During the industrial revolution, as steamships took over from sailing ships and machines replaced manpower, many areas of innovation and technology were taking place including discoveries in new art materials. Depending on one’s perspective this was the end, or the dawn, of a new era, with natural light about to be replaced by Edison’s electric light at the end of the 19th century, and it is in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings that we see the embers of this era merging with the new industrial age.
Until Turner and Constable, ‘history painting’ was regarded by the Academy as the superior genre in painting, with landscape painting taking a lesser value. Part of Turner’s legacy is in the way he utilised landscape and seascape, elevating them to a higher genre, and using painting as a platform to document the changes taking place in society at that time. Take for example The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up (1838) in which an older decommissioned ship is towed by a new steamship. Through this genre he was able to narrate aspects of technological, political and social reforms taking place in society, capturing, in particular, the magnificence of natural sunlight. So obsessed was Turner with his palette of bright whites and burning yellows that one critic even suggested he had “yellow fever”.
Paintings such as his famous The Fighting Temeraire, read ambiguously as a sunset or sunrise, reflecting the pivotal changes taking place. Frequently using Gamboge and King’s Yellow to capture sunlight in its many forms: as an ethereal quality, in its abundance, in its lack, as a vapour, and, as a physical quality soon to be replaced by the artificial rays of Edison. In Gombrich’s words, Turner “had visions of a fantastic world bathed in light and resplendent with beauty, but it was a world not of calm, but of movement, not of simple harmonies but of dazzling pageantries…”
A personal note by the content curator and the blogger Zahra:
” Rembrandt is part of the Blog today due to his interest towards the East/ South Asia. His fascination with the Mughal Painting, Emperor Shahjahan ( who ruled from 1628 to 58), and a body of work he produced inspired by the Mughal Court, Indo-Pak Subcontinent.”
Oct. 4 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. Although the Dutch draughtsman, painter and printmaker enjoyed great success during his lifetime, he died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk, one of Amsterdam’s first churches built for Protestant worship. Twenty years later, his remains were removed and destroyed, which was customary treatment for the poor of that time.
Today, Rembrandt is considered one of the greatest artists in history, and exhibitions honoring him have been taking place around the world throughout this 350th anniversary year. The Met’s “In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at the Met” brings together some of the most important works in their extensive holdings of 17th-century Dutch art, and 11 of their 20 Rembrandt paintings take center stage here.
His portraiture features prominently in this exhibit, most notably a 1660 self-portrait painted when he was 54 years old. The heavy buildup of paint, used to create the wrinkles of age that accent his face, represents a style characteristic of his later period, when his art started to lose popularity in the Netherlands. Though his devotion to realism led him to depict his own physical imperfections in this self-portrait, the piece also reveals a proud artist determined to explore his craft regardless of the consequences. His eyes look anxious and weary yet also knowing and somewhat defiant, and his stolid posture, clenched jaw and pursed lips seem to convey stubborn resolve. The flamboyance of his enormous cap easily identifies him as an artist, combined with his aged appearance and steadfast demeanor, which infer autonomy and mastery of his craft.
A few years before this 1660 self-portrait, Rembrandt had to sell many of his most valuable possessions as a collector of art and antiquities. His bankruptcy was a result of living beyond his means. Inventories of his possessions demonstrate lavish expenditures but also speak to his appreciation for the work of others and his interest in great ideas.
One of the treasures inventoried in his possessions was a bust of Homer, which served as a model for his “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer,” a painting featured in the Met’s Dutch Masters exhibit. It depicts the figure of Aristotle standing beside the bust, resting his hand on its marble head, and gazing into the middle distance, lost in contemplation. In his book “Rembrandt and Homer,” art historian Herbert von Einem interprets the subject matter of the painting to reflect Rembrandt’s deep religiosity, writing, “The ancient theme breathes a Christian spirit.”
Rembrandt’s Aristotle was done on commission for Sicilian nobleman Don Antonio Ruffo. Aside from two subsequent works of lesser importance produced for Ruffo, Rembrandt’s Aristotle was his only known commission from a foreign collector. He completed the work in 1653, around the time when his popularity was beginning to fade in the Netherlands.
Though Rembrandt never left the Dutch Republic, he gained exposure to Italian Masters in the art market and learned of their techniques from Dutch painters who had studied in Italy, especially the Utrecht Caravaggisti. Conflicts of religion raged throughout Rembrandt’s life, and, like many during that time, he had both Catholic and Protestant influences. His art comfortably hovered between these two worlds, and he drew particular inspiration from Flemish Baroque Catholic painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Considering his wide array of influences, Rembrandt would have felt confident taking on the commission from Ruffo, who collected works of great masters regardless of nationality but who remained strongly influenced by the Italian artistic tradition. Rembrandt chose the subject matter, and the topic he settled on was likely intended to appeal to Ruffo’s Mediterranean background, given that themes of antiquity were popular in Italy throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
In his book “Rembrandt’s Aristotle and Other Rembrandt Studies,” art historian Julius S. Held contends that the painting represents a complex juxtaposition of ideals. A large gold chain hangs across Aristotle’s body from right shoulder to left hip, with a medal that dangles from the right side of the chain and displays the image of Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s most famous pupil. The implication is that Alexander gave the gold chain to Aristotle, and, in that sense, the chain represents a great honor bestowed upon him. However, the chain also represents a kind of servitude because, by wearing it, Aristotle acknowledges that his status in life depends upon remaining in the good graces of this powerful ruler.
Aristotle, in fact, did not remain in the good graces of Alexander—they became estranged when Alexander executed a relative of Aristotle’s for conspiring against him. Held asserts that this history may have influenced Rembrandt’s melancholy depiction of Aristotle, who would certainly be ambivalent about having his status in life hinge on the whims of a vengeful ruler.
Homer represents an ideal for both Alexander and Aristotle. For Alexander, who carried a copy of the “Iliad” with him wherever he went, it was the ideal of honor personified by the heroes of Homer’s stories. For Aristotle, it was an aesthetic ideal summed up in his “Poetics,” wherein Homer’s work stands as the measure for artistic achievement. Amid this dynamic, we can imagine the figure of Aristotle measuring the transient honors bestowed by Alexander against the timeless achievements of Homer.
Held relates this meditation to the life of Rembrandt, showing how he faced the same dilemma as Aristotle. Held writes of Rembrandt, “The greatness of his art, in the last analysis, is due to this fact: that it is the work of a man who never compromised, who never permitted himself to be burdened with a chain of honor, and fiercely maintained both the integrity of his art and his freedom as a man.”
This path of integrity contributed to Rembrandt’s hardships in the later part of his career. But that is also a period when he produced some of his most brilliant works, including the two mentioned here, which tell stories that lay bare complex human situations and reveal the soul of a man willing to suffer to create art that is true and stands the test of time.
Designers love scenic wallpaper for its ability to transform a room. Unlike regular wallpaper, which often has a repeating pattern, scenic wallpaper fills an entire wall with a single, mural-like image. Usually depicting an outdoor tableau, the wallpaper brings nature inside and lends old-world appeal to a space. Just flip through any recent design magazine and you’ll probably see a well-appointed room with walls covered in large-scale images of flowering vines or swaying trees.
“People embrace things that feel handmade and have a link to the past,” says Susan Harter, who makes hand-painted scenic wallpaper in her Port Townsend, Wash., studio. “At a time when we’re being bombarded with technology, it’s nice to be in a haven of one’s own making. It’s like entering a peaceful mini-Eden.”
Until recently, if you wanted the look, you had to splurge on custom wallcoverings from luxury brands such as Zuber et Cie, Gracie Studio, de Gournay and Fromental. Those handmade paper or silk panels can cost thousands of dollars, and that’s without installation.
But scenic wallpaper has become far more accessible. Thanks to digital-printing technology that allows retailers to duplicate the look inexpensively, you no longer have to blow your entire decorating budget on a few pricey panels of chinoiserie.
High-definition printers aren’t exactly new to the luxury wallpaper business; the London-based brand Iksel has been producing high-end digital collections based on hand-painted works since 2004. And Harter’s company, Susan Harter Muralpapers, has been using the technology for several years to turn her hand-painted murals into custom canvas wallcoverings.
William Morris was born on March 24, 1834, (1834–1896) in Walthamstow, England. He was the third child of William Morris Sr. and Emma Shelton Morris. He enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the countryside, playing with his siblings, reading books, writing, and showing an early interest in nature and storytelling. His love of the natural world would have a growing influence on his later work.
At an early age he was attracted to all the trappings of the medieval period. At 4 he began reading Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, which he finished by the time he was 9. His father gave him a pony and a miniature suit of armor and, dressed as a tiny knight, he went off on long quests into the nearby forest.
Later Morris attended Marlborough and Exeter colleges, where he met painter Edward Burne-Jones and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, forming a group known as the Brotherhood, or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They shared a love of poetry, the Middle Ages, and Gothic architecture, and they read the works of philosopher John Ruskin. They also developed an interest in the Gothic Revival architectural style. Their Group was inspired by Ruskin’s writings.
The Industrial Revolution that began in Britain had turned the country into something unrecognizable to the young men. Ruskin wrote about society’s ills in books such as “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” and “The Stones of Venice.” The group discussed Ruskin’s themes about the impacts of industrialization: how machines dehumanize, how industrialization ruins the environment, and how mass production creates shoddy, unnatural objects.
The group believed that the artistry and honesty in handcrafted materials were missing in British machine-made goods. They longed for an earlier time.
Visits to the continent spent touring cathedrals and museums solidified Morris’ love of medieval art. Rossetti persuaded him to give up architecture for painting, and they joined a band of friends decorating the walls of the Oxford Union with scenes from the Arthurian legend based on “Le Morte d’Arthur” by 15th century English writer Sir Thomas Malory. Morris also wrote much poetry during this time.
After receiving his degree in 1856, Morris took a job in the Oxford office of G.E. Street, a Gothic Revivalist architect. That year he financed the first 12 monthly issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where a number of his poems were printed. Two years later, many of these poems were reprinted in his first published work “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems.”
Also known as a writer and poet, translator, social activist, printer and dyer, Morris originally trained as an architect and had early ambitions to become a painter.Morris commissioned Philip Webb, an architect he had met in Street’s office, to build a home for him and his wife. The building’s design was a co-operative effort, with Morris focusing on the interiors and the exterior being designed by Webb, for whom the House represented his first commission as an independent architect. Named after the red bricks and red tiles from which it was constructed, Red House rejected architectural norms by being L-shaped. Influenced by various forms of contemporary Neo-Gothic architecture, the House was nevertheless unique, with Morris describing it as “very mediaeval in spirit”. Situated within an orchard, the house and garden were intricately linked in their design. It took a year to construct.
In fact William Morris often said that when looking into his wallpaper designs they should appear to be 3 inches deep. This illusion of depth was created by his clever use of floral and fauna. He would layer these images to make it seem as if there was space beyond. So by using William Morris wallpaper you may even make a room feel a bit bigger .
The house, a grand yet simple structure, exemplified the Arts and Crafts philosophy inside and out, with craftsman-like workmanship and traditional, unornamented design. Then, together with some of his Pre-Raphaelite friends he furnished and decorated the new abode. It was such an enjoyable experience that they decided to set up their own company in London supplying a range of domestic furnishings — embroidery, tableware, furniture, stained glass and tiles (initially called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co — later simply Morris & Co). It was also because of his inability to find wallpapers that he liked enough for his own home that Morris turned his hand to designing his own, and these were added to the company catalogue.