Marie Antoinette

 

In the 1780’s two Parisian jewellers find themselves burdened with a shitload of diamonds – 647 to be precise. They make them into an elaborate necklace, assuming they can sell it to the extravagant queen Marie Antoinette. But even for her it is too expensive. Now what? For help they turn to a self-proclaimed ‘confidante’ of the queen: the countess de la Motte. She and her husband conjure up a complicated scheme, which includes a lovestruck cardinal, a prostitute impersonating the queen, fortune tellers, and a trip to England. De la Motte embezzles the necklace, the jewellers are duped, and all along Marie Antoinette knows nothing about it. In the end the scammers are arrested and convicted, but the reputation of the court, and particularly that of the queen, has been damaged to such an extent that historians consider this affair part of the onset of the French Revolution.

Poor Marie Antoinette. The people of France hated her and called her the Austrian Bitch. They saw her bathing in luxury and blamed their poverty on her. Granted, she was the original fashionista, she played shepherdess in her cute little purpose-built hideaway, she spent a fortune on hair and makeup. But she was also a lonely girl, just 14 years old, who was sent to a strange country to marry a royal teenager who had no idea – not of being a king nor of being a husband. After eight years they apparently figured it out, because she started having children but two of them died in infancy. After the revolution she was incarcerated in the Conciergerie, a cold and horrible prison. On October 16th, 1793 she was beheaded, 37 years old.

 

1 MA-Lebrun, dégoutant 17831783 A rather controversial portrait of Marie Antoinette, by her court painter and friend Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. It was considered completely inappropriate that the queen was depicted in such a flimsy negligé-like dress. She just could not do right. The collaboration between the two women, who were exactly the same age, produced countless portraits, also very stately ones:

 

2 MA Vigée le brun 1778That’s more like it. Marie Antoinette in full splendor, big hair, and ‘paniers’ under her skirt. Fashion of the day required dresses to be extraordinarily wide, so the women wore undergarments with basket-like contraptions on either hip. Needless to say, that was only for the happy few. No way you could work the land or clean the house in these!

 

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun: <i>Self-Portrait</i>, 17901790 Self portrait of Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. She is working on a painting of the queen. Pretty girl, isn’t she?

 

5 Alexander Kucharsky Marie_Antoinette 17921792 Alexander Kucharsky. He made a series of portraits of the queen in captivity. This pastel is unfinished, and worked over by a revolutionary maniac with a club.

 

6 MA Jecques-Louis David okt. 17931793 Jaques-Louis David’s sketch of the queen on her way to the guillotine. After the execution the raging crowds dipped their sleeves in her blood (gross!), but she was dignified to the bitter end. She tripped climbing up the scaffold and apologised to the henchman, worried that she had hurt him.

 

7 Cornelia l'Autre Coté du Miroir2000 Cornelia Nauta, l’Autre Coté du Miroir. Marie Antoinette has always been an inspiration for artists – Sophia Coppola mellowed our opinion with her movie, and in the beautifully moving series l’Autre Coté du Miroir, Dutch photographer Cornelia Nauta shows us a different, more human side of the much maligned Rococo queen.

 

http://www.cornelianauta.net

 

 

Light II. The Sublime.

The Sublime is originally a philosophical term, that in art history refers to the overwhelming greatness of things and elements that are beyond human control. During the Romanticism – in the 18th and 19th century – it specifically referred to wild and untamed nature. As such it is the opposite of beauty, which was considered harmonious and well proportioned. Admittedly, this concept requires a flexible mindset and it is easily shredded. But don’t forget it originated in an era when people first started travelling, explored nature, and at the same time watched in astonishment how science managed to explain more and more inexplicable phenomenons. Pretty frightening stuff. Through the ages people struggled with the all encompassing force of nature, conjuring up divine personalities in order to make some sense of it. The painters of the Romanticism hurled emotions and knowledge onto their canvases in one thick thundering outpour. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) explored the great German outdoors, the Black Forest or the North Sea coast, and once back in his studio enhanced what he had seen so that we city dwellers could lose ourselves in raging skies, shipwrecks and Polar ice. In England, JMW Turner (1775-1851) was way ahead of his time in his manner of painting, but his approach and his choice of subjects were highly romantic and sublimely Sublime. John Martin (1789-1854), another Englishman, became quite famous with his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, his deeply religious beliefs and his penchant for infernos. When his rebellious brother Jonathan torched the cathedral of York, a bystander compared the sea of flames to a John Martin painting . . . Oops. A third Brit who needs a mention here, is Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1794). Another master of light. I’m sure all these guys will reappear here at some stage – today I concentrate on their weird, wild, sublime landscapes.

The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.

                                                                                         Caspar David Friedrich

 

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Caspar David Friedrich, Ice Sea, 1824.

 

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Caspar David Friedrich, Shipwreck in the moonlight, 1835.

 

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John Martin, Pandemonium, 1841.

 

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John Martin, Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852.

 

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Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius erupting, seen from Portici, 1775.

 

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Joseph Mallord William Turner, Fort Vimieux, 1831. Turners depiction of an English war ship, enlisted in the early eighteen hundreds to fight against Napoleon. In this image the sea is actually very tranquil, and according to a Sotheby comment it is doubly anchored (I can’t find them) so all should be well, but in Turners vision the scene is wild and threatening.

 

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Andreas Aschenbach (1815-1910). Coast of Sicily, 1847. Another German romanticist. Light-wise, this takes the cake, don’t you think? Still squinting, I hope?

 

 

Light!

 

Photography literally means writing with light. The writing bit is arguable, but without light, there simply is no photography. That holds true for the analogue age, and it hasn’t changed with digitalisation. Everything you or your camera sees, is the reflection of light on something. And if that light isn’t sufficient, you see nothing. Period.

The real challenge of light is getting it right. If the subject is too contrasty, the photographer is screwed. You can hide a multitude of sins with modern equipment and software, but contrast remains an issue. Which probably explains why so many photographers have the hots for difficult light. ‘Rembrandt light’, ‘clair-obscur’ . . . especially technique fanatics consider a well aimed nose shadow the be-all and end-all of photographic quality.

Ok, in all fairness, it is of course the story of the picture that counts. And you can bet your bottom dollar that light plays a big part there. Hard light (the one with the contrasts) brings dynamics and energy to the photo – soft, even lighting brings calm and sometimes even a fairytale feel.

It’s the same old song: technique is means to an end, never the ultimate goal; but without it you’re pretty damn stuck.

And that brings us to a couple of painters who threw themselves passionately at light. Caravaggio and Rembrandt are the grandmasters of clair-obscur, but today I’d like you to meet a few other light magicians. And maybe another time, too, there’s so much beauty to behold! The best way to enjoy these images, is to squint – look through your lashes and you’ll see exactly what the light is doing.

 

3 Gerrit_van_Honthorst_-_De_koppelaarster 1625.jpg

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Matchmaker, 1625. It took me a while to detect the lady in question (far left, she’s pointing). Initially I thought that generous bosom belonged to the matchmaker, and wondered if her male customers would ever settle for anyone else. The lute she is holding provides little cue – it is a symbol of love, but whether it is lust or courtly love is usually determined by the context. And then that cleavage is quite a distraction! In any case, Honthorst’s use of light leaves nothing to the imagination. But then, he belonged to the Caravaggists of Utrecht, Caravaggio’s painting fanclub.

 

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Adriaen Coorte, Gooseberries, 1699. Here you really have to use the squint technique. Oh, I find this crazy beautiful. Coorte made just over 60 paintings, all of them small still lives. About ten years ago two more were discovered under a layer of dust in an attic, I believe in Middelburg, his home town.

 

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Marie-Denise Villers, Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, 1801. Some art historians are convinced this is a self-portrait. The light is astonishing, with the back light and the effect of the drawing paper that acts as a reflector with that weird, spooky shadow at the wrong end of the eyes. And can somebody tell me what is going on with that window pane? Is the glass broken? It sure looks like it.

 

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Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, Madame Monet and Son, 1875. Can you feel the heat, the burning sunshine? Can you smell the hay? I remember watching a series about the Impressionists, and the scene where Mme. Monet came to fetch her husband for lunch, but he couldn’t stop working. The last shot was a quote of this painting. Recognizing it made me feel very much an insider.

 

Marie Bracquemond Sous la Lampe (Sisley et sa femme) 1877.jpg

Marie Braquemond, Sous la Lampe (Alfred Sisley et sa femme) 1877. Marie Braquemond, née Quivoron, did not lead a very joyous life. She was dragged around France and Switzerland by her unhappy mother until they finally settled in Paris. There she met her husband Félix while they were both sketching at the Louvre. He apparently was resentful of her talent and the appreciation the Impressionists had for her work. Her health was fragile too, and all these factors may have conributed to the fact that she isn’t too well known. She should be, though – look at this painting of fellow artist Sisley and his wife.

 

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Sir George Clausen, The Gleaners Return, 1908. Ever since biblical times, really poor women and children were allowed to pick up leftovers after the wheat harvest. It was a semi-organised form of charity. For some reason, maybe to glorify the people who allowed this, gleaners are often depicted in sheer heavenly light (check Millet). Clausen was on a roll here.

 

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John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1886. My favorite painting EVER! If I had a favorite painting, which I don’t. But it is stunning. Big and gorgeous and breathtaking. The title comes from a song. It took Sargent quite a while to complete this, halfway through he changed models because he was looking for this particular hair color, and he had very little time each evening to get the right dusky light he wanted. Now squint already!

 

 

Wet Plates.

Back in time, to the year 1851. Photography had been introduced twelve years earlier and although enormously popular, it was a terrible hassle. Costs were high, exposure times long, and the result often a disappointment. Then British inventor Frederick Scott Archer (1813 – 1857) discovered collodion as a base for light sensitive silver nitrate, which is necessary for any photo. Collodion had been around since 1846 when people started using it to cover wounds. It is gun cotton – aka nitrocellulose – mixed with alcohol and ether. Yup, ether! It stinks like hell and if you’re not careful you pass out. But in the 19th century they were thrilled, it had some huge advantages over the older procedures, in particular regarding sharpness and exposure times. Still, it is a complicated and demanding system: first you have to pour the collodion, a goopy, syrupy fluid, thinly and evenly on a (glass-) plate, which you then immediately have to immerse into the silver nitrate. Then that light sensitive stuff has to be exposed – immediately. After that the plate has to go into the developer immediately, and then development has to be halted with a bucket load of water. Immediately. When the collodion dries, it loses it’s light sensitivity, hence the name Wet Plate photography. It’s pretty cumbersome in the studio, on location it borders on madness. In the beginning they dragged along tents and wagons, and in outdoor scenes you pretty much always see water in some shape or form. On top of that, the prints were contact prints – if you wanted half decent sizes, you’d have to bring accordingly large equipment and material. Glass was used for the plates so that posed a breaking risk. You could, and can, also use tin (or nowadays aluminium) plates: Khadija Saye’s tintypes. But then you don’t have negatives, so no reproductions. One last but important drawback: collodion is combustible, and what’s worse, explosive. It has blown up many darkrooms and unfortunately many photographers, too.

 

Tintype Taqulittuq and Ipirvik.jpgTintype, portrait of Taqulittuq and Ipirvik, aka Tookoolito and Ebierbing, alias Hannah and Joe. They were an Inuit couple who in the 1860’s worked as guides and interpreters for British and American expeditions to the Arctic. In a way they were lucky to be able to earn a living that way – during their initial travels they were exhibited . . . horrific. Although they did dine at Windsor Castle then, as guests of Queen Victoria.

 

Roger Fenton's Photographic Van Crimea.jpgRoger Fenton’s mobile darkroom, 1855. This is how he shlepped all around the Crimean War. The man on the wagon is his assistant Marcus Sparling.

 

Tintypie ± 1890.jpgTintype from ca. 1890. Slightly odd focus here: his face is a little blurred, his checked suit on the other hand . . . sharp as a knife! Still, a beautiful picture. Of course it’s a beautiful guy, too.

 

Tintypie Billy the Kid 1865.jpgThis is a portrait of Billy the Kid, one of the legendary outlaws of the Wild West. The tintype looks rather worse for wear, but it is nothing compared to Billy’s fate – he was murdered by his old friend and partner in crime.

 

Syl en Bet Collodium.jpgYour author, and friend and colleague Sylvia Lockhart (check out her website below). These tintypes were made during a wonderful Wet Plate workshop by Daniel Barter (check out his website below, too). As you can tell from all the blobs, the pouring of the collodion was, shall we say, uneven? It’s more difficult than you’d think. The black edges are beaten raw egg, applied with a Q-tip to prevent the collodion dripping off the plate.

 

https://danielbarter.co.uk                  http://sylvialockhartphotography.com

Women on beds

Ever since downloading images came up to speed, I have started collecting art. Virtually, that is. My largest and most favourite folder is ‘Women on a bed and other odalisques’. The world is full of the most amazing reclining women, in various states of dress or undress.

I think the first of the naked beauties was probably Giorgione’s Venus from 1508. He died when he was still working on it, so it was finished by his student Titian. Apparently Titian was inspired by it, ’cause he turned out a couple more – so many in fact that museums all over the world have his naked ladies lying around. The most famous one is at the Uffizi: the Venus of Urbino from c 1535. Rumour has it that it was owned for a while by a cardinal at the Vatican, who kept it behind a curtain. (Go figure what he did. Go figure what she is doing, by the way!)

That painting, in turn, has served as an endless inspiration to artists and still does, so here are a few examples. I’ll be showing you more women on beds every now and again.

Giorgione_-_Sleeping_Venus 1508.jpg

Giorgione’s Venus. In a landscape, eyes closed. She might be naked, but she is keeping us at a considerable distance. But that was about to change:

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The Venus of Urbino. There aren’t many facts known about this painting, but there’s an abundance of presumptions. For instance, that the Duke of Urbino saw it in Titian’s studio and insisted on buying it. Well, she’s way more inviting and seductive than her predecessor, can you blame him?

Delacroix ±1827.gifEugène Delacroix, 1827. The Romantic era (and Delacroix was the “prince of the Romantics”) was steeped in longing for the East. In the East there were harems and in harems there were naked women, so they made a comeback in art, this time in the form of odalisques.

15 E. Manet Olympia,1863.jpg

Olympia by Édouard Manet, 1863. Shock! Horror! That gaze! That nudity! The conservative Salon, the art world’s big shots, had yet another coronary. The model is Victorine Meurent, a Parisian prostitute – they probably recognised her.

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Paul Delvaux, 1951. “Iron Age”. The Belgian surrealist, who painted countless nudes in odd backgrounds, with trains, stations, squares, factories.

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And finally, Paul de Nooijers Odalisque. I’ve had this image in my ‘collection’ for years and I cannot for the life of me find anything about it online. He did make this, didn’t he? Surely it’s by him? It has to be. Paul de Nooijer is a Dutch photographer, who mostly works together with his son Menno. Staged photography, very interesting.

 

 

Gustave Caillebotte 1848-1894

Oh, man, I adore this guy.

This talented, wealthy, generous impressionist – who only lived to be 45 – seems to be relatively unknown. That might be explained by the fact that so many of his paintings remain in private collections, for the works that are in museums are quite famous: The Floor scrapers, “Raboteurs de parquet”, at Musée d’Orsay; Paris street, rainy day, “Rue de Paris, temps de pluie”, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

He was part of the Impressionists, not only as a painter but also supporting his less well-off friends and colleagues by buying their work (just like Frédéric Bazille who tragically died, even younger, in the French-German War).

G._Caillebotte_-_Le_déjeuner 1876.jpg

Caillebotte must have had a camera within his head – look at his painting Le Déjeuner. We see the scene from one of the character’s viewpoint. It’s a subjective shot! We are behind that plate, at the table! It was painted in 1876, the influence of photography on painting was huge by then, but this is a particularly amazing example.

It depicts his mother, still in full mourning after the death of his father, and his younger brother René, being served their lunch. All the twinkling in the crystal, the beautifully rendered back-lit luxury cannot disguise the suffocating stuffiness of the house, nor the irritation of the young man. You can hear him sawing through his food, dying to get away.

Painterly, cinematographic, directorial perfection.

And yes, this one too, is in a private collection. Can you imagine? Sitting there in your housecoat, rubbing the sleep from your eyes, trying to wake up over a chipped, stained mug of coffee? Watching this painting? Oh, man!

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Young man at the window 1875. René Caillebotte at the house in the Rue de Miromesnil. Is he looking at the girl? Does he know her? Does he want her? René died very young, I sincerely hope he managed to get away from that house and have some fun!

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Rue de Paris, temps de pluie 1877. Probably his most famous painting, but actually not so very typical for Caillebotte. It’s a little smoother, a bit more pointillistic than what he usually makes. In all honesty, I like the studies he did for the painting better:

Gustave_Caillebotte,_1877_-_Rue_de_Paris,_jour_de_pluie_(étude).jpg

 

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The gardener. No wonder the art-establishment of France despised the Impressionists! A painting of someone’s garden (instead of Arcadia) was hard to digest, but a gardener there? With his butt towards us? Incroyable!

Caillebotte view through a balcony 1880.jpg

This is the painting that made me fall in love with Caillebotte: View through a balcony. It’s insane! I bet you he was sitting on the floor, looked up, and decided to paint this.

It is from 1880 and, lucky me, is in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum.

Khadija.

I sat down to write a post about collodion photography, wanting to tell you something about the tintype, as it is called. I meant to explain how this 19th century photographic ‘wet plate’ technique is complicated but definitely do-able and is still used today. How it stinks, how long the exposure times are, and how short the processing time, how exciting it is . . .

 

But all I do is cry. Here’s why:

In 2013 a young British-Gambian, hugely talented girl graduated from art school. Just four years later, she exhibited her project Dwellings: in this Space we Breathe

at the Venice Biennale. It deals with her Gambian roots, the role of spiritual practices and the solace they provide. What makes it extra special is her use of the wet collodion technique, which requires a lot of patience and dedication of both the photographer and the sitter – in this case one and the same. Her choice of technique added lots to the mystery of the subject, and her young, beautiful and very expressive face contributed enormously to the ‘wholeness’ of it.

Photographer Almudena Romero guided her through the technicalities of the tintypes.

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all photos © 2018 Estate of Khadija Saye

 

After the opening of the Venice Biennale, in May 2017, she went back to her home in west London where she lived, together with her mother, in the Grenfell Tower. On June 14th an electrical appliance caught fire in one of the apartments and within minutes the entire building, 24 stories high, was ablaze. It turned out the cladding on the façade wasn’t fire resistant – Kensington local council had saved itself a few thousand pounds that way. Also, the ladders of the London fire brigade don’t reach higher than the eighteenth floor.

Together with 70 others the photographer and her mother died in the fire.

Her name is Kadhija Saye. She was only 24.

 

http://www.estateofkhadijasaye.com

Oproep Grenfell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020

 

2020 was going to be the year I’d invite you to the Amsterdam Picture Room, to exhibit new work by friends and colleagues, and to maybe even start a modest set of talks and mini courses on various photo-related subjects.

 

Ah, yes, well. Communal change of plans. For the time being, I hope to share with you some thoughts on photographs and artworks that hold a special place in my heart, that I’ve found to be interesting with regards to photography.

Please join me on these blog-like pages to enjoy a pretty random but lovingly selected collection of images. By the way, here’s a disclaimer: I’m not an art historian, but a photographer with a greater-than-average interest in art history and many years of teaching photography students about it.

 

Degas Danseuse.jpg

I of course HAVE to start with a ballet dancer (having danced professionally). This is a photo taken by Edgar Degas in 1895 or ’96. I’d like to think he took it in the wings of the theater, but that’s not the case. He used to organise photographic evenings, where he invited friends to come over to dine and to model for his carefully staged pictures. He particularly enjoyed working with artificial light. Amazing – that makes things extra difficult even today, let alone in the 1890s! Although he was known to use photographs as an aide to his paintings, he started using them as an artform in it’s own right when his eyesight was going andapparently became quite enthralled. Only about 40 of the photos have remained.

Degas Danseuse II.jpg

My relationship with Degas is strained to say the least. As a little girl, besotted with ballet, I grew up with his images of ballet dancers. Later I became fascinated by his pastels of bathing women – so intimate, so sensuous. His blurred, beautiful photos, and the way he uses the shortcomings of the technique to his advantage, are a continuous inspiration.

However.

The man was a notorious anti-semite, a chauvinist pig, a misogynist. A jerk basically.

 

This is something I’m still trying to get my head around – not only concerning Degas, but in general. How does what you know about an artist influence your appreciation, your perception? To what extent can you see his or her character in the work? What sense or nonsense does the viewer project? Can you fall in love with, or turn against, the artist?

 

I will have to come back to you on this extremely confusing subject.

Degas woman drying her back.jpg

Degas Na het bad ca. 1896.jpg

Degas na het bad 1895.jpg

Degas used to make his models absolutely miserable, and he was fully aware of it. He intentionally depicted them in awkward poses, striving to undo their coquettishness – his words.

Print Sale!

Op 2 en 3 juni, van 12 – 18 uur, organiseert TPR voor het eerst een print sale, met werk van Anna Witkowska, Inta Nahapetjan en Bettiena Drukker.

Kom op je gemak grasduinen in de kribbes – er zijn klaar-om-in-te-lijsten prints, unicaten, laatste exemplaren, proefdrukken . . . wie weet wat je vindt. Als je je keuze gemaakt hebt, betaal je en neem je het zó onder je arm mee. Maar je kan natuurlijk ook prints bestellen.

Je bent van harte welkom!

 

TWEEDE LAURIERDWARSSTRAAT 53, 1016 RA AMSTERDAM

 

On June 2nd and 3rd, from 12 – 6 PM, TPR will organize it’s first ever print sale, with work by Anna Witkowska, Inta Nahapetjan and Bettiena Drukker.

Take your time looking through the print racks – there are ready-to-frame prints, some single pieces, artist’s proofs . . . who knows what you’ll find. Once you’ve made your choice you pay and shlep. But of course you can also order prints.

You are more than welcome!