Archive for the 'Western Art' Category



UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: The female nude

This research point asks me to consider aspect of the female nude:
* Do they exploit for male gratification or does it depend on context?
* What does a feminist critique add?
* How have women portrayed by other women through history?
* How are women portrayed by other women today?

 Francesco Xanto Avelli Large plate: An allegory on the sack of Rome 1530

Francesco Xanto Avelli
Large plate: An allegory on the sack of Rome
1530
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/389.2011/

Wandering through the Art Gallery of NSW this was the oldest work including nudes that I found. It includes all combinations of male/female clothed/unclothed. Given the treatment and subject matter it’s hard to read it as exploiting women for male gratification. Many of the figures are based on classical works – for example the central female, Venus, is based on Hellenistic sculptures of crouching Venus (see one at the British Museum – https://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/gr/m/marble_statue_of_aphrodite.aspx). Signage at the gallery includes “The sack of Rome was the world-shattering terrorist event of the renaissance period. On the reverse of this plate the artist refers to ‘5 May’ as we might ‘9/11’.” Why would the artist choose to use nudes in this scene? I wonder if in part he was trying to explain or understand the unexplainable, and to find distance from the immediate horror by seeing it in familiar, formal, classical forms. Raw history is seen through allegory, including Juno, Bacchus (from Marcantonio’s Due baccanti – see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bacco_-_Raimondi_Marcantonio_(1480-1534)_-_Due_baccanti_-_Incisione.jpg), and in the foreground the River God of the Tiber.

Perhaps a more challenging example is Diana and Actaeon by Titian held at the National Gallery in London. At first glance there is a lot of beautiful, sensual, female skin on display. It could also be a man’s dream situation, stumbling across a bevy of beautiful and naked women. A simple and inadequate response is that I find the painting beautiful and sensual, and as a straight woman don’t feel I am exploiting anyone by gazing on the image. I’m also aware of the story being represented – another from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Acteon has accidentally wandered into the goddess Diana’s bathing place. The goddess, greatly displeased, turns Acteon into a stag, to be hunted and killed by his own dogs -as pictured in Titan’s The Death of Actaeon, also in the National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-the-death-of-actaeon). This is not a good story for men leering at women.

There are so many ways to read a painting, so many perspectives. Did you notice the black girl attending Diana (wearing stripes! see my post on The Devil’s cloth for more on that – 1-May-2014)? How many strong, powerful black figures does one see in western art before the 1800s? One of the three Magi, but little else. For an example of exploitation and abuse in art, go back to my annotation The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville (24-Oct-2013) to see a work based in politics and oppression. There are many forms of discrimination and oppression – race, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, class… Campaigners against a particular wrong can seem to find its trace everywhere.

There’s no denying that the sensual, the sexual, the erotic, is a fundamental element of a lot of art – and, I would say, of a healthy, balanced life. The question is of oppression – is there a systematic abuse of power? Before looking at a feminist critique of the nude in western art I wanted a more “traditional”, formal analysis, viewpoint. The OCA notes refer to The Nude: A study in ideal form by Kenneth Clark, but although in the NSW Art Gallery library catalogue I couldn’t find it on the shelves. Instead I took notes from The Body: Images of the nude by Edward Lucie-Smith (1981) (discovering later that he has also co-authored a book with Judy Chicago which seems to present contrasting interpretations of images of women in art – I haven’t been able to track down a copy).

Lucie-Smith explains that the nude is central in western painting “not merely as the accepted measure of proportion and the noblest subject an artist could devote himself to, but as the yardstick of reason” (Lucie-Smith, 1981, p. 7). Artists attempted “to make perfection of body the mirror of perfection of spirit” (ibid, p. 13), and in failing to reach such lofty goals the artist could still reach greatness – “It is the struggle to transcent the sexual basis of what he was doing rather than its complete elimination, which makes Michelangelo’s male nudes so moving… Many of his contemporaries did not even bother to put up a fight. The nudes they painted were erotic without dissimulation.” (ibid, p. 13).

When art was mainly commissioned by the church painting of nudes was restricted to particular scenes – Adam and Eve, the Crucifixion. When art became more secularized from the sixteenth century, it could become more overtly erotic – but “patronage of art – and its sexual rewards – were privileges of power” (ibid, p. 13). In the early seventeenth century art lost its “purient, keyhole quality” and “at the same time there is a more open acknowledgement of sheer sensuality: an increased passion for everything colourful and dramatic” (ibid, p.16).

Lucie-Smith discovers widely varying artistic purposes.

  • Cagnacci has “a strong sado-masochistic streak” and “it is clear that the nude interests him for its vulnerability – it is the measure, not of reason, but of man’s capacity for sensation” (idid, p. 17).
  • In Angelica and the hermit “Rubens turns his painting of the nude into a statement that animal energy, without the least spirtual overtone, has virtures of its own which ought to be celebrated by artists. Sexual appetite, he tells us, can be treated as matter-of-factly as the business of working up an appetite for dinner” (ibid, p. 19).
  • “The typical Boucher work is unspecific, a mere diagram of female attractiveness, something disconcertingly close to the pinup drawings of the present day” (ibid, p. 20)
  • “Renior no longer to justify his interest in the nude by making it part of some mythological composition, nor even by making it obviously ‘decorative’ after the manner of Boucher and Fragonard… For Renoir the female nude has the magic of perfect ordinariness, with no need to stress the fact. It is as ordinary as a flower in full bloom, or a ripe fruit” (ibid, pp. 20-21).
  • In Bathesheba “what Rembrandt seems to be doing is using nudity not only as an emblem of genuine sexual desirability … but also as an emblem of vulnerability… One empathizes with Bathsheba rather than desiring her. Her humanity counts for even more than her sexuality” (ibid, p. 21)
  • Jacques Louis David “approached its erotic implications rather cautiously, prefering to use it … as a symbol of strength and heroism” (ibid, p. 24)
  • “Ingres was always fascinated by the idea of woman as slave or captive. The bound female figures in his Ruggiero and Angelica clearly had a deep psychological appeal for him” (ibid, p. 24).
  • Degas “in his misogyny pushes matter much further, suggesting that a human being is merely a kind of animal” (ibid (p.26)
  • Lucie-Smith finds examples of nudes used to symbolise sexual awakening, unfolding possibilities, as a means for the artist’s self-exploration – “powerful emanations of subjective feeling” (ibid, p. 28). In twentieth century art “the nude has become more rather than less central, since it remains the basic image of humanity” (ibid, p. 29). Aristide Maillot shows “residual classicism”, Francis Bacon “anguished distortion”, Matisse with Carmelina is “universal and impersonal”, Modigliani “turns the female nude into a musical interplay of stylized shapes”, while DeKooning found femaleness “simultaneously threatening and voluptuous” (ibid, p. 29)

    I can’t agree with all of Lucie-Smith’s assessment – for example look at Carmelinahttps://www.mfa.org/collections/object/carmelina-32429. I see a strong woman confronting the artist. Renoir may have seen a nude as ordinary as a ripe fruit – but then how often is ripe fruit used to suggest sexual readiness? The reference to Rembrandt’s Bathsheba is interesting. I found two versions, showing different parts of the biblical story. At The Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/437393) we see Bathsheba at her toilet and she seems to look back knowingly, comfortable with our view. Just visible atop the palace in the background is David, also watching her. The version at the Louvre (http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/bathsheba-her-bath) shows Bathsheba holding the summons from David. She appears withdrawn, pensive, troubled, vulnerable. I think Lucie-Smith must be referring to this version.

    Turning to a feminist perspective, I was able to find and skim through a book suggested in the notes – The nude: A new perspective bu Gill Saunders, written about eight years after the book by Lucie-Smith. Saunders begins her introduction: “Nudity is a politically, socially and sexually ‘loaded’ subject, liable to provoke extreme responses” (Saunders, 1989, p. 7). She continues “‘Nude’ is synonymous with ‘female nude’ because nakedness connotes passivity, vulnerability; it is powerless and anonymous”.

    Saunders develops her position:

  • “For the Greeks, the nude, apart from its celebration of physical beauty, expressed the nobility and potential of the human spirit, but in Christian theology nakedness became a symbol of shame and guilt … signs of sinfulness, grief and humiliation” (ibid p.9)
  • Of Christian art in the twelfth to sixteenth centuries, “nakedness is the outward sign of the sins of the flesh indulged and will be punished accordingly” (ibid, p.9)
  • Of Academic art training in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries “The apprentice painter was only permitted to advance to the next stage of his training – drawing from the living model, naked or draped – when his imagination was well-stocked with ideal forms to counterbalance the distressing variety of nature in the individual” (ibid, p. 17)
  • Pietro Cipriani  Venus de' Medici 1722 - 1724  Bronze

    Pietro Cipriani
    Venus de’ Medici
    1722 – 1724
    Bronze
    http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=313766

  • “Most images of naked women by men are designed to display their bodies to the male gaze without challenge or confrontation … The male artist constructs for his own or for his male partron’s enjoyment the perfect partner – passive, receptive, available.” (ibid, p.23) Saunders refers to the “spurious modesty” of the Venus de Medici, whose female attributes are emphasized in the act of attempting to cover herself. The photograph included here is of a bronze copy made for the wealthy art collector on his ‘grand tour’.
  • These images enabled male voyeurism – with the woman blamed for the man’s reaction. “Such a displacement of blame is only possible where the naked woman’s glance does not engage the viewer leaving him … free to gaze at her body and to fantasize about it unchallenged” (ibid, p. 24)
  • The woman is anonymous, not an individual, not a challenge, passively displayed to the male viewer without obstruction. “Thus the objections to Manet’s famous nude Olympia were founded not in her class, her profession, or indeed her nakedness but in her unashamed awareness of the spectator’s desire… Degas’ alleged misogyny is actually a refusal to comply with the unwritten rule that the female nude be reduced to a sexual spectacle, displaying the body to a male spectator.” (ibid, p. 25)
  • “While the male nude can be eroticized … only the female is fetishized, mutilated, fragmented, rendered anonymous” (ibid, p. 71)

    Saunders does identify two specific forms of the active, rather than passive, female nude.

  • “… the embodiment, the allegorical personification, of purely male qualities, or attributes and functions permitted only to men in the social order of the time: Revolution, Victory, Virtue, Justice. She acts not as a woman but in her capacity as the representative of a male quality.” (ibid, p. 28)
  • Otherwise, active female nudity indicates voracious sexuality embodied in such mythic archetypes as Eve… These predatory nudes embody the dangerous ‘otherness’ of women’s sexuality unleashed” (ibid, pp, 28-29). An example of this is Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto (to 1555/1556) (http://bilddatenbank.khm.at/viewArtefact?id=1564). Saunders states “The woman is clearly blamed for her predicament and presented as an exhibitionist: vain, worldly, narcissistic. Elaborately coiffed, she is rapt in contemplation of her image in the mirror. If she finds her own beauty so spell-binding, how can the Elders be blamed for succumbing to its temptations?” (ibid, p. 34)
  • Passive rather than active, vulnerable, powerless, anonymous, the object of voyeurism, the one to blame for men’s reactions, fetishized, mutilated, the allegorical embodiment of male qualities, the narcissistic temptress – I can see all of those elements in various artworks. Are they the rule, exceptions, or a more complex mix?

    When I quoted from Lucie-Smith I deliberately used comments about both male and female nudes. It seems to me that a particularly feminist reading must not only show that there has been oppression and abuse of power but that it is applied on the basis of gender. For example Francis Bacon both mutilated and fetishized the nudes he painted, including Henrietta Moraes in Lying figure (1969) (https://www.fondationbeyeler.ch/en/collection/francis-bacon), but many more males are seen in his work.

    With her claim that ‘nude’ equates to Saunders seems in danger of a circular argument – the oppressive treatment identified in nudes only happens to women because only naked women are nudes. Saunders writes “In images of the male nude the emphasis is on how the body works rather than how it appears. Is is not devised for contemplation as a sexual object” (Saunders, 1989, p. 26). Perhaps the many obvious exceptions are covered in a more complete version of one of the quotes above: “Though the male nude can be eroticized – witness certain images of St Sebastian swooning in a state between pain and ectasy as the arrows pierce his flesh, or Robert Mapplethorpe male nudes informed by homosexual sensibility…” ibid, p. 71). The example from Botticelli’s work pictured here has Mars in that most vulnerable state, sleep. And while I am picking at counter examples, Saunders writes about the use of mirrors in Susanna and the Elders and other paintings as a symbol of the narcissistic and available woman. In the painting Carmelina by Matisse, mentioned above, it is the artist’s face we see in the mirror, while the strong female model has her back to it.

    One avenue I haven’t had time to explore that is clearly relevant to this is the preponderance of male artists in western art history. One notable woman artist was Artemisia Gentileschi, and her version of Susanna and the Elders (1610 – see http://www.artemisia-gentileschi.com/susanna.html) shows the men looming over Susanna, who very clear shows her objection to their advances. The site linked here includes many works by Gentileschi, a large number of which show strong woman taking action against oppressive men.

    I would like to mention two contemporary female artists.

    The first is Judith Linhares, who paints very large, colourful scenes, frequently including nudes. I tracked down some videos of Linhares speaking (http://www.romanovgrave.com/grave_videos/judith-linhares-interview-at-ed-thorpe-gallery). She mentions the strong women in her background, her college training including anatomy, her early desire to “paint like the men” – large and abstract. She avoided the pretty, the decorative, to meet perceived criteria of seriousness, until in the early 70s she came to think “decorative hey, I’ll show them decorative” and started works in part about “indulgence of a girlish appetite”, with rhinestones and gauze and feathers – for example see http://www.judithlinhares.com/Archive1970_17.html. For many years part of a politically focused womens group, they were visited by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, “trying to enlist them” – but Linhares never saw herself in the role of handmaiden. Linhares’ nudes are active and unabashed, moving through space and their lives.

    Julie Rrap is a contemporary Australian artist. Rrap’s work frequently involves a naked female body – her own. However this is not self-portraiture, she is not exploring or presenting herself. Instead she combines the roles of model and author, using her body as a tool. Rrap has been associated with feminism and it is interesting to see how she exploits and objectifies her own body as she explores various issues, including at times the representation of the female nude in western art.

    Lucian Freud And the bridegroom 1993

    Lucian Freud
    And the bridegroom
    1993

    Finally, I recently saw this painting at the Art Gallery of NSW where it is on long term loan from the Lewis Collection. The canvas is huge – 231.8 × 195.9 cm. The bodies seem vulnerable, sprawled asleep in the brightly lit studio. I find it very tender and beautiful.

    References

    Lucie-Smith, E (1981) The Body: Images of the nude London: Thames and Hudson

    Saunders, G. (1989) The nude: A new perspective. London: The Herbert Press.

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: The female nude
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Research point: The female nude

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Visit a cast gallery

    At this point I am meant to visit a cast gallery. The notes mention “cast galleries are not highly valued at the present time” and suggest that if not able to visit one I should extend my knowledge “of the ways in which these classical ‘prototypes’ have been assimilated into the art of later centuries”. This seems to have a lot of overlap to the last exercise, especially given I wasn’t able to visit a classical sculpture for that (23-May-2014), so I have decided to change the question to ask – what has changed to make cast galleries and classical prototypes unpopular?

    Charles Nettleton Gallery of casts from the studio of Brucciani, London 1869

    Charles Nettleton
    Gallery of casts from the studio of Brucciani, London
    1869
    State Library of Victoria
    http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/127359

    There have been such galleries in Australia. This photo is from the State Library of Victoria. I found mention of its gallery when researching portrait sculpture (13-Mar-2014), together with the comment “It is remarkable that the bust [of G. A. Robinson] survived to the present day. In the 1850s and 1860s, the National Gallery purchased hundreds of plaster reproductions and casts from European museums and art galleries. Deemed not worthy of a respected art gallery, many of these casts and reproductions were sold in the 1940s” (Knapman, 2010).

    griffen03The occasional cast may be used in art classes today – the photograph is from a class I did with Peter Griffen in 2012, with a cast head included in the selection of inspiration items on the table (2-Mar-2012).

    Some good reasons for cast galleries, from a recent post in the Harvard Art Museums blog: “Looking closely at the plaster casts lets students explore their size, materiality, texture, and three-dimensionality”; “use the plaster casts to help students understand how to discriminate between originals and copies”; “the deep understanding that comes from experiencing an object in person” and in an example “the figures’ positions and postures are meant to direct the viewer’s line of sight and set a particular mood” and finally “this plaster cast collection allows students to escape from the flat lands of the virtual world and begin to get some sense of what it is like for actual human bodies to interact with three-dimensional reproductions of the human body”. (Harvard Art Museums, 2014).

    Detail of Margaret Olley Portrait in the mirror 1948

    Detail of Margaret Olley
    Portrait in the mirror
    1948
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/454.2001/

    For art historians, there is also the opportunity to see hints of influence in later artists’ work. A slightly different example is given by the postcards in Margaret Olley’s self-portrait (20-Apr-2014) – not three dimensional or in scale, but hints to her training, interests and inspiration.

    Paul Cezanne Still life with plaster cupid

    Paul Cezanne
    Still life with plaster cupid

    The still-life by Cézanne that I annotated (30-Jan-2014) had a plaster cupid as its subject, and another sculpture can be seen in a canvas at the top – and can be viewed as linking to ideas of the erotic.

    Drawing from plaster casts was for many years a standard part of an artist’s training, but it didn’t appeal to everyone. I found a lovely passage in a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo: “First and foremost, I had to draw from plaster casts. I utterly detest drawing from plaster casts – yet I had a couple of hands and feet hanging in the studio, though not for drawing. Once he [Mauve] spoke to me about drawing from plaster casts in a tone that even the worst teacher at the academy wouldn’t have used, and I held my peace, but at home I got so angry about it that I threw the poor plaster mouldings into the coal-scuttle, broken. And I thought: I’ll draw from plaster casts when you lot become whole and white again and there are no longer any hands and feet of living people to draw.” (van Gogh, 1882)

    So apart from not suiting particular students, why would cast galleries be not highly valued, or “deemed not worthy”?

    Having a copy means you haven’t got the original. It’s second rate. As an ex-colony on the other side of the world there could still be cultural cringe (can we mix it with the big boys?) and perhaps want to have the best, or at least something real, or nothing – we don’t accept others’ crumbs. This would be reversing a previous desire to retain links and to bring as much as possible from “home”.

    However the trend away from cast galleries is more widespread. A page on the Victoria and Albert Museum website suggests that cast collections were uncommon before the 18th century. By the 19th century casts were “an essential part” of the initial collection of what was to become the V&A, and in the 1860s there was “an extensive campaign to acquire Italian casts”, but by the 1930s the enthusiasm was “long past”.(Baker, 1982)

    Twentieth century art movements such as cubism and abstraction could make classical sculptures appear less relevant.

    Traditional teaching of drawing based on casts is outmoded.

    It is now much easier to travel – why accept a substitute when if you want you can see the original? There is also generally easy access to good quality two-dimensional images of sculptures. It’s not the same as experiencing a three-dimensional work in full scale, but for many people may be seen as an acceptable substitute.

    There are so many sources of inspiration, why hang on to copies of one particular heritage? So much work has been created since the heyday of cast galleries of the mid to late 1800s, so many different concepts developed, that it is hard to justify the cost and space of dedicating galleries to copies of works no matter how seminal.

    I’m glad to be reaching the end of this section of work. Unable to put much of a local spin on classical sculpture or casts or to see them in person I’ve found it hard to generate enthusiasm. However in the last couple of days I’ve discovered that Discobolus, together with other works from the Greek and Roman collection of the British Museum, is due to be in Bendigo later this year (http://www.bendigoartgallery.com.au/Exhibitions/Forthcoming_Exhibitions/The_Body_Beautiful_in_Ancient_Greece). That’s less than 900 km from here…

    References

    Baker, M (1982) The History of the Cast Courts Victoria and Albert Museum [online] Available from http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-cast-courts/ (Accessed 25-May-2014)

    Harvard Art Museums (2014) “A Lesson in Looking” Harvard Art Museums blog 22-Apr-2014 [online] Available at http://magazine.harvardartmuseums.org/article/2014/04/22/lesson-looking (Accessed 24-May-2014)

    Knapman, G. (2010) “The Pacificator: discovering the lost bust of George Augustus Robinson” The La Trobe Journal No 86 December 2010 [online] Available from http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-86/t1-g-t4.html (Accessed 24-May-2014)

    van Gogh, V (1882) To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Friday, 21 April 1882. [online] Available from http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let219/letter.html (Accessed 24-May-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Visit a cast gallery
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Exercise: Visit a cast gallery

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Annotate a classical sculpture

    For this exercise I have chosen to annotate Discobolus, one of the classical sculptures suggested in the OCA course notes. There simply isn’t a suitable work available for me to view directly. This work has advantages including: one version is held at the British Museum (I can include images under their terms of use); lots of information is available on line; it is a familiar form that has been reused and adapted. The great disadvantage of course is trying to respond to a sculpture reduced to photographic images.

    The Townley Discobolus © The Trustees of the British Museum

    The Townley Discobolus
    One of several Roman copies made of a lost bronze original made in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Myron.
    © The Trustees of the British Museum
    http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=396999&objectId=8760&partId=1


    AN00398497_001_lAN00398587_001_lAN00396828_001_l
    The original bronze statue by Myron c. 450 B.C.E. has been lost, but there are a number of Roman copies. The one above is the Townley Discobolus, held at the British Museum. Note that the head has been restored incorrectly, and should be looking back at the throwing arm.

    The Lancelotti Discobolus (I think this is also known as the Discobolus Palombara) is at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome, as is the less complete Discobolus from Castel Porziano (see http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/en/national-roman-museum-palazzo-massimo-alle-terme/sculptures/discobolus-discus-thrower, or a video which shows the two versions side by side at http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/myrons-discobolus.html).

    The Discobolus shows a male athlete poised in the act of throwing a discus. The athletic body spirals around, caught in that brief moment before the release of energy. I believe the statue is around life-size, and the work is fully three-dimensional, to be viewed from all sides.

    discobolus_curveFocusing on the Townley version, since those are the best quality photographs I found, one can see multiple curves from every viewing direction. The overall impression remains one of perfect, effortless balance.

    The Townley Discobolus was brought to London soon after it was excavated, and displayed in Townley’s home. It’s shown below in a drawing by William Chambers, the Discobolus taking pride of place in Townley’s collection.

    Townley opened his home and collection to visitors, displaying his own connoisseurship and his philanthropy in educating the public and improving their taste. In the drawing a young woman can be seen sketching – life drawing of male nudes would not have been possible for her.

    To me this feels as if I am seeing the machinery behind “The Canon of Western Art” in action. A wealthy man collects art, exhibits and promotes it, and it becomes Great Art. I’m reminded of Charles Saatchi and the Young British Artists.

    In the case of the Townley Discobolus it doesn’t seem to matter too much that it started as a copy of an older work, that various parts have been restored or entirely substituted (the head and a hand are now regarded as not original), and the surface cleaned with acid, sand and brush. “This is an interesting example of a forgery being given legitimacy by academic experts, and itself becoming an admired prototype” according to Jones (1990). The Discobolus is such an iconic part of the Canon that Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo has produced multiple versions, all clad in a Mao suit (see http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/past_exhibitions/2012/sui_jianguos_discus_thrower.aspx and the page of 1997 works on Sui’s website http://www.suijianguo.com/). Sui combines ideology of Western art and the socialist theory of his own culture. He includes both in finding his own, modern way.

    Is the Discobolus such a perfect, beautiful, inspiring, fascinating work that it transcends issues such as originality or authenticity? Once again I am held at a distance, unable to experience the work directly. One could say it’s almost too effortless. A closeup of the toes suggest they are gripping, but otherwise the figure seems curiously static, made even more so by the perfect, expressionless face. This could well be related to relying on photographs, which tend to flatten and deaden, but the figure appears posed rather than about to burst into action. There are similarities in body position to Bernini’s David (1623 – 24; http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edavid.htm), but that is a much more active and emotionally-engaged figure. I would suggest even Michelangelo’s David (1501 – 1504); http://www.accademia.org/explore-museum/artworks/michelangelos-david/?gclid=CLjH3dTtoL4CFUFwvAodCgoAVQ), while in an apparently more relaxed pose, is more clearly about to launch into action.

    Paul Landowski David combattant bronze, cire perdu (lost wax)

    Paul Landowski
    David combattant
    bronze, cire perdu (lost wax)
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/SO1.1961/

    landowski_01landowski_02landowski_03landowski_04
    For a David actually in action – and in a pose that can be linked to Bernini’s – I am very fond of the bronze by Landowski in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is a younger David, fully committed, flinging himself down a slope, arms and slingshot at full stretch. You can see his abdomen as he sucks in air, his focus as he looks up at the giant.

    Rather than a gangling boy, the Discobolus shows a young man in his prime – or rather a amalgamation of all the best parts of innumerable young men, creating a flawless form devoid of individuality. That also tests modern sensibilities. Many people struggle with body image, the desire for perfection, to meet the standards of modern media airbrushed photographs or gaunt strutting models. An interesting modern twist on this perfection is given by Quim Abella. This digital artist has taken classics including Discobolus, and repeated them in a huge variety of equally “perfect” forms – see http://www.quim-abella.com/index.php/ct-menu-item-7/ct-menu-item-9/ct-menu-item-13. Abella presents both genders, a variety of body shapes, sizes and colours, in the classic pose – but offers more a widening of “perfect” rather than a challenge of the concept itself.

    The Discobolus also fits well with the “bronzed Aussie” ideal – see for example Discus thrower by Max Dupain (c. printed 1939) in the National Gallery of Victoria http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/74489). I’ve written before about versions of Australian identity, when visiting the National Portrait Gallery (11-Apr-2014).

    Selection of a particular perfect type can be the flip side of exclusion. The Discobolus Palombara was bought by Hitler from the Italian state in 1938, and the link to eugenics and the desire for a “pure” race seems straightforward.

    huberA similar link is drawn by Sasha Huber in her work Louis Who? What you should know about Louis Agassiz (2010), currently on display at the Art Gallery of NSW as part of the 19th Biennale of Sydney. There is a film of Huber riding a horse in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro to Praça Agassiz, a public square, where she hung up a banner and read the text to locals gathering around. A translation of part of the text: “Scientist, naturalist, glaciologist, influential racist, pioneering thinker of apartheid, proposed racial segregation in the US” (from Huber’s website, http://www.sashahuber.com/index.php?cat=28&lang=fi&mstr=4). Unfortunately I chose a poor moment for my photo, but you can see the banner beside the screen, and on the other side a plinth with a copy of the book (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today. Agassiz was a nineteenth century natural scientist who traveled in Brazil in 1865-66 taking numerous anthropological style photographs, all “proving” the indigenous peoples’ inferiority to the white race. I’ve seen many similar photographs taken in Australia, possibly taken with similar intent. In the book I found reference to Huber’s “unique interdisciplinary pursuit of the origins of racist assumptions and ponders on the influence of racist representations in the formation of visual culture and media” (Machado and Huber, 2010, p. 170), and nearby a photograph of the Belvedere Apollo (http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/x-Schede/MPCs/MPCs_Sala02_01.html). The idea of a perfect form seems so often to lead to regarding others as lesser.

    gallery_sa_05Of course such a link is not inevitable. Last year I wrote about the juxtaposition of works at the Art Gallery of South Australia (see 5-May-2013). Buck with cigar by Marc Quinn (2009) faces the Bowmore Artemis (c. 180 AD). A modern beauty stands with confidence and pride in harmony with classical beauty. However it still seems to me a brave choice, a very modern choice, a challenging choice, to show such works together.

    References

    Huber, S. and Machada, M. (2010) (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today São Paulo: Capacete Entretenimentos

    Jones, M., Craddock, P., Barker, N. (1990) Fake? The Art of Deception, London: BMP. Quoted on the British Museum website [online]. Available from http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=396999&objectId=8760&partId=1 (Accessed 18-May-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Annotate a classical sculpture
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Exercise: Annotate a classical sculpture

    UA1-WA:Research: The Stripe – The Devil’s Cloth

    The Devil’s Cloth: A history of stripes and striped fabric by Michel Pastoureau looks at all things striped in Western societies from the Middle Ages onwards. For my current research project I am focusing on the use of stripes in art and on any symbology of stripes that may be of interest to an artist, so this post is not a review or summary, but a collection of ideas about stripes that may be relevant.

    Vengence of Chiomara French 15th-16th century Bibliothèque nationale de France

    Vengence of Chiomara
    French 15th-16th century
    Bibliothèque nationale de France
    http://mandragore.bnf.fr/jsp/feuilleterNoticesImage.jsp?numero=77&id=37947&idPere=3

    The medieval viewer, “particularly attentive to the materiality and structure of surfaces” (p. 19), was disturbed by stripes, which disrupted the standard reading of levels in an image. The stripe was used on images of outcasts and deviants. From this came many years of stripes indicating perjorative status.

    Surfaces could be plain, patterned (eg with a regular distribution of fleur de lis), striped or spotted (irregular distribution). Striped and spotted were uncomfortable, with checks an intensified form of stripes.

    Development of stripes: Medieval – two alternating colours, equal widths, rarely vertical; Later – not only two colours, not always equidistant; vertical, celebrating life after the plague (p. 42); aristocratic – sophisticated, tasteful, fashionable (p. 41). Different forms of stripes could express different value systems – if wide and high contrast, the prisoner or gangster; if narrow and pastel or lower contrast, elegance.

    Early persons associated with stripes: Fortune, turning the wheel of destiny; Carmelite monks; Joseph (striped breeches); bastards; serfs; condemned; prostitutes; infirm; inferior occupations; ignominious trade; non-Christian; black Africans – servants or Magi (see for example Veronese The Adoration of the Magi, 1581 at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) – savages.

    The heraldic stripe: Stripes are a basic unit of heraldry, with many variations. A coat of arms provides “signs of identity, marks of possession, and ornamental motifs all at the same time” (p. 26). If stripes are balanced in number (a partition) it remains a single plane; if unbalanced (pieces) the surface breaks into figure and background. Interestingly Pastoureau finds that there are few if any negative connotations when stripes are included in the blazon of a real individual, only a link between illegitimate family lines and stripes in a certain direction. Those created for imaginary or literary characters are more likely to use stripes to suggest wrongdoing or flaws of character.

    Heraldry is a description of form rather than a particular physical creation. This seems to link with the more conceptual use of lines in art, such as LeWitt’s notations which can be implemented by assistants.

    Domestic stripe: Heraldry –> Livery –> Domestic (also inferior connotation) and also–> Uniforms

    The romantic, revolutionary stripe: impact of the American Revolution; French revolutionary stripe (link to against establishment?) –> patriotic stripe.

    The maritime stripe: Used in identifying ranks, in jerseys, sails (a connection to wind) and flags. Then by association we have the sea –> seashore (the sea-side a less constrained venue, so can risk a stripe) –> sports, leisure and health. see for example Eugène Boudin Trouville, La Nourrice (circa 1885, http://vksart.com/artists/eugene-boudin/trouville-la-nourrice-1885/).

    The protective, hygenic stripe: Stripes exclude – prisoners in striped uniforms behind bars – but those same bars guard and protect. We see striped pyjamas and underclothes – protection next to the body. These are often pastel colours, close to the undyed cloth that was once seen as most clean (given the source of some dyes).

    The stripe and children: Protective, seaside and sports or games all lead to a connection with children. We see freshness, youthfulness, gaiety, playfulness – happy, healthy, dynamic and summer-like.

    Stripes reveal and conceal: Stripes can play a trompe-l’oeil role. They disguise, fool the eye. I see a link as well to shadows, camouflage and concealment. Stripes also filter, such as shutters (linking back to protection).

    The identifying stripe: athletic teams, students, corporates, military.

    The warning stripe: Following the idea of the protective stripe, we see warning and forbidding stripes – often red and white. Pedestrian crossings, police tape, slow, detour, stop. Gates and fences form stripes – they are a guide and an obstacle. They can be agitating.

    The stripe and music: Musicians (minstels) were travelers, on the fringes, often seen dressed in stripes. The musical staff and the strings on an instrument form stripes. Stripes and music can both produce rhythm and flow.

    More stripes: ladders, railroads, the furrows from plowing, lines of telegraph poles, barcodes, combs (setting in order), tallies. Stripes are a warning of disorder and a form of putting in order.

    Properties of stripes: a structure and / or a form; in perpetual motion, animating; disturbing; attracting attention (used by artists in compositions to direct the eye); ambiguity (in small amounts); passage from one state to another; intrigue and captivate; energize; brighten; make rooms larger (vertical) or lower (horizontal); create rhythm; association with wind and movement.

    Weaving stripe: Claiming “striped fabric is very much subject to the constraints of weaving methods” (p.54) Pastoureau makes a link between the introduction of technology, such as spinning machines and the Jacquard loom, and the spread of stripes. I can’t accept a direct link – the technological impact was on productivity and industry, not the fundamental structures which can produce stripes – but there could be indirect impact via availability and cost of cloth.

    bluelineThe bellringing line: This is my addition, not included in Pastoureau’s book. In changeringing the order in which the bells are sounded is varied in specific orders called methods. The structure of a method can be expresses in a notation such as &-36-14-12-36-14-56,12. That can be expanded into a diagram showing each change with all the bells, and the path of a particular bell is indicated by a line – known as the blue line. (Diagram produced using the online method database http://methods.ringing.org/). It’s stretching from stripes to lines, but I find the conceptual and notational link relevant.

    Pastoureau writes “not only does the stripe show and hide at the same time, but it is altogether the figure and the substance, the finite and the infinite, the part and the whole”, ultimately concluding “Too many stripes can finally drive you mad” (p.91).

    References

    Pastoureau, M., trans. Gladding, J. (2001) The Devil’s Cloth: A history of stripes and striped fabrics New York: Columbia University Press. (French edition published 1991)

    For actual reviews of the book see:
    Fyfe, J. (2003) “The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric by Michel Pastoureau” artcritical: the online magazine of art and ideas April [online] Available from http://www.artcritical.com/2003/04/01/the-devils-cloth-a-history-of-stripes-and-striped-fabric-by-michel-pastoureau/http://www.artcritical.com/2003/04/01/the-devils-cloth-a-history-of-stripes-and-striped-fabric-by-michel-pastoureau/ (Accessed 25-Apr-2014)

    Rule, V. (2001) “Vertical or horizontal, ma’am?” The Guardian 15 Sept [online] Available from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/15/historybooks.highereducation2 (Accessed 25-Apr-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: Representation of the human figure

    The artist’s approach to the human body has changed over the years.

    The Bowmore Artemis  c. 180 AD Italy, carved marble

    The Bowmore Artemis
    c. 180 AD
    Italy, carved marble

    An ideal form was pursued in classical times, very often male, but in the Art Gallery of South Australia last year I saw this beautiful Diana (see 5-May-2013). The draped fabric highlights the athletic young female body in motion, the perfect form of the goddess.

    Plaque 500-550 (circa) © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Plaque
    500-550 (circa)
    © The Trustees of the British Museum

    In early Byzantine art the focus was on symbology rather than an accurate likeness or an idealized form. This ivory plaque at the British Museum shows the Adoration of the Magi above and the Nativity below. It is very formal and stylized, full of meaning for the early Christian – for example below to the right Salome whose hand was withered when she did not have faith without proof.

    Matins – The Annunciation Horae B.M.V. : illuminated ms. on vellum Paris  ca.1490

    Matins – The Annunciation
    Horae B.M.V. : illuminated ms. on vellum
    Paris ca.1490
    State Library of Victoria
    http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/117039

    I annotated this Gothic image in my post of 22-Jun-2013 (and wrote about my emotional experience of actually seeing and handling the book 17-Jul-2013). While still quite formal and full of symbolism, the figures are more natural and there is an effort towards perspective. The bodies show a sense of movement rather than being static and posed. The angel and Mary are of similar size, communicating together in the room, rather than relative importance being indicated by size and position. There is no real sense of individuals and some of the body proportions are odd, such as the small foot of the angel.

    Antonio Pollaiuolo The Battle of the Nudes © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Antonio Pollaiuolo
    The Battle of the Nudes
    1470-1495 (circa) a copperplate engraving
    © The Trustees of the British Museum
    http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=763560&partId=1&searchText=v,1.33

    In the Renaissance many artists were interested in showing knowledge and the mechanics of actual bodies, not idealized forms. According to Vasari, Pollaiuolo was the “first master to skin many human bodies in order to investigate the muscles and understand the nude in a more modern way.” (quoted in Bambach, 2002).

    In The Battle of the Nudes detailed knowledge of human anatomy is shown in a series of action poses. The front centre pair show the same pose from the front and rear – ‘pivotal presentation’. The bodies strain, the faces grimace, in the effort of the battle.

    After the skillful, highly detailed, anatomical accuracy of the Renaissance, artists turned to a more “mannered”, complex, virtuoso form of representation. Parmigianino was an Italian Mannerist painter. His Madonna of the Long Neck (also called Madonna and Child with Angels) (1534-1540, oil on wood, 219×135 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, http://www.virtualuffizi.com/madonna-and-child-with-angels%2C-known-as-the-%22madonna-with-the-long-neck%22.html, http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/madonna-with-the-long-neck/gAEsEn4eJXVHyg) has been stretched to create an exaggerated elegance. The madonna’s body forms a diamond filling most of the picture, her tiny head at the apex, her broad hips extended even further by the drape of her cloak, and at the base her small feet with elongated toes. The eponymous neck forms part of sweeping lines. Her right hand is long and graceful, the curve of the fingers denying their joints and even the ears are shaped to meet the artist’s purpose. The child is also elongated and distorted, a sleep like death – the pose is similar to Michelangelo’s Pietà. The space around also seems inconsistent, crowded on the left with angels, on the right incredible depth with a tiny St Jerome and what must be a massive colonnade. Parmigianino pushed beyond “natural” beauty to create incredible elegance and grace.

    Parmigianino also painted a remarkable self-portrait (held at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna but I can’t find a stable link, so see http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/self-portrait-in-a-convex-mirror/ZQEd-Sg2nqL5mg). It is a masterpiece of distortion and illusion, showing the artist reflected in a convex mirror, his calm and self-possessed face the centre as the world curves around him.

    In Neoclassical art there was a conscious return both to the idealized harmony and proportion of the body and often to themes and dress seen in classical statues. In Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii (1784 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/oath-horatii) the male bodies (and their actions) are idealized – taut muscles clearly delineated, resolve expressed in their gestures and sharp geometry. It is a political as well as an artistic statement. The balancing feminine triangle of the grieving sisters on the right contrasts in the soft, pliant figures – which also show classical proportions and idealized beauty.

    Jacques-Louis David The Tennis Court Oath 20th June 1789 © RMN-Grand Palais

    Jacques-Louis David
    The Tennis Court Oath 20th June 1789
    1791
    © RMN-Grand Palais
    http://www.histoire-image.org/pleincadre/index.php?i=215

    In The Oath of the Horatii David places the figures in a frieze-like band across a shallow space, using them to create a clear and dramatic composition. The same triangular, heroic stances can be seen massed in David’s later work The Tennis Court Oath (see my analysis 5-Oct-2013). Here they are repeated, pivoted, converging on the central figure reading the Oath. The draft of the intended painting shows the well-modeled nude figures. Most, although not all, are well-muscled, idealized forms. One of the religious figures at the front just left of centre seems less energized and has a slight paunch. This could be a statement about the vitality and importance of the church. It could also show a tension between using classical ideals and depicting real individuals with anatomical accuracy.

    The course notes ask about this very question – art based on the classical ideal and art pursuing anatomical accuracy. The classical nude is a conceptually perfected figure, not any one individual and not showing the variety of humans. It doesn’t seem to be particularly anatomically incorrect – simply a very restricted selection. In all the examples I’ve mentioned in this post the accuracy or otherwise of the figure is only one part of the artist’s purpose. This may be religious, or political, or displaying technical virtuosity or scientific knowledge. The figure is also a compositional device, one part of the whole artistic effect. I haven’t ventured into the modern era in this post – there have been so many movements and so many different approaches to the human figure! However I will point to one – Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) by Marcel Duchamp (1912, oil on canvas, http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51449.html. Duchamp is exploring the painterly concern of showing motion in a painting – the figure is simply a vehicle for his experimentation.

    References

    Bambach, C. (2002) “Anatomy in the Renaissance”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. [online] Available from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/anat/hd_anat.htm (Accessed 26-Apr-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Research point: Representation of the human figure
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project three: The human figure
    Research point: Representation of the human figure

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Exercise: Commission a portrait

    This exercise asks for a personal memorandum for the commissioning of a portrait. The subject can be any person in history and possible portraitists likewise.

    20120601_mumI would like a portrait of my mother. This photo was taken at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) a couple of years ago, and in the background is Ben Quilty’s portrait of Margaret Olley which has been mentioned in a couple of posts recently. I would like to celebrate mum and her life, and I think she would find the experience of having her portrait painted interesting and enjoyable, although possibly uncomfortable on a number of levels.

    My first choice of possible portraitists would be Grace Cossington Smith (reiterating that there are no restrictions of space or time in the exercise).

    Grace Cossington Smith The sock knitter

    Grace Cossington Smith
    The sock knitter
    1915

    Grace Cossington Smith Interior with wardrobe mirror (1955)

    Grace Cossington Smith
    Interior with wardrobe mirror
    (1955)

    To give a general idea of her work I’ve included thumbnails from some paintings at AGNSW – see www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/
    collection/works/OA18.1960/
    and www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
    /collection/works/OA11.1967/
    . Although less common in her work, examples of portraits are Portrait of Mrs McGann (1944 http://www.charlesnodrumgallery.com.au/artwork.asp?id=43383) and Self portrait (1948 http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=460&acno=2002.65). Grace Cossington Smith painted some of mum’s favourite works. There is also a slight personal connection – Cossington Smith lived in Turramurra and worshiped at St James’ Anglican Church, whose interior she painted a number of times. For years members of my family have rung the bells at St James, and when mum was spearheading the drive to raise funds for additional bells Cossington Smith gave her a sizeable donation. Finally I am attracted to Cossington Smith’s use of colour and light to describe form, the deep affection shown in her portraits and sketches of family, and the sense of space, peace and home in her interiors.

    For this exercise I don’t suppose I should stop with a short list of one, although I think the fit of subject and painter is very good. Another choice could be Jenny Sages. There are a lot of images and a lot of information about Sages on the National Portrait Gallery website, including a video at http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/exhibition_subsite_jenny_2.php. Sages portraits are about relationships, making connections. She has to know the person, care about them, have rapport with them. In the video Sales talks about her relationship with her mother, which also drew me to her. Like my mother Sages was born elsewhere and has developed a relationship with this land. Sages has painted strong women, courageous and brave women, and I think she could show the strength and courage I see in my mother.

    The portrait is intended for a domestic setting, so should not be larger than around 125 cm in height or width. It should be suitable to hang on a wall. Those are really the only absolutes. Oil on canvas on board is suggested, or the pigment and encaustic wax Sages often uses.

    I have chosen artists who work with connections and relationships. The only potential sticking point to accepting the final work would be if a rapport and mutual respect did not develop between sitter and painter. I also believe it’s important to be able to trust the artist in their judgement of what makes a good picture. While my notes below suggest a possible focus and items that could be included, they are a starting point not a shopping list. The work should develop in the relationship.

    Like all of us mum is a complex person with different aspects of her personality more apparent at different times. I would like the portrait to focus on her loves of travel, people, and history. I’m very fond of the story that as a young woman in the early 1950s, coming from a very conservative family, she spent her first pay cheque on a suitcase. She has been expedition cook on a dig in western NSW and general helper on a dig in Turkmenistan. For her 70th birthday she wanted to walk on the Great Wall of China and to visit a series of historical and archaeological sites not on a standard tour route – so she organised her own tour and gathered her own group. That zest for life and exploration and openness to adventure is still very apparent in today’s woman of 85. My idea for the portrait is of mum sitting comfortably in her home, surrounded by “treasures” (emotional, not necessarily monetary value) that connect her to places and people from the past. At the same time she should look ready to get up and launch into her next travels.

    Some items that could link into this: mum_01jcj_map

    • Maps – mum has a large collection of old maps
    • Some antique furniture handed down through the family, including this corner cabinet filled with curiosities
    • jcj_samplermum_02

    • A sampler stitched by a great, great aunt
    • A small rug she commissioned when travelling in Turkey
    • mum_03

    • textiles and nick nacks picked up from here, there and everywhere.

    In the past few years mum and I have stood on the beaches of Flinders Island off Tasmania, walked through the tree canopy in Western Australia and gazed out across Fogg Dam in the Northern Territory. I would like a portrait that celebrates her spirit and that wide streak of stubborn.
    mum_04mum_05mum_06

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Exercise: Commission a portrait
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
    Exercise: Commission a portrait

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait

    Margaret Olley Portrait in the mirror

    Margaret Olley
    Portrait in the mirror
    1948 Oil on cardboard 56.3 x 72.0 cm board
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/454.2001/


    For this annotation I have chosen a work by Margaret Olley, an Australian painter best known for her still-life and interior paintings.

    The artist is seen reflected in a mirror. This is of course the case in most self-portraits, but it is not often made so clear by showing the mirror itself. (Another more extreme example of showing the mirror is the Brett Whiteley self-portrait http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/1.1977/ which I mentioned 18-Apr-2014). We see part of the mirror’s frame, and reflections of the shell and postcards on the right-hand side. We understand that we are looking at a table strewn with fruit, flowers and other objects, and the reflection of Olley and the room behind.

    Although there is a clutter of objects there is also a sense of space and calm. The curve created by the placement of fruit and so on reflects the curve of the necklace, framing the young woman’s face. Her head provides the classical triangular composition.

    olley_02aI explored this further in gimp, first following the diagonals set in place with edges and shadow on the tabletop. The lines created correspond well to elements in the composition. They “happen” to cross directly on an orange flower that protrudes from the arrangement on the left.

    olley_02bI copied and flipped the lines horizontally. Olley’s face emerges in the space created, and as I moved the lines around I found the diagonals repeated again and again throughout the picture.

    olley_02cFinally I duplicated and flipped lines again, this time vertically. Every line seems to discover links and connections in the original picture, and above it all Olley’s face still looks out calmly. Every time I look at the picture I find more echoes – for example Olley’s necklace repeated in the postcard to the right, and the curves of the shells, and the petals of the yellow chrysanthemum, and even the curve in the body in the centre postcard.

    olley_03None of the common visual clues of the artist as artist are included, no brushes, palette or easel, but the picture is filled with the objects and inspirations that fuelled Olley’s career. The fruit, flowers and shells are all seen in many of her works. I haven’t identified the works shown in the postcards, but her Homage to Manet (1987 http://www.artgallery.
    nsw.gov.au/collection/works/458.2001/
    ), which includes still-life elements, is another example of her appreciation of and tributes to past masters. Even the idea of a mirrored self-portrait is revisited – see Self portrait with everlastings (1974 http://www.nag.org.au/collection/interpreting_
    the_collection/poets_paint_words/artwork/margaret_olley_1974
    ).

    This continuity could itself be a cause for concern. Olley is probably better known as an art celebrity than as an artist.

    olley_01I took this photo in the NSW Art Gallery (AGNSW) a few weeks ago, and had to wait quite a while for the space to have so few visitors. On the left is the 2011 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by Ben Quilty (see my analysis 13-Apr-2014). To its right is the 1948 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by William Dobell. To its right, in the distance in the next gallery, can be seen Olley’s Portrait in the mirror. Olley is an Australian Art celebrity, who contributed in multiple ways. She mentored young artists such as Ben Quilty. Having made substantial amounts as a property developer, Olley was a philanthropist – a recent search of the Art Gallery of NSW website found 150 works with “Olley” in the credit line, either a direct gift or as a contributor through the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust (for example Vlaminck’s Sailing boats at Chatou – see my post 8-Dec-2013 and AGNSW website here). There are another six works “gift of the artist”, such as this post’s focus painting, plus major works where Olley was one of a group of donors, such as Cézanne’s Banks of the Marne (see my Assignment 3 study 28-Feb-2014). All that, and AGNSW is only one of the institutions Olley supported. Until researching this post I had no idea how much this one woman’s gifts had added to the richness of my current studies.

    William Dobell Margaret Olley 1948

    William Dobell
    Margaret Olley
    1948 oil on hardboard 114.3 x 85.7 cm board
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8164/

    Olley’s awards included Officer of the Order of Australia (1991), Life governor, the Art Gallery of NSW (1992), official designation as an Australian National Treasure (1997), Centenary Medal (2001) and Companion of the Order of Australia (2006) ‘for service as one of Australia’s most distinguished artists, for support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists’. She was awarded honorary Doctorates from Macquarie University, the University of Sydney, the University of Newcastle, the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, Lismore and Griffith University, Brisbane.

    Olley was a gregarious person, enjoying visiting the galleries she loved, friends with many artists. Her home in Sydney was frequented by many involved in Australian arts. It was also visible to the general public through artworks by Olley herself and by other artists such as R. Ian Lloyd (see http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts-reviews/studio/2008/08/05/1217702008314.html) and Lewis Morely (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=&irn=544&acno=2003.50). It was the subject of an exhibition in 2012 (http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/exhibitions/margaret-olley-home). Three rooms from the house have had all their contents catalogued and moved, becoming part of a recreation in a new extension at the Tweed Regional Gallery (supported with a contribution from the Margaret Olley Art Trust) – see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre. Over 20,000 items are included – Olley’s home was filled with the subjects of her paintings, and a subject in itself.

    All this visibility of the person makes it very difficult to see the art. Do an internet search on “Margaret Olley painting” and there is image after image full of colour, mainly still life and domestic interiors. Vibrant and beautiful, they invite you to spend time with them, to explore the world so lovingly shown. Yet given all the movements and schisms and explorations of art over the last 150 years the work appears like a charming cul-de-sac – very decorative, very pleasing, but not part of contemporary art nor part of the trajectory of art. Should this be seen as an indictment of Olley’s art, or of Art History and the emphasis on innovation and ‘progress’? There is a quest for new ground, new challenges (to the artist in processes, to society in themes explored and aesthetics), new ideas. Is there a place for integrity of vision, for a focus and intention that stays true? Olley was keenly aware of modern thought in art, but she was not distracted in her own artistic purpose.

    Nelson (2011) wrote “Olley defied time, progress, change and innovation; yet even in an epoch impatient with orthodoxy and tradition, her work miraculously escaped the stigma of being labelled conservative… Each picture, though in some sense a bit like many others, has required the artist to make fresh and independent decisions about the logic of the colours that wrap around the volumes or spread themselves over the planes.”

    I hadn’t spent much time looking at Olley’s work prior to researching this post. Her paintings seemed somehow too decorative, almost too visually appealing, not asking questions or challenging the viewer – and her personal celebrity made her art suspect. My mistake and my loss.

    Resources

    There is a huge amount of material about Margaret Olley available on the internet, including:

    Masters, C. (2011) “Margaret Olley obituary” The Guardian 26-Aug-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/aug/25/margaret-olley-obituary (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

    Maunder, P. (2011) “A colourful life, celebrated frame by frame” The Sydney Morning Herald 27-July-2011 [online] Available from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/a-colourful-life-celebrated-frame-by-frame-20110726-1hyhw.html (Accessed 20-Apr-2014)

    Nelson, R. (2011) “The Magic of Margaret Olley” The Age 29-Jul-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-magic-of-margaret-olley-20110728-1i20h.html (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

    Thomas, J. (2011) Australian stories: Margaret Olley Australia.gov.au [online] Available from http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/margaret-olley (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

    Tweed Regional Gallery ([n.d.]) Margaret Olley Art Centre [online] Available from http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
    Annotation: A self-portrait

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Research Point: Artists’ self-portraits

    This Research Point poses a number of questions about artists’ self-portraits.

    1. Why might an artist choose to paint (or sculpt) a self-portrait?

    My initial assumption here was cost and availability. Models may be hard to find and hard to afford. Only a limited number of sittings may be possible for a commissioned portrait. I’ve found there are many other reasons.

    Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) each painted many self-portraits throughout their careers. Dr. Andrea Bubenik has suggested their motivations include “social ambition, pride in artistic profession, preparation for posterity, experimentation, medical diagnostics, and self fashioning” (Bubenik, 2011). Artists in their time were still regarded as any other craft workers, and showing themselves in rich costumes could enhance their prestige and social standing. The portraits could act as a form of advertising, displaying the artist’s virtuosity. In a self-portrait the artist could experiment with techniques or compositions in a way not possible within a commissioned work, for example by using a convex mirror. An example of “medical diagnostics” is a sketch by Dürer in which he points to where he was experiencing pain in his side (the work is held at the Kunsthalle, Bremen. A link to an image is https://www.museodelprado.es/en/exhibitions/exhibitions/at-the-museum/the-renaissance-portrait/the-exhibition/self-portraiture/).

    Many of these motivations have remained relevant to artists through to the current day. However I think the two most common are the idea of a self fashioned or constructed persona, and the expression of the world view or personal concerns of the artist.

    2 (a). How do artists explain themselves when portrayed as an artist? What visual clues do they give?

    Information on the Museo Nacional Del Prado website (link above) suggests that it was not common for an artist to portray themselves as an artist until the late sixteenth century. Calling attention to their tools of trade could hurt their social position.

    Judith Leyster’s work (c. 1630; http://www.nga.gov/content/
    ngaweb/Collection/highlights/highlight37003.html
    ) shows the young woman turning away from her work to smile at the viewer. She appears confident and competent, dexterous with her brushes and palette. The canvas on her easel shows a unfinished genre painting of a musician, thus displaying the artist’s skills in both portraiture and genre painting. Leyster’s clothing shows fine lace and gleaming fabrics – not the most practical of outfits for painting, but further demonstrating her technical skills.

    Adélaïde Labille-Guiard Self–Portrait with Two Pupils http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.225.5

    Adélaïde Labille-Guiard
    Self–Portrait with Two Pupils
    1785 Oil on canvas 210.8 x 151.1 cm)
    http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.225.5

    In 1785 Labille-Guiard is seen at her easel. While the unfinished canvas cannot be seen, the portrait itself shows her command of composition and colour. She is confident with her tools – brushes and palette in hand, crayons and paper on the footstool nearby. All three women are shown in very fashionable attire and it has been suggested that this, together with the statue of the Vestal Virgin in the background, could display the artist’s feminist agenda, teaching and advancing women and seeking equal rights in the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Metropolitan Museum of Art [n.d.]).

    Marie-Denise Villers

    Marie-Denise Villers
    Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
    1801 Oil on canvas 161.3 x 128.6 cm
    http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/437903

    It is not clear whether my next example is in fact a self-portrait. The catalogue entry presents a rather confusing sequence of attribution and re-attribution, but the work “may be a self-portrait”. I have included it because the artist’s tools shown are so much simpler than my earlier examples. A large sketchbook is propped in the young lady’s lap. She holds a brush, and another may be stuck in her hair, but there is no sign of paints or any other painting paraphernalia. The interior shown is also very simple, but there is a rather strange view through a cracked window, showing a couple in conversation in the distance. The artist is backlit, her face brightened by light reflected from her sketchbook. Her gaze is intense and serious. Could there be a questioning of the choices available – her art or marriage?

    Nora Heysen’s 1932 selfportrait (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=204031) pares the visual signs of the artist down to a minimum. She is seated and holds her palette (apparently gifted to her as a child by Dame Nellie Melba) and brushes. Her strong hands, her direct, searching expression, are all that are needed to show a modern, confident, independent artist. There is a blue curtain behind, the artist and her palette fill the frame. A few years after this painting Heysen became the first woman to win the Archibald Prize.

    A great contrast to this is a more recent winner of the Archibald, Brett Whiteley’s Self portrait in the studio (1976 http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/1.1977/). Virtually the entire picture space is filled by the room and the view of the harbour outside. Whitely’s hands can be seen, one holding a small mirror, the other in the early stages of painting his head. His face is visible reflected in the mirror. The room is full of visual clues about the artist and his work, but the work as a whole challenges the concept of portraiture itself.

    2 (b). How do artists explain themselves when portrayed in a role other than artist? What visual clues do they give?

    I have found two self-portraits by Artemisia Gentileschi in which she shows herself in a different character. The first is Self-Portrait as a Lute Player c. 1615 was recently acquired by Wadsworth Atheneum (see http://nordonart.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/wadsworth-atheneum-acquires-an-artemisia-gentileschi-self-portrait/). The artist is playing a lute. The instrument itself is beautifully detailed. The artist’s hands with their long fingers are in the act of playing. She herself is voluptuous in a low-cut gown. She could be the personification of Music – or just possibly a courtesan.

    The second work by Gentileschi has a odd twist because it shows her as the allegory of Painting – see http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?maker=12024&object=405551. The Royal Collection website explains “Artemisia follows the standard emblematic handbook of the period, the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, where Painting is described as ‘a beautiful woman, with full black hair, dishevelled, and twisted in various ways, with arched eyebrows that show imaginative thought, the mouth covered with a cloth tied behind her ears, with a chain of gold at her throat from which hangs a mask, and has written in front ‘imitation’’” (Royal Collection [n.d.]). The only item missing is the gag – Painting may be dumb, but this artist has a voice – for of course as well as allegory this is also a self-portrait of the artist, complete with brushes and palette.

    3. Can you find new insights in artists’ comments about their own self-portrait?

    Nell, winner of The University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize 2013. Without her comments I would not have been able to interpret her work. A performance, a video, the destruction of one work in the creation of a new one – it defies my description, so I suggest you look at http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/nell.

    One of the things I particularly like about this prize is the associated UQ Art Museum’s Selfie Comp. The short list can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.747970175229375.1073741830.108507249175674&type=1. The “selfie” has become so common and normal – it seems so relevant, but I haven’t been able to frame any questions or challenges it may pose to portraiture.

    While looking through the associated documentation I found “Judge Blair French said good portraiture was inextricably bound with a consciousness of time and transience, and could embrace its complexity and hold on our experience.” (University of Queensland, 2013) I’ve only ever done rough self-sketches, never attempted a self-portrait (another of the Research Point questions). I would like to think on French’s quote for a while, and perhaps make a later attempt.

    References

    Bubenik, A. (2011) “Dürer and Rembrant: The relevance of Early Modern Self-Portraiture” In Portraiture/Self Portraiture/Identity: UQ Art Museum Learning Resource [Seminar] University of Queensland [online] Available from http://asset.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/interpretive-resources/UQAM-Learning-Resource-CPD-Portraiture-2011.pdf (Accessed 17-Apr-2014)

    Metropolitan Museum of Art [n.d.] Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788): Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (French, Paris 1749–1803 Paris) [online] Available from http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436840 (Accessed 17-Apr-2014)

    Royal Collection ([n.d.]) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3): Self-portrait as the allegory of Painting (La Pittura) [online] Available from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?maker=12024&object=405551&row=0&detail=about (Accessed 18-Apr-2014).

    University of Queensland (2013) Sydney artist Nell wins $50,000 UQ National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize [online] Available from http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/10/sydney-artist-nell-wins-50000-uq-national-artists-self-portrait-prize (Accessed 18-Apr-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p2-Research Point: Artists’ self-portraits
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
    Research point: Artists’ self-portraits

    UA1-WA:Research: The Stripe – Jim Lambie

    Jim Lambie Zobop 2014   vinyl tape, varnish

    Jim Lambie
    Zobop
    2014 vinyl tape, varnish


    You imagine what you desire, the 19th Biennale of Sydney, is on at the moment and Jim Lambie’s work fills a large gallery on the ground floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). “Fills” is an interesting word, because it seems this work is all about space – making it move, stretch out, pull in, making it a huge pulsating mass. In the gallery I was conscious of moving through space rather like moving through water in a swimming pool – it was somehow more solid, more real, more present. The gallery space didn’t contain the work, it was made part of it. It’s a joyful, exhilarating and somewhat vertiginous experience to walk through the gallery.

    lambie_04Lambie, or assistants, has created stripes on the floor using vinyl sticky tape. Taping started around the perimeter, and you can see here how it respond to the slightest jag in the line of the walls (and this gallery is very irregular in shape, full of jogs and nooks and crannies, interrupted by columns).

    A strong conceptual base of “trying to fill a space while still leaving it empty” has been suggested of Lambie’s Zobop works (National Galleries Scotland, [n.d.]). Writing about another work (at Inverleith House Edinburgh) Lambie explained “covering and resurfacing objects” in his works could come from different conceptual bases – in the case of a striped floor “[it’s] primary concern was a more psychological description of architectural space” (quoted in Triming, 2003, p. 103). He goes on “of course, we can start to open up many layers which I believe exist within these works, but you have to start somewhere, and I think that most good art starts from a simple place”.

    lambie_05Limek (2011) has found a joke in such works – “Lambie plays with the preciousness of the gallery space (Don’t touch the art! Oh, wait. You’re standing on it).”

    It’s interesting and probably not really a coincidence that like Sol LeWitt (see 6-Apr-2014) Lambie has a strong interest in music (he’s a DJ) and also is happy for the individual Zobop works to be created by assistants – the concept is set, the architecture defines the work (although there are choices made during progress on colour and width of the next stripe) and “I don’t need to be there” (Lambie, in a great video produced in 2011 by Bass Museum – http://vimeo.com/30498019). In the same video Lambie describes the work as “a massive collection of edges melting and merging to make one whole”, which links to the commentary in the Biennale catalogue “…they all seem to dissolve, merging into a unified landscape of energy. Lambie’s floor installations are completely transformative and encompassing, yet transient, ending up as giant piles of twisted tape in the garbage” (Biennale of Sydney, 2014, p.183)

    Can I find a message for weaving in Lambie’s stripes? Don’t begin by overcomplicating – find a start, ask a question. Perhaps it’s also to be less precious, to cut the handwoven cloth, combine it, use it, abuse it, be ready to throw it away at the end. Weaving is a tool, or a process, or a material – an input, not an end.

    Jim Lambie Psychedelic Soul Stick

    Jim Lambie
    Psychedelic Soul Stick 68
    2007 bamboo, wire, coloured thread, ladies necklace, green feather, Marlboro Light packets

    Having done my duty by stripes and weaving, I want to show one of Lambie’s other works in the gallery.
    lambie_03It’s an eclectic mix of found items, carefully listed (the spelling in the caption follows the gallery signage). I love the way the wrapping of the different objects unifies them, conceals them within those multiple very fine stripes of thread. It reminds me of Judith Scott’s work (see http://www.judithandjoycescott.com/ ), although at a different scale and from a different starting point. I know there’s a “reveal and conceal” section in the next Textile module, so perhaps I can take forward some of these ideas in future.

    References

    Biennale of Sydney (2014) “Jim Lambie” In You imagine what you desire: 19th biennale of Sydney Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd

    Limek, P. (2011) “Techno Colored: Jim Lambie at Goss-Michael” In D Magazine, May 4, 2011 [online] Available from http://www.antonkerngallery.com/system/press_pdfs/78/original/2011-05-04_D_Magazine_Lambie.pdf?1345756684 (Accessed 15-Apr-2014)

    National Galleries Scotland [n.d.] “Jim Lambie” [online] Available from http://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists-a-z/L/15903/artist_name/Jim%20Lambie/record_id/2335 (Accessed 15-Apr-2014)

    Triming, L. (2003) “Jim Lambie: Low kick and hard bob” In Flash Art May, 2003 pp. 102 – 105. [online] Available from http://www.antonkerngallery.com/system/press_pdfs/83/original/2003-05_FlashArt_Lambie.pdf?1345757411 (Accessed 15-Apr-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait

    Although this exercise suggests further analysis of one of the works seen at a portrait gallery, I would like to celebrate the great Sydney institution of the annual Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is awarded for the best portrait entered, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’. It was first awarded in 1921 and was established by a bequest from journalist Jules François Archibald to foster portraiture, support artists, and commemorate great Australians. The Archibald Prize is a huge event, complete with controversies, Packing Room and People’s Choice awards and a Salon des Refusés. It has generated ongoing debate on the nature of a portait, with one prize-winner being disputed in court as a caricature and distortion (the challenge failed). An often seen quote from Dobell, the artist involved, was that he was “trying to create something, instead of copying something. To me, a sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is living in itself, regardless of its subject. So long as people expect paintings to be simply coloured photographs they get no individuality and in the case of portraits, no characterisation. The real artist is striving to depict his subject’s character and to stress the caricature, but at least it is art which is alive.”

    Ben Quilty Margaret Olley oil on linen 170 x 150cm

    Ben Quilty
    Margaret Olley
    2011 oil on linen 170 x 150cm


    Ben Quilty won the Archibald Prize in 2011 with this portrait of artist Margaret Olley.

    quilty_02The large scale and tight framing of the face give an almost overwhelming sense of a dominating presence. On the face large areas of smooth white-primed linen support thick, generous, yet precise sweeps of rich paint, and dense, textured impasto fills the background. The work seems close to the boundary of representation and abstraction.

    The bright colours reflect the colours of Olley’s own work, which is often still-lifes of her own home – an eclectic, colourful jumble of treasures and inspiration. Margaret Olley, a grand dame of Australian painting, died only a few months after this work won the Archibald. Her home and its clutter were so well-known, seen as so central to Olley’s work and legacy, that it has now been recreated within the Tweed Regional Gallery (see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre). The straw hat which frames her face in the portrait is classic Olley, as is the general expression – compare for example Greg Weight’s 1991 photograph (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=811&acno=2004.62). Here she looks to me a touch tired, but alert, determined, opinionated, colourful… I would say that both the features and the character would have been clearly recognisable to most visitors to the exhibition.

    This portrait was painted for the specific purpose of entry in the Archibald Prize. The artist, Ben Quilty, is a young star of Australian painting. His work is often gritty and masculine, so the portrait showed a new side to his work. Margaret Olley was a very successful and highly respected painter who has also contributed greatly to Australian art both by mentorship of younger artists and through philanthropic gifts. Olley was one of the judges who selected Quilty as winner of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002. Their mutual affection and respect could be seen in footage taped at the time of the Archibald award (see http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/archibald-wynne-sulman-prizes-2011/video/).

    The portrait was clearly very successful in that it won the Prize it was created for. It still hangs in a place of honour in the New South Wales Art Gallery. Whether it is successful as a portrait or was the “best” work in competition is a matter of debate – as is every Archibald. The competition has a strong populist slant and this was a popular selection. The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes together form an annual exhibition that gets a lot of press and a lot of visitors (The Wynne Prize is for landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture; the Sulman Prize is for a subject or genre painting or mural.)

    This exercise asks for a “formal portrait” and I have wondered if my selection fits. Being so tightly cropped it has virtually none of the additional identifying marks of the subject. The painting style, level of detail and type of finish don’t match the standard row of heads one sees in a boardroom or the corridor of some institution. However as a portrait by a modern painter, intended for a popular, celebrity-focused portrait competition, capturing not just the features but the character of a well known and admired icon of recent Australian painting, I think it is a very good example of a formal portrait.

    Resources

    Archibald Prize, including past winners: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/archibald/

    Australian Story profile of Quilty: http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/onthewarpath/default.htm

    Ben Quilty’s website: http://www.benquilty.com/

    Discussion of the Archibald and other 2011 entrants: http://theconversation.com/archibald-argy-bargy-as-ben-quilty-wins-populist-prize-841

    UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Project one: The portrait
    Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait


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