Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Day at the Museum



The library has now become the first place I go whenever I visit the Art Institute -- because it's so quiet -- and I feel so comfortable surrounded by the the early 20th American painting on its walls (and it even has the last remnant of the plaster cast collection: a life-size Khmer figure)

It's generally the stuff that otherwise would be in the basement -- but today I found something new --in the big glass display cases: some hand colored aquatints by Samuel Howitt serving as illustrations for the first, 1807 edition of "Oriental Field Sports" by Captain Thomas Williamson:

BEING A COMPLETE, DETAILED, AND ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF THE
WILD SPORTS OF THE EAST;
AND EXHIBITING, IN A NOVEL AND INTERESTING MANNER, THE
NATURAL HISTORY
OF THE ELEPHANT, THE RHINOCEROS, THE TIGER, THE LEOPARD,
THE BEAR, THE DEER, THE BUFFALO, THE WOLF, THE WILD HOG,
THE JACKALL, THE WILD DOG, THE CIVET, AND OTHER DOMESTI
CATED ANIMALS : AS LIKEWISE THE DIFFERENT SPECIES OF
FEATHERED GAME, FISHES, AND SERPENTS.
THE WHOLE INTERSPERSED WITH A VARIETY OF
ORIGINAL, AUTHENTIC, AND CURIOUS ANECDOTES,
TAKEN FROM THE MANUSCRIPT AND DESIGNS OF
CAPTAIN THOMAS WILLIAMSON




Here's the text that accompanied by favorite picture -- and I'd like to pretend I'm Conrad, analyzing its peculiar sonorities, diction, and strings of subordinate clauses.

I like Captain Williamson (he served 20 years in Bengali)
He has a neat way of putting things.



Here's the full picture -- which is good -- but maybe not as exciting as Delacroix would have done -- or as gorgeous as a Mughal miniature.
And I especially like the detail that I posted at the top -- reminding me -- with its action and balance -- of the Sung calligraphy that I've recently been cutting and pasting.

And I have to mention -- this book was ENORMOUS.

Each page was nearly 24" wide -- so when open -- the book stretched out nearly 4 feet.
Now that's a coffee table book !





Then I went to re-visit the Vollard: Cezanne to Picasso exhibit
..but I had to wait in line for a few minutes
..which gave me the opportunity to notice things in the adjoining galleries that I might not have ordinarily looked at.

Like this Arthur Dove "Weathervane and crucifix"
God knows what it means (presumably something quite profound)
..but it did dominate the wall in that gallery -- reminding me, again, of a character from Sung calligraphy, perhaps Mi Fu -- being just as goofy -- but maybe more casual.

It feels like a sunny Easter Sunday to me -- where everyone has eaten too much and is ready to fall asleep in church.


Then ... finally .. I got into the exhibit .. and dived right into the detail areas of the Van Gogh.

(note: this is probably the place to mention that I am soooo grateful for the museum's new policy of unlimited free access for members to special ticketed exhibitions)

And moved on to the details made by Maurice de Vlaminck.

He claimed -- quite provocatively -- that he never set foot in the Louvre -- but I think he should be considered a kind of folk artist. He found somebody making things that he liked (Derain) and got coached on how to make more of same.

So what should we call him -- an urban folk artist ? Or maybe just another Flemish genius.

These detail-areas seem like fabrics to me --- except that each thread has been drawn -- and I think that what can make it so electric (too exciting by-a-half as Gawain might say)

For whatever reason -- broad strokes of intense colors seems to have fascinated several painters of this period (c. 1905) -- but when you see how terrible the results can be in the contemporary paintings found in summer art fairs -- you have to appreciate the special ability that was required to make it work out.

I recall a commentary suggesting that Vlaminck's landscapes recall the images that would have been flashing by his face as he pursued his earlier career as a competitive cyclist.


Roualt was no cyclist -- and the images aren't flashing by -- but there's still that love of intense colors

-- and enjoyment of textures that reminds of some photographers

(note: I'm only showing the details of this painting -- because I didn't like the whole thing)




Then I strolled over to the Chinese rooms to make some comparisons with things recently discussed over on Heaventree.

How does this piece (c. 1630)...



Or these pieces (c. 1730) compare with these that Gawain recently purchased in Taipei ?

What do you think ?

I'd say that these older pieces seem to demand more attention -- while the 21st C. pieces want to be more ambient -- creating a delicious - not so obtrusive - background for domestic behavior.




Similar to the difference I'd find between the following examples of 18th. C. carved calligraphy -- compared with the 11th. C. calligraphy examined a few posts ago.



These are actually rubbings taken from slabs -- and used in their own time as a kind of printed edition -- where a master copy would be carved and then copies could distributed throughout the empire.


These letters are very pleasant -- well balanced - well designed -- elegant and all that

..but I don't think they're intended to distract the reader from the text's message.

This is the first time I've gone to the museum -- wandered around looking at whatever catches my interest -- and then jammed it all into the same post in a rather confused, arbitrary way.

Hopefully, future posts will be a bit more focused -- but then -- maybe not.

This might be the first of many aimless excursions.

8 Comments:

Blogger Gawain said...

Chris, I really do like your blog: it's a sensualist's diary, isn't it. I come to see a fellow sensualist in action, but also to see what you are enthusing about because here i can get ideas about how to get myself off, too. your last post -- on the naked dudes -- was a visual feast and a really fun read. this one is delightful, too. about the cups -- did you remember anything about the caption? is it Ming or Qing? overglaze or underglaze? i love this slightly dreamy, slightly diluted (as if looking through one's tears) look of the colors and lines. in the photo the cups look a little sturdy, were they? and I like the calligraphy, it's a little cooky -- the phrase "rampant aestheticism" comes to mind. and i love the idea of a really large coffee table book. 4 feet across -- yeah! how about that for a sensualist!

February 26, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Here's what the labels on the ceramics had to say:

Miniature Water Bucket:Porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze enamel,
Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen period (1628-44)

Pair of bowls with flowers, underglaze bue and overglaze enamel,
Qing Dynasty, mark and period of Yongzheng (1723-35)

Regarding the enormous books -- I suppose the idea was that they were the state-of-the-art family entertainment center, c. 1810 -- since everyone could read them at the same time -- as well as offering a kind of cinemascope effect -- as you poked your head into such a large book and got enveloped by those strange, distant worlds.

February 28, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Oh, thank you thank you thank you for helping me start my day in a much better light! (And thanks for the link as well, although I'm afraid today's pic is much more low-key in for textures....)

My $0.02 on those porcelain teacups? The older work has a certain charming reserve -- as if they're a bit shy. The contemporary work has a freshness, and (due to the unfinished and not-quite-expert bravura brushwork) a feeling of brashness.

I may be reading too much into them, but they each seem of a piece with their moment in time.

March 01, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

"brashness" in Gawain's teacups ?

I'm afraid so (but I didn't have the heart to say it -- I was hoping he would serve me tea in them some day!)

March 01, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

The older tea cups have a very different quality from the new ones.

The pomegranates curve around the cheek of the new cups. As is their duty! The fruit images are of pomegranates and no thing else, although they are so full of themselves that they are bursting.

The decorations on the older cups move certainly and strangely between flower and fruit slice and abstract medallion. They have a power of floating and refuse to cling close to the cup.

At night they detach themselves from the porcelain and float around the museum. Finding a crack in a pane of glass, they filter through and fly up into the bare branches of a tree and make spring.

There.

You wanted to know.

March 02, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Yes -- that's a better way of putting it: the decoration on Gawain's cups is more dutifully attached to its cup -- and can be expected to be found exactly the same every time it's seen. (but then -- since he is hauling them all over the world -- I don't
think their lives will be boring)

March 02, 2007  
Anonymous Gawain said...

your aesthetic perceptions are all correct, but i hasten to correct a small misperception: whilst my cups are "new" (made only last year) they are also "old" - this technique of painting was developed in the Qing dynasty and used contemporanously with the one we see in the museum two cups here. one technique ("mine") renders precise images (and somewhat raised from the surface) the other ("Chris's") has that shifty, dreamy quality and is completely flat. i love it, too. i did see cups made in the second technique at Yingge, by the way, on the day on which I purchased my cups. they too were made only last year. but none were executed as well as my own little treasures, so it is them i bought. next year i will go back for a whole month and spend several days browsing at Yinge. expect several BIG posts then!

March 05, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Oh, I would be happy to have either set. They both have charm.

March 09, 2007  

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