The ‘De Stijl’ House

The Rietveld Schroder House was built by Gerrit Rietveld for her client and lover Truus Schroder-Schrader. The young women had wanted to design a home to express her freedom (she was recently widowed from a middle-class, dull as dish-water lawyer) but where she could also live with her three children. She was a major player in the construction of the house, laying down the specification that it should be built preferably with no walls. On the drawing of the first sketches of the design Schroder-Schrader made clear that the plan was not how she had envisioned and sent Rietveld back to the drawing board.

When the home was first built it was clearly distinct from any architectural style attempted before. Indeed it also stood out completely from all the other houses in the terrace it adjoined. The modernist creation is proclaimed as the only truly ‘de stijl’ building was created to be true to the principles of the movement.

The interior was designed to be as similar to the exterior, in an attempt to break from traditional house building convention. The flow between inside and outside was achieved by making the walls from a series of panels which were layered and separated from one another. This effect blurred the distinction between exterior and interior and was further used as a design element on the interior to break up the living spaces.

The house is now a museum (having been restored since Schroder-Shraders death in 1985). The building is listed and also a classified World Heritage Site.

(Image source: centralmuseum.nl, Rietveld Schröder House, Ernst Moritz)

La Goulue: An Artist and Designer’s Inspiration

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was bohemian to the bone, which suited the lifestyle he enjoyed in Paris excellently. And it showed. It was here that the sickly character flourished.

Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters for the opening of a grand dance hall in Paris: the Moulin Rouge. Other artists and contemporaries did not value his highly but apparently he remained unfazed by their criticisms (a lifetime of bullying about his short stature would surely toughen you up!). On producing the designs for the Moulin Rouge, they had a seat reserved for him exclusively as well as exhibited his paintings on the premises.

In his relatively short life Toulouse-Lautrec racked up an impressive portfolio of work, in excess of seven-hundred canvases, two-hundred watercolours and three-hundred print and posters. Among some of his most famous pieces the painting ‘At the Moulin Rouge (c.1892-1895)’ stood out. This painting is one of a series of paintings depicting the famous dance-hall, which contains La Goulue a recurring character. She appears in many of his paintings even appearing in some of his poster designs.

Two examples of the alluring ‘La Goulue’ appearing in Toulouse-Lautrec’s work high-light his flexibility in disciplines. La Goulue was actually her nickname, which translates to ‘The Glutton’, a name she earned from her ability to outdrink all the men there. In one, the young ‘Goulue’ is seen as she is ushered into the Moulin Rouge. Toulouse-Lautrec’s style reflects the Impressionist fashion. The style is also reflective of Manet, one of the great Impressionists, especially his portrait ‘At the Moulin Rouge’ which is suspiciously similar to Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies Bergere’. The colours are bright, and the shapes are bold. The bohemian style is truly captured as the dancers walk past,  slightly blurred but full of dynamics.

Graphic Designer or Fine Artists? Why not both?


(Images sourced from Wikipedia)

William Blake and the Book of Urizen

The book of Urizen (1794) is a mythical story written and illustrated by William Blake, a poet and artist. The story or poem deals with the subject of creation, or rather pre-creation, and each stanza is dramatically illustrated and etched into copper plates. The story is seen as a parody of the Book of Genisis.

The story follows the central character Urizen, a Lucifer like character who casts himself apart and away from the other ‘eternals’ to create his own world of religious enslavement.

When the books were published they really didn’t garner much success. In his time he was actually thought to be mad by his contemporaries due to his outlandish theories and stories, and his equally strange habits. Blake is said to have drawn on this idea of his madness to create the work as a way to express his radical religious views without fear of prosecution. Blake was indeed religious, but was ardantly opposed to the teachings on the Church of England and its practises as well as all other religions.

His apparent trademark style is apparent here, with hauntingly dramatic images, and equally dramatic colours in dark hues of green blue and purple, which set a distinctly ominous tone. The swirling pattern of the woman’s dress and the long grass, which frame the message, compliment the calligraphic style of the type. Each image is just as detailed.

 

(Slideshow images: (l-r) Book of Urizen Title Page, William Blake, 1794, From Old Books; Book of Urizen extract, William Blake, 1794, From Old Books)

(Portrait of William Blake (1807) by Thomas Phillips, sourced from Wikipedia)

The Influential Life of Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin. His father was a banker who moved from Paris to Berlin, where he invested in several businesses, including an ice-rink. As a young boy, Benjamin was  very poorly, so his parents sent him to a countryside boarding school in the hope to improve his health.

At age twenty he began to study philosophy and it could be said that it was here that he began his critical thinking. It was also at this time that his faith became a much larger part of his life. He believed that the Jews were much more spiritually enlightened and cultured.

He began writing his essays and dissertations whilst studying philosophy at university. His topics of choice were often based upon arguments for educational and cultural change. This subject seemed to course through his veins- and over the years wrote many more pieces on these matters.

Among others, arguably his most famous essay was “The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936).’ In this essay he voiced his opinions on the cultural impact of art and how that its impact may change or lessen as the pace of mechanical reproduction sped up. The piece was written to distributed to a small group of close academics who would in turn go on to circulated the thesis into the mass media.

As war broke out between Germany and Britain in 1939 the Jewish community of Berlin had began to feel increasingly persecuted. Even as Adolf Hitler gained power before the war, he had made his hostile opinions known. Benjamin moved to Paris in 1940 in light of this persecution, eventually fleeing to Lourdes as the Germans advanced into Paris. It is here that they gave an arrest warrant for Benjamin. He had originally intended to escape to the US.

Walter Benjamin never made it to the US. He was denied entry into Spain on the French-Spanish border and committed suicide by overdosing on Morphine tablets.

Although he achieved a lot and influenced many in is relatively short life, imagine how many more subjects he could have challenged and argued and studied. His final work that he was carrying in his suitcase went missing on his death and has not been seen since, and speculation still surrounds what matters the essay could have discussed.

 

(Image source:  The Guardian, Walter Benjamin Portrait, STR/EPA)

 

The Three Waves of Feminism

When you look up the word ‘feminism’ in the dictionary the meaning that appears is ‘the doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men.’ This seems pretty straight forward. Surely all women would then consider themselves feminist? Wrong.

The ‘F-word’ has an attached stigma that some find hard to shake off. Stereotypical feminists are seen by many as man-hating, hairy arm-pitted, interfering and angry women. Although this may ring true in some extreme cases, the vast majority are probably well kept and strong-willed individuals with a very important job: to stamp out gender inequality. Isn’t that something all women (and men) should be proud of?

If only people took the time to look into the history of feminism, perhaps they’d consider themselves part of the F-Club. Feminism is usually described as being split into three phases or ‘waves’:

The first wave of feminism was the push for women to gain the vote, which is the very basis of modern feminism as we know it. In the case of Britain, before 1918 women did not have the right to vote at all, and even when this was granted it was still limited- women had to be at least 30 years old or older to be eligible to vote. It was not until 1928 that all women gained the right the same right as men (to be eligible at age 21 or older) to vote.

The second phase of feminism was based mainly of male/female equality. This phase of the movement generally began in the 1960s. Women had enjoyed the right to vote for roughly thirty years, but they still faced huge inequalities in other aspects of life. These differences were more pronounced in the workplace where both important company positions and wage disparities between the sexes were the norm.

The major issues lay in the constricted ideas of gender roles in particular, jobs that men and women could and couldn’t (or should and shouldn’t) do due to their sex.

The third wave of feminism is largely characterised by the deconstruction of gender roles and criticism of the previous ‘phase’. The third phase tries to move away from the second phases as the movement stands by the fact that all feminists have different opinions and ideas of ‘feminism’, whereas the second phase emphasised only one idea of ‘femininity’.

(Image sourced from howstuffworks.com, image by Topical Press Agency/­Getty Images)

Artemisia Gentileschi

Feminist critics often think of Gentileschi in admiration as she represented strong, independent women in a male dominated practice. Further appreciation is shown as she depicts other ‘strong women’ in her paintings, not just painting them as objects of desire. Her use of strong bold colours in oil-pastel, with female subjects is recognisable and often striking in composition.

Some would argue that ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes (c.1611)’ is her most recognisable piece. The painting depicts a particular story from ‘The Old Testament’. The story shows ‘Judith’ who seduces the Assyrian General, Holofernes, and then along with her maid-servant beheads him. The idea that she liked to portray strong women in her paintings is very much apparent here, as the two females are shown to have over-powered the male with brute force. Their ‘strong’ stance is emphasised by the brutality of the murderous act they are committing, is shown in gloriously gory detail.

In other portrayals of this story in art history (see Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio, c.1598) the woman still seems somewhat submissive even as she is shown killing a man. Their restrained and effortless composure is in stark contrast to Gentileschi’s depictions where obvious force is shown in the women’s bodies and faces.

It has been remarked that Gentileschi actually painted herself as Judith, as she beheaded her Mentor Agostini Tassi (who was tried for her rape) as Holofernes. The rape case has unfortunately come to over-shadow her career and instead of being celebrated like other Masters her name and reputation as a ‘great’ has been dragged through the mud.

Feminist or not anyone can appreciate the beauty and passion that Gentileschi created and showed within her work, and although she might not be considered a master, she is definitely a great.

(Both images from Web Gallery of Art, Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, c.1611-12)

The Continuing Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait

With Erwin Panofsky’s academic background in iconography, as well as art history, you would think that the mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait would have long been decoded. Rarely do paintings come along that cause such a clash of opinions. Many art historians have had their opinions on the subject heard, and yet the matter still is somewhat unresolved. What exactly did Jan van Eyck hope to portray in this image? Is this a picture to capture the wealth of a cloth merchant, or was van Eyck a witness to a legal document?

The portrait depicts a man- presumably a cloth merchant by trade and a woman. Both are dressed in expensive clothes, both fur lined (perhaps ermine) and made of silk or velvet. Both subjects also stand in a room surrounded by objects of opulence and luxury; an ornate brass chandelier hangs from the ceiling, a decorative convex mirror hangs on the back wall, a tiny lap-dog faces the viewer from the couples’ feet… Even the bowl the bowl of oranges is a sign of luxury (they were very expensive at the time).

All of these objects were painted in exquisite detail and have been placed in the composition as a symbol of wealth. There are many more symbols hidden around the painting which have been the cause of intense debate between art historians and scholars for many years. Each symbol seems to represent something different to each other critical viewer of the work.

Interpretations of the painting range from similar to opposite in terms of thinking. Erwin Panofsky famously argued that the painting was actually a form of marriage certificate due to Jan van Eyck’s signature on the wall, as well as the holding of hands been between the couple signifying a contract has been agreed.

Other thinkers believe the painting instead portrays an engagement rather than a marriage. Margaret Carroll however believes that the piece actually shows a couple already married. Carroll interprets the image still to be a legal document, but used as a contract between husband and wife allowing the female subject to conduct business on behalf of her husband. The two figures reflected in the mirror (in front of the subjects) are thought to be witnesses (although this is also more likely to be Jan van Eyck himself as he paints.

Another interesting theory based upon other symbols in the room claims that the painting in actually in memorial of the dead wife. Light is often used as a symbol of life and has been more many years. Margaret Koster views the candles in the chandelier signify life and death; the candle above the man is lit, whilst the other (above the woman) is a burnt stub, alluding to the idea that the man continues in life will her life has ended.

Whatever your opinion may be on this piece; remembrance portrait or business contract, it is easy to understand and be intrigued by the mystery surrounding the meaning on the painting. Even the exact identity of the couple is shrouded by hearsay. There are thousands of articles online and probably a thousand more conflicting opinions on the issue. All of these theories may ring true in one way or another, but only Jan van Eyck could truly say what he had created.

Until time travel becomes reality, we may never unravel the mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait.

 

(Image courtesy of http://artsandfacts.blogspot.co.uk/, Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, c.1434)

Illustrations of a Prostitute

‘A Harlot’s Progress’ created by William Hogarth in 1731 was a magazine subscription of its time. The series of six images were created and realised in succession depicting the tragic life of the fictional Moll Hackabout. The whole set of engravings were spawned from the third image. Hogarth struck upon the idea creating a fictional past and future for the character. The series proved so popular that an act of Parliament was passed to ban the piracy of the story.

The first image introduces the protagonist, Moll Hackabout, as she arrives from the countryside to London and her fateful meeting with the brothel owning old woman. It is here that she hears the suggestion that her good looks could be very profitable. As the images progress so does Moll’s character; from mistress to common prostitute, her imprisonment, her death, and her miserable funeral attended mainly by scavengers and other prostitutes. The brutality of Hackabout’s life captured in six images… It’s easy to understand why they proved so popular.

The heavy use of symbolism in the story acts as a way to move the story forward whilst linking each image to another. An example of symbolism would be Moll Hackabout on her arrival. Here she is depicted in white suggesting her innocence and naivety. The dead goose (coincidentally in white) also in the scene highlights her impending doom. The use of white is used as a link in the final image, where Moll’s white hat can be scene- used to symbolise the beginning of the end. Other icons appear throughout serving as symbols of her immoral actions and choices.

‘A Rake’s Progress’ (written after the huge success of ‘A Harlot’s Progress’) follows a similar storyline to that of its predecessor. In this story, also in the media of engravings and paintings, the protagonist is Tom Rakewell, the son of a rich merchant father in London. The illustrations depict the demise of his character, as he wastes his fortune on gambling and prostitution, leading to his imprisonment and then referral to Bedlam. Although Hogarth’s work seems to follow the pattern of dark storylines and subject matter, they serve as fables to teach the viewer the differences between right and wrong- and the ultimate consequences of immoral living.

A Harlot’s Progress still proves as popular today. In recent times, many adaptions have been created for film and television. The newest adaption will take the form of an operatic reproduction composed by Scottish composer Iain Bell. The reproduction will premier next year (2013) in Vienna as announced by the New York Times.

A Harlot’s Progress, William Hogarth c.1731

A Rakes Progress, William Hogarth c.1732