Sunday, March 29, 2009
Herat, Eastern Persia (modern Afghanistan), late 16th century
Cotton foundation, wool pile, 213 x 148 inches
Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna
Maybe not what you were expecting to see here?
If I had unlimited resources, I'd naturally buy paintings, but I'd probably spend more money collecting fine rugs. I've been interested in them for many, many years. Like most of my hobbies, that interest waxes and wanes, but lately I've been spending a lot of enjoyable time looking at good carpets.
There's a tendency to see them as simply being decorative objects, but in my opinion that's a huge mistake. A well-made rug can exist on exactly the same aesthetic plane as a well-made painting. In fact, as a painter, I often feel I have a lot to learn from good rugs, particularly in terms of color harmonies. The searingly beautiful image below is a detail from the above piece. You won't see a more beautifully balanced, vibrant palette in Vermeer.
I can only imagine the amount of time and effort that went into planning and composition of this great piece... to say nothing of the actual weaving. I'm guessing there are in excess of 9.5 million knots in this carpet, each one done by hand. Yes, 9.5 million. I couldn't find the actual knot count in the literature, but I'm taking a stab at 300KPSI (knots/square inch). That might even be conservative. By the way, there probably was a division of labor with a massive carpet like this; the artist-designers most likely were not a part of the large team of weavers.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston actually has a substantial collection of great rugs, but most of the time they're in storage. That is also true of almost every other museum I've visited. If they have good rugs, they just don't display them (I know there are specialized textile museums, but I'm talking about major art museums, which for most people is their only chance to see new things). That's a crying shame, really. I'm sure if people had the opportunity to see these items in a proper display setting, they'd come to appreciate them for what they are: amazingly beautiful works of art. (In fairness, the MFA did have a special exhibit of their collection at some point in the 90s, but these rugs are not shown as part of their regular displays).
Those who are interested in learning more about fine rugs can look visit this online exhibit at the Weaving Arts Museum (the first few pages are a political/historical background which you might just want to click through). There's also a nice introductory exhibit at the Met museum website.
Finally, speaking of Vermeer, he totally grasped the beauty of a good rug. They appear in at least 8 of his 35 known paintings. It might just be my own bias, the real star of this painting is not the maid.
A Maid Asleep, 1656–57
Oil on canvas; 35 x 30 inches
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Oil on canvas, 35 x 51 inches
I love winter... I really do.
But, it's March already, and we have yet another big storm bearing down on us which may dump up to a foot of snow. At this point, it feels like the snow and the cold and the shoveling and the scraping have gone on forever, so I thought I'd post a visual reminder of why this is my favorite time of year.
Several years ago, when I was frequently doing plein air work, I looked at a lot of Impressionist painting. Since I've changed my focus to still life, I hardly ever look at the Impressionists any more, and that's really a shame. I have no desire to paint in that style, but for shear visual pleasure, Monet at his best just can't be beat. This dazzling, enchanting canvas is one of my very favorite landscapes.
Now I'm ready for some hot chocolate...
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Abraham van Beyeren
Still Life with Lobster and Fruit
Oil on wood, 38 x 31 inches
I only recently discovered van Beyeren's work. This could simply be due to gaps in my own knowledge, which is always the most likely explanation. But, if he is in fact an obscure artist, that is an unjust obscurity, as this wonderful, elegantly composed still life demonstrates.
I assume this painting was the victim of a bad cleaning at some point in it's history, or else he used some fugitive pigments. Clearly, the colors should be more saturated than they are, especially the cantaloupe. I would guess it's more likely the former; historically, orange was generally achieved with a glaze, and improper cleaning can strip glaze layers right off.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Gerard ter Borch
Oil, 30 x 27 inches
As a follow-on to yesterday's post about the Gardner Museum, I wanted to feature a piece by ter Borch today. One of my favorite paintings at the Gardner is actually a small ter Borch, but I couldn't find an online image. This one will have to do (it's actually much better than the Gardner's).
If people talk about ter Borch, it's usually to mention his facility in painting fabrics. No doubt about it, his ability is pyrotechnic, but the drama of the paintings is always intriguing, too. The elegant, courtly scenes generally have some understated psychological tension that doesn't immediately leap off the canvas, but reveals itself more subtly... is that really a look of disdain on her face? Something else?
And yes, his silks are absolutely DAZZLING.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Oil on Canvas, 27 x 40 Inches
There's a definite resurgence of interest in French Academic Realism. For the most part, Bouguereau doesn't appeal to me; his fixation on pre-adolescent females is generally pretty creepy. Gerome, however, trips all of my triggers, and I can happily spend an entire afternoon with his paintings. This particular piece is in Boston, and I've seen it many times. The light is breathtaking, especially in person.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Still Life with Figs and Bread
oil on canvas
My first reaction to this painting was "too crowded". I've since then spent hours studying it, and I'm frankly blown away by the power and subtlety of his composition. If I ever had to do the desert island thing and pick 5 paintings to take with me to study, this one would probably make the list.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Still Life with Lobster, Drinking Horn and Glasses.
Oil on canvas
34 x 40 inches
In my opinion Kalf was the best of the 17th century Dutch still life painters. I would go so far as to say he was the best 17th century Dutch painter, period, edging out some famous competition, but that is just my opinion. His output was rather small, and unfortunately there are not many high-quality images of his work online.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
Arbitrary Execution Under the Moorish Kings of Granada
Oil on canvas, 118 x 57 inches
I've been spending a lot of time lately going over 19th century Orientalist paintings. Yes, it is possible to read very unpleasant currents of European cultural superiority and colonialism in these works. However, I prefer to focus on the more innocent fascination with exoticism and adventure. On that level, it's a fantastic period in art history.
I was fortunate to see this painting in person at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and was absolutely dumbstruck when I did. It's gruesome, disturbing, and very, very beautiful.