After visiting the MoMA exhibition recently, I was struck by the power and dynamism of the art movements from the 1880s onwards. What also left an impression on me was that I was in the company of incredible male artists and figureheads who drove the direction of modern art. Female artists were definitely in the minority.
Within the exhibition, to the left of Dali’s Persistence of Time (which was so shockingly smaller than anticipated) were two modest drawings, both charcoal on paper (though with their incredible execution, you could have mistaken them for ink or oils). They were drawn by Georgia O’Keefe, America’s “Mother of Modernism”. The drawing in particular that spoke to me was Banana Flowers, pictured below. It hung silently, yet confidently on the wall, and the masterful skill and the sensitivity of the drawing compelled me to examine it up close. It was unlike any other work in the exhibition.
These drawings could have been easily missed amongst the intriguing worlds of Giorgio de Chirico and others in the same space. Hopefully this was not the case, however I wanted to highlight this one incredible drawing in this month’s newsletter.
Georgia O’Keefe (1887 – 1986) studied art formally, however she found that being taught how to draw and paint like other artists was not inspiring. After a hiatus, the work of artist/teacher Arthur Wesley Dow piqued her interest and she begun drawing and painting as she liked. She spent many months of the year in New Mexico, where she fell deeply in love with the landscape. She had an intense response to nature and a need to recreate the equivalent in art.
Her relationship with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz proved challenging to O’Keefe when he applied Freudian interpretations to her abstract art, which, in turn, influenced art critics’ opinions. She had also posed nude for Stieglitz’ photography, and the link between exploring her sexuality through art was even stronger for it. However, this was not at all the case. She turned to creating works of recognisable objects, still lifes, and her famous close-up, large-scale flowers to try and dislodge this falsely created persona. Flowers, however, did not escape the same interpretation.
To this day there is still discussion around whether O’Keefe’s flower works depict female genitalia; in 2016, Tate Modern curated a Retrospective with 100 or her works offering alternative views on this theory. The exhibition aimed to dispel these myths by presenting works spanning six decades. The large-scale, cropped flowers for which most of the clichés about her work persist, were influenced by modern photography of the 1920s. A love for nature and landscape inarguable flows through her work and the exhibition portrayed this as her most persistent source of inspiration.
A brief perspective from a past student, colleague, and friend.
Pam Hallandal was committed to, and passionate about drawing. She regarded it as an important discipline that informed other mediums such as painting, printmaking, graphics, and sculpture. Pam was devoted to her own art practice which initially consisted of sculpture, then drawing and printmaking. Her teaching career spanned four decades, and her personal focus was always to elevate the status of drawing within the art world.
Pam was appointed Senior Lecturer of Drawing at Prahran College of Technology in the 1970s. Later named the Prahran College of Advanced Education, the institute eventually merged with the VCA in the early 1990s. Uniquely, this course enabled students to exclusively study the discipline of Drawing in a full-time capacity, achieving a Bachelor of Fine Art.
As a brief overview of the nature of the Drawing Department established by Pam, first-year students were required to participate in core subjects including weekly classes in Life Drawing, Structural Drawing and General Drawing. In essence, this meant drawing basically between the hours of 9am to 4pm, four days a week. On Wednesday, Art History, tutorials, and electives such as Painting, Sculpture, Photography or Print Making were taken.
During the second year, the course enabled participants to pursue more personal approaches to drawing and select relevant subject matter. In the third year, students were allocated individual studio spaces, but were still required to participate in weekly Life Drawing classes.
The structure of the course was clearly defined. Pam encouraged students to work from observation in the studio and develop the language of drawing primarily through the use of black and white mediums, such as charcoal, pastel, pencils and ink wash on paper. Alternatively, students would be encouraged to make small studies out on field locations in sketchbooks and in visual diaries. From these initial responses, more sustained drawings were developed back in the Drawing Department studios.
Pam was never interested in teaching set techniques, regimented rules, theories or formulas. She believed in allowing the drawing to develop intuitively in response to the subject matter, and in students developing a personal vision through a visual dialogue expressing one’s own intentions. She presented drawing as an exciting prospect requiring discipline, dedication, understanding, and practice. She intrigued the imagination of her students, encouraging, enlightening and provoking the curiosity of those who came into contact with her.
Periodically, Pam would arrange for visiting artists to teach a “block” of study in addition to the regular course. This provided further insight and stimulation to a specific topic in their area of expertise. For example, Rick Amor would take students for a workshop related to the urban environment, drawing buildings and the Chapel Street area. He would discuss the application of the Golden Mean and other compositional devices. Guy Stuart would accompany students on day trips to the Botanical Gardens, providing the opportunity to work from public statues and exotic plant forms. Other strategies included presenting a series of personal drawings to a prominent artist in a group critique situation. Guests included Brian Dunlop and Michael Shannon.
Regular lecturers within the Drawing Department would take groups out on day trips to draw at the Melbourne Zoo, St Kilda foreshore or perhaps to a local dancing studio. The focus was often on gaining an understanding of the importance of “gesture” within a drawing.
Students participated in annual Drawing camps and would head off to a beachside or river location, for example, to immerse themselves in a rugged and unruly natural environment. This provided a strong contrast to the College Studio located in the heart of busy Prahran, surrounded by people, trams, trains, cement buildings, power lines, and bitumen roads.
Pam orchestrated a rich and fertile learning environment for her students, personally monitoring their progress throughout the course, and afterwards as they forged their own identities, careers and status in the art world and workplace. She led by example – her own hands and fingers were usually embedded with and stained from constant use of black compressed charcoal.
Many have been fortunate to benefit from the rich experience of her teaching practice. Others have simply enjoyed viewing the quality of her drawings, prints and sculpture which now belong in national and state gallery collections, as well as in universities and libraries collections throughout Australia. Pam’s career highlights included winning the Australian Dobell Drawing Prize for excellence in drawing in 1996 and 2009 (the only female to do so). This prize has been held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Pam has been included in “Backlash” at the NGV in 1986, in many major drawing related exhibitions at Heide, Mornington Peninsula, Gold Coast City Art Prize, The Centre Gallery, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney, Kedumba Invitation Art Award, NSW, Australian Drawing Biennial, ANU and a recent major solo at Ballarat Art Gallery.
Past and current tutors employed at Melbourne Art Class have benefited directly from Pam Hallandal’s teaching, wisdom and expertise. These include Maree Woolley, Michelle Caithness and myself.
In 2000, Damien Hirst was ordered to pay an undisclosed settlement to the makers of a toy which he had copied, resulting in a massive sculpture with very little change from the original’s appearance. Hirst’s strategy is called appropriation, but what does this mean, and is it stealing or is it innovation?
Appropriation in art is the incorporation of pre-existing images, ideas, or artworks with minor transformations or little adjustments to create a new work. Although appropriation has been used in various ways throughout history, it has now become a common practice for artists to remix and resample images.
Damien Hirst’s Hymn (1999), is an exact replica of Humbrol Limited’s Young Scientist Anatomy Set. The toy sold for only £14.99 while Hirst’s sculpture sold for one million pounds. Hirst has magnified the scale of the toy to a sculpture of about six metres tall and changed the materials from plastic to bronze, gold and silver. Hirst has also altered the art piece’s context from a medical toy to its placement in the contemporary art gallery. His minimal change of the original toy design resulted in a court case accusing him of plagiarising. Hirst was found guilty and was ordered to pay a settlement for his appropriation.
Whilst Hirst’s sculpture appears to merely be a copy, it also operates at a deeper level; referencing religion and art history. The title, Hymn, is a pun on the masculine pronoun and reflects a religious song or poem of praise to God or a god. This sculpture is obviously not a poem or a song, but perhaps could be identified as an image that reflects a representation of an object used in worship. The sculpture’s materials include bronze, silver and gold components just as in idol worship around the world, where it is common practice for statues to be made using the finest and most expensive materials, detail and precision.
Hymn also conveys a modern representation of ancient Greek sculptures. During the Classical Period, Greek sculptures rapidly changed from using various clays to metal elements in order to keep the shape of the figure, regardless of how intricate they were. Bronze became a popular medium to use as it could be steadied inside the hollow of the feet by using lead weights. Typically, Ancient Greek sculptures are nude, have their arms hanging close to the body, and were created in appreciation of the human anatomy, sometimes representing a god. Making the naked form the subject of many art forms showed the great skill and technique of the artist. Not only were these art pieces created using metal elements, but scientists have also discovered artists would sometimes also paint them, like Hymn’s bronze statue that has been painted.
From an aesthetic point of view, the experience of the now-massive toy design, significantly extends our understanding and perception of the original object. It does this by creating an entirely new context of size and location with which to appreciate the original design. The title of the work indicates that there is a conceptual consideration being encouraged in the viewer. Whilst Hirst’s Hymn looks like theft, and in some ways possibly is, it is also the innovative use of appropriation to create a new art piece that has its own scale, context and intelligently references religion and art history.
Australian artist, Gordon Bennett (1955 – 2014), spent most of his life and career struggling against how he was perceived. This struggle went from being an experience of extremely low self-esteem to producing a powerful and highly articulate art practice. Several years after his untimely death, Bennett’s work illuminates our understanding of how identity operates in our society.
Bennett was raised in a cultural climate where, until he was twelve years old, his Aboriginal mother was not a legitimate Australian citizen. For, it was not until a 1967 referendum when ‘Aborigines’ where given the right to be counted in the census as Australian citizens. Until Bennett was in his early teens he believed his father’s Scottish and English origins was his only heritage. He then realised his mother was Aboriginal. This began Bennett’s struggle with his self-identity, for at this point, his identity shifted from identifying with being in the mainstream of Australian society, to being Aboriginal. Overnight, Bennett went from being the ‘cowboy’ to be the ‘indian’, from ‘light’ to being ‘dark’. Of course, the binaries of dark and light are not true or real identities, but their ingrained pervasiveness and how he was perceived by others, created turmoil for Bennett.
Bennett’s 1990 painting, Self portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys) describes this turmoil well. There he is, as a boy in a cowboy uniform, seemingly oblivious to the complexities of social identity operating upon him. But it is Bennett, the man who has chosen to paint this as his Self portrait. A Self portrait that is not attempting to describe his own physical appearance, rather it is describing how he has been represented by others. Bennett appears caught between the words, I AM LIGHT, I AM DARK. A colonial battle is placed in the background of the right panel. Bennett’s own identity has become a colonial war. The title (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys), suggests that this is an expression of desire to be perceived as being on the right side, the light side, the good guys. Bennett seems to be describing himself as torn away from the mainstream identity he thought he enjoyed and cast into the place of being ‘other’, the bad guy, the ‘indian’. But the painting is not a lament and Bennett never comes across as feeling sorry for himself; rather it is about the exposure of the structures of identity operating within Australian society. These structures are primarily based on a binary; if you are not part of the mainstream, you are something else, you are ‘other’.
When Bennett left school, he took on an apprenticeship with Telecom. During the years of working with Telecom, he witnessed considerable racism towards indigenous Australians until he quit to then go on to art school at the age of thirty. After later becoming well known as an artist with a powerful Post-colonial project, Bennett had to struggle against the politics of identity that continually labelled him as the ‘Aboriginal artist’ or ‘urban Aboriginal artist’. During considerable success through the 1990s, Bennett just wanted to be known as an artist, refusing to be labelled by race. It was not until he gained international recognition in the last years of his life, that Bennett began to be considered a ‘contemporary artist’.
The large letters I AM, are appropriated from New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon’s (1919–1987) Victory over death 2, of 1970. McCahon uses ‘I AM’ to question his own Christian faith and subsequent identity. ‘I am that I am’, from Exodus 3:14, is God’s response to Moses who had asked after God’s name. God’s response is actually a refusal to a name, or to be named. With letters towering at over two meters tall, McCahon’s monumental I AM impressed me powerfully when I saw it as a teenager. It seems to embody the sense of God being origin and of being infinity, all without being named.
Bennett’s appropriation of the I AM works on several levels. Firstly, it references a Judeo Christian tradition of spiritual identity based in God as origin and seems to be referencing a similar quest for identity as McCahon has. Except Bennett appears to be locked out from I AM by the experience of being labelled the ‘other’ identity. On another level, Bennett is quoting the words of a God who refuses to be named. Bennett’s painting is all about names and Bennett seems to be indicating that he, as a person, cannot be defined by the names being applied to him. So it seems that, if as in the Judeo Christian tradition, men and woman are made in the image of God, a God who refuses to be named, then Bennett exists beyond the names being placed upon him. With two powerful words Bennett seems to indicate his true identity as existing beyond all that has been placed upon him. Bennett refuses to be named.
Colonisation has been effective in taking hold of land, peoples, and resources by stripping away a true, complex and self-articulated identity expressed through culture, ritual and language. It replaced these identities with an imposed name, which, in many different ways, disempowered the bearer by denying their true nature. Bennett’s work often articulates the oppressive mechanics of identity in Australian society which have their origins in a colonial society. Self portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys) gives us a clearer understanding of how these imposed identities operate, but it also goes deeper by indicating the nature of the human person as being an un-namable I AM.
We are fortunate to have Luisa Blignaut, one of our dedicated and talented students, guest blog for us this month.
What constitutes art? It is a question that I have been asking for most of my life. It defies simple metaphors or descriptions. It is utterly subjective.
In the beginning, it was simple. I grew up in country South Africa. School and church said apartheid had God’s blessing. Everything was divided into boxes. Black or white. Christian or communist. English or Afrikaans. By the age of six I could milk a cow and draw a picture. The pictures I drew told stories. I believed all art was visual. After all, at school we had an hour a day to draw or to colour in books with crayons. It was art class. Crayons became coloured pencils. We learnt about tracing paper. The teacher decided what was art. Art had to be realistic.
At home my father collected paintings. Landscapes mostly. Ornate and ostentatious frames dominated the paintings. My father said the paintings were decorative investments. During my second year at school I developed rheumatic fever. In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise. I missed seven months of school. In turn, my mother, who was English speaking, subscribed to a weekly educational magazine for me called Look and Learn. The first issue that I saw had an article about Vincent van Gogh. My understanding of art burst the dam walls built by Afrikaner Christian Nationalism and its concomitant school curricula and censorship. I remember returning to school and talking about Van Gogh who painted the night as blue waves on which a yellow moon and stars floated. The teacher deflated my enthusiasm by saying he was a mad man who cut off his ear for a woman. I became the laughing stock of the class and the teacher proclaimed that Rembrandt was the greatest artist ever. Afrikaans as a language was a derivative of Dutch. She did not mention Rembrandt’s shadows where wonder resides. The next day she showed a picture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch to the class. White men stepping into the light. She compared it to white people bringing light to darkest Africa. Art was political.
I continued to draw andpaintwater colours. My family had a cottage in the Drakensberg Mountains, splendid in its isolation. It had secrets in its many gullies, densely wooded by indigenous flora including huge yellowwood trees and large ferns. A vagabond called Willy Chalmers, who used to live in the cottage, was a sculptor. In the rocks next to singing streams, he created rock carvings of women and faces. Hid them. Not too far away, were San rock paintings; the reason why Chalmers found his way to the Drakensberg Mountains.
My understanding of art was evolving. The San people or Bushmen,hunter gatherers, were South Africa’s original inhabitants that were squeezed out by negroid people from the north and whites from the south. Bushmen lived in rhythm with nature. They did not recognise “property”. Cattle, like wild animals, were gifts from the spirits. Cattle owners did not take kindly to people who killed their property and ate it. Bushmen became thieves, pests that were hunted. They moved to the deserts of Southern Africa but left their rock art behind. Drawings, paintings of people, animals and hybrid animals and people, in rock shelters and caves. I could look at these paintings all day and marvel at people who acknowledged all life; drew people with hooves running with antelope. I realised that art was cultural, a spiritual chronicle, a history book. Art transcended politics and racism.
I recall a day that I went with my mother to the English Anglican church in town. I had an argument with my father about religion and questioned why black people were not welcome in the white Afrikaner Church. The Anglican church was a small building with stained glass windows. Black and white people worshipped together. This was a new experience for me. During the service sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, accentuating andblurringcolour, touching my face, my mind. It was a magical, fleeting moment. I returned the next few Sundays, but the light was gone. Art is ephemeral.
The next huge step in understanding art was at university. I lived in a residence hall at Stellenbosch University. The residence was built around a quad where residents gathered for tea and coffee. I thinkIlearnt more from debates around the coffee and tea cans than what I learnt in classes. I discovered that Monet and Manet were not spelling mistakes but two different artists. I fell in love with Seurat, Cezanne, Kandinsky and Georgia O’ Keefe. I Also learnt a new word. Kitsch.
I started work in Cape Town in the same year that Hundertwasser had an exhibition in the city. Glorious shapesandcolours, political and environmental themes all over the place. I attended the exhibition four times and purchased at least twenty postcard-reproductions of his work. I pasted them on a plywood board that I hung from the wall. Rows of colour. Hundertwasser lead to Klimt. I returned to Stellenbosch to do a post graduate law degree. To finance my studies, I free lanced for a leading Cape Town daily newspaper. I called in stories from a public pay telephone and dictated them to a man called Abe. Every Friday afternoon I returned to Cape Town to meet up with friends, discussions with the News editor and coffee with Abe. Next to the Cape Times was an old neglected building that housed an art gallery. I visited every Friday. The paintings were stacked against the wall and I leafed through them as if I was paging a book. The proprietor became familiar with what I liked and one day told me to take a painting home. I told her I was a student and could not afford it. “Nonsense” she said, “How about $10 a month” That was 1979 and I continued to buy art from her until I left South Africa in 1999.
In 1991 I visited New York. I went to the Museum of Modern Art and turned a corner. Rothko literally arrested me. A huge canvass that jailed me. I became lost in variationsofcolour that left the huge canvas and continued all the way past Samuel Beckett.
So, what is art? I have no idea. It depends on what you see and feel.
It is everywhere.
Written by Luisa Blignaut – artist and MAC student
Last Tuesday, Melbourne was recorded as being the most freezing city on earth at 6am, which is one reason why I thought it would be poignant to look at Friedrich’s work, The Sea of Ice.
German-born Caspar David Friedrich was a nineteenth-century Romantic landscape painter, and alongside other Romantic painters, he helped position landscape painting as a major genre within Western art. In his generation, he was a significant painter, and like so many artists, his work gained recognition after his death in 1840.
Landscapes have a magical quality of being able to convey the artists’ feelings of pain, love and suffering just as powerfully as figurative work, or prose. Looking past the connection we can make with the temperature of this work and wintery Melbourne mornings, Friedrich believed that the harshness of nature could console the sorrow of the human condition. When contemplating the violent collision of the ice sheets in his work, it takes us out of ourselves and moves us beyond our own problems in life, reducing our sense of personal persecution, rendering us insignificant in the natural world, much like the tiny toppled ship in the mass of broken ice. Many of Friedrich’s stark, beautiful landscapes give us access to a state of mind where we are acutely aware of the largeness of space and helps us reframe our sadness.
Art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt commissioned The Sea of Ice, however, its composition was deemed too radical and the painting was sold after Friedrich’s death.
The clown in the painting was like those I saw at the circus when I was a boy. Except I was standing close to this clown, close enough to see that the seated man dressed as a clown pensive and vulnerable. Behind the clown lay the ruins of Rotterdam; the title told me enough to for me to know that this was Rotterdam in 1940, shortly after the Luftwaffe demolished the historic city centre so as to force the Dutch to capitulate.
The painting seemed to lack time. As I looked, I struggled to reconcile my knowledge of the bombing of Rotterdam, my historical distance from the event, with an immediacy of human emotion conveyed and the character of the man ‘as a clown’ before me. The painting itself, its handling and the brush marks, seemed to be telling me this was painted a few days ago. It looked fresh; I could have easily believed that this was a recent event and that somewhere in Rotterdam I would find this man, wandering, questioning, somewhere in the ruins. When viewing this painting more than sixty years after the actual event, I had an experience of being for a moment in the midst of a broken man who had witnessed the consequences of shameful crime.
In art, we find traces of others that have been left behind, little messages in bottles that for some reason resonate on the shores of our consciousness at the right time for us. In our studio, often, someone who has been working will have left their most recent work which others later notice and comment favourably on. I’ve watched people walk in and upon seeing the new artwork, seem to connect with it momentarily. Having myself been in the studio most of the time between the making and seeing of the artwork, it seems like the artwork has the capacity to hurdle between the time which the work was put down and the time when the viewer sees it.
Despite the appearance of new works, we come back to a studio because it is one of those key places in our lives we keep as a constant. We set the studio up to remain unchanged. Perhaps, in reality, while we are away the dust settles, the paintings dry and the fridge compressor hums in rhythm with a slow dripping of a tap. When we are not there, the morning light stream in through the window and then shifts shadows across the floor until the light ultimately subsides. The world around the studio moves to a rhythm, but what we ask of the studio is that it remain as it is until we return.
Cyclical movements of growth then decline. The waves of the sea rise, surge forward, swell and then recede, again and again. Tides rise and fall, drawn by the moon, which itself has phases in our sky. Seasons pass, the seasons of the year, the seasons of our lives. At first I was unaware of this passing, but, I have memory of standing at the back of my family home when I was three years old and looking up the sun and realising that I was no longer what I was, I was becoming something different; I was growing. Somewhere, perhaps, reverberates the vibration of our laughter as that three-year-old child, a parent drawing us near and holding us tightly. Somewhere, is our first spouting of intelligent five-year-old rhetoric, a newfound intellectual fluency speaking back into the adult world of logic, reasoning and values.
Our seasons pass. Our seasons such as Spring, when we walked out the school gate for the last time embracing hope and possibility; our bountiful Summer; our Autumn as the time of loss, of being stripped bare; and then our Winter, the time of working and persisting, believing but with no evidence for our faith.
In the midst of our seasons, the studio remains the same, like the womb we can return to so that we can make contact with our craft, with our language, with our selves. So that we can cleave off a material expression which conveys the season we are in. And that expression is timeless and goes out, after being nurtured and raised by us, to inform the consciousness of others. The clown I met, may no longer be sitting in the ruins of Rotterdam, but I am aware that he, or perhaps she, is now sitting in the ruins of another devastated city.
I began to reflect on the King River as a source. Its river stone beds and shallow streams, sometimes bubbling around arrangements of boulders, sometimes disappearing into deep, dark, still waters, which had never been beautiful to me when growing up and I had never thought of its significance in our lives beyond its supply of water. The river as a source which had branded a primordial sense of dependency and intimacy within me over my half lifetime. The river that constantly flowed, had always flowed, will always flow. The river that bound us around itself and preserved us. I slowly connected to the idea of source and slowly felt that my own dependency on this source was being revealed. That I had felt a need for years now, to constantly return to this source. I began to connect with the notion of origin and that just as I sat on the banks of this river or swam or drank from it, all I could ever do was draw close to it, to be within in, return to it. I had to return to this river. I have always returned to the King River.
From, Returning to the river, Marco Corsini, 2016
Marco Corsini’s paintings feature the landscape and his immediate environment. Using shifts in viewpoint and perspective and often painted over extended periods of time, the works explore perception and the nature of painting as a recorder of experience rather than as a representative tool. Alongside a phenomenological interest in consciousness and experience, Corsini’s work also incorporates personal motifs such as the horse, indicating the artist’s own presence. The paintings explore perception and subjectivity, asking us to go beyond everyday discourse into deeper engagement with the nature of our existence.
Originally published on Thursday, 29 March, 2018 by Marco Corsini
As February is the month of love, we thought it would be appropriate to feature one of the most romantic and sensual paintings in history – The Kiss (Lovers), by Gustav Klimt.
Before Klimt’s gold period (during which The Kiss was painted), Klimt painted for the State, with his work being hugely acclaimed by officialdom. These works were academic and traditional in style. One of his most famous earlier works is the ceiling painting in the Burgtheater in Vienna. Measuring 7.5m by 4m, this incredible work depicts the Greek theatre in Taormina. Everything in this painting is meticulously described and observed; the majestic building forms the backdrop to the foreground where a woman is performing. Klimt, in partnership with his brother Ernst and their friend Franz Match (eventually disbanded), decorated theatres throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and much of their work can still be seen today.
In his 30s he was cast out as a rebel after the scandal surrounding his paintings for the University of Vienna; large-scale ceiling paintings including motifs of Medicine, Jurisprudence, and Philosophy. Klimt did not adhere to his conservative-historical painting style and was asked repeatedly to rework the paintings. He liked to quote the poet, Friedrich Von Schiller (1759-1805), “If you cannot please everyone through your actions or your artwork, then please the few. To please the multitude is bad.” Unfortunately, together with many other works by Klimt, the paintings were destroyed in a fire set by the retreating German army during the last days of war.
During this period, Klimt’s reputation transformed and his artistic person reinvented. He became the first President of the Vienna Succession, also known as the Union of Austrian Artists, with a vision to end the the distinctions in considering some art to be superior to others.
Kilmt travelled to Ravenna in 1903 and saw the Byzantine mosaics in the Basilica of San Vital for the first time. Witnessing the rich, vivid mosaics and the power of their beauty was a turning point in Klimt’s art practice, and saw the creation of The Kiss.
It has been speculated that this masterpiece had a personal agenda for the artist. It is claimed that the woman featured is Emilie Floge, fashion entrepreneur, long-time friend of Klimt’s and his sister-in-law. A sketchbook was discovered in 1917 containing preparatory sketches of The Kiss, with “Emilie” written in big letters beside them. There was controversy surrounding the platonic nature of their relationship, as Klimt kept his personal life out of the public eye. When he collapsed, suffering a stroke (which led to his death) in 1918, his first words were “Fetch Midi” (his name for Emily).
This incredibly beautiful painting, at 180cm x 180cm, shows their intense love transporting them into their own world, oblivious of their surroundings. The woman, beautiful, serene and passive, like most women in Klimt’s work, softly touches the hand that is embracing her so lovingly. This painting is unlike his many erotic drawings and paintings of couples; the embrace is much more loving than overtly sensual.
Although the weather is lagging a little, spring is definitely all around us. Beautiful pink and white buds are appearing and then blooming so quickly, leaving a beautiful blanket of colour on garden beds. The trees are transforming with abundant new growth and the birds are becoming louder each morning. This is such a fleeting time of this season, so we thought we would showcase some works that depict spring and rebirth in different ways. We hope this time of the year is also inspiring you, too!
Claude Monet was one of the most prolific French Impressionist painters. Through Monet’s works, some of which were the same scene painted at different times of the day and year to reflect the changing light and seasons, you can clearly see the approach of capturing one’s perceptions before nature. In this painting, Springtime, you can also imagine Monet setting up with his easel in the fragrant, warm countryside capturing the early blossom of spring.
La Primavera literally translates to the season of spring. This masterpiece was commissioned by Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de’Medici and now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence. Venus stands in the centre of the canvas in a lush orange grove on a beautiful carpet of wildflowers. It is a celebration of the return of spring and the ripeness and fertility that the season brings as it awakens the world out of its cold, wintery slumber.
There are a number of interpretations of this work. Some believe that the woman in the foreground of the painting represents Primavera, the embodiment of spring. Others believe the figures on the right to be Zephyrus grasping at the nymph Chloris. According to myth, he married her and she was transformed to Goddess of Spring. And some see the figure with roses as representing the metamorphosis of Chloris to Flora.
Mary Cassatt produced many studies of young girls during the early 1900s. The child featured in this work is Margot Lux, from the village near Cassatt’s country home who modelled for Cassatt in more than fifty of her works. This image captures a fleeting instant of play suggested by the movement of Margot’s clothes slipping from her shoulder and bundling her dress in both hands – perhaps before or after running. The striking, pink flower in her bonnet and the warm background portray this beautiful moment on a spring day with soft application of paint and sensitive detail.
This work celebrates the preparation of the land as spring nears. It shows the community working together to prepare the soil, sow seeds and plant crops as the world itself wakes up from a cold, Flemish winter. Brueghel would take his father’s sketches and drawings (Brueghel the Elder), and would execute them in paint, and many of these works detailed the lives of Flemish peasants. This particular piece is a re-working of his father’s drawing of 1565.
Hokusai was a ukiyo-e painter and printer of the Edo period in Japan. He was inspired by Mt. Fuji and produced a series of thirty-six woodcuts depicting different viewpoints of the impressive volcano, entitled Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. This work is part of that series and celebrates not only Japan’s national icon but its most revered season. Springtime is so heavily celebrated throughout the country that they have blossom reports on television during the weather report, complete with maps of Japan, which slowly turn pink as the whole country blooms. In Hokusai’s work, you can see the couple on the hill on a picnic blanket underneath the cherry tree; this is still a popular activity around the country and is the traditional way to enjoy the blossom in Japan. The other figures are dancing and celebrating the arrival of this vibrant and important season for Japanese people; not only is it meaningful for the farmers, the joy of spring is culturally ingrained
Renoir’s work is absolutely bursting with colour, vitality, and spring. This is one of Renoir’s earlier works, as you can see the precise rendering of reality (although there is an apparent looseness), painted before his great Impressionist works of the 1870s. This wild work lends itself to a country garden in spring. The brightness of it, glowing with light and colour indicates that Impressionism is just around the corner.
Sisley was there at the beginning of Impressionism with Pissarro and Monet, and a pioneer of the plein-air method and the movement’s aesthetic. Sisley’s work took on a new vitality when, due to financial reasons, he was forced to leave Paris and move to the countryside in 1880. He loyally worked en plein-air, which can be felt in his work, The Small Meadows in Spring. You will notice that there are no hints of spring blossom or wild flowers in this piece. It is his daughter painted in the foreground who represents the image of spring and new life.
The almond tree is one of the first to bloom in the southern regions of France and is a symbol of spring which can arrive as early as February. This beautiful, Japanese-inspired work was a gift for Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, whose wife had just given birth to their first child. The painting was meant to hang above their bed and represent new life.
We had to include a second painting of Monet’s in this list, because this piece captures such a beautiful moment of solitude, in nature, and also reminds us how important it is to disconnect and be outside. Featured in this painting is Monet’s first wife, Camille Doncieux, who, before they were married, was his model in the 1860s and 70s. It has been claimed that she also modelled for Renoir and Manet.
This serene setting, with the dappled sunlight dancing on her dress through the canopy of trees, the wildflowers in the foreground and patches of warmth in the background magically captures a special moment in spring.
Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was infatuated with Rome and the ancient world. A classicist painter, in this work he portrays the annual Victorian custom of sending children into the countryside on May 1, however, the scene is placed in Rome.
In this impressive work, he used his extensive research of the ancient world to depict the dress, sculpture, architecture, and musical instruments. The procession of figures adorned with spring flowers, playing musical instruments, and surrounded by townspeople above celebrating spring renders a spectacular and captivating scene.
Margaret Olley is a widely-recognised figure of Australian art and is one of the most significant still-life and interior painters. Ranunculus and pears is one of many Still Lifes she painted in her home, from which she drew inspiration. Many of her Still Lifes evoke the warmth and colour of spring. She also found beauty in the everyday objects she gathered around her, and most of her works feature pottery, art and exotica of her travels. She acquired many, many objects over her lifetime and her bulging studio almost became as famous as the artist herself! To outsiders, her house appeared chaotic, but Olley had actually arranged it like a Still Life.