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 2.
10 Dec. Art Advent #8. A contemporary of French Impressionists, James Tissot is a bit of an odd one out. He painted scenes from modern life in a rather traditional style. This one is part of a series called Women in Paris, in which Tissot captured women of various classes. This is a “High-Life Circus”, during which members of the aristocracy are amateur performers. What struck me is how the men and women are seated seperately. In 1885, the year he made this painting, Tissot experienced a revival of his Catholicism. He began to portray Biblical figures and scenes in a strong realism. His illustrations of The Life of Christ became widely reproduced, while his society portraits became sources of inspiration for the film industry, a prime example being Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence (1993). || James Tissot, Women of Paris – Circus Lover, 1885
11 Dec. Art Advent #9. Mondays are for artists inspired by Mondrian, this time with painter Ilya Bolotowsky. Born in Poland, his family fled from Soviet oppression and came to the USA in 1923. He co-founded American Abstract Artists in 1936, a group that opposed the strong realism dominating American painting at that time. While earlier inspired by Joan Miró, from the 1940s onward he turned to geometric abstraction as advocated by Piet Mondrian. In addition to formal features, Bolotowsky also subscribed to Mondrian’s search for an aesthetic utopia. In a 1974 interview he related this to the political violence he experienced in his youth. The paintings were a way to search for an ideal harmony, not strict and prescribed, but free and intuitive. || Ilya Bolotowsky, Spiral Movement, 1951
12 Dec. Art Advent #10. For this series of paintings, French Impressionist Claude Monet positioned himself in a room across from the cathedral square. Monet was mostly interested in how the weather conditions impacted the forms of the facade. Especially light fall could significantly effect the appearance of the building. He painted multiple canvasses per day, tracing the day’s progress. The thick layers of paint evoke the texture of weathered stones. He took the total of thirty paintings in this series back to his studio in Giverny, to rework and finish them. This series is a study of light, as much as it is an artistic meditation. || Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, Façade, 1894
13 Dec. Art Advent #11. Alice Neel was a politically engaged American painter, a pioneer among women artists. She radically pursued her own style in portraiture, expressive, honest, and intimate. She lived in New York, where in the 1960s she made a range of portraits of people in the art world. She also kept painting political personalities, black activists, and women’s rights supporters. The two themes come together in this portrait of feminist art historian Linda Nochlin and her daughter Daisy. Nochlin fundamentally changed the course of art history with her landmark essay “Why have there been no great women artists?” (1971). She tackled the long-existing idea that women’s art was inferior, as well as pinpointing societal obstacles preventing women in pursuit of artistic careers. Nochlin recently passed away, on 29 October 2017. She leaves behind an academic and social legacy that can only be admired. || Alice Neel, Linda Nochlin and Daisy, 1973
14 Dec. Art Advent #12. American painter Edward Hopper must be one of few artists who went to Paris in the early twentieth century and was not influenced by the Cubist experiments going on there. He returned to the US in 1912 and settled in Manhattan. What he mostly remembered from his European travels was Rembrandt’s Nightwatch, he called it ‘the most wonderful thing of his I have ever seen, it’s past belief in its reality.’ In the following years, Hopper made a living of illustrations and etchings, which in turn would later serve as inspiration for his paintings. Eventually, he became known for his use of light and dark, perfectly capturing the alienation and solitude of modern life in America. In this painting, Hopper’s city is empty and silent, a large contrast to the New York of today. || Edward Hopper, Drug store, 1927
15 Dec. Art Advent #13. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small, but wonderful exhibit of Australian Aboriginal art in the modern & contemporary art wing of the MET in New York. This one painting especially was my favorite. It represents the story that features Marrapinti, a vital water source near the Pollock Hills in Western Australia. Here a group of ancestral women travel east from the site. The horizontal lines evoke the vastness of the desert, the vertical strokes tell the movement of the women travelling through sandy landscape. The painter received this narrative from her husband. The passing on of ancestral histories and knowledge is an essential element in much Aboriginal art. It provides the works with a profound ritual and spiritual character. For the MET it was the first time that Aboriginal art was displayed in such close proximity to European and American masters from their collection. It showed the paintings as artworks, not as ethnographic objects. || Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Marrapinti, 2008.
16 Dec. Art Advent #14. Seeing this painting a few weeks ago was an almost revelatory experience. It made me time-travel back to the semester I spent in Cork, Ireland – where I took a course in Irish art and history. Not having thought about that for a very long time, somehow all these years later it just struck me that this painting had to be by a painter I had then written a paper about: James Barry. And indeed it was. Barry, born in Cork, settled in London in 1771, after spending five years of study in Italy and France. In his work, Barry built upon the classical art he had studied there. This painting shows the wise centaur Chiron instructing art, math and warfare to the future hero Achilles. This was representative of Barry’s own ideas about the educational quality of art. As such the painter saw himself as a spokesperson for social, political, and religious reform. While he was elected as member of the Royal Academy in 1773, Barry became the first and only member ever to get expelled in 1799. Caused by his fierce denouncing of Academy policies, reflective of his radical nature and complex character. His paintings now remain as outspoken and innovative takes on the classics. || James Barry, The Education of Achilles, ca. 1772