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“I am not interested in the relationship between form and colour. The only thing I care about is the expression of man’s basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny.”
rothko speaking about his work
It had been a long time (too long!!) since I’d visited a gallery or museum, so I was very glad to be able to catch the last-chance late view of the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague last Friday evening (the exhibition ended on Sunday 1 March). I have always enjoyed looking at Rothko’s vast colour fields and pleasingly tactile, scumbled surfaces… exuding their shifting, ethereal inner luminescence. Even when his palette fades to black (on black) there’s depth and a remotely elusive glow to be found. For me his canvasses have the potential to envelop one with an effect akin to that of listening to music.
 &  No.9 [details], 1948
 orange & tan, 1954
 untitled [detail], 1949
 untitled (seagram mural sketch) [detail], 1959
 untitled, 1969
 &  untitled (seagram mural sketch) [details], 1959
 &  untitled (harvard mural sketch) [details], 1962
Despite Rothko’s assertions that his work is never about “the relationship between form and colour” I couldn’t help, on leaving the exhibition, feeling more attuned to noticing the colour fields…
and (sometimes dizzying) abstractions in the 1930’s tilework of the museum’s stairwells and corridors.
Here are just a handful of the many and varied wonderful objects that caught my eye on a recent visit to the Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology in Oxford. I was particularly drawn to the beautiful, fragile remnants of cloth in the museum’s textile displays and (as you no doubt might’ve already guessed if you’ve visited here before) am always a sucker for anything incorporating creature-inspired representations.
of the water
(top) Makara, Mathura region (northern India), AD 350-450, terracotta plaque (The makara is an auspicious aquatic monster, symbolising water and fertility)
(bottom) Pottery rhyta (vessel for drinking or pouring offerings) in the form of a fish, Sasanian, AD 225-650, Iran
(top) Rounded clear glass flask, eastern Mediterranean?, AD 200-300 (?)
(middle) Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) ceramic containers
(bottom) A pewter dinner service from Appleford, c. AD 300-400 (This large service is made of pewter, an alloy of tin and lead [both metals mined by the Romans in south-west Britain]. Inscriptions on two of the plates and a written record suggest that this service was owned by people of Celtic origin who used Latin and enjoyed a Roman lifestyle. The tableware was hidden in a well when the Thames Valley became unstable in the last years of Roman occupation, about AD 400. Some of the plates were over 100 years old at the time of burial)
this (modern) fabric was part of a display describing Japanese textile weaving and dyeing techniques that, surprisingly in a museum, was accompanied by a sign inviting the viewer to “Please Touch”. On turning the fabric over I was delighted to find this thickly layered web of threads on its reverse side – such order from such (apparent) chaos!
strikingly similar colour palettes, across time and place
(top) Portrait of a woman in a dress worked with flowers (detail), Cornelius Jonson (English, 1593-1661), after 1618, oil on panel
(bottom) Fragment of a large cloth, perhaps intended as a hanging, Roman, c.AD 300-400 (Woven in undyed linen, the cloth is decorated with tapestry wool bands of brightly coloured flowers and foliage)
(top) The Buddha, Gandhāra (now parts of Northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), c.AD 200
(bottom) Statue of a bearded man, Wadi Bayhan, Yemen (ancient Kingdom of Qataban), calcite-alabaster, possibly 300 BC – AD 200
(Funerary statue. The large holes in the eyes contain traces of bitumen that once held shell inlays in place)
(top) Head of an ascetic, Gandhāra, AD 300-400, unfired clay
(bottom) Hand and forearm of the Buddha (detail), Mathura, AD 100-200, sandstone
(gorgeous!) Ikat cloth, Central Asia (present-day Uzbekistan), 1800s – 1900s, silk (Derived from the Malay word mengikat [“to tie”], the term ikat defines a textile-patterning technique in which parts of the warp and/or weft are knotted to protect them from dye penetration. The careful planning of the dyeing process is the key to the realisation of the vibrant decorative patterns that characterise ikats)
(top) The lacemaker (detail), Bernhard Keilhau (1624-1687), oil on canvas
(bottom) Sampler, 1660, England, silk on linen (whitework including cut work and pulled work, with needlepoint and needle-woven fillings, signed by the maker “Mary Parker 1660”)
(top) Gentle Spring (detail), Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), oil on canvas
(bottom) Plate with carnations, roses and leaves imitating Iznik ceramics, Venice or Padua, c.1600-1650
more unexpected colour harmonies
(top) The Burn, November – the Cucullen Hills (detail), John William Inchbold (1830-1888), oil on canvas (The view from Sligachan, looking southwards over the Sligachan Burn towards the Cuillin Hills… in the autumn of 1855)
(bottom) Samurai helmet (ceremonial), Japan, 1560,
iron, lacquer, silk, gilt metal (?)
(top) zoomorphic brooches, bronze inlaid with coloured enamel,
Roman Period (Britain), AD 43 – 410 (?)
(bottom) Assyrian ‘winged genie’ relief; carved from ‘Mosul marble’ (gypsum), Nimrud, Iraq, Reign of Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 BC
Information about each piece has been derived from the captions that accompany them in the museum. A ‘(?)’ indicates that I’m unsure of the details… having failed to take a proper note of them at the time of viewing!
Jan Baptist Bonnecroy (1618 – c.1665), ‘Gezicht op Brussel / View of Brussels’
cool, dappled woods
decadent things to eat
beautiful weeds, abundant bouquets
zombies and alien skulls
… writhing …
… in agony
the writhing (and the agony) over
and owls presiding over impenetrable goings-on
Attached to the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten is the Magritte Museum, which we also visited but in which photography is not permitted. It houses a wonderful collection of Magritte’s paintings as well as fascinating ephemera in the form of photographs, letters, exhibition invitations & catalogues, and some of his commercial design work. Well worth a visit for your bowler-hat–confounding twilight-and-pipes-that-are-not-pipes fix.
Credits for the painting (and sculpture) details shown above are as follows
(listed in order of appearance):
Constant Montald (1862 – 1944), ‘De Boot van het ideaal’, 1907
Osias Beert I (c.1580 – 1623/24), ‘Stilleven met oesters’
Hans Francken (1581 – 1624), ‘Winterstilleven met pannenkoeken, wafels en duivekater’ (fragment)
Pieter Bruegel I (?1527/28? – 1569), ‘De val van de opstandige engelen’, 1562
Frans Snijders (1579 – 1657) Jan Wildens (1586-1653), ‘Damhertenjacht’ (gesigneerd door Frans Snijders)
Meester van 1518 (Jan van Dornicke?), ‘Triptiek van de Abdij van Dielegem’
Frans Francken II (1581 – 1642) Jan Brueghel II (1601-1678), ‘Allegorie van de overvloed’
Zuid-Nederlandse School (1495 – 1506), ‘Luiken van de Triptiek van Zierikzee’ (detail rechterluik: Portret van Johanna de Waanzinnige 1482 – 1555)
Peter Faes (1750 – 1814), ‘Bloemen’, 1791
Zuid Nederlandse School (15de eeuw), ‘Het Laatste Oordeel’ ?
Petrus Christus (1410/20 – 1475/76), ‘De Bewening’
Jacques Bergé (1696 – 1756), ‘Stervende Gladiator’, 1735
Jusepe de Ribera genaamd Lo Spagnoletto (1591 – 1652), ‘Apollo vilt Marsyas’, 1637
Zuid Nederlandse School (15de eeuw), ‘Het Laatste Oordeel’
Pieter Brueghel II (1564 – 1638), ‘De Goede Herder’, 1616
Theodoor Rombouts (1597 – 1637), ‘Prometheus’
Dirk Bouts (c.1410 – 1475), Panelen met de gerechtigheid van Keizer Otto – ‘De Marteldood van de onschuldige graaf’
Hiëronymus van Aken genaamd Bosch (? – 1516), ‘Triptiek met de bekoring van de heilige Antonius’
[above information transcribed from the Museum’s artwork labels]
… or ginormous lotus flowers?
Happy New Year!
(Is 7 January too late to be saying that? I’ve been a little preoccupied and am a bit slow off the mark!).
This funny-looking (but wise!) little elephant in his ‘grove’ of giant lotus flowers was made towards the end of last year as a studio-warming gift for my yoga teacher on the opening of her new yoga studio… but I thought he’d also be willing to make an appearance here to trumpet in the new year. Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful & creative 2011!
P.S. If you’re looking for somewhere in Amsterdam to kick-start your 2011 yoga practice I can highly recommend the Yoga Community :)
Autumn came to an abrupt end here in Amsterdam this past weekend with the first snowfall and insistent sub-zero temperatures. It was unquestionably stay-indoors weather so I took the opportunity to do a long overdue sort of a big batch of postcards acquired over the past several months (I’m a voracious collector of postcards – I didn’t set out to be a postcard collector, I just don’t seem to be able to visit a gallery or museum without buying a fistful when I leave. Filing them in an accessible way for future reference and inspiration seems like a good idea but I seldom get/make the time to do it… so I was glad for the inclement-weather-induced opportunity!).
Filed! (by approximate subject)
From ‘animals vol.2’ – two beautiful calico cat portraits by Gwen John
(c.1904-08, pencil & watercolour on paper)
While sorting this batch I came across these three images that beautifully capture the light and tonal qualities of a northern European autumn (one I’m already nostalgic for as I Michelin Man myself up with yet another layer, and watch the white stuff fall outside).
Christen Købke, Autumn Evening, Frederiksborg Castle in the Middle Distance (detail), 1837-38 | Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 35.5 cm
Egon Schiele, Autumn Tree in the Wind, 1912
Oil on canvas, 80 x 80.5 cm
John Everett Millais, Dew-Drenched Furze, 1889-99
Oil on canvas, 170.2 x 121.9 cm