Posts Tagged 'UWA-P4-annotation'

UA1-WA:P4-p4-Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture

I wrote about Henry Moore for a Research Point on abstract sculpture back in Part 3 (see 15-Dec-2013). Wanting to avoid too much repetition I’ve decided to meet this current requirement by looking at particular aspects of works previously mentioned.

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Henry Moore
Reclining figure: Angles
1980
bronze, green patina
113.3 x 219.6 x 156.8 cm; 10.8 cm bronze base
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/6.1981/

This work was created late in Moore’s career, but the subject recurs throughout his work. Examples are included in his textile work – the large wall hanging Reclining figure of 1949 (linen printed by Ascher, see TEX 21.1 on http://www.henry-moore.org/hmf/press/press-releases/henry-moore/past-press-releases/henry-moore-textiles/henry-moore-textiles) and Reclining Figures 1944-46, which includes a body position very similar to the later focus sculpture (TEX 8.2 on http://www.henry-moore.org/pg/exhibitions/archive/2009/henry-moore-textiles-at-pallant-house-gallery).

In my earlier post I found the distortions in the body somewhat unnerving, and suggested “this work seems to have no reason or meaning beyond Moore’s interest in working with volumes and forms”. Given my more recent studies, can my previous views stand?

First I should note a potential fallacy underlying my comment on the similarity of Moore’s reclining nudes of the mid 1940s and forty years later. A superficial similarity does not mean the works come from the same interests and point of view with no development or progression (which statement itself should not imply that development or progression are necessarily good or essential).

In recent exercises I have studied the reclining nude through art history. The focus work here is part of the continuation of that history, however I believe it does not trigger many of the issues within a feminist critique. Moore’s figure is not an idealization of the female form. It is a distortion, which could be interpreted as a violent act, but I see this as more using the figure as a known starting point in an exploration of volumes. The figure is not asleep or submissive or challenging in its gaze (if one stands “in front” to give the viewpoint of the classical painting). Instead she turns to direct her gaze elsewhere, to the side and over the viewer. Personally I don’t see this as a particularly seductive or erotic figure, although I note the polishing effect of the many hands which must have touched her breast over the years, entirely removing any patina.

The distortion of the figure could be related to Moore’s interest in surrealism, in particular a concern with metamorphosis. In his sketchbooks Moore could morph bones, stones or other natural items towards a human form. There is also an element of abstraction, although in this example the human figure is still clearly evident. For Moore “abstraction was a tool, not an objective” (Causey, 2010).

moore_agnsw_09The head is small compared to the bulk of the body and the facial features generalised, but there is still a clear facial plane, lines of hair, and an interesting echo and reversal in the shaping of the hair and the nose.

Aristide Maillol La Montagne [The mountain] 1937 Lead

Aristide Maillol
La Montagne [The mountain] 1937
Lead
http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=116514

Earlier works by Moore can show a fragility, even an anguish, perhaps “responding to the horrors of war” (Ure-Smith, 2011). The focus work, created decades later, has instead a strength, a monumentality. It seems to me anchored, and reminds me of Maillol’s mountainous figure (see 13-Jun-2014). However transplanted to Sydney, on a flat grassy area just before the slope to the harbour, I can’t claim that Moore’s figure is reflected in its landscape.

Moore had a close and loving relationship with his mother. One could read into the long line of the backbone in the focus work a trace from Moore’s rubbing of his mother’s back after a long hard day of work. The control and power of the work, a sense of gravity and stability, could refer to their relationship. I don’t believe this Reclining Figure can be included in the “images of anxiety” seen in some works (McAvera, 2001), but neither is the work “almost entirely lacking in any interior or psychological life” (ibid) – that deliberate, directed gaze is too suggestive of volition.

Good art, Moore asserted, contains elements both abstract and surrealist, classical and romantic: “Order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and unconscious. Both sides of the artist’s personality must play their part.” (National Gallery of Art Washington, 2001). Reclining figure: Angles supports a wide variety of readings, some quite contradictory, and I believe is the richer for it.

I’d like to look briefly at another work by Moore I have seen in the past year – Hill Arches. This work more clearly displays a metamorphosis, an ambiguity. Is is the bones of animals or some kind of insect? In my eyes it is an erotic work full of sexual energy and activity (see 15-Dec-2013). Forms have been hollowed out, flesh stripped away, forms within forms laid bare. However it is the varied presentation of the work which I will discuss here.

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Henry Moore
Hill arches
1973 Bronze
National Gallery of Australia
http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=37537

There are multiple versions of this work. The maquette shows a wider spacing of the elements, losing drama and tension (see http://catalogue.henry-moore.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/search@/0/invno-asc?t:state:flow=86105d9a-265b-4eaf-b523-6035b3fbd633, or if that link isn’t good search for Object Number: LH 634 cast 0 ). The working model (Object Number: LH 635 cast 0) is tightened up considerably.

christanto_03The version pictured above is in a corner of the National Gallery of Australia sculpture garden in Canberra and is no.4 from an edition of 4. The work is in a little hollow, heavily shaded by trees, next to a rush-filled pond. The pond itself contains Dadang Christanto’s Heads from the North and in one of my photographs of Christanto’s work you can see Moore’s in the distance. Hill Arches doesn’t dominate space, it isn’t really framed by its environment. Instead I came across this work with a sense of discovery. The work almost blends in to the gardens, the large structure dwarfed by the trees, the colour melding with the natural surrounds.

My interpretation of the sculpture as a copulating couple was based on the angle at which I first saw it, but perhaps also by the rather out-of-the-way positioning and the sense of almost surprising the work in its private space.

I found some photographs from circa. 1985, 1990 and 1995 https://artserve.anu.edu.au/raid1/student_projects/garden/hill/hill.html. Landscaping of the sculpture gardens began in 1981 and most of the sculptures were installed in 1982 (see Piekains, 2003). In those earlier years the Moore sculpture was much more prominent, although even by 1995 it could be said “over the years, as the trees have grown, the work has appeared to sink a little into the landscape” (Hyden, 1995). The work in 2014 seems to have settled in still more, and with the increasing density of reeds in the pond it is not quite so accurate to claim “the Henry Moore sits in languid repose by the edge of the Marsh Pond, the lustrous bronze surface intentionally played off against the surface of the pond” (Piekains, 2003).

The situation of the sculpture seemed to have a strong influence on my experience of it, so I spent some time tracking down the other works in the edition.

moore_viennaOne version is in Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria. The shot from the right is from Google Earth, and shows the work in a very formal setting to one side of an oval pool (I couldn’t even find the Canberra version, hidden in the trees on Google Earth). Photographs I found taken from various angles look completely different, influenced by the architecture of the different buildings behind – for examples see:

  • http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/austria/vienna/church-of-st-charles/hill-arches
  • http://www.travelwriticus.com/hill-arches-henry-moore-vienna-austria/
  • http://www.aviewoncities.com/gallery/showpicture.htm?key=kveat0636
  • In the second photograph listed above the Moore work is a wonderful counterpoint to the baroque church behind, while in the third photograph it seems to float in the water like a strange ark.

    moore_usaAnother version is on its own island, part of the complex of the Deere & Company World Headquarters, Moline, Illinois – see http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/united-states-of-america/moline/deere-company-world-headquarters/hill-arches-1973-lh-636

    The Headquarters, designed by Eero Saarinen, were the first known use of COR-TEN® steel in the architectural world. They have won multiple awards for architecture and the landscape design by Sasaki (see http://www.sasaki.com/project/177/deere–company-corporate-headquarters/). The rounded lines of Hill Arches are a beautiful complement to the low rectangular buildings, sculpture and buildings both proudly displaying their metal skeletons.

    The final work of the Edition is owned by the Henry Moore Foundation and has traveled widely over the years. Photographs I’ve found include:

  • In Kew Gardens, 2008
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Henry_Moore_Sculptures_in_Kew_Gardens#mediaviewer/File:Henry_Moore_at_Kew_-_%22Hill_Arches%22_-_geograph.org.uk_-_541811.jpg; http://www.barrywelchphotography.com/keyword/henry%20moore%20hill%20arches/i-44MfSHn
  • New York Botanical Garden, 2008
    http://nyclovesnyc.blogspot.com.au/2008/06/henry-moore-sculpture-at-new-york.html
  • Atlanta Botanical Garden, 2009.
    Their blog http://mooreinamerica.blogspot.com.au/ contains many interesting photos, including loading onto transport (January 2010) and lit at night (15-May-2009)
  • Denver Botantic Gardens, 2010 – 2011.
    http://denver.about.com/od/photogalleries/ig/Moore-in-the-Gardens-Photos/Moore-in-the-Gardens–Pond.htm
    http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_14282979
  • Hatfield House, 2011.
    http://takeonlymemories.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/henry-moores-hill-arches/
  • Perry Green, 2012
    http://thequacksoflife.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/the-henry-moore-foundation.html
  • The different versions are different. For example the Canberra version is bronze in colour, unlike the green/turquoise patina of the Henry Moore Foundation work. They are presented in very different environments – Austrian urban, Australian bush garden, American industrial park, and a wide variety of temporary homes including both formal and informal gardens. The website of the Henry Moore Foundation suggests “Moore conceived [Hill Arches] for the top of a low hill but usually sited on grass, or in water, where its reflection produced an effect he particularly liked” (Henry Moore Foundation, [n.d.]). The very title of the work suggests landscape, but Cohen has claimed of the Vienna cast “losing all pretence to landscape, its curvaceous forms come to relate to the ornate dome and the twisting triumphal columns that flank the façade. Ironically, this sculpture conceived in terms of landscape has settled effortlessly into this most urbane of settings” (Cohen, 1998). In Atlanta “The turquoise Hill Arches float on a cloud of white Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” with a rose peaking through the background. I’ve eavesdropped on our visitors, and they are enamored with this piece and the lovely, delicate white flowers that set it off” (Atlanta Botanical Garden, 2009)

    Richardson (2007) wrote: “the sculptor commented in 1951, just as he was beginning to contemplate making works specifically for landscapes: ‘Sculpture gains by finding a setting that suits its mood and when that happens there is gain for both the sculpture and setting'”. Does it matter that the artist had one intention, and that I don’t think a single one of the photographs I found had the work sited according to that intention? Obviously many people have enjoyed the works as presented. Does this indicate a strong sculpture that can hold its own and contribute to almost any environment? Does it reflect the cachet of such a well known artist? Could it bring still more to the viewer if seen its intended setting? It is probably only a minority of artworks that are designed for a particular site and are seen only in that site. It has been an interesting exercise to trace the different variants of Hill Arches.

    Finally, I’m always happy to find a textile link. Go to http://magsramsay.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/light-and-shadow-indigo-hill-arches.html to see a textile response to Hill Arches at Kew.

    References

    Atlanta Botanical Garden (2009) Moore in America 8 May [online] Available from http://mooreinamerica.blogspot.com.au/ (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    Causey, A. (2010) “His darkened imagination: Henry Moore” in Tate Etc. 18 (Spring) [online] Available from http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/his-darkened-imagination (Accessed 13-Jun-2014)

    Cohen, D. (1998) “Hill Arches 1973” in Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation edited by David Mitchinson, Henry Moore Foundation: University of California Press p. 305

    Henry Moore Foundation, ([n.d.]) Henry Moore Works in Public: United States of America: Moline [online] Available from http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/united-states-of-america/moline/deere-company-world-headquarters/hill-arches-1973-lh-636 (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    Hyden, J. (1995) Henry: Hill arches [online] Available from https://artserve.anu.edu.au/raid1/student_projects/garden/hill/hill.html (Accessed 18-Jun-2014)

    McAvera, J. (2001) “The Enigma of Henry Moore” in Sculpture Magazine 20 (6) July/August[online] Available from http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag01/julaug01/moore/moore.shtml (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    National Gallery of Art Washington (2001) Henry Moore: Abstraction and Surrealism: The 1930s [online] Available from https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/moore1930.shtm (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    Piekains, H. (2003) Sculpture Garden: Art in Landscape essay originally published in the National Gallery’s of Australia’s Building the Collection publication. [online] Available from http://www.nga.gov.au/sculpturegarden/essay.htm (Accessed 20-Jun-2014)

    Richardson, T (2007) “Henry Moore exhibition at Kew is a triumph” in The Telegraph 14-Sept [online] Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/3344503/Henry-Moore-exhibition-at-Kew-is-a-triumph.html (Accessed 15/6/2014)

    Ure-Smith, J. (2011) “The man behind the monuments” in ft.com 19 August [online] Available from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/8ea55ae0-c8bd-11e0-a2c8-00144feabdc0.html#axzz352mDRShU (Accessed 15-Jun-2014)

    UA1-WA:P4-p4-Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
    Project four: Figure sculpture
    Exercise: Annotate a Henry Moore figures sculpture

    UA1-WA:P4-p3-Exercise: Annotate a female nude

    The requirements for this exercise are quite precise: an annotation of a classic nude in the western tradition with a comparison to a specific work by a less well-known twentieth century artist. This had me wondering about the underlying purpose of the exercise.

    I’d seen the exercise coming up, and without reading the detail had already selected three works by the same artist in the Art Gallery of NSW to work on – the main work a nude by Dobell, plus comparisons to two smaller nudes by the same artist (the AGNSW has some studies for those, too). I particularly like some brushstrokes and a scarlet red which is carried through the main work.I thought it would be enlightening to think about different works and different purposes over time.

    While I started off rather grumpy, I’ve found the selection of appropriate works and thinking about what the exercise is trying to teach me very interesting in their own right. For the main work I have chosen what I think of as “The” classic nude in the western tradition, and as for the second work – I’ll give my thoughts on that later.

    sketch_giorgioneThe Sleeping Venus (also known as The Slumbering Venus) was painted by Giorgione 1508 – 1510, with some elements completed by Titian after Giorgione’s death. Given copyright concerns (of the photo rather than the original painting), I’ve included my rough sketch here – see http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/sleeping-venus/xgFm1GCECrnfQA?projectId=art-project for the best image I could find.

    The picture shows a naked woman, the goddess Venus, asleep in the foreground. Her long body stretches from one side of the canvas to the other. Behind her is rolling countryside, leading to a hilltop village in the middle ground on the right, another village and mountains in the distance to left, and in the far distance in the centre the sea can be glimpsed – a convincing sense of depth. The long, soft curves and contours of the goddess are echoed in the long curves of the hills in the landscape behind. She lies on fine, white cloth, with plump, rich, red and gold pillows supporting her. The left arm reaches back to support her head, exposing the perfect form of the goddess to our eyes. Her right hand rests on her pubic area, drawing our attention to her as a sexual being. Her smooth, unblemished skin fills our gaze. The colours appear rich and warm, based on the web image available and various sources referring to rich and bold Venetian colours. There appears to be a tree-stump in the centre of the image, almost a pivot point. Is this to create a balance, to remove a void in the centre, a partial distraction for the eye from the hand and groin of the goddess just below, some kind of allegory…?

    For a languid, atmospheric image there is actually a lot of content, a lot going on, except for a vacancy of grass towards the lower right. X-ray analysis reveals that cupid, possibly playing with a bird or a bow and arrows, was in this area. Probably completed by Titian, this area was degraded and painted over during conservation in 1837.

    Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Written by Francesco Colonna  Design of woodcuts attributed to Benedetto Bordone  1499

    Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
    Written by Francesco Colonna
    Design of woodcuts attributed to Benedetto Bordone
    1499
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/365313

    Elements of the pose can be traced back to the Venus of Knidos, while the book pictured here was published only a decade before Giorgione’s work and would have been known to him. However this particular painting by Giorgione is regarded as “the work that founded the tradition of the reclining nude” (Chilvers, 2009, p. 250).

    That is not the only first (or close to first) claimed for Giorgione. He was early amongst those who focused on “cabinet” or easel paintings using brilliant oil-based colours, suitable for secular, private, wealthy clients. Giorgione also created a sense of mood in his landscapes with subtle use of colour and atmosphere, and in the focus painting the nude appears a part of that landscape, not simply posed in front of it.

    Little of Giorgione’s output during his short career has survived, and the attribution of a number of works are the subject of ongoing debate. His work can appear dream-like, not only in atmosphere but in a vagueness of subject or theme, creating a visual poetry. The Sleeping Venus could share this mystery, but the imagery is suited to its original purpose – to commemorate the marriage of Girolamo Marcello, Giorgione’s patron, and Morosina Pisani. The sleeping Venus and cupid are symbolic of a wedding. The gesture of her hand relates to the contemporary belief that to achieve conception both partners must be pleasured. The erotic overtones are within the context of the marriage.

    The scale of the picture invites the viewer in. The goddess in all her loveliness is displayed to us. The viewer could enter the picture and wake her, to share in her erotic dream. Many of the elements of concern in a feminist critique are present. The woman although identified as Venus, is anonymous not an individual and her form is more classical perfection than a real woman. She presents herself to the assumed masculine gaze, is available to the voyeur. Her pose is openly sensual. She sleeps, passive, unchallenging. The association with a marriage highlights that the masculine patron is acquiring for his “enjoyment the perfect partner – passive, receptive, available” (quoting again from Saunders (1989, p. 23) – see also my post 6-Jun-2014). Marriage at the time was a social and political contract in which the woman had no voice.

    In its historical context the picture was appropriate, innovative and beautiful. If painted today it wouldn’t be innovative (ignoring any time travel causality paradoxes!) and I would look for some additional conceptual basis underpinning the work – whether an expression of joie de vivre or a social statement, or an exploration of form…

    The more modern comparative work the OCA notes direct me to is Reclining nude by Maria Szantho. Szantho (1897 – 1998) was born and lived in Hungary. She represented Hungary, sending paintings to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but I was unable to find any works by her on the Hungarian National Gallery website (http://www.mng.hu/en, using site search engine 8-June-2014). The limited biographical information I have found comes from a site maintained by her grand-nephew (http://www.szantho.ca/601.html). The best image sources I have found for Szantho’s works are http://www.pinterest.com/anjawessels/maria-szantho/ (which when I viewed it 8-Jun-2014 had the picture nominated by OCA in the top row) and http://maherartgallery.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/maria-szantho-1897-1997.html. I have no information on size or date or materials used, and the image is limited to 736 pixels. I have not been able to locate any existing critical commentary.

    Presumably the point of the comparison is that here we have a painting of a reclining nude woman, by a woman, testing the scope and limitations of feminist critique – and the comparison of my reactions to this and to the Giorgione work is challenging. Szantho’s woman is anonymous. Her form may be regarded as a contemporary idealization – slim, relatively large breasts, pretty. In other works by Szantho there is a tendency to large eyes, thin eyebrows, bow mouth – the fashion plate of the day. The nude reclines, sleeping – vulnerable, unchallenging, available to the male gaze. There is little definition in the space around her – she rests on a white sheet with a red pillow, there are possible tufts of grass in the foreground and a rough bushy indication behind. From what I have seen during my search some people find her work beautiful, decorative, timeless. I think it is bad art.

    My check lists describing the two nudes are very similar, but the end results are quite different. How can I regard one as great art, endlessly interesting, and the other as trite and banal. I don’t particularly see it as degrading to women, just irrelevant. Szantho’s work doesn’t ask questions, explore, push boundaries, even really present a strong point of view. It is quite disconnected to any of the major movements in twentieth century art. From what I can see on the web image the colouring is a fairly blunt red-green contrast, while the body is not quite photo-realist and not quite anything else. The part I find challenging is that however well or badly painted I can accept one version of the perfected female form and the other I find a dolly-bird, empty-headed travesty. I can’t justify it, I simply note my social conditioning.

    The thing that gets to me in this exercise is that it is unfair. We are asked to compare a fringe artist to a legend of western art. I think it trivializes the feminist debate. One is a great of western art, possibly a pin-up in its day but always more than that. The other is an almost contemporary minor work, of pin-up quality in its day.

    Worse, in this course we so rarely get a chance to consider women artists – it’s a cultural fact that there are few known great women artists for much of western history. Finally we look at women’s art – and we get Maria Szantho. Line up all your male heavy-weights, selected from hoards of artists over the years – and pit poor Maria Szantho against them.

    A short list of nudes painted by women in the twentieth century that I think have something to say as part of western art history – not all “greats”, most not reclining, but all interesting:

  • Dorothy Thornhill, Resting Diana, 1931
    http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=40730
  • Elise Blumann, Summer Nude, 1939
    http://www.treasures.uwa.edu.au/treasures/31/ (There’s a wonderful male nude of Blumann’s too, but I can’t find a solid link. Try https://www.facebook.com/ArtGalleryWA, entry for 26-Jan-2014.)
  • Dorrit Black, Music, 1927
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/217.1976/
  • Grace Crowley, Figure study, nude holding a book 1928-1929
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/170.1980/
  • Ethel Spowers, Resting models, 1934
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/255.1975/ (includes a reclining nude and an interesting red/green combination).
  • And as a break from the Australians

  • Vanessa Bell, Nude, c.1922–3
    http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/bell-nude-n05077
  • Sonia Delaunay, Yellow nude (haven’t got a date or a link, but I like it too much to leave it out)
  • References

    Chilvers, I. (2009) Oxford dictionary of art & artists (revised fourth edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press

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

    Additional sources
    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Robbins, GS ([nd]) Sleeping Venuses [online] Available from https://sites.google.com/site/sleepingvenuses/home (Accessed 7-Jun-2014)

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

    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: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-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

    UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Annotate a portrait

    Maurice Felton Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark

    Maurice Felton
    Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark
    1840 oil on canvas 142.5 x 114 cm
    Art Gallery of New South Wales
    www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
    /works/117.1974/

    For this exercise I have chosen a painting from just a few year’s after Law’s sculpture Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy (see post 13-Mar-2014).

    Maurice Felton’s painting Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark brings us north to Sydney and a world away in terms of social strata at the time. The first impression on viewing this portrait is of ostentatious display of wealth. That impression persists – this portrait is a clear declaration of wealth and social position. The artist has lavished attention on the silk, lace, pearls, diamonds, sapphires and exquisite detail of the ensemble. “Mrs Spark’s fine gown features the decade’s distinctive V-shaped waist and lace bertha” notes a volume on the history of Australian fashion, which devotes a full page to this image as an exemplar of the fashion and aspiration of the period (Joel, p. 17).

    felton_03The lady looking out at the viewer is not overwhelmed by her finery. She appears calm, clear-eyed, a firm chin, a hint of a smile. She has a book with her – a flash of red and gold that lifts the image, on the leather binding a family crest with the crest “Virtute et valore”. There is education, virtue and valour with this beauty and wealth. The book also gives an opportunity to display a delicate wrist and hand loaded with gems.

    felton_02She stands on a terrace with a broad expanse of land behind leading to an expanse of water. The empty space balances with the foreground figure while a tree frames and curves protectively around her. Angels Trumpet flowers echo the white and curves of the clothes and jewellery, and give a hint of the exotic. The straight lines of horizon, balustrade and book play against the curves throughout the image.

    felton_04One technique I haven’t noticed on a painting of this age before is the use of what may have been the end of the paintbrush scrapped through the paint to form the stitching on the fur-trimmed glove.

    The frame adds to the impressive size and decoration of the picture and is the restored original.

    Maurice Felton Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker

    Maurice Felton
    Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker
    1840 oil on canvas 74.8 x 62.2 cm
    Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
    http://www.acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=404700

    Maurice Felton arrived in Sydney in 1839. He was a qualified medical practitioner, but appears to have spent most of his time in Australia in his secondary occupation as a painter. In the few years before his death in 1842 Felton painted many society portraits. The example on the right shows many similarities – a woman with carefully dressed hair, similar face and expression, well dressed, framing foliage, view to the horizon and the pop of red this time provided by the shawl. Not all Felton’s subject appear quite so similar. In the collection of the National Gallery of Australia is A woman of NSW, which shows an older, larger woman with decided features, wonderful earrings and a most remarkable headdress (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=200464).

    Apparently Felton painted some landscapes as well as portraits, but I have not been able to locate any examples. Much early colonial art has this focus on specific people and places, with few if any paintings of “higher” historical or mythological themes. This could be related to the “provincial” nature of the colony. Joan Kerr wrote “In fact, the primacy of some non-aesthetic purpose might be said to be a distinguishing characteristic of provincial art. In colonial New South Wales, painting or collecting portraits and views might be summarised as souvenir hunting for a specific purpose: … to prove one’s triumphant survival…” (Kerr, p. 15).

    Sydney’s economy had boomed in the 1830s and the wealthy wanted to advertise their fortune and raise their social standing. Joanna Gilmour has explained “Felton’s subjects, though from a mix of spheres and origins, largely shared the supposed taint of commercial motivations and the experience of finding in colonial life and enterprise a high degree of wealth or social profile… In their ornate gold frames (some supplied by Felton’s brotherin- law, Solomon Lewis) and in his attentive rendering of fabrics, fashions and jewellery resides proof of the aspirations, pretensions or vulgarities of Felton’s sitters” (Gilmour, 2011). The fact that Felton worked in oil made it even more attractive to the very wealthy. The picture was commissioned by Alexander Brodie Spark, who “grew from a speculative trader to a rich banker and merchant, churchman, landowner and private collector. In the artificial aristocracy of the colony he was established as a leading citizen who had to ear and favour of the governor” (Abbott and Little, p. 1). Spark had married Maria 27th April 1840 and engaged Felton for her portrait on 18th May. The frame was chosen in June (from Lewis) and the final touches on the portrait completed 18 August. (Spark maintained a diary, giving a helpful amount of practical information from the period). Spark also used his wealth building his home at Tempe (architect John Verge, the same who oversaw the building of Elizabeth Bay House – see 30-Nov-2013). The extensive garden combined both kitchen and ornamental plants, with cuttings provided from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and a team of 13 convict labourers working under an English gardener (Morris, p. 70). It seems likely that the extensive view and exotic plant in Felton’s painting is another reminder of Spark’s wealth and taste.

    In November 1841 the Sydney Herald opined that Felton’s work signalled that “the day was not far distant when we should no longer be characterised as a mere money-getting and money-loving people; but that we should become conspicuous for the … cultivation of those arts that at once improve the heart and mind” (quoted in Gilmour, 2011). As it happened, in the early 1840s the economy crashed, undermined by over-speculation in land and a prolonged drought. This was the same crisis that brought an end to Alexander Macleay’s control of Elizabeth Bay House, and it eventually bankrupted Spark. He and Maria survived by tending the garden themselves and selling their produce.

    In evaluating this painting I would like to compare it with another hanging nearby at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

    Violet Teague Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)

    Violet Teague
    Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)
    1909 oil on canvas 159.0 x 108.2 cm
    Art Gallery of New South Wales
    www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
    /works/60.1975/

    Dian dreams (Una Falkiner) by Violet Teague was painted around 69 years after Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark, and I suspect in Melbourne rather than Sydney. Both pictures are of beautiful women in fashionable, luxurious, expensive gowns.

    teague_03Both contrast and stabilise a series of curves with shorter straight lines. Both echo colours and lines of the figure with a cream/white blooming plant on the right (magnolias in this instance).

    The differences are significant, beginning with the genesis of each painting. Unlike Felton who made his living from commissioned society portraits, Teague was a financially independent woman. At times she chose to accept commissions, but this painting was not one. It was included in the Women Painters Exhibition of 1911 for sale at £105, a premium price.

    felton_teagueFelton’s work is a familiar composition, the subject standing at a slight angle (more visual interest, a display of womanly curves) and gazing towards the painter / viewer. In a more modern composition Teague’s woman is seated with her back to the viewer, her face in profile. It is a very conscious pose, displaying a graceful, feminine form, but the subject is allowed her own thoughts. Anna Clabburn suggests Teague provides “a consistent sense of the sitter’s inner energy” in her portraits of women (Clabburn, 1999). “Her averted eyes are not deferring to a pressured male audience… but instead suggest a quiet independence and sense of self” (Neville, p. 56). The self-possession of this figure has disturbed some viewers. In a London exhibition in 1911 the painting was “attacked by a ‘madman’ with a knife, who justified his actions, ‘because she wouldn’t look’ at him” (Holmes, p. 42). At some time after the subject, Una le Souëf, married the next year, her husband purchased the painting and is reported to have “complained that his wife would ‘not sit with her back to a party'” (Neville, p. 53). Although not traditional a similar pose can sometimes be seen in works by other artists. John White Alexander was mentioned by Neville as one of the artist who influenced Teague, and his 1898 work The Blue Bowl (risdmuseum.org/art_design/objects/1016_the_blue_bowl) shows similarities. A Capriote (1878 https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/a-capriote-32955) by John Singer Sargent shows the subject woman’s back and profile, but in a more twisted pose that links her into the countryside. Closer to home, Tom Robert’s La Favorita (c. 1889 http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=354) could well have been seen by Teague in Melbourne.

    Felton’s work displayed “the technical skill and showy sensibility that lent [his] work so effortlessly to the requirements of colonial clients” (Gilmour, 2011). Teague had more painterly ambitions. Her “rich dark palette … shows a keen sense of the chiaroscuro light contrasts used by Velazquez or the Italian masters Titian and Carravagio… ” (Clabburn). Teague was exploring colour and tone and shows the influence of Whistler. Neville claims “her paintings were more than portraits: they were as much about the act of painting and her ability to orchestrate a tonal palette as they were about people” (Neville, p. 53). There is a certain flattening of space, any depth limited by the flat geometry of wall and piano, a deceptive simplicity in the design, showing Teague connected to the sweep of painterly concerns in the late nineteenth and through the twentieth century.

    I wonder if Teague also placed her work in the “higher” realm of mythological painting. Internet searches on variants of “Dian dreams” have yielded limited results. Endymion slept and perhaps dreamed of Diana, moon goddess – which doesn’t fit here. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummernight’s Dream Hermia is given a choice of accepting her father’s choice of marriage or lifelong chastity worshipping Diana as a nun. Apart from the possible link in the title I have no reason to suggest that Una was reflecting on her options the year before her marriage to Otway Falkiner. It seems clear that Felton had no deeper purpose than celebrating the prosperity of the new Mrs Spark and her husband. Just possibly her face is a touch tired, a touch sad, hinting at her previous marriage at age around 16, the eight children of whom five had died young (cholera, drowning in shipwreck, fire), or perhaps a more recent loss suggested in her husband’s diary entry of 8th June during the time Felton was painting her portrait: “Drove Maria to town for another sitting. She complained of a pain in the side, extinguishing late hopes…” (Abbott and Little, p. 120).

    So clearly showing a person in her particular culture, meeting that culture’s specific needs and concerns, Felton’s Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark now appears almost ethnographic in nature. Teague’s Dian dreams seems more introverted, less focused on the needs of the viewer, both in the averted gaze of the subject and the painterly concerns of the artist. There is thought and emotion, but a slight separation. Neither work shows the open depth of emotion of Truganini’s portrait bust by Benjamin Law (13-Mar-2014), bowed with grief and loss not only of herself and her family but of her people. Another link of the three works is Teague’s efforts raising money to bring a permanent water supply to an Aboriginal Mission suffering under a long-term drought. Her letter to the editor of The Argus in 1934: “Sir, Many people, among them artists, think that the best way to begin the Centenary year is to do something useful for the Australian Aborigine – for some of those who have survived the 100 years of our occupation … When it is remembered that all the land and all the water were the aborigines’ inheritance, this will seem a small act of restitution” (quoted in Clabburn).

    There is a lot more information available about the women I have recently researched – Truganini, Frances Maria Spark, Una le Souëf Falkiner and Violet Teague – that hasn’t been included in this post / annotation. It would be interesting to revisit using a feminist framework, focusing on the challenges and constraints in their lives, and the choices they made.

    Reference

    Abbott, G. and Little, G. (1976) The respectable Sydney merchant: A.B. Spark of Tempe Sydney: Sydney University Press.

    Clabburn, A. (1999) The art of Violet Teague: Education Kit. [Parkville, Vic.] : Ian Potter Museum of Art. (sheets unnumbered).

    Gilmour, J. (2011) More cash than dash. Portrait: Magazine of Australian & International portraiture 41 (October – November 2011) [online] Available from http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=349 (Accessed 15-Mar-2014)

    Holmes, K. (1992) Diaries as Déshabillé? The diary of Una Falkiner: A careful dressing. Australian Feminist Studies 7 (16) [preview online] Preview available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08164649.1992.9994660#.UydaNPmSzCZ (Accessed 14-Mar-2014).

    Joel, A. (1998) Parade: The story of fashion in Australia Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers

    Kerr, J. (1988) “Views, visages, invisability: Themes in the Art of colonial New South Wales” In McDonald, P. and Pearce, B. (ed) (1988) The Artist and the Patron: Aspects of Colonial Art in New South Wales. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

    Morris, C. (2008) Lost Gardens of Sydney. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales

    Neville, R. (1999) “Violet Teague’s Portraits” In Clark, J and Druce, F. (ed) (1999) Violet Teague 1872 – 1951. [Roseville, N.S.W.] : Beagle Press.

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


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