This December I am keeping an advent calendar.
Advent is traditionally the period during which the celebration of the birth of Christ is anticipated. During my travels over the past few weeks, I have seen some of the world’s most miraculous works of art, a reason for thankfulness and celebration. And for anticipation, of all the great art I haven’t seen yet, but that is out there, waiting to be discovered. These art encounters made me decide to do a virtual Art Advent calendar – as a celebration and anticipation of all the art that makes life so much more fulfilled.
The virtual calendar consists of daily posts on my social media, and weekly overview posts on this blog.
This was week 1.
3 Dec. Art Advent #1. My Art Advent begins in Utrecht, the city we left behind to goon our American adventure. || Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, The North Transept and Choir Chapel of Sint Janskerk, Utrecht, 1655.
4 Dec. Art Advent #2. Advent Mondays will be Mondrian Mondays. Rather than showing Mondrian’s works, Iet’s look at some artists who were inspired by his elementary, fundamental way of seeing and depicting the world. This work is by Charmion von Wiegand, who met Mondrian in New York. After their meeting, they became quite good friends, Von Wiegand switched from figuration to abstraction. In the years following Mondrian’s death in 1944, she got interested in eastern spirituality and became a student of Tibetan Buddhism. Her consequential paintings contain symbols from theosophy, Chinese astrology, tantric yoga, and Buddhism. Her abstract art was intrinsically part of her spiritual quest. After she passed away in June 1983, an interfaith service was held in her honor. || Charmion von Wiegand, City rhythm, 1948
5 Dec. Art Advent #3. When I did my MA in French Paint & Politics (1847-1880) at the Courtauld, we talked a lot about the artistic inventions of Impressionist painters. While the likes of Pissarro, Renoir, and Monet were inventing a new art, academically trained Salon painters remained undoubtedly succesful. One of them was William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who painted classical, mythological, and biblical scenes. He made this painting when he was in Rome. Inspired by Italian master Raphael’s paintings of the Virgin, Child, and Saint John the Baptist, Bouguereau called it Fraternal Love. || William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Fraternal Love, 1851
6 Dec. Art Advent #4. Until three weeks ago, the work of Charles Sheeler was completely unknown to me. But this painting immediately drew my attention, for its abstract qualities and beautiful use of light. Sheeler trained as a painter at the art academy in Philadelphia. Later, he taught himself photography. Throughout his career he combined these two disciplines. For this painting, Sheeler overlapped two photo negatives (one in reverse) of this Shaker building. It was his favorite architecture for its purity and simplicity of design. Sheeler is associated with the art movement of Precisionism. This movement consisted of artists who used simple shapes and geometrical forms, clear outlines, minimal details, and smooth surfaces. The title of this work refers to the composer Brahm’s variations on a theme, with which Sheeler wanted to give his work a musical quality. || Charles Sheeler, On a Shaker theme, 1956
7 Dec. Art Advent #5. Like yesterday, an artist I didn’t know until recently. Gwen John was a Welsh painter, who trained at the Slade School of Fine Arts. A progressive school known for accepting female students. She moved to Paris in 1903, where she befriended Rainer Maria Rilke and had a relationship with Auguste Rodin. Although she knew avant-gardists like Matisse, Picasso, and Brancusi, she was never really influenced by new modernist movements. Her response after seeing a Cezanne exhibition: “These are very good, but I prefer my own.” John chose a secluded lifestyle, worked in solitude, and in 1913 she converted to Catholicism. Nuns frequently appear in her work, for which she observed life in the convent of the Dominican Sisters of Charity in Meudon. Gwen John lived, and painted, “a desire for a more interior life.” || Gwen John, Study of a Nun, ca. 1915
8 Dec. Art Advent #6. This is the interior of a night café. People who couldn’t find lodgings or were too drunk to get in, found refuge for the night in such establishments. Vincent van Gogh spent three consecutive nights painting in this café in Arles. Intrigued by the effect of gas light on colors, the café offered a setting full of contrasts with the reds, greens, and yellows. Eventually he was not too pleased with the result, called it ugly just like his Potato Eaters. Ironically, both paintings became art historical icons. In 1908 a Russian industrialist bought it. After nationalizing his property, the Soviets sold it off. Via several owners, it was bequeathed to Yale University in 1961. Despite attempts of the Russian family to get it back, courts ruled it could stay in New Haven – where it is part of the university gallery’s marvellous collection. || Vincent van Gogh, Le Café de Nuit, 1888
9 Dec. Art Advent #7. Georgia O’Keeffe was one of America’s leading modern artists. She started out as art teacher, until New York gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz discovered her drawings in 1916, supposedly saying “At last, a woman on paper!” She moved to New York and became part of Precisionist circles with a.o. Charles Sheeler (#4). From 1929 she began to spend summers in New Mexico, where she found new topics in new, bright light. This painting is from a series of skulls she made there. “I have wanted to paint the desert and haven’t known how. So I brought home the bleached bones as my symbol of the desert.” In 1949 she moved to New Mexico permanently. After her death in 1986 (98 years old), her ashes were scattered over the landscapes that had so greatly inspired her. || Georgia O’Keeffe, Bob’s Steer Head, 1936