Friday, 15 December 2017

Friday 15th December: Now When Jesus...

I apologise in advance but today is Eric Gill day on Blogvent.  Brace yourselves and feel free to have a shower afterwards...

Now When Jesus...(1931) Eric Gill
Now, you'll remember from this post that Eric Gill and his art are fraught with difficulties.  His actions are so repellent and criminal that it is hard to look at his art without feeling it to be tainted.  So, how do you approach Biblical art from such an artist?

Madonna and Child (1919)

There is no doubt, whatever else he was, Eric Gill considered himself a religious man.  I say 'considered himself' as I'm not sure anyone else would find his actions compatible with Christianity, but that's by-the-by.  Gill produced many religious illustrations, including illustrations for The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ According to the Authorized Version of King James I (1931).

Madonna and Child with Angel (1916)
It's odd to think that William Morris and Eric Gill have anything in common but of course both worked through private presses (Gill's press once belonged to Morris), and Gill, through The Golden Cockerel Press, took control over the design, font and illustration of books such as The Four Gospels.  In his artist's colony, the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, he co-founded a religious, artistic community where belief and creation of art were closely linked.

The Nativity
Gill's art depended on the stark contrasts between black and white and his use of line.  The Virgin isn't particularly different from the other figures, her face simply defined, but his work is at its best when he combines the lettering with his pictures. 'Now When Jesus' shows Mary and Jesus sheltering under the down-slope of the 'N'.  His work is both primitive and sophisticated, and influential (see this post on similar illustrations for a Tennyson edition).  His religious illustrations have a solidness, a simplicity that defines between dark and light in a literal and spiritual manner.  They are such a contrast to the overly detailed Victorian 'realness', either the rather anglicised examples of Home-County Marys or Holman Hunt's attempts at verisimilitude through the Holy Lands.  Gill dispenses with all that and brings us lines and curves that represent belief and the power lies in our familiarity with what is being shown and what we bring to such deceptive simplicity.

See you tomorrow...

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Thursday 14th December: The Annunciation

We are definitely on the downhill slope now and yet back with the annunciating.  I could not resist this one...

The Annunciation (1909) Oleksandr Murashko
I was looking for something else and there this was and I instantly fell in love.  Sadly, before now I did not know anything about Oleksandr Murashko (1875-1919) but the gorgeousness of this image, which I thought was far more modern, drove me to find out more.  I love this annunciation possibly the most of any of the ones I've covered this month because, at first, I didn't realise it was one.  There is a girl kneeling in front of her tapestry, surprised by another girl (with a righteous bob cut) who has come in with a lily. Both are dressed in white shifts but the over-riding hue is blue, from the diaphanous curtains that billow as the angel enters, to the sapphire walls.  The angel is androgynous - is it a flapper or a medieval page? - and has an expression of silent concentration.  Mary has some lovely plaits and I love the tumbling box of tapestry wool and the little pink flowers.

Winter (1905)
Murashko was born in Kiev in the Ukraine in 1875.  He studied art in St Petersburg before traveling in Europe and his career was successful not only in his homeland but beyond.  He reminds me quite a bit of Mucha in that he expresses his patriotism through the beauty of his land and its history.  He taught at Kiev Art School and co-founded a State Academy of Art.  However, Kiev was filled with unrest and war during the first decades of the twentieth century and Murashko was a victim of it, being taken out and shot by a gang in 1919.

Tetiana (1902-3)
His work marries many aspects of European art as he must have experienced it on his travels.  There are works that are impressionist, and more realist works such as Winter (1905).  The reason I love his annunciation is that there is movement rather than a static scene.  The angel is advancing, Mary is turning, the curtains billow.  This is an annunciation in progress and we are watching it unfold.

See you tomorrow...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Wednesday 13th December: The Salutation

Here'a a weird fact about me - I never liked Wednesdays.  Actually, I have only had a strong dislike of Wednesday since I was 6 when my teacher, Mrs Lynch, told me I was too stupid to be with the other children and put me in a room on my own for the year.  However, that was almost 40 years ago so I better find something nice to bring you for this particular Wednesday...

The Salutation (1883) Evelyn de Morgan
Enough of my childhood issues and on with Blogvent and today we have a lesser seen moment from the Virgin Mary's life.  She popped round to her cousins Elizabeth and Zachariah's home and here we see her greeting her cousin.  However, the moment is more about the people we can't see as this is the moment that Jesus meets John the Baptist, and John the Baptist 'jumped with joy', which can't have been pleasant for poor old Elizabeth.  Lily used to do that every time Pachelbel's Canon played, there were feet and elbows everywhere, it was like the alien trying to break out.  Anyway, I knew Elizabeth was meant to be older but de Morgan has made her very much older and a little decrepit.  John the Baptist is another angel-baby, but Gabriel just was the bearer of jolly good news to Zachariah rather than actually doing the womb-lily-pointing thing.

SOS (1914-16)
De Morgan often included her spirituality in her work, even when they weren't overtly religious.  Her pacifism in the face of the First World War, reflected in S.O.S (Save Our Souls) shows a figure asking the heavens for help as the dark monsters emerge from the cloudy seas around her feet.  

Life and Thought Emerging from the Tomb (1893)
Her colourful, elaborate angels are probably the favourite aspects of her work for many people.  The luminous figures in rainbow shades appear to teem from the sky in  Life and Thought... and the gorgeous dawn colours are reflected in Aurora Triumphans' heavenly host.

The Nativity (no date)
De Morgan's spiritualism appears in many pieces of her work but she also produced very traditional pieces such as The Nativity, in which Mary doesn't appear.  Mind you that is a very forward Jesus - my daughter rolled herself over a week old which impressed everyone but Jesus has just been born and he's already standing.  The parental part of me does worry that he's going to fall off that manger but he'll land on a lamb which will be nice and soft (maybe not for the lamb).

Angel Piping to the Souls in Hell (1916)
This is one of the strangest paintings I've seen and certainly equally comforting and disturbing.  I'm not sure the angel is helping the souls or providing more torture by reminding them that they are not in a position to enjoy lovely music, what with all the roasting.  Actually, this one would make a good Christmas card as it suggests to me the torment of being trapped listening to a child who has been given a musical toy for Christmas.

So what of de Morgan's Mary?  It's interesting that she chose that moment to show, steering away from the more obvious annunciation or nativity.  It is a moment between two women, between two mothers, whose children would go on to do powerful things.  One is an old woman who longed for a son, the other is barely more that a child herself but both have been unexpected drawn into a narrative.  The two figures tell their own stories by their postures; Mary standing straight and tall as the lilies behind her, taking on the persona of a queen.  Elizabeth is stooping and deferential to her young cousin all because of the circumstances that have been imposed on them.  This is their moment of calm with everything still to come.

I wish you a peaceful evening and I'll see you tomorrow...

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Tuesday 12th December: Virgin of the Angels

Well, look at us! We're halfway there already which means I should probably crack on and write my ghost story for Christmas Eve.  In the meantime, here's our next Mary...

 Virgin of the Angels (1881) William-Adolphe Bouguereau
I've gone all traditional today, with William-Adolphe Bouguereau (or 'William-Electric Boogaloo' as my brain insists on calling him) and his silky-smooth academic style.  He painted over 800 pictures you know.  Blimey. What I love about Bouguereau is that he was determined to be an artist and worked phenomenally hard to get there, which all paid off in the end.  For example, whilst studying art, he also attended human dissections, and studied archaeology and historical costume, all of which informed his art...

Equality Before Death (1848)

There's a man on a slab if ever I saw one, but look at that magnificently muscly angel.  It's incredible to think he was only 23 when he painted it, it's so accomplished and powerful.  You can see his time at the morgue paid off in every grim yet beautiful detail of the naked chap.  That angel has an impressive pair of wings...

The Virgin of the Angels (1900)
Leaving naked chaps for a moment, Bourguereau seemed to like painting the Virgin, as is right and proper for a good French Catholic.  Not only do we get a few blue-robed Marys holding her holy baby aloft while pretty primary school angels look on adoringly (no scratching, fidgeting or nose picking there), but also he branched out to other Mary scenes...

Virgin Mary of the Lilies (1899)
Here we have Mary, holding up happy little Jesus, this time with her obligatory lilies and a rather 1970s wallpaper behind.  I think that pattern was in my Grandma's back bedroom...

Madonna of the Roses (1903)
Don't fancy lilies?  We can get you a nice Madonna with roses instead.  I think I can see how he ended up producing over 800 paintings...

Song of the Angels (1881)
It's not fair of me to suggest that he just produced the same painting over and over with small changes as some of his Virgins are sublime in their beauty, such as the Song of the Angels which has the Holy Mother and Child being lulled to sleep by the soft playing of a heavenly trio.  As the mother of a child who did not sleep for the first nine months of her life, I now know where I went wrong.  I obviously needed the angels' help...

Virgin and the Child (1888)
I am always one to wonder if personal circumstances had anything to do with art, and with Bouguereau there are sad reasons to wonder if he had a special place in his heart for images of perfect babies.  He outlived four of his five children, most of whom died in childhood, along with his first wife, Nelly Monchablon, who was one of his early models.  Tuberculosis took his wife's life and possibly three of his children (if not four), and Nelly and their last child Maurice died within a couple of months of each other, the child barely a year old in 1877.  There is a peace in eternal portraits of a beautiful woman and healthy child protected by angels, forever enthroned, but even within the image above there is a hint of death in the outspread arms of the child.  Mary seems to stand for parents of lost children, the mother of a child taken too soon, which must have struck an all-too-common chord with his audience at the time.

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas that will bring comfort to those who find themselves without a loved one this year.  The first Christmas is always the worst and my thoughts are with you.

See you tomorrow...

Monday, 11 December 2017

Monday 11th December: Virgin of the Lilies

Flipping heck it's cold here!  I know it's winter but it was about 10 degrees a day or two ago and now it's zero!  I am now constantly attached to a hot water bottle and it seems a perfect moment to bring you the following frosty painting...

Virgin of the Lilies (1899) Carlos Schwabe
The Virgin and child follow the parade of lilies in a snow-strewn landscape, their twin halos providing moonlight, further illuminating the glistening white snow.  The lilies seem to stand in for a choir of angels, singing their praises to the heavenly couple.  They also could be taken for a heavenly staircase, their stems looking like banisters.  In sharp contrast to all the white light, the sky and foreground is deep, dark blue, making the whole seem slightly sinister.

Detail of Death and the Gravedigger (1890s)
Not that Schwabe was averse to a bit of sinister-ness in the snow.  Possibly his most famous image is Death and the Gravedigger, with the angel of death (modelled for by Mrs Schwabe) striking down the elderly chap in the handily open grave.  Mrs Schwabe modelled for his angels and virgins and so was both the angel of death and probably the Virgin in the Lilies. Schwabe was a Symbolist and participated in the Salon de la Rose + Croix, six festivals of the arts, in 1890s Paris, and his works featured allegorical female figures, and visions of life and death.

The Annunciation (no date)
Schwabe's Virgin of the Lilies above is in contrast to his rather more traditional Annunciation.  Other than the weirdly purple shrubbery, the glowing angel-cloud that has appeared to a jolly looking Mary is rather sweet looking and not at all creepy.  It's another painting where Mary seems to be a flower in the garden, a lavender lily in the mauve garden.

Virgin of the Lilies (1912)
He was obviously partial to a tall lily, was Mr Schwabe, especially when it came to the Virgin Mary.  There is a sense that Mary has become a woman spontaneously from one of those tall stems, like a reverse of the myth where the gods turn a woman into a plant, a sunflower or a laurel.  Here we have a pure white lily made flesh, the only thing pure enough to give birth to the magical baby who will save us all.  Schwabe envisioned her in a landscape of night, a dense mauve garden and a sprawling landscape of fresh green fields, with the host of lily-angels flanking her.  For the Symbolist artist, Mary and Jesus exist as part of a garden, among and almost imprisoned by a forest of lilies, their purity keeping them apart from the world.  Schwabe sees his Virgin as resplendent but distant from us.  She might have our saviour in her arms but she has to get past the lilies first...

See you tomorrow...

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sunday 10th December: Mother and Child

We have made it to double figures! It is bucketing down with rain at the moment and I'm just bracing myself to venturing out in to the post office to get rid of all cards and parcels, then me and Lily are off to an open farm because we know how to have a good time.  However before all that merriment, here is today's picture...

Mother and Child (Madonna and Child) (1860) Richard Dadd
Well, that's not creep at all.  I knew we could rely on Richard Dadd to give us an unexpected Madonna and Child and he has come through with this contemporary mother and her spin-headed baby.  Her straw bonnet enhances the halo of light around her golden curls and her dress is Virgin Mary blue.  The ribbons, roses and the baby's stockings bring in the hints of red, reference the blood and trials to come.  What really gets me is the massive white cloak she is wearing.  It's like an enormous shroud.  Is it meant to be the dress and wings of an angel?  It really is huge, making it almost look like some invisible person is hugging her from behind.  The tassels look like gold dripping from the cloak, like little golden lights hovering in front of her.

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke (1855-64)
Now, we all know Richard Dadd (1817-1886).  He's the chap who went to the Middle East and came back and killed his father who he believed was the devil.  He then spent the rest of his life in either Bedlam (St Bethlehem's Hospital) or the newly-built Broadmoor.  The majority of his art that we know is from his incarceration, and all of it is tinged with an otherness. 

Richard Dadd, painting Contradiction: Oberon and Titania (1854-8)
Dadd's mother died when he was just seven years old and you wonder if he had an idealized view of her.  Not only that but his father remarried quite quickly after the death of his first wife and had two more children with wife number 2, who also died a few years later, leaving Richard Dadd bereft of two mothers before he was barely a teenager.

Crazy Jane (1885)
So what to make of Dadd's Madonna and child?  The mother seems a monumental figure, literally glowing with goodness, more than capable of holding the tiny child.  For heaven sake, the sun is coming out of the top of her hat, you can't get much more holy than that.  Just one question, what on earth is that on the wall behind them?

See you tomorrow...

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Saturday 9th December: The Annunciation

Tomorrow we will have made it into double figures and so I will try and make this the last annunciation because we have rather a lot more of the Virgin Mary to get through in the next 15 days, but nevertheless we have to have this picture because it is rather gorgeous...

The Annunciation (1857-8) Arthur Hughes
Who doesn't love a bit of Arthur Hughes (1832-1915)?  Sure, he has some ropey days but when he is 'on fleek' (as I believe the young people used to say) his work is sublime and often quite purple-y.  So here we have Mary, cowering by a pillar while a golden, glowing angel bestows the ace news whilst hovering in a flowerbed.  Again, we have a bit of wardrobe synergy going on, with both figures sharing a palette of blues and purples but then this is a Hughes painting and so I begin to suspect he bought a job lot of those colours, what with the regularity they appear in his works.  In her hand the Virgin carries wool, from all that spinning and weaving we now know she does.

April Love (1855-6)
Seems in Hughes' art, you can't move for a woman in both an emotional crisis and a purple frock.  Maybe one is emblematic of the other?  Talking of emblems, Hughes included a bit of flower language into his annunciation with not only the obligatory lilies, but also a sneaky pot of irises, hinting at warning and danger.  The Victorians would have been completely au fait with reading extra layers of meaning in pictures via the foliage, for example the ivy in April Love symbolising longevity and clinging on, and the scattered petals as a broken love affair.

The Nativity (1857-8)
Hughes bookended the Virgin's story from annunciation to nativity, but although his annunciation is quite traditional, his nativity is striking, crammed into a small intimate space.  The feathers of the angels (purple, naturally) fan out in the straw and a kneeling Mary swaddles a tiny Son of God.  The paintings both have gothic-arch frames, echoing church architecture, but The Nativity makes it seem like you are looking into a cramped room rather than looking out into a garden.  The difference in Mary between the two paintings is marked - in the beginning she is hesitant, shy and unsure, but by the end she is posed and accepting, just getting on with the job.  I find it slightly odd how massive she is in comparison to Jesus, who you'd think would be the star of the show (no pun intended) but by having companion pieces, Mary is the narrative, her journey is the point and the focus.  She moves from the shadows of the first picture to the centre of the second and there is no-one else (human-wise) in either, just Mary and the heavenly creatures, one of whom she entrusts to hold the baby while she swaddles.  It makes a change to see Mary as the focus but after all she did do all the work.  

See you tomorrow.