Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Found in an Attic!

Evelyn Dunbar, “Self-portrait”, oil on canvas,
© The Artist’s Estate, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art 
Here's an amazing artist you may never have heard of! Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960) was the only woman salaried by the British War Artists' Advisory Committee during WWII. Dunbar studied at the Royal College of Art and became a professional mural artist. During her war service she painted and sketched images of the home front, particularly focusing on the Women's Land Army

Dunbar exhibited extensively during her lifetime, but her 'name' practically disappeared after her death. Wikipedia says, "Dunbar was modest regarding her achievements...which has led to some neglect of her work until recent years." (Tip: don't be modest!) In 2013 a relative saw a piece by Dunbar being valued on BBC Antiques Roadshow and recalled a stash of the artist's work up in the attic: this cache was found to contain over 500 works of art! The discovery doubled the known works of the artist overnight. It's a fascinating story, and to read more and see examples of this artist's stunning and original work click the various links above or go to this Hyperallergic article.

This artist's lively yet accurate drawing and her unusual way of looking at the everyday world both make her work as captivating to the general population as to the art cognoscenti. She is truly a master, albeit one you may have never heard of before. Organizer of a current Dunbar retrospective exhibition, Pallant House Gallery curator Katy Norris, says, "I hope that by drawing attention to Dunbar's achievements...she will be viewed more equally with her male peers."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Self as Allegory

Mary Harju "Arte" oil on panel 11 x 14 inches 2015  collection of the artist
This charming piece by Philadelphia area-based artist Mary Harju caught my eye for its interesting blend of both action and contemplation. There is a thoughtful, almost dreamy, expression on the artist's face but her arms are tensely linked by one finger, cradling the head but ready to spring apart at any moment and get to work. To me this is nicely emblematic of what it's like to be an artist. In fact the title "Arte" refers to the entire concept of Art, and in the traditional iconography (visual symbolism) of western art, a female figure usually always symbolizes this ideal. (A well-known example is this self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi.)  

I asked the artist what was in her mind when she painted this self-portrait. She replied, 
"[In iconography] the emblem of "Arte" holds the tools of her trade in her hand. I'd been working on compositions for this that had seemed stilted and awkward. One day I noticed that I stick brushes in my hair as I'm working, rather like arrows on a quiver. So, this composition was born--it just clicked... I wanted the arms to feel full of potential energy--like an archer preparing to let go an arrow."

Harju studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the New York Academy. Her work can be seen on her website:  http://maryharju.weebly.com/

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Princess of the Arts

Maria Antonia Walpurgis Symphorosa Self Portrait at the Age of About Forty c. 1772 
Maria Antonia Walpurgis Symphorosa, Princess of Bavaria (1724-1780) was born in Munich to Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria and Elector Karl Albert of Bavaria (later Emperor Karl VII). The fourth in a family of seven children, she received a first-class education, particularly in the arts (including painting and poetry, as well as music.)
 Maria Antonia grew up to become, among other things, a highly respected composer, known particularly for her operas Il trionfo della fedeltà (The Triumph of Loyaltyand Talestri, regina delle amazoni (Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons.) Click here for a delightful YouTube clip of a modern production of Talestri!  She performed actively as a singer and keyboard player in court performances. In addition, she wrote a number of arias, a pastorale, intermezzos, meditations and motets. This intelligent and multi-talented woman also acted as the Regent of Saxony from 1763 through 1768. She was married and was the mother of nine children.
Maria Antonia's artistic fame stems from her musical achievements, but we can see from this self-portrait that she also continued to paint for her own pleasure, and very skillfully so, throughout her life.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Learning to Draw

Nguyen Phan Chanh "Learning to Draw" Ink and Gouache on Silk mounted to board 

Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984) was born in a rural village in Ha Tinh province (Nghë Tinh) in Vietnam.  He was raised in a family of Confucian scholars and at first intended to follow in the family footsteps, spending his young school years practicing calligraphy and drawing and studying traditional Chinese literature in order to pass the qualifying national exams. However, these exams, were abolished right before young Chanh was due to sit them. Instead he worked as a calligrapher and teacher for many years, and his mother sold his drawings in the local market. When word came of a newly established art school, the Ècole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de L’Indochine, now known as Vietnam University of Fine Arts, Chanh immediately applied. His application was successful despite the fact that he was at least a decade older than most of his classmates, and also came from a rural area (considered at that time a grave cultural disadvantage.) It is said that at school Chanh struggled with Western-style oil painting, but he had a natural and immediate feel for silk painting, a technique which uses ink, dye and gouache on stretched silk. After winning a painting prize in Paris in 1931 he went on to build a career as a teacher, eventually becoming an esteemed professor at his alma mater, Vietnam University of the Fine Arts.

Chanh was much praised for his National feeling. His daughter Nguyet Tu recalled, "My father's life is closely attached to rural Vietnam. His memories of the Vietnamese countryside are plentiful. If you see my father's work you will realize he's a painter of rural girls." ;-) It is true that almost all of his work concentrated on scenes of village life, and specifically on young women performing everyday tasks. He depicted his subjects in their ordinary activities with a kind of elegant, calm, reserve. His style employed a unique blend of simplification and stylization combined with a very Western observation-based verisimilitude. These lines from his diary seem to sum up his approach: "Going out painting at dawn, I usually walked along rivers and canals. Once, I passed by a girl washing vegetables at the water's edge, her white shirt and black trousers only half-glimpsed in the morning mist. It was dreamlike and really beautiful. And I always like misty, dreamlike and poetic scenes."

Nguyen Phan Chanh became one of the most significant painters of Vietnamese modern art. When he passed away in 1984, his contribution to the artistic heritage of Vietnam was posthumously recognized with the highest award given to artists by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: the Ho Chi Minh Prize in Literature and Art.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Little Woman

Martha Miller "The Little Woman" 1984  Private Collection
Maine-based artist Martha Miller attempts to dig down into the archetypal characteristics of her portrait subjects, using whatever means she deems most helpful, often including in the work certain telling details of the individual's surroundings and activities. In her engaging self-portrait, "the Little Woman", Miller has painted herself reflected in the shiny metal side of an old-school style iron, surrounded both by art supplies and domestic equipment; we see a tube of paint and also a glowingly in-use toaster, perched on the left. Miller recounts: "I did this self portrait in a painting class at USM in Gorham, Maine, in the fall of 1984 when I was 30. I was an at home Mom with 5 young children, aged 10 and under, desperate to paint and starved for time to create art." Like many artists who work at home and care for children and/or elders, Miller squeezed her art work in when she could and just never stopped. The title is ironically endearing, symbolizing how the artist's busy domestic life was necessarily diminishing yet clearly not extinguishing her artistic fire.

A mother of 5, grandmother of 5, and professor through Continuing Studies at Maine College of Art, Miller has consistently shown her work over the years in such venues as the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland. Her website can be seen at: www.marthamiller.com

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Amazing Ms. Anguissola!

Sofonisba Anguissola "Self-Portrait Painting a Devotional Panel" 1556 Łańcut Palace, Poland

Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was an Italian High Renaissance painter whose ground-breaking career helped pave the way for other women artists. Born in Cremona, Italy to a wealthy, progressive-minded, family, she and her five sisters were all educated in many diverse subjects including Latin, philosophy and art. Apparently all the sisters were artistically talented, but Sofonisba and her sister Elena eventually became apprentices to local artists Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti. The Anguissola sisters' apprenticeships set a precedent for other women to be accepted as students of art. Elena eventually abandoned painting to become a nun, but Sofanisba Anguissola pursued her career as an artist, with the support and encouragement of her father and her teachers. She traveled to Rome where she met many of the leading lights of the day, including Michelangelo (with whom she famously traded sketches) and Vasari, considered the Father of Art History. Vasari included her in his influential book of 1550 Lives of the Artists in which he said of her, "Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings."

In 1559 Anguissola was invited to join the Spanish Royal Court in Madrid.  She spent the next fourteen years as a court painter and was also a Lady-in-Waiting and painting instructor for Élisabeth de Valois, Philip II of Spain’s third wife, with whom she developed a close friendship. She painted formal portraits of the Spanish nobility and also informal scenes of their lives, many of which now hang in the Prado Museum. After the death of Queen 
Élisabeth, Philip II arranged for Anguissola to marry a Sicilian nobleman Fabrizio Moncada Pignatelli, son of the Prince of Paterno, Viceroy of Sicilyout of respect for her friendship with his wife. Fabrizio was said to be supportive of her painting. Anguissola received a royal pension of 100 ducats that enabled her to continue working and tutoring would-be painters. Her private fortune also went to supporting her family back in Italy. After eight years with the Spanish court, Anguissola and her husband left Spain with the king's permission. The couple settled in Palermo, where Anguissola's husband died in 1579.

She married again two years later, a ship's captain she'd met while traveling to Genoa by sea, and was happily married for the second time for forty-five years. While she had no children of her own she was a fond aunt and by all accounts had a happy relationship with her husband's son by a previous marriage. Her fame as an artist continued to grow, though in her very last years she developed eye trouble (probably cataracts) that hindered her art production. When that happened she turned to collecting the work of young artists, encouraging others as a way of "paying it forward." When she was age ninety, the great Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck traveled to visit her in Palermo, and painted her portrait. He remarked that she was still mentally quite sharp despite her great age, and they enjoyed talking shop. She died at age 93. Her doting husband placed an inscription on her tomb a few years later that read in part, "
To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love...dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Painting and Poetry

Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso "Self-Portrait, Painting and Poetry" 2014
Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso is a wonderfully inventive and lyrical painter. This piece's very direct gaze combined with the gold leafing caught my eye, I asked the artist about the piece's title, which also intrigued me. Delosso responded, "If you look carefully you will notice the word "poesia" collaged into the background behind my head, copied from an an original poem written by my great grandfather. I believe the poem was written about 1929. I wanted to create tension between my brush and the written word: instead of writing I am using my brush the same way a poet uses his or her pencil." Delosso loves writing, and her abundant artistic energy comes to her at least partially through natural inheritance. Her father was a painter and not only was her great-grandfather a poet, but so was one of her grandmothers, and one of her cousins, Karina Galvez, is also a poet, of international recognition. 

Dellosso (b.1968) is a native New Yorker, and she studied her craft at several of that city's finest schools including NYU, the School of Visual Arts, The Art Students' League and the National Academy. She has won numerous awards and honors and is represented by the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, FL. The artist's website is: www.gabrieladellosso.com