350 years from Rembrandt’s death or why is he glorious?

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) is one of the geniuses who built a new path in visual arts during the 17th century and created a new vision of the role and place of art in life.

He was born in Leiden in the distant 1606 year, on the territory of the newly established and booming Dutch Republic, a federation of seven districts liberated from the Spaniards after the 80-year War of Independence.

The historical moment when Rembrandt came in the world is very interesting.

The independent Dutch Republic was obsessed by a spirit of creation and a desire to bring into life everything new and advanced that has existed in the world. Amsterdam became one of the most flourishing ports in the world. Shipping and trade were developing quickly. New neighbourhoods emerged in cities, new roads were built, and many administrative and private buildings. At a local level, industrial and technical revolution took place; modern production technologies, new modes of transport and trade were introduced.

For the small Netherlands, the 17th century was a great period known in history as a golden age in its development. During this time the foundations of its greatness and its recognised role in the world in the coming centuries were laid.

Sometimes it is not known whether the visual arts follow the technological development, adopting new techniques of depiction of reality, or with the way of interpreting and recreating reality, the art itself is a prerequisite for the turbulent progress of some nation.

In the 17th century, Dutch art underwent a tremendous change.

As part of the Flemish school, the Dutch visual art undoubtedly has its great personalities so far. Globally recognized names are those of the artists Jan van Eyck, Jheronimus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel de Oude, Pieter Brueghel de Jonge, Jan Brueghel de Oude, Peter Paul Rubens. They created pearls of painting, magnificent and mysterious reflections of reality. Their works brighten the halls of the world’s best galleries and inspire generations of artists and art lovers.

The undisputed big name in the Dutch painting in the 17th century, however, is Rembrandt.

Rembrandt is a genius, a pioneer in visual art. In his short and turbulent sixty-three years’ life he created his own art school, trained many young students, introduced new techniques of work and left great artistic works.

He worked with incredible wingspan, giving all the best from himself, did not save his efforts and money, invested everything in its art. His students were so inspired by his style of painting and so strictly followed his artistic manner that modern art historians introduce the term “rembrandism” into art. This is a school of artists who use Rembrandt’s painting style.

In the 17th century, the Dutch painting school radically changed its meaning, and the religious functions of art were replaced by civil ones.

This is a period of complete transformation of the Dutch society. Religious ecstasy gave way to motivation for technical and economic development. The art did not stay away from the changes. From contractors to orders for religious purposes, artists become creators with their own voice, they created paintings for public use and works of personal importance.

In the 17th century in the Dutch school the genres landscape and portrait paintings dominated. The artists increasingly turned face to reality. An incredible number of portraits were painted – it is estimated that in a century in the Netherlands over one million portraits were painted! Both individual, family and group portraits were painted. Group portraits left memory of the lifestyle and self-esteem of various society groups – doctors, merchants, bankers, guardians of public order, etc.

Less and less paintings with religious and mythological story lines were created. They were replaced by canvases of historical themes, commissioned for the decorating of various administrative buildings.

Landscapes, family and individual portraits became part of the interiors of rich citizens. Group portraits representing the standard of various society groups and historical paintings found application in buildings with public functions. With such works the revived Dutch nation affirmed its self-esteem, rethought its place in the world and its role in it.

At that time, many artists worked in the Netherlands, but few names remain in the art history.

It is Rembrandt’s name that remains to shine in the history of world fine art as the recognised emblem of painting of the revived Dutch nation during its golden age.

Why is Rembrandt glorious?

Rembrandt is of modest origin – he is son of a miller from Leiden, with a big family. His father was wealthy for his time. Seeing that his son was talented, he has enrolled him in the the University of Leiden. Rembrandt interrupted his training and became a private student of the local artist Jakob van Svanenburg, about whom a little is known. Later he went to Amsterdam and trained briefly with the artist Pieter Lastman, who was known to have travelled in Italy and to have learned from the art of Italian Renaissance masters.

Very quickly Rembrandt realised his strength and his gift, and began to work independently at the age of nineteen years. Together with his friend Jan Lievens, he opened an artistic atelier in Amsterdam and began to train his first students in visual art. There Rembrandt became a member of the local Artists Guild.

During the first years of his creative life Rembrandt painted mainly portraits of contemporaries, canvases with religious and mythological storyline. During this time, he created his first graphic works, which also bear the recognisable characteristics of his unique talent.

Among his first works a strong impression make his allegories – small paintings of philosophical character.

The young Rembrandt painted five allegories on the five senses depicting eyesight, hearing, touching, taste and smell. So far, four of them have been found, except for his allegory of taste. In these early paintings his talent to work with colours can be seen, and here still the range is very cheerful, full-coloured. His ability to understand and depict human emotions and states can be also observed. In his allegories we feel almost physically the people emotions – curiosity, patience, suffering, compassion, ridicule, fear… A whole range of emotional states is recreated with a tremendous talent. Rembrandt is an incredible psychologist; this is one of his distinctive qualities as an artist. His allegorical works are unique, and their value will increase over time.

Rembrandt has tendency to analyses and rethinking life and societal values. He has a natural, very modern interest in science and technical inventions. He is definitely a very talented and wide-minded person, with modern thinking, up to date even in our days.

One of my favourite works is “The Philosopher in Meditation” – a work with exceptional artistic value and philosophical depth. It is also known under the name “Tobit and Anna”, characters from the Old Testament.

In a cosy little niche, under a spiralling wooden staircase, the blind Tobit is meditating. He sits in front of a large window through which the sun’s rays are entering, which he feels but does not see. At the bottom of the room there is a fireplace, and his wife Anna is stoking the fire.

Tobit and Anna are among the favourite Rembrandt’s characters from the Old Testament. This is a very small picture, with the technique “oil on canvas” and sizes only 28 x 34 cm. It hides an incredible philosophical charge. The picture asks a lot of questions – about the meaning of knowledge, about seeing, about warmth and light, about family cosiness and the meaning of togetherness… Eternal questions that will be asked always and whose answers people will always look for.

This painting was painted in 1632 year, when Rembrandt was only twenty-six years old! Incredible depth of thought and maturity of artistic interpretation for such a young man.

Here we can observe his development as an artist and the changing way of painting. The colours become muted, in the typical black, brown, red, gold and yellow, which prevail in its later creative period. Its ability to work with light is also unique, emphasising the way how the sun rays penetrate a room and illuminate objects and people.

We can also see another typical Rembrandt artistic technique – the drama-like arrangement of space. The interiors in his paintings and the structure of the portraits have a strong dramatic power. On each of them strong theatrical, opera or movie scenes can be created. Some contemporary art critics even claim that Rembrandt has a kind of cinematographic thinking.

Throughout his life Rembrandt reflected life in all variety of manifestations – from joy to sadness, from birth to death, from riches to poverty, from pride to humiliation…

In his early years, Rembrandt loved to walk around the outskirts of Leiden and Amsterdam and created powerful and impressing graphic images of the saw. Despite the turbulent development of the cities, his pictures show how life was different in the outskirts. The reality there seemed sad. Abandoned mills, old village huts, beggars. Even in Amsterdam’s richest years, Rembrandt liked to walk in the streets of the poorer neighbourhoods, to communicate with ordinary people and to paint… His graphics are impressing reflections of the reality.

He also bought an expensive and modern printing technique, and printed engravings of the reality in hundreds of copies. That made his art very popular. With fame surely envy and misunderstanding came…

Typical for many of the Rembrandt’s graphics and engravings are their multi layer structure and their complex composition. It is amazing in what small area he could depict complex and context rich mythological and religious scenes.

Rembrandt also made a lot of graphic full stature portraits to his poor contemporaries – poor people, old people, beggars, vagrants. Probably he puzzled his colleagues, who were focused on finding bigger commissions and in the fulfilment of well-paid orders.

While many artists of this time used graphic sketches as a prelude to painting, the graphics and engravings of Rembrandt are in themselves completed works, with their own meaning and value.

His graphical techniques are incredibly powerful! His drawing style is tender and delicate in some places – in drawing faces and in the space around the people; but at the same time it could also look confident and dense – in the clothes, in the depiction of the gestures, the movements and postures of the body.

In the Rembrandt’s graphics is evident the incredible goodness of this original artist, disobeying of any canon. Often his goodness is mixed with a sad ridicule. In The Holy Family, for example, the Holy Mother is nursing her holy baby, tenderly holding him and watching him with great affection, while during that time the Holy Father is reading a book. Rembrandt paints even the most famous and used story lines with so much affection, with such mastery. Its graphics can hardly be forgotten.

Rembrandt had a tough life and three great loves, each of which left him devastated in a different way.

His life went through great wealth and fame as one of the most famous and sought after Dutch artists, but ended in poverty and loneliness. In his youth he lived in a wasteful manner. He got a great inheritance from his beloved first wife, made a very good profit, built a wonderful home in Amsterdam, bought a printing press, invested a lot of money in painting and other valuables that has used for interiors in his paintings and for his model clothes. He lived as a true god, with delight and brilliance … After his wife’s death, afflicted with grief and at great expense, Rembrandt bankrupted.

The creditors sold all of his property, almost all valuable items and his own paintings are sold to repay his duties. They say his creditors weren’t too harsh on him… He’s thanking them with a group portrait.

Rembrandt outlived all his loved ones, except for his last child. There are different versions of where he was buried, but according to the most popular he was laid in a grave for the poor, like Mozart. Sad is the fate of the great geniuses… They often die alone and misunderstood. The future values them more than the present.

Like other great artists, Rembrandt loved to look at himself and paint himself. He left about ninety self-portraits, from his early youth to the last year of his life. Here comes he to us from his portraits – he looks impatient, mocking, challenging, thoughtful, confident, calm. There is no shadow of regret or doubt in his eyes.

A great artist and a man dedicated to great art. A man who I feel my friend and contemporary. He is great, like life itself!

Joaquín Sorolla – the classic of the Spanish impressionism

Joaquín Sorolla (1863 – 1923) is a Spanish painter, an amazing brush master. He is the most renowned, most known and most beloved representative of the Spanish impressionism not only in Spain but also beyond.

He was born in Valencia, in the large family of a merchant. His father died of cholera when he was only two years old and a relative of his mother took care for his family.

His life was completely dedicated to art, he walked his path consistently and worthily, without any personal and professional turbulences.

His artistic talent Joaquín manifested very early. Nine years old, he started taking private lessons in his hometown. At the age of eleven he went to Madrid, where he became fascinated by the collection of the Prado Museum.

After the military service, Joaquín received a scholarship to study fine arts in Rome. During his studies in Italy he managed to visit France as well, getting acquainted with the work of the French impressionists.

In 1888, he returned to Valencia. Immediately afterwards, in the spirit of the Spanish tradition, he created a family with Clotilde García del Castillo, whom he met several years before that in her father’s studio.

The Joaquin’s love for Clotilde perpetuated in their three children Mary, Joaquin and Elena, and in her numerous portraits, painted with tenderness, and with already rare in modern couples adoration.

In the first ten years of his artistic path Joaquín painted mainly works of historical, mythological and social themes, which he presented in Madrid, Paris, Venice, Munich, Berlin and Chicago.

The first convincing confession comes with his painting Another Marguerite, for which in 1892 he received a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid and again a gold medal at the International Art Exhibition in Chicago. At this exhibition the picture was purchased and donated to the Washington University Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

The next success is his picture The Return from Fishing, which was greeted with rapture in 1894 in the Salon de Paris and was bought by the Museum of Luxembourg. This is a huge recognition for the artistic mastery of the young Joaquín Sorolla.

He’s an impressionist to the core of his bones. It’s his very style. He captures the light in all its manifestations. He uses the colours in a divine way.

Uniquely white, gentle and with so many different shades, which may not have caught any other artist. This is in fact the Renaissance white, triumphant and captivating, as in the works of Rubens and Michelangelo, but very modern, very catchy, used in huge quantities. In an incredible way, white is mixed with blue, pink, yellow, without losing its strength and its harshness. The paintings of Joaquín Sorolla simply emit light, they themselves are source of light.

The way he works with the brush is typical of the mature impressionism, flowing to post impressionism. His ointment is confident and convincing. In some pictures, the brush strokes are large and wavy, leaving the impression of strength and harshness. Sometimes I get the feeling that this man just didn’t have enough lifetime physically to paint all of what he had seen and what he was wearing in himself. Perhaps for the great talent life is always short…

Purely technically and professionally, the other, which is very typical for Joaquín Sorolla, is the knowledge of all the secrets of the human body. Extremely natural and human-speaking postures – male and female, children and adults in mature and old age. Ordinary people – peasants, fishermen, farmers, and noble people with a completely different lifestyle and everyday life.

All of them are painted in their most typical and natural postures. Without a surplus and without a bust. Indeed, there is something Renaissance in the extent that he knows and recreates the anatomy of the human body. Another unique feature of his art is the combination of technique with the power of emotion. Typical Spanish, definitely. I can’t look without an excitement of a human figure painted by Joaquin.

His creativity is so powerful from the artistic point of view (he is perfect in everything he has left), so varied as a subject and so voluminous as the number and size of his works, that if he had not died so young (only sixty years old), he would deservedly be called the “patriarch” of the Spanish impressionism.

Undoubtedly, Joaquín Sorolla  is the classic of the Spanish impressionism.

I choose to show you one of my favourite pictures of him – “The pier of San Sebastian”.

San Sebastian is located on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic Ocean. The water accumulates the power of the ocean and this is felt in the local climate and in the picture.

There is hardly another artist who has painted works depicting life and nature from so many different regions of Spain. Joaquín Sorolla is truly in love with his homeland, naturally, without posture and without overdoing.

In the picture the sky is gloomy, and the sea is stormy. The clouds are worn over the water, and the waves are flowing with colossal power to the shore. Do you feel the energy of the ocean? The air is ozonated and dense. The waves hit one after the other from the pier. They come back and move again, leaving thousands of small splashes in the air.

Several men and women are standing on the pier, some of them with their children. They seem bold and calmly observing the sea, but in any case, they approached their bodies, pushing to each other.

The coast on the opposite side anxiously holds the blows of the waves as if protecting people from distress.

What an incredibly strong conversation between nature and man!

You will find the painting of Joaquín Sorolla here in Wikiart.

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka – a lonely art travel in time and space

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919) is a Hungarian painter whose life is as bizarre and distinctive as his works.

He was born in a small town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which town today is on the territory of Slovakia and has around twelve thousand inhabitants. As of his thirtieth year he was a pharmacist in his hometown.

They say that at that time he once dreamt a strange dream, in which a mystical voice told him that he would become a great painter, as great as Rafael.

Believing the dream, Tivadar embarked a tour of Europe and visited the Vatican galleries. He then returned to Hungary, where he worked for another dozen years at the pharmacy to collect money for his further travels.

After 1890 he managed to visit France, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, North Africa and the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Syria).

His most famous works Tivadar painted only for a period of several years, between 1903 and 1909. Apart from their huge size, his paintings are distinguished by a strong individual style, influenced by the famous Renaissance painters and by his many travels abroad.

Tivadar made several exhibitions in Paris and other cities in western Europe, where he was recognised as a painter with an original style.

His works are characterised by exceptional expressiveness, with a renaissance knowledge of the perspective and icon-influenced colour vision. He barely uses contours; his drawing is soft and renaissance-like. The colours are fresh and saturated. Tivadar uses the white colour in a very specific way. In his paintings the white objects are emphasised unobtrusively, but at the same time categorically.

The backgrounds are usually landscapes in which a renaissance adoration of nature and its cosmic power is felt. This is especially evident in the depiction of mountains and trees. As if painted by a student in the school of Andrea Verrocchio!

Tivadar has a very original vision of the role of heaven. In many of his paintings, the sky occupies almost half the canvas. Besides white, gray and blue, he very often uses red and yellow for the sky, and it in great proportions. The sky is like a separate, very important character in his artistic productions.

I call them “productions” because his works resemble theatrical or opera performances. They have some dramatic, very strong storyline, often with a biblical twist, but with no direct connection to biblical legends and heroes. On some paintings you can build decors of spectacular opera performances and I assure you; the emotion will be very strong!

One can say for sure – his work is difficult to confuse with those of another artist, which is one of the manifestations of the great talent.

Art critics relate stylistically his paintings to post-impressionism, expressionism, symbolism, magic realism, and surrealism. Given that he left only about one hundred and fifty paintings, it is a remarkable stylistic variety!

Interestingly, the fact that Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka  is absolutely self-taught; it is not known about him to have been trained by anyone else.

He remained misunderstood and underestimated in his homeland. He has been considered strange because he was a pacifist, a vegetarian, a non-smoker and lived extremely modestly and ascetically. He tended to go into pathos in conversation and firmly believed that he has had a mission – to develop the art of the Hungarian people to an exceptional level.

In his life, however, he failed to sell any picture. In his last years he lived lonely, misunderstood, unhappy and did not paint anymore. After his death, he was completely forgotten.

His paintings were found by chance by an architect who came to his studio, looking for a rented apartment. He carried the works of Tivadar to the Fine arts school, where he was a lecturer.

In 1949, the paintings of Tivadar took part in exhibitions in Paris and Brussels.

The interest in his art was revived in the seventies  of the last century when his collection of works was moved to  a museum with his name in the city of Pécs, southern Hungary  and thus his paintings were stored for the future.

I choose to show you his painting “Riders by the seashore”,  painted in 1909 year.

On the shores of an isolated sea bay we see riders women and men, some with their dogs.

The horses are slender, elegant, with elongated heads and limbs. They look a little unreal, like in a dream.

The riders have typical postures for riding, but they’re sitting somehow rigid. Men are strangely alike. Women – too. Everyone is focused on themselves and on riding.

The cliffs are high, striated, cold-emitting. No greenery is visible. The trees stand lifeless.

The sea is slightly waved, somehow strangely collapsed in itself and very lonely.

The sky stands as a décor without any emotional involvement in the painting.

From this painting it spurts such incredible loneliness! The lack of vitality and emotions in it causes a feeling of cold and loneliness. Interesting how the lack of emotions can give birth to such a strong emotion?

Perhaps the Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka  will remain in the history of art precisely with its uniqueness, grandiosity and lack of sensitiveness. A lonely stranger in art.

You may see the paintings of Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka here at Wikiart.

Winifred Nicholson – a quiet conversation with nature

Winifred Nicolson (1893 – 1981) was a British artist I had never heard of until recently.

The curious thing about her biography is the special combination of her own origin and the profile of her married family. She was born in Oxford. Her father and maternal grandfather were politicians. Winifred Nicholson married the artist Ben Nicholson, whose parents have been painters. Their daughter Kate also inherited the artistic talent of the parents and in turn became an artist.

This perhaps provides an explanation of an interesting synergy in her life of congenital aristocracy, sophistication and artistic sensibility.

She studied in London, but because of her father’s occupation, she has travelled a lot and has visited India, Burma and Ceylon in her childhood.

Initially, she painted together with her grandfather, and later she attended the Byam Shaw School Private Arts School in London with some interruptions because of the First world war.

After creating a family in 1920 year, along with Ben she bought a villa in Switzerland, on the shores of the lake Lugano. They spent the winter months there, and the summers in the UK.

In 1924 the young family purchased a property and a farm in Cumbria, an area in the northwest part of the island. Interestingly, the land was located in the area of the Emperor Hadrian wall, and the house was built on the grounds of an old Roman fortification.

Winifred and Ben had three children, but in their marriage, a crack appeared, which they could not repair. They got divorced in 1931 and after the divorce she went to live with the children in Paris. With Ben throughout their lives she maintained a friendly relationship and he often met the children.

After the divorce, for fifty years, Winifred lived for most of the time in their house in Cumbria.

Winifred has a very individual impressionistic or rather post-impressionistic style of painting. Most of her works are landscapes and still life, although there are also quite good abstract paintings and portraits. She painted mainly with oil on canvas.

Her art is very feminine, in the best sense of the word – there is a calm and homely atmosphere in her works. She basically painted what surrounded her. Her loved ones in their daily pursuits. Nature – the mountain, the field, the sea, the sky… Polish and garden flowers – her favourite bouquets, without which she could not spend a day.

She was in love with the flowers – she believed they are mysterious creatures that give both tenderness and energy.

Winifred has been thinking for many years about the role and power of colours in art, and there are quite a few publications of her on this topic. She used mainly pastel, muted colours, in a very subtle and delicate colour mix.

Her paintings simply radiate gentle energy, natural light. She has an interesting statement, which I very much like – that the picture is a focal point in a room, it is not just a window but the light at home.

Her brush senses all aspects of time – wind, fog, sun, rain, cold, heat… Looking at her paintings, made in different seasons, you can just physically feel the time in them.

Her talent to communicate with nature is unique, indeed! In her paintings, she seemed quietly talking to the nature.

An interesting inspiring motive for Winifred was the rainbow – no wonder with this almost pagan adoration of the light. Winifred leaved many works in which the rainbow or a gentle refraction of light are painted, in different seasons and times of the day. I think, these paintings themselves can be a subject of a separate art research study.

I choose to show you her painting “Birds by the sea.”

These are sea snipes, which are very typical for the area of Cumbria. It’s autumn in the picture. The colours are blasted, the summer is going to leave away. The birds are preparing to migrate and make their last farewell circles over the water, gathering power for a distant flight. Where are they going? Nobody knows…

For everyone who loves Updike – does it remind you of Sally and Jerry taking off in his novel “Marry Me”? On the beach, at the end of a long summer in Connecticut, full of sad revelations of an unpredictable love and with the gentle irony of growing up?

Pictures of Winifred Nicholson can be seen in Wikiart and also on the site with her name and extension com, created by her family.

Félix Vallotton – painted Encyclopedia of Time

Félix Vallotton (1865 – 1925) is a Swiss artist who lived and worked in the last quarter of the 19th and in the first quarter of the 20th century.

He spent most of his life in France, but remained in his heart a true Swiss – analytical, accurate, practical, impartially true to reality.

He was born in Lausanne, in a protestant family with four children. His father owned a pharmacy, later buying a chocolate factory but experiencing financial troubles in business. His mother was a carpenter’s daughter. Virtue, hardworking, friendly – his family was the epitome of the best in a protestant family.

Félix realized his talent as quite young – in his high school years he took lessons with a local artist who encouraged him to continue his education in arts.

Convincing his family, he went to Paris in 1882, where Félix enrolled in the renowned Julian Art Academie. His teachers there were the renowned artists Boulanger and Lefebvre, but it should be noted that he has not been among their favorites. Maybe that’s why Felix left the academy and continued his studies at Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He has spent much of his time in the Louvre museum to study the works of Leonardo, Dürer and Holbain. He was also a fan of Edward Manet, Goya and Ingres (especially).

During his first long stay in Paris, which lasted over fifteen years, he learned arts and painted intensively. In addition to painting, during this period he did also wood engraving, press illustrations, book illustrations, and theater poster projects. He even tried to write theatre plays and novels, but over time he began focusing more and more on visual arts.

In this first period of his life and work, Félix became friends with a group of Nabi artists, but remained “the alien” for them. He lived mainly from wood-engraved portraits and illustrations. One of his main sponsors and admirers was the publisher Thadee Nathanson, whose family has introduced the painter to the Parisian artistic avant-garde group – Stefan Malarme, Marcel Proust, Claude Debussy, and others.

His work as an engraver deserves special attention during this period. Félix Vallotton has revived and built on the tradition of wood engraving in France.

He left a large number of engraved portraits of famous contemporaries, not just French ones. These portraits give an idea of his subtle psychological flair and his ability to analyze and type characters. To a great extent, they are an interesting human “encyclopedia” from which much can be learned. Félix left many portraits of celebrities of the time – writers, philosophers, poets, statesmen. Among the others, one of the Bulgarian prime ministers Mr.Stambolov was also engraved by Félix Vallotton.

Art critics refer to his rich heritage as belonging to the art styles of “post-impressionism” and “symbolism.” In his first creative period, Félix Vallotton also worked in a specific post-impressionist style called “cloazonism”, which features evenly cououred objects and shapes surrounded by dark contours. One of the most famous cloazonists is Paul Gauguin. Cloazonism contributes significantly to the emergence and development of modernism, mainly through the use of the typical colour separation technique.

It is precisely in Valaton’s cloazonistic works (“Bistro”, “Street Passage”, “Sitting Naked Woman”, etc.) where one can notice his analytic gift and his ability to construct typical characters and situations, as well as his a little bit ironic and biting sense of humor. In a sense, these works give us reason to compare the work of Félix Vallotton with the work of such distinguished writers as Charles Dickens and Honore de Balzac. A classic storyteller in the artist’s skin. Encyclopedia of that time, in engravings and paintings.

In his younger years, Félix shared his life with Helen Chatenay, with whom he has lived for ten years. Then, parting with her, he made a sudden turn in his life – linking his life to the wealthy widow Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, mother of three children and daughter of the famed gallerist Alexandre Bernheim. The family settled down to live on the right bank of the Seine, and Félix completely indulged in painting.

During this second artistic period, his life was calm and balanced. His progress as an artist is obvious.

He mainly painted interior scenes from his daily life, portraits of his wife Gabrielle, still lifes, landscapes. The prevailing colour is warm, the atmosphere – soulful. His technique is brilliant. He repeatedly exposed his works. Gradually his paintings began to sell well.

He moved to the heaven on the next day after turning sixty. A well planned and well-lived human path.

And yet … Where is the thread broken? Where does the soul of this analytical, serious, steady man peek from?

Take a look at his landscapes, these beautiful pictures of nature. How different they are from everything else created by Félix’s hand. Full of tenderness, delicacy, affection, with emotions that remain deeply hidden in his works from other genres. Not prose – poetry in paintings.

The excited crowns of the trees, mysteriously hiding their secrets. Lace outlines of the mountain peaks. The sky – frowning, at sunset, cloudy or calm, but always with character. The sunlight penetrating the clouds. The gentle carpet on the grass. The water embracing the reflection of the moon. The playful turns of the river. The wind telling stories. The boats touching delicately the shore.

Emotions embedded in landscapes. Methodical and disciplined. Even though?

The paintings of Félix Vallotton can be seen at Wikiart here.

Ilka Gedő – the drama of a sad human destiny

Ilka Gedő (1921 – 1985) is a Hungarian artist of Jewish descent who is not yet well known in international art circles and whose work has yet to be studied, analyzed and understood by art critics and art lovers.

She is a child of Hungarian family of clerks, from Jewish origin. Her parents lived modestly but had wealthy relatives. They tried their best to give good education to their three daughters.

Ilka showed her talent as an artist early on. She started drawing graphics initially (something not quite typical of a child) and took private painting lessons. During the holidays, he has often visited family relatives in the countryside and painted local neighbourhoods, villages and people.

The early graphics of Ilka from her first creative period before the war show an astonishing psychological maturity, observation talent and drawing perfection. Indisputable mastery of the work with perspective, to the extent that she can afford a freely distortion and expressionistic interpretation of the painted objects. The strokes are confident, fast, expressive. Her ability to synthesize what is seen into images is incredible. People, animals, houses are depicted exactly in the required detail. People’s postures are incredibly warm, human and soft. There is no unnecessary touch; Nothing can be added, nothing should be taken away. Her early works inspire comfort and confidence and betray the depth and maturity of an incredible artistic talent. They can be easily and without any exaggeration compared to the graphics of Leonardo and Rembrandt.

At the age of seventeen, Ilka and her family began making plans and exploring the possibility of continuing her studies at the Art Academy in Paris. Although, after consulting an artist, he was adamant that Ilka has reached a level of development that makes academic training unnecessary. According to him, she would prove to be more advanced than her teachers. Her first public artistic appearance was her participation in a common exhibition of the Hungarian Socialist Artists Group in 1942.

At that time her future as an artist seemed foreboding and promising. Then the war expanded and things changed dramatically.

Her family was forced to move to the ghetto in Budapest, and Ilka herself has been twice to be sent to a concentration camp. She was saved by miracle! Ilka spent long, agonizing months in the ghetto.

Her stay in the ghetto is her second creative period. During this time, she painted mostly graphic portraits and small still-life paintings with oil on canvas, due to lack of funds.

Most of the portraits of that time were self-portraits. We see a young, very young woman without a vitality, no body and no age, with deep, very dark eyes faded. As can be seen from her photographs, throughout her life, Ilka herself has been a very beautiful woman – slender, with graceful features and expressive eyes.

Self-portraits from her second creative period in the ghetto clearly show us the drama of a violently interrupted personal development and a highly stressed, frightened youth. Style is increasingly approaching graphic expressionism. The graphics of that time themselves are of very high artistic value, without any doubt.

The third creative period in Ilka Gedő’s life continued from the end of the war until 1949, when she suddenly stopped painting at all. Ilka has been creating nothing new, not a single graphic drawing, not a single painting for sixteen years.

In 1945, Ilka enrolled to study at the Budapest Fine Art Academy. Soon she met the young biochemist Endre Bíró and they married in 1946. Both have two sons – the first born in 1947 and the second born in 1953. Their friendly circle was artistic and intellectual – writers, artists, young scientists. Although Ilka was not very welcomed by her husband’s relatives, the young family did not appeared to be unhappy.

What then happened in the years immediately after the war that stopped Ilka from painting? There are different interpretations.

Some believe Ilka was pressed by the authorities and this was a form of protest. Others – that the circle of avant-garde artists in which she moved after the war did not perceive her style of drawing, which was highly individual and difficult to attribute to a particular style and flow in the visual arts.

Perhaps closest to the truth is the opinion of her son, David Biro, an English translator who reviews his mother’s work and life in a book devoted to her. In this book, David Biro analyzes Ilka’s life in the period after the war, and it seems from the book that her personal views on art and her creative pursuits were the reason for her to stop painting for so long.

In addition to being very talented, Ilka had a strong analytical talent. She was a woman more of logic and observation than of emotion and quick action. For several years, she has undergone so many changes, so profound, that it took her a long time to analyze and summarize them into a lean, consistent system, to “sort out” herself. Ilka gave herself as much time as she has felt necessary – sixteen years!

During these sixteen years, Ilka did not paint, but studied in detail theory and history of fine arts. She read a lot about colour theory, the lives of her beloved artists, and re-read and rethought not only their work, but their written notes and thoughts about art.

And she rosed, like the Phoenix bird, in 1965, when she made her first solo exhibition in a private studio. Ilka was at that time already forty-four years old. Three years earlier, at the recommendation of one of her avant-garde artist friends, the National Art Gallery of Hungary has purchased three of her paintings. The way Ilka returns to the art scene was atypical. The practice of private exhibitions then in Hungary was not common – all art activities have been planned, directed and approved in advance. Not what Ilka did. What she was doing is beyond styles, outside of schools, beyond the standard notions of that time about the way an artist should paint and act.

The last fourth creative period in Ilka Gedő’s life continued twenty years until her death in 1985.

She planned during that time every one of her new works very carefully, initially drawing a sketch in a simple notebook beforehand. She decided in advance what colours and colour combinations to use. Ilka documened  and recorded in detail her ideas for each work in development. Her notes are as valuable and talkative resource for the art critics as her paintings. Typical for her very individual style is that she did not not mix colours, but put them consistently on top of one another in thin layers, looking for the desired effect. The colour combinations she uses are very atypical and rare, her own art innovation.

The Ilka’s works from this period are mostly oil painting on canvas, portraits (mainly self-portraits), still life works, floral paintings. She drew several series of paintings, grouped thematically, such as dried flowers, rose paintings, circus motifs’ paintings, self portraits and some other. Stylistically, the paintings from the last period can be referred to as abstract expressionism.

Perhaps closest to her artistic views and stylistics of her recent years are Paul Klee and Egon Schiele.

What unites these three so different artists? Undoubtedly, the way the war went through them and the way they experienced the war.

It seems that very subtle and sensitive people were simply swept away not only in life, but also psychologically and intellectually by this greatest disaster on Earth. We can only imagine what cheerful motives, colours and moods would have been embodied in their works if the war had not stepped into their lives and had not interrupted their creative development. But this is typical for the art – it does could not exist separately from our common and personal life dramas.

I chose to show you perhaps Ilka Gedő’s latest work called “Double Self-Portrait”. On it we see a fine lady with a hat (sixty-two years old!). She observes with sad reconciliation her other self, her initial ego, her past intention for herself. Is it in the mirror or on a dissecting table? It is difficult to understand. Another one of hers, who was killed by the war.

Pictures of Ilka Gedő can be viewed in this private online resource and in Wikiart here.

Life in nature with Isaac Levitan

Isaac Levitan (1860-1900) is my favorite landscape painter – realist, in whose work I find calmness, balance and joy of touch with nature.

I have liked this artist since my childhood, when in my grandparents ‘ house I watched the wall-hung reproduction of one of his beautiful lake landscapes.

I have forgotten that fact. I reminded of it, recently watching the pictures of Levitan on the Internet. It is interesting how art can bring us back years, touching the hidden depths of the soul.

Levitan is a Russian painter of Jewish descent with a difficult life. He was born in a small village of the Suvalskaya district in the northwestern part of the former Russian Empire, in a poor family with four children altogether.

The father has been trained as a rabbi, but gave up the religious engagement. He was self-educated and knowledgeable man, speaking well French and German. Levitan’s father worked for some time as a translator for a French company building railway objects in Russia.

It is not very clear whether Isaac was born son of his father and mother or was an adopted child – there are different assumptions. Whatever the truth, the family cared for all their children with the same love.

Isaac’s parents moved to Moscow looking for better sustenance when Isaac has been ten-year. Isaac and his brother Abel enrolled in the famous Moscow School of Fine Art, Sculpture and Architecture. The training of the two encountered serious financial difficulties, as the mother has died quite young, and soon after that their father died of typhus, too. That is why the young Isaac received a scholarship as a talented student of poor descent. During his training he won various awards with his paintings.

After the graduation there have been many years full of hurdles and very hard work for Isaac.

Levitan was repeatedly forced to move from place to place due to his Jewish origin but retained optimism throughout his life. He obviously possessed an incredibly strong spirit and light character, accepting the difficulties in life and overcoming health problems. Isaac had a very fragile health, with serious heart problems due to diseases in childhood years.

An interesting fact from his biography is that Levitan was a close friend of the great Russian writer Anton Pavlovich Chehov.

Despite all the difficulties, he managed to travel quite a lot – both in Russia and in Europe. Voyages broadened his art horizons, but Levitan remained focused on landscape painting throughout his life.

He is called “landscape painter of the mood”, because his paintings are very tender and lyrical, and convey his feelings from the touch with nature. Levitan discovers in nature an infinite source of strength and grounds for inspiration.

He leaves behind a huge number of gentle, balancing, wonderful landscapes – paintings of all seasons.

The field in his paintings is not uniform and dull but gives strength and tranquillity. An incredible master in the depiction of water surfaces, Levitan manages to convey the charm of Russian rivers and lakes with his brush. He paints seascapes, too.

I especially like the forest landscapes of Levitan. In the woods in his paintings every tree speaks, quietly whispering something understandable and intimate, like slowly singing. The light is astonishing, it makes every single twig and leaf look special.

I have chosen to show you a picture that is new to me. This is the picture “Country house”/ “dacha“ in the Russian lifestyle/.

Small summer house with a lighted terrace, nestled cosy in the dark shadows of the big trees around…

I hope you feel the tranquillity and romance of the quiet summer evening. Can you hear the crickets?

There is nothing better to the life in nature.

Enjoy the works of Isaac Levitan in Wikiart.

In the lyrical world of Giorgios Gounaropoulos

I found recently a very rich web resource with works of Greek painters, of which I am really very impressed. Among the names that attracted my attention is Giorgios Gounaropoulos  (Γιώργος Γουναρόπουλος, 1890 – 1977).

I found some information about him in English, but his paintings speak for themselves and I decided to share with you my thoughts.

An interesting fact in his biography is that he was born in Sozopol and is of Greek descent. His family emigrated to Greece in the beginning of the 20th century.

Giorgios began to study decorative arts at the School of Fine Arts in Athens and showed his talents very young. He won first place in student competitions and took various awards during his training there. He received a scholarship to continue his education in Paris, which he used only after the end of the First World War in which he took part.

In Paris Giorgios studied in Académie Julian and in Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He was attracted by the impressionism, feels great sympathy to Henri Matisse and Paul Sezane. The painter took part in common art exhibitions and made his own exhibition in Paris during 1926. His works were very well accepted by the public. He has been successfully selling his paintings since the first exhibitions.

Giorgios returned to Greece and settled in Athens in 1931.

His art pursuits go through post-impressionism and expressionism while evolving into a very interesting and rarely personal style. Art critics refer his work to  surrealism, adding that it is a very lyrical surrealism in which many knowledge of ancient Greek history and mythology and a typical Balkan worldview are woven.

His paintings are pure magic. A mixture of vision and dream …

The colours are pastel and tender. He uses unusual and impressive mild combinations of colours. Various colours form the background. The contours are smooth and light.

The painted objects are from the real life and at the same time they are part of the artist’s internal world in which fish, women, sea, rocks, trees and flowers coexist in an incredible way.

Women are incredible. With soft, rounded, feminine bodies. With long wavy hair. Mysteriously smiling. Ready to hug. Or hugging? Their profile is antique, Hellenic or Slavic. The eyes are deep as wells where one can sink. Real mermaids.

I chose to show you this picture – a naked woman in a sleepy landscape.

It is hard to describe in words the charm hidden in his paintings. You can only feel it.

I find something in common between his paintings and the works of Dimitar Kazakov – Neron, with the clarification that Dimitar Kazakov’s works are multilayered, somewhat more complex, with more tension and compressed emotion inside.

I also find something in common with George Papazov’s works. Basically the emotional power and the way the painter freely communicates with the universe.

They say that with his specific style Georgios Gunaropoulos protests against the established norms and rules in the then art world. But can we treat beauty and tenderness as a form of protest?

Enjoy the works of Giorgios Gunaropoulos here at this web address.

The big lonely heart of János Balázs

János Balázs (1905-1977) is Hungarian painter (and poet) of gypsy origin, with expressive paintings and unusual life.

Art critics classify his works as “naive art” and “surrealism”. Sometimes they compare him to Paul Gauguin, but in fact his works are absolutely unique. His paintings are recognisable at first glance, as with the great artists.

János Balázs is a talent self-taught and self-made in everything. He attended school for only two years. He was born in the gypsy neighbourhood of Alsókubin in Hungary, and moved with his family to Salgotarjan, where he remained for the rest of his life.

He participated in the Second World War, but was most of the time a prisoner of war, and at that time he read a lot – Homer, Shakespeare, Balzac. He also has been well acquainted with the Hungarian classics.

After his return home, János Balázs lived alone and barely met other people. He lived quite poorly and made money for living by collecting and selling coal from local mines, gathering herbs and mushrooms in the woods.

Only the children from the gypsy neighbourhood, who have liked to talk to him and listen to his fairly tales, visited his poor house.

János Balázs started painting at the age of sixty-three.

The gypsy children, his friends from the neighbourhood, were the first impressed by his paintings. They began to wear the necessary materials and paints.

He died extremely poor and lonely. The painter left behind about 300 paintings that are becoming more and more valuable to art lovers and merchants. Most of his paintings are in private collections, but some of them can be seen in the Hungarian Museum of Naive Art and in the Art Gallery in Salgotarjan.

What makes János Balázs’s work so valuable?

There is a naive emotionality in them, absolutely untouched by civilisation and the predominant way of life.

Closeness to nature bordering to Shamanism. Relationship with the primary forces in this world, with eternal energies and human symbols.

We remain wordless feeling the great power of human nature, for we understand how unique and powerful the human being is, if he can encompass and visualise the world in such an incredible way, only through the wisdom of the old books, obtained in loneliness.

It is amazing how this could happened in the second half of the 20th century in the center of Europe.

The return of Lorenzo Lotto

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556/57) is Italian painter, working during the Late Renaissance  and belonging to the Venetian art school. It is believed that Lorenzo Lotto was a student of the prominent Venetian artist Giovani Bellini.

His life was full of difficulties and obstacles through which he has passed with the patience and dignity that are typical for extraordinary personalities.

Most of his life Lorenzo spent in Northern Italy, traveling from town to town in search of livelihood. He stayed for a short time in Rome, where he was commissioned to paint the walls of the papal apartments. Later, his paintings were removed, for yet unknown reasons. His most famous works were made during his stay in Bergamo. The periods of his return to the native Venice, and his journeys through various towns in the Marche area, were also fruitful.

Strongly religious, albeit very independent in his thinking and behaviour, Lorenzo joined the Order of the Franciscan monks at the end of his life. Maybe to find shelter and security. Maybe in order to finally find peace of mind.

He painted altars and frescoed many churches in the cities where he has been. His religious paintings are characterized not only with an intimate knowledge of the religious content and symbols (obligatory for this subject), but also with bold colourite, magnificent unconventional composition, unique dynamics and strong realism.

Models for his saints and angels were ordinary people living in the cities he has been. He watched them with great love and transferred their thoughts and emotions into the faces of the painted saints. He paid well to each of his models (leaving behind him detailed records of the expenses made).

During this period, the predominant approach to the depiction of saints differs with idealization and deification. Lorenzo lands the Madonna and the Saints in his paintings. They are ordinary people like each of us. Human is divine.

Madonna looks tender, thoughtful and modest. The saints in his works are tired, curious, angry, vindictive. Every woman can be seen as a madonna. Every man can be recognized as a saint.

They say he did not take much seriously the “assignments” he has received. Perhaps the donors, who have commissioned him, have not been very pleased with the results. Because Lorenzo Lotto has been almost completely forgotten.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, when he was re-discovered by Bernard Berenson, an American art historian of Lithuanian-Jewish origin, one of the great connoisseurs of the Renaissance art.

Lorenzo also left us many portraits of notable inhabitants of the cities he has lived.

His portraits characterize him as an artist with extremely modern thinking, a psychologist and a fan of the detail. It portrays his models in their usual daily environment, surrounded by lovely objects, attributes and flowers. He drew them as they dreamed to be. Intense, dreamy, challenging, serious, sad… Painted by his brush, his models seem to be fulfilling his dreams. Unique portraits, still up-to-date, still talking and appealing.

Look at his self-portrait. The only his picture he has left us. What dignity in the posture. What sadness and irony in the sight. And the tranquillity of a man who has fulfilled his mission well.

Let’s remember that name – Lorenzo Lotto. The historical art truth will deserve it alongside the names of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafaello, Botticelli, Titian. One of the great names of the Italian Renaissance.

You can see Lorenzo Lhotto’s works in Wikiart.