Keen on Jan Steen

In art on March 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Genre paintings depict scenes from life in a realistic way.

The ‘noble’ subjects idealised by eminent institutions like the Academie des Beaux Arts in France were left behind. Flemish art continued being misunderstood by Southern Europe for as long as the Academie’s influence survived.

The artists in Holland compensated with their skill. And it sold well. Jan Steen (1626-1679) in Leiden, found that his moralising portraits of real life sold well.

Steen owned a tavern, but was a devout catholic. This exposure to what to him was moral depravity must have inspired several important paintings.

I love the way he has depicted the breakdown of order in this family. I take the sleeping woman to be the mother, because of the key in her hand and the fur trim of her top. The grapes, and the empty wine vessel tipped sideways onto the floor make it clear what just happened.

It seems so mad!

The young woman is making the parrot drink, and the kids are feeding the cat with what looks like a pie for humans. There is a boar unnoticed in the centre of the proceedings. The child round the back of the sleeping mother is looking … cheeky. I bet he’s about to pull a prank on her.

What seems more sinister about the painting are the couple in the background. The woman seems young compared to his grey beard. This is also a warning about the effects of alcohol as well as some jolly times.

Could this be an early warning of beer goggles?

When realism emerged in the 19th century, the need for realistic representation was still felt, and observation was all important. However, when Impressionism developed, the need for precise detail was replaced with the need to quickly capture the atmosphere, a short moment of time.

This development came along with the development of photography, which could have removed the necessity to record details for memories sake. Painting took on a new role, to convey the artist’s personal feeling, or impression of what they are seeing.


Arshile Gorky: Retrospective at the Tate

In 1, art on February 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Chris Ofili is the name dripping off any guys lips who tries to sound interested in art. Strangely frequently, I will meet a man in a bar, and the conversation goes to poo. It’s interesting, I thought input is much more interesting for men than output…

So, I end up at the Tate Modern, looking for the Chris Ofili, only to find it is at the Tate Britain, about ten stops away. My friend has come anyway, so we wondered into the Gorky. I had never really come into contact with Gorky’s work before, and found myself at first disappointed.

Frankly, the introductory room of his early paintings was unimpressive. They were just copies of Cezanne and Picasso, without the integrity. And to be honest, his abstractions didn’t grab me, BUT his latest works were a few portraits. The eyes are large and smooth and they look right through you. Some limbs are morphed and strange. they are terrifying, but beautiful.

This is the best picture I could find of this portrait. Her hand is oversized and almost looks cloven. The simplicity of the colours comes in contrast with his multicoloured abstractions.

He looks like a man who is alone. His expression seems open, and vulnerable.

This is based on a photograph of Gorky with his mother, she died of starvation in Armenia, and the artist moved away and became Gorky. The eyes are hollow, but full at the same time. They confuse me.

Close Your Eyes and Hope to Die

In 1, art on January 20, 2010 at 5:46 pm

The Raft of Medusa by Theodore Gericault, 1819

This painting seems melodramatic, and frankly not relevant to life today but as a poor substitute for an action movie. But NOT SO FAST buddy-oh, this painting has some conceptual undertones which can relate to some very contemporary issues.

The subject is a true story. A ship called ‘La Meduse’ crashed off the West coast of Africa, carrying some future French colonists. However, when it became clear that the ship would sink, the officers took the lifeboats and escaped, leaving 150 people to cast out on a raft. With only 15 of 150 people rescued, the French public were shocked by tales of cannibalism and gruesome conditions at sea.

It was the greatest tragedy after Napoleons escapades in Russia.

It also raised a few feathers among the public because it showed how the ‘little people’ got screwed over by the authorities. This post-revolution France who has seen a republic become an empire become a monarchy again. No authority was absolutely certain anymore, but this painting served as a sharp reminder that ancien régime hierarchies had not changed much at all.

Now where does that feature today? After a brief skim of the economist, it seems that the little people will be paying for the over-educated rich.

In the painting, there is a crescendo of hope, beginning with a father contemplating his dead son, and slowly rising to a figure standing and waving a flag. But there is no sign of a ship in the horizon. Is this false hope?

Are these people so desperate to survive that they will believe anything this self-appointed leader says?

Perhaps this could be a bit of a joke on Gericault’s part, the little people get screwed over once, only for it to happen again.