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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ferdinand von Wright

The Surprise, 1880, Ferdinand von Wright.
When we Americans think of ornithologist artists the first, and unfortunately, the last name that comes to mind is John James Audubon. Okay, we Americans don't think of ornithologists very often, either those who paint them or simply watch them. Of course, those who paint them also have be birdwatchers, watching them very closely, silently, and quickly in order to sketch them, inasmuch as simply the "click" of a camera lens is enough to sometimes frighten these beautiful, but "flighty" creatures into a hasty departure. Moreover birdwatching, and I suppose, bird painting as well, have a sort of "effete" connotation many artists and photographers are reluctant to assume. That being the case, there are not very many birdwatchers and even fewer bird painters. Quite likely, any artists with the skills needed to paint our fine feathered friends are more likely to choose an area of art that pays better. Let's face it, not many art collectors buy bird paintings (or even prints).
The Fighting Capercaillies, 1886, Ferdinand von Wright
The Owl Strikes Hare,
1860, Ferdinand von Wright
Though he sometimes painted human portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes, the Finnish-Swedish painter, Ferdinand von Wright is mostly remem-bered as a bird painter. One of his most famous works, The Fighting Capercaillies (above) dating from 1886, might seem to suggest neither he nor the birds he painted were quite as "effete" as we might think. The same might be said for von Wright's equally popular The Owl Strikes Hare (left) from 1860. Apparently von Wright's clients had a distinct prefer-ence for aviary violence.

Wilhelm (left), Magnus (center, and Ferdinand von Wright (right).
The story of Ferdinand von Wright is not the story of just one artist but three. Ferdinand also had two older brothers, Magnus, born in 1805 and Wilhelm born in 1810. They were also artist, though not much in the way of birdwatchers. That area of content, Ferdinand had all to himself. In any case, it's likely they taught him to paint. Born in 1822, the youngest of the three, Ferdinand and his brothers grew up on their father's estate near Kuopio, (central) Finland. Ferdinand traveled to Sweden for the first time when he was fifteen, visiting Bohuslän Province with Wilhelm, who was working as an illustrator for the zoologist Bengt Fredrik Fries. The following year, he went by himself to work for an amateur ornithologist named Count Nils Bonde, who had recently subsidized the publication of a multi-volume Svenska Fåglar (Swedish Birds), with illustrations by Magnus and Wilhelm.

The lower-left image is a self-portrait.
Still-life, 1868, Ferdinand von Wright
Ferdinand von Wright briefly studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts with the sculptor Johan Niclas Byström around 1842. He went back home in 1844, having been in Sweden for almost six years. Five years later, he went to Turku, where he took some additional lessons from Robert Wilhelm Ekman. In 1852, he and his brothers went to Helsinki, where he set up a studio and began painting more de-tailed scenes, rather than individual animals. Around 1858, Ferdinand took a trip to Dresden, where he spent two months studying with the noted animal painter Johann Siegwald Dahl. He then travelled to Orust with Wilhelm, remain-ing there for a year.

View of Lugnet, 1877, Ferdinand von Wright
Ferdinand von Wright
in his labors, 1897, Arvid Liljelund
In 1863, von Wright built a home near his family's estate, which he named "Lugnet" (above, meaning serenity or tranquility in Swedish). Von Wright lived there for the next twenty years. In the early 1870s, he had several strokes and was often bedridden. Nonetheless, von Wright continued to paint as much as possible. Even-tually, he had to move out of the main part of his home and occupy two smaller guest rooms upstairs. He made his last trip in 1881, to Orust, visiting Wilhelm, who was also ill. The artist's work became more commer-cial from that point on. In 1886, he produced his best-known work The Fighting Capercaillies. He also contributed articles to various ornithological journals. Sometime later, von Wright received a state artists' pension. Many former students came to visit and, in the late 1890s, including another bird painter, Matti Karppanen, who stayed on to be his pupil and assistant. Slowly, Ferdinand became more withdrawn. He died in 1906 at the age of eighty-four.

Rooster and Hens, 1871, Ferdinand von Wright

Winter Landscape, Ferdinand von Wright.
During winter in Finland there aren't many
birds to paint.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Eduard Wiiralt

The Violinist, 1931, Eduard Wiiralt
Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are some-times referred to collectively as the "Baltic" countries. Indeed, they are all on the Baltic seacoast on northern Europe. Of course so are what we refer to as the Scandinavian countries as well--Sweden, Norway, Den-mark, and Finland. Of course Russia, Pol-and, and Germany all have Baltic ports but apparently each of those countries are too big or too important to get lumped together except in a general reference as northern Europe. Several years ago, my wife and I cruised the Baltic and I spent one day touring Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and the smallest of the "Baltic countries."
Street in Sceaux,
1928, Eduard Wiiralt
Reclining Tiger and Cat, 1937, Eduard Wiiralt
Eduard Wiiralt
So far as I can tell, I've never written about an Estonian artist, although I did come up with an item on the Latvian painter, Auseklis Ozols, however he spent much of his life in the United States. The Estonian painter Eduard Wiiralt, though born in a small town called Goubanitzy near St. Peters-burg, Russia, in 1898, his parents moved the family to Estonia in 1909 when he was eleven, and inasmuch as his parents were Estonian, the Estonians have long since claimed him as one of their own, considered the best Estonian graphic design artist of his time. During World War I the young artist was educated in the Tallinn Arts and Crafts School. After finishing there in 1919, he continued his studies in the Pallas Art School in Tartu under Anton Starkopf. He created his first woodcuts and linocuts in 1916 and his first etchings in 1917. In 1923 Wiiralt visited the Dresden Academy of Art, in Germany, where he studied under professor Selmar Werner. Soon after he began his career as a book illustrator.

The Head of a Woman, 1916, Eduard Wiiralt
Women in Top-Hats, 1927, Eduard Wiiralt
Wiiralt's studies were interrupted by his participation in the Eston-ian War of Independence. In 1922–23, Wiiralt continued his training, as a grantee of the school, at the Dresden Academy of Art in Germany under the supervision of Professor Selmar Werner. Wiiralt returned to Tartu in the fall of 1923. In 1924 he graduated from Graphic Arts Department of art school Pallas leading its graphic studio during following year. In his print, Cab-aret (below), the artist details well-attired men and diaphan-ously dressed women dancing in a club that looks to have been owned by a latter-day Hieron-ymous Bosch. Similarly disconcerting in its juxtaposition of the too carefully observed and the extraordinarily imagined is the aptly titled Hell (below), where in the crowded jostle of heads we find contorted physiognomies and mechanical beings that might have been conjured by an obsessed modern Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Clearly, the optimism that informed the group of Estonian Artists in the 1920s had diminished significantly by the early 1930s, when Wiiralt presented his alternative to the constructed world of Arnold Akberg and the latter's philosophy of progress.

Hell (bottom) is Raamat's most accomplished film. The film is based on three black and white etchings (Cabaret and two versions of Hell) made by Wiiralt while he was living in Paris.
Revolution, 1931, Eduard Wiiralt
Deeply influenced by the German Expres-sionism which Wiiralt had encountered a decade earlier while studying in Dresden, the etchings above express the frustrations of wartime, poverty and corruption. In the drawings, Wiiralt depicts human figures in surreal and grotesque caricatures. The first drawing, Hell (second image above), is an anarchistic vision of hell filled with contorted heads branching out of one another, violent mechanical objects, and heads exploding in-to mushroom clouds. In Cabaret (upper im-age above), we see an orgy of grotesques revelers, some well-dressed, and others in rags, dancing, drinking and flirting. The set-ting is a strange nightclub populated with dancers, a creepy old violinist (top) and his two naked colleagues who perform atop a massive violin. In the background we see branches with ghoulish souls reaching out. Finally, in the Preacher (below), from 1932, in which a group of people have gathered around a preacher to hear his warnings of what is to come. Preacher contains the same grotesque and surreal images of the previous drawings as well as their powerfully expressionistic flavor.

Preacher, 1932, Eduard Wiiralt
In this film, Rein Raamat merges these images into one and depicts Wiiralt's drawing in an underground nightclub where people dance, eat, drink, and flirt without limitations, torn between the enticing music of a flute-playing demon (top) and the more soulful, heavenly strings of a maestro's violin. Heaven and hell co-exist in this world, as they do within every one of us. But, so too does reason. Raamat notes that: "We can find these characteristics inside every one of us, the destructive side of hell is covered over by civilization like concrete in today's world. Personal hedonism and lust is regulated within society." Every person is responsible for his or her self-regulator to warn against chaos.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Pedro Weingärtner

Ballerinas, 1896, Pedro Weingärtner
We are at a broad point in the natural evolution of art, transitioning from the era of Modern Art to that of Postmodern Art. This transition began with the passing of Minimalism in the 1970s, the anticlimax of roughly one-hundred years Modernism commencing with Impressionism around the 1860s. During this period Modern Art evolved in a gradual, somewhat orderly progression propelled to a great extent by the technical and aesthetic revolution brought on by photography. Photography not only taught artists new ways of producing art but new ways of thinking about art as well. The transition from Modern Art to Postmodern Art has been so gradual that many artist have hardly noticed. Certainly their outdated wall decorations give no indication of such awareness. For the most part, the movement from one era to another has more to do with undertakers than artists. When artists die, they take with them the old styles and old ways of thinking. Their place is taken by a new generation, having been trained in Postmodernism and all that term entails.
The identity of the figure in the upper-left corner is questionable.
The painting is titled The Notary.
The Brazilian painter, Pedro Weingärtner endured much the same transition during the 1890s until his death in 1929. The difference was that he was on the front end of the Modern Art juggernaut--trained classically, and largely unable or unwilling to "go with the flow" of Modern Art as "one thing led to another." Pedro Weingärtner was born in Porto Alegre (southern) Brazil in 1853. If the given name and the family name seem not to correlate, there's a good reason for that--his parents were German immigrants. He was probably introduced to the art by his father, who was an amateur draftsman. At the age of twenty-four, Weingärtner decided to dedicate himself to painting. He went to study in Europe at his own expense. After some time and some money difficulties, he gained a grant from Brazil's emperor, Dom Pedro II. Weingärtner spent several years attending famous academies and receiving guidance from distinguished teachers.

Too Late, 1890, Pedro Weingärtner. The painting appears to depict a traveling salesman arriving at a mercantile establishment after the owner has already been sold a bill of goods by a female competitor.
After finishing his preparations Weingartner installed himself in an atelier in Rome, but he traveled frequently to Brazil. Although he had been absent from Brazil for many years, Weingärtner asked permission from the emperor for a six-month visit to his fatherland. He arrived in Porto Alegre in August 1887 and was received with a party in a ship full of friends and admirers. Although on vacation, Weingärtner painted several portraits which made a very positive impression. He also showed works brought from Europe, which became the objects of several positive notes and articles in the press. Due to his commitments, Weingärtner left Porto Alegre in November, and went to Rio de Janeiro, where he held his first solo exhibition in February 1888. He presented ten works. The event was a success. Weingärtner took advantage of his stay in the city to visit the emperor in order to express his gratitude for the financial assistance he'd received. During the meeting the monarch marveled at the canvas titled Rights, which he saw in a photograph brought by the artist. Informed that the work had been sent to him from Europe as a gift, the emporer informed him that it had never been delivered. Weingärtner eventually discovered that it had been held at the customs house as unclaimed, and therefore had been put up for auction. The artist had great difficulty locating and retrieving it from the buyer. The case was widely commented upon in the press and attracted additional public exposure for the exhibition that was in progress. Weingärtner had many other exhibitions, gaining sufficient fame to be considered one of the best Brazilian painters of his time.

Offering to the god Pan, 1893, Pedro Weingärtner.
Weingärtner lived in a period of profound changes in the society and culture of the West. Two radically different models of civilization clashed. He was a faithful and disciplined follower of the most conservative academic principles, but did not remain oblivious to the changing world around him. His vast and polymorphous work is a sensitive reflection of the contradictions of his time. His style fuses neoclassical, romantic, naturalistic and realistic elements, expressed in landscapes, genre scenes and portraits. He also focused on classical and mythological themes (below). Yet, his most notable contribution to Brazilian art is probably his paintings of regional inspiration, portraying immigrants and gauchos in their typical activities, which have great aesthetic and documentary value inasmuch as he was a pioneer in this thematic field. Weingartner had a refined technique that paid close attention to detail, at times approached photographic fidelity.

A caldarium is a hot bath while, as the name suggests, a frigidarium features unheated water.
After his vacation, Weingärtner returned to Rome, where he began an especially fertile period in his career, working tirelessly and visiting places of historical and artistic interest, such as ruins, museums and monuments. He developed a special fascination as to the aura of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which fed his love for antiquity and opened a new repertoire of formal motifs and models. Rome, although no longer the focus of the European artistic avant-garde as it had been for centuries before, was still a major cultural center, chosen as the home of other important Brazilian artists such as Zeferino da Costa and Henrique Bernardelli, who painted Weingarten's portrait. His workshop, a friend noted, "...was a veritable repository of things of art, methodically grouped together as he works from sun[up] to sun[down]. Weingärtner spent his summers in the village of Anticoli Corrado (about ten miles northwest of Rome) where he enjoying the bright and colorful landscape of the region, which appears in several of his works. Until 1920 Weingärtner divided his time between Italy and Brazil, where his collective exhibitions, generally sold well, sometimes the whole lot to a single buyer.

Revolutionaries, Pedro Weingärtner. The work is undated but probably depicts Italian revolutionaries.
Elizabeth Schmitt
(the painters wife), 1918,
Pedro Weingärtner
In 1912 Weingärtner was again in Rome, but he did not linger there. Fellow artist and friend, Angelo Guido, explained that the Weingärtner was in crisis: "He had come to one of these critical points in the life of the artist, who, being fulfilled, at the same time faces the impossibility of going further or continuing the ascent or top work as strenuously as before. He does not seem to have the courage to face some of those compositions of classic motifs or of living human content that have established his reputation. He is limited to painting small frames of genre, where the creative spirit is not present, but his technical ability, which was highly developed. He needed new motives, a new natural and human landscape to excite him." In 1913 Weingärtner returned to Brazil. Passing through Rio, he showed several works, with excellent reviews. He set up a studio in his home, and despite advancing age, still felt vigorous, continuing his artistic production at an intense pace. He worked on several themes, but gave special attention to landscapes, portraying the scenarios of various nearby localities (below).

Portraits of gauchos chimarreando, Pedro Weingärtner
Weingärtner continued to exhibit regularly in Porto Alegre and in the center of the country. As always, was received favorably. But little by little the weight of the years made themselves felt. He began to experience some motor difficulties and his vision weakened. He did not travel much. In 1925, always faithful to his academic aesthetics, he made his last exhibition in Porto Alegre, which was weakly received. Times were changing; a new model of civilization and culture was fermenting, and its style already sounded like an anachronism. After that the master was no longer seen in public. In 1927 Weingärtner suffered a stroke that left him a paraplegic and seriously impaired his lucidity and memory. The artist died the day after Christmas, 1929. Several newspapers reported his death, but did not speak of him with the same enthusiasm as before.

Studies, Pedro Weingärtner


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Carl Wilhelmson

Painting geography. Carl Wilhelmson was from the cold, ice, and snow of Sweden. Artist from our desert southwest, such as Georgia O'Keeffe, seldom painted snow.
There is probably no greater influence for a painter than geography. No, I don't mean painting maps. Especially for landscape painters, but also the genre painter, and perhaps even the portrait artist, the natural beauty, and the native beauty (such as family, friends, and paid models of the opposite sex) them cannot help but provide a major source of inspiration. Even if the artist travels a great deal, new geographic environment he or she discovers, sketches, or photographs, is one the major reason they do so. I've got several folders full of digital images from far off lands which I one day plan to paint. When I think back over the more than fifty years I've been an artist, I'd venture to say as much as half my work in some way reflects where I've been, or where I live, or people I know.
Resignation, 1895, Carl Wilhelmson.
Like Carl Wilhelmson, we are nearly all "environmental" artists. We paint our personal environment regardless of where on earth we happen to be. Only the most jaded artist can resist the urge to render for others the beauty they find all around them. I suppose the same applies to artist exposed to the ugliness of the times and places they find themselves. The death of a loved one is probably the most traumatizing environmental experience an artist might face, yet Wilhelmson relives it, turning to impending death for inspiration in his painting, Resignation (above) from 1895. As much as the German artist, Max Beckmann, was traumatized by what he saw of World War I, he was still unable to avoid reliving its horrors in his art.
The painter of the "boat people" of Sweden's western coast.
The Good Shepherdess,
1913, Carl Wilhelmson
Carl Wilhelmson was born in 1866. He was a Swedish painter and lith-ographer. Wilhelmson trained first as a commercial lithographer in Göte-borg. In 1886 he enrolled as a stu-dent of decorative painting at Valand College of Art where his teacher was Carl (Olof) Larsson. In 1888, having obtained a travel grant, he went to Leipzig to study lithographic tech-nique. From 1890 to 1896 he lived in Paris, where he worked as a lith-ographer and commercial artist and studied at the Academie Julian. Wil-helmson's preferred subject matter was the coastal landscape of Boh-uslen, (southwestern) Sweden, and the people of its little fishing villages. He depicts wooden houses huddling against the cold geography. There is no trace of ethnography in his depic-tions of local life. They are full of ser-ious realism displaying a sensitive insight into the perilous life of fishermen, he had been familiar with since childhood.

The 'boat people' whether working for their daily brod (bread), or traveling to thank God for it, Wilhelmson knew them well and painted them well.
Although he was not so well-known for them, Carl Wilhelmson also painted portraits. One of his most famous (in Sweden, at least) was that of Johan Olof Hjalmar Lundbohm. Lundbohm (below) was a Swedish geologist and chemist, also the first managing director of LKAB (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag) in Kiruna. The Group currently supplies industrial minerals and products with other applications related to iron ore. In addition, LKAB has a number of wholly owned subsidiaries that supply rail transport, mining explosives, and engineering services, as well as a real estate company that owns and manages 2,300 properties in Malmberget and Kiruna. Lundbohm is regarded as the founder of the Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden.

Hjalmar Lundbohm was a Swedish geologist and chemist.
At the age of fourteen, Carl Wilhelmson began to study painting in Gothenburg. After studying abroad in from 1890 until 1897 in Spain, Leipzig and Paris, Wilhelmson worked as a lithographer (a cutting edge art at the time). In 1897, he accepted the position as director of his old school, the Gothenburg Museum of Literature and Painting in the Valandhuset. He stayed there until 1910, whereupon he led a painter's school in Stockholm, and also acted as a teacher. In 1925 he became a professor of painting at the Royal Institute of Fine Arts. Carl Wilhelmson chose his motifs mainly from his hometown in Bohuslän. In the years 1911-1913 he made a summer villa (below) in Fiskebäckskil, designed by Ivar Callmande. The house, which is still in the family's possession, is open to the public one day a year during the summer. Carl Wilhelmson died there in 1928.
Carl Wilhelmson's studio villa in Fiskebäckskil, Sweden.
Evening at the Harbor, Carl Wilhelmson.
The Footbridge, Lidingobron,
1918, Carl Wilhelmson

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Abu Simbel, Egypt

The Temple of Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, with Lake Nasser in the background.
Several years ago (2010), like any self-respecting art and history buff, I visited the Pyramids of Giza. To say the least, I was underwhelmed--three really, really big piles of stone guarded by a gigantic lion desperately needing a nose. Had I had the time and money, what I'd really like to have seen lay some 425 miles (1108 Km) south at the tail end of Lake Nasser--the Temples of Abu Simbel. In visiting such manmade world landmarks, I prefer to be overwhelmed. Though technically not as large as even the smallest of the pyramids, the temples are far more interesting "Egyptionally" speaking (my spell-checker did a double-take on that one). I'm no Egyptologist, but as I delve into art and artists from the past, hardly a week goes by that I don't come upon a reference to some "first" involving Egyptian art; so it's a topic impossible to ignore.
From Cairo, Abu Simbel is a day-long, not-very-scenic
bus ride or a two-hour flight.
Abu Simbel is a small town lying south of Aswan in Egypt. It has a number of simple offices and eateries of little interest to tourists. However, the temples of Abu Simbel are breathtaking. They are arguably the most magnificent monuments in the world. During the mid-1960s, there removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself, which endlessly fascinates tourists. The temples of Abu Simbel were formerly located further down the hillside, facing the Nile, but due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, and the resulting rise in the water level of Lake Nasser, the two temples were threatened to become attractions fit only for scuba divers.
Even sliced into pieces, some of the temple
stones weighed as much as fifteen tons.
The original locations are now underwater. An international fundraising drive allowed the great stone cubes to be moved uphill and reassembled before the water rose. The Great Temple at Abu Simbel took about twenty years to build. It took four years to move. The temple complex was completed during the reign of Ramesses II (the Great) around 1265 BC. It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself. Four colossal sixty-five feet-tall (20-meters) statues of the pharaoh with the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the facade of the temple, which is over 114 feet wide (35 meters). The temple is topped by a frieze with twenty-two baboons (bottom). Worshippers of the sun flank the entrance.

The new location of the temples looks very much like the old. A concrete dome protects the interior as the rocky hillside surrounding the temples was recreated.
Situated in the Nubia region of Egypt, overlooking the emerald waters of Lake Nasser, are the two ancient pharaonic rock temples of Abu Simbel (the Temple of Ramesses, and the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari). The temples are magnificent examples of ancient Egyptian art and draw a large number of tourists, second only to the Pyramids of Giza. Ramesses II commissioned the temples as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, following the alleged triumph at the Battle of Kadesh. It was finally completed during the 24th year of his prosperous reign. Historians suggest the design of the temple expresses the pride and ego of the long-reigning pharaoh while also serving the purpose of impressing Egypt’s neighbors to the south and reinforcing the status of Egyptian religion.

An artist's depiction juxtaposing the ancient religious rituals to present day tourist rituals.
Over the centuries as the Egyptian dynasties turned the pages of history, the temples fell into disuse, eventually becoming covered by sand. By the 6th century BC, the sand already covered the statues of the main temple up to their knees. Thus the temple was forgotten until 1813, when Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt saw only the top frieze of the main temple (the baboons). Burckhardt discussed his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni, who traveled with him to the site. Even together, they were unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, this time with more manpower. He succeeding in entering the complex. A detailed early description of the temples, together with contemporaneous line drawings, can be found in Edward William Lane's Description of Egypt from about that time. Legend has it that 'Abu Simbel' was the name of a young local boy who guided these early explorers to the site of the buried temple which he had seen from time to time in the shifting sands. Eventually, they named the complex after him.

The earliest photos of Abu Simbel are those of the French Egyptologist, John Beasley Greene dating from 1854. A later photo (above-top) indicates the complex had been mostly excavated by 1923. 
The rescue of Abu Simbel from Lake Nasser is as interesting from an engineering point of view as the temples themselves. The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers, and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner. The cost was astronomical for its time, some $40-million (equal to $300-million in 2017 dollars). Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, but averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.

A model of the site suggests the extreme lengths engineers had to go to in moving the temples above Lake Nasser's high waterline.
Inside the temple can be found the same triangular layout of most ancient Egyptian temples with rooms decreasing in size from the entrance to the sanctuary. This temple is complex in structure and quite unusual because of its many side chambers. The hypostyle hall is 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide lined by eight huge Osirid pillars depicting the deified Ramesses and linking him to the god Osiris, the god of the underworld. The colossal statues along the left-hand wall bear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the opposite side are wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The bas-reliefs on the walls depict battle scenes in the military campaigns the ruler waged. Much of the sculpture depicts the Battle of Kadesh, on the Orontes River in present-day Syria, in which the Egyptians fought against the Hittites. Other scenes also show Egyptian victories in Libya and Nubia.

Everywhere, Ramesses sought to insure that his glorious military victories would never be forgotten. It seems he succeeded.
It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, a god connected with the underworld, who always remained in the dark. People gather at Abu Simbel to witness this remarkable sight, on October 21 and February 21. These dates are thought to be the king's birthday and coronation day, respectively. Though there is no direct evidence to support this. It's logical to assume, that these dates had some relation to a great event, such as the jubilee celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the pharaoh's rule.

Far less is known as to the much smaller Temple of Hathor and Nefertari.
The temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also known as the "Small Temple," was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of pharaoh Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II's chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time, Akhenaten dedicated a temple to his great royal wife, Nefertiti. The rock-cut facade is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high, are of the king and his queen. On either side of the portal are two statues of the king, flanked by statues of the queen.

The statue flanking the left side of the entrance to Ramesses' temple (second image above) was damaged during an ancient earthquake. The face was destroyed during the fall.
In visiting a third-world country such as Egypt, it's hard to decide at times where serious studies of archaeology, religion, art, and culture end, and crass, cash-driven tourism begins. Like many such sites, not just in Egypt, but around the world, Abu Simbel departs from all reference to history with a spectacular light and music show. There is a five-star hotel within walking distance of Abu Simbel, while Lake Nasser allows whole boatloads of tourists to come and go hourly. The small town of Abu Simbel even sports a sizable airport for the convenience of visiting tourists. Yet it's not fair to criticize a country like Egypt for capitalizing on one of its few major assets, even to the point of providing armed escorts for its tourist buses or Giza pizza parlors within sight of its pyramids.

Would Ramesses be impressed or aghast?
I'm not sure what the significance
of the guardian baboons might be.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Ancient Art Supplies (Part 2)

My easel is much like the one in the middle.
In yesterday's post on ancient art materials (part 1, just below), and in earlier items, I have already gone into some detail in discussing paintbrushes as well as easels. The former dates back to the Paleolithic Period starting about 2,500,000 years ago, the latter going back at least to Greek artists before the time of Christ (below). I have discovered, however, that I've been remiss in delving into that most common utensil of the artist's creative output down through the ages--the lowly pencil. The word pencil comes from the Latin, penicillum, the name for a small, fine-tipped brush used for writing. That, in turn, has a diminutive form in the Latin word for brush, peniculus, which in turn has as a diminutive form of the Latin word, penis, which means “tail” (not what you were expecting, I'll bet). This word was used for these very fine brushes because they were made from tufts of hair from the tails of animals.

Ancient Greek Easels.
The earliest instruments for making marks other than pen was a metal stylus scratching into a wax-coated tablet. Codex, the Latin word for tree trunk, came to be used for the wax-coated wood tablet that became the precursor to the modern book. During the Middle Ages, styluses of metal were used on surfaces coated with chalklike substances, and slate pencils or chalk on slate tablets. (Slate pencils continued to be sold in America into the late 19th-Century.) The mixtures of metals used for the stylus evolved, and eventually alloys of lead with tin, bismuth and mercury were developed. Styluses of two parts lead, one part tin became known as plummets. Plummets also continued to be used into the 19th century in the U.S., alongside pencils, goose-quills, and pens. The earliest known description of a wood-encased lead pencil dates from a 1565 book on fossils. “The made for writing, from a sort of lead which the English call antimony, shaved to a point and inserted into a wooden handle.” Lead, however, dirtied the hand, made a rather faint mark, and required considerable pressure.

Medieval pencil with bread eraser.
Sometime in the 1560’s a chance event became the turning point in the development of the modern pencil. Local lore tells of a fierce storm in the Cumberland, area of England, which uprooted a large ash (or oak) tree. Shepherds discovered a strange black substance clinging to its roots. The shepherds quickly discovered this to be very useful for marking their sheep. Gradually its application for writing was developed. By the end of the 16th-Century graphite was well known throughout Europe for its superior line-making qualities, its eraseability, and the ability to re-draw on top of it with ink, which is not possible with lead or charcoal. By 1610 black lead was sold regularly in the streets in London wrapped in paper, string or twigs. The technique for encasing the graphite in wood emerged from the woodworking craft of joiners, with the original process involving cutting a lengthwise groove into a strip of wood, gluing strips of pure Borrowdale graphite into the groove one against the next until it was filled, sawing off the protruding pieces to flatness, then gluing a piece of wood on top to cover the contents. The wood assembly could then be used in its initial square shape, or shaved to a round form.

The Brandelhow Mine, Borrowdale, England
As the desire for the pencils grew, the graphite mine in England strictly controlled the amounts mined yearly. Thus, populations outside of England had to search for their own alternatives. Deposits of inferior quality and purity elsewhere in Europe, and the need to conserve the pure Borrowdale graphite, led to the development of mixing the graphite with additives. In 1795 Frenchman Nicolas-Jaques Conté was granted a patent for his new formula of mixing clay with graphite, and varying the proportion of clay to graphite leading to pencil leads of different, but uniform, degrees of blackness and hardness, which remains the basis for pencil-making today. In 1847 an American named Joseph Dixon opened a pencil and crucible factory in Jersey City. At first the crucibles were the main profitable business, but in 1866 Dixon patented a wood planing machine capable of producing wood for 132 pencils per minute.

Despite the claim to be "American made" this Dixon factory was in Canada. The sign touts "Chancellor Lead Pencils."
By 1873 the Dixon graphite mixing process had improved as well. Clever marketing of the pencil as an American product (verses German pencil manufacturers who were trying to move in and dominate the American market) made Dixon “the birthplace of the world’s first mass-produced pencils. These innovations proved timely, as the demand for pencils grew exponentially with the Civil War. By the end of the 19th-Century, over 240,000 pencils were used each day in the US. Presently, each year, Dixon Ticonderoga produces an estimated 1.5 billion pencils, about two-thirds of which are the yellow No. 2 pencils used by artists (and standardized test-takers) around the world.

The battle between the keyboard and the pencil.
A palette, in the original sense of the word, is a rigid, flat surface on which a painter arranges and mixes paints. Palettes are usually made of wood, plastic, ceramic, or other hard, inert, nonporous material, and can vary greatly in size and shape. Personally, I prefer the "palette pad" (a white, waxy pad of paper in various sizes, which allow each sheet to be torn off and discarded after each painting session). The most commonly known traditional painter's palette is made of a thin wood board designed to be held in the artist's free hand and rest on the arm. Watercolor palettes are generally made of plastic or porcelain with rectangular or wheel format with built-in wells and mixing areas for colors.

Several artists have had their palettes (and thus t
heir color preferences) preserved for posterity.
From the original, literal sense above came a figurative sense by extension, referring to the artist's selection of colors in comprising a visual style or tonal suite. The parallel palette, which in most usages is not really parallel, (invented by David Kassan) to the painting, mounted at a sloping angle adjacent to the painting. This insures that the artist to see colors in the same lighting as on the canvas looking directly back and forth between subject, canvas, and palette.

Modern-day stretched canvases come in virtually any size.
The content, style, and purpose of the painting should always dictate the size...never vice-versa.
And finally, the painter must have something upon which to paint, usually paper, a panel of some sort, or stretched canvas. Canvas panels are made of canvas stretched over and glued to a cardboard backing, then with paper sealed on the backside. The eventual framing provides structure in lieu of canvas stretchers. Gessoed Masonite or plywood can also be used for smaller works. The stretched canvas is typically linen primed for a certain type of paint. Canvas is typically made of cotton or linen stretched across a wooden frame called a stretchers and may be coated with gesso before it is to be used; this is to prevent oil paint from coming into direct contact with the canvas fibers, which will eventually cause the canvas to decay. A traditional and flexible chalk gesso is composed of lead carbonate and linseed oil, applied over a rabbit skin glue ground. Inasmuch as lead-based paint is poisonous, care has to be taken in using it. Various alternative and more flexible canvas primers are commercially available, the most popular being a synthetic latex paint composed of titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate, bound with a thermo-plastic emulsion. Many artists, such as Jackson Pollock, have painted acrylic based paints directly onto unprimed canvas.

The Battle of Grunwald, 1878, Jan Matejko. The stretched canvas is 14 feet by 32 feet. No telling how big his easel was.
Early canvas was made of linen, a sturdy brownish fabric of considerable strength. Linen is particularly suitable in using oil paints. In the early 20th-Century, cotton canvas, often referred to as "cotton duck," came into use. Linen is composed of higher quality material, and remains popular with many professional artists, especially those who work with oil paint. Cotton duck, which stretches more fully and has an even, mechanical weave, offers a more economical alternative. The advent of acrylic paint has greatly increased the popularity and use of cotton duck canvas. Linen and cotton derive from two entirely different plants, the flax plant and the cotton plant, respectively. The greatest difference between modern painting techniques and those of the Flemish and Dutch Masters is in the preparation of the canvas. "Modern" techniques take advantage of both the canvas texture as well as those of the paint itself. However, Renaissance masters took extreme measures to ensure that none of the texture of the canvas came through. This required a painstaking, months-long process of layering the raw canvas with (usually) lead-white paint, then polishing the surface, and then repeating. The final product had little resemblance to fabric, but instead had a glossy, enamel-like finish similar to the wooden panels it replaced.
 A work station for airbrushing.
Do artists airbrush anymore?

other painting
used by artists today
can be found here.