Saturday, 25 June 2011

Georges Seurat (1859-91)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884)
by Georges Seurat

GEORGES SEURAT (1859-1891). Born Georges-Pierre Seurat. His most famous work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) is an example of pointillism, a technique of painting in small dots in patterns to create an image.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1830-35)
by Caspar David Friedrich

The most famous play of the 20th Century is Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Much has been written on what the play is about. Is Godot God? Beckett said no, but no one listened. He was only the author, after all. He also said that he did not know who Godot was, and that if he had known he would have said so in the play. Good point. And in 1975, according to American scholar and Beckett friend Ruby Cohn, she was in Berlin where Beckett was assisting in a production of Godot, when together they went to see a collection of paintings by German Romantics. One was Man and Woman Observing the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich, and, according to Cohn, Beckett announced: 'This was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know'. [Damned to Fame, The Life of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson, p378]

Friedrich was born in the Greifswald (Swedish Pomerania) and studied in Denmark before settling in Germany. He established himself as a leading Romantic landscape painter, his works often depicting characters in silhouette against a dramatic background [Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)].

Towards the end of his life his paintings were no longer in vogue and he died in obscurity, but was rediscovered the 1920s by the Expressionists. Unfortunately, the Nazis in the 1930s also liked his work, and this had a detrimental effect on his post-war reputation, though he is once more established as an important artist.

Emil Nolde (1867-1956)

Christ and the Children by Emil Nolde

He was born Emil Hansen in the village of Nolde in Germany (now part of Denmark) and became a leading member in German Expressionism. He painted in both oils and watercolours. When Samuel Beckett during his tramping around Germany in 1936 saw his painting Christ and the Children (Christus und die Kinder) he wrote in his diary: '... clot of yellow infants, long green back of Christ (David?) leading to black and beards of Apostles. Lovely eyes of child held in His arms. Feel on once on terms with the picture, and that I want to spend a long time before it, and play it over and over again like the record of a quartet'. [Damned to Fame, the Life of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson p235].

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

At the Cirque Fernando (1887-8) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901). Full name Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa. He was born into an aristocratic family of Anglophiles, and spent some time in London designing posters. He became friends with Oscar Wilde and painted his portrait. But he will be forever associated with his paintings and posters of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, though he painted many other subjects, too.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1896)

Les jouers de carte (1892-95) by Paul Cezanne

PAUL CÉZANNE (1839-1896). A friend from childhood with writer Émile Zola until he quarrelled with him over Zola's novel L'Oeuvre about a painter (Cézanne) unable to complete his great work. He believed that the true aim of the artist is the study of nature. Of the 300 paintings he completed many are landscapes of Provence in the south of France. His work was admired by many artists and he was an inspiration for the Cubists, but Salvador Dali, on the other hand, thought he was the worst and most catastrophic painter in France.

Caravaggio (1573-1610)

St. Jerome (1605-6) by Caravaggio

(MICHELANGELO MERISI DA) CARAVAGGIO (1573-1610). Had a reputation as an irrational, violent man who was known to the police for assaults and stabbings. On one occasion he assaulted a waiter in a dispute over a bowl of artichokes. In 1606 he fled Rome after killing a man and exiled himself in Naples, Malta and Sicily. But he was found by his enemies and disfigured in a fight for his life. He is always believed to have died of malaria in 1610, but in 2010 new evidence emerged that it have been the lead in his own paintings that finished him off. As with his life, his paintings too were dramatic. His work The Death of the Virgin was rejected by the Carmelite priests that commissioned it finding it indecent. Other works include Bacchus, a beautiful portrait in the classical mould with an underlying tone of decay. Caravaggio is also credited with introducing chiaroscuro (light and shade) into European painting.

Walter Sickert (1860-1942)

Jack the Ripper's Bedroom by Walter Sickert

WALTER SICKERT (1860-1942). Full name Walter Richard Sickert. English artist born in Germany. He had a fascination for Jack the Ripper and believed that he once lodged in the same room as the Victorian serial killer. He even painted the room entitling it Jack the Ripper's Bedroom. In 1976 he was alleged to have been an accomplice in the murders [Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution by Stephen Knight], and in 2002 popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell went so far as to claim that Sickert was Jack the Ripper himself [Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell].

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Song of David (1952) by Marc Chagall

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985). Born in Belarus though later known as French. Name at birth: Moishe Shagal. He was associated with several artistic styles including expressionism and surrealism. He spent the years of the Second World War in the United States, returning to France in 1948. On the death of Matisse in 1954 Picasso said that Chagall was now the only person alive who understood colour.

Spanish Baroque

Prometheus (c1630) by Jusepe de Ribera

Spanish Baroque was largely devotional in nature. This was the period of the Inquisition of the Spanish Hapsburg Dynasty of Philip II, III and IV and painting was profoundly influenced by the church.

Principal artists:
JUSEPE DE RIBERA (1591-1652). Dark, sinister paintings. Influenced by Caravaggio.
DIEGO VALAZQUEZ (1599-1660). Early Caravaggio influence but essentially his own man. Became the leading painter in the court of Philip IV. Works include Las Meninas, the maids of honour attending the Infanta Margarita Teresa. Also self-portrait in front of his canvas.
FRANCISCO ZURBARAN (1598-1664). Works include Still Life with Oranges.

Flemish Baroque

Rubens and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower (1609-10)
by Peter Paul Rubens

The principal artist of Flemish or Northern Baroque is PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577-1640). He was the most successful artist of the 17th Century and counted among his patrons the kings of France, Spain and England, as well as church leaders and statesmen. He was greatly influenced by Caravaggio, especially in his religious paintings. Works include The Flight into Egypt; Portrait of the Maid of Honour to the Infanta; also the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall (London).

The other leading figure of Flemish Baroque was SIR ANTHONY VAN DYKE (1599-1641). Excelled in the lucrative business of portrait painting, his patrons including Charles I of England. Works include Charles I out Hunting.

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Boulevard Montmartre au printemps (1897) by Camille Pissarro

CAMILLE PISSARRO (1830-1903). Born Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro in the US Virgin Islands and had Dutch-French nationality. His influence extended beyond Impressionism into post-Impressionism with artists such as Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin. Works include Boulevard Montmartre au printemps (1897); Orchard in Bloom Louveciennes (1872).

Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

AUGUSTE RENOIR (1841-1919). Born Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Paintings notable for their vivacious use of light and for the intimacy of their compositions, including many nude women. One of his models was SUZANNE VALADON, herself an artist, and with whom he had an affair. Works include Bal du moulin de la Galette (1876); The Boating Party Lunch (1881); also many self-portraits.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

La Classe de danse (The Dance Class)
by Edgar Degas 

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917). He was born Hilaire Germaine Edgar de Gas, the son of a rich banker. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of Impressionism, though his early work was inspired by neoclassicism, and he preferred to be known as a realist. Many of his paintings (about 50%) depict dancing and dancers. Works include Four Dancers (c1899); The Dance Class (1873-76); At the Races (1877-1880); Girl Drying Herself (1885).

Édouard Manet (1832-1883)

Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere (1882) by Manet

ÉDOUARD MANET (1832-1883). "The Father of Modern Art". Many of his paintings depict Paris café life, such as The Café Concert (1878), and The Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), in which the barmaid has a glazed expression. One his best known works, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), depicting fully clothed men and a naked woman enjoying a pleasant outdoor meal, was rejected by the Paris Salon in 1863 when it was painted. Other works by Manet include The Battle of the Kearsarge and Alabama (1864), a sea battle from the American Civil War which took place off the French coast and which the artist may have personally observed.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Epic Journeys #2 - Molloy and Moran

We all know Samuel Beckett’s celebrated play Waiting For Godot. Less well known is his trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, written in French in the years following the end of the Second World War. Of the three Molloy involves two journeys by their respective protagonists: Molloy in Part I, and Moran in Part II. 


At the beginning of his story Molloy is in his mother’s room though he doesn’t know how he got there. He believes that his mother is dead, at least enough to be buried, and that he himself has a son somewhere, though he isn’t sure. Each day he writes down his story and each week an odd kind of man who we never meet comes to collect his papers and give him some money. The man only ever comes on a Sunday, the other days he isn’t free.

Molloy is crippled, both his legs are stiff, but in the story he writes he remembers the time when he still had one more or less good leg - good in the sense that it wasn’t stiff, though afflicted with corns and bunions and ingrown toenails - and he was able to get around on crutches. And one day he was filled with the irresistible desire to visit his mother.

He didn’t know why wanted to visit his mother, but suggests it may have been for money, though he thinks not. Nor does he remember where his mother lives, not even the name of the town, even though it was the town in which he was born. But his need to visit his mother is so great that he is filled with the horror that something might prevent him from going. So he adjusts his crutches, goes out to the road where he finds his bicycle, attaches his crutches to the crossbar, rests his bad leg on the front axle, then, pedalling with his good leg, he sets off.

He makes good progress and reaches the ramparts of the town where he dismounts and rests as best he can. But he is causing an obstruction and is taken to the police station. He is questioned but cannot even remember his name. Molloy has lived so long alienated from the world that even simple questions confuse him. Yet we have his thoughts, and know that at one time he was very bright, a scholar, even. At one point in his narrative he states that all he had just related should be rewritten in the pluperfect. The police let him off with a caution and he continues his journey though he can no longer remember where to.

By nightfall he finds himself on the banks of a canal and crawls into a ditch. He suddenly remembers that he is his way to see his mother, but cannot remember why. He spends one or maybe several nights in the ditch, and wakes up one morning under the gaze of a shepherd and his dog. He sets off again, and accidentally runs over and kills a lady's dog. The crowd want to lynch him, but the lady saves him and they take the dog to her home where they bury it in the garden.

Molloy spends some time at the lady's home. He is allowed free run of the gardens and as much beer as he can drink. Molloy doesn't have many pleasures, but he quite likes getting drunk. He could happily have stayed in the lady's home forever, if the spectre of his mother hadn't come back to haunt him. So one day he leaves, but without his bicycle, which he had mislaid.

He finds himself on a beach where he replenishes his supply of pebbles which he likes to suck. He ends up in a forest where he has an encounter with a charcoal burner. He manages to find the words to ask the man directions but doesn't understand what he says to him. He tries to leave and the man grabs his sleeve. He manages to knock him to the ground and deliver several blows with his feet by swinging on his crutches. 

He becomes lost in the forest. Then he remembers that when a man gets lost in a forest and tries to go in a straight line in reality he goes in circle. So Molloy tries to go in a circle, and though he cannot hope that by going in a circle he will go in a straight line, at least he feels fairly confident that he will not be going in a circle. He lives on mushrooms which he eats with trembling hands, knowing nothing about mushrooms. His good leg becomes stiff and he is no longer able to walk, not even with crutches. He crawls along, occasionally calling out 'Mother' to encourage himself. He finally gets out of the forest and flops into a ditch. He hears people coming to help. He wants to go back into the forest. But it wasn't a real desire. Molloy could stay wherever he happened to be.


We first meet Moran at his home where he lives with his son. His name is Jacques Moran. His son, too, is called Jacques. He does not believe this will lead to confusion.

It is a Sunday. Moran is somewhat of a puritan and likes to spend Sundays in his garden without being disturbed before going to Mass at his beloved church. But this Sunday a man called Gaber comes unannounced to see him.

Moran and Gaber both work for the same organisation, Moran as an agent, Gaber as a messenger. They work for Mr Youdi, who we do not meet, but who sends out incomprehensible orders which must be obeyed. Thus it is that Gaber arrives with a message from Mr Youdi that Moran must leave his house that very day, his son with him, and set off to find Molloy.

The visit of Gaber troubles Moran. He does not want to take on the Molloy case, but he has no choice. He can't find his son, worries what mischief he may be up to. And it is now too late to go to Mass. He decides to request a private reception with Father Ambroise.

Moran spends some time ruminating on Molloy. He thinks he has heard the name, though by whom and in what circumstance he does not know. He thinks also to have heard of Molloy's mother, though with less certainty. He believes that Molloy is a man who is never at rest, always on the move, but has no idea where he could be going to or coming from. 

He sees Father Ambroise who tells him that his son attended the midday Mass. This surprises Moran. Back at his home things are not going well. His son is being difficult, does not want to go. He is less than enthusiastic himself, but hears a voice inside him telling him to be the faithful servant he has always been. His son is not feeling well. He has to drag him from his bed. He takes him to the bathroom and gives him an enema. What a day! he thinks. Then he has a sudden pain in his knee, but he can still bend it.

In an act of near rebellion, Moran decides that they will leave at midnight. They go on foot, avoiding the main roads, and are able to cover ten miles in a day. Moran shows his son how to make a shelter in a bush. They eat cold food from cans and drink stream water. Moran still wonders what he will do with Molloy when he finds him.

One night Moran is awoken suddenly with another pain in his knee. When he awakes again at dawn he is unable to bend the knee. He decides to send his son to buy a bicycle and has difficulty getting him to understand that it should for preference be second-hand with a baggage frame.

While waiting for his son to return Moran has two encounters at his encampment. The first is a man carrying a heavy club who asks for some bread. The second is another man looking for the first man. Moran doesn't understand what happened or how, but he kills the man. He hides the body in the bushes. Eventually his son returns with a bike with a baggage frame. They set off again, the son pedalling and Moran on the baggage frame, elated to be on his way again, but fearing for his testicles.

They reach Ballyba in the Molloy country. Moran's knee in no better but neither is it any worse. One night he has a violent scene with his son and wakes the next morning to find him gone along with the bike. Moran is now alone and still far from the town of Bally in Ballyba where Molloy is lying. At night he can see the Bally lights.

He finished the tinned food he has and for several days eats nothing. Then, one night, when he steps out of his shelter for his evening guffaw, Gaber is there with a message from Youdi that the Molloy case is closed and that Moran should return home. Moran asks Gaber if Youdi is angry with him. Gaber tells him that Youdi thinks that life is a very beautiful thing. Does he mean human life Moran wants to know, but Gaber has gone.

That night Moran sets off home. He uses his umbrella as a stick to support him. His journey lasts the whole winter. On the way he begins to doubt his religious beliefs. He thinks about Molloy, about his son, about himself. But mostly he thinks about his bees and the complicated dances they make. He swears that he will never do to his bees the wrong that he did to his God. He hears the voice again giving him guidance, but pays no attention to it.

At last he arrives at his home, past the cemetery where he has a plot in perpetuity. He is back as Youdi ordered. He checks his hives, but the bees are dead. His house is abandoned. He finds a letter in the box from Youdi, written in the third person, requesting a report. Summer arrives. He has a visit from Gaber wanting the report. He tells him to call back. His son returns. Father Ambroise comes to see him. He tells him not to rely on him in the future. He gets some crutches and decides to clear out. Maybe he'll run into Molloy, he thinks.

The summer weather is splendid. Moran spends the days in his garden. He hears the voice once more and begins to pay attention to it, to understand it. It is the voice that tells him to write his report. He is a changed man. He goes into the house. He writes It is midnight. The rain is beating against the windows. It wasn't midnight. It wasn't raining.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Epic Journeys #1 - Ulysses in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom in his travels around the city of Dublin on Thursday the 16th of June 1904 between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. the following morning

A drawing of Leopold Bloom by his creator
James Joyce

Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins, cling to us yet more, a woman to her lover clinging, the more the more.   [p54 Penguin edition] 

Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that world known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.    [p54 Penguin edition] 

It was exactly seventeen o'clock.    [p306 Pengin edition] 

James Joyce's Ulysses is constructed around Homer's The Odyssey. Both recount epic journeys of their heroes Leopold Bloom and Odysseus respectively on their journeys home, Odysseus from Troy to the island of Ithaca, where his wife Penelope is besieged by suitors vying for her hand, Bloom to his house at 9 Eccles Street, Dublin where his wife Molly is with her lover Blazes Boylan. They have to overcome many obstacles and temptations on the way - Sirens and Cyclops for Odysseus, singing barmaids and an ill-tempered nationalist called the Citizen for Bloom. Odysseus arrives home with his son Telemachus and they slay the suitors in a climactic bloodbath. Bloom arrives home with his surrogate son Stephen Dedalus and they sit in the kitchen and drink a cup of cocoa. Odysseus's journey took ten years, Bloom's eighteen hours. But both, in their own ways, were epic, and both have become part of our mythology.

This is a rough outline of Bloom's journey on Thursday the 16th of June 1904, a day celebrated in Dublin as Bloomsday.

Early morning leaves 9 Eccles street, goes Larry O'Rourke's corner Eccles street/Dorset street and buys kidneys, returns 9 Eccles street with kidneys, later along sir John Rogerson's Quay, past Windmill lane, through Lime street, crosses Townsend street, to Westland row, darts a keen glance through door of post office, enters post office, picks up letter to Harry Flower, Esq., c/o P.O. Westland Row, leaves post office, into Brunswick street, Cumberland street, All Hallows (St. Andrew's) southwards along Westland row, gate of College Park

Tritonville road in funeral carriage, Irishtown, Ringsend, Brunswick street, Watery lane, Ringsend road, Dodder bridge, Grand canal, St. Mark's, under railway bridge, Queen's theatre, Rotunda Corner, up Rutland square, Blessington street, Berkley street / past end Eccles street, Phibsborough road, Crossguns bridge / the royal canal

Butler's monument, glances along Bachelors walk, O'Connell bridge, Westmorland road, Fleet street, past Westmorland house, College street, Tommy Moore's roughish finger, Trinity college, Nassau street corner, Duke street, Cambridge street, Burton restaurant, leaves Burton's without dining, turns back towards Grafton street, Danny Byrne's public house, Dawson street, Duke lane, Dawson street opposite, Molesworth street helps blind man, Doran's public house, Kildare street, past National Museum gates, National Library to check ad. in Kilkenny People

Stephen strolls in, Leopold meanwhile Essex bridge, Blazes Boylan comes in, Leopold in pub, Leopold leaves bar, crosses 'up quay', Greek street

Lower and Middle Gardener street, Mountjoy square, west, Gardener place as far as farthest corner of Temple street, north, bearing right as far as Hardwick place, crosses by St George's church, arrives Eccles street, Blazes gone, drinks cocoa

Saturday, 11 June 2011

André Derain: the Wild Beast of Charing Cross

Charing Cross Bridge, London by Andre Derain (1906)

“A painting is merely a snapshot that endures," said an art connoisseur.

French artist André Derain, painted many 'snapshots' of London bridges, in particular the bridge at Charing Cross, a London thoroughfare close to Trafalgar Square and the present Houses of Parliament, and which takes its name from the Eleanor Cross erected in the thirteenth century by King Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile.

Derain was part of an art movement known as fauvists, or wild beasts, a derisive term given them by a low-minded critic who did not appreciate their use of unnatural colours.

Pont de Charing Cross by Andre Derain.

Charing Cross Bridge by Andre Derain (1905-6)

London Bridge by Andre Derain (1906)