Malaria forced the two women to return to the Netherlands in 1701. In 1705 she published Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, a ground-breaking and astonishingly beautiful study of the insects of Surinam. 

artist unknown "Maria Sybilla Merian" date unknown

Sadly, Merian suffered a severe stroke in 1715. She was unable to work after that with much efficacy. Local registers of the time list her as "pauper." She died in Amsterdam in 1717. Her daughter Dorothea posthumously published a collection of her mother's work, the Erucarum Ortus Alimentum et Paradoxa Metamorphosis. This impressive collection helped preserve Merian's work and her reputation. She fell into obscurity for a while but was rediscovered in the last half of the 20th Century. She has now received numerous honors, especially in Germany, where her image appears on bank notes and stamps, and many schools are named after her. Happy Birthday Maria Sibylla Merian...we honor you!

Although, in fact, we have no real idea what you look like, dear Maria! If you search for portraits of the artist and you will find a goodly number, none of which look at all like the same person. Holly Trostle Brigham (b. 1965) who painted the imaginative lead image in this post is a contemporary artist whose work focuses on women and history. An alum of Smith College, George Washington University and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Brigham is represented by ACA Galleries in New York City. Her website can be seen here

Monday, April 1, 2013


Marie Laurencin "Self Portrait at the Easel"  1906  location unknown

Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) was a french artist who once described her own work as "between a flutter and a coo." She was born in Paris, an illegitimate child whose mother was reputedly of Creole extraction. Laurencin herself attributed her "frizzy hair, full lips and almond eyes" to this heritage, and openly examined and celebrated her own beauty in almost innumerable self-portraits throughout her life.

Laurencin initially began training as a porcelain painter at the Sèvres Factory. She continued her art training with private lessons from painter Madeleine Lemaire, following this up by attending the Academie Humbert, where she met Georges Braque and Francis Picabia. She was an instant hit with the boys of the Bateau-Lavoir, an avant-garde group of poets and painters.  She was essentially the only female artist who was accepted by this exclusive group of male artists who were characterized by their almost hyper-male swagger and machismo. In contrast, Laurencin embodied a distinctly feminine aesthetic, which apparently posed no threat while at the same time charming her male friends with the delicate "fairy wand in her brush."(André Salmon.) In 1907 Picasso introduced her to poet Guillaume Appollinaire with whom she became romantically involved for several years.  She was thought of as his muse, a role commemorated by Henri Rousseau in his painting of the couple entitled, rather prosaically, La Muse Inspirant le Poète (The Muse Inspiring the Poet.) One of Apollinaire's best known poems, Marie, was written to commemorate their relationship.

Laurencin showed her work frequently in Paris and beyond, with several of her pieces being included in the World's Fair in New York City in 1913. Laurencin married a German national in 1914 and left France during the First World War, returning to Paris after her divorce in 1920. She continued working as a painter and printmaker and also branched into book illustration and set designing. Her work is in major museums around the world and the Marie Laurencin Museum opened in Japan in 1983, commemorating the 100th year of her birth.