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Archive for August, 2008

Mark Rothko’s abstraction

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ark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz (Latvian: Marks Rotko; September 25, 1903–February 25, 1970), was a Latvian-born American painter and printmaker who is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he rejected not only the label but even being called an abstract painter.

Mark Rothko known for abstract paintings in which soft-edged rectangles of color seem to float weightlessly against undefined backgrounds. A major figure in the abstract expressionism movement, Rothko used color to convey a range of emotion and what the artist described as a religious experience.

Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia), and emigrated to the United States in 1913. He attended Yale University from 1921 to 1923, then left to settle in New York City. During the next five years he occasionally attended classes at the Art Students League, most notably with American painter Max Weber, but he was essentially self-taught. In New York he visited museums and the studios of artists such as Milton Avery, whose interest in simplified forms and large areas of flat, unvaried color would exercise a profound influence on him. Rothko also befriended painter Adolph Gottlieb, with whom he shared a passion for non-Western art, and later, an interest in lyrical abstraction.

Rothko’s work of the 1930s, like that of many of his contemporaries, reflected the strains of life during the Great Depression. In Subway (Subterranean Fantasy) (1936, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), figures stand on a subway platform, isolated both from each other and from the world above them. The elongation of the figures and the dark color scheme are attempts to evoke a sense of claustrophobia and alienation from the spectator.

Rothko also took cues from the European surrealism movement, which saw artistic creativity as a key to unlocking the unconscious. Slow Swirl by the Edge of the Sea (1944, Museum of Modern Art, New York) reflects his exposure to this movement. The painting uses a more abstract visual vocabulary than his earlier works, its forms are more curvilinear and organic, and color has begun to play a larger role. In this painting, Rothko meditated on the origins of life: how it emerged from the sea and how its origins could function as a metaphor for the origins of consciousness.

By the early 1940s Rothko had become interested in ancient myths and symbols and was profoundly affected by the theory of the collective unconscious put forth by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung proposed that all human beings, regardless of geographic origin or time period, shared a common mental organization, which manifests itself in folk tales, myths, and symbols. Rothko saw his paintings as vehicles for communicating a shared repertory of images that are reflective of this collective unconscious.

J.M.W. Turner

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oseph Mallord William Turner, the son of a barber and wigmaker, was born in London in 1775. As a child Turner made money by colouring engravings for his father’s customers. At the age of 14 he entered the Royal Academy. He exhibited his first drawing, A View of the Archbishop’s Palace in Lambeth in 1790. Two years later he providing illustrations for the Copperplate Magazine and the Pocket Magazine.

In 1792 Turner went on his first sketching tour. Most of his pictures during this period were cathedrals, abbeys, bridges and towns but in 1796 he became interested in painting pictures of the sea. He also began touring with his artist friend, Thomas Girton.

By 1800 Turner was acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading topographical watercolourist. He received several commissions to illustrate books. His artistic ability was recognised when he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.

In 1803 Turner’s style changed. His impressionistic Calais Pier was criticised as being unfinished. For the next few years he was attacked by the critics and he had difficulty selling his paintings. One critic called Turner’s landscapes “pictures of nothing, and very alike.” Turner had his supporters, including John Ruskin, who described his paintings as “true, beautiful and intellectual”.

In 1844 Turner turned his attention to railways and painted Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway. J. M. W. Turner died at his cottage in Chelsea in 1851. He left some three hundred paintings and nineteen thousand watercolours to the nation.

Jacques-Louis David: The power of art

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acques-Louis David (August 30, 1748 – December 29, 1825) was a highly influential French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the prominent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward a classical austerity and severity, chiming with the moral climate of the final years of the ancien régime.

David later became an active supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre, and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic. Imprisoned after Robespierre’s fall from power, he aligned himself with yet another political regime upon his release, that of Napoleon I. It was at this time that he developed his ‘Empire style’, notable for its use of warm Venetian colours. David had a huge number of pupils, making him the strongest influence in French art of the 19th century, especially academic Salon painting.

Born to a wealthy Parisian family, Jacques-Louis David was aged seven when his father was shot dead in a pistol duel. Brought up by his uncles, his desire was to paint and he was eventually sent to his mother’s cousin, Francois Boucher, the most successful painter in France at the time.

Painting became an important means of communication for David since his face was slashed during a sword fight and his speech became impeded by a benign tumour that developed from the wound, leading him to stammer. He was interested in painting in a new classical style that departed from the frivolity of the Rococo period and reflected the moral and austere climate before the French Revolution.

David became closely aligned with the republican government and his work was increasingly used as propaganda with the Death of Marat proving his most controversial work.

“If there’s ever a picture that would make you want to die for a cause, it is Jacque-Louis David’s Death of Marat. That’s what makes it so dangerous – hidden away from view for so many years.

Death of Marath

Death of Marath


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ichelangelo was one of the most creative and admired artists of the Italian Renaissance, famous for his work as a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. As it is impossible to move his greatest works, his genius can only be appreciated through his work as a draughtsman. In the viewing of his drawings we may trace the whole of Michelangelo’s creative life. This film illustrates the finest works from three outstanding collections of his drawings in the British Museum, The Ashmolean Museum and the Teyler Museum in Haarlem. The BP special exhibition Michelangelo-closer to the Master at the British Museum, London 2006. This film includes location photography in the most famous cities of Michelangelo’s work: Florence and Rome. The commentary is by Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum.

Gaudi’s Barcelona

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ntoni Gaudí (1852-1926), Catalan architect, one of the most creative practitioners of his art in modern times. His style is often described as a blend of neo-Gothic and art nouveau, but it also has surrealist and cubist elements.

Born June 25, 1852, in Reus, Catalonia, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was the son of a coppersmith. He attended the School of Architecture in Barcelona (1874-1878), the city where he spent his life. As a student he was already involved in several building projects. His earliest major assignment was the Casa Vicens (1878-1880), a private home in Barcelona. This and other work brought him the patronage of an industrialist, Eusebio Güell, for whom he carried out many important commissions, including the Palacio Güell (1885-1889), distinguished by parabolic arches and rich ironwork, and the bizarre Park Güell (1900-1914), with its stone trees, reptilian fountains, and mosaics of broken ceramic pieces set in concrete.

In 1883 Gaudí was appointed official architect of the huge Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family), which, although still unfinished at his death, is acknowledged as his masterpiece. Its lofty semicubist towers, with mosaic-covered finials, dominate the Barcelona skyline, and its imaginative forms, colors, and textures are unmatched in European architecture. Construction began again on the church in 1979, following Gaudí’s original vision for the structure.

Among Gaudí’s other celebrated works are two apartment buildings, the Casa Batlló (1907) and the Casa Milà (1905-1907). These large stone and iron structures minimize traditional straight lines and flat surfaces by the use of rounded, irregularly spaced openings and a roof and balconies that have a wavelike appearance.

Gaudí was deeply involved in Catalan nationalism, of which he was a leader. He died June 10, 1926, in Barcelona.

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  • "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It's the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead."
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