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Roundup: As If Nothing Else Existed

Post #1730 • December 17, 2014, 6:39 PM


Albert York, Farm Landscape, c. 1970

Say Paul Cézanne and we envision still lifes with apples and tawny Provençal landscapes, often with a mountain. Soon, though, other motifs appear in our mental image banks: men facing each other across a card table and gatherings of bathers in the forest. Yet Cézanne was also a dedicated painter of single figures. Notoriously demanding of his sitters—insisting that they remain still and silent for brutally prolonged posing sessions, famously exhorting them to be an apple—he nevertheless filled many canvases with compositions based on particular, identifiable individuals, including himself. Early on, he painted and drew his father, his Uncle Dominique, and his friends and artist colleagues; later, he painted the men who worked on his father’s property, a weather-beaten gardener, and, rarely, some women, including hotel servants he encountered during an extended stay in Switzerland. But for most of his life as a painter, Cézanne’s most constant sitter was Hortense Fiquet—his companion when he first moved to Paris from Aix-en-Provence, the mother of his only child, and eventually his wife. Karen Wilkin on Cézanne

When young Dutchwoman Jo Bonger met picture-dealer Theo Van Gogh, she was intrigued by the stream of yellow envelopes that arrived for him from the south of France. These were from his brother Vincent, an unsuccessful painter intent on creating a school of independent avant-garde painters in Arles. Little did she know how significant these letters would become in her life. Alexander Adams on a new anthology of van Gogh's letters

In owning a flock of artificial sheep, Joseph Farquharson must have been unusual among Highland lairds a century ago. His Aberdeenshire estate covered 20,000 acres — surely enough to support the modest local ovine needs. But Farquharson was a painter, the fake sheep artist’s models. For cleanliness and biddability, few grazing ewes can match a woolly dummy. Matthew Dennison on painting snow

Generations of readers have puzzled over the opening lines of William Carlos Williams’s best-known poem: so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow. What exactly does depend on it? The poet, content to keep a secret, stays mum. There happens to be a red wheelbarrow in a 1974 painting by Albert York, whose work is now the subject of a beautiful retrospective in Manhattan at the Matthew Marks Gallery, through December 20. The wheelbarrow could be called pink, but I imagine that it’s a red that has faded from long exposure to the elements. And besides, York’s palette never included bright colors; pale, shadowy hues stood in for the whole spectrum. Whatever he painted he painted with uncanny concentration, as if nothing else existed for him except his perception or imagination of his subject in that moment. So much depended on it, though what he could never say. As the very first review of York’s work, in Art News in 1963, put it: He is a specialist in very tiny, important differences. Barry Schwabsky on Albert York and Judith Scott

Jane Freilicher, a painter of gauzy Long Island marshes and floral still lifes perched, like observing angels, in windows high above Manhattan, was a leading figure among the New York School artists of the 1950s who reinserted the real world into abstraction. She was also a muse to poets whose careers, like hers, were taking off at the time. And she was a terrific person; smart, funny, generous. In short, she spread good karma all around. Holland Cotter remembers Jane Freilicher

Western art abounds with paintings and sculptures of the Virgin; indeed, until the 18th century, she was the single most frequently depicted female figure. But it is unusual to see so many together, organised not around a style or a period but the simple idea of Mary herself. She is an idea that changes markedly over the centuries. Her myriad titles give some indication of this: Virgin of Virgins, Holy Mother of God, Queen of all Saints, Queen of Mercy, Queen of Peace. A list on a wall of the exhibit goes on. But even as Mary’s representations shift to emphasise different facets of her role in Christian history, her essential qualities remain the same: faithfulness, devotion, humility, purity. The Economist on an exhibition of Mary at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

In 1964, Cincinnati’s Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem was razed for the construction of a highway. The spiritual home to followers of the 18th-century Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, the church was built in 1902, at which time it received the gift of seven stained-glass windows produced by Tiffany Studios, the pre-eminent American producer of stained and art glass, under the direction of the firm’s founder and head, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Unlike many Tiffany windows that perished when their buildings faced the wrecking ball, these were preserved. For decades they sat in crates, hidden away in basements and garages of parishioners, and eventually a barn in Pennsylvania. Only when the barn began to leak in 2001 did a newly appointed minister open the crates. To her astonishment, that which was lost was found again—and even covered with decades of grime, the unique Tiffany beauty of all seven windows, each emblazoned with a life-size stained-glass angel, made a powerful impression. Barrymore Laurence Scherer on rediscovered Tiffany windows

In the Neue Galerie’s exhibition Egon Schiele: Portraits, a 1915 photograph shows the angst-ridden Austrian Expressionist standing next to his full-length studio mirror. Seemingly startled, the artist looks over his shoulder, eyeing himself, sidling up to the glass. Schiele’s sisters noted that he never passed a mirror without stopping and staring at himself intently. Poised here like a gunslinger, Schiele faces off against his own reflection. Lance Esplund on Schiele

Perhaps the Jewish Museum should welcome visitors to its new exhibition, Helena Rubinstein : Beauty Is Power, with citations from the Bible, such as beauty is vain, but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised or Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. A tour de force of intensely focused collecting interests, the show reminds us that a distinguished history ties art accumulation with business interests and image-building. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition of the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection shows, there are different approaches to a focused collecting mania, and this is a fortuitous moment to compare cosmetics moguls. Tom L. Freudenheim on Helena Rubenstein's collection

In Hermann Hesse's short story The Painter, a young artist experiences the pain of having his works shunned. Because his paintings are so unpopular, the artist becomes reclusive. He decides to stop depicting love, heroes, and celebrations in beautiful pictures that give pleasure to others. Instead, he begins painting discomfiting pictures that express his desire to turn to nothing and sink, die, and be reborn. Daniel Ross Goodman on Schiele




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