This virtual Advent Calendar consists of works of art I have seen during the past year and which made an impression on me. The Calendar is featured with daily posts on my social media, and weekly overview posts on this blog.
This is the final Advent post, Week 3.
16 Dec. Art Advent #15. Taking lessons at the Baghdad Art Academy, Mehdi Moutashar was taught European art was real art, while Islamic art was deemed mere decoration. Yet, to him simple lines and forms offered effective instruments to explore the, what he calls, permanent connection between things: the interaction between sky, trees, sand. Aiming to establish harmony and balance via the most essential formal features, this artist seems to be a contemporary reincarnation of Mondrian. In all their simplicity, I find his works astonishingly beautiful.
17 Dec. Art Advent #16. Yesterday was the first snowy day of Dutch winter. I’m always amazed at how snow’s texture and color can transform the entire appearance of the world – and my experience of it. Transformation is a key word in the work of Tara Donovan. She takes ordinary materials, like plastic straws or cardboard, and reworks them until new constellations and appearances emerge. This is a close up of an installation consisting of thousands of index cards. Transformed into alluringly soft and curvy mountains of ice, or perhaps… snow.
18 Dec. Art Advent #17. Born in Indonesia, Jan Toorop moved to The Netherlands in 1869, where he began attending the Amsterdam Art Academy in 1880. While initially painting in (post) impressionist styles, Toorop developed a dark symbolism towards the 1890s. In 1893, he designed a now famous advertisement for a salad oil brand in curly, flowing lines. This style became known as the salad-oil style. Only one year later, he painted this pointillist landscape. Toorop was not afraid to experiment and try out new painting styles and subject matters. In 1905 he converted to Catholicism, after which he painted numerous religious works. Between 1908 and 1914, he would regularly meet Piet Mondrian in the coastal town of Domburg – where Toorop instigated a vibrant artistic scene. Many artists spent their summers around Domburg. By the sea, they experienced a sense of freedom, feeling closely connected to nature’s mysteries and true essence.
19 Dec. Art Advent #18. Just before the moment depicted here, Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was taken away from Pontius Pilate and the people’s verdict. Soldiers undress him. They throw a red cloth on him, crown him with thorns, and place a stick in his hand. They mockingly call him the king of Jews. Then they take away the stick and hit him with it. Orazio Gentileschi painted these torturous acts in an incredibly calm fashion. Jesus’ face looks resigned. He acknowledges his faith. The sacrifice he is about to make. Or rather, has already begun to make at that very moment. Gentileschi is one of the first Italian followers of Caravaggio, the master of evoking drama through light and dark. While in Gentileschi’s painting the light is undeniably magnificent, it’s mesmerizing that – despite the dramatic topic – this painting evokes a sense of tranquility.
20 Dec. Art Advent #19. In 1904 Jan Sluijters won the prestigious Prix de Rome with a painting of Prophet Elijah who brought back to life the son of the Shunamite woman. The prize allowed him to study the classics in Italy and Spain. After one year of copying masterpieces (and portraying scenes of urban life), Sluijters went to Paris. Against the will of the prize committee. In Paris he found not the classics, but the ultra-moderns. he began to make wildly colorful and dynamic paintings. Once he returned to The Netherlands, Sluijters applied his newly developed style to the Dutch landscape. Like in this depiction of Laren in North Holland. Sluijters never regretted the path he took, describing his Parisian adventure in 1908: “You learn what you should not be learning, and unlearn everything you’ve learned so far. Magnificent.”
21 Dec. Art Advent #20. The deuterocanonical Book of Judith tells the story of widow Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. He set out to siege the city of Bethulia, where Judith lived. As Holofernes desired her, she made him drink wine exceedingly. After he passed out, she came to her gruesome deed. But not before having prayed to God: “that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee.” In this painting, Valentin de Boulogne depicted a fierce and self-confident Judith. She loosely holds the head of Holofernes by its hair while also balancing the sword. Her other hand points upwards, referencing her prayer, indicating she acted upon divine intervention.
22 Dec. Art Advent #21. The day after the shortest day: let there be light. In the autumn of 1909, Leo Gestel made a series of paintings that expressed the effect of sunlight during a cloudy day. Gestel was one of the proponents of Dutch Luminism, a movement that propagated capturing the effects of light in a landscape, and particularly the emotions evoked by this light. The style consists of bold colors and expressive dots and hatching. In this painting, made near the city of Nijmegen, the trees and church at the horizon are of minimal importance. Instead, the sky takes up an overwhelming portion of the painting – reinforcing Gestel’s focus on light, and how it made him feel. His rendering of this brightly lit autumn sky evokes a sense of hope: no matter how cloudy it may seem, the sun is just waiting around the corner to break through.
23 Dec. Art Advent #22. The years between 1914 and 1919, Piet Mondrian spent in The Netherlands. World War One raged in the rest of Europe, preventing him to return to his studio in Paris. During these years, Mondrian started to work in a style dubbed his plus-minus style. Strongly abstracted interpretations of amongst others sea views and church facades. This is a work from 1916-17, but Mondrian already began working with this visual language the previous year. During a public lecture the famous art teacher and dealer Henk Bremmer interpreted one of these preceding works as representing a christmas atmosphere. While a lecture attendee disagreed with Bremmer – because after all, did the artist himself not know best what his painting represented? – in a letter to Bremmer, Mondrian expressed his approval. After all, in a war-torn Europe, Christmas embodied a symbol of peace, happiness, and above all harmony. And harmony was exactly what Mondrian wanted to express with his abstract paintings. In 1917, he exhibited this painting as centre part of a triptych installation in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. This mode of display is thought to reinforce a spiritual sentiment Mondrian wished for his paintings to convey.
24 Dec. Art Advent #23. The final post of my 2018 Art Advent is a counterpart to the very first post of this year. This is an exquisite representation of the Annunciation scene, where Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces her pregnancy with Jesus. Hendrick ter Brugghen painted this work in the final year of his life, 1629. The lilies held by Gabriel represent three stages of life, from early to full bloom. It symbolizes the life Mary is to carry in her, and all of life that will follow from it. To me, this scene of ultimate anticipation seemed a perfect end to this year’s Art Advent.
Until the next one!