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Roundup: The Countryside that Sprang From the Brush of the Artist

Post #1736 • January 29, 2015, 2:39 PM

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Paul Cézanne, Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850-1922) in a Red Dress, 1888–90, oil on canvas, 45 7/8 x 35 1/4 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1962

Upon word of Paul Cézanne’s death, painter Émile Bernard said he takes his secrets to the grave. Nabis artist Maurice Denis mused, I have never heard an admirer of Cézanne give me clear and precise reasons for his admiration. It may be easier to understand Cézanne as the so-called Father of Modernism, whose artworks led to Cubism, than to see his paintings as they are. Xico Greenwald on Cézanne

Looking at the modest facade of the Sandham Memorial Chapel, nobody would guess that the interior contains one of the most ambitious and impressive artworks ever painted in Britain. But enter this compact building and Stanley Spencer’s paintings of World War I invade our eyes on every side. The austere interior is filled with images of vulnerable young men, either struggling to cope with their wounds at a military hospital or embroiled in the mortal dangers of active service on the Macedonian front. Spencer based these paintings on his own daunting experiences, first as a medical orderly and then with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. But that did not prevent him from giving these works the intensity of a compelling imaginative vision. Culminating in the vast and lofty Resurrection of the Soldiers, covering the entire end wall, Spencer’s paintings are filled with heartfelt insights into the prolonged trauma of conflict. Richard Cork on Stanley Spencer

To stand in the quiet halls of the monastery of San Marco, today a Florentine state museum, is to revisit a unique moment in Western cultural history. In a setting barely changed by the passage of nearly six centuries, the frescoes of Fra Angelico attest to the deep piety of the community that lived here, as well as to the power and wealth of the man who commissioned them, Cosimo de’ Medici. Politics, religion and artistry come together at San Marco in a creative tension that exemplifies the spirit of early 15th-century Florence, the very cradle of the European Renaissance. James Romm on Fra Angelico

The Italian-born sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) is the proverbial artist’s artist. Controversial in his own day, discovered by the Abstract Expressionist generation, and now widely acclaimed in art-historical circles, he is an important figure to many contemporary practitioners. Rosso is still not familiar to the American art public in the way that his older colleague Auguste Rodin is. Yet, for anyone who cares about the history of modernism, Rosso is a pivotal, revolutionary figure, an independent-minded artist whose introspective heads and figures, with their bold but nuanced modeling and light-responsive surfaces, radically enlarged conceptions of what sculpture could be—formally, conceptually and technically—in the early years of the 20th century. Karen Wilkin on Medardo Rosso

Walk by the memorial to William Blake in Bunhill Fields in London almost any day of the year, and you will find offerings placed before it, underneath the fig tree that overhangs the spot: usually there is a jar with flowers and almost always there are coppers set along the curve of the stone. These quotidian oblations are testimony to the peculiar power of the visionary artist. Erica Wagner on William Blake

Karl Stevens’s whisper-soft graphite drawings and smooth-as-ice oil paintings evoke comparison to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres yet portray neither odalisques nor aristocrats. Best known as a graphic novelist (Guilty, Whatever), Stevens’s canvases and sketches, like his comic strips and watercolors, render the quotidian details of the world of a freshly unemployed artist whose girlfriend just broke up with him. Natasha Seaman on Karl Stevens

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Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains is a famous Chinese landscape painting from the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). A paper scroll measuring over 22 feet in length, it was revered for its virtuosity and transfixed collectors (a detail from the scroll is pictured). On his deathbed one owner even ordered its burning so that it could accompany him into the afterlife. A nephew managed to save it from the flames, though not before it had been torn in two. The Economist on Yuan painting at the Freer-Sackler

Retrospective exhibitions show us how painters and sculptors became the artists we know. By studying their early works, we discover the predecessors they admired and emulated during their formative years. We follow their youthful struggles and, sometimes, see glimmerings of characteristics we associate with their mature efforts. Shows that examine the later years of long-lived artists afford different pleasures. Not only are we presented with fully realized, achieved works, but when we are dealing with one of those rare individuals with a late style, born of innate talent, accumulated experience, and sheer daring, we often feel we are seeing things wrenched out of time by a bold disregard for convention—works that test the limits of what paintings and sculptures can be. Karen Wilkin on Rembrandt

Imagine a visitor, from London say, strolling across the Pont des Arts to enter the Louvre. He is no stranger to Paris: A few years back, he saw the last Impressionist exhibition with Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. He reads the art press and is familiar with the difficulty of modern art; he has even visited the gallery of Ambroise Vollard, where he has seen works by Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Vincent van Gogh. He walks into one of his favorite galleries in the Louvre and surveys the twenty-four paintings of Peter Paul Rubens’s Marie de’ Medici cycle. Perhaps he notices an upper-class Parisian woman and her female companion. Across the room, a couple of pupils from one of the art academies labor over their easels. They are making copies of Old Master paintings. Nancy Locke on Cézanne

On the night of April 10, 1826, after a devastating, yearlong siege by Ottoman Turkish forces, the desperate defenders of the ancient Greek city of Missolonghi valiantly tried to usher its starving inhabitants to safety. Tragically, their escape plans were betrayed—and when Greek rebels and the panicked populace burst through the city’s gates, they were met with enemy gunfire. Many were brutally mowed down. Others fled back into the walled metropolis, some even choosing to blow themselves up in lieu of surrendering. The next morning, the invaders poured into the city, slaughtering survivors or capturing them to be sold as slaves in North Africa. Their victory however, would prove Pyrrhic. When news of the massacre reached western Europe, popular support for the Greek War of Independence erupted, with artists, poets and composers taking up the liberal cause. Just months after the debacle, Eugène Delacroix’s heroic history painting of Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi was finished in time for an exhibition in Paris organized to advocate for the philhellenic cause and raise funds to free the abducted survivors. It gave magisterial form to the struggle that would end in triumph just two years later when French, British and Russian forces brought an end to Ottoman rule in Greece. Mary Tompkins Lewis on Delacroix

In the 1620s, Peter Paul Rubens painted a series of oil-on-wood sketches (the largest about 2 by 3 feet) for a series called The Triumph of the Eucharist, promoting an aggressively propagandist Roman Catholic message. A few years later, 20 of these were transformed by four expert weavers in Brussels into wall-filling tapestries up to 16 by 24 feet. Four of the tapestries and six of the oil sketches have now left Madrid for a stay at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles before visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The tapestries were made to decorate a royally subsidized convent church, where they have been for 380 years. Six oil sketches came from the Prado; three others from American museums. David Littlejohn on Rubens

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