Highlight: Pablo Picasso

 
blog-1-0785_002_La Belle Hollandaise
Pablo Picasso, Spain 1881–1973 / La Belle Hollandaise 1905 / Gouache, oil and chalk on cardboard laid down on wood / Purchased 1959 with funds donated by Major Harold de Vahl Rubin / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Pablo Picasso/ Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2015

Announcing the acquisition of five extraordinary early prints by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Director Chris Saines noted the economy, sensitivity and brilliance with which their human subjects were captured. He also recognised generous support for the acquisition from the Margaret Olley Art Trust, the Henry and Amanda Bartlett Trust and the Airey Family through the QAGOMA Foundation. These important works by the celebrated twentieth-century artist constitute his first major body of work in the printmaking medium.

The etchings and drypoints known as ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’, including our newly acquired Le Repas frugal, Salomé, Le deux Saltimbanques, Tête de Femme de Profil and La Toilette de la Mère, were made immediately following 22-year-old Pablo Picasso’s move from Spain to France in April 1904. They mark an important period of personal and artistic transition in the artist’s life; created on the cusp of his ‘blue’ (1901–04) and ‘rose’ (1904–06) periods, ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ is integrally connected to Picasso’s paintings and drawings of the same period, including the Gallery’s La Belle Hollandaise 1905. These prints offer an extraordinary insight into the creative musings of a young artist on the brink of greatness, as well as insights into the social milieu Picasso inhabited after settling into a studio in Le Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, Paris.

blog-2015.016_001_Tete a femme
Pablo Picasso / Tête de Femme de Profil (Head of a woman in profile) (from ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ series) 1905, printed 1913 / Drypoint on Japon laid paper / Purchased 2015 with funds raised through the 2013 Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Appeal / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Pablo Picasso/ Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2015
blog-2015.017_001_Toilette de la mere
Pablo Picasso / La Toilette de la Mère (Mother dressing) (from ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ series) 1905, printed 1913 / Etching with scraper on Japon laid paper / Purchased 2015 with funds from the Airey Family through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Pablo Picasso/ Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2015

Picasso received no formal training in the techniques of printmaking, and it was not until August 1904 in Paris, when painter Ricard Canals (1876–1931) showed him the etching and drypoint process, that he became captivated by its possibilities. Le Repas frugal, created in September that year, was Picasso’s first serious attempt at printmaking — extraordinary when considered in light of his inexperience — and is one of the most renowned and frequently reproduced images of the artist’s early career. Depicting an emaciated French couple seated at a cafe table, Le Repas frugal references the gaunt features and elongated limbs and of Spanish master El Greco (1541–1614). El Greco had a profound influence on Picasso’s painting during his ‘blue’ period, and Le Repas frugal was a conspicuous attempt to translate this painterly style to the printmaking process. While reiterating this repertoire, La Repas frugal established a critical link between Picasso’s Spanish past with his French future.

blog-2015.013_001_Les Repas frugal
Pablo Picasso / Le Repas frugal (The frugal meal) (from ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ series) 1904, printed 1913 / Etching and scraper on Van Gelder Zonen wove paper / Purchased 2015 with funds from the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Pablo Picasso/ Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2015

When Picasso made Le Repas frugal, it was with the intention of creating an edition of prints that would sell. Due to his poor financial situation, the print was made on a zinc plate that had previously been used for a landscape composition by Joan González (1868–1908), a Spanish artist who resided in the Le Bateau-Lavoir studio. The scraping down of the plate was not completely thorough and the remnants of the earlier composition can be seen in the tuffs of grass at the upper right of the image. Enlisting master printer Auguste Delâtre (1822–1907), a small first edition was pulled, but when no significant commercial interest was shown, Picasso abandoned the idea of printmaking as an alternative income source. Captivated nonetheless by the creative potential of the medium, over the course of 1905, Picasso created a series of delicate, even nominal etchings and drypoints of friends, acquaintances, roaming circus performers and family groups. Immediately recognising the unique qualities inherent to etching and drypoint, he used an economy and elegance of line that testified to his skill as a draftsman and proved his rapidly acquired command of the medium. As with Le Repas fugal, old plates were recycled and scraped down, resulting in scratch marks appearing (at times dramatically) throughout the series, inadvertently adding a wonderful modernity to the images.

blog-2015.015_001_LesDeuxSaltimbanques
Pablo Picasso / Les deux Saltimbanques (The two acrobats) 1905 / Drypoint on laid paper / 12.1 x 9.1cm / Purchased 2015 with funds from the Henry and Amanda Bartlett Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Pablo Picasso/ Succession Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2015

The order in which the prints were created is well documented.1 As such we know that, after making the stunning neoclassical portrait Tête de Femme de Profil in February, Picasso made Les deux Saltimbanques in March. This rare, signed impression is one of 12 printed in 1905 by Delâtre to be included as an illustration in selected copies of André Salmon’s (1881–1969) first collection of poetry, Poèmes (1905). Around May (during the northern European summer), Picasso travelled to Schoorl in the Netherlands to visit Dutch writer Tom Schilperoort for a month, during which time he painted La Belle Hollandaise, one of the most important works in the Gallery’s Collection, and which marks the artist’s turn to the depiction of more voluminous figures. Back in Paris between June and August, Picasso made the extraordinary Salomé. With its literary subject matter and dynamic composition, this important work reveals Picasso’s propensity for mythology and sexually explicit imagery. Finally, towards the end of the year, Picasso produced La Toilette de la Mère — one of a charming but wistful group of three delicate and simply rendered images that feature a couple with a baby.

Never intended at the time of their creation to be a formally issued suite, Picasso and Delâtre produced only a few impressions. In September 1911, influential art dealer Ambroise Vollard bought 15 plates from Picasso, which included these works and others, mostly depicting circus performers. In 1913, Vollard had the 15 plates steelfaced 2 and enlisted printer Louis Fort to print an edition of 27 or 29 on Japon paper and an edition of 250 on Van Gelder Zonen wove paper. It was at this time that Vollard collectively titled the 15 unnamed prints ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ (‘Suite of acrobats’), and it was only following this that the works became widely collectable.

The mythology and iconography of circus performers, actors, acrobats and harlequins were immensely fascinating for artists and writers in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Identifying with the itinerate lifestyle of the déclassé entertainers, Picasso and his close friends repeatedly used images inspired by this subculture in their art and poetry. More broadly, what can be seen in ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’ is that Picasso’s life and art were inseparable from the beginning, and throughout his career, friends and the women he had relationships with were an important factor in his creativity, his pictorial approach and his development as an artist. Writing in 1911, the American-born, Paris-based author and modern art collector Gertrude Stein (1874 1946) described Picasso in the following terms: ‘One whom some were certainly following was one who was completely charming’.3 Encapsulating in her opening sentence the dominate paradigm that followed Picasso throughout his life, Stein goes on to describe what Picasso created:

This one was always having something that was coming out of this one that was a solid thing, a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcerting thing, a simple thing, a clear thing, a complicated thing, an interesting thing, a disturbing thing, a repellent thing, a very pretty thing.4

This early, enigmatic modernist critique in many ways continues to sum up perfectly the exquisite and accidental ‘La Suite des Saltimbanques’.

The prints are currently on display at the Queensland Art Gallery.

QAG Gallery 9 Picasso: La suite des Saltimbanques

Endnotes
1  Georges Bloch, Picasso: Volume I — Catalogue of the Printed Graphic Work 1904–1967, Editions Kornfeld et Klipstein, Bern, 1975.
2  Steelfacing is a process that makes printing plates more durable but reduces the velvety effect created by the metal bur that is pushed up during the drypoint process.
3  Gertrude Stein, ‘Picasso’ (1911), republished in Ulla E Dydo (ed.), A Stein Reader, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 1993, p.142.
4  Stein, p.143.

Highlight: Marvin Newman

 

digital-blog-2013_158_001

digital-blog-2013_159_001

digital-blog-2013_160_001

digital-blog-2013_161_001
Marvin Newman, United States b.1927 / Coney Island I,II,IV and VI 1953, printed 2013 / Archival inkjet print on paper / Purchased 2013. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The Gallery has nine colour photographs by North American photographer Marvin Newman — four prints from his series ‘Coney Island’ 1953, and a complete set of five prints from the ‘Wall Street’ series 1956.

The photographs taken by New York photographer Marvin Newman in the 1950s that make up the series ‘Coney Island’ 1953 and ‘Wall Street’ 1956 appear as if they were a sequence of film stills shot on location during the making of an ambiguous film noir. Taken in the bright glare of the late afternoon sun, the Coney Island images show figures loitering or passing in front of otherwise deserted amusement stalls in the shabby laneways near the Brooklyn neighbourhood’s waterfront, while the photographs taken on Wall Street capture anonymous businessmen emerging from and receding into the shadows of the iconic Lower Manhattan location. Shot on 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film — which produced a distinct, subtle colour tone — and made using only the available natural light, Newman’s street photography was groundbreaking for the era.

Marvin Newman studied at Brooklyn College with documentary photographers Walter Rosenblum (1919–2006) and Berenice Abbott (1898– 1991) before undertaking a master’s degree with modern art photographers Harry Callahan (1912–99) and Aaron Siskind (1903–91) at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1949–52. While completing his master’s thesis, Newman developed his interest in the idea of the photographic series, a theme that he would reiterate throughout his career. Following his return to New York, in 1953 Newman was included in ‘Always the Young Strangers’, an exhibition of emerging photographers held at the Museum of Modern Art. In the press release for the exhibition, which describes Newman as exploring through his work the ‘fantastic shadows of people on the street’,1 the exhibition’s curator Edward Steichen observed:

The refusal of the preceding decade to be bound to any group or ‘ism’ still holds: however, the dominant tendency of the great majority of our young photographers today is towards photo-journalism.2

From the 1930s, documentary and photojournalism had come to define much of the most progressive international modern art photography. In New York, the presence of the editorial offices of new, influential, illustrated magazines was fundamental in shaping the city’s cultural and creative climate, creating a unique environment for the development of a New York school of photography. Photojournalism became a way of life for many of the most prominent street photographers working in New York in the 1940s and 50s, and Newman was among a number to work independently on such projects while receiving commercial commissions.

Reflecting, perhaps, the influence of the magazine editorial format on his fine art practice, Newman created series of small sequences of images, suggestive of carefully constructed but undefined narratives — not common practice among street photographers of the period, who tended to make ongoing series extending over many years. With only a small group of photographers using colour film for non-commercial work in the 1950s, colour remained at the margins of modern art photography until the arrival of photographers such as William Eggleston (b.1939) and Stephen Shore (b.1947) in the 1970s. In recent years, there has been a reassessment of early colour street photography, pioneered by photographers such as Newman in the 1950s.

Endnotes
1  Press release for ‘Always the Young Strangers’, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 25 February 1953, archived online <http://www.moma.org/docs/press_archives/1683/releases/MOMA_1953_0013_13.pdf?2010>, viewed 4 September 2013.
2  Press release.

Highlight: Emil Otto Hoppé ‘Little Charwoman’ and ‘London Amusements’

 
digital-blog-2014
Emil Otto Hoppé, Germany/England 1878-1972 / Girl sweeping, ‘Little Charwoman’, London 1934 / Gelatin silver photograph / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Two vintage gelatin silver photographic prints, Girl Sweeping, ‘Little Charwoman’, London 1934 and London Amusements c.1935 made by Emil Otto Hoppé (1878–1972) capture undoctored views of life in the British capital between the wars.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, EO Hoppé was one of the most successful and widely recognised photographers working out of Britain. Born in Munich, Germany, Hoppé moved to London in 1900, eventually establishing a fashionable photographic studio where he became known as a society portraitist. On assignment in New York in 1921, Hoppé began a series of topographical photographs of the city that altered radically the style and scope of his photographic practice. Between 1921 and 1938, he travelled the world — including coming to Australia in 1931 — photographing cities, industrial architecture, landscapes and people with a reportage-like authenticity that saw documentary photography take precedence over the staged glamour found in studio portraiture.

Between the first and second world wars, photography in Britain was, as elsewhere, shaped by both cultural and economic forces. While professional portrait photographers were faced with a contracting market, thanks largely to the rise of mass media, the demand for reportage and documentary photography expanded. Like the vast majority of photographers working in the 1920s and 30s, the purpose of much of Hoppé’s work and travel was to compile material for publication in illustrated books and pictorial magazines. An astute businessman, he created an extensive inventory of images explicitly designed for commercial purposes, which he subsequently managed through the Dorien Leigh Photographic Agency, tellingly located at 30 Fleet Street. In doing so, he not only demonstrated his aptitude for adapting to the new economic realities of the period but also became a part of a pioneering generation of British social documentary photographers and filmmakers, which included John Grierson (1898–1972), and was followed a decade later by Humphrey Jennings (1907–50) and Bill Brandt (1904–83). Appearing in the monographs London Types Taken from Life (1926), The Image of London (1935) and A Camera on Unknown London (1935), the photographs Hoppé took of London in the 1920s and 30s are among the most comprehensive, candid and empathetic he created.

digital-blog-2014.344_001
Emil Otto Hoppé, Germany/England 1878-1972 / London amusements c.1935 / Gelatin silver photograph / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hoppé recorded the unpolished and unspectacular aspects of everyday life in the capital, without any apparent political conviction. Although remaining objective in his approach to subject matter, he shared in the development of a style of image production that became recognised as inherently English. Less concerned than their French and American counterparts with the junction between documentary photography and the formalist aspects of modern art, photographers in Britain established an unassuming style that was enormously influential on successive generations of photographers, filmmakers, artists and writers. With their gaze almost always fixed on the ‘ordinariness’ of the working classes, photographers such as Nigel Henderson (1917–85), playwright John Osborne (1929–94) and filmmakers led by Lindsay Anderson (1923–94) adopted an aesthetic and an implicit attitude towards art-making in the 1950s and 60s, one that emphatically championed the idea of undoctored authenticity over staged reality. They were echoing the English documentary style established decades earlier by influential figures, such EO Hoppé.

Highlight: Henri Rivière ‘Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower’

 
RIVIEREhenri_ViewsOfTheEiffelTower_712.2013_051_blog
Henri Rivière / Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel (Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower) (detail) 1888-1902 / Bound edition of 36 colour lithographs, including 16 pages of text and 8 pages with titles and the imprint / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

The Gallery has acquired an edition of 36 lithographs by printmaker, amateur photographer and shadow play theatre designer Henri Riviere (1864–1951), which combine the influence of Japanese art in Europe in the late nineteenth century with the impact of the Eiffel Tower on the city of Paris.

Modelled on Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760–1849) woodblock prints titled ‘Thirty‑six views of Mount Fuji’ c.1830–32 woodblock prints, Henri Riviere’s ‘Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel’ (‘Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower’) 1888–1902 is regarded as one of the finest examples of Japonisme, a term coined in France in the late nineteenth century to describe European artists’ stylistic borrowings from Japanese art and aesthetics.

Following the introduction of ukiyo-e (‘pictures of the floating world’) woodblock prints to Paris in the 1860s, modern artists were drawn to their use of line, dramatic foreshortenings and unusual organisation of space, as well as to their subjects, which were often ordinary scenes from contemporary life. Far more than a pastiche of Hokusai, Riviere’s ‘views’ show the artist’s captivation, not only by the composition of ukiyo-e and the subdued palette of nineteenth-century manga (a term coined by Hokusai to describe his collections of sketches) but also by the monumentality of the Eiffel Tower’s wrought-iron architecture, which, visible from every quarter of the city, dominated the Paris skyline following its construction.

RIVIEREhenri_ViewsOfTheEiffelTower_712.2013_049_blog
Henri Rivière / Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel (Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower) (detail) 1888-1902 / Bound edition of 36 colour lithographs, including 16 pages of text and 8 pages with titles and the imprint / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

In the prologue to the bound edition Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel, published in 1902, art critic Arsene Alexandre wrote of the Eiffel Tower:

When you suddenly appear to us through a skylight, or presiding over a council of chimneys, it is not you that coveys the turbulent life of a big city, but Paris itself, which you merely accentuate. When you enter the reverie of a vagabond in a garden or along a deserted street, or you find your way into the meditations of artists and flâneurs, you are like a giant walking stick with which our mind draws figures in the sand, distractedly, or plays with fallen leaves.1

While acknowledging its new-found prominence in the lives of all Parisians, Alexandre, like many of his contemporaries, was in no way enamoured by the shadow the controversial tower cast over the French capital — 300 metres high (986 feet), it was the tallest man-made structure in the world. Originally proposed to stand for only 20 years, Gustave Eiffel designed the tower as a symbol of French industrial prowess. It was widely criticised at the time for ‘overshadowing’ the capital’s historic landmarks. For Riviere, however, who had been given access to climb and photograph the tower prior to its completion, the structure represented a completely new type of spatial and visual beauty. When viewed from within, with Paris far below, massive iron girders backlit by the sky created abstract patterns, similar in effect to the shadow plays Riviere designed for the Chat Noir (Black Cat) cabaret. When viewed from the ground, the tower became an omnipresent backdrop to daily life in Paris and an icon of modernity.

A selection of prints from ‘Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel’ 1888–1902 are on view at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).

Endnote
1  Henri Riviere (trans. Alison Anderson), Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower by Henri Riviere, Prologue by Arsene Alexander, Chronicle Books and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2010, p.95.

Contemporary trends, old art

 

Queensland Art Gallery installation view

Installed in the restored spaces of the Queensland Art Gallery’s Philip Bacon Galleries, the new display of the International and Asian Collection links both architecturally and conceptually to QAGOMA’s vision for contemporary curatorial practice by offering an historic point of contact from which to begin or end your journey as you navigate your way through the Gallery’s two exhibition buildings.

Drawing on the long history of cultural, mercantile and artistic exchange between Europe, East Asia and Australia the display showcases key holdings of historic European and Asian art and design alongside modern and contemporary art that engage in dialogues with these traditions.

Exploring themes such as art and faith in everyday life, the invention of porcelain in China and its introduction into Europe and the influence of Japanese art and design, photography and film on the development of modern art, the works on display weave a coherent and often surprising new thread through QAGOMA’s permanent collections.

Queensland Art Galleryinstallation view

BLOG_QAG_Galleries7-8-9_CollectionRehang_20140922_msherwood_008

BLOG_QAG_Galleries7-8-9_CollectionRehang_20140919_msherwood_011

BLOG_QAG_Galleries7-8-9_CollectionRehang_20140919_msherwood_006

BLOG_QAG_Galleries7-8-9_CollectionRehang_20140922_msherwood_005

BLOG_QAG_Galleries7-8-9_CollectionRehang_20140924_msherwood_015

The Expressionists: World War One and its aftermath

 
1991.337_001_72dpix570pxw
George Grosz, Germany 1893–1959 / Der besessene Forstadjunkt (The obsessed forester) 1918 / Lithograph on paper, ed. of 42 / Purchased 1991 with funds from the 1991 International Exhibitions Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

In light of the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, on the 28 July 1914, a selection of German Expressionist prints and works on paper by Erich Buchholz are on display at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) until September 2014.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a number of German artists began to employ a technique of intensely expressive brushstrokes and strong outlines, often violently distorting representational forms, in order to represent the dramatic tensions arising from conflict within the artist’s psyche and the world at large. Although an ‘expressionist’ art had emerged simultaneously in several northern European centres in the late 19th century, there was no unified style or theoretically defined goals until the term ‘Expressionism’ became associated with a number of artistic groups that flourished in Imperial Germany prior to the outbreak of World War One. Artists associated with Expressionism were unified by a pervasive loss of faith in the prevailing social order and a belief that the existential void this created could be filled with art.

1988.098_001_72dpix570pxw
]Erich Heckel, Germany 1883–1970 / Zwei maenner am tisch (Two men at a table) 1913 / Woodcut on Japanese paper / Purchased 1988. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Erich Heckel/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, 2014

The artistic group Die Brücke (meaning ‘the bridge’) was founded by Erich Heckel (1883–1970), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) and others in Dresden, c.1905. Following the group’s move to Berlin in 1911, Brücke artists drew increasingly on contemporary social themes in which aspects of city life were used to illustrate the human condition under extreme stress prior to the outbreak of war.

1988.099_001_72dpix570pxw
Franz Marc, Germany 1880–1916 / Schopfungsgeschichte II (Story of creation II) 1914 / Colour woodcut on wove paper / Purchased 1988. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Conversely, the artists who formed Der Blaue Reiter (‘the blue rider’) – active in Munich between 1911 and 1914 – believed art was a means to express individual inner desires, to establish a cult of nature and mysticism. For founding members Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Franz Marc (1880­­–1916), this spirituality became the basis for a move towards an increasingly abstract art.

1995.157_001_72dpix570pxw
Erich Buchholz, Germany 1891–1972 / Suspended sphere 1920, reworked 1972 / Watercolour on paper / Purchased 1995 with funds from the International Exhibitions Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Also on display is a selection of works by German abstractionist Erich Buchholz. Buchholz moved to Berlin in 1915 and studied briefly with Expressionist artist Lovis Corinth (1885–1925), before being conscripted into the German military. Despite his early involvement with Berlin artists renowned for their scathing social commentaries, and the visual similarities with the non-objective abstraction of Suprematism and Constructivism, which arose concurrently in revolutionary Russia, it was the Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter that most influenced Buchholz’s artistic development. The vivid colour and rhythmic, geometric forms of Franz Marc’s pantheistic paintings and woodcuts, and Vassily Kandinsky’s theories on music and spirituality in art –visually expressed with geometric forms such as triangles, circles and pyramids – led to Buchholz’s creation of a holistic system of geometric abstraction in Germany following World War One.