Saturday, May 24, 2014

Heads At the Getty - From Degas Selfie to Mosaic Of The Coffee Pope

Friends invited us to go with them to the Getty Museum, which I've posted about before.  They wanted to see the Ansel Adams exhibit.  When I asked one of the guards about the photography policy, he said, no photography in the photography exhibitions.  Other places it varies.  If a guard stops you, don't feel bad, he's just letting you know.
Degas selfie @ age 20
So as we walked around other galleries I decided - after seeing this self portrait of Edward Degas - that maybe I could focus on just heads.

The description said it's one of about 20 self portraits by the artist.  This one was done at about the age of 23 (1857 or 58.)

"In a picture never intended for public display,  Degas presented an intimate yet uncompromising view of himself."

People didn't start losing control of their images with Facebook.  The museum has no problem with displaying an image the artist didn't intend to be public.  I don't know how I feel about this.  Anything one leaves on one's death could end up anywhere I guess.  Does the world's 'right to know' trump the artist's intend?  Does his fame and 150 years moot his wishes?

This portrait of Suzanne Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau was done in 1804 by Jacques-Louis David.  She was 22 at the time.  It said:
"This portrait is one of the few private commissions David accepted once he began working regularly for Napoléon."
Carnavalet histoire de Paris tells the story of the Le Peletier Hotel in Paris.  I'm citing from well into the post:
. . . Without a doubt, the hotel’s most famous occupant is Michel Le Peletier de Souzy’s great-grandson, Louis-Michel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau (1760-1793), who inherited the property in 1779. A representative of the nobility in the Estates General, he joined the Third Estate in July 1789. He thus became one of the most ardent defenders of the people’s cause. As Deputy of Yonne under the Convention, he voted for the execution of Louis XVI on 20 January 1793. That same evening, while dining in a restaurant at the Royal Palace, he was stabbed by one of the king’s former bodyguards, Philippe de Pâris; he was brought home and died on the morning of 21 January, a few hours before the king was executed. The Nation then declared him a “Martyr for Freedom” and he was given a grandiose funeral, organised by the painter Louis David, before his body was transferred to the Pantheon. Louis-Michel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, Jean-Paul Marat (assassinated on 13 July 1793) and Marie-Joseph Chalier (executed the following 17 July) would become the three “Martyrs of the Revolution”, the focus of an official cult during the Reign of terror.
The daughter of the appointed regicide, Suzanne, married her cousin Léon Le Peletier de Morfontaine. Living elsewhere, she sold the hotel in 1811. The hotel then passed through many hands and later housed several educational institutions. In 1863, it was occupied by the Compagnie générale de la poste aux paquets et des transports internationaux. In 1895, the City of Paris acquired the hotel for its historical library which, since 1872, has existed alongside the municipal historical collections at the Carnavalet hotel. Relocation took place between 1896 and 1898.

This one is by Gauguin in 1892 in Tahiti.  From the Getty website description:

"I have just finished a severed kanak [Pacific Islander] head, nicely arranged on a white cushion, in a palace of my invention and guarded by women also of my invention.
--Paul Gauguin

Writing to his friend Daniel de Monfreid, Paul Gauguin referenced in an almost offhand way this startling painting of a decapitated human head, which he made during his first stay in Polynesia in the early 1890s. Real events, from Tahitian King Pomare V's death soon after Gauguin's arrival, to the artist having witnessed a public execution by guillotine several years earlier, likely influenced its dark subject matter. Gauguin added the Tahitian words "Arii" and "Matamoe" in the canvas' upper left. The first means "noble;" the second, "sleeping eyes," a phrase that implies "death."
 From the BBC.  I don't usually take so much, but it's a good story.

Born in Jamaica in 1805 (a year after the Peletier painting was done).  Mary Jane Grant was the daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican woman who ran a boarding house for invalid soldiers, where Mary learned nursing. 
'Although technically 'free', being of mixed race, Mary and her family had few civil rights - they could not vote, hold public office or enter the professions. In 1836, Mary married Edwin Seacole but the marriage was short-lived as he died in 1844.
Henry Weekes:  Mary Seacole 1859

Seacole was an inveterate traveller, and before her marriage visited other parts of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas, as well as Central America and Britain. On these trips she complemented her knowledge of traditional medicine with European medical ideas. In 1854, Seacole travelled to England again, and approached the War Office, asking to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimea where there was known to be poor medical facilities for wounded soldiers. She was refused. Undaunted Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea where she established the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide 'a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers'. She also visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded, and became known as 'Mother Seacole'. Her reputation rivalled that of Florence Nightingale.
After the war she returned to England destitute and in ill health. The press highlighted her plight and in July 1857 a benefit festival was organised to raise money for her, attracting thousands of people. Later that year, Seacole published her memoirs, 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands'.

This is Queen Victoria, from an interesting photo exhibit called Past Tense by Horoshi Sugimoto.

Go here the original is so much better
The Getty website says:
Since the mid-1970s, Hiroshi Sugimoto has used photography to investigate how visual representation interprets and distills history. This exhibition brings together three series by the artist—habitat dioramas, wax portraits, and early photographic negatives—that present objects of historical and cultural significance from various museum collections. By photographing subjects that reimagine or replicate moments from the distant past, Sugimoto critiques the medium's presumed capacity to portray history with accuracy.
Since it was a photo exhibit, I couldn't take photos.  The Queen Victoria picture was on a poster for the exhibit outside.  Inside were interesting pictures of animals in amazing settings - a polar bear with a ribbon seal; elk in a field.  I suddenly realized these were pictures of museum dioramas of stuffed animals.  It turns out it was the New York Museum of Natural History, where Robert Sapolsky first started dreaming of gorillas

The museum diorama pictures are part 1 of playing with photography and how it can depict false reality.  Then there are the old photographs that Sugimoto rephotographed, like Queen Victoria's.  And third part was photogenic drawings.  Again from the Getty site:

Photogenic Drawings

In 2007 Sugimoto visited the J. Paul Getty Museum to study the earliest photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot in the collection. After photographing some of Talbot's photogenic-drawing negatives, he produced large-scale prints and colored them with toning agents to replicate the hues of the paper negatives. The scale of the enlarged prints reveals the fibers of the original paper, which create intricate patterns embedded in the images. These works connect the artist intimately to Talbot and the origins of photography.

At the Art Diretory, the bio of Alexei Jawlensky begins like this:

Alexei Jawlensky: G. II
"Jawlensky only began his artistic training in 1889 in St. Petersburg after a career as an officer in the tsarist army. He studied under Ilja Repin who introduced him to Marianne von Werefkin and Helene Nesnakomoff, his later wife. Jawlensky accompanied these two to Munich in 1896 where they wanted to visit a private art school. Here Jawlensky met Wassily Kandinsky."
It also says he was born in 1864.  That would make him 25, somewhat young to have had a 'career' in the army.  The picture - G. II - belongs to the Long Beach Museum of Art. 

 Antonio Canova - Herm of a Vestal Virgin

Since Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale is one of my favorite songs, I had to include this "Herm of a Vestal Virgin."

From the Merriam Webster dictionary:
[Herm]  a statue in the form of a square stone pillar surmounted by a bust or head especially of Hermes.
The Met's website says:
"Canova (1757–1822), the greatest of all Neoclassical sculptors, remains famous above all for the elegant nude mythological subjects that he carved exquisitely in marble. He also worked in a deeply serious, deceptively simple style. "

Rietschel's Mendelssohn 1848

 This is a bust of Felix Mendelssohn, the great German musician, by Ernst Friederich August Rietschel.  From Felix
"Felix Mendelssohn is regarded by classical music aficionados and critics alike, as one of the most prolific and gifted composers the world has ever known.  Even those who could not name any of his works have heard it, as his "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream", which has accompanied many a bride down the aisle. "
 But, this is about art, so we should look at the artist as well.  From Wikipedia:

Rietschel was born in Pulsnitz, Saxony. At an early age he became an art student at Dresden, and subsequently a pupil of Rauch in Berlin. He there gained an art studentship, and studied in Rome in 1827-28. After returning to Saxony, he soon brought himself into notice by a colossal statue of Frederick Augustus, King of Saxony; was elected a member of the academy of Dresden, and became one of the chief sculptors of his country. In 1832 he was elected to the Dresden professorship of sculpture, and had many foreign orders of merit conferred on him by the governments of different countries. He died in Dresden in 1861.
The Mendelssohn bust was done in 1848.

Mosaic of Pope Clement VIII 1600-01

The Catholic Encyclopedia paints a picture of a very holy man.  In part:

. . . His election was greeted with boundless enthusiasm by the Italians and by all who knew his character. He possessed all the qualifications needed in the Vicar of Christ. Blameless in morals from childhood, he had at an early period placed himself under the direction of St. Philip Neri, who for thirty years was his confessor. Upon Clement's elevation to the papacy, the aged saint gave over this important office to Baronius, whom the pope, notwithstanding his reluctance, created a cardinal, and to whom he made his confession every evening. The fervour with which he said his daily Mass filled all present with devotion. His long association with the Apostle of Rome caused him to imbibe the saint's spirit so thoroughly, that in him St. Philip himself might be said to have ascended the papal chair. Though vast political problems clamoured for solution, the pope first turned his attention to the more important spiritual interests of the Church . . .
One Evil paints a very different picture.  Among their complaints:

". . . Pope Clement VIII was fanatical in his antagonism towards the increasing debate that human beings possess free will. Despite the Synod of Brest in 1595 invoilving both Jesuit and Dominican leadership, Pope Clement VIII refused to pronounce a decision.
He ruthlessly sought out those showing signs of creative genius and a desire to break from the madness of the Papacy "flat earth" view. On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno, a strong believer of free will, was burned alive due solely to the order of Pope Clement VIII.
Of the many evil acts done by Pope Clement VIII, one of the worst was the murder on orders of the Pope of Francesco Cenci, a wealthy family who held various estates and property including Palazzo Cenci. In 1598, Pope Clement VIII ordered Cenci killed. He then proceeded to have his children arrested for the murder of their father, having Giacomo quartered with a mallet, his limbs being hung in four quarters; Lucrezia and Beatrice beheaded. Pope Clement VIII then proceeded to give the properties of the Cenci to his Aldobrandini family.
In 1599, Clement VIII directly ordered Menocchio, a famous philosopher who had created a cosmology all by himself, holding that all life evolved like rotten cheese, was also put to the stake and burned alive.
Pope Clement VIII was also a fully committed anti-semite with deep hatred of the Jews. . ."
But most online links point out he was the Pope who blessed the coffee bean.  Anyone who lives at Starbucks will probably forgive him for everything else. Nils-Bertil Wallin at Yaleglobal writes:
"Italian traders introduced coffee to Europe and in 1600 Pope Clement VIII blessed the bean because it was claimed to help sober a population whose fluid intake was largely alcoholic beverages."

BTW, the mosaic was designed by Jacopo Ligozzi
"one of most prolific and remarkable artists of the Medici court. With the decline of Mannerism, artists sought new ways to attain a sense of magnificence and the sublime. Ligozzi's drawings—by turns weighty or refined and elegant—are windows into a fantastical world, featuring scrupulous natural details and free-ranging imaginative elements."  (From the Louvre website

and produced by Tadda (Romolo de Francesco Ferrucci) according to the description with the work.

J. Paul Getty by Pier Gabriele Vangelli
And finally - not that there aren't a lot more heads at the Getty - here's a bust of J. Paul Getty himself, by Pier Gabriele Vangelli, whose google fame seems to be for doing the Getty bust in 1939.  He also seems to have done a bust of Wilbur Wright. 

You can learn a lot more about the Getty Museum here which is possible because Getty made a lot of money in the oil business

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