Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line

Galerie St. Etienne
November 1, 2018, through March 2, 2019

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Brown Background, 1912. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper. Signed and dated, lower left. 12 3/8" x 10" (31.4 x 25.4 cm). Kallir D. 1177. Kallir Family Foundation. 

Egon Schiele died on October 31, 1918, of the Spanish flu. He was twenty-eight years old and only just beginning to enjoy professional success. One hundred years later, museums in Boston, Linz, Liverpool, London, New York, Paris and, of course, Vienna have presented exhibitions celebrating the artist’s remarkable achievements. The Galerie St. Etienne, which mounted Schiele’s first American one-man show in 1941, is likewise marking the occasion with a commemorative exhibition, as well as a digital update of gallery co-director Jane Kallir’s catalogue raisonné, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works.

Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait. 1906. Pencil on gray paper. Inscribed "Selbstbild," lower left and dated ”10.IX.06," lower center. 7 1/2" x 5 1/2" (19.1 x 14 cm). Kallir D. 26. Private collection.

Egon Schiele ranks among the greatest draughtsmen of all times. Line played a key structural role in his oils and is, naturally, the dominant element in his drawings and watercolors. Whereas drawing was, for most artists at the turn of the twentieth century, subordinate to painting, Schiele’s works on paper stand on their own as complete artistic statements. Drawing almost daily, he used the medium to record his fluctuating responses to the basic problems of human existence: sexual desire, personal identity, the tenuousness of life and the inevitability of death. Over the course of his brief career, Schiele’s drawing style changed frequently—sometimes several times in a single year. He was constantly searching for the perfect line: that split-second of transcendent clarity, when inner emotions and outward appearances become one.

Egon Schiele
Portrait of a Lady (The Artist's Mother). 1907. Charcoal on heavy cream wove paper. Signed and dated "21.11.07," lower right. 9 1/2" x 7 1/8" (24.1 x 18.1 cm). Kallir D. 91.

Schiele drew like a racecar driver drives: very quickly. Even as a boy, he clocked himself. At the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied from 1906 to 1909, the students were given forty-five-minute assignments. Schiele, during that time, could complete as many as eight drawings. Bored by the curriculum and disdainful of his conservative professor, Christian Griepenkerl, he frequently cut class. Once, after an absence of about a week, Schiele returned to find the students feverishly engaged in a “competition” project. Sitting down almost at the last minute, he executed from memory a breathtakingly detailed drawing of the Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof. When Schiele’s mother asked Griepenkerl whether her son had talent, the professor replied, “Yes, much too much. He disrupts the entire class.”

Egon Schiele
Portrait of a Lady in Profile Facing Right. 1907. Charcoal on heavy cream laid paper. Signed and dated "20.11.07," upper left, and signed again, lower left. 20 5/8" x 13 5/8" (52.4 x 34.6 cm). Kallir D. 94.

At the end of the spring semester in 1909, Schiele’s disagreements with Griepenkerl culminated in a formal letter of protest; he and several like-minded classmates withdrew from the Academy shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, in some respects Schiele and Griepenkerl were not so far apart. In addition to their shared appreciation of speed, the entire Academy program emphasized the primacy of drawing. Indeed, it is sometimes said that Schiele never formally studied painting. So far as work from the years 1906-09 can be linked to class assignments, it appears he followed the prescribed curriculum, which began with copying plaster casts and progressed to life drawing, portraits and nudes. The aim of these exercises was to produce an accurate three-dimensional likeness, using interior modeling to suggest volume, light and shadow. Schiele was fully capable of creating such work, and to the end of his career, his drawings remained rooted in visible reality. However, he was at this early stage far more interested in contour than volume.

Among Schiele’s most important formative influences was Jugendstil design: the illustration style popularized by the Munich periodical Jugend. A more figural offshoot of French Art Nouveau, Jugendstil reduced all pictorial elements to flat, monochrome planes, in the process equalizing the treatment of subject and background. Jugendstil was ubiquitous in fin-de-siècle Austria and Germany, influencing every aspect of graphic design, posters and advertising. Schiele could scarcely avoid it, and one sees the style reflected in his teenage illustrations. His Gymnasium art teacher, Ludwig Karl Strauch (a far more sympathetic mentor than Griepenkerl) encouraged Schiele to break subjects into block forms, stimulating a lasting sensitivity to the interplay of positive and negative space. Line became for Schiele not merely a descriptive tool, but a crucial aesthetic and metaphorical boundary marker.

It was just a short jump from the essentially decorative linearity of Jugendstil design to Schiele’s so-called Expressionist breakthrough of 1910. All that was necessary, really, was to replace the ornamental neutrality with a more emotionally inflected use of line and color. The unnatural, acrid yellows, reds, and greens typical of early 1910 were often applied selectively to key body parts, such as faces and hands. Other sections of a drawing might remain uncolored or be omitted entirely. Somehow Schiele always managed to maintain a perfect equilibrium between the colored and uncolored areas, which in turn were balanced within a tightly structured overriding matrix of negative and positive elements. Even signatures were strategically placed so as to balance the whole.

People often forget that Schiele was only nineteen in early 1910, when he executed his first fully mature artworks. To a large extent, the content of these works—the endless questing—reflects the preoccupations of late adolescence. Why, people sometimes wonder, did Schiele (who was genuinely handsome) depict himself in such an ugly manner? Surely, they think, this must be a sign of mental derangement. But in fact, there are many Schieles visible in the artist’s self-portraits: ugly, yes, at times; but also angry, proud, confrontational or pensive. Sometimes several of these “alter-Egons” appear in a single work. Schiele was play-acting: attempting to create external visual correlatives for internal emotional states. Simultaneously, he was trying on different selves, as teenagers do, to see which ones fit.

Egon Schiele
Male Nude, Back View. 1910. Watercolor and charcoal on on paper. Initialed and dated, lower right. Estate stamp, verso. 17 5/8" x 12 1/4" (44.8 x 31.1 cm). Kallir D. 649. Private collection.

Coming to terms with budding sexual urges is another key developmental task of late adolescence. And here, too, Schiele’s varying approaches may be seen as experimental. In early 1910, he created a series of watercolors depicting grotesquely distorted, brightly colored male nudes. Because these so-called “red men” relate to three contemporaneous self-portrait oils, they are often assumed to be self-representations. However, the evident viewpoint (from behind or above) in the studies makes it highly improbable that the artist himself could have posed. The subjects’ almost invariably concealed identities, furthermore, belie Schiele’s customary artistic treatment of his own persona.

Egon Schiele
Reclining Male Nude. 1910. Watercolor and black crayon on paper. Signed and dated, lower left. 12 3/8" x 16 3/4" (31.4 x 42.5 cm). Kallir D. 663. Private collection.

The fact that two of the artist’s closest friends at the time, Max Oppenheimer and Erwin van Osen, were, respectively, gay and bisexual, gives the “red men” a possible homoerotic subtext. It is likely that one or both of these friends modeled for the male nudes. Much to the dismay of Schiele’s mentor, Arthur Roessler, Osen exerted a strong influence on the artist in the summer of 1910, when they were together in Krumau. Needless to say, open homosexuality was deeply taboo in fin-de-siècle Austria, which could be the reason Schiele hid his models’ faces.

Egon Schiele
Seated Nude Girl with Arms Raised Over Head. 1911. Watercolor and pencil on paper. Signed and dated, center right. 19" x 12 3/8" (48.3 x 31.4 cm). Kallir D. 927. Private collection.

Schiele’s most reliable female model in the first half of 1910 was his sister Gerti: a compliant and totally unthreatening subject. However, toward the end of the year, he developed relationships (sexual as well as professional) with two other young women. They were clearly friends with one another, and may have been sex workers—at the time, there was little distinction between modeling and prostitution. As Schiele embarked on his first serious heterosexual adventures, his nudes betrayed marked feelings of ambivalence: a volatile mix of voyeuristic excitement and undisguised terror not seen in the art of older men.

Schiele’s nudes and semi-nudes defy every convention that historically defined a genre created to titillate male subjects while neutralizing the female object. Tradition held that female nudes be depicted in passive, frequently recumbent poses; that all imperfections be smoothed away; and often that the pubic area be discreetly masked. There was no masking in Schiele’s nudes, nor were his women—marred by unnatural color, broken lines and missing limbs—especially beautiful. Instead of submitting passively, his nudes were often boldly confrontational. Yet it is impossible to know whether these images record the women’s reactions to Schiele, or his reaction to them. It is not clear who is subject and who is object. The foregoing stratagems, singly and cumulatively, serve to undermine the authority of the male gaze and to affirm the autonomous power of female sexuality.

Schiele’s nudes effectively breach the implied fourth wall that separates illusory artistic space from real space. Rather than receding comfortably into the distance, the figures appear to jump out at the viewer. Often the artist heightened the sense of spatial dislocation by failing to include supporting props or signing drawings of recumbent figures vertically. The equalizing of negative and positive forms—a legacy of his Jugendstil grounding—creates a tension between the figure and the edge of the picture plane that calls into question the ability of the latter to contain the former. Schiele creates a liminal zone—neither wholly abstract nor conventionally representational, both of this world and beyond it—that allows him to explore alternative emotional and spiritual realities.

Schiele’s spiritual concerns are most directly expressed in his allegorical paintings, but they are also evident in his landscapes. The artist believed that natural subjects were equivalent to human ones. “Above all I observe the physical movements of mountains, water, trees and flowers,” he wrote. “Everywhere one is reminded of similar movements in human bodies, of similar manifestations of joy and suffering in plants.” Here, as in the more overt allegories, Schiele was highly cognizant of life’s fragility: a sunflower withering in autumnal light, the inexorable decay of human-built structures. This is why he was repeatedly drawn back to Krumau, his mother’s birthplace. He referred to the ancient town as “the dead city.” Still, in drawing and painting these crumbling walls, Schiele attested to the persistence of human civilization. People die; art survives.

Schiele’s basic existential concerns did not change significantly over the course of his brief career, but his attitude shifted as he grew into adulthood. Most obviously, his treatment—personal and artistic—of women evolved. In mid-1911, he began a relationship with Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, the first of his lover/models to be identifiable by name as well as face. Like all his best models, Wally was a skilled collaborator, and Schiele routinely acknowledged the equality of their partnership in his work. The artist’s new appreciation and understanding of the female psyche is evident not just in his more formal portraits of Wally, but in other contemporaneous portraits of women.

People today often express dismay that the artist did not marry Wally. By the standards of their time, however, she would have been considered too far beneath him in social class to make a suitable wife. The closeness of their relationship was, in itself, exceptional. Schiele, quintessentially bourgeois despite his rebel posturing, instead chose as his bride the genteel Edith Harms (like himself, the child of a railroad employee). Their letters make it clear that, at least initially, the two were madly in love, but Edith had difficulty adjusting to her husband’s bohemian lifestyle. A palpable sadness often pervades her portraits.

Egon would not be able to duplicate with Edith the professional partnership he had enjoyed with Wally. Less out of prudery than embarrassment, Edith was reluctant to pose naked; she feared, understandably, being recognized by the couple’s family, friends and acquaintances. Even in blouse and bloomers, she appears uncomfortable, and on several occasions, she made her husband obscure or disguise her facial features.

Partly as a result of these circumstances, Schiele’s 1917-18 nudes and semi-nudes, are, on the whole, more impersonal than his earlier iterations of the subject. Working with a changing retinue of paid models, he was less interested in exploring sexual response than in trying out poses for contemporaneous paintings. Nevertheless, the late nudes continue to demonstrate an untoward degree of autonomy. These are some of the first modern women in art: the first to command their own sexuality.

Stylistic changes accompanied Schiele’s personal maturation. The exaggerated, angular silhouettes of 1910 gave way, over the course of 1911, to more sinuous, ethereal lines and softer colors. Blankets, garments and drapery morphed into ambiguous shapes that attempted to mediate between figure and background void. Throughout, Schiele’s orientation remained essentially twodimensional; little attempt was made at interior modeling. Rather, he emphasized the plasticity of the paint on its own terms, manipulating the flow of pigment with his brush and achieving wet-on-wet effects that would have defied a slower artist. The tension between the figure and the edges of the picture plane was echoed by animated colors that pushed against but were contained within surrounding pencil lines. Schiele’s palette corresponded to his own universe of tonal associations, rather than slavishly mimicking the visible world.

Despite his sensitivity to line and color as expressive elements in their own right, Schiele never entirely renounced realistic representation. Recognizable subject matter was irreplaceable if one wanted to comment on the human condition. The artist took great liberties with regard to accuracy, but he had a profound instinctual understanding of anatomy. He managed to get away with degrees of distortion that would, in a lesser artist, be ascribed to ineptitude. Sometimes, it is clear, the anatomical errors in his drawings were due to speed of execution. Like a racecar driver, he occasionally veered off course. Schiele never erased. If he made a mistake, he ultimately managed to incorporate the errant lines into an organic whole that worked emotionally and aesthetically even when it did not entirely make sense anatomically.

From 1913 on, Schiele was inexorably pulled in the direction of greater representational verisimilitude. His lines grew bolder, and he switched from watercolor to more opaque gouache. Solid, relatively abstract blocks of drapery were offset against sparsely colored flesh, which despite the persistent use of unnatural color, acquired a greater sense of three-dimensional substance. The trend continued in Schiele’s 1914 drawings and watercolors. Erratic crosshatching, though superficially abstract, added bulk to the figures. Principal contours were often edged with dense, narrow bands of color, which was then brushed inward in thinner veils. Darker in the shadows, lighter on protruding surfaces, these translucent veils alluded to the subject’s internal musculoskeletal structure. Little bursts of opaque pigment, in bright colors like green and red, were superimposed over the more translucent tones, either to reinforce the underlying modeling or to highlight inflection points like elbows or knuckles.

During the final two years of his life, Schiele reverted to an almost classical realism. Not without reason, a former Academy classmate accused him of succumbing to Griepenkerl’s doctrine. In tandem with the dimensional refinement of his coloring style, Schiele’s lines had by 1917 grown smoother and rounder, capable of suggesting volume without any further embellishment. Negative and positive space were still perfectly balanced, but the contrast between the two was exaggerated by increased figural verisimilitude. A residual tension undermines the soothing classicism of the artist’s late works. Real beings presented for observation in a manufactured space, his subjects are impaled somewhere between the viewer’s world and the contemplative realm of art.

Schiele’s premature death leaves hanging the tantalizing question: what would have happened next? His oeuvre, comprising roughly 3,000 works on paper and over 300 paintings, may be interpreted as a visual coming-of-age story. Marked by the indelible stamp of youth, his work follows the path toward maturity and records faithfully the growing wisdom of adulthood. Like many adolescents, the artist sought answers to the most basic mysteries of human existence: what does it mean to live, to love, to suffer and to die? Whether or not he ever found the answers, it is the process of asking, the search itself, that gives meaning and poignancy to his art. In many respects, Schiele reached the height of his powers in 1917-18. The solipsism of adolescence had been replaced by a more empathic humanism, which in turn was facilitated by greater stylistic realism. The artist’s hand had never been surer, more capable of grasping, in a single breathtaking sweep, the complete contour of a figure. In the best of his last works, Schiele had finally found the perfect line.

The above essay is adapted from Jane Kallir’s contribution to the catalogue for the exhibition Egon Schiele at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (October 3, 2018, through January 14, 2019). Kallir also wrote catalogue essays for the exhibitions Egon Schiele: Pathways to a Collection at the Lower Belvedere, Vienna (October 19, 2018, through February 17, 2019), and Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (November 4, 2018, through February 3, 2019). Copies of these catalogues may be ordered from the respective institutions. As of November 5, the newly updated Schiele catalogue raisonné can be accessed free of charge at

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Modern American Realism

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950.
Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950. Oil on canvas, 34 1/8 x 40 1/4 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation.

OCT 20, 2018 – APR 28, 2019
A selection of treasured artworks from the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Modern American Realism encompasses the range of what can broadly be called modern realism—from sociopolitical to psychological, from satirical to surrealist. Drawn from works collected by the Sara Roby Foundation, the exhibition includes 44 paintings and sculptures from the 1910s to 1980s by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Arthur Dove, Edward Hopper, Wolf Kahn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, and Honoré Sharrer, among others.Sara Roby (1907-1986) believed that the most effective way to encourage the visual arts in the United States was to acquire the works of living artists and exhibit them to the public. The Sara Roby Foundation began collecting American art in the mid-1950s, and during the next 30 years assembled a premier group of paintings and sculpture by the country’s leading figurative artists.

Philip Evergood, Dowager in a Wheelchair, 1952, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.90

The resulting collection captures both the optimism and the apprehension of the years following World War II. Many of the works are poignantly human, such as Dowager in a Wheelchair (1952) by Philip Evergood, while others, by artists such as Robert Vickrey, challenge us to decipher meanings imbedded in complex, sometimes enigmatic scenes.

Sara Roby refused to be bound by current trends when she began collecting in the 1950s. She championed realism at a time when critics celebrated abstract expressionism and “action painting.” Yet, she was unwilling to be constrained by her own collecting criteria. In addition to obtaining masterpieces by Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus, and their contemporaries, the Foundation showed cultural range by purchasing key works by Stuart Davis and Louise Nevelson, and regional breadth by collecting works by Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, both preeminent Northwest Artists.


Reginald Marsh, George Tilyou's Steeplechase, 1932, oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.60

Reginald Marsh, Coney Island Beach, 1951, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.96 

  • Robert Vickrey, Fear, 1954, egg tempera on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.82

Charles Burchfield, Night of the Equinox, 1917-1955, watercolor, brush and ink, gouache, and charcoal on paper mounted on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.86 

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Strong Woman and Child, 1925, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.50  

Kenneth Hayes Miller, Bargain Hunters, 1940, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 1940, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.65 

Guy Pene du Bois, Shovel Hats, 1923, oil on plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.27  

Paul Cadmus, Night in Bologna, 1958, egg tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.87 

Jack Levine, Inauguration, 1956-1958, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.54  

George Tooker, In the Summerhouse, 1958, egg tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.100 

Ben Shahn, After Titian, 1959, tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.78 

Will Barnet, Sleeping Child, 1961, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.1

Dreams No. 2

Jacob Lawrence, Dreams No. 2, 1965, tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.95

Wolf Kahn, High Summer, 1972, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.42

Katherine Schmidt, Man with Coffee Cup, 1935, pen and ink and pencil on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.77

Paul Cadmus, Preliminary sketch for Subway Symphony, 1973, pencil, casein, crayon, and chalk on paper mounted on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.88 

Arthur Dove, Oil Tanker II, 1932, watercolor and conte crayon on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.25

Isabel Bishop, Artist's Table, 1931, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.6

Raphael Soyer, Annunciation, 1980, oil on linen, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.98

Artists included

FLYING HIGH Women Artists of Art Brut

Bank Austria Kunstforum
15 FEBRUARY - 23 JUNE 2019
FFLYING HIGH” is the first exhibition that is devoted “globally” to female positions in Art Brut produced from 1860 until the present. The exhibition “flies high” in every sense: it has gathered together 316 works by 93 women artists from 21 countries, which in many aspects of content and aesthetics challenge our idea of what art is. 

  Aloïse Corbaz Brevario Grimani , 1950 ca ( Detail ) crayon on paper abcd / Bruno Decharme collection Photo © César Decharme  

The exhibition adopts the term Art Brut – raw art or outsider art – defined by Jean Dubuffet in 1945 as starting point for the primordial, non-academic art produced outside the cultural mainstream. The diversity and heterogeneity of the works being presented in the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien demonstrate clearly that the scope of the Art Brut concept today has over time encompassed far more than works of the mentally ill; it also includes the production of “mediumistic” (spiritualist) women artists, “lone wolves” and women artists with disabilities. This broadening of scope derives not least from the radical change in psychiatric medicine and its institutions – from formerly closed buildings to more open structures and even their dissolution. Contemporary Art Brut emerges today to a great extent from studios or from the structures created by the artists themselves.

  Madame Favre Untitled , 1860 Pencil on paper Courtesy Henry Boxer Gallery  
The chronology of the exhibition starts with highlights from the historic collections of the psychiatrists Walter Morgenthaler (Stiftung Psychiatrie-Museum Bern) and Hans Prinzhorn (Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg). Both collected and supported art from psychiatric institutions in the early twentieth century and produced publications on it – Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (1921 – Madness & Art) and Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (1922 – Artistry of the Mentally Ill).

The main room of the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien is showing masterpieces from the collection of Jean Dubuffet (Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne) which he assembled between 1945 and 1976. A representative selection of works from the L’Aracine Collection (LaM, Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Villeneuve d'Ascq) concludes the overview of the collections that had a decisive and formative influence on the development and history of Art Brut. Moreover, the show includes many works from important international and Austrian private collections.
The history of female Art Brut artists reflects the history of women’s emancipation on a precarious level: they have always been “the outsiders among outsiders”. Art Brut has never been treated on a par with the “high arts”. Since women first have to conquer their place both within Art Brut and also beyond feminist art, it is high time for a presentation of their works. This is the task that “FLYING HIGH. Women Artists of Art Brut” in the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien has set itself.
The exhibition demonstrates that aesthetic points of view are gaining more and more relevance as opposed to diagnostic criteria and biography, and also the artists’ eccentricity. Its inclusion of works by a diversity of women artists creates a multifaceted panorama of creative powers of expression: wherein lies the difference between the “individual mythologies” (Harald Szeemann) that Art Brut is based on depending on whether it was produced by female or male artists? Do women’s works really tell a different story from men’s? How are differences in production methods, media and iconographies visualised? The show pursues these questions and reflects the direct and primordial – frequently also subversive – expressive power and quality of Art Brut created by women. Visualising the differences and also potential similarities in the expressiveness of female and male artists by juxtaposing examples will be the topic of a different exhibition.
As in everything, this also applies to art: only what can be seen, exists.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pin-Ups | Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity

6 October 2018 – 20 January 2019
Royal Scottish Academy
Princes St, Edinburgh, 

The vibrant, bohemian atmosphere of Paris at the end of the 19th century takes centre stage in a spectacular new exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) , which focuses on extraordinary posters that heralded a revolution in design and the birth of modern celebrity culture.
Pin-Ups: Toulouse Lautrec and The Art of Celebrity is the first NGS exhibition to explore the work of one of the most innovative and popular French artists of the era known as the ‘Belle Époque’. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was an outstanding painter, printmaker and caricaturist renowned above all for his immersion in the theatrical and celebrity culture of Paris.

This exhibition brings together around 75 posters, prints, paintings and drawings by Lautrec and contemporaries such as Pierre Bonnard, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen and Jules Chéret, the ‘father of the modern poster’. These  include many of the artist’s finest graphic artworks made for legendary nightclubs such as the Moulin Rouge and the Ambassadeurs.

The exhibition also includes the work of British artists who were drawn to the dynamic café culture of Paris, such as Walter Sickert, Arthur Melville, J D Fergusson and William Nicholson.
Lautrec has long been admired for the startlingly modern posters he designed and for his mastery of the recently developed printmaking technique of lithography. His career coincided with a revolutionary moment, just as the poster emerged as an important means of mass-marketing. Lithography and poster-making were central to his creative process from 1891, when he made his first experiments in the technique.

Paris, the 'city of pleasure’, was renowned for its cabarets, dance halls and cafés; most famous of all were the nightspots of the district of Montmartre on the edge of Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec worked and socialised. Pin-ups will focus on the artist’s lithographic posters, portfolio prints and illustrations which made famous Montmartre’s venues and their stars – personalities such as Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant.

Detail from Troupe de Mlle Églantine by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1896) 

Detail from Troupe de Mlle Églantine by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1896)  Credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, London  
Lautrec was born into aristocracy in Albi, near Toulouse in south-west France.  His parents were first cousins, which resulted in serious health problems, most notably a rare bone disorder which halted the growth of his legs and caused him to walk with a cane. Displaying great natural talent, he pursued a career as an artist, receiving training in Paris from Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon, and finding his favourite subjects – performers and women working in prostitution – in the vibrant, liberated world of bohemian Montmartre. He exhibited with the Société des Artistes Indépendants and in solo shows in Paris, Brussels and London, but secured wider success and his own celebrity through his lithographic posters.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, May Belfort, 1895

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, May Belfort, 

 Lautrec witnessed the Parisian demi monde as artist and observer but also as participant, and could be found every night drinking and sketching at his favourite haunts. However, his debauched lifestyle, which included regularly imbibing the notorious (and subsequently banned) spirit absinthe, eventually took its toll and from 1897 onwards his health deteriorated rapidly. Alcoholism and syphilis contributed to his early death in 1901 at the age of only thirty-six.

Related image

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,  detail Jane Avril

Pin-Ups will capture the colour and excitement of this period of economic prosperity and cultural optimism. This was a climate that gave rise to a new mass-celebrity and consumer culture and a golden age of the poster. Public enthusiasm for these images was such that they were removed from walls by collectors, sometimes as soon as they were put up, a process that transformed ephemeral advertising to a collectable form of fine art which bridged ‘high’ and popular culture for the first time.

A highlight of the exhibition is the iconic poster Moulin Rouge - La Goulue (1891), on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A landmark in Lautrec’s career, this was the first poster he designed and was his earliest experiment with colour lithography. Some 3000 copies of the poster, which advertised the dancer ‘La Goulue’ performing at the Moulin Rouge, were pasted across the streets of Paris, turning Lautrec from a virtually unknown artist to a household name literally overnight.

The exhibition will also include a selection of posters by Jules Chéret, whose pioneering designs – characterised by their bright colours and inclusion of glamourous stars – were the first to bring real artistry to the advertising industry.

On display will be one of his most famous designs, his poster for the American dancer Loïe Fuller, who took Paris by storm when she debuted at the Folies-Bergère in 1892.

Lautrec’s 1892 poster for the nightclub singer and poet Aristide Bruant has become one of the most memorable and frequently reproduced images of the era. A savvy self-promoter, Bruant was one of the first stars to enlist Lautrec to market his act and went on to give the artist more commissions than any other performer. Lautrec’s promotion of the singer made him recognisable across the whole city – so many copies of the poster were pasted on the streets it was said to be impossible to ‘take a step without finding yourself face to face with it’.

Another iconic poster on display in Pin-Ups is Tournée du Chat Noir avec Rodolphe Sali by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen. Featuring the bold silhouette of the black cat that gave the celebrated Montmartre nightclub its name, the poster has become one of the most recognisable commercial images of all time.

Christopher Baker, Director of European and Scottish Art and Portraiture at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “This fascinating exhibition provides an opportunity to taste the decadence and visual richness of culture in late nineteenth-century Paris. The elegance and inventiveness of Toulouse-Lautrec’s brilliant designs which helped transform contemporary performers into stars and have an enduring appeal will be set in the wider context of his contemporaries’ riveting work.”

Aegon chief executive, Adrian Grace said: “Collaboration between businesses like Aegon and the cultural sector is a great way of making modern visual art widely accessible. Bringing the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition to Edinburgh allows visitors to be engaged and inspired by some wonderful works of art and we are delighted to be able to support this.”


(Image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1899)
Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity
Hannah Brocklehurst and Frances Fowle

Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity is the first exhibition held at the National Galleries of Scotland devoted to the art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).
Paris in the fin-de-siècle was known as the 'city of pleasure’; famed for its cabarets, dance halls and cafés.

Most famous of all were the nightspots of the bohemian district of Montmartre, where Toulouse-Lautrec lived, worked and socialised, including the now legendary café-cabarets Le Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir. Pin-Ups: Toulouse Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity focuses on Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic posters, portfolio prints and illustrations which made stars of Montmartre’s venues and their entertainers - personalities such as Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant. Toulouse-Lautrec’s career coincided with a revolutionary moment in the history of western printmaking - the development of the poster as a means of mass-marketing – and lithography and poster-making were central to his creative process from his first experiments in the medium in 1891 until his death in 1901.

Around 75 works by Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries are on show, including prints by Pierre Bonnard, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen and Jules Chéret

*Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 6 March 2019 at Christie’s in London.

David Hockney’s double portrait of Geldzahler, a curator at The Met, and his partner, painter Christopher Scott, helped to secure his reputation. In March this masterpiece from the Barney A. Ebsworth Collection will be offered in London.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, 1969. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 120 in (214 x 305 cm). Estimate on request. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 6 March 2019 at Christie’s in London. Artwork © David Hockney
In 1968, the 30-year-old painter David Hockney began a series of seven monumental canvases, each 7 ft by 10 ft. These paintings would consume him for the next seven years and come to define his career.

The series, which began with paintings of the English writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner, the American artist Don Bachardy, and the American collectors Fred and Marcia Weisman, has come to be known as Hockney’s ‘Double Portraits’.

Each depicting a pair of sitters (mostly absent from one another’s attention), they are set in domestic locations and painted in the bold, Pop Art palette that Hockney adopted after his arrival in California in the early Sixties.

Inspired by this newfound discourse, Hockney was already planning a third double portrait by October, depicting his friend, the influential curator Henry Geldzahler, and his partner Christopher Scott.

Complete story 

‘It’s a watershed painting’, said Geldzahler. ‘In this picture David finally gave up the idea of being a “modern artist” and decided, instead, to be the best artist he could be’ (H. Geldzahler, quoted in P. Richard, ‘The Painter and His Subject’, The Washington Post, 30 March 1979, p. 8).
LONDON – On 6 March 2019, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction will be led by David Hockney’s intimate yet monumentally-scaled 1969 portrait of Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, from the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth (estimate in excess of £30 million). Standing among Hockney’s most celebrated works, Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott will mark a fitting conclusion to the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth, which has thus far achieved a running total of $323,508,250. The painting will be unveiled and on view in New York from 8 to 12 February before going on view in London from 2 to 6 March 2019. The Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction is a key part of 20th Century at Christie’s, a season of sales taking place in London from 22 February to 7 March 2019. 

Marc Porter, Chairman, Christie’s Americas, remarked: “It is an honour to present Hockney’s double portrait of Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, which is not only an extraordinary example from the artist’s most celebrated series, it is also a poignant representation of one of the 20th century’s greatest curators. Hockney captured Geldzahler at a particularly decisive moment when the curator was organizing his most revolutionary exhibition. Officially titled New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, the exhibition received such a high degree of fanfare that it would soon become universally known as Henry’s Show. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of that survey, which would ultimately alter the course of both Geldzahler’s career and art history as we now know it, making the sale of this painting extremely timely.  Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was among Barney Ebsworth’s most treasured works of art, and marks one of the rare exceptions to Mr. Ebsworth’s rule of only acquiring the work of American Artists. The stunning success that this collection has achieved thus far, speaks to the collector’s remarkable eye for quality, and this work absolutely epitomizes that.”

Katharine Arnold, Head of Evening Sale, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s London, continued: “David Hockney’s double portraits are undoubtedly some of the finest paintings the artist ever realised. Created on a 7 by 10 foot format, these paintings invite the viewer to enter the intimate settings of some of Hockney’s closest friends. In Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, we meet the celebrated curator and his partner in their 7th avenue apartment in New York City. What strikes me as extraordinary is Hockney’s use of naturalistic technique. Here Hockney has mastered paint to conjure up glass in four different ways: the glass window looking out onto the cityscape, Geldzahler’s neat reading spectacles, the modern glass table with a beautiful glass vase of tulips. Reflection, transparency and light are Hockney’s subjects.  Structured like a devotional triptych, the intimately observed composition comprises a blush pink Art Deco sofa from Geldzahler’s living room, the view from Scott’s study, the glass table from Hockney’s studio in London and the signature vase of tulips, often interpreted as symbolising the artist himself. An unspoken narrative exists between the two lovers, which adds the element of human drama so characteristic of Hockney’s greatest work. Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott will appear at auction for the first time since 1992 and follows the record set for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in New York in November.”

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott is a glowing meditation on human and visual relationships. Hockney’s closest friend Henry Geldzahler – the legendary curator, critic and king of the New York art world – dominates the centre of the composition, framed by soaring skyscrapers. Christopher Scott, his then-boyfriend, hovers to the right like a fleeting apparition. Painted in 1969, it is the third work in the career-defining series of seven double portraits that Hockney created between 1968 and 1975. With four held in museum collections, these seven-by-ten-foot canvases represent the culmination of the artist’s naturalistic style. Another example from this series, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), was sold at Christie’s New York in November 2018 for $90.3 million, setting a new world auction record for any work by a living artist.

Though focused on Geldzahler and Scott, the work ultimately celebrates the relationship between Geldzahler and Hockney: two artistic giants at the heights of their powers. Geldzahler stares out from the canvas like an icon at the centre of an altarpiece, observing the painter’s every move. Hockney’s return gaze is palpable in the work’s sharp, clear perspective, and seemingly affirmed by the addition of tulips – his favourite flower, and a deeply personal motif. The pair met in Andy Warhol’s studio in 1963, and quickly became friends. At the time of the painting, Geldzahler – a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – was working on his landmark exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, which quickly came to be known as “Henry’s Show”. This revolutionary survey of contemporary American art would ignite his career, leading one journalist to describe him as ‘the most powerful and controversial art curator alive’. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of Geldzahler’s landmark exhibition. Hockney, too, was on the brink of international acclaim, buoyed by the success of the double portraits that he had already completed.

The work’s provenance, along with its extensive exhibition history, is exceptional. In 1969, it was unveiled in Hockney’s solo show at André Emmerich Gallery, where it was described as ‘truly amazing’ and ‘totally hypnotizing’ by New York Magazine (J. Gruen, ‘Open Window’, New York Magazine, 12 May 1969, p. 57). It was acquired from the gallery that year by Harry N. Abrams, the renowned art book publisher and distinguished collector, and remained in his family collection until 1992. Under this stewardship, it was featured in a number of significant exhibitions, including Pop Art Redefined – one of the earliest shows at the newly-founded Hayward Gallery in 1969.

In 1997, it became one of the final pieces to enter the prestigious Ebsworth collection, offering a rare British addition to one of the world’s greatest assemblages of 20th century American art. Long admired by the collector, it took its place alongside Edward Hopper’s 1929 masterpiece Chop Suey, as well as important works by artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keefe. For twenty-two years, the painting hung in Ebsworth’s home, and starred in notable museum shows – most recently Hockney’s eightieth birthday touring retrospective originating at the Tate Britain, London (2017-18).

In an auction world first, the sale of the Ebsworth Collection marks the first time an art auction at this price level has been recorded on a blockchain. Christie’s and Artory, a leading art-centric technology provider, partnered to create a secure digital registry for the sale of the Ebsworth Collection, in the spirit of the innovation and entrepreneurship that guided Mr. Ebsworth career. The introduction of this technology for this sale continues Christie’s legacy of leading the industry by introducing technology innovations in the context of major collections, for the ultimate benefit of our clients. David Hockney’s Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, will be recorded along with all other lots sold as part of the Ebsworth collection. Further details of the collaboration are included here.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Claude Monet: A Floating World

 21 September 2018–6 January 2019

This autumn, the ALBERTINA Museum is mounting Austria’s first broad-based presentation of works by Claude Monet (1840–1926) in over 20 years.The 100 paintings to be shown include important loan works from over 40 international museums and private collections such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the National Gallery London, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo,and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
This retrospective presentation, realized with generous support from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, illuminates Monet’s development from realism to impressionism and onward to a mode of painting in which colors and light gradually separate from the subjects that reflect them, with the motif as such breaking free from the mere observation of nature.As a consequence, the artist’s late works would come to pave the way for abstract expressionism in painting.

Monet, the “Master of Light”

“A panorama of water and water lilies, of light and sky,” the collector René Gimpel noted in his diary on August 19, 1910 after paying a visit together with the art dealer Georges Bernheim to Claude Monet in Giverny, where he saw “a dozen canvases placed one after another in a circle on the ground, all about six feet wide by four feet high.”

This rencontre with Claude Monet took place in a high-ceilinged studio filled with light and air, which the painter had built on his property in Giverny to work on his ideas for the so-called Grandes Décorations, which he later donated to the French state. What Gimpel saw were smaller, easily movable canvases, which were preliminary works for this endeavor. Monet, who originally planned a circular installation of his water lily pond paintings in the Hotel Biron in Paris,had arranged them accordingly. His plan was abandoned after 1920, however, in favor of a realization in two oval rooms of the Orangerie.

 Claude Monet | The Water Lily Pond, 1917-1919 | © The Albertina Museum, Vienna. The Batliner Collection
Claude Monet | The Water Lily Pond, 1917-1919 | © The Albertina Museum, Vienna. The Batliner Collection 

The painting from the Batliner Collection in the ALBERTINA Museum, The Water-Lily Pond, is one of these preparatory works, some of which were sold during Monet’s lifetime. 

After the death of Michel Monet, the son and sole heirof Claude Monet, the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris acquired the Impressionist’s estate.Nearly ninety paintings, many of which Claude Monet had guarded with utmost care, were to find a new home—as Michel Monet stipulated in his last will—“in the Musée Marmottan [as] the largest and most beautiful Monet collection.” 

It is therefore fortunate that the ALBERTINA Museum has found a partner in the Musée Marmottan Monet, which has provided forty of its most splendid paintings by Monet for this exhibition. For a short time, the ALBERTINA Museum’s Water-Lily Pond finds itself in the midst of those paintings, in the context of which it was created at the time. 

With two other works from the Batliner Collection, which Monet painted inVétheuil and Giverny, as well as over fifty paintings on loan from about forty international institutions and works from private collections, the exhibition traces the life and work of Claude Monet with paintings that are both lavish and colorful, and yet at times also astonishingly chromatically reserved.

Precious international loans

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Claude Monet
Young Girls in a Rowing Boat, 1887
Oil on canvas
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Matsukata Collection
© The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

The motif for this exhibition’s poster is the monumental work On the Boat, which Monet painted on the water in 1887; it is being shown courtesy of the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. 


Claude Monet
The Boulevard des Capucines, 1873
Oil on canvas
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
© Photo Scala, Florence 2017
Moscow’s Pushkin Museum is contributing one of the two versions of the Boulevard des Capucines (1873), a strongly elevated view of Paris’s busiest commercial area that lets one take in the big city’s swarming, scintillating, motion-filled atmosphere. (The other is in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City)

As with the nature in Monet’s landscapes, this street is a place of constant activity that changes according to the time of day, the atmosphere, and the weather.

File:Poss 1288 Grainstack in Sunshine, 1891, Meule au soleil, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 100 cm, Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich.jpg

Claude Monet
Grainstack in the Sunlight, 1891
Oil on canvas
Kunsthaus Zürich, acquired from the Otto Meister Bequest, with a contribution from the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt
© Kunsthaus Zürich

Among the impressive loan works, many of which are in large formats, there is also the Grainstack in Sunlight (1891, on loan from Kunsthaus Zürich), which Kandinsky saw in an exhibition on French impressionism and greatly admired. Despite his enthusiasm, however, Kandinsky had difficulty recognizing the motif—an effect that presaged Monet’s emancipation of colors and the advent of abstract painting.

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Claude Monet
The Red Kerchief, Portrait of Mrs. Monet, 1873
Oil on canvas
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Estate of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr.
© The Cleveland Museum of Art

Further highlights are Monet’s early winter paintings, including the portrait The Red Kerchief (1873, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA); two paintings of Rouen Cathedral from an extensive series that he created before this Gothic national monument that would themselves become icons of impressionism; and several paintings of the river Creuse in the Massif Central region done in very nasty weather that are pioneering in terms of their composition and use of color.

And from near the end of Monet’s life, by which point his eyesight was severely impaired and he limited himself to working in his garden at Giverny, this exhibition presents!HalfHD.jpg

 The Japanese Bridge (1918–1924)

and his The House Among the Roses. 

Water as a source of inspiration“A Floating World” is the evocative subtitle of the exhibition in the ALBERTINA Museum, the artist’s first large-scale retrospective in Vienna in more than twenty years. The Seine was a home to the pleinairist—both in terms of his various residences and his studio boat, from which he sought to capture the nature and life of the river and its shores with his paintbrush, regardless of the weather conditions.

Guided by one hundred paintings, the exhibition visitor follows in the footsteps of the most important Impressionist along the Seine, pausing at various stations of his life: in Paris, where Monet captured the pulse of modern life with flickering light; in Argenteuil, where he reconciled nature and technology; in Vétheuil, where, in the face of his precarious financial and family situation, he withdrew into solitude to devote himself to unspoiled and original nature; and finally in Giverny, where he arrived at a new aesthetic concept that led Impressionism out of its crisis and paved the way for modern painting.

The river also stands for the many aspects that characterize Monet’s oeuvre: the flowing world of the Japanese woodblock prints that influenced Monet; the coalescing of water, mist, fog, snow, and ice; the colors that change with the weather and lighting conditions; the reflections on the water surface. 

The visitor also accompanies Monet to the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, to London and Norway, either to understand his beginnings in Le Havre and his repeated visits to the Atlantic coast, or to visit places together with the artist which promised him new inspiration for his painting. 

Wall Texts 

Claude Monet was fifty years old when he finally had his first successes. Yet for his friends he had always been the uncontested leader of “Impressionism,” the movement that self-confidently staged its secession from the official Salon under its derisive nickname. 

Even before the outbreak of World War I, Monet would become a living legend celebrated as a giant.Monet’s enduring popularity is due to the fact that his painting can be considered the last generally comprehensible form of expression in the visual arts. Given its apparent self-evidence, it is easily overlooked how it changed the visual habits of generations. Bringing light to the canvas, Monet radically rejected academic painting: his random views, sketchy brushwork, and depictions of fleeting moments contradicted the idea of an accomplished and finished painting.

Monet did not find his motifs in the past, but in the immediate present. A witness of his time, he captured the hustle and bustle of modern boulevards and the humble charm of Parisian suburbs, with their smokestacks, bridges, and leisurely Sundays on the banks of the Seine. The greatest plein-air painter of all time committed the changing light to canvas outdoors instead ofthe confinement of his studio.In this retrospective, a hundred paintings trace Monet’s development: from his beginnings in Paris to his stay in Argenteuil and the years in bitter poverty in Vétheuil, where he painted some of the most superb winter and spring landscapes. 

This was followed by a period of triumph, the series of the 1890s: the haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, and the Creuse landscapes as the first series Monet painted from a single viewpoint in changing light conditions. For the last thirty years of his life, Monet directed his gaze from close up at the opulent nature of his garden in Giverny: the water lily pond, the Japanese bridge, and the alley of roses. 

Argenteuil: 1871 to 1878

As the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 marks a turning point—the transitionfrom monarchy to Third Republic—in French history, these years also led to profound changes in Monet’s personal life: before the outbreak of the war, he married Camille, his companion of many years and mother of his son; seeking to escape military service, the painter fled to London with his young family, where he was inspired by the art of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and John Constable and the late work of William Turner. 

In London, Monet met Paul Durand-Ruel, his most important art dealer and supporter for many decades to come. In those years, Monet received the inheritance from his recently deceased father and from his wealthy aunt, which ensured his independence. After his return from London, Monet also met the department store magnate Ernest Hoschedé, an influential patron. Monet settled in Argenteuil, a few kilometers outside Paris, where he continued to have a studio.During this period Monet became a keen observer of the shift from the metropolis to the countryside, the changes brought about by industrialization, and railroad traffic and its infrastructure of stations and bridges. 

Besides painting intimate genre portraits of of his wife Camille, Monet carried his new landscape interpretation to a first high point. It was also during his years in Argenteuil that the first exhibition of the plein-air painters of modern life took place, who, from 1874 on, were ridiculed as “Impressionists.”

Monet’s pictures of those years show boats on the Seine; a steam engine pulling into the station in deep winter;a fragile bridge construction the artist painted from his studio boat (his own design) in the middle of the Seine; pictures of winter in which he has captured the different temperatures—from biting cold to thaw—in the subtlest nuances. In Argenteuil Monet also adopted the achievement of a flat pictorial layout from the Japanese woodblock prints that were traded on the Paris art market in large quantities.

Argenteuil: The Cradle of Impressionism

In 1871 Monet returned to France from his London exile via Holland and settled in Argenteuil. Whether it was the Zaan in Holland or the Seine in France: the river increasingly became the focus of his attention. Situated on the Seine not far from Paris, Argenteuil was surrounded by asparagus fields and vineyards; industrial plants alternated with embankment promenades; both a railroad bridge and a road bridge crossed the river. The water reflected the smoke of factory chimneys fuming in the distance, the bridges, and a boat hire. 

In Monet’s pictures, the strokes describing this mirror image began to develop a life of their own, partly detaching themselves from the concrete motif; the blurring reflections permitted Monet to carry his sketch-like manner of painting further. Moreover, Monet’s garden became increasingly important for him. When moving again in the future, he would always insist on having a garden. Whereas in Argenteuil his garden still existed independently of his painting, Monet would later lay out his garden in Giverny with his painting in mind, subordinating the design of the garden to his art.

Vétheuil: 1878 to 1881

In January 1878 Monet was forced to leave Argenteuil because of a heavy burden of debt. He had to exchange the Parisian suburb, which could easily be reached by train, for the remote village of Vétheuil. As Monet’s patron Ernest Hoschedé had gone bankrupt with his business, he could no longer support the artist, who was still eyed with suspicion because of his renewal of landscape painting. In March, Monet’s wife Camille gave birth to their second son. Alice, Ernest Hoschedé’s wife, did not follow her ruined husband to Paris, but moved to Vétheuil with her six children, where they shared a house with the Monets. Camille, who was seriously ill, died the following year.

The pictures of the snow-covered Vétheuil and the disastrous ice break of the winter of 1878/79 emanate the deep melancholy and sadness of a life marked by failure and personal misery. Only the spring and summer pictures Monet painted in Vétheuil during those years of great poverty do not betray the unlucky personal fate of the painter, whom his friends already regarded as the Impressionists’ uncontested leader. Monet was too much of an eye for the oppressing situation to obscure his unerring vision of nature. 

In 1883 Claude Monet rented a house in Giverny and moved there with Alice Hoschedé and their eight children. Following a period of extensive travels and his first major successes with his series of the Creuse and Rouen Cathedral, the artist was finally able to purchase the small house, a former cider press, in 1890. 

After Ernest Hoschedé’s death in March 1891, Monet and Alice married the subsequent year.

The Spectacle of Nature –Journeys of the 1880s

In the 1880s, Monet extended his travels to the whole of France, painting the spectacular coasts of Normandy, the Mediterranean, and Brittany. If Monet had hitherto avoided using famous landmarks as pictorial motifs, in Étretat he began to paint one of the most stunning natural monuments in France: the solitary rock needle and rock gate of Aval, which Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet had immortalized before him. 

As in Vétheuil and Argenteuil, Monet was interested in the changing appearance of his motifs, caused by different weather conditions, the times of day, and the seasons. He studied the stages of the sunset, with the distant coast increasingly curling into a dark block set against the light. With loose brushstrokes he sought to arrest the individual moment that was so difficult to grasp aesthetically.

Whereas in the following decade Monet would approach the motifs of his famous series—the façade of Rouen Cathedral, the grainstacks, the Houses of Parliament in London, and the hills above the Creuse—from a single perspective and observe how they perpetually changed in the light and atmosphere, on the Normandy coast he still studied his motifs from different viewpoints, both from the distance and from close up. Monet still orbited around his motif, paintingit from various perspectives.

Impression and Completion—The Scandal of Impressionism 

The green tone of deep water, the purple glow of wet sand, the dance of thousands of lights as the sun slowly sinks into the sea—nothing escaped Monet’s eye. It also observed how the bright morning light softens the contrasts between colors and bathes the coast in an even light.While working on the French coast, Monet, resorting to the concepts of sprezzatura and non-finito, gave the swiftly painted sketch an autonomy of its own, so that the line between sketch and finished painting became increasingly blurred. 

Monet’s art dealer Durand-Ruel disliked overly sketchy paintings, which he considered unsalable. On the other hand, the artist protested that the paintings he delivered were finished all the same.The scandal about Impressionism was closely linked to the reproach of producing unfinished work. Although the oil sketch as an independent art discipline has long found its devotees, in the case of Monet the scandal had to do with his claim that what resembled a preliminary sketchiness actually represented the final work of art. For Monet, the swiftness of painting was in fact proof of the truthfulness with which a momentary mood and atmosphere were captured with due spontaneity and immediacy.

The Valley of the Creuse

In 1889 Monet traveled to Fresselines for the first time in the company of friends. Located on the plateau above the confluence of the headwaters of the Creuse, the commune was enclosed by a gloomy and melancholy landscape. Here it was for the first time that Monet did not paint a series of pictures representing a sequence of various views of the same place: he gave up the depiction of a single motif viewed from different spatial perspectives in favor of the depiction of the same motif viewed at different times. This and the subsequent series—of poplars, grain stacks, and Rouen Cathedral—are almost necessarily deserted: the observation of a motif at different times required steady surroundings. In these pictures the lapse of time and change are brought about without the painter moving back and forth while the light and the colors alter.

Monet painted the Valley of the Creuse in the morning, at noon, in damp and cold weather, in bright sunlight, and at dusk. The differences in the landscape—and later in the façade of Rouen Cathedral—manifested themselves in ever-smaller time units, so that Monet frequently worked at three to four canvases simultaneously in order to be able to respond to changes in the position of the sun and in the atmosphere.

The Late Work at Giverny

In 1883, Monet moved to Giverny, a small town on the Seine 70 kilometers west of Paris. He rented an old cider press and orchard, where he lived with his companion Alice and the children. Crowned by long-overdue success, the artist was finally able to purchase the estate in 1890. Here he completed two gigantic panoramas of the gardens of Giverny, which were already a great attraction during his lifetime: the legendary Grandes Décorations, which he would eventually donate to the French state after the end of World War I. 

It appears that neither political events, such as the corruption scandal accompanying the construction of the Panama Canal (1892) or the state crisis triggered by the Dreyfus affair (from 1894 onward), nor personal blows of fate left any traces in Monet’s art: around the turn of the century, Monet’s stepdaughter, his second wife Alice, and his son Jean died within a few years. As if Monet were only working for himself, he devoted himself to the blaze of color in his private refuge with astonishing exclusiveness. 

Whereas the young painter had roamed the countryside in all kinds of weather to render his motifs from different perspectives, in the 1890s Monet, now in his fifties, painted his famous series: variations of a motif he depicted from a single viewpoint and under changing conditions of light and weather. 

In his old age at Giverny, Monet finally devoted himself exclusively to his opulent flower garden and the alley of roses, the exotic willows, the Japanese bridge, the wisterias, and the water lily pond. In his late work, which was revolutionary in terms of theme, composition, and painting technique, Monet was solely guided by his inner sensations—an approach helped by his diminishing eyesight due to a cataract. The interpretation of the alley of roses and the Japanese bridge as a tunnel from which there was no escape expressed the more-than-eighty-year-old painter’s wish to completely withdraw from the outside world, his melancholy reading of nature reflecting a life drawing to a close. Nevertheless, Monet’s dark epilogue gave another fresh turn to his painting, whose radical modernism would only bear fruit decades after the death of this great master of plein-air painting.

Monet, Creator and Painter of His Garden

More than eighty years old, Monet was almost blind when he painted the series of the alley of roses. Similar to Beethoven, who was forced to exclusively rely on his inner ear as his hearing deteriorated, Monet had to resort to his experience when inventing a new, albeit clouded, imagery for the very last time. No longer was he able to perceive nature’s rich chromatic spectrum and his own colorful palette.When it became hot under the glass roof of his studio in the summer, Monet painted the Japanese bridge and the alley of roses in the garden, where it was cool. The wooden bridge and the iron trellises shared the tall arch that gave these pictures their basic structure on which tendrils metamorphosed into sprawling lines of color. Monet took the flowers up into the air to have them float there weightlessly. He was interested in the “dematerialization of flowers and plants.”


Claude Monet is born in Paris in 1840. He spends his youth in Le Havre. After two years he is exempted from a seven-year period of military service in Algeria through payment for a substitute. Monet receives allowances from his family until his father’s death in 1871. During his studies in Parisian studios he meets his future friends Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille.

In 1867 Camille Doncieux, Monet’s lover and model, gives birth to their son Jean. The couple marries in 1870. In order to escape army service during the Franco-Prussian War, Monet flees to London in 1870. He is fascinated by the haze, smoke, and fog in the city on the Thames and studies the art of John Constable and William Turner.

In 1871 he returns to France via the Netherlands and for a period of seven years settles in Argenteuil, a Parisian suburb on the Seine: Argenteuil becomes the cradle of Impressionism, and Monet is regarded as the “Impressionists’” uncrowned leader. The painter and his friends receive this derisive nickname in 1874 on the occasion of their first group exhibition because of the sketchiness of their atmospheric manner of painting.

In 1878 Monet is forced to leave Argenteuil for Vétheuil, a remote village on the Seine, because of a huge burden of debt. That same year Camille gives birth to their second son, Michel. She dies in 1879 after a serious illness. 

After her husband has gone bankrupt, Alice Hoschedé, the wife of Monet’s former patron, and her six children move in with Monet. It is only after the death of Alice’s husband that she and Monet legalize their relationship through marriage in 1892. In this difficult phase of his life, the artist paints not only melancholy pictures of the snow-covered Vétheuil and the disastrous ice breakup of 1880, but also sunny spring landscapes. 

Having accumulated more and more debts, Monet also has to leave Vétheuil. In 1883 he rents a small cider press in Giverny, which he is able to purchase in 1890.

In the 1890s Monet paints his famous series, which finally earn him success and fame: the Creuse landscapes, the haystacks, and Rouen cathedral.

However, his real passion lies in painting his garden in Giverny, which he gradually enlarges. These pictures reveal nothing of the painter’s personal blows of fate: the deaths of his stepdaughter in 1899, his second wife in 1911, and his first son in 1914. Neither does Monet’s withdrawn late work reflect the French state’s serious crises, not even World War I. The artist has long been considered a living legend and one of France’s national monuments. 

With his vision heavily impaired through a cataract, Monet bathes his pictures in the colors of late autumn during his final years. These gloomy and almost abstract paintings only become known after Monet’s death in 1926.
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Claude Monet
On the Beach at Trouville, 1870
Oil on canvas
Museé Marmottan Monet, Paris
© Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris / Bridgeman Images

File:Claude Monet - Train in the Snow.jpg

Claude Monet
Train Engine in the Snow, 1875
Oil on canvas
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
© Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris / Bridgeman Images

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Claude Monet
Water Lilies, 1907
Oil on canvas
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
© Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris / Bridgeman Images

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Claude Monet
The Studio Boat, 1874
Oil on canvas
Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
© Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

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Claude Monet
Rouen Cathedral, Sunlight Effect, 1894
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Claude Monet
The Landing Stage, 1871
Oil on canvas
Acquavella Galleries
© Acquavella Galleries

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Claude Monet
Camille Monet and a Child in the Garden, 1875
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, anonymous gift in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Webster
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Claude Monet
Water Lilies, 1908
Oil on canvas
Callimanopulos Collection
© Callimanopulos Collection, photo: Ugo Bozzi Editore Srl, Rome

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Claude Monet
Water Lilies, 1916-1919
Oil on canvas
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Sammlung Beyeler
© Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel Sammlung Beyeler; Photo: Robert Bayer

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Claude Monet
The Church at Vétheuil, Snow, 1878/1879
Oil on canvas
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais/Musée d’Orsay/Stéphane Maréchalle

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Claude Monet
Lane in the Poppy Field, Île Saint-Martin, 1880
Oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Estate of Julia W. Emmons
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Claude Oscar Monet - Breakup of Ice Grey Weather 1880

Claude Monet
Breakup of Ice, Gray Weather, 1880
Oil on canvas
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon – Founder’s Collection
© Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Catarina Gomes Ferreira!HalfHD.jpg

Claude Monet
The Rock Needle Seen through the Porte d’Aval, 1886
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; gift from the Marjorie and Gerald Bronfman Collection, Montréal
© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa