Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Late and Great:

Exhibitions Highlight Late-in-Life Creativity
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), The Jewish Bride, c. 1665 - 1669,
oil on canvas, 47.8 × 65.6 in. (121.5 × 166.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Photo:  Wikipedia Web site

Recent exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic highlight the artist as a creative force in old age.  Works by Rembrandt, Turner, Constable, Moroni, Picasso, Matisse and even Egon Schiele drive home the idea that the so-called declining years, from old age or illness, may produce a wealth of originality.  

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), Self Portrait, 1669, 
oil on canvas, 25.8 x 23.7 in. (65.4 x 60.2 cm),
Mauritshuis, The Hague 
Photo:  Mauritshuis Web site

The National Gallery's exhibition Rembrandt: The Late Works includes some forty paintings, twenty drawings and thirty prints dating from the early 1650s until the artist's death in 1669.  The show provides convincing evidence that Rembrandt may be unsurpassed in late-in-life artistic exploration and inventiveness.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), 
The Conspiracy of the Batavians Under Claudius Civilis, Claudius Civilis
c. 1661 - 2, oil on canvas, 10.1 x 6.4 ft. (309 x 196 cm),

Subject matter is catholic encompassing biblical and mythological scenes and figures, officials, family, friends and colleagues, self-portraits as well as landscapes, animals and current events.  The cornucopia of scenarios convey Rembrandt's skills in depicting anything from close intimacy to imposing grandeur. 

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), 
A Young Woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels)
c. 1654, brush and brown wash with some white bodycolour;
ruled framing lines in pen and brown ink on paper,
9.7 x 8 in. (24.6 x 20.3 cm), 
chain lines vertical, .95/.98 in. (2.4/2.5 cm) apart
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The British Museum, London
Photo:  The British Museum Web site

A case in point is the artist's drawing of a woman curled up in sleep. With few brush strokes varying in ink, the artist captures a private moment of what is thought to be his common-law wife, Hendrickje Stoffels.  The brevity and  virtuosity of  lines recall Eastern calligraphy.
Small but impactful, the image exemplifies Rembrandt's confidence and economy of means.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), 
The Entombmentc. 1654,  first state of four
etching on "Chinese" paper, 
8.3 x 6.3 in. (21 x 16 cm), 
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The British Museum, London
Photo:  The British Museum Web site

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 - 1669), 
The Entombmentc. 1654,  third state of four
etching and drypoint on Japanese paper, 
8.2 x 6.4  in. (20.7 x 16.2 cm), 
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The British Museum, London
Photo:  The British Museum Web site

Prints in their various states demonstrate Rembrandt's bold experimentation. Etched and drypoint lines, ink modulations and use of different papers produced impressions of exceptional individuality. 

From the begginning to the end,  show demonstrates the artist's continued creativity.  It is a must see for anyone interested in art. 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851), The Visit to the Tomb
exhibited 1850, oil on canvas, 
36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm), 
Tate, London
Photo:  Tate Web site

The EY Exhibition:  Late Turner - Paintings Set Free concentrates on J. M. W. Turner's works from the mid-1830s until his death in 1851 at the age of 76.  Many of the work border on total abstraction and set the stage for much later art.  His last four paintings, The Visit to the Tomb among them, are visionary experiences.  Their vigorous inventiveness belies the fact that they were made by an aged artist whose health was faltering.  

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851), The Blue Rigi, Sunrise
1842, water colour
11.7 x 17.7 in. (29.7 x 45 cm), 
Tate, London
Photo:  Tate Web site

The watercolours, displayed along side the paintings, rival the oils in creativity and innovation.  Often combined with pen and pencil, the they capture in pure colors the dazzling display of light at different times of day.  Turner's originality extended to his marketing methods.   He created "sample" watercolours which he presented to collectors for possible commissions into more expansive works.  

For those who can not see the show, the Tate's online catalog is an excellent visual source with some 41,862 Turner entries. (on the Tate Web site, click on "Find art, artists and archival material").   Take a look.

John Constable (1776 - 1837), The Leaping Horse (full scale study), ca. 1825,
oil on canvas, 4.2 x 6.2 ft. (129 x 188 cm),
Photo:  Victoria and Albert Museum Web site

The Victoria and Albert Museum's show, Constable: The Making of a Master, makes a good case for John Constable in the Turner versus Constable discussion.  Although long overshadowed by the popularity of his colleague, Constable may now come into his own.  Rooted in capturing an exact moment of time, committed to an honest rendering of reality, he may be the more influential artist of the two.  

His full-size oil sketches such as The Leaping Horse, are full of raw energy.  Exuberant brushstrokes and thick layers of paint yield a variety of textures and a sense of immediacy.  

Constable's oil sketches were initially reworked into a tidy final version. Later in life, however, his finished works retained the wildness of the preliminary oils.  

John Constable (1776 - 1837), Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows, 1831,
oil on canvas, 5 x 6.3 ft. (153.7 x 192 cm),
Tate, London
Photo:  Tate Web site

Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows, one of Constable's most highly regarded paintings,  is a tour de force of unrestrained brushstrokes.  This was the artist's last rendering of the great Salisbury Cathedral, a subject which had occupied him throughout his life. 

Although the mood of the painting is overall threatening as some tempest is about to take place, the painterly technique is one of self-assured freedom.  Note the clouds and the handling of paint about the rainbow. Flicks of white pigment illuminate the sky and highlight the stream indicating the presence of sun off to the right.  On the left, the storm dominates with darkness and flashes of lightning.  For an enlarged view of some of the painting's details,  go to the National Museum Wales Web site.  (On the National Museum Wales's Web site, click on "Explore," "Art," then in the search box type in Salisbury Cathedral From the Meadows 1831.  Click on view page for this painting.  Scroll down to "Explore the Painting" and click on links.)

Constable's paintings such as these, bring to mind the landscapes of the British artists David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.  The work of Anselm Kiefer and Lucien Freud also seem to look back to Constable.  In fact, the exhibit makes this point.  Freud's etching after Constable's elm oil study is included in the show.  

Seek out Constable where you can and his connection to modernity will certainly be evident.

Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1520/24 - 1579), Portrait of a Young Lady, c. 1575,
oil on canvas,  20.1 x 16.5 (51 x 42 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  The Guardian Web site

The Royal Academy of Arts exhibition of Giovanni Battista Moroni paintings marks the first survey of this artists work to take place in the United Kingdom.  The show of over forty works includes religious themed paintings and the supurb naturalistic portraits by which the artist is known.  

Those unacquainted with Moroni are in for a treat.  This sixteenth-century Italian painter renders his sitters with such intense characterization, their physical existence is palpable.  Clothing, jewelry, coiffures and accessories are represented with jewel-like splendor combining Venetian coloristic artistry with in down-to-earth realism. No less than Titian admired him as Moroni's biographer Carlo Ridolfi recorded. 

Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1520/24 - 1579), 
Portrait of an Elderly Man seated with a Book
c. 1575 - 79, oil on canvas,  38.6 x 31..5 (98 x 80 cm)
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy
Photo:  Royal Academy of Arts, Web site

Works completed near the end of Moroni's life such as Portrait of an Elderly Man Seated with a BookAccademia Carrara, Bergamo, affirm the artist's continued competence in humanistic portrayals. The thesis of considerable creativity in what is defined as old age holds here too.  

Egon Schiele (1890 - 1918), Squatting Female Nude, 1910,
black chalk, gouache, opaque white on paper, 16.4  x 12.2 in. (41.7 x 31 cm),
Photo:  The Guardian Web site

Two shows, one in London and one in New York, illustrate how Egon Schiele continued to provoke up to his death.  The exhibition Egon Schiele:  The Radical Nude at The Courtauld Gallery, London, is particularly notable.  Thirty-eight outstanding drawings and watercolours from museums and private collections make clear the artist's exceptional abilities to transform line and color into revolutionary tools of human expression.  

Schiele, who died at age 28 in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, may be seen as an artist cut off in youthful vigor or as someone whose artistry was compressed in a few years.   

Egon Schiele (1890 - 1918), Two Women Embracing, 1915,
pencil, watercolour, gouache on paper, 19.1 x 12.9 in. (48.5 x 32.7 cm),
Photo:  Museum of Fine Arts Web site

His direct depictions of sexuality and expressive representational style broke with contemporary conventions.  With bold foreshortening, unusual perspectives and unorthodox cropping of figures, he created unique imagery.  After some 100 years, Schiele's work continues to disconcert.  Try to catch the London show.

Three more exhibitions in New York add more support.  One, at the Museum of Modern Art, focusses on Matisse's cut-outs, an art form he created in the late 1940s and continued to work with into his last years.  Two shows, at the Gagosian Gallery and the Pace Gallery, focus on Picasso. The first addresses the artist's involvement with the camera - his experimentations with the medium and artwork relating to it.  The second is a two-part gallery exhibit of Picasso's late work created when he was with his second wife and muse Jacqueline Roque.  

These end-of-year exhibitions illustrate that an artist's prowess, originality and explorations may never wan or cease until, of course, the end.  Think about it.

Rembrandt:  The Late Works*
15 October 2014 - 18 January 2015

The EY Exhibition:
Late Turner -
Paintings Set Free
10 September 2014 – 25 January 2015
Tate Britain, London

Constable:  The Making of a Master
20 September 2014 - 11 January 2015.

Giovanni Battista Moroni
25 October 2014 - 25 January 2015

Egon Schiele:
The Radical Nude
23 October 2014 - 18 January 2015

Egon Schiele:  Portraits
October 9, 2014 - January 19, 2015
Neue Galerie, New York

Picasso and the Camera
October 28, 2014 - January 3, 2015
Gagosian Gallery, New York

Picasso & Jacqueline: The Evolution of Style
October 31, 2014 - January 10, 2015
Pace Gallery, New York

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
October 12, 2014 - February 10, 2015

*Rembrandt:  The Late Works exhibition will be at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, February 12 2015 to May 17 2015. 

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