Monday, September 30, 2013

Vincent van Gogh in Arles, St. Remy and Auvers, 1888-1890 PART I

The last two years of Vincent van Gogh’s life were his most prolific.  He lived in three different towns during this time, Arles and St. Remy (in Provence), and Auvers-sur-Oise (Normandy).  I have had the opportunity to visit these three locations.  I enjoyed the insight these unique places brought to my understanding of Van Gogh and his work.

                      "Garden at Arles" by Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Oil on canvas.

 On February 20, 1888 van Gogh moved, from Paris, to Arles in the south of France.  He was attracted to the countryside, calling it  “The land of blue tones and gay colors”.  Funded by his brother Theo, Vincent moved into the now famous “Yellow House” and set up a studio and a room for a guest artist.

                    "The Yellow House" by Vincent van Gogh, 1888, oil on canvas.

While in Arles van Gogh was inspired to paint the local farmhouses and gardens.  His paintings from this period feature confident impasto brushstrokes and a brilliant palette.  Indeed, van Gogh wrote “Ah, these farmhouse gardens with lovely big red Provence roses, the vines, the fig trees; it’s quite poetic.”

              "View of Arles with Irises" by Vincent, van Gogh, 1888, oil on canvas.

On October 23, 1888 Paul Gauguin  (1848-1903) arrived and stayed with Vincent. Together the two artists painted, and unfortunately argued. During the two months they lived together unrest grew between them. On December 23, 1888, after a confrontation with Gauguin, van Gogh mutilated his left ear with a razor.  Van Gogh was admitted to the Hospital in Arles, as Gauguin fled for Paris. 

      "Courtyard at the Hospital at Arles" by Vincent van Gogh, 1888, oil on canvas.

While at the hospital van Gogh did two paintings of the lovely flower filled courtyard.  After being released from the hospital van Gogh returned to the yellow house, but due to demands from locals he was forced to leave the city.  In February 1889 van Gogh moved 15 miles northeast to the asylum of Saint-Paul-de–Mausolein St. Remy.  It was here that he would create his most inspired works including “Starry Night” and the “Irises”.

      Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles as it is today, photo by Marie Dauenheimer, 2013.

 I plan to do future blog postings about van Gogh's work and life in St. Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. In the meantime if you are interested in van Gogh's work there is an upcoming exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  "Van Gogh Repetitions" will be up from October 12, 2013-January 26, 2014.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sir Alfred James Munnings Exhibition “Out in the Open” at the National Sporting Library and Museum

Located in the beautiful Virginia countryside, in the historic town of Middleburg, is a remarkable museum and library dedicated to the art, literature and culture of horse and field sports, it is called the National Sporting Library and Museum.

                           National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Virginia.
I recently had the opportunity to visit this museum and view an outstanding exhibition called “Out in the Open”, featuring approximately 70 paintings by British artist Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959).  Munnings is best known for his paintings of horses and race scenes. I was familiar with some of his work, but this comprehensive exhibition made me appreciate the brilliance of this artist.

The Morning Ride, Florence Munnings on Horseback, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1913, oil on canvas.

Munnings did most of his work outside, en plein air. His confident, rapid brushwork is reminiscent of John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla and their depictions of sun soaked landscapes and figures. Munnings paintings, created outdoors from direct observation, are brilliant and nuanced.  Indeed, Munnings biographer wrote, “The call of the sun was one of the strongest forces in his career.”

          Impressions of Cows in a Stream, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1912, oil on canvas.

The son of a miller, Munnings was born in 1878 in Mendham, Great Britain.  In 19th century England horses were part of every life, but it was the gift of a toy horse that got Munnings interested in this magnificent animal and its portrayal.

     Study of a Clipped Bay Hunter "Bitter Sweet", Sir Alfred Munnings, 1923, oil on panel.

Among the various themes painted by Munnings was his depiction of horse races.  One in particular reminded me of Edgar Degas and his race scenes.  “Almost Away” is a tightly composed painting featuring a contrasting riot of jockey silk colors. This painting, the color and expression of the horses evokes the raw energy of the race.

                            Almost Away, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1945, oil on canvas.

In many of the paintings Munnings juxtaposes highly polished passages with abstract ones.  In the piece “In the Covert” he paints the horse and rider in a refined manner and surrounds them with a futurist like depiction of the hounds and landscape.

                             In the Covert, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1920, oil on canvas.

Castle Hill in Essex, Munnings’ elegant home for forty years, is a museum dedicated to his work. It houses a collection of over 600 works by Munnings including numerous landscapes and cloud studies of the surrounding countryside.

                         Cloud Study by Sir Alfred Munnings, oil on canvas.

This extraordinary exhibition closed on September 15, 2013. The National Sporting Library and Museum was its only venue.  I was very fortunate to see this exhibition before it closed.  I would recommend that if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating artist you read the exhibition catalog “Munnings, Out in the Open”’ published by the National Sporting Museum and Library.  There is a movie called “Summer in February”, based on the 1996 book by Jonathan Smith of the same title, about Munnings that is soon to be released.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Vesalius Trust Art and Anatomy Tour to Southern Greece in August/September 2014

2014 will mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of  anatomist Andreas Vesalius

Vesalius, for whom the Vesalius Trust is named, was a Renaissance physician famous for his pioneering treatise De humani corporis fabrica  (On the Fabric of the Human Body) published in 1543. Considered the father of modern anatomy Vesalius was just 29 years old when his iconic work was published. The beautifully illustrated De Fabrica transformed the field of anatomy and how the human body was viewed and understood.

            Portrait of Vesalius, the frontispiece from De human corporis fabrica, 1543.

Since 1997 the Vesalius Trust has been sponsoring educational travel opportunities. These “Art and Anatomy” tours have transported attendees to exciting venues in Italy, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and England. Each tour has included the Association Européenne des Illustrateurs Médicaux et Scientifiques (AEIMS) conference. These tours offer the opportunity to explore artistic and anatomical points of interest with like-minded colleagues.  Attendees have visited rare anatomy book collections, anatomical theatres, medical museums and art collections, some open to the public, but many exclusive. 
To commemorate the upcoming Vesalius birthday celebration I am working with a consortium of artistic, medical and cultural organizations in Europe to build the next Art and Anatomy tour. These organizations include Association Européenne des Illustrateurs Médicaux et Scientifiques.  This next tour will be to Southern Greece from August 29-September 9, 2014. 

                        Panorama view of Zante Town on the island of Zakynthos.

Andreas Vesalius was born in Flanders, present day Belgium, on December 31, 1514.  He died on October 15, 1562 on the small island of Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea. After much research and discussion the committee organizing the celebration chose Zakynthos as the venue for their conference.  Vesalius died when his ship wrecked in the Ionian Sea and he ended up on island of Zakynthos. This island, well aware of the importance of Vesalius, features many statues, monuments and streets commemorating the famous physician.

                                       Parthenon from the south, Athens.

The twelve-day Art and Anatomy Tour, “Traversing Southern Greece”, will begin with arrival in the ancient city of Athens, a bustling metropolis and home to the Acropolis.  The first day will comprise a walking tour of Athens including visits to the Hephaisteion, and the Doric temple of Thespian one of the best-preserved temples from ancient Greece.  The following day will be devoted to a guided tour of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Porch of the Caryatids, which offer stunning views of Athens.  The day will conclude with a tour of the Acropolis Museum and free time to explore this fascinating city.

The next few days of the tour will include travel to the sophisticated town of Nafplion in the Peloponnese. This port city features polished old world streets lined with elegant Venetian castles and neoclassical manors. Enroute to Nafplion we will visit the ancient city of Corinth and its Greek and Roman ruins.

                                       The beautiful port city of Nafplion

Prior to the Vesalius Conference in Zakynthos the attendees will explore the ancient citadel of Mycenae and Epidaurus and its early theatre designed by sculptor Polykleitos, famous for his masterful sculptures of the human form.

The group will travel to the beautiful island of Zakynthos via ferry, cruising the Ionian Sea as Vesalius did in 1514.  The group’s home for the next four days will be the Palatino Hotel, walking distance to the conference site. 

A few days will be devoted to the “Vesalius Continuum” commemorating the 500th anniversary of Andreas Vesalius’ birth.  The conference schedule includes lectures about Vesalius' work, life and influences by famous medical scholars such as Ruth Richardson, author of Death, Dissection and the Destitute and The Making of Gray's Anatomy, and Professor Martin Kemp of the History of Art at University of Oxford. Kemp is considered one of the world's leading authorities on Leonardo da Vinci and he has written extensively about science and art.  Facial reconstruction artist Richard Neave, famous for his reconstruction of the iceman, will also be presenting.

After the conference the group will enjoy a special day of touring the island of Zakynthos.  Private boats will take attendees to the breathtaking Blue Caves, the uninhabited island of Marathonisi and the charming village of Volimes, known for it lace work and beautifully woven wool rugs.

                                       Island of Marathonisi, Zakythnos

The tour will end after a flight from Zakynthos to Athens with an independent day to enjoy the city or do an excursion.  A farewell dinner, near the Acropolis, will end the exciting journey before flights back to the US the next day.

For more information on this tour, including a detailed itinerary and pricing please contact Marie Dauenheimer at or 571.216.1472.

Watch for future blog postings highlighting details about the tour and the Vesalius conference.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Albrecht Durer: Master Drawings, Watercolors and Prints from the Albertina

The Albertina in Vienna, Austria is a museum known for it outstanding collection of works on paper.  The Albertina maintains a large collection of watercolors, drawings and prints by the Northern Renaissance master Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). This past spring the Albertina lent this vast and impressive collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

                                Self-portrait by Albrecht Durer, 1500, oil painting.

Durer is known in the history of art for his intense self-portraits, thought by many scholars to be the first self-portraits ever created. Indeed what scholars believe is the first self portrait made by an artist is in the exhibition. It is  a small detailed silverpoint drawing completed by Durer when he was just 13 years old.  (For more information about the silverpoint technique see my blog‎)

                    Self-portrait by Albrecht Durer, 1484, silverpoint on prepared paper.

In 1505 Durer travelled to Venice and developed one of his most elegant drawing techniques.Using a medium blue Venetian paper (made from blue rags) Durer drew with white gouache and dark ink to create luminous, chiaroscuro drawings. 

The Head of an Angel by Albrecht Durer, 1506, brush and ink with wash, heightened with white on blue paper.

When Durer traveled back to Germany he did not take this Venetian paper with him, but started making his own paper prepared with a ground, usually blue, but sometimes green and gray. This is how Durer made one of his most icon drawings “The Praying Hands”. The drawing was created in 1508 as a study for an altarpiece for a Frankfurt church (which burned down in 1724). The drawing was done as a part of a larger study of one of the apostles. The drawing was later cut down and made into two separate drawings.  (see below).

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer, 1508, brush and wash, heightened with white on blue prepared paper.

Durer introduced many important artistic traditions to his Northern European colleagues. His use of linear perspective, masterfully complex woodcuts and engravings transformed printmaking. Durer’s treatises on human anatomy and proportion transformed the way artists depicted the figure. Finally, like Leonardo, Durer was fascinated with the overlap of science and art.

                         Male Nude by Albrecht Durer, 1513, pen and brown ink on paper.

Indeed in Durer’s sublime watercolor “The Great Piece of Turf” (1503) his art “creates a balance between scientific observation and artistic poetry”.

The Great Piece of Turf  by Albrecht Durer, 1503, watercolor and gouache on paper.

In 1514 Durer experienced a personal crisis when his mother died. During his mourning he created his “master prints” about despair and death. They include his print of St. Jerome for which he did his magnificent study.

An Elderly Man of Ninety-Three Years by Albrecht Durer, 1521, brush and ink, heightened with white on gray-violet  prepared paper.

The National Gallery of Art exhibits closed in June. However I highly recommend the superb catalog published by the National Gallery of Art.It is called "Albrecht Durer, Master Drawings, Watercolors and prints from the Albertina" by Andrew Robison and Klaus Albrecht Schroder.