Skip to main content

The Barfing Bride

By Bad Royal Marriage, Elevenses, Talking art

The barfing bride?! Um, yes. But first, here’s the barfing bride 15 years on…

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751, State Dining Room, Windsor Castle

I want to start with this rather saccharine but clever example of 18th century portraiture which happens to grace the walls of the state dining room at Windsor Castle.

In the centre beneath this huge canopy of state is Augusta Saxe-Gotha and surrounding her are her nine children. Arguably, however, the whole work is dominated by a portrait within a portrait; there’s a rather demonstrative fellow in a painting in the top left corner pointing directly at Augusta and she, in turn, is gazing at the young lad in the blue who happens to be her eldest son who has just become heir apparent and will later become George III.

If we take a closer look she is wearing a widow’s veil. The situation is this:

Augusta Saxe-Gothe was married to Frederick, Prince of Wales whose father was George II. They had nine children, the last of which was born after Frederick shuffled off this mortal coil, apparently as a result of being (accidently) hit in the head by a cricket ball. It’s possible that as a direct result of the blow, he developed an abscess on the lung which burst. And that was the end of him, much to his parents’ ‘delight’. I’m sure they were sad somewhere inside but they didn’t seem to like him much. In fact by all accounts they hated him.

His mother, Queen Caroline is reported to have called him not just an ass or a canaille (meaning dog, riff raff) or a liar or a beast but the GREATEST of all these.

His son, the future George III had more love in him. He said on hearing of his father’s death that he felt something ‘here’ (in his heart), just as he did when a couple of workmen fell off the scaffolding at Kew.

Not a close, loving family then?! Bear all that in mind!

I mentioned that this is quite a clever group portrait. To the right of the work is another work of art within the work of art. This is Britannia a symbol of pride, unity and strength, beneath her is a British lion a symbol of valour and bravery and loyalty. The ‘Magna Carta’ and the ‘Act of Settlement’ to secure Protestant succession to the throne are also included. The symbols of the Constitution are, therefore, on one side, balanced with the line of succession on the other.

Notice too how the young princes are looking at a map referencing the large Empire that Britain ruled over at the time (ironic in retrospect as George III famously ‘lost’ Britain’s colonies in America), and their brothers are playing with ships and flags.

The girls, on the other hand, are all about music and dancing and pets. So cute! Except this one who I think has the cruel family trait. Is she not suffocating that dog?? It’s cross eyed for sure.

A cold cruel family? Maybe. Frankly they could have been anything when Augusta arrived to marry Frederick. She wouldn’t have known because she had barely even time to say ‘Guten Tag’ before she was winched into a wedding dress and marched up the aisle.

This is the real or at least the original theme of this Elevenses. Finally!

Terrible marriages.

So let’s rewind 15 years.

Here’s Augusta aged 16 by an artist called Charles Philips. Poor love.

Augusta the barfing bride

Charles Philips, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736, National Portrait Gallery, London

She’d been sent from Germany speaking virtually no English or French, and the story goes that when she met her parents in law to be, she threw herself at their feet in submission. They may have been impressed at that but not so much that she was still playing with her favourite doll when she arrived. Her sister in law told her to stop when she appeared with her dolly in the window of her residence for anyone to see.

But now we come to the wedding day. Beautiful wedding dress, mother of the groom (Queen Caroline) dressed to the nines. What does the bride do? She pukes all over herself and her prospective mother-in-law. It must have been quite a memorable day to say vows that you don’t understand smelling of vomit with an equally foul smelling Queen translating in your ear.

All that and she never got to be Queen herself!

Here she is again at around the same age in a portrait by Hogarth.

Hogarth. Famously terrible marriages. We have more of that theme coming over the next few weeks…

hogarth augusta saxe gotha

William Hogarth, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736 – 38, National Museum in Warsaw

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The Scream

By Elevenses, Talking art, The Scream
the scream

Today we’re talking about an emoji.

It’s probably one of my most frequently used emoji’s too so what does that say about me? Maybe not that I’m constantly in fear, but the painting that it derives directly from is absolutely a universal symbol of anxiety.

It’s a painting that doesn’t need much introduction. It’s almost as famous as the Mona Lisa. It’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

The Scream 1893

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

The Scream 1910

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

The Scream Lithograph

Edvard Munch, Lithograph of The Scream

Thing is that there isn’t just one Scream but 4 plus a lithograph so that he could create black and white prints. There’s a painted version and a crayon version from 1893, a pastel version from 1895 and a later painted version from 1910.

It is a pretty compelling image largely because it’s quite simple.

The bridge creates some spatial recession and along with the two figures in the background it’s a straight line in a world of swirls. The lake or fjord beneath the bridge merges into the shoreline to the right and to hills and then sky above; this part of the painting is really flat which makes it ambiguous, just as the ‘screaming’ figure in the foreground is shrouded in ambiguity. Gender, age, even ethnicity are unarticulated which it what makes this figure so universally captivating. It’s nobody and everybody.

Returning to the composition, it’s interesting that this figure is different to the people in the background – there are no straight lines here – it blends far more easily into the swirls of nature; the sky, fjord and landscape. This was Munch’s intention. The figure probably isn’t screaming but was trying to block out a (possibly much more terrifying) ‘scream of nature’. Munch did write that The Scream was a work about remembered sensation and as such it may be recalling the extraordinary blood red sunsets from a decade previously which were caused by an eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia. He wrote that he had been walking with a couple of friends when the sky seemed to engulf the landscape in flames, triggering an unnerving sense of fear in him. The original name of the piece translates as The Scream of Nature which was a phrase he used in a poem describing the event.

Peruvian Mummy

Chachapoya mummy, 16th century, Musee de l’Homme, Paris, France. Photo: Francois Guillot / AFP / Getty Images

He may have also been recalling something that he saw at the 1889 Trocadero exhibition in Paris with Gaugin. This mummy had recently been discovered in Peru. I’m not surprised it stuck in his mind! Is there a resemblance to the painting? I think so.

Analysis showed that in life the mummy had been male and was shot in the back in the mid-16th century.

That said, some scholars think that it could also be about suicide. The bridge depicted was a known spot for jumpers and it’s near a slaughterhouse and the asylum that housed Munch’s schizophrenic sister. He was terrified of developing the mental illness that ran through his family, plus at the time he created the first images of The Scream, he was broke financially and heart-broken from a failed love affair.

I’m not so convinced about the ‘suicide’ interpretation although a tiny pencil inscription on the top left corner of the 1893 version has added fuel to theory. It reads “Can only have been painted by a madman” and has now been attributed to Munch himself, apparently scrawled after a meeting with a medical student who commented that that the painting must be the work of a disturbed mind.

Arguably it’s disturbed minds that have led to The Scream being stolen twice! Well, the painted versions have each been stolen once.

The first theft was in 1994 on the day that the Winter Olympics opened in Lillehammer. Unbelievably all the thieves had to do was pop a ladder up to a window of the National Gallery in Oslo, to climb inside and make off with the 1893 painting. They were so pleased with the ease of this crime that they added insult to robbery, leaving a note that read, “Thanks for the poor security.” Thankfully, the painting was recovered within three months.

Then in 2004 it was the turn of the 1910 version. There was rather more drama this time. In a daring daytime heist, two masked men armed with guns stole The Scream and Munch’s Madonna from Oslo’s Munch Museum. The thieves were caught and convicted fairly rapidly but a couple of years later, the paintings were still missing despite a hefty reward.

Any guesses as to how the paintings were finally recovered? The plan involved 2 million dark chocolate M&Ms.

Basically Mars came up with a marketing ploy that turned out to be a work of genius. They ran an advert of a red M&M playing hopscotch with the painting and offered a reward of 2 million dark chocolate M&Ms for information.

It only took a few days for a convict with a penchant for the sweets to come forward with information on the works’ whereabouts in exchange for conjugal visits and the 2.2 tons of M&Ms.

He didn’t get what he wanted but the cash value of almost £20k went to the Munch Museum.

Of course The Scream has provided inspiration for many a media mogul.

I give you Macauly Caulkin’s famous scream in Home Alone; the aliens known as the Silence in Dr Who (back to aliens!) and most terrifying of all, the mask in Wes Craven’s Scream movies. Whooooa!!!

The Scream, Wes Craven

‘The Silence’ from Doctor Who

The Silence Dr Who

The mask from Scream

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Zombie Apocalypse

By Elevenses, Talking art, Zombie Apocalypse

We’re working up to a Zombie Apocalypse in this post but firstly I don’t know what your initial thoughts are when looking at this image but I have to say I’m thinking that some men are utterly shameless! The poor girls are all dead, trying to cover their modesty even as two of them are ravaged by maggots, and the man on the right, a King no less, is giving them the eye. At least the Pope on the left is averting his eyes, or I thought he was but now I’m wondering whether he’s actually locked eyes with the whitest, least decomposed corpse on the right? The Emperor, in the middle, is more interested in the Pope which could be a whole other story!

three living three dead, Harley MS

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from a French Book of Hours, c. 1480-90, Harley MS 2917, f. 119r, British Library

This is the same sort of idea – three healthy fellows (rather effete noblemen this time) encounter three terribly cheerful dead people in varying degrees of decomposition. The one on the right is possibly performing some kind of Charleston whilst the other two are waving so frantically that surely there must be some worry that body parts might start to fly off?

The text in old English beneath the men tells us that one of them is actually pretty freaked out by what he’s experiencing. You can make out three words to the right: ‘ich am agast’. They may well be aghast; the text beneath the dead people is essentially a response along the lines of ‘yeah, you bloody well should be. I was once like you, one day you’ll be like me and you’d better buck your ideas up before you meet your maker and it’s too late for redemption.’  Not hugely comforting.

Happy chappies from three living three dead image

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 179v-180r, British Library

Cheerful dead people, three living three dead

Unknown artist, The Three Living and The Three Dead from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 179v-180r, British Library

No one quite knows what the origins of the “Three Living and the Three Dead” trope but there are loads of versions dating back to the 13th C mostly from France and England.

This is all very well as a not so gentle warning but what happens when the dead actually start to kill people?

Death comes for Plague victim

Unknown artist, Death Strangles a Plague Victim, Stiny Codex, 14th century, University Library, Prague

I’m going to say that this scenario isn’t ideal.

You’re just lying in your bed having a little snooze and a corpse comes and strangles you! Rude!

If I say that this illustration, like many others, was created in response to a plague, it makes more sense. This dates to the 14th century when the biggest plague (still, I think!) to sweep through Europe had done just done its worst. Between 1347 and 1351 a third of the population died.

So this is death coming for a plague victim rather than an actual homicidal corpse.

Death coming for you might, however, look like a pretty face. This is a vignette for a 19th century translation of an epic poem entitled Syphilis by a 16th century Italian poet and physician called Fracastoro.

The disease first became prevalent in the 1480s and all of a sudden people were dropping like flies.

Let’s just talk about the effects of syphilis for a moment. The strain that ripped through Europe in the late 15th century was particularly horrible.

Firstly you start to notice genital ulcers, and then you might get a fever and perhaps some joint and muscle pain. Then, at some point, you break out in abscesses and sores all over your body. They smell appalling but the smell is the least of your worries because they eat into your skin and then your bones. Many victims lost their nose, lips, eyes…

Illustration of Syphilis for 19th century translation of Fracastro poem

Unknown artist, page title vignette for 19th century translation of Fracastoro’s Syphilis

head of syphilitic prostitute

This is an etching from the 18th century simply titled Syphilitic Prostitute and it’s clear that the disease wasn’t pretty. Nor was it merciful. It often took a while for sufferers to die and hence reports of a particularly bad outbreak in Naples in 1495 talk of the ‘walking dead’. Infected people were walking, even crawling, through the streets. Body parts gone or being eaten away. Literally the living dead.

Durer Nuremberg Syphilis

Albrecht Dürer, Broadsheet: text and wood cut of a syphilitic man, 1484, Wellcome Collection, London

I’m going to end this post with this image by Albrecht Dürer.

Covered in lesions this man is maybe not the ‘zombie’ we’re really searching for but nonetheless he’s not looking the best, I’d say. This is definitely a depiction of someone with syphilis.

When the disease ripped through Nuremberg in 1484, it was violent, unexpected and unexplained which led the population to make an obvious connection. Syphilis was linked to planetary activity which signified the end of the world! An actual real life zombie apocalypse. Above the victim’s head is a sphere with astrological signs and the year that the world comes to an end. To ensure any potential survivors were aware that the good (or perhaps not so good?!) people of Nuremberg had sussed this out, the city’s coats of arms are clearly displayed.

Note to self: it was all going on in Nuremberg. Just under 80 years later in 1561, they had an alien invasion. See last week’s post, ‘Alien Invasion!’ for all the strange details.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Alien Invasion!

By Aliens, Elevenses, Talking art
Saxo alien invasion

Alien invasion!! Ladies and gentlemen, the aliens have landed but they haven’t JUST landed, they arrived yonks ago and were best mates with Moses who could have also been one of them!

moses with aliens and horns

Unknown artist and date, Moses on Mount Sinai, drawer decoration from Warfusée Castle(?) in Belgium

I love the idea that Moses was an alien life form or at least fraternised with them which brings me to this image, which, as far as I can make out, is secreted away on a drawer in a castle in Belgium.

Here he is with his tablet and for my money, no less than four flying saucers. This may also be an early depiction of  a cable car but that idea hasn’t taken off (no pun intended!).

If we think of the story of Moses, according to the Old Testament, he had a chat with a burning bush. Who is to say that the burning bush wasn’t in fact a UFO which had perhaps landed in a volcano? Was Mt Sinai on the site of a volcano? Possibly! He came back, after a second visit, I might add, with some pretty good commandments. I have a theory that he was supposed to write them down as dictated by the aliens on the first visit but forgot because he was either having such a great time with old friends, or because he was so freaked out by the helpful, friendly aliens. My imagination tells me that they had to summon him back to give him the list they’d prepared for him when they realised that he might not get it right. He needed to get it right because the aliens were setting down the tenets of Christianity!

The thing is, is that this is a fairly established theory (apart from my reasons as to why he returned twice) and I, for one, can’t disprove it. Are these space ships in this image? They could well be.

What I can say with a little more certainty is that, yes, Moses does have horns in this image. St Jerome had some trouble with the translation here. The term that he was looking for was probably something more like ‘radiant’ but in Hebrew the word can also mean ‘horn’ so unfortunately Moses ended up with a horned face rather than an ethereal radiance as he returned from Mt Sinai.

Alien invasion 12th century manuscript

Our friends from Mars, or from where ever they hail, also visited us in 776 as detailed in the Annales Laurissenses to see off Saxon crusaders during a siege on Sigiburg Castle in France.

Picture this: the godly, Christian French are in the castle surrounded by ungodly, smelly marauding Saxons. Fighting is at its peak and the Saxons are about to take the castle when a very dashing French chap, perhaps even the King of this castle (although as accounts are sketchy who really knows?) spots something in the sky.

 

 

Images from Annales Laurissenses, 12th century French manuscript

That ‘something’ is joined by a similar object, helpfully pointed out by a blank faced but surrendering Saxon. According to a contemporary account, people watching from the town square “saw something resembling two large flaming shields of reddish colour moving above the church itself.” The Saxons thought that the French were protected by the UFOs and they fled, saving the castle. Intervention from God or by aliens??

Saxo alien invasion

There’s more…

This is a newspaper cutting of sorts from 1561. The image is a woodcut created by Hans Glaser and it depicts an event that took place in the wee hours of April 14, 1561 in Nuremburg.  The sky is full of strange objects, some of which also seem to have crashed to the earth. According to contemporary descriptions, there were a lot of things flying around and a lot of smoke. The general consensus was that it was a sign from God and folk on the ground were certainly upset but I love the fact that they all managed to get fully dressed!

Modern scholars and sceptics have wondered if the account was figurative or potentially describe a solar or lunar phenomenon such as a sun dog, in which the sun’s light appears as a halo around the sun, even creating spots of brightly shining light around the sun.

Alien invasion over Nuremburg

Hans Glaser, broadsheet woodcut of Himmelserscheinung über Nürnberg, 1561

I’m going to end this post on this image of a fresco.

This is simply called “The Crucifixion” and it’s a fresco in a monastery in Serbia. Painted in 1350, the artist has signed his name ‘Serdge’ but there are sadly no further records of him.

Crucifixion with aliens

Fresco by Serdge, in the Visoki Decani Monastery in Serbia

Now Serdge probably didn’t have that much say over what he actually depicted so it seems that he was told to show what looks to be a couple of angels in spaceships top right and left by the monks who commissioned the work.

No matter that spaceships didn’t exist in 1350!

Shall I quietly mention that Byzantine scholars believe the little space-angels to actually be human representations of the Sun and the Moon. They were, they think, included to demonstrate that even celestial bodies were impacted by the crucifixion.

I know what I think but I couldn’t possibly influence you!

Space-angel on the left of Serdge’s fresco in the Visoki Decani Monastery

Space-angel on the right of Serdge’s fresco in the Visoki Decani Monastery

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Janine Antoni’s ‘Gnaw’

By Conceptual Art, Installations, Talking art
Gnaw Janine Antoni with Lynne Hanley eating chocolate

Janine Antoni, Gnaw, 1992, installed at Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

Random person eating chocolate is NOT part of the work!

When I first heard about ‘Gnaw’ Janine Antoni’s 1993 installation I have to confess that I thought she had basically eaten as much chocolate as she could and whacked the remaining (huge) block of it on a marble pedestal.

I was so wrong!

Gnaw began life as a pair of large cubes, one of chocolate, one of lard, each weighing in at 600 pounds. Antoni literally then gnawed away at each but, and this disappointed me slightly when I realised, she didn’t actually eat the bits that she’d managed to extract with her teeth (I was in awe of her eating lard and perhaps a little jealous of the huge block of chocolate). The finished work comprises of the two tooth and face marked blocks, now elevated on marble pedestals, and 27 heart-shaped packages of chocolate made from the chocolate removed and chewed from the cube and 130 lipsticks made with pigment, beeswax, and the lard removed and chewed from that cube. These are displayed in cabinets near the sculptures. This part of the display is called Lipstick/Phenethylamine Display.

What is phenethylamine and how do you pronounce it? Phenethylamine is a stimulant found in chocolate and is also produced in the body when we fall in love. Don’t listen to the corresponding Elevenses with Lynne to find out how to pronounce it though!!

So it’s clear that Antoni has a message here, and to me she’s asking questions about what it means to be a woman both with desires and who is, and wants to be, desired.

Janine Antoni, Lipstick/Phenethylamine Display, 1992, detail

The little by-products are either desirable (the empty chocolate box – so desirable all the chocolates have ‘gone’!) and a red lipstick that might aid in desirability, but there is a distinctly undesirable element to the way that they have been produced, unless perhaps you happen to be Antoni’s lover. Would you want to put something chewed by a stranger in or near your mouth? Perhaps not?!

But think about babies! They want to put everything in their mouths because it’s a way of discovering the world. That one bite of the apple was what got Eve and womankind into all manner of trouble but it also gave knowledge. The desire to know. What is the relationship between seduction, desire and knowledge? I’m not sure the work promises answers but it definitely asks questions.

It also rather marvellously references and then somewhat trashes the distinction between two hitherto disparate art movements from the 60s and 70s. Works by artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris were all about the cube. Minimalist, machine cut, intellectual in tone and above all, clean, they had no relationship to the messy, visceral performance art that was generally the domain of female artists often with a feminist agenda. Until Antoni came along and started taking chunks out of those perfect cubes with her teeth.

If you wanted something to ponder once you have the pronunciation of phenethylamine perfected, ‘Gnaw’ is definitely food for thought.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Madame X

By Elevenses, Singer Sargent's Madame X, Talking art

Let’s talk about Madame X. I am not talking about Madonna’s album of a few years back but this amazing portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Madame X John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1883–84, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

It’s so striking! That’s partly because of the contrast between the model’s pale, flawless skin and the sumptuous black gown she’s wearing but the clean lines of her silhouette against a very neutral background  also help. The background was originally, by the way, painted in blues and greens but Sargent wasn’t happy with it and he re-painted it after the image was in the frame; bits of the original blue can be seen round the edges.

So who is Madame X and how did she get to have such amazing skin?

Madame X was Madame Pierre Gautreau an American living in Paris who was renowned for her beauty and panache. Her skin is so gorgeous because a) she’s only in her early 20s and b) she used a powder made of potato starch to cover her skin. I have also read that she used to consume arsenic to make her pale but this is unlikely to be true.

Anyway, loads of artists wanted to paint her but she generally said no, perhaps because she knew she would hate being still for a such a long time? Sargent was to find that out.

After pursuing her for a couple of years telling her what an incredibly talented artist he was, and how his painting her portrait would be the making of them both, she sat for him – but not for long. She was restless, she then demanded months off and the whole thing turned into a bit of a nightmare and then got a whole lot worse.

The portrait was accepted at the Paris Salon in 1884 where artists were still either made or completely undone. His portrait which was originally entitled Madame XXX a convention to maintain her anonymity rather than a statement about its sex rating, was absolutely vilified. Critics said that she was a caricature and looked like a corpse but moreover, the xxx might as well have stood for the sex rating because she was seen as essentially as a prostitute. What we would see today as the poise and sensuality of a confident woman was cause for outrage and scandal in late 19th century society.

It didn’t help that the strap of her gown was originally falling off her right shoulder (Sargent later repainted it), which jarred with the wedding ring on her left hand. Nor that she is wearing an unusual tiara that could be equated to the goddess of the hunt, Diana.

Detail of Sargent’s Madame X, 1884, Met, NY

Detail from Titian Diana and Acteon, National Gallery

Detail of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, 1556-59, National Gallery, London

Diana, as depicted in Titian’s wonderful Diana and Actaeon, is a chaste goddess who has the moon as one of her symbols; check out her headdress which is the same as the one Madame X is wearing. Fine. But if you transfer the idea of hunting under the moonlight to the context of Parisian high society, you could get a different idea.

Mme Pierre Gautreau or Virginie Amélie Avegno as she was before she married a wealthy banker more than 20 years her senior, did, perhaps, have a wild side shall we say? She was also the ‘it’ girl of the age but all that stopped after the Salon.

Her mum, who seems to have been a bit pushy and probably orchestrated the marriage and perhaps the portrait, hoping for more fame, was horrified when the reception of the work was less than warm and demanded that the painting be removed from the salon, claiming that her poor daughter might die of chagrin. She didn’t die of chagrin but her image was tainted irreparably. Some of the more dramatic stories about her claim that she took all the mirrors off her wall and would only go out at night. I’d doubt the veracity of this as she subsequently commissioned another couple of portraits but she never regained her former status.

Singer Sargent in artists Studio with portrait of Madame X

John Singer Sargent in his Paris studio, ca. 1883–4. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Sargent suffered from the fallout of the Salon too. He had been banking on the portrait being a hit and securing commissions. He hadn’t been paid for this one because it was only at his request that Virginie sat for him. So it was a bit of a disaster all round. He fled the country and came to London and kept the portrait for 30 years until a year after her death in 1915, he sold it to the Met. He wrote to one of the museum’s curators: “I should prefer, on account of the row I had with the lady years ago, that the picture should not be called by her name.” Hence it is now displayed as Madame X. He also commented, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done,”. It’s quite a portrait.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Hard Candy

By Conceptual Art, Elevenses, Installations, Talking art

Today we are talking candy as the Americans would say. Hard candy, actually. I’m not American so I’m going for sweeties. Art made of sweets. Sweets in art.

I might be breaking new Elevenses ground here by going for an installation crossed with conceptual art. The truth is that when I think of sweets there are two works that immediately come to mind and both are installations. I’m posting about one today and the other will find its way into a post at the start of June.

I remember hearing about this particular work 30 years ago and when spoken about it always came accompanied by a huge eye-roll. ‘What makes it art?’ people cried. ‘I could have done that – look I’ll do a little version of it now’ they said as they emptied a packet of glacier mints into the corner of the room (where, frankly they could stay in my opinion; not my favourite by a long shot).

The installation that I’m talking about is this one, or one like it, by Felix Gonzales Torres, a gay Cuban born American artist who did a series of works (19 in total) in 1990 /1991 using wrapped sweets. He would put a pile of them in a corner of a gallery AND you were allowed to eat them. As many as you wanted. And then you could go back the next day or the next week and eat some more. That is the part of the artwork that, unsurprisingly, I remember the most!!

Felix Gonzales Torres Candy Spill

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Candy Spill or Portrait of Ross in L.A., 1991, Art Institute Chicago

This work relies on people like me wanting to eat the sweets. Gonzalez Torres was quoted as saying that he needed the public to complete the work. The installation depicted here, consisting of a pile of sweets placed in the corner of a gallery, is called ‘Candy Spill’ or more poignantly ‘Portrait of Ross’. They represent his lover who died of an AIDS related illness. The weight of the installation should ideally be 175 pounds or 12.5 stone, Ross’s ideal weight. The shrinking pile of course represented Ross’s own weight loss as he lost his life to the disease. The audience is therefore acting as the AIDS virus as they deplete the pile.

There’s more.

One of the conditions of a gallery displaying the work is that they are obliged to replenish the pile every day. If we stay with the metaphor of the sweets representing Ross’s body, the fact that it was forever replenished grants him everlasting life which in turn raises the notion of transubstantiation. This was absolutely something that was in Gonzales Torres’s mind when he created the work. He said:

‘You put it in your mouth and you suck on someone else’s body, and in this way my work becomes part of so many other people’s bodies. For just a few seconds, I have put something sweet in someone’s mouth, and that is very sexy.’

Add all that to the layer of meaning that comes in when you consider how often we give sweets as gifts, all those boxes of chocolates as declarations of love, and you get a very poignant and rather elegant work.

Felix Gonzales Torres also succumbed to AIDS at just 38 years old in 1996.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Flora the ambitious blonde

By Elevenses, Renaissance Art, Talking art
Palma Vecchio Flora

Palma Vecchio, A Blonde Woman, 1520, National Gallery

Flora the ambitious blonde? Well, yes. Palma Vecchio’s A Blonde Woman is most certainly blonde. But where does ‘Flora’ come in? And why might we say that this lady has ambition?

Read on!

Firstly, that is a knowing gaze. Also, because her eyes are sliding off to the left, our eye is drawn to the gorgeous pink nipple first and then to the posy of flowers. Before we get onto the flowers, I need to linger on the nipple and the breast (!) because, whoops, does she even know that her pretty blue ribbon has come undone? Or that the loop of the ribbon against this again rather soft and sensual abundance of white chemise perfectly frames her perfectly pert right bosom?

And so to the flowers. Firstly, isn’t it gorgeous the way that the colours echo the gold of her hair and jewellery, her ribbon and the green of her dress and of course the rosy pink of her nipple. They also may have symbolic meaning. The forget-me-nots ask us to do what they say on the tin, buttercups are all about dazzling charms and the primrose (pink flower) associated with first love ‘prima rosa’ because they flower in early spring.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that perhaps this unapologetically erotic portrait is of a courtesan. But if you were in any doubt, let’s delve deeper into the clues, starting with the gaze. No up standing member of the 16th century community is going to sit around for hours on end with her chemise undone and slipping off her shoulder to expose a boob. And they are definitely not going to look invitingly at you as they do it!

Palma Vecchio, A Blonde Woman detail of posy of flowers

The posy of flowers, however, is fairly innocent, right? Wrong! The flowers allude to the goddess Flora which in itself is lovely. Classical antiquity was all the rage in the 1520s and to depict a goddess showed a certain erudition. But Flora, ah! Flora was the goddess of the flowering or blossoming of flowers and plants, especially agricultural crops. Violently abducted by Zephyr the west wind , she was subsequently given a beautiful garden. So she is the goddess that makes things grow, by which I mean ‘things’ other than flowers and crops. We can thank ancient Rome for that bit of double entendre. Courtesans in the Renaissance era were commonly called Flora as a result of this. And just another connection to antiquity; all prostitutes in ancient Rome had to have blonde hair. Do we think she’s a natural blonde? Unlikely!

There was, in the 16th century, a fashion for Venetian women to bleach their hair. This 16th century version of sun-in may well have had similar results but was quite a lot more disgusting to apply and seems to have involved pigeon shit rinsed off with horse urine. It’s surprising perhaps, given the smell, that bleaching the hair was a sure sign of vanity – I look good but I smell like shit (literally) – although many women apparently succumbed.

In a world in which portraits were essentially displays of wealth and the importance of lineage, why a courtesan and who commissioned this? Well, courtesans played quite an important role in 16th c Venice. There was absolutely a distinction between the honest or intellectual courtesan who often had what we would call ‘sugar daddies’ and the ladies that hung around the Rialto Bridge. The intellectual courtesans were relatively frequently not low born but born into patrician or merchant families and were, to a degree, educated. The problems started when they were at marriageable age because dowries were exorbitant. So if a couple had several daughters, they were in real danger of going bankrupt trying to marry them off. The options were that they remained spinsters and stayed at ‘home’ and then could be in the really weird position of having their baby brother’s wife as the mistress of the house; they could go into a nunnery – that also required a dowry albeit less; or they could become a courtesan which meant that they earnt a lot of money, often becoming the sole support of their family. In a society in which wealthy men often weren’t expected to marry until they were in their 30s, a cultured woman who provided entertainment and extras was almost a necessity.

‘Honest’ courtesans, as they were known straddled the gap between the noble and the lower classes but had the opportunity to mix in interesting circles and, to an extent, had power over their destiny. Those canny enough could wield considerable influence.

In sixteenth-century Venice, therefore, it wasn’t unusual for images of beautiful young women to be commissioned by collectors and the wealthy clients of courtesans. There is also evidence that successful courtesans commissioned such paintings of and for themselves, both as solid financial investments and as lasting records of their charms to be prominently displayed in their own apartments.

An ambitious blonde? Oh yes!

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

True Blue? Ask Yves Klein!

By Elevenses, Talking art, Yves Klein Blue

Anyone who has heard of the French artist Yves Klein may well think of International Klein Blue or IKB which was a colour that he trademarked in 1957.

He patented a formula based on the pigment ultramarine. Ultramarine was, in Renaissance times, more expensive weight for weight than gold. It comes from lapis lazuli which is naturally found in Afghanistan and it’s really difficult to extract hence a very laborious process, and hence the high price tag.

Yves claimed this colour as his own which is slightly less audacious that declaring that ‘The blue sky is my first artwork’ which he did in his late teens gazing at the sky on a beach in Nice.

Yves Klein Blue

Yves Klein, IKB 79, 1959(?), Tate Modern, London

IKB 79 is on display in the Tate Modern. It’s one of nearly 200 extremely similar works. The numbering came after his death at the age of just 34 of a heart attack. It was instigated by his widow, Rotraut Klein-Moquay, a visual artist in her own right, but the works weren’t numbered in chronological order probably because even at that point no one knew which order they’d been painted in. Rotraut wrote to the Tate saying that she was fairly certain that IKB 79 was one of about four monochrome paintings Klein made in Germany in 1959.

Klein exhibited eleven of his IKB works in Milan in 1957. Each was ostensibly identical (they were all blue monochromes), but he gave them all different price tags because each, he explained, had a different spirit which was reflected accordingly. The extraordinary thing is that there were buyers who pondered and chose between them. All paid the price requested. Perhaps they felt the cost was justified not for the materiality of the work purchased but for the exact opposite. Klein associated IKB with an immateriality that he called ‘the void’.

With this kind of ideal, it’s not surprising that he wanted to move past easel painting and into a different sphere with his art. Cue his series of ‘anthropométries’.

Anthropometrie Yves Klein

Anthropométries, 1960, photo courtesy of snippetofhistory.wordpress.com

Yves Klein naked human paintbrush

Anthropométries, 1960, photo copyright Harry Shunk and Janos Kender J.Paul Getty Trust

It’s 1960 and you fancy an evening out with a difference so you decide to join one of Klein’s anthropométries (which translates as the measurement of the human body).

You take your seat and in front of you is a huge vertical board covered by a sheet of white paper. Or a sheet of paper covering the floor. Perhaps even both.

You are handed a blue cocktail and as a band starts to play, Klein leads several naked young women into the area in front of you.

The tune the band plays is a bit repetitive as it’s just a single chord. It’s Klein’s Monotone Symphony. You don’t think it will catch on.

The women start to douse themselves in IKB and conducted by Klein, they press body parts against the paper, or slither or drag each other across the floor.

Exactly 20 minutes later the music ends and the women depart.

You sit in silence for another 20 minutes.

What remains is a memory and the bodily impressions made by Klein’s ‘human paintbrushes’ (his term). Oh, and probably quite a few drips of paint where there shouldn’t be drips of paint.

Anthropométrie 1960, Pompidou Centre

Yves Klein, Anthropométrie de l’Époque Bleue (ANT 82), 1960, Pompidou Centre, Paris

Yves Klein Anthropometry

Yves Klein, La Grande Anthropométrie bleue (ANT 105), ca. 1960, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Salomé: the dance that will make you lose your head!

By Elevenses, Salome, Talking art

Oh yes! Salomé’s dance really did make someone lose their head. And definitely not in a good way.

First broadcast on International Dance Day, this looks like the ultimate Burlesque routine, I reckon. I mean, wow! Great back bend, elegant arms and head, the shoes completely match the outfit and she’s either brought along a leopard or is completely comfortable dancing with one in the room…

Salome dancing for Herod and Herodia

Armand Point, Dance of Salomé, 1898, private collection?

The couple she’s dancing for are pretty into it too. Clearly wealthy, he’s on a throne and they are both wearing a crown. Who are they? What’s with the peacock?

Well, if I say ‘dance of the seven veils’ does that give you a clue?

This is Herod – or actually Herod II, son of Herod who was King of Judea, and infamous for the massacre of the innocents. By his side is wife, Herodia. So of course the dancer is Salomé, the daughter of Herodia and Herod. But not this Herod, oh no. Nor Herod’s dad, but a different Herod altogether, Herod Philip, from whom Herodia was divorced. So many Herods! And the problem was that they were all related. Because both Herods were the sons of Herod… got it?

Let’s go back a few weeks, months, even years, before this dance took place.

Herodias and Herod Philip marry and have a daughter, Salomé. Then they fall out and get divorced. Herodias eyes up his half-brother Herod Antipas and, as she has a way of getting what she wants (as we’ll see), they end up marrying, much to the vehement condemnation of one John the Baptist which really upset Herodias. Herodias suggested quite strongly to her new husband that they could easily get rid of John the Baptist but as the saint was pretty popular, Herod refused and said he wasn’t interested.

What DID interest him, however, was the beautiful Salomé. So Herodias took her chance on his birthday and said if Salomé dances for you what will you give her? I imagine his eyes misting over here as he wrings his hands in anticipation and declares (greedily) that frankly give her anything she wants! Hmmm.

So here is Salomé, in a late 19th century work by the French symbolist artist Armand Point, looking fabulous and working the room alongside a peacock and leopard.

Aubrey Beardsley Salome

Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, 1894, Print in V & A, London

Peacocks have been a symbol of wealth, beauty and rebirth (in a Christian context) since ancient times but they were hugely fashionable in the 1890s – they were used as a motif by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley throughout his 1894 illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play, Salomé. I suppose their extravagant, beautiful exoticism fit the bill perfectly. And, by the way, Oscar Wilde is the man that coined the phrase ‘the dance of the seven veils’ in his one act play.

The leopard is a hunting animal, sleek and elegant; perhaps a sign of things to come?

The trade-off is of course that Salomé, prompted by her vengeful mother, asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Against his better judgment, Herod reluctantly acceded to her request. Not that you’d get much of the horror of what’s to come from Point’s offering.

Fra Lippi Feast of Herod

Fra Lippi, Herod’s Feast, between 1452 and 1465, Prato Cathedral

The fabulous early Renaissance artist Fra Lippi, on the other hand, tells us exactly what’s going on in his mid 15th century fresco. No peacocks here, just good old fashioned story telling.

Centre left we can see Salomé dancing, not looking quite as happy and seductive as she does in the 19th century version, but youthful and lovely nonetheless.

She is seen again to the left of the fresco receiving Saint John the Baptist’s head on the platter, and a third time to the right of the picture presenting it to Herodias who appears to be saying, ‘no, no, it’s for him’ whilst pointing at Herod. I’m not sure whether the couple to the far right are about to have a cheeky snog whilst everyone’s distracted, or whether they are reacting to the horror of having a head brought to the table!

Some artists just didn’t bother with the dancing and went straight for the head on a platter scenario.

I love this fashionable lady of the Wittenberg court as depicted by Lucas Cranach the Elder with her reddish necklaces that echo the horrible red blood of St John’s decapitated head. Cranach painted this theme a lot. Most of the works are quite small in size and would have been for private patrons. They share the common theme of depicting a haughty woman with a high forehead, the beauty ideal at the time, perfectly dressed in extremely fashionable clothes and calmly displaying a severed head. The thrill of the horror combined with the sensuality of Salomé proved a winning combination. Plus ça change!!!

Salome Cranach

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, 1530s, Fine Art Museum, Budapest

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.