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Category archive: Painting

Monday October 16 2017

One of the reasons I was so keen to read Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris (see this recent posting for details of this book and of earlier postings based on it) was that I hoped to learn more about the various ways in which photography and painting influenced and impacted upon each other.  There are occasional references in this book to photography, but I was hoping for several pages which summarised this big picture, so to speak.  These pages never came.  But, there were some entertaining references to the earlier stages of this very complicated story.

One of the paintings that figures prominently in King’s narrative is this one, Manet’s Olympia, which features one of Manet’s favourite models, Victorine Meurent:

image

I found that version of this painting, along with more stuff about it, here.

Concerning the process by which this painting was created, King says (pp. 105-106):

Manet may also have made other images of Victorine.  Painters had been supplementing their drawings with photographs ever since Louis Daguerre, twenty-five years earlier, had created the first workable camera.  A writer in an 1856 issue of La Lumière, a journal dedicated to photography, noted the “intimate association of photography with art.” By the 1860s more than three hundred professional photographers were working in Paris, and a great many of their clients were painters for whom they did nude studies. Indeed, as many as forty per cent of all photographs registered at the Dépôt Légal were asserted to be académies done for painters - photographs of nude (usually female) models posing on chaises longues amid paraphernalia such as lyres, shields, plumed helmets, and antique vases and busts.

Even the most renowned painters of the day availed themselves of this new technology. In the 1850s Delacroix had collaborated with the photographer Eugène Durieu, who took pictures of nude models that Delacroix proceeded to turn into his paintings of odalisques. Other painters, such as Gérôme, had female models shot for them by Nadar, the most renowned photographer of the day. Born Caspard-Félix Tournachon, Nadar was a printer and caricaturist (his pseudonym came from the expression tourne à dard, meaning “bitter sting") who had also published a novel and spent time in a debtors’ prison. At the age of thirty-three, in 1853, he had turned his considerable energies to photography, taking portraits of many artists and writers and then, in 1861, a series of eerie-looking pictures of Paris’s new sewer system and water mains. An intimate of Baudelaire, by the early 1860s he was also friends with Manet, whom he photographed on several occasions. No photographs of Victorine, by Nadar or anyone else, have come to light, but she may well have appeared before his camera, either in Manet’s studio or in Nadar’s own workshop in the Boulevard des Capucines.

But King says that the impact of photography went deeper than merely aiding the creative process.  It also influenced it in others ways.  Olympia was a succèss de scandale, and one of the many complaints made about it was the seemingly crude and brash way in which it was painted.

Concerning that, King agrees (pp. 108-109) that Manet did indeed paint …:

… Victorine’s face, torso and limbs with none of the sculptural three-dimensionality and careful modulations of colour to which Salon-goers were accustomed. Instead, using sharp contrasts of colour, he created her body through a series of flat planes, producing a two-dimensional image that almost served to make the canvas seem a parody of Titian’s curvilinear Venus of Urbino.

Personally, I don’t really see this.  But I am sure that those who have seen more paintings of the sort that King is contrasting Olympia with will know what he means.

King continues:

Part of Manet’s inspiration for this technique probably came from photography. Painters had almost always required a muted light in which to work. The ideal studio was lit by a large north-facing window that diffused the sunlight and allowed the painter to see-and to capture in pigment-the softest and subtlest tones. Photographers, however, worked under quite different conditions. Anyone hoping to produce a photograph in the middle of the nineteenth century needed bright illumination since the first chemical emulsions were stubbornly insensitive to light. In the days before the invention of flash powder (a mixture of potassium chloride and powdered magnesium first successfully employed in the 1880s), photographers were forced to turn on their sitters various forms of artificial light. Most of their pyrotechnic devices, such as “limelight,” a sheet of lime heated with a hydrogen-oxygen torch, had provided a harsh, brilliant illumination that resulted in photographs with pronounced tonal contrasts. Photographs therefore displayed far fewer varieties of tone than was found on canvasses. If Victorine had indeed been photographed by Nadar (who sometimes used battery powered arc lamps to cast light on his subjects), the result would not have been dissimilar to the stark image Manet produced on his canvas, whose lack of detail, moreover, resembled the hazy images produced by photographers as a result of the long exposures required by paper-negative prints.

A pattern that repeats itself throughout the history of new methods of information storage and communication is that when a new technique is introduced it has immediate short-term impacts that are often very different from – sometimes even opposite from - the impacts it creates later, as the new technology develops and spreads.

When commentators now use the word “photographic” to describe a painting, they mean that it is more detailed and realistic than paintings usually are these days, the camera having cornered most of the market for pictorial detail.  Yet here is King explaining the rather slap-dash and crude – as contemporaries saw it at the time – beginnings of Impressionism as having been at least partly influenced by the very early versions of photography.

But, as to what influence photography had on painting once the best sort of photography got to be more “photographic”, well, if King writes about that at any length, I missed it.

I am hoping for a more thorough and wide-ranging discussion of this matter when I get around to reading this book, which I already possess and am much looking forward to, even if it is going to be rather big to be lugging around London.

Wednesday October 11 2017

So far, I have featured here three excerpts from from Ross King’s book about nineteenth century Frency art, The Judgement of Paris, about Ernest Meissonier, the Paris Salon, and Louis Napoleon.  In this excerpt (pp. 31-35), Ross King describes French government Art supremo, the Compte de Nieuwerkerke, who was in charge of the Paris Salon, among many other enterprises.  I found the picture, by Ingres, of Niewerkerke, the picture that King also places in his text, here.

King describes how the artists who were on the receiving end of Nieuwekerke’s policies reacted.  Rather surprisingly, one of them was Meissonier.  They were not happy:

Under the ancien régime, the fine arts had been the business of cardinals and kings. Since the French Revolution, the politicians had taken charge. Under Napoleon Ill, a special section of the Ministry of State known as the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts had been given jurisdiction over artistic matters. The tasks of training young artists, organising exhibitions, commissioning works for churches and other public buildings-all became the responsibility of this Ministry, which was headquartered in the Louvre. Not the least among its duties was the administration of the Salon. To that end, each Salon year, usually in January, the Ministry published what was known as the règlement, an official set of rules and regulations stipulating the conditions under which artists submitted their works to the Salon’s jury, the composition of which was detailed in the document. The artists were informed, for example, by what date they needed to send their paintings or sculptures to the Palais des Champs-Élysées for judging, how many works they could enter into the competition, and how the Selection Committee - composed of separate juries for the different visual arts - would be formed.

The author of this important document, for the previous fourteen years, had been a suave but ruthless aristocrat named Alfred-Émilien O’Hara, the Compte de Nieuwerkerke. Occupying majestic apartments in the Louvre, where he entertained lavishly amid his collection of antique armour and Italian art, Nieuwerkerke cut an impressive dash through both the Parisian art world andthe Imperial court. Despite his Irish surname, he was a Continental blueblood who could claim descent from both the House of Orange in Holland and the House of Bourbon in France. Born in Paris in 1811, the young Émilien had begun his career in the military, training as an officer at the cavalry school in Saumur; but a six-month visit to Italy in 1834 convinced him to try his hand at sculpture. He began studying under Carlo Marochetti - an Italian who had worked on the Arc de Triomphe - and regularly exhibiting at the Salon, to no particular acclaim, works such as his bronze sculptures of Réné Descartes and Napoleon I. An urbane séducteur with a thick mane of hair, a well-groomed beard and, according to one admirer, eyes of “silky blue,” Nieuwerkerke really made his reputation when he took as his mistress Princess Mathilde, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte and the cousin of the Emperor Napoleon III.

imageFollowing vigorous promotion by Princess Mathilde, who was the daughter of one of Napoleon’s younger brothers, Nieuwerkerke had been appointed Directeur-Général des Musées in 1849. In this capacity he was given charge of a number of museums, including the Louvre and the Luxembourg, the latter of which had been founded in 1818 in order to exhibit works by living artists. Most important from the point of view of painters and sculptors, Nieuwerkerke oversaw the Salon. He had therefore become by far the most powerful figure in the French art world.

Nieuwerkerke concerned himself, naturally enough, with upholding what he regarded as the highest artistic and moral standards. He wanted both to encourage history painting and to discourage Realism, the new movement, led by Courbet, whose followers had abandoned noble and elevated subjects in order to depict gritty scenes featuring peasants and prostitutes. “This is the painting of democrats,” sniffed the debonair Nieuwerkerke, “of men who don’t change their underwear.” In order to achieve his lofty aims for French art, he had already forced through a number of reforms, such as taking the decision in 1855 that the Salon should instead be held only biennially in order to give artists more time to complete and display paintings of the highest merit. Then in 1857 he decreed that the painting jury should no longer be made up, as previously, by painters elected by their peers. Instead, the only men eligible to serve would be members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the self-perpetuating élite of forty “immortals” whose duty it was to guide and protect French art. With these wise and venerable men acting as gatekeepers, Nieuwerkerke believed, only works of the most compelling aesthetic and moral standards would be permitted into the artistic sanctum sanctorum that was the Paris Salon.

Then in 1863 Nieuwerkerke introduced yet another reform. Whereas previously artists had been allowed to submit an unlimited number of works to the jury, the latest regulations stated that they could submit no more than three. Nieuwerkerke’s reasoning was that artists had been sending as many as eight or ten rather inferior works, in the hope of having at least one or two accepted, instead of concentrating their efforts on a true masterpiece - a large and heroic history painting, for instance - that would take its honoured place in the pantheon of French art.

Nieuwerkerke’s previous reforms had not been popular with large numbers of artists. The fact that the Salon was held only every two years meant that an artist whose offerings were rejected from one particular Salon would face, in effect, a four-year exile from the Palais des Champs-Élysées. Furthermore, many artists were displeased by the complete domination of the juries by members of the Académie, most of whom had made their reputations in the dim and distant past, usually with grand history paintings. The majority of them were only too happy to enforce Nieuwerkerke’s ideals and exclude from show “the painting of democrats.” Indeed, these judges had rejected so many artists from the 1859 Salon - Édouard Manet among them - that Nieuwerkerke’s soirées in his Louvre apartments were interrupted by mobs of painters chanting protests beneath his windows.

Not surprisingly, a large group of artists also objected to Nieuwerkerke’s change to the rules for the 1863 Salon. Ten days after the publication of the regulations, on January 25, a letter with a signed petition was sent to the Minister of State, the Comte de Walewski, who was Nieuwerkerke’s superior as well as an illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte. The letter complained that the new proviso was prejudicial to the fortunes of French artists. It argued that the Salon was intended to operate as a kind of shop window for collectors, and so exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Élysées was absolutely vital to the economic well-being of artists. Nieuwerkerke’s new regulations left them, however, with an even poorer chance of having their wares displayed. “A measure that would result in making it impossible for us to present to the public the fruit of our work,” the petition read, “would go, it seems to us, precisely against the spirit that presided over the creation of the Salon.”

This letter concluded with a hope that the Comte de Walewski would “do the right thing with a complaint which is, for us, of such a high interest.” Six sheets of paper adorned with 182 signatures were attached. Many of the most prominent and successful artists in France had added their names, including both Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, bitter professional rivals who usually disagreed on everything. Also signing the petition were a pair of accomplished landscape painters, Camille Corot and Eugene Isabey, the latter of whom had once been court painter to King Louis-Philippe. However, the signature boldly leading the charge, the one scrawled with a thick-nibbed pen at the top of the first page, was that of Ernest Meissonier.

Meissonier and Nieuwerkerke knew one another well. Meissonier had attended the soirées hosted by Princess Mathilde on Sunday evenings at her mansion in the Rue de Courcelles, and he and Nieuwerkerke shared a number of friends, such as Theophile Gautier. In r855, moreover, Nieuwerkerke had been Vice-President of the International Awards Jury when it presented Meissonier with the Grand Medal of Honour at the Universal Exposition in Paris. For these and other reasons, Nieuwerkerke might have expected Meissonier, of all people, to support his latest reform. After all, Meissonier was guaranteed a place at every Salon since he was classified as hors concours ("outside the competition"). This distinction, given only to those who had received three major awards at previous Salons, meant he was not required to submit his work to the jury for inspection. Nor was he guilty of the practice that Nieuwerkerke wished to snuff out - that of dashing off half-finished paintings and hoping that one or two of them might slip past the jury. Meissonier sought, indeed, the same high standards of morality and aesthetic purity as Nieuwerkerke: he regarded mediocre artists, he once said, as “national scourges.”

At issue for all of the petitioners, however, was the right of artists to exhibit their works to the public. And Meissonier ardently believed in this right - or, at any rate, he believed in his right to exhibit his own work in the Palais des Champs-Élysées in whatever quantities he desired. He had shown five paintings in 1861, while the Salons of 1855 and 1857 had each featured nine of his works. Under Nieuwerkerke’s new règlement. he would be allowed to show only three of his works every two years. For an artist possessing Meissonier’s large and enthusiastic following, this new regulation would make for a disappointingly slender offering to his public. He therefore dedicated the full weight and authority of his name to overturning Nieuwerkerke’s new rule. Given the prominent position of his signature, he may well have assisted with the argument and wording of the letter itself.

Whatever his involvement in the composition of the appeal to the Comte de Walewski, Meissonier soon took a much more drastic step than simply signing the petition. He let it be known that should Nieuwerkerke’s new reform not be struck down, he would personally lead a boycott of the 1863 Salon.

Friday October 06 2017

A couple of days ago, I photoed words, and I photoed the top of the Boomerang (although I would recommend scrolling down rather than following these links (a lot quicker (alas))).  But in among photoing all that, I also I photoed this ambiguous beast.  Ambiguous because originally, the beast looked a lot like this:

image

But then someone else, by adding some alternative eyes, turned the beast into this:

image

The original photo I took, from which both the above versions were cropped, looked like this:

image

You see, that’s the trouble with the Leake Street Tunnel.  Nobody owns it, other than a sort of conglomerate of politicians, and what that conglomerate has decided is that whereas all artists may paint in the Leake Street Tunnel, none of them can prevent further painting by further artists.  The only immortality achieved is virtual and digital.

Or, maybe it’s a bit more complicated.  And if you aren’t part of the club, and you just turn up and paint, you get your knees broken, or something.

Whatever.  The thing I really admire about the beast, as originally painted by Artist One, is the state of its teeth.  Check them out.  Thought has gone into them.  No wonder Artist Two was envious, and decided to appropriate them for his alternative beast.

Wednesday October 04 2017

Words make for entertaining photos.  The words in signs.  The “words” in graffiti.

I was out and about today, and here are a couple of the more amusing photos I took.

There was this, involving two glamorous women:

image

And this, involving another quite glamorous woman:

image

The first photo was taken through a shop window in Lower Marsh.  That quote about Hell seems to be generic, so presumably that’s a generic woman.  I had supposed it to be somebody in particular, in the way that Marilyn Monroe is somebody in particular.  But, it seems not.

The second photo was taken at the southern entrance of the Peake Street graffiti tunnel.  An entrance that now looks like this:

image

The graffiti in the tunnel, which goes under Waterloo Station, is constantly changing.  Here is how some of it was looking today:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

Apart from recognising a couple of Hulks there, the incredible one and Homwer Simpson, this is all a mystery to me.  As I think I’ve said here before, graffiti like this has in common with Modern Art of the more usual sort in being incomprehensible to outsiders.

At the other end of the Peake Street graffiti tunnel, there is a big notice which tells everyone what the graffiti rules are.

I know what you’re thinking.  Good luck with that.  And if you are thinking that, you are not wrong:

image

Life is Beautiful!!  Hm.  Not so sure.  But then, I am in two minds about graffiti.  It’s threatening, but stylish.  One moment I like how it looks.  At other moments, it feels like visual bullying.

If anyone knows what this notice now says (I’m talking about the big purple “word” there), please leave a comment.

I prefer standard English.

Tuesday October 03 2017

To quote my own earlier words about David Hockney:

What I particularly like about him is that he doesn’t indulge in the usual artistic sport of epater-ing the bourgeoisie.  He is content to be bourgeoisie.

And as if to prove me right, in the same book I was referring to, I later encounter (pp. 105-106) this amazingly honest Hockney outburst:

The best form of living I’ve ever seen in Monet’s – a modest house at Giverny, but very good kitchen, two cooks, gardeners, a marvellous studio.  What a life!  All he did was look at his lily pond and his garden.  That’s fantastic.  He was there for forty-three years. ...

Two cooks!  Gardeners!  How rare it is to encounter such full-throated pleasure being taken in the idea of having servants to look after you!

You can feel the people who try to decide these things going off Hockney, and I’m guessing that this has been going on for some time.  I’m not saying that Adrian Searle, for instance, doesn’t mean the things he says in this Guardian piece about Hockney’s pictures over the years.  And I actually rather share some of Searle’s preferences as to which Hockney pictures are nice and which are not so nice.  Searle says they’ve got worse, basically.

However, I suspect that Hockney’s real crime is that he started out looking like a radical homosexualist, but then when homosexuality settled back into being just part of the scenery of modern affluent, successful, happy life, Hockney was revealed as being not angry about modern, affluent, successful, happy life.  He just wanted that sort of life for himself, and for many decades now, he has had it.  He would have been angry only if denied such a life by anti-homosexualists.  But he wasn’t.  As soon as the world started happily tolerating Hockney’s not-so-private life and made his picture-making life affluent and successful, Hockney was content happily to tolerate the world and to revel in its visual pleasures, natural and electronic.  The Grand Canyon!  iPhones!  Bridlington!

Capitalism?  Commerce?  Hockney’s not angry about it.  He’s part of it. He produces it, he consumes it, he applies it to his work, he knows this, and he loves it.  And he has long surrounded himself with a small and happy team of assistants and cooks and bottle-washers of all the sorts that he needs, to enable him, Monet-style, to concentrate on his picture-making.  Hockney is the living embodiment of the glories of the division of labour.  Aka: social inequality.

I surmise that this is what really makes Searle’s readers (i.e. Guardian readers) angry about Hockney, not the claim that his pictures have got worse.  They’re angry about modern life, and they’re angry that David Hockney isn’t angry about modern life.

And I suspect that Hockney is, in the eyes of Those Who Try To Decide These Things, helping to take the Impressionists down with him.

Sunday October 01 2017

When reading a book about the rise of a particular style of painting, you don’t expect lessons in political history, but while reading The Judgement of Paris, I learned much about nineteenth century France and its political dramas, of which I had formely known extremely little.  The to-ings and fro-ings of artistic style and taste in nineteenth century France were, France being France, a very political matter.  You can’t properly understand the paintings without understanding the politicians who, for their various political reasons, were trying to encourage or to discourage them, and who either inspired artists or failed to inspire them.

Hence passages in this book like this one (pp.62-65), which describes the rise to supreme power in France of Napoleon III.

imageCharles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had been born in Paris on April 20, 1808, in a mansion in the Rue Cerutti (now the Rue Laffitte). His was a dizzying genealogy. His mother was Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of the Empress Josephine and the stepdaughter of Napoleon. His father, at least on paper, was Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and the King of Holland from 1806 until his abdication in 1810. However, the marriage between Louis and Hortense was so unhappy ("Never was there so gloomy a ceremony,” wrote Louis of his own wedding) that the child’s true paternity was the object of much speculation. Candidates ranged from an admiral in charge of the Dutch navy, to various equerries and chamberlains, and even to Napoleon himself, who was rumoured to have nourished a soft spot for his stepdaughter.

The child, known as Louis-Napoleon, was so feeble at birth that he was bathed in wine and then wrapped in cotton wool. For several years thereafter, disappointed at having given birth to a boy, Hortense dressed him as a girl, an inauspicious start in life for someone whose horoscope proclaimed that he would wear the imperial crown of France. Still, greatness was impressed upon the child from an early age. An imperial decree gave him, at the age of two, the title of “Prince Louis-Napoleon,” and he received regular visits from his uncle the Emperor. One of his most vivid early memories, indeed, was of Napoleon picking him up by his head.

After Waterloo, the young prince, then aged seven, was exiled with his mother to a castle in Switzerland, where they were put under the surveillance of the British, French, Austrian, Russian and Prussian ambassadors. This exile was to last for many years, during which time the sickly child became a vigorous young man who fought by the side of Italian revolutionaries in Rome and conducted multiple love affairs in Switzerland. In London, working in the British Museum, he penned a political treatise, Ideas of Napoleonism, which he published in 1839. These musings were no idle occupation, for in 1832 the possibility of the young prince fulfilling the prediction of his horoscope and seizing the French throne had unexpectedly presented itself. Napoleon’s only legitimate son, the Duc de Reichstadt - the so-called Napoleon II - died of tuberculosis in Vienna, leaving Louis-Napoleon as the dynastic heir. He duly set about making plans to oust King Louis-Philippe, but an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1836 ended with his arrest, imprisonment and then another exile as he was sent to America aboard a French warship. In New York City he proved a great social success, meeting Washington Irving and impressing the locals with his wax-tipped moustache, a sight virtually unknown in America.

Four years later, in August 1840, Louis-Napoleon made a second attempt to reclaim what he regarded as his birthright. By this time he was living in London, in a mansion in Carlton Gardens staffed by seventeen fervent Bonapartists. In a daring bit of bluff, he and his band of fifty-six conspirators - his domestic servants among them - donned military uniforms, chartered a Thames pleasure boat named the Edinburgh Castle, and made for the French coast. On board were nine horses, two carriages, several crates of wine, and a tame vulture bought at Gravesend to improvise as an eagle, the totem of the Bonaparte family. This ragtag expeditionary force landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer but beat a hasty retreat when the presence on French soil of the Bonaparte heir failed to incite a popular uprising against the King. When the landing craft capsized in the Channel, the invasion ended with Louis-Napoleon clinging to a buoy and awaiting his rescue, which came in the form of the French National Guard. Fished from the waves, he was arrested and then sentenced to life imprisonment in the fortress at Ham, a medieval chateau in northern France. There he spent the next six years. His confinement does not seem to have been onerous, since he found opportunities to author a treatise on sugar beets, hatch a scheme to dig a canal across Nicaragua, and carry on a liaison with a ginger-haired laundress named Alexandrine Vergeot, who ironed the uniforms of the prison’s officers and lived in the gatekeeper’s house. He gave her lessons in grammar and spelling; she returned the favour with two children, both of whom: confusingly, were named Alexandre-Louis.

Louis-Napoleon escaped from Ham in 1846 by donning the uniform of a workman and casually strolling through the front gate with a plank of wood balanced on his shoulder. He then returned to England, where he served briefly as a special constable at the Marlborough Street police station and dallied with his latest mistress, Lizzie Howard, the daughter of a Brighton bootmaker. Soon, however, Louis-Napoleon’s destiny drew nigh. His chance came in 1848, the “Year of Revolution,” when an economic downturn and widespread crop failures, combined with demands for more liberal governments, triggered riots and revolutions across much of Europe. In February, following pitched battles in the streets of Paris, King Louis-Philippe abdicated his throne, fleeing to England as his Bonapartist rival crossed the Channel in the opposite direction. In December of that year, with a majority of four million votes, Louis-Napoleon was elected President of the Second Republic, and the former prisoner of Ham found himself enjoying the splendours of the Élysée Palace. Three years later, anticipating the end of his four-year term as President, he consolidated and increased his powers in a bloody coup d’état. In an operation code-named “Rubicon,” he dissolved the Constituent Assembly, imprisoned many of his opponents (including Adolphe Thiers), and sent the army into the streets of Paris, where 400 people were killed in violent skirmishes. One year later, on December 2, 1852, he proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III.

The Second Empire was one of the gaudiest and most vainglorious eras in the history of France. The years since Louis-Napoleon came to power had witnessed unprecedented economic expansion and commercial prosperity. Industry flourished, foreign trade tripled, household incomes increased by more than fifty per cent, and credit grew with the establishment of new financial institutions. Grand projects were undertaken, such as the building of the new sewers and boulevards in Paris and the laying of thousands of miles of railway and telegraph lines. Louis-Napoleon was making the country live up to his vision of “Napoleonism,” which, he had written, “is not an idea of war, but a social, industrial, commercial and humanitarian idea.” Louis-Napoleon may have disliked wars, but he had nonetheless involved France in the Crimean War, which ended in 1856, and in the war against Austria in Lombardy in 1859. The year 1859 also witnessed French military expeditions to Syria and Cochin-China, in the latter of which the Emperor’s troops occupied the capital, Saigon. In the following year, French troops invaded Peking and burned the Summer Palace.

His swashbuckling career notwithstanding, Napoleon III was a less than prepossessing character. He looked, to Théophile Gautier, like “a ringmaster who has been sacked for getting drunk,” while one of his generals claimed he had the appearance of a “melancholy parrot.” The urbane aristocrat Charles Greville, meeting him in London, found him “vulgar-looking, without the slightest resemblance to his imperial uncle.” In fact, the only thing that he seemed to have shared with Napoleon was a short stature: he was only 5 feet 5 inches tall. A reserved and thoughtful man with a waxed moustache, a pointed beard and hooded eyes, he possessed an air of inscrutability. It was said that he knew five languages and could be silent in all of them. Prince Richard von Metternich, the Austrian ambassador, called him the “Sphinx of the Tuileries.” But most of his opponents were guilty of underestimating his abilities, and by the 1860s he had become, as an English newspaper admitted, “the foremost man of all this world.”

Monday September 25 2017

I recently quoted a big chunk from Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris, about his number one lead character, Ernest Meissonier.

Here are a few paragraphs by King, a few pages later, on page 17 of my edition of this book, about the Paris Salon.  They begin with a reference to King’s number two lead character, Édouard Manet:

Not until 1859, when he was twenty-seven years old, did Manet feel himself ready to launch his career at the Paris Salon, or “The Exhibition of Living Artists,” as it was more properly called. This government-sponsored exhibition was known as the “Salon” since for many years after its inauguration in 1673 it had taken place in the Salon Carré, or Square Room, of the Louvre. By 1855 it had moved to the more capacious but less regal surroundings of the Palais des Champs-Élysées, a cast-iron exhibition hall (formerly known as the Palais de l’Industrie) whose floral arrangements and indoor lake and waterfall could not disguise the fact that, when not hosting the Salon, it accommodated equestrian competitions and agricultural trade fairs.

The Salon was a rare venue for artists to expose their wares to the public and - like Meissonier, its biggest star - to make their reputations. One of the greatest spectacles in Europe, it was an even more popular attraction, in terms of the crowds it drew, than public executions. Opening to the public in the first week of May and running for some six weeks, it featured thousands of works of art specially - and sometimes controversially - chosen by a Selection Committee. Admission on most afternoons was only a franc, which placed it within easy reach of virtually every Parisian, considering the wage of the lowest-paid workers, such as milliners and washerwomen, averaged three to four francs a day. Those unwilling or unable to pay could visit on Sundays, when admission was free and the Palais des Champs-Élysées thronged with as many as 50,000 visitors - five limes the number that had gathered in 1857 to watch the blade of the guillotine descend on the neck of a priest named Verger who had murdered the Archbishop of Paris. In some years, as many as a million people visited the Salon during its six-week run, meaning crowds averaged more than 23,000 people a day.

At the bottom of the page, King adds this illuminating footnote:

To put these figures into context, the most well-attended art exhibition in the year 2003 was Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Over the course of a nine-week run, the show drew an average of 6,863 visitors each day, with an overall total of 401,004. El Greco, likewise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, averaged 6,897 per day during its three-month run in 2003-4, ultimately attracting 174,381 visitors. The top-ranked exhibition of 2002, Van Gogh and Gauguin, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, drew 6,719 per day for four months, with a final attendance of 739,117.

So it is with all Art, with a capital A.  Arts start out as mere arts, in this case the art of picture making.  But then, a particular technique that for a long time dominates the art in question gets elbowed aside by new technology.  At which point the art in question becomes Art, of the High sort, the sort that all those crowds of mere people are no longer so interested in.  They have other entertainents to divert them.

In the case of the art of painting pictures, the new technology was of course photography - still photography, but most especially photography of the moving sort.  Motion pictures, in that telling phrase used by the pioneers of the new art.

When I read the paragraphs I have quoted above, I found myself thinking: Hollywood.

Sunday September 24 2017

Martin Gayford’s book A Bigger Message: Conversations With David Hockney, seems very promising.

Hockney is an interesting and likeable man, I think, although I imagine he turns a bit nasty if you in any way get between him and his work.  What I particularly like about him is that he doesn’t indulge in the usual artistic sport of epater-ing the bourgeoisie.  He is content to be bourgeoisie.

Here’s an early nugget from this book (from the Introduction, on page 10):

The savants of the eighteenth century were much exercised by the question of what a person blind from birth, whose sight was suddenly restored, would make of the visible world. Amazingly, the experiment was actually performed. In the 1720s, William Cheselden, a London surgeon, removed the cataracts from the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy. The latter gradually came to associate the objects he had known only through touch with what he now saw. One of the last puzzles he solved was that of pictures. It took two months, ‘to that time he consider’d them only as Party-coloured Planes, or surfaces diversified with Variety of paint’. And that of course is exactly what pictures are, but they fascinate us and help us understand and enjoy what we see.

When I’m done reading that book, I will be moving on to Gayford and Hockney’s more recent magnum opus, entitled A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen.

I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between photography and painting.  As has Hockney, it would seem.  The very fact that this title talks about “pictures” rather than merely “art” or “painting” is, to me, highly promising.

Thursday September 21 2017

imageClick on the thumbnail on the right to see why I’m presenting this photo to you, as a thumbnail.

Photo taken outside (as you can probably work out) Westminster Abbey in December 2015.

Monday September 18 2017

Today I finally got to the end of The Judgement of Paris.  I have now started making a list of some short bits of it that I hope to reproducing here.

Meanwhile, by way of a small celebration, here is a Parisian photo I took, in Paris, way back in February 2012:

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It’s the Tour Eiffel, of course, photoed from under it.  Tour Eiffel is pronounced “Tour F L”, rather that “Tour I Fell”.  Which reassures me that I know how to pronounce the leading historical character, Ernest Meissonier, in the above book.  “May sonni eh” rather than “My sonni eh”.

Anyway, a big and very interesting interruption has stopped interrupting me and my life, and I’m very glad about that.

Sunday September 17 2017

I am very proud of the photo of London bridges that I took from the top of the Hotel ME, which featured seven bridges.

But today, while trawling through my photo archives on another errand entirely, I encountered a London bridges photo that I took, back in 2015 which clearly shows no less than fifteen London bridges:

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And not so clearly, it shows, I reckon, two more bridges, in the very far distance, beyond the second pointy one, which I reckon must be Albert Bridge.

Saturday September 02 2017

Here.

I still don’t know what the domestic 3D printing killer app is going to be, and nor does anyone else.  But, this feels like it brings it closer.

Saturday August 19 2017

Contrasting reportage, imagery and opinions about the age of Concrete Monstrosities:

The notorious work of Richard Seifert

I like a lot of it.

Speculative Surrealism

(Includes drivel about “late capitalism”.  “Late socialism” (e.g. Venezuela) makes much more sense.)

How Brutalism Scarred London

Beautiful Examples Of Brutalist Architecture In London

“Stunning" car park will be demolished to make way for Eric Parry-designed hotel

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This particular Concrete Monstrosity might have proved more likeable had it been painted lots of different colours.

Friday August 11 2017

Indeed:

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I took all these statue photos yesterday, in a walk with GodDaughter 2 that I have already referred to, which started at the Shard (see below), Tower Bridge, and nearby places, and ended … well, quite a way downstream.

As often happens, my favourite photo of this subject was the first one I took.  But I also liked this next one, which neglects what seems to be the usual Big Things of The City background and adds only wall and water:

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The explanation of the rather odd title of this posting is that what we have here is not so much a group of statues as a drama acted out by a group of statues.  Dr Salter (see below) is looking on at his small daughter, and at her cat.  But it is all taking place in his imagination, because the small daughter died tragically young.  It is all very well explained, with more pictures, here.  Follow that link, and you’ll even find a map of exactly where this all is.

The drama gets an extra layer of drama, because the original statue of Dr Salter was stolen, for its value as scrap metal.  I think I preferred the stolen one, but here is the replacement, with the addition of a young man with tattoos:

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The tattoos on the front of that guy were remarkable, and I regret now not asking him to let me photo them.  I know, I know, creepy.  But if he had said yes, I would have been delighted, and if he had said no that’s creepy, I’d have got over it.

Mrs (Ada) Salter also looks on, and these two headshots of her came out quite well too:

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While taking these photos, or maybe it was a bit later, I found myself musing aloud to GD2 (with her agreeing) that people seem greatly to prefer statues that are very clearly statues, made out of some sort of monochrome material such as stone or metal, rather than something more realistically coloured, a fact which has, from time to time, puzzled me.  Were the latter procedure to be followed, people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between statues and actual people, and this would freak them out.

A “realistic” painting or photo of a person is actually not realistic at all.  People are complicated in shape.  Paintings and photos are flat.  So, if you encounter a photo or a painting of a person, even if it’s life size, there is no possibility that you will be duped into introducing yourself to it or asking it for directions.  But if you encounter a genuinely realistic 3D statue of a person, only its deeply unnatural stillness would eventually tell you that this is not a real person.  And this would be awkward to be dealing with on a regular basis.

A giant statue of someone, realistically coloured, might be okay.  After all, miniature statues (go into any toy shop or gift shop to see what I mean) already are okay. Just as with a tiny but realistically coloured person statue, you could tell at once that a giant realistically coloured person statue was only a statue rather than a real person.

A giant cat statue, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be a good idea.  People might think: Woooaaarrrrgggghhh!!!  A giant cat!!!  Get me out of here now!

Saturday July 29 2017

Digital photography has completely transformed graffiti, by making each item of graffiti easily photoable, before the next one comes along and superimposes itself upon this one.  All “artistic” graffiti can survive, in digital form.  It thus makes more sense than it did (and it doesn’t matter how much sense that was, merely that it increases) to do arty graffiti.

So now here comes the hypothesis, along approximately similar lines: that digital photography is making New York skyscrapers taller and thinner, by making the views that you see from them more valuable, because digitally photoable.  Well, that isn’t a surprise, because having written that, I summarised it into the title of this posting.

imageI found myself thinking this when I went from a report about how a tall thin New York skyscraper project has stalled (allegedly because one of the parties failed to realise how expensive New York construction cranes are), to a not-so-recent article about tall thin New York skyscrapers in general.

Key quote, from “Skyscraper Museum creator and director” Carol Willis:

“The unprecedented per-square-foot sales price – from $4,000 to as much as $11,000 for these exclusive condos with their trophy views – makes them very profitable for developers, even though they are also enormously expensive to build.”

I am not saying that I know how valuable “trophy views” are or were, nor that I know how much the ease of photoing them has increased that value.  I simply assert that this value, in New York, has increased, because of digital photography.  Do you think it hasn’t?  Do you think that digital photography has decreased that value?  Perhaps the latter, for some.  But for most people, surely not.

That being so, you would expect skyscrapers to get taller and thinner, to provide more views and better views than previously.

It makes sense that the impact of digital photography in the form of taller and thinner skyscrapers would happen in a city that offers great views in all directions, and views (see the graffiti thoughts above) that are constantly changing, like New York.

Nor, by the way, am I saying that this is the only reason why New York skyscrapers are getting taller and thinner.  I am sure there are a lot of other reasons, like: only tiny sites being available these day, zoning laws changing to allow greater tallness and thinness, technology ditto, a general rise in demand caused by New York being a good place to live, billionaires getting richer, and many other such imaginable reasons.  I merely assert that digital photography is one of these reasons.

Photo of 432 Park Avenue (designed by the Walkie Talkie guy) when it was under construction, here.