Thought-Pourri: Possessive Edition

For those of you in the DC area, don’t forget that tonight from 6:00-8:00 pm the Catholic Information Center, located at 1501 K Street NW, will be hosting its annual Christmas Poetry Party, in conjunction with the Thomas More Society of America. I will be one of the presenters, and if that doesn’t entirely put you off, drop by and say hello! There will be refreshments and plenty of good cheer on offer, and the event is absolutely free.

Meanwhile, this morning I’m currently participating as an absentee bidder in a live auction taking place elsewhere, for a painting that I’m very interested in adding to my collection, so fingers x’ed…

And with that, it’s time for some headlines:

The King’s Pictures

After Charles I was overthrown and executed in 1649 during the English Civil War, much of the substantial art collection which he and his ancestors had accumulated was sold off and scattered to the winds. When his son Charles II ascended the throne at the Restoration in 1660, the Stuarts had a great deal of work to do to restore the prestige of the monarchy. Through a variety of means, the new king managed to start over, acquiring a number of works of art which are featured in an exhibition this month at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Among the items featured in “Charles II: Art & Power” is one of Lorenzo Lotto’s (1480-1557) best paintings, his portrait of the Venetian art dealer Andrea Odoni sitting in his shop, surrounded by statues and casts of classical sculpture. I particularly like how the dramatically foreshortened right arm and hand are shown holding out a small classical sculpture, as if Odoni is offering it to us for sale, and the mixture of charcoal and dove grays, mossy green, and caramel browns create a surprisingly rich color palette.


Vienna’s Virtu

The shortlived Wiener Werkstätte (“Vienna Workshop”), from the beginning of the previous century, had a major impact on Modern art, architecture, and design, thanks in part to its espousal of innovative design methods, which it disseminated globally through the creation of satellite workshops in Germany, Switzerland, and New York. Now a major new exhibition in the latter city, at the Neue Galerie for German and Austrian art, is bringing together a wide range of objects created by the Austrian artistic collective, from furniture and ceramics to jewels and decorative objects. Among the beautiful items displayed in the “Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932: The Luxury of Beauty” show is this astonishing jewelry box, which in the art trade is known as an “objet de vertu” or “vertu” for short. These were items that often had no practical purpose, or were so luxurious as to be somewhat impractical, but which nevertheless featured an incredibly detailed and painstaking level of craftsmanship.


Hoving’s Hordes

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when art museums were fairly hushed, quiet spaces, where there were rarely large crowds of people. That all changed forever, at least at the world’s larger museums, with the blockbuster 1978 exhibition, “Treasures of Tutankhamun” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a fascinating piece from this month’s Vulture/New York Magazine, Boris Kachka explains how one man, former Met director Thomas Hoving, took a gamble on making an art exhibition a must-see event for Americans – like the Super Bowl or the final episode of “Cheers” – and succeeded so far beyond expectations that eventually everyone else in the museum world followed suit. A healthy debate could be had over whether Hoving’s hordes of exhibition visitors have improved or ruined the experience of visiting an exhibition, or indeed a cultural institution focused primarily on visitor numbers.


Degas’ Development

Those of my readers who happen to be in the Denver area between February and May of next year will want to check out the newly-announced exhibition, “Degas: A Passion for Perfection”, which will be held at the Denver Art Museum. Covering over fifty years of the work of French Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), the show will feature over 100 examples of Degas’ varied output and artistic development, including paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculptures, alongside the work of some of his contemporaries and friends. Of particular interest is this rather early picture by Degas, painted in around 1865 and now in the collection of the Orsay in Paris, which shows a group of men on horseback shooting at and trampling over a group of nude women, while a city burns in the background. It’s such a strange picture, and so not what springs to mind when one things of the work of Degas, that I don’t quite know what to make of it – but it’s definitely piqued my interest.



Paris When It Glows

American painter Rodgers Naylor’s new exhibition at Susan Calloway Fine Art here in Georgetown opened this past Saturday evening, and I was fortunate enough to attend the opening reception with a group of friends. I was impressed by Naylor’s understanding of late afternoon light, as well as his technique and use of unexpected color choices to create certain elements of his painting. The show, which runs through April 21st, is definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in the nation’s capital over the coming weeks, particularly because it looks as though most of the paintings have already sold, and will be disappearing into private collections for the next 50-odd years.

“A Journey From Paris To The South” is a collection of oils by native Washingtonian/Colorado resident Rodgers Naylor, recalling his travels through France last year. Picturing scenes from the French capital, as well as the countryside of places like Burgundy and Provence, the show is very easy to like. From the moment you approach the gallery on Wisconsin Avenue, you are put in the mood of what you are about to see by the display in the large bay window in the front of the building, which features a large canvas of Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre, alongside several smaller works.

Naylor clearly enjoys painting views of the French countryside, such a group of hay bales that look like sheep in a field, or its rolling geography – excuse me, “terroir” – from which fine French wine comes.  However he also enjoys painting Parisian cityscapes, such as the dark waters of the Seine around a sunken bridge pier, or a bistro along one of Haussmann’s boulevards opening up for that evening’s diners.  There is a variety of work on show that will appeal to any collector’s individual tastes and preferences with respect to landscape painting.

This is a good opportunity to describe how reproductions in a book, or even online, never teach us as much about a work of art as does up-close, in person examination, and why I always want to encourage my readers to go to galleries or museums and take a look at art in person, to understand and appreciate how it is made. For example in this exhibition, I was struck by Naylor’s technique with respect to how he achieves a sense of motion, which does not necessarily “read” when one is looking at one of his pictures online. In portraying a moving vehicle, Naylor paints a square of pale, almost margarine yellow, and pulls away from it, creating an impression of moving light without actually creating streaks: a quite clever and effective way of achieving this effect.

A related, unusual technique of Naylor’s is demonstrated in how he forms the branches and leaves of a tree or a vine. Most of us if asked to draw something like a shrub would probably draw some curvy, lumpy thing on a stick.  The end result would look almost inevitably more like a clump of broccoli, rather than a large plant.

Instead of painting in such a curvilinear and literal way, however, Naylor essentially paints a series of squares. He then runs these into one another to create leaves, branches, and ultimately the form of the tree, vine, etc. that he is representing. Again, this is something that one cannot appreciate in an online photograph or exhibition catalogue, but when you are able to look at the painting up close and realize how it was done, you realize that the painter has thought about how to create a realistic effect, without trying to reproduce exactly what one sees with the naked eye.

In addition, Naylor’s color choices are often very inventive indeed, and must be seen at close quarters to be understood. In painting a scene at sunset for example, he will use a rather bright purple or pink that one does not necessarily notice at first. Only on further investigation does one realize that the dark portions of his trees are full of lilac and lavender, or the corners of his buildings have fuchsia streaks along them.

And my goodness, does Naylor love light. He is particularly adept at contrasts of light and shadow in late afternoon, just before sunset, where one can “see” his use of a bright, truly cheerful use of the color orange – he even uses a rather bright orange in his signature, as one of my companions for the opening pointed out.  In his views of vineyards and fields, the various oranges employed make you want to go spend some time in the sun enjoying the harvest, or traveling along an allée of trees from one village to the next.  While on the whole I found his paintings to succeed better when the scale of the people portrayed within them were kept smaller, or more obscured, he is a man who clearly enjoys being outside in the fresh air observing both man and nature as they go about their business, and he wants others to enjoy observing this with him.

To be able to spend an evening looking at bright and cheerful pictures of Paris and the French countryside, on an otherwise gloomy and rainy evening in early Spring, was a pleasure in and of itself. Especially in his smaller paintings, Naylor evokes that sense of the personal and intimate which one finds in the smaller-scale work of artists such as Renoux, where large spaces are represented on a small scale.  In both large and small formats, he delights the eye with an explosion of cheerful color and interesting technique all his own, and hopefully my readers in the Washington area will get the chance to enjoy it for themselves.

Patrons at the opening on Friday evening