Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Olga Boznanska

Interior of the Artist's Studio in Cracow
oil on cardboard
National Museum, Cracow, Poland

Olga Boznanska (1865-1940) was a Polish painter of the turn of the 20th century. She was a notable female painter in Poland and Europe, and was stylistically associated with the French impressionism. Working primarily on cardboard which gave the surface of her paintings a dry, matte appearance, her mature works are characterised by shimmering, scumbled brushwork, a lightness of touch, and intense emotional psychology, her later paintings often featuring solemn children, the elderly and themes of motherhood. While she painted numerous high quality still lives and landscapes, it is her portraits that are most noteworthy.

She was born in Krakow during foreign partitions of Poland. She was the daughter of a railway engineer. She developed a unique and fully resolved mature style. Despite this she is of course indebted to the work of Whistler and the impressionists, and the grand interiors and expensive frocks depicted mean her paintings are very much of their era. However, the melancholy which pervades her work, coupled with her approach to handling paint - the tiny, precise and nervous rendering of features and how they meet the tumult of brushwork around them, the sketchy and uncompromising state in which she left some of her works - are closer to more modern developments in painting.

She studied art at length at first under the guidance of her mother, and later under artists. Between 1886-1889 she studied at the Munich Academy of Fine arts, developing her skills by copying Old Masters in the Alte Pinakothek and relying on the group of Polish artists living in Munich at the time for support and encouragement. In 1898 she moved to Paris. While her Munich works were characterised by a formal and restrained academic approach, in Paris, under the influence of Whistler, her work matured and her approach became more painterly.

She found success in France, exhibiting widely, gaining commissions from throughout Europe, and winning many honours for her painting. She became a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1904 and also enjoyed membership of the Society of Polish Artists in Paris, the Polish Artistic Society, the Association of Polish Women Artist in Krakow and the International Society of Sculptors, Engravers and Painters in London. She was awarded a gold medal at the international exhibition in Munich in 1905, the French Legion of Honour in 1912, the Grand Prix at the Expo Exhibition in Paris in 1939 and the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1938.
Despite her growing popularity in Europe it was a deep disappointment to her that her reputation in her native Poland never matched the acclaim she received elsewhere. By the 1930's the commercial popularity of her work was in decline, and not being someone who could ask favours of others, she fell into financial difficulties. Things became so bad that by 1934 friends in Poland had organised a committee to raise funds for her by eliciting commissions and donations from the government and wealthy patrons.

A number of personal tragedies during the late 1930's - the death of her father, the breaking off of an engagement to be married, the mental difficulties and suicide of her sister Izabela and then the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1940, left her in a fragile state and leading the life of a recluse in her Paris studio. Her health deteriorated rapidly and she died out of public view and in poverty.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rihard Jakopic

The Green Veil
Date     1915
oil on canvas
132.3 × 102.5 cm
location unknown

Rihard Jakopic (1869-1943) was a Slovene painter. He was the leading Slovene Impressionist painter, patron of arts and theoretician. Together with Matej Sternen, Matija Jama and Ivan Grohar, he is considered the pioneer of Slovene impressionist painting.

He was born in Krakovo, a suburb of Ljubljana, the capital of Carniola in the Austria-Hungary, now Slovenia. His father was a well-situated tradesman with agricultural goods. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the Art School in Munich, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. In Ljubljana, he established the "Slovene School of Impressionist Drawing and Painting", the predecessor of the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Ljubljana. He also built a pavilion in the Tivoli Park in Ljubljana, known as The Jakopi? Pavilion. The pavilion became the central venue for art exhibitions in the Slovene Lands at the time. He was one of the early members of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts founded in 1938 and an iniciator for the foundation of the National Gallery of Slovenia. Over 1200 paintings and 650 drawings by him have been preserved.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ivana Kobilca

oil on canvas
180 × 140 cm
National Gallery of Slovenia, The Republic of Slovenia

Ivana Kobilca (1861-1926), born in Ljubljana as a daughter in a wealthy family of a crafstman, is the most prominent Slovene woman painter and a key figure of Slovene cultural identity. She belonged to the generation of Slovene realist painters who created their best works of art in the Eighties of the 19th century. She mostly painted oil paintings and pastels, whereas her drawings are few. The themes include still lifes, portraits, genre works, allegories, and religious scenes.

She was born in Ljubljana as a daughter in a wealthy family of a crafstman. Her parents gave great emphasis on education. At first, she learned how to draw, but also French and Italian, in a high school in her home town. When she was 16, she went with her father to Vienna, where she saw the paintings of old masters that inspired her. From 1879 to 1880, she studied in Vienna, and from 1880 to 1881 in Munich, where she copied the paintings at the gallery of the Academy of Arts. In 1888 she participated for the first time in a public exhibition by sending two of her pictures to Vienna. At the next exhibition in Munich her talents were praised by a best known German critic of that time. Since then her paintings made a long way to various European exhibitions: to Paris, Berlin, Prague. Leipzig, Basel, Dresden, Budapest, Ratisbon etc.. Her arrival to Paris was crowned with success. She became an honorary member (membre associee) of Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts. At her death in 1926 in Ljubljana, she was described as the greatest Yugoslav woman painter.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Karl Bodmer

Landscape with buffalo on the upper Missouri
watercolor on paper
24x32 cm
location unknown

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) was a Swiss-French painter, draughtsman, illustrator and graphic artist. He was born in Riesbach, Switzerland, and his real name was Johann Carl Bodmer. He was a pupil of his uncle Johann Jakob Meier, a well known landscape painter and engraver in Zurich. He produced one of the most important and beautiful 19th century records of the American West.

In 1832 he travelled as a scientific draughtsman together with Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied to North America. He was commissioned to make detailed illustrations of the life, habits, and customs of the Indians. He is known for his careful observation and attention to detail. Unlike some other artists in the American West he tried not to romanticize his subjects but show them as they really were.

The expedition took 28 months and brought them to the regions of North America, west of the Mississippi River, where the Indian tribes lived. In many impressive watercolour paintings he documented the landscape, plants and animals, but especially the Native Americans of North America at that time. He made more than 400 sketches and watercolour paintings, which he brought back to Germany in 1834. These paintings are recognized as among the most painstakingly accurate painted images ever made of Native Americans, their culture and artefacts. Today the majority of his original watercolours are located in three collections in the United States, at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, the Newberry Library Bodmer Collection in Chicago, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 1835 he moved to Paris. From there he supervised the production of the illustrations for the travel book  “Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834” wrote by Maximilian Prince of Wied-Neuwied (Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America). From his watercolour paintings, he brought from the journey, the Prince had chosen 81 to be published as aquatints together with his book in a separate atlas.

From 1848/49 he mainly lived in Barbizon. He became a French citizen and an influential member of the Barbizon school of painters. He lived and worked together with such famous artist like Peter Burnitz, Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet. Together with Millet he created lithographs on American history, commissioned by an American citizen from St. Louis. In 1876 he became a Knight (Chevalier) of the “National Order of the Legion of Honour”.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Untitled (Composition with Squares, Circle, Rectangles, Triangles)
wool needlepoint
24 x 24 5/8 in.
location unknown

Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943), painter, sculptor, and dancer, born in Davos, Switzerland, as the fifth child of Prussian pharmacist, was a leading figure in Zurich and Paris Dada. She is considered one of the most important artists of geometric abstraction of the 20th century. She pushed the limits of abstraction in paintings, sculpture, and textiles. The paintings were influenced by her training in textile design, as well as Cubism. She joined several artists’ organizations, edited and wrote for radical publications, and exhibited her work throughout Europe. She also danced and designed sets for Dada performances. Her utopian concern with the marriage of the fine and the applied arts and her experiments in dance, choreography, performance, and puppet theater should not be minimized. It was her commitment to the total work of art that guaranteed her an important place in the history of 20th-century modernism.

Her father died of tuberculosis when she was two years old, after which the family moved to Trogen, where her mother opened a pension. She left home at eighteen to study textile design in Germany. Returning to Zurich in 1915, she began to produce non-representational paintings, which she referred to as “concrete” paintings. In 1915, at an exhibition at a gallery, she met the Dada artist Jean Arp, with whom she was to collaborate on numerous joint projects until her death in 1943. They married in 1922 and she changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp.

She was active in Zurich’s Dada group between 1916 and 1919; she danced in avant-garde performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, an important center of Dada activity. After World War I, many of her friends and colleagues moved to Paris. From the late 1920s, she lived mainly in Paris and continued experimenting with design. In the 1930s, she was a member of the group Cercle et Carre, a standard-bearer of nonfigurative art, and its successor, the Abstraction-Creation group; and in the late 1930s she founded a Constructivist review, Plastique (Plastic) in Paris. Her circle of friends included the artists Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1940, she and her husband Arp fled Paris ahead of the Nazi occupation and moved to Grasse in Southern France, where they created an art colony. In late 1942, they returned to Zurich, and the next year, she died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning stove.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Felix Vallotton

The Ball (Le Ballon)
oil on card glued on wood
48.0 x 61.0 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Felix Vallotton (1865-1925) was a Swiss painter and printmaker associated with Les Nabis. He was an important figure in the development of the modern woodcut. He published occasional art criticism, in addition to other writings: he wrote plays and novels. He responded in 1914 to the coming of the First World War by volunteering for the French army, but he was rejected because of his age.

He was born into a conservative middle-class family in Lausanne, and there he attended College Cantonal, graduating with a degree in classical studies in 1882. In that year he moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. He spent many hours in the Louvre, where he greatly admired the works of Holbein, Durer and Ingres. These artists would remain exemplars for him throughout the life.

In 1891 he executed his first woodcut, a portrait of Paul Verlaine. The many woodcuts he produced during the 1890s were recognized as innovative, and established him as a leader in the revival of true woodcut as an artistic medium. During the 1890s when he was closely allied with the avant-garde, his paintings reflected the style of his woodcuts, with flat areas of colour, hard edges, and simplification of detail. By 1892 he was affiliated with Les Nabis, a group of young artists that included Pierre Bonnard, with whom he was to form a lifelong friendship. His subjects included genre scenes, portraits and nudes. His paintings of the post-Nabi period found admirers, and were generally respected for their truthfulness and their technical qualities, but the severity of his style was frequently criticized: "Everything creaks with an intolerable dryness ... the colours lack all joyfulness." In its uncompromising character his art prefigured the New Objectivity that flourished in Germany during the 1920s, and has a further parallel in the work of Edward Hopper.

In his last years he concentrated especially on still lifes and on "composite landscapes”, landscapes composed in the studio from memory and imagination. Always a prolific artist, by the end of his life he had completed over 1700 paintings and about 200 prints, in addition to hundreds of drawings and several sculptures. He died in Paris.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Kandinsky, Wassily

oil on canvas
127 x 200 cm
Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

"I really believe that I am the first and only artist to throw not just the 'subject' out of my paintings, but every 'object' as well.""Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." (Kandinsky)

The primary colors on the Yellow-Red-Blue painting feature squares, circles and triangles and there are abstract shapes mixed in with these. There are also straight and curved black lines that go through the colors and shapes. This simple visual identification of forms and the main coloured masses present on the canvas is only a first approach to the inner reality of the work, whose appreciation necessitates deeper observation - not only of forms and colours involved in the painting but their relationship, their absolute and relative positions on the canvas and their harmony.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract works. Born in Moscow, He spent his childhood in Odessa. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession - he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat - he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

He named works after musical terms. He saw color when he listened to music, and believed color could visually express music’s timber, pitch and volume. At age 30, his artistic career began when he left a legal career to pursue artistic studies after seeing Monet’s “Haystacks.” Passionately compelled to create, he believed that the purity of this desire would communicate itself to viewers of his work. He was fascinated by music's emotional power. Because music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide. Music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values, thus for him it is a more advanced art. In his writings he emphasizes this superiority in advancing toward what he calls the epoch of the great spiritual.

He was never solely a painter, but a theoretician, and organizer at the same time. He expressed his views on art and artistic activity in his numerous writings. In the 1920-30s his name became world famous. He was proclaimed the theoretician and leading figure of abstract painting. In addition to teaching courses, he became actively involved in delivering lectures; his exhibitions took place almost yearly in Europe and America. In 1921, he was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius. Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his color theory with new elements of form psychology. In 1933, the Nazis having come to power in Germany and closed down the Bauhaus, he took refuge in France where he spent the last eleven years of his life. In 1939 he and his wife became French citizens. He continued painting almost until his death. He died on December 13, 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 78.

“The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.” (Kandinsky)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch

Pyramus and Thisbe
ca. 1520
distemper on canvas
151.5 × 161 cm
Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch (1484-1530) was a Swiss painter, engraver, stained-glass designer, dramaturg and statesman. He was a gifted artist who made highly realistic etchings and became known locally for his satirical plays. He became known internationally as a friend of Huldrych Zwingli from his teenage years and a strong supporter of the Protestant Reformation. In Bern, he campaigned for the reformed cause with the priest at St Vincent Munster. He devoted much of his life to furthering the Protestant Reformation as a soldier, writer, and statesman. He was a true "Renaissance man."

He was a son of an Italian apothecary who had immigrated to Switzerland. Scholars know nothing of his training and assume that he was self-taught. His earliest dated painting shows the influence of a local artist and of the graphic work of Albrecht Durer and Urs Graf. He primarily painted large, colorful works on religious and classical themes. He often depicted witches and stressed the theme of the power of women.

In 1516 and 1522, he fought as a mercenary soldier for the French in Lombardy, where he was injured. After 1521 he devoted increasing energy to poetry and to building support for the Reformation through government service and political writings, mainly plays. He signed his works as NMD.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Angelica Kauffman

Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
oil on canvas
90.9 × 63.8 cm
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was a Swiss painter, active mainly in Italy and England. Her work consists of several history paintings, altarpieces and portraits. Among her favoured motifs are also motifs from contemporary poetry and rococo-like genre scenes. She gained the friendship of the most famous poets, scientists and artists of her time with her outstanding literacy and her gracefulness and became the most famous female painter of the 18th century. She was the founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts and one of London’s most sought-after portraitists. She is also well known by the numerous engravings from her designs by Schiavonetti, Francesco Bartolozzi and others.

As a child prodigy, she was trained by her father, the Swiss muralist Johann Joseph Kauffman. Her father accepted several appointments in Switzerland and Upper Italy. Already at the age of six, Angelica helped him and attracted attention with her talent. During the early 1760s, she traveled through Switzerland, Austria, and Italy working as her father’s assistant. This transient life provided her the rare opportunity for a woman to see and copy many classical and Renaissance masterworks and to meet leaders of the popular new movement known as Neoclassicism. During a three-year stay in Italy, she made her reputation as a painter of portraits; she also produced history paintings.

In 1766, she moved to London, where she celebrated her largest social and artistic successes as a portraitist. Over the next 16 years, she exhibited regularly at the prestigious Royal Academy and worked for a glittering array of aristocratic and royal patrons. She was accepted at the newly founded Royal Academy in 1768.

In 1781, she married a Venetian painter and settled in Venice. Soon, they moved to Rome and bought the house of the painter. In Rome, a splendid social life developed around her. Several foreign guests, among which were the Duchesses Amalie von Weimar and Luise von Anhalt-Dessau, Emperor Joseph II., crown prince Ludwig von Bayern, Goethe, Herder, Tischbein and the painter Philipp Hacker payed her a visit. Goethe called her in a letter to Weimar "die .... vielleicht kultivierteste Frau Europas" ("the most accomplished woman in Europe").

After her husbands death in 1795, she barely left her hometown. She died in Rome. By the time of her death, she had achieved such renown that her funeral was directed by the prominent Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who based it on the funeral of the Renaissance master Raphael.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Liotard, Jean-Étienne

Apollo and Daphne, After Gianlorenzo Bernini
pastel on paper
66.2 × 51.2 cm
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789) was a Swiss-French painter, art connoisseur, dealer, and also an expert collector of paintings by the old masters. He was an artist of great versatility, and though his fame depends largely on his graceful and delicate pastel drawings, he achieved distinction by his enamels, copperplate engravings and glass painting.

He was born at Geneva. His father was a jeweller. He first trained as a miniature painter in Geneva, where he mastered the extraordinary fineness of application that was to be the hallmark of his pastel style. While in his twenties he sought his fortune in Paris, where he studied in a prominent painter's studio. After rejection by the Academie Royale, he traveled to Italy, where he obtained numerous portrait commissions. He next embarked on a journey throughout the Mediterranean region and finally settled in Constantinople for four years (1738-42). Intrigued by the native dress, he grew a long beard and acquired the habit of dressing as a Turk, earning himself the nickname of "the Turkish painter." While in Constantinople, he painted portraits of members of the British colony. For the remainder of his life, he traveled throughout Europe painting portraits in pastels. He gained an international reputation in this medium for his care and skill in achieving an accurate likeness of his sitters. His delicate and polished style brought him fashionable success as a portraitist in Paris, Vienna, Italy, the Netherlands, and England. In his last days he painted still lifes and landscapes.

In 1781, at the age of seventy-nine, he wrote and published a treatise on painting "Traite des principes et des regles de la peinture (the Art of Painting)", in which he emphasized the importance of drawing: he said it should be ‘clear, without being dry; firm, without being hard or stiff; flowing, without being flabby; delicate and true, without being mannered’. In that treatise, he also explained his belief that painting is and should be a mirror of nature.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Klee, Paul

Oriental pleasure garden
40 x 52.1 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

"Color possesses me. I don't have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter." (Klee)

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was born in Switzerland, into a family of musicians, and is considered both a German and a Swiss painter. His childhood love of music was always to remain profoundly important in his life and work.

His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was, as well, a student of orientalism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually mastered color theory, and wrote extensively about it; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory, published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are considered so important for modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo da Vinci's A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humour and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Klee went to Dusseldorf to teach at the Akademie in 1931, shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. Forced by the Nazis to leave his position in Dusseldorf in 1933, Klee settled in Bern the following year. Klee died on June 29, 1940, in Muralto-Locarno, Switzerland.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rudolf Koller

The Hirtenhof (Farmyard)
around 1870
oil in canvas
71 x 95 cm
private collection

Rudolf Koller (1828-1905) was a Swiss painter whose reputation was based on his paintings of animals. Considered Switzerland's finest animal painter, he was a sensitive and innovative artist whose well-composed works in the "plein air" tradition, including Swiss mountain landscapes, are just as finely executed. He is associated with a realist and classicist style. His style is similar to that of the realist painters Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

He was born in Zurich. His father was a butcher and brewer, who became an innkeeper at a hotel, in the centre of the city near the river. As the clientele were mostly waggoners and cattle dealers, he saw horses and cattle on a daily basis. He got his first artistic tuition from his uncle, who was a landscape painter. The young Koller decided to specialize as a painter in depicting horses.

In 1845 horse trials were begun at the stud farm of the King of Wurttemberg, near Stuttgart, and Koller was hired to produce pictures of horses and dogs there. In 1846-47, he studied figure drawing at the Fine Arts Academy of Dusseldorf where he formed friendships with the future Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Bocklin. He travelled together with Arnold Bocklin to Brussels and Antwerp, in 1847. Later he moved to Paris. While living in Paris, he shared a studio with Arnold Bocklin. With the support of the artists’ colony at Barbizon, he painted scenes in outdoor settings. In 1848, plagued by financial difficulties, he returned from France to Zurich.

In 1862 he bought a chalet on the eastern shore of Lake Zurich, where he was to live for the rest of his life. There he kept various animals, mainly to study them as painting subjects. He often painted rustic farm scenes, landscapes and scenes that depicted animals. He loved animals and treated them in his pictures as representing part of the forces of unspoiled nature. In 1870 he began to suffer from a vision impairment that interfered with his work. Nevertheless, in 1873, still at the height of his artistic powers, he secured an assignment from the Swiss Northeastern Railway to produce a painting. The painting is recognized as one of the best ever done by a Swiss painter. In 1900 Koller travelled for the last time to Italy, where he met with his friend Bocklin near Florence. He died in 1905, aged 76, at his chalet.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ferdinand Hodler

The Night (Die Nacht)
oil on canvas
116.5 × 299 cm
Museum of Fine Arts Berne, Switzerland

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was one of the leading Swiss Symbolist painters, along with Arnold Bocklin, of the 19th century. He used stylized, awkwardly gesturing figures in conjunction with simplified color, overcoming realistic and impressionist conventions, and infused his works with an intellectual, symbolic content. He remained in relative obscurity until the age of 50, when he finally received an award for his most famous painting: The Night (1891). From 1910 onwards he received honours and commissions both at home and internationally. In the German-speaking countries, he is considered one of the founders of Modern Art.

He was born in Berne, the eldest of six children. His father made a meager living as a carpenter; his mother was from a peasant family. His childhood was characterized by poverty, sickness, and death. His father died of tuberculosis soon after Hodler's birth and his mother too died of tuberculosis when he was 13. Nine of her children likewise died of tuberculosis early. Eventually the disease killed all of his remaining siblings, instilling in him a powerful consciousness of mortality.

His first training as an artist was in the workshop of his stepfather, and he did not receive a traditional academic training. Instead he was apprenticed to a local decorative painter. In search of better training, he went to Geneva in 1871, where he painted signs while learning French. He was initially influenced by the realism of Gustave Courbet and Camille Corot. He was greatly impressed by the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, and he studied the theories of Albrecht Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vitruvius in his search for answers to the artistic analysis of nature. His artistic formation formally ended in 1878, when he went to Madrid to study the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velazquez at the Prado Museum.

By 1886 he begun to paint in a sharply delineated, harsh style touched with rustic awkwardness and simplicity. From 1891 onwards, he turned to Symbolism - developing an innovative approach which he called "Parallelism". He is also seen as a harbinger of Expressionism. He painted portraits, historical and mythological paintings, as well as landscapes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giovanni Giacometti

oil on canvas
124 x 200 cm
location unknown

Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) was a Swiss painter, and father of famous artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti. He was born in Stampa, Switzerland, and moved to Munich to attend the school of arts and crafts. There, he studied the works of the French impressionists. While in Germany, he met a fellow Swiss painter and, with whom he traveled to Paris. He went to the spring salon in Paris, where he was deeply impressed by some paintings. There, he met for the first time the works of Gianni Segantini, whom he got to know in person later on. Segantini became a veritable mentor and friend to Giacometti. His experience in France exposed him to Post-Impressionist artists, such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, whose influence is clearly recognizable in his own paintings. In both landscapes and portraiture, he preferred bold, emotive color, and used a palette and style similar to his Post-Impressionist contemporaries.

Running short of money, he was forced to return to Stampa in 1891. That was a period of loneliness and lack of inspiration. After some monetary success in the early 1890s, he garnered more attention in 1912, when he was invited to exhibit his work with the German Expressionist group known as Die Brucke. The last years, he spent in the quiet of Stampa. He was regarded as mediator of modern French and Italian art assets. Despite not having reached the level of renown as his sons Alberto and Diego, he is considered a significant contributor to the revival of 20th century Swiss art and painting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bocklin, Arnold

Isle of the Dead (third version)
oil on panel
80 × 150 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Berlin, Germany

Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. He is best known for his five versions (painted in 1880-1886) of Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.

He exercised an influence on Surrealist painters like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, and on Giorgio de Chirico. His paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen both composed symphonic poems after it, Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems after Bocklin. Hans Huber's second symphony is entitled "Bocklin-Sinfonie". Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Bocklin’s painting The Return when writing his Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10.. Adolf Hitler was fond of Bocklin’s work, at one time owning 11 of his paintings. When asked who was his favorite painter, Marcel Duchamp controversially named Arnold Bocklin as having a major influence on his art.

He was born in Basel. His father was descended from an old family of Schaffhausen, and engaged in the silk trade. He attended the Dusseldorf Academy from 1845 to 1847. At this time he painted scenes of the Swiss Alps, using light effects and dramatic views subjectively to project emotional moods into the landscape. In 1848 this romantic introspection gave way to plein air objectivity after he was influenced by Camille Corot, Eugene Delacroix, and the painters of the Barbizon school while on a trip to Paris. But after the February and June revolutions he returned to Basel with a lasting hatred and disgust for contemporary France, and he resumed painting gloomy mountain scenes.

In 1850 he found his mecca in Rome, and immediately his paintings were flooded by the warm Italian sunlight. He populated the lush southern vegetation, the bright light of the Roman Campagna, and the ancient ruins with lonely shepherds, cavorting nymphs, and lusty centaurs. These mythological figures rather than the landscapes became his primary concern, and he used themes to express the polarities of life: warm sunshine contrasts with cool, moist shade, and the brightness of woman's spirituality contrasts with man's dark sensuality.

When he returned to Basel with his Italian wife, he completed the painting Pan among the Reeds which brought him fame when the king of Bavaria purchased it in 1858. He taught at the Academy of Art in Weimar from 1860 to 1862, when he returned to Rome. Called to Basel in 1866, he painted the frescoes and modeled the grotesque masks for the facade of the Basel Museum. He resided in Florence from 1874 until 1885, and this was his most active period. He continued to explore the male-female antithesis and painted religious scenes, allegories of Nature's powers, and moody studies of man's fate. He ceased working with oils and began experimenting with tempera and other media to obtain a pictorial surface free of brushstrokes. He spent the next 7 years mostly in Switzerland, with occasional trips to Italy. Following a stroke in 1892, he returned to Italy, bought a villa in Fiesole, and died there. Many of his late works became increasingly subjective often depicting fabulous creatures, nightmares of war, plague, and death.

Bocklin was an original, proud, somewhat eccentric painter who, like Da Vinci, experimented in his garden with human flight, designing an airplane. He disliked giving titles to his pictures and declared that he painted in order to make people dream. "Just as it is poetry's task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music..." (Arnold Bocklin)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Joseph Heintz the Elder

The Rape of Proserpina
circa 1595
oil on panel
size unknown
Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden, Germany

Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609) was a Swiss painter, draftsman and architect. His paintings included religious images, portraits, and, following the emperor Rudolf II's taste, erotic mythological themes. Agitated figures, shallow depth, and a cool-toned, colorful palette characterize his very personal style.

He was born in Basle. He received his early training from a painter and from his father, an architect-mason.  His first surviving drawings (1580) show something akin to Holbein's manner in his stained-glass window designs. He appears to have educated himself copying the works of Hans Holbein the younger. From 1584 to around 1591, he was in Italy, where he joined a circle of German and Netherlandish artists in Rome. He also studied ancient art and copied paintings by Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Polidoro da Caravaggio. In 1587 he traveled to Florence and Venice, absorbing the styles of Tintoretto, Titian, and Paolo Veronese. In autumn 1591 the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II summoned him as ‘portraitist and court painter' to Prague and ennobling him in 1602. He spent his later career primarily as an architect, mainly in Augsburg and Prague. He designed the east facade of Augsburg's new customs house.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Alexandre Calame

Chalets at Rigi
oil on canvas
40.6 x 62.2 cm
The National Gallery, London, UK

Alexandre Calame (1810-1864) was a Swiss painter. Among the most celebrated Swiss landscape painters of the 19th century, he made a particular speciality of Alpine mountain scenes. The Alps was his speciality. The glaciers, emerald-green, white foaming mountain water, which split the trees during the storm, and the whipped clouds, the multi-colored rocks, half masked from fog, in the rays of the gleaming sun, are those things, which he knew to be true to nature.

He was the son of a skillful marble worker, born in a part of Vevey, but because his father lost the family fortune, he could not concentrate on art, but rather he was forced to work in a bank from the age of 15. When his father fell from a building and then died, it was up to the young Calame to provide for his mother. But, despite losing his right eye as a child, he was determined to make a career as an artist. In 1829 he met his patron, a banker, who made it possible for him to study landscape painting. He first came to the attention of French collectors and connoisseurs at the Salon of 1839. His painting was a great success in Paris, and his success was assured. His paintings, worked up from oil sketches and drawings made sur le motif, were in great demand, and were purchased by collectors throughout Europe, and particularly in Russia. One of his most ingenious works is the representation of the four seasons and times of the day in four landscapes, a spring morning in the south, a summer midday in the Nordic flatlands, an Autumn evening, and a winter night on a mountain.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Frank Buchser

Portrait of a Bedouin
19th century
oil on canvas mounted on masonite
22.6 × 16.9 cm
private collection

Frank Buchser (1828-1890) was a Swiss painter and world traveler, adventurer, fighter for assorted causes, womanizer who was a colorful figure by any standard, not in the least by those of his native Switzerland. As a young artist from Solothurn, he went beyond the paths generally trodden by Swiss artists - France, Germany and Italy - to such countries as Holland, England, and Spain, and further afield to North Africa and America. Thought he spent prolonged periods of time abroad, he never became an expatriate, like so many nineteenth-century Swiss artists, rather, he always remained firmly attached to his native soil. Though he had some academic training, his artistic development probably owed less to those teachers than to the lessons he learned from the Old Masters.

Born in Feldbrunnen, Switzerland, he was the son of a farmer and served an apprenticeship as an organ and piano maker in Solothurn and Bern. In 1847, after a trip through Paris to Florence and Rome, he decided to become a painter. He served in the Papal Swiss Guard, which enabled him to study painting at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. In 1848 he joined briefly at the Garibaldi's troops. From 1849 to 1850 he studied painting in Paris, and from 1850 to 1852 in Antwerp. From 1852 to 1853, he traveled to Spain, where he found early attention as a painter and draftsman. Even after 1853, he went to the England several times, where he was active as a commissioner of the department of Swiss art at the Great Exhibition in London in 1862. Personal highlights of his travels were: to the city of Fez in Morocco in 1858, from 1866 to 1871 to the United States. In his last years he campaigned for reform of exhibitions and was also a pioneer of the Federal Decree of 1887 to encourage and uplift of the Swiss art. From 1888 to 1890 he was one of the members of the Federal Art Commission. He died in Feldbrunnen, Switzerland. He was a Freemason.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Francois Bocion

In Ouchy
oil on canvas
34 x 61 cm
Musee Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland

Francois -Louis David Bocion (1828-1890) was a Swiss painter in the style of Impressionism. He gained his reputation as a " painter of Lake Geneva " with his light-filled, atmospheric and lifelike landscapes of Lake Geneva. 

He came from a wealthy merchant and artisan family of Lausanne. He studied art in Lausanne before going to Paris, France in the fall of 1845 to study further. During the early part of his career, his interest was in the field of illustration as well as in painting historical subjects. However, influenced by the landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, he began painting scenes from around Lake Geneva for which he is best remembered. Following a bout with typhoid fever, he returned home in 1849. In 1849 he took a job as a teacher of drawing at the Ecole Moyenne et Industrielle in his native Lausanne, and he held this position until his death. He was a jury member of exposure Municipale des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, and was a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Anker, Albert

Girl Peeling Potatoes
oil on canvas
size unknown
private collection

"One has to shape an ideal in one's imagination, and then one has to make that ideal accessible to the people." (Anker)

Albert Samuel Anker (1831-1910) was a Swiss painter who has been called the "national painter" of Switzerland because of his enduringly popular depictions of 19th-century Swiss ordinary village life. His meticulous paintings of Swiss rural life endeared him to the public and during his heydays, he was considered as the most popular artist.

His works captured the daily and social life of the rustics in the picturesque villages of Switzerland. His paintings depict his fellow citizens in an unpretentious and plain manner, without idealizing country life, but also without the critical examination of social conditions. He portrayed the social life of villagers as plain and unpretentious. He depicted men and women without any judgment or idealizing their social condition. Though he had a Christian world-view, he did not, in any way, impose his ideology on his paintings.

Anker was quick to reach his artistic objectives and never strayed from his chosen path. His works, though, exude a sense of conciliation and understanding as well as a calm trust in Swiss democracy; they are executed with great skill, providing brilliance to everyday scenes through subtle choices in coloring and lighting.

He was born in Ins, his father was a veterinarian. Despite a brief foray into the study of theology, he convinced his father to let him pursue a career in art. He then moved to Paris where he studied at the Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts from 1855-60.  In 1864, he married and had six children, two of whom died very early in life. He depicted his surviving children in some of his paintings. He died in 1910 at the age of 79 at his house in Anet, Switzerland. His studio in Ins has been preserved as a museum by the Albert Anker Foundation. Many Swiss postage stamps and other media have incorporated Anker's work.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cuno Amiet

Garden in Oschwand
54 x 72.5 cm
oil on canvas
location unknown

Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) was a Swiss painter, illustrator, graphic artist and sculptor. As the first Swiss painter to give precedence to colour in composition, he was a pioneer of modern art in Switzerland. Although oil painting was his principal activity, he was a highly gifted watercolorist and printmaker. During the early 1920s he also turned his hand to sculpture and produced a group of expressive portrait busts in bronze and marble.

He was born in Solothurn, Switzerland, and was the son of the historian and chancellor of the canton of Solothurn. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts Munich in 1886?88, where he met his life-long friend Giovanni Giacometti. In 1889 he and Giacometti transferred to the Academie Julian in Paris. Dissatisfied with academic art, he joined the Pont-Aven School in 1892, where he learned from Emile Bernard, and others. In Pont-Aven, he came to prefer the use of pure colour to tonal painting. In 1893, his lack of funds forced him to return to Switzerland.

In the 1890s, he continued to collaborate with Giacometti and had only modest commercial success, until he was commissioned in 1898 to paint a portrait of Ferdinand Hodler, an artist 15 years his senior and accustomed to doing battle with critics and the public. From 1898 through 1903, he fell under Hodler's influence and sought a compromise between the color-rich, painterly manner of Pont-Aven and the strict draughtsmanship that Hodler had distilled from the German tradition. After his 1898 marriage to Anna Luder, a tavern keeper's daughter, he settled in Oschwand, where his house became a meeting place for artists and writers such as Samuel Singer, Hermann Hesse. He lived there until his death at the age of 93.

His fortunes improved greatly in the 1900s, when he began participating in numerous European expositions, winning a silver medal in the Exposition Universelle. By 1904 he arrived at a style that remarkably paralleled the achievement of the Fauve painters at the same time. Both the Fauves (Matisse, Derain, Dufy, Vlaminck, Braque) and Amiet, working independently, had developed the possibilities inherent in the Postimpressionist works of Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Berne in 1919. In the late 1920s and in the 1930s, he executed numerous wall paintings. He created more than 4,000 paintings, of which more than 1,000 are self-portraits. His numerous landscape paintings depict many winter scenes, gardens and fruit harvests. In 1931 over 50 of his paintings, including some early masterpieces, were destroyed in the fire that consumed the Glaspalast (crystal palace) in Munich that hosted many large art exhibitions and international trade fairs. The fire was later determined to be arson. He surmounted this blow with an intense activity.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jacques-Laurent Agasse

The Nubian Giraffe
oil on canvas
127.3 x 101.7 cm
location unknown

"Agasse, the celebrated animal painter, now in England, owed his fortune to an accident. About eight years ago, he being then in Switzerland, a rich Englishman asked him to paint his favourite dog which had died. The Englishman was so pleased with his work that he took the painter to England with him." (From Wikipedia)

Jacques Laurent Agasse (1767-1849), born at Geneva, was the most accomplished painter of animals that Switzerland has ever produced, and amongst the most refined painter of such paintings to work in England. He lived in London for the last 50 years of his life. His paintings were of the utmost technical refinement and delicacy, and were superbly observed and drawn.

His childhood was exceptionally happy, spent between the family's houses in town and country: in the latter he spent much of his time in the stables, kennels and farm-yard. His father enrolled him in the Calabri Academy of Drawing in 1782. From 1786-9 he moved to Paris where he worked as a pupil and assistant in David's studio. By the onset of the French Revolution, which had the effect of ruining his parents' business, his stay in Paris was brought to a close. He stayed in Switzerland for another decade, before arriving in England, via a second stay in Paris, in 1800. His life in London was marked by a great success as an animal painter.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Richard Zommer

Oriental travellers
before 1918
oil on cardboard
39 × 68 cm
location unknown

Zommer Richard (1866-1939), born in Munich, was known as а Russian painter, watercolorist and graphic artist. His artistic style is often considered to be a mix of Realism and Impressionism based on the subject matter and artistic technique. He created numerous pictorial and graphical works mainly having a genre-ethnographical character. Pictures with common and battle scenes as well as views of Turkestan’s architecture, landscapes of ancient blocks in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand were very popular among his contemporaries.

From 1884 he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts and had considerable success, receiving several awards for his work. His most prolific period relates to the last decade of the nineteenth century, which he spent in Asia, where he was sent in an archaeological expedition and worked as an ethnologist. During this period he produced a series of portraits, landscapes and works on paper.

At the beginning of the twentieth century he went to Georgia, where he led an active life, travelling extensively. He walked almost the entirety of the Caucasus Mountains and produced a number of works during this period that provide a fascinating insight into the Caucasus from an ethnographic point of view, as well as glimpses of everyday occurrences and situations.

During the 1930s, Georgian intellectuals and artists suffered under the Stalinist regime, and in 1939 he was forced to leave Georgia. After this period his exact whereabouts are unknown, this can in part be explained by the fact that all ethnic Germans were relocated to Siberia and Kazakhstan before World War II. What is clear is that he had a remarkable and dynamic life. Always on the move, he explored man and his character, creating pictures in his individual and unique way, and provided an important role in the history of twentieth century Georgian painting.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mikhail Vrubel

Demon (sitting)
oil on canvas
116.5 x 213.8 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel (1856-1910) was a versatile artist who excelled in painting, graphics, sculpture, as well as in monumental and applied arts. His name is routinely associated with Russian Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Even in his earliest works, he exhibited great talent for drawing and an idiosyncratic style. He would later develop a penchant for fragmentary composition and an "unfinished touch".

He was born in Omsk, Russia, into a military lawyer's family. His father was of Polish ancestry, while his mother who was Danish. Though he graduated from the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University in 1880, his father recognized his talent for art and made sure to provide, through numerous tutors, what proved to be a sporadic education in the subject. The next year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. His mother died when he was not yet three years old and his father remarried four years later. His stepmother was a good pianist and helped develop Vrubel’s musical sensibilities. In his teen years, he became a fervent theater aficionado. Later in his life, he married a prominent opera singer Nadezhda Zabela and was on good terms with composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Many of his mature works were inspired by opera and music.

After his graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts, he was asked to help with the restoration of the 12th century St. Cyril church in Kiev. While in Kiev, he started painting sketches and watercolours illustrating the Demon, a long Romantic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of "an eternal nihilistic spirit" for a Georgian girl Tamara. At that period he developed a keen interest in Oriental arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted to imitate their texture in his paintings. While living in Kiev in 1884-1889, he experienced the influence of Medieval and especially Byzantine art.

In 1890, he relocated to Moscow where he could best follow the burgeoning innovations and trends in art. Like other artists associated with the Art Nouveau style, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes. He was not only a painter. He was a master of majolica. He created a majolica frieze for hotel Metropol in Moscow.

During 1896, he met a famous Russian opera singer Nadezhda Zabela. Half a year later they married and settled in Moscow, where Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private opera theatre. While in Moscow, he designed stage sets and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. 

In 1901, he returned to the demonic themes in the large canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with a spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to the overwhelmed audience. At the end he had a severe nervous breakdown and was hospitalized in a mental clinic. His mental illness was initiated or complicated by tertiary syphilis. In 1906, overpowered by mental disease and approaching blindness, he ceased painting.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Viktor Vasnetsov

The Flying Carpet, a depiction of the hero of Russian folklore, Ivan Tsarevich
oil on canvas
165 × 297 cm
Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, Russia

One of the stories in the One Thousand and One Nights relates how Prince Husain, the eldest son of Sultan of the Indies, travels to Bisnagar (Vijayanagara) in India and buys a magic carpet. This carpet is described as follows: "Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon other site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place nearhand or distant many a day's journey and difficult to reach." In Russian folk tales, Baba Yaga can supply Ivan the Fool or Ivan Tsarevich with a flying carpet or some other magical gifts. Such gifts help the hero to find his way "beyond thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom".

In 1880, the rich industrialist Savva Mamontov commissioned Viktor Vasnetsov to illustrate a folk talk about Ivan and the Firebird. The painting represents Ivan returning home after capturing the Firebird, which he keeps in a cage. Ivan is riding the flying carpet in the early morning mist. When exhibited, the painting was panned by leading critics as a commercially motivated betrayal of realism and return to the aesthetics of Romanticism. On the other hand, it was enthusiastically received by the Slavophile artists.

Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926), a Russian artist, was a major Russian Revivalist figure in the art world, and a co-founder of romantic modernism and folklorist art. He showed two distinct periods of evolution in his art. The realistic style of painting local people and landscapes gradually evolved into the nationalist and historical style of design, and architecture, drawing on Russia’s ancient history, adding his fascination of folklore, and romantic modernism. He was central in moving realism towards a more nationalist, and historical style, believing that a true work of art conveys the past, present, and maybe even the future.

His father was a village priest, who was also a painter. Taking after his father’s painting background, Viktor began painting local landscapes, and the people of his village. In 1867, he was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts.
In 1876, he joined the movement of the Peredvizhniki(a group of Russian realist artists, often called The Wanderers)’s in Paris. While living in France, his studies focused on classical and contemporary paintings as well as academist and Impressionist styles. Returning to Moscow in 1877, he began illustrating Russian fairy-tales and traditional East Slavic oral epic narrative poems. The next two decades proved to be very productive years for Viktor, but many of his later works of art were not received well by the public. In these twenty years, he used his expertise in other media including theatrical design, and Russian Revivalist architecture. During this time period, he designed sets and costumes for The Snow Maiden, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera in Italy. He also designed a pavilion for the Russians during the World’s Fair of Paris in 1898. In 1912, he received a title of nobility from Czar Nicholas II. He designed a uniform for the military Red Army in 1918.

Many of his art received very little appreciation during his lifetime. Critics dismissed his latter art as trying to undermine the realist principle of the time period. Little did they know that future generations would admire, respect, and adore his neorussian style, and how he was able to depict Russian history in a mythical, somewhat enchanting way.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Marianne von Werefkin

Fantastic Landscape
size unknown
oil on board
Private collection

“One life is far too little for all the things I feel within myself, and I invent other lives within and outside myself for them. A whirling crowd of invented beings surrounds me and prevents me from seeing reality. Color bites at my heart.” (Marianne von Werefkin)

Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938), a native of Russia born in the town of Tula, played an important role in Expressionism. She was known as “Russian Rembrandt” in her home country.

As a member of ancient Russian nobility, she grew up in a cultivated and wealthy aristocratic family; her mother was a painter, her father a general -  for his meritorious service during the Crimean War, Czar Alexander II granted him the estate Blagodat in Lithuania, the family’s beloved summer retreat. There she had her own studio house. At an early age, she attracted a great deal of attention with her portraits, painted in an intensely atmospheric Naturalist style. After her parents had discovered their daughter’s extraordinary talent, the most distinguished realist painter of Russia, Ilya Repin, became her private teacher. In 1888 she had a hunting accident and shot herself in the right hand, losing the middle finger of her painting hand. However, she practised persistently to keep her from pursuing her goals, and she finally managed to use drawing and painting instruments with her right hand again.

In 1896, after the death of her father, she moved with her entourage to Schwabing in Munich, where she hosted a famous salon. She was the primary theorist and stimulator of new ideas. The village of Murnau in the Bavarian Alps became the birthplace of abstract painting in the summer of 1908, when the artist couple Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky joined Werefkin to live, paint, and debate there together. Kandinsky, with his essay “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, has usually been considered the leading thinker of the group. But it has since been shown by Werefkin’s biographer Fathke that he took many of his ideas from Werefkin, without, however, mentioning their source.

With the outbreak of the first World War she moved to neutral Switzerland. She lost her Czarist pension through the Russian revolution. Completely impoverished, but creatively unbroken, and supported by good friends and admirers of her work, she spent the last quarter of her long life in Ascona. She donated many of her paintings to the city, which today possesses the largest collection of Werefkin’s works.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Vasily Tropinin

The Lace-Maker
oil on canvas
size unknown
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Vasily Andreevich Tropinin (1776-1857) was one of the major Russian artists active in the first half of the 19th century. He was born as a serf of Count Munich and then was given as a part of Munich's daughter's dowry to Count Morkov. Much of his life was spent as a serf. He didn't attain his freedom until he was more than forty years old. Although his artistic talent and desire to paint were expressed early, he was sent by Count Morkov to St. Petersburg to learn to be a confectioner. During those years he managed to attend now and then free drawing lessons in the Academy of Arts, until in 1799, at the age of 23, he was sent by his owner to study art in the Academy.

In 1804 his work was exhibited in the Annual Academy of Arts exhibition and was noted by Russian Empress. The President of the Academy of Arts was going to intercede on behalf of Tropinin to get him freedom. Count Morkov, afraid of losing such a valuable possession, urgently recalled Tropinin from St. Petersburg to his Ukrainian estate. There he was crudely reminded that he was only a slave. He was appointed a confectioner and a lackey, also he had to copy the works of European and Russian painters and produce portraits of the Morkovs. During the following years (1804-1821) in Ukraine, with occasional travels with the Morkovs to Moscow, he continued to study art. He created a lot of portraits, landscapes and genre pictures. In 1821, Tropinin with the family of Count Morkov moved to Moscow. Although he was still a serf, he was well known as a talented artist and his friends continued to persuade Count Morkov to give him freedom.

In 1823, at the age of 47, he was finally released from bondage. In the same year he submitted the picture The Lace-Maker to the Academy of Arts and was nominated an academician. The following years were the most prolific for him. He settled in Moscow and opened up his own art studio. Already the well known artist he continued to paint portraits. His models ranged from peasants to the members of the most noble Russian families.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Valentin Serov

Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova
oil on canvas
 237.5 x 160.0 cm
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
 (formerly the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III)

Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was a Russian painter, and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. In his childhood he studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin and in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts under Pavel Chistyakov. His early creativity was sparked by the realistic art of Repin and strict pedagogical system of Chistyakov. Further influences on him were the old master paintings he viewed in the museums of Russia and Western Europe, and the creative atmosphere of the Abramtsevo Colony, to which he was closely connected.

He was born in St. Petersburg into the family of a famous Russian composer Alexander Serov, and his wife Valentina Bergman, a composer of German-Jewish and English background. In 1871 his father died, and in 1874, they moved to Paris, where he regularly visited the studio of Ilya Repin, who was very fond of the little boy. In 1875, the Serovs came to live at Abramtsevo, the estate of the industrial tycoon Savva Mamontov, and the cultural center of the time, where artists, musicians and actors were always welcome. He grew up in an atmosphere of constant creativity. He studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin in his childhoodand, and at the age of 15 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

The greatest works of his early period were portraits, and from 1890 on, the portrait became the basic genre in his art. In such paintings he concentrated on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature. In the development of light and color, the complex harmony of reflections, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world, there appeared the features of early Russian impressionism. The girl with peaches (1887) was the painting that inaugurated Russian Impressionism. His favorite models were actors, artists, and writers.

From 1890 to 1900 he produced many landscape compositions on country themes, in which the artistic direction took a romantic turn. During his late period, at the start of the 20th century, he was at a stylistic turning point: features of impressionism disappeared from his work, and his modernistic style developed, but the characteristic truthful and realistic comprehension of the nature of his subjects remained constant. He created heroic portrait images, focusing on the dramatic depiction of creative artists, writers, actors, and musicians. The last years of his life were marked by works on themes from classical mythology. While addressing images from the ancient tradition, he endowed classical subject matter with a personal interpretation.

In 1903, he was elected the academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He became the most successful and brilliant portraitist in Russia of the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vasily Polenov

Moscow patio
oil on canvas
64.5 x 80.1 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

"A man lives on through his creations" (Polenov)

Vasiliy Dmitrievich Polenov (1844-1927) was a painter, a graphic artist, decorative and applied arts designer, a scene-painter, a stage designer, an architect, a composer and a pedagogue.

He was born into a noble and intelligent family in St. Petersburg. His father was a high-ranking military officer and archeologist. His mother was fond of fine arts and was an amateur painter. He studied simultaneously in the St. Petersburg University and in the Academy of Arts. In 1871, he got a diploma of a lawyer and a Major Gold Medal in the Academy for his painting. It took him several years to decide to go in favor of painting.

As a pensioner of the Academy he traveled to Germany, Italy, France, painted historical and genre pictures and portraits. But most attractive for him was landscape painting on plein air. He studied the works of French landscape painters, especially those by the Barbizon school. In 1876 he returned to Russia. Since 1878 he stayed and worked in Abramtsevo for long periods, created pictures and drawings, participated in the amateur performances as a scene-painter, an actor and a stage director, collected items of folk art, worked at the Abramtsevo pottery.

He was the first to introduce the principles of ‘European influence’ in Russia, these were the basics of plein air painting: clean and bright colors, colored shadows, free strokes. He also created a series of canvases devoted to Jesus Christ. He tended to combine New Testament subjects with his penchant for landscape. He visited Palestine twice, studied the landscape, architecture, people of the land. His manner of depicting Christ was new, and his compositions, though academic, were rather realistic.

From the 1870s, he also turned to theatrical decoration. He was one of the reformers of theater decorative art. Most notably, he decorated Savva Mamontov's mansion in Abramtsevo and his Russian Private Opera. He was elected a member of the St.Petersburg Academy of arts in 1893. In 1926 he was given the title  “Artist of the Republic”. For many years, he coached young painters in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Repin, Ilya

Religious Procession in Kursk Province
from 1880 until 1883
oil on canvas
175 x 280 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930) was a leading Russian painter and sculptor. An important part of his work is dedicated to his native country, Ukraine. His realistic works often expressed great psychological depth and exposed the tensions within the existing social order. Beginning in the late 1920s, detailed works on him were published in the Soviet Union, where a Repin cult developed about a decade later. He was held up as a model "progressive" and "realist" to be imitated by "Socialist Realist" artists in the USSR.

Repin was born in the heart of the historical region called Sloboda Ukraine. His parents were Russian military settlers. In 1866, after apprenticeship with a local icon painter and preliminary study of portrait painting, he went to St. Petersburg and was shortly admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts as a student. From 1873 to 1876 on the Academy's allowance, he sojourned in Italy and lived in Paris, where he was exposed to French Impressionist painting, which had a lasting effect upon his use of light and color. His style was to remain closer to that of the old European masters, especially Rembrandt, and he never embraced Impressionism.

Many of the subjects he painted were common people, like himself, although he did on many occasions paint the Russian elite, intelligentsia, and Tsar Nicholas II. He also painted many of his contemporary compatriots, including novelist Leo Tolstoy, composer Modest Mussorgsky and  scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. A common recurring theme in his paintings was the Russian Revolutionary Movement, and as a result his works are often classified as a “Russian national style.”

In his later life, he lived in a house in Kuokkala, Finland, called the Penates, which he designed and built himself. After the October Revolution of 1917, Finland declared Independence, and he was invited to return to the Soviet Union. He refused, saying that he was too old to make the journey, and remained in Finland until his death thirteen years later. In 1940, the Penates house was opened to the public as a museum.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mikhail Nesterov

In Rus. The Soul of the People
oil on canvas
206 x 483 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

This is the last religious symbolic painting he painted before the Russian Revolution in 1917. The picture depicts the Russian people following a young boy, while in the background a Russian religious figure, an old holy fool, stays aside, praying ecstatically, wearing no clothes and possibly warning the people.

“The death of Masha made me an artist” (Nesterov)

Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862-1942) was a major representative of religious Symbolism in Russian art. He was born into a merchant’s family and was set to follow in his father’s footsteps, but soon it became clear that he was not destined to become a successful businessman. At the technical college in Moscow, he failed all his exams except drawing, calligraphy, and religion, and went to the non-classical secondary school instead. The schoolmaster noticed his gift for painting, and talked him into entering the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

His early works were dedicated to everyday life. Later, he began to paint Russian history, becoming a rather well-known, though not affluent historical painter. The famous artist Ivan Kramskoy criticized his paintings during this period, saying that history was not really Nesterov’s thing and that Nesterov should keep looking for his real vocation.

In 1885 he married, and a year later his beloved wife "Masha" died in child birth. This tragedy made him rethink his life, his art, and experience a spiritual transformation. “My love for Masha and the loss of her turned me into an artist and put the sense, emotion, and soul I was missing before into my art; in other words, everything that people valued and value in my paintings”.

The first significant piece created by him after Masha’s death was The Hermit, painted in 1888-1889. It depicted an elderly monk, cautiously walking along the lakeside. Upon seeing The Hermit, critics acknowledged him as one of the best artists of his time. The painting was bought by the art patron, the owner of the Tretyakov Gallery. With the money he earned, he went to Europe, visited Italy and was deeply inspired by the inner spiritual forces of Renaissance art. In 1890, he moved to Kiev, and spent twenty years painting the walls of Kiev churches.

The Bolshevik regime banned religious art. As a devout Orthodox Christian, he did not accept the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, but remained in Russia until his death. After the revolution he painted mostly portraits and self-portraits. He loved this genre too. In his last years, he also worked on a book of memoirs, which was published several months before his death. He died in 1942, and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nicolai Fechin

Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya
oil on canvas
size unknown
State Art Museum of Tatarstan, Kazan, Russia
Fair use

His work appeared in America for the first time at the 1910 International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In both western Europe and America, he was greeted with instant acclaim. Among such distinguished contemporaries as Claude Monet, Pisarro, Gaston Latouche, Sisley and John Sargent, he won his first prizes and medals. He was called a "Moujik in art", the "Tartar painter."

Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin (1881-1955) was a Russian-American painter known for his portraits and works featuring Native Americans, the Pueblo, Apache and Navajo tribes.

He was born in Kazan, Russia. the son of an accomplished icon maker, woodcarver, and gilder. At the age of thirteen he attended the Kazan School of Art (1895-1901) and then the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was taught by the great Russian master, Ilya Repin. After graduating with the highest marks from the Academy and traveling in Europe under a Prix de Rome, he returned to his native Kazan, where he taught and painted.

He exhibited his first work in the United States in 1910 in an international exhibition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1911, place of honor in the Annual Winter Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York was assigned to a painting by him, thirty-year old then.

His “savage, splendid, and heterogeneous” canvas displayed a “barbaric mastery of form and color.” Fechin’s early preference for thick layers of color and pigment with very little oil, and a penchant for conflating the real and the abstract, would bring him international acclaim in the first decades of the 20th century.

Fleeing disease, hunger and the turmoil of post-revolutionary Russia, he and his family immigrated to New York, USA in 1923. Here he continued to attract attention. Though his “bold, striking technique” was praised by critics, he developed tuberculosis in New York, and moved West for a drier climate.

In 1926, he and his family settled in Taos, New Mexico, where a small community of artists also made their home. There he became fascinated by Native Americans and the landscape. He purchased a house in the middle of seven acres adjoining the Indian reservation. He spent the next several years handcrafting every viga, corbel, lintel and swinging door and niche for icons. For seven years, he took great delight in the abundance of subject matter the Taos area provided him. He worked with vibrant hues to paint the native people and traveled south to Mexico to sketch in charcoal, pencil and pastel the many faces of its people. (The adobe house which he renovated in Taos is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as the Taos Art Museum.)

In 1933 he and his wife divorced and he returned to New York. After New York, he traveled to Southern California, Mexico, Japan, and the Pacific Islands of Java and Bali. Soon he bought a spacious house in Hollywood, but in 1948 sold it and moved into a studio in Santa Monica. There he taught small groups of students, painted, and happily entertained guests. In 1955 he died in Santa Monica.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kandinsky, Wassily

Composition VIII
oil on canvas
140 x 201 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA

“The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.” (Kandinsky)

This painting is the 8th in a series of total 10 Compositions, begun in 1911, in which Kandinsky expresses what he is trying to achieve. He wanted to explore the medium of painting rather than be concerned with subject matter. His goal was to paint what music sounds like. Regrettably, the first 3 paintings (Composition I, II, III) were destroyed during World War II.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract works. Born in Moscow, He spent his childhood in Odessa. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession - he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat - he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

"I really believe that I am the first and only artist to throw not just the 'subject' out of my paintings, but every 'object' as well.""Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." (Kandinsky)

He named works after musical terms. He saw color when he listened to music, and believed color could visually express music’s timber, pitch and volume. At age 30, his artistic career began when he left a legal career to pursue artistic studies after seeing Monet’s “Haystacks.” Passionately compelled to create, he believed that the purity of this desire would communicate itself to viewers of his work. He was fascinated by music's emotional power. Because music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide. Music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values, thus for him it is a more advanced art. In his writings he emphasizes this superiority in advancing toward what he calls the epoch of the great spiritual.

He was never solely a painter, but a theoretician, and organizer at the same time. He expressed his views on art and artistic activity in his numerous writings. In the 1920-30s his name became world famous. He was proclaimed the theoretician and leading figure of abstract painting. In addition to teaching courses, he became actively involved in delivering lectures; his exhibitions took place almost yearly in Europe and America. In 1921, he was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius. Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his color theory with new elements of form psychology. In 1933, the Nazis having come to power in Germany and closed down the Bauhaus, he took refuge in France where he spent the last eleven years of his life. In 1939 he and his wife became French citizens. He continued painting almost until his death. He died on December 13, 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 78.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pavel Chistyakov

Patriarch Hermogenes refuses to sign a letter to the Poles
oil on canvas
size unknown
Museum of Fine Arts Academy, St. Petersburg, Russia

Hermogenes was installed as Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus by the assembly of the holy hierarchs at Moscow's Dormition cathedral. When the tsar, Vasily IV was dethroned and the Poles took hold of the Moscow Kremlin, Patriarch Hermogenes staunchly opposed their plans to put Wladyslaw IV on the Russian throne, unless he converts to Orthodoxy. Despite knife threats from some of the boyars, he refused to sign any petitions to the Polish king, thus preventing Wladyslaw from coronation.

“The founder of Russian painting”, “universal teacher of Russian artists”, “our common and only teacher” - so said about him by his contemporaries. Today, unfortunately, the name of Pavel Chistyakov was known only to specialists.

Pavel Petrovich Chistyakov (1832-1919), an outstanding Russian artist and educator, was the founder of the artistic school of Russian realism. The most famous of Russia’s artists of the 19th century were all taught by Chistyakov. His system of teaching art developed in constant struggle with the stagnant system of academism and played an enormous role in the development of realism in Russian art of the second half of the 19th century. His goal was the preparation of a citizen-artist of high professional skill. His teaching method presupposed the blending of the artist’s direct perception of the subject with a scientific study of it. In his own work he strove for drama in his historical compositions and psychological depth in his historical and genre portraits.

He was born in the Tver province (north of Moscow) in a family of peasant serfs, but was granted freedom from the moment of his birth. At 17 years old, he enrolled in the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St Petersburg. As a bursary grantee of the Academy from 1862 to 1870, he travelled abroad and worked in Rome and Paris. In Rome, he took an interest in theoretical aspects of art. In studying the works of the great Renaissance masters, he also studied the subjects and methods they used to teach their students. In his notes on the theory of teaching art, he repeatedly cites Leonardo Da Vinci.

Returning to his lecturer’s duties at the Academy in St Petersburg in 1870, he began to successfully apply his newly developed teaching system. The primary objective is to give students a foundation in the realistic school of art, which is based on the laws of perspective, pictorial harmony and the development of students’ feel for colour. Great attention was paid to the study of nature and its colour palette, and also to the anatomical structure of humans and animals. To the end of his days, he was the most loved and respected teacher of the Academy.