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Art History Today
Midlands, United Kingdom
Professional Art Historian, Phd in Poussin,
Interests: music, art history, films, (classical through to rock), literature (mainly modern crime mystery).
Recent Activity
1) Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 162.6 cm. Cleveland Museum of Art. 2) Asher Brown Durand, God’s Judgement on Gog, 1851-2, oil on canvas, 154.3 x 128.3 cm, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia. 3) John Martin, Belshazzar’s Feast, 1821, oil on canvas, 95.3 x 120.6 cm, Yale Centre for British Art. 4) Washington Allston, sketch for Belshazzar’s Feast, 1817, oil on millboard, Detroit Institute of Arts. 5) Washington Allston, Portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1814, oil on canvas, NPG, London. 6) Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware River, 1851, oil on canvas, 378.5... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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Coda: The Sublime’s Last Stand. Like American portraiture, landscape had its own span before it was replaced by another- the genre of urban scenes containing the seeds of modern art. With industry blotting out the American landscape towards the end of the century, and the denizens of that big country the Indian and Cowboy disappearing into the mists of myth, there was less opportunity for painters of the American sublime. As Hughes says, artists like Bierstadt and his emulators were going the way of the buffalo which the artist painted in a late, elegiac nod to a variety of disappearing... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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American Visions & the Dark Side of the Landscape: It is impossible to view American landscape painting without thinking of the political and cultural history and fortunes of the inhabitants of this vast land mass: the settlers, the pioneers, the immigrants, the architects of the American constitution, most of whom were in thrall to the concept of the manifest destiny that was defined as the belief that sellers were destined to expand across America, perhaps best personified in the figure of Daniel Boone. Undoubtedly, many would, and did, but the unfortunate result was that the American Indians ( or Native... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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Scenic Tourism & the Big Country. Perhaps we can get an idea of how the American sublime didn’t fit into the neat time frames of history by turning to the story of the great Sequoia trees of the Sierra Nevada, whose “phenomenal size” as Schama has said, “proclaimed a manifest destiny that had been primordially planted.”[1] With their immense size and their sense of the timeless, these natural patriarchs would have been viewed in terms of the sublime. Yet, the powerful, rhetorical language of the sublime symbolised in these trees eventually grew into the language of tourism. Though these gargantuan... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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American Landscape, the Picturesque& the Aesthetics of the Sublime. "What, you are stepping westward?"--"Yea." --'Twould be a 'wildish' destiny, If we, who thus together roam In a strange Land, and far from home, Were in this place the guests of Chance: Yet who would stop, or fear to advance, Though home or shelter he had none, With such a sky to lead him on?[1] Though Wordsworth was contemplating the pull of the sky on the emotions and mind of a traveller passing through the “strange land” of Scotland, his description is not irrelevant to a survey of American landscape since... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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The Sublime in the Age of Empires. "There is the moral of all human tales;” “Tis but the same rehearsal of the past, First Freedom, and then Glory — when that fails, Wealth, vice, corruption, — barbarism at last. And History, with all her volumes vast, Hath but one page" - Lord Byron, Child Harold. With the ageing and passing of great American historical personages Madison, Jefferson and Washington, portraiture would no longer be the ideal genre for the representation of the history of the nation. And other genres like the classical nude would be thought too un-American despite their... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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Stepping Westwards: The Sublime Crosses the Atlantic. For the Americans, the first opportunity to get a taste of the style known as “apocalyptic sublime” was in 1833-4 when the Bristol artist Francis Danby exhibited his Opening of the Sixth Seal in New York. And in 1856, John Martin would show a triptych of his gigantic doom-laden pictures to the people of the Big Apple.[1] One year after Martin’s exhibition an outbreak of British paintings and watercolours would spread across the East Coast cities of America, and journals would appear in imitation of English periodicals like the Art Union and Art... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Art History Today
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"When the news reached Athens, for a long time people would not believe it, even though they were given precise information from the very soldiers who had been present at the event and had escaped; still they thought that this total destruction was something that could not possibly be true. And when they did recognise the facts, they turned against the public speakers who had been in favour of the expedition, as though they themselves had not voted for it, and also became angry with the prophets and soothsayers and all who at the time had, by various methods of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2016 at Art History Today
1) John Hamilton Mortimer, Death on a Pale Horse, 1775, pen and black ink and gray ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream wove paper, Yale Centre for British Art. 2) Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498, woodcut, Metropolitan Museum, New York. 3) Benjamin West, Death on a Pale Horse, 1796, oil on canvas, 23 ½ x 50 ½ inches, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit. 4) Phillipe de Loutherbourg, Vision of the White Horse, 1798, oil on canvas, 48 x 31 inches, Tate, London. 5) William Blake, Death on a Pale Horse, about 1800, w/c, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Turner’s Vortex Vision & the Apocalyptic Sublime Turner’s engagement with the sublime was more complex than Martin’s, largely because he drew on a variety of influences and sources to create his apocalyptic works. From classical history Turner took accounts of Hannibal’s trek across the Alps, but imbued it with a sense of imminent catastrophe conveyed by the whirling vortex of the composition as well as the colour black blotting out the sky. And Turner yoked his apocalyptic colour paintings to events in his own society with such paintings as Slavers Throwing the Dead Overboard, as did Danby with his allusion... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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John Martin, Milton & and the Industrial Revolution For the poet Robert Southey, one of the wonders of the British Industrial Age, the Caledonian Canal, was strongly reminiscent of the scenes in John Martin’s pictures of both coalmines and Satan’s Hell in Paradise Lost. And in fact sometimes there is very little difference between Martin’s painting of engineering works and the fires of Hell since, to use Klingender’s words “John Martin gave Hell the imagery of industry” while “contemporary illustrators gave industry the image of Hell.”[1] Inspired by the anti-Newtonian Blake, Martin smelted the ore of Milton’s imagery into the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Dark Satanic Mills: The Return of the Sublime in the Age of Capitalist Endeavour. According to Klingender, the sense of despair at the rise of political economy and divorce of art from science caused painters to turn back to the eighteenth-century to reclaim the sublime. Then as now, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein conceived at the Villa Diodati might have suggested the dangers of unleashing forces beyond the control of humans on the world; but for painters there was a ready-made symbol of the “scientific forces in society”- Milton’s Satan.[1] Added to this was an interest in the ruins of the ancient... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Of Pyramids & Brick Kilns: The Industrial Sublime. After his Tenth Plague of Egypt, Turner did one more- the Fifth Plague which he also included in his Liber Studiorum, a sort of boiled down compendium of his core works and ideas in drawings and etchings. Commenting on the Fifth Plague in the Liber Studiorum, John Ruskin expressed his displeasure at what Paley calls a possible “presentiment of modernity.” For Ruskin, the pyramids looked like “brick kilns” and the fire running along the ground resembled “the burning of manure.”[1] What Ruskin probably discerned is a link between scenes of apocalypse and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Manfred in the Mountains: The Byronic Sublime. In 1816 with his reputation in tatters, separated from his wife, rumours of an affair with his half-sister Augusta, and besieged by bailiffs, Lord Byron sold his library and left England for ever with his valet and his companion Dr Polidori who was to provide a written account of the journey for the poet’s publisher John Murray. At the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Byron and Polidori met up with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Mary Jane Clairmont, step daughter of William Godwin. Out of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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After the Deluge. Apart from animals out in the wilds, the best way of representing the power of the sublime in nature was to depict some natural disaster like a tempest or a flood. Noah’s biblical flood was a favourite with romantic painters, and by far the exemplar for romantic, apocalyptic painters was Nicolas Poussin’s The Deluge which with its sense of hopelessness in the face of relentless nature and divine vengeance was hugely influential on later generations of artists and critics. The author of the gothic extravaganza, The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole first saw Poussin’s Deluge in the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Ride a Pale Horse. “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelations, 6:8. The terrifying sight of Death represented by a crowned skeleton astride a ferocious white charger which tramples over everything and everybody originates in the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
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Painting the Apocalypse For the uninitiated, the word apocalypse- apokalypsis- means revelation. In the words of the scholar of literary romanticism, M.H. Abrams, apocalypse is “a prophetic vision, set forth in arcane and elaborate symbols, of the imminent events which will bring an abrupt end to the present world order and replace it by a new and perfected condition of man and his milieu.”[1] Apocalypse is predominantly concerned with eschatology, i.e. the judgement of the divine in “the end of days” when a set of horrible disasters and violent events are visited upon the world followed by the appearance of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Art History Today
Good review by CH of the “In the Age of Giorgione” exhibition just finished at the R.A. I went a few days before the end- but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to a review. We’ll see… On the LRB website- here. Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2016 at Art History Today
1) Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818, oil on canvas, 98.4 cm × 74.8, cm, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg. 2) Caspar David Friedrich, Giant Grave by the Sea, 1806-07, Pen, brush and sepia over graphite, 645 x 950 mm, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Weimar. 3) Karl Joseph Stieler, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1828, oil on canvas, 78.0 x 63.8 cm, Neue Pinakothek, Munich. 4) Philipp Otto Runge Colour Spheres, 1809, copper engraving with watercolour, 225 x 189 mm, Kunsthalle, Hamburg. 5) Caspar David Friedrich, Evening, c. 1824, oil on cardboard, 20 x 27,5 cm, Kunsthalle, Mannheim. 6) Johan Christian... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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A Vision of Landscape in the Romantic Period Joseph Leo Koerner has argued that there were several illustrious art sources that Runge used when creating his complex allegory of childhood in nature. [1] Firstly, Runge’s embodiment of the dawn in the Morning cycle may have been inspired by Guido Reni’s celebrated ceiling painting Aurora in Rome which in fact Runge mentions when theorising about the origins of landscape out of history painting. Secondly, for his series Runge may have extracted the putti or children who are at the bottom of Raphael’s famous Sistine Madonna which Runge saw in Dresden where... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Romanticism & the Child in Nature In his De Rerum Natura, the ancient writer Lucretius states the child “lies naked upon the ground, speechless, in need of every vital support, as soon as nature has split him forth with throes from his mother’s womb into the regions of light”[1] This description closely fits the allegorical painting The Small Morning (1809-10) by Runge which shows a bared, vulnerable child exposed to the dawn light who in the picture is symbolised by the goddess Aurora. Runge was obsessed with images of childhood; in addition to the eight canvases that form this series... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Intimations of Immortality in the Landscape. The German literary romantics comprised a group of individuals, men like Ludwig Tieck, the Schlegel Brothers, and Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, better known as “Novalis.” One of their governing ideas was that God was the author of two books- the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature which could be read- to the initiated- as easily as the Holy Bible.[1] These individuals were known to Friedrich and his art cannot be appreciated without understanding the ideas these men held about art and nature which almost certainly influenced his art. The influence... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Between Studio & Landscape. In Kerstang’s At the Mirror, a woman stands in a room while looking into a mirror to arrange her hair, almost in imitation of a classical motif found in artists like Bellini who perfected the image of the beautiful nymph looking into a glass. However, Kerstang’s room itself is clearly modelled on a contemporary source: Freidrich’s views of his own studio which show austere rooms with windows opening out to the world. This is not surprising as Kerstang knew Friedrich and painted two views of the artist in his studio with windows. Kerstang’s woman at her... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Seen from the Back: Friedrich’s Rückenfigur If the self-portrait gives out to the world while striving to conceal something of the artist’s private essence, then the paintings with individuals with their backs to the spectator shun the world completely and show their back to the beholder. One of the most conspicuous compositional devices in Friedrich’s art, the Rückenfigur immediately marks the painting as a work by Friedrich, but from where does this astonishing convention derive? As Koerner rightly says, the figure that has its back to the spectator wasn’t Friedrich’s invention; it can be seen in early renaissance artists like... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Seen from the Front: The Face of Friedrich. In a series of drawn self-portraits done when he was young Friedrich enacted the process of simultaneously observing and sketching. Enact is used here because the black chalk self-portrait of 1800 done in the style of 18th century French engraving shows the artist dramatizing his encounter with himself, with the world as audience. What we witness is the struggle to study the face while recording it, almost at the same time, an occupational hazard for any artist painting himself. This awkwardness in drawing the face is seen by Koerner as indicative of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today