It’s Advent time again, and so it is time for the fourth edition of Art Advent, my annual review of inspiring, cheerful and comforting artworks that I’ve seen over the year. Advent is a time of anticipation, and of light in the darkness. Although 2020 has given the notion of anticipation a whole new face, I believe there will always be art waiting around the corner to provide solace and new insights. Thus, also in this year of self-isolation and uncertainty, I hope you’ll join me on this Art Advent.
(Daily updates on my social media, weekly posts here on the blog).
6 Dec. ART ADVENT #8
This is Saint Catherine. She casually leans on a wheel, the instrument on which she was condemned to die. Miraculously the wheel broke, due to which Catherine survived. This portrayal of Catherine is made by Italian painter Raphael. I love it for its subtle color scheme and harmony. It has such a calm atmosphere, which really draws me in. And, ever since I started working at Museum Catharijneconvent, I keep an extra eye open for depictions of St. Catharine, wherever I go.
Raphael, St. Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1507. Seen at National Gallery, London.
7 Dec. ART ADVENT #9
This paper collage on board reveals a world of its own. Quilting time, it’s called. To the left, two people are seated and holding quilts on their laps. I love this particular detail, especially the quilting bag containing sewing tools at their feet. When I saw it in the museum, it immediately reminded me of home, of my mother who loved to quilt and her quilting gear laying all around the house. What rests now are her quilts, material embodiments of memories and stories. This is what makes them invaluable, objects we hold sacred in my family. I recognize a similar kind of shared experience around quilting in the artwork. Which is why I cherish the memory of seeing this collage as well.
Romare Bearden, Maquette for Quilting Time, detail, 1985. In collection of Detroit Institute of Art, seen at Kunsthal Kade, Amersfoort.
8 Dec. ART ADVENT #10
I don’t have a lot of words for this painting, as it radiates a sense of tranquility. Although it’s a figurative painting, the composition almost comes across like abstraction. While the trains in the painting have come to a standstill, beyond the fence an unknown potential might be lined up. Much like 2020, which I have experienced in a similar ambiguous manner.
Frans Stuurman, Train depot, 2007. Seen at Museum MORE, Gorssel.
9 Dec. ART ADVENT #11
Portraying yourself as Christ seems quite a thing to do. Here is Paul Gauguin, doing just that. It is the night of his betrayal, just before Jesus is captured by soldiers already looming in the background. Gauguin saw a parallel between Jesus’ role in Christianity and his own role in the artworld. He regarded himself as saviour of modern art, yet his paintings were not appreciated by his contemporaries in France. He, indeed, saw himself suffering for modern art. The Jesus figure is painted in warm colors, red, brown, orange, while the background consists of much cooler colors. This draws all attention to Jesus, who is betrayed and alone – deserving of compassion.
Paul Gauguin, Christ on the Mount of Olives, 1889. In collection of Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach. Seen at National Gallery, London.
10 Dec. ART ADVENT #12
Seventeenth-century paintings of church interiors are a favorite genre of mine. I particularly like this one, because there is so much going on. On the right side, a service is held. Kneeled to the floor, people are praying. In the middle part, in the back dogs are chasing each other, in the front a beggar child is approaching a woman. To the left, we get a glimpse of the world outside. Usually such church interiors offer a snapshot of daily life. This is such a rich painting, it seems to show us a combination of many snapshots at once.
Pieter Neeffs the Elder & the Younger, Interior of a Gothic church, 1644. Seen at Bonnefanten, Maastricht.
11 Dec. ART ADVENT #13
In order to paint this scene, Claude Monet requested permission to paint in the Louvre museum. While it was regular practice for art students and artists to request permission to work inside the museum, this was usually done to paint copies after famous masterpieces. Instead, Monet wanted to paint the view outside of one of the museum windows. This is undeniably one of my favorite Monet’s, if only for the reason that while studying at the Courtauld Institute, our prof. John House took us to see this view during an excursion. I love how the painting is a snapshot of nineteenth-century urban life. I am currently reading Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece – an amazing novel about the artworld Monet was a part of. I can imagine the book’s characters walking around in these street: filled with inspiration, yearning for recognition. For me, this painting certainly lives up to the label of masterpiece.
Claude Monet, Quai du Louvre, 1867. Seen at Kunstmuseum, Den Haag.
12 Dec. ART ADVENT #14
Surrealism is one of the art movements in which women artists have long been overlooked. One such artist is Leonora Carrington, who made wonderful paintings and wrote imaginative stories and novels. She lived an eventful life, moving to Mexico where she lived and worked many years. Before Mexico, she spent one year during WWII in New York. At that time, many European artists had fled the continent and lived in exile in New York. There is a great photograph of a group of exiled artists, in which both Leonora Carrington and Piet Mondrian are featured. I love to imagine how their meeting must have been, both having such contrasting yet also similar visionary interests. Once in Mexico, her interests in animals, myth and symbolism grew, and she became invested in the study of alternative spirituality, such as alchemism, the kabbalah and Mayan mystical writings. Her interests combined result in the most amazing paintings, repesenting mythical worlds in which you can completely lose yourself.
Leonora Carrington, Assurbanipal Abluting Harpies, 1958. In the collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Seen at Centraal Museum, Utrecht.