Landscapes: John Berger on Art

Landscapes : John Berger on Art, edited by Tom Overton is a collection of essays by art critic, novelist, poet, and artist John Berger written over the past 60 plus years. However both the title and the cover art – a painting of a landscape – led me to think it would discuss landscapes. But I should have taken more note of this sentence in the blurb-‘Landscapes offers a tour of the history of art, but not as you know it.‘ It is definitely not art as I know it but it is a “landscape” of Berger’s thoughts on his life, on people and ideas that have influenced him, artists and authors that he liked and disliked, with very little in it about landscapes. There are essays on his life, people, ideology, philosophy and on art history and theory about the nature and meaning of art.

Having said that there are sections that I liked and enjoyed, such as the chapters on The Ideal Critic and the Fighting Critic and on Cubism. Knowing next to nothing about cubism and not liking the cubist paintings I have seen, I think I now understand what the artists were attempting, moving away from art that imitated nature to their representation of reality on a two dimensional plane to portray a more complex image of reality.

I am obviously not the target audience for this book!

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1131 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (1 Nov. 2016)

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

ABC Wednesday: A is for The Artist’s House at Argenteuil

Another round of ABC Wednesday began today. Amazingly it’s been going for around 5 years and this is Round 11.

A is for The Artist’s House at Argenteuil by Claude Monet, one of my favourite Impressionist paintings. It’s oil on canvas painted in 1873, now held in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monet moved to Argenteuil in 1871 and lived there until 1877. This was a prolific period for him – he was happy and well-off during that time. It was whilst he was living there that he developed a passion for gardening, influenced by fellow artist Gustave Caillebotte. This painting shows the first house he lived in at Argenteuil, with beds of red, white and blue flowers in front of the house, a creeper covering much of the wall and potted plants in large blue and white tubs on the gravel drive.

I especially like this painting because of the colours and also the figures adding personality – the little child with a hoop is Monet’s five-year old son, Jean, whilst his wife, Camille is seen in the doorway.

P is for Pissarro

L'Hermitage a Pontoise 1867, oil on canvas

 Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) was one of the French Impressionist painters. In 1866 he moved to Pontoise on the banks of the River Oise, on the outskirts of Paris and lived there until 1884. He loved the area and painted 300 or so paintings in that period. L’Hermitage à Pontoise, the painting above, is one of my favourites of his, painted in a realistic rather than an impressionist style, showing an idyllic village scene and the hills behind. I like all the detail and his use of light and shade drawing attention to the figures on the road and highlighting the houses.

Red Roofs, 1877, oil on canvas

Ten years later he painted Red Roofs showing a corner of the village in winter with the traditional 18th century houses viewed through the trees. I like the blend of colours with the differing tones of the red of the roofs, fields and earth in the foreground, contrasting with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. The twisting forms of the trees with their vertical trunks contrast sharply with the geometric shapes of the houses.

An ABC Wednesday post.

R is for Renoir: La Loge

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919), French Impressionist Artist

I’m spoilt for choice, but on reflection I think La Loge (1874) is my favourite painting by Renoir.

The ‘loge’ is a box at the theatre nearest the stage. This painting is my favourite Renoir because of its fine detail within an Impressionist painting. I love the precise depiction of the lady’s face and jewellery, the soft fabric of her dress, its flimsy lace bodice and cuffs and the splashes of red against the black and white. She is the focus of the painting with the gentleman behind her in the background, but my eyes are also drawn to him with the light glinting on his opera glasses.

This is a painting that draws our attention to where the people are looking – the gentleman is looking up at other people and the lady has put down her opera glasses and is maybe showing  herself to the audience. There is an ambiguity about this painting, which always has me wondering just what is going on.

There is a detailed description of this painting on The Courtauld Gallery’s website, where the painting is held. I was disappointed it wasn’t on display when I visited a couple of years ago.

An ABC Wednesday post.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett: Book Review

I didn’t write about Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett as soon as I’d finished reading it, which is a pity because I only made a few notes whilst reading and now my memory of it is fading fast. It took me some time to get really involved in the story, which is a mixture of fiction and history. I liked the historical elements very much. The fictional side mixed in quite well but I found some of it a bit too sentimental and somewhat contrived.

It’s the story of Sir Thomas More’s fall from Henry VIII’s favour and that of his adopted daughter Meg Giggs and her love for two men – John Clements, the family’s former tutor, and the painter, Hans Holbein. Bennett puts forward a theory about John Clements’ true identity drawn from an analysis and an interpretation of two paintings by Hans Holbein of the More family and also his painting, The Ambassadors. I was fascinated by this and the detail in the paintings, enhanced by the inclusion in the book of a reproduction of the plan for Holbein’s first portrait of the More Family painted in 1527 -28 and a colour reproduction of  a second portrait of the family attributed to Holbein, even though it is signed ‘Rowlandas Lockey’.

I liked the way Bennett portrayed different aspects of Sir Thomas More’s character; in his early life he was a humanist and friend of Erasmus, later a courtier and Henry VIII’s Catholic chancellor, who persecuted Protestant heretics. This contrasts with his family life, where he is relaxed, generous and gentle and Meg cannot reconcile her knowledge of him as a father with his cruel and fanatical persecution of the heretics.

It combines a love story, art history and historical fiction providing an insight into the Tudor period at a time of great social and religious change.

Book Review: The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe

library-loot-impressroe

Non-fiction books often take me a while to read and Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists is no exception; not however, because it’s difficult to read or boring, but simply because I decided to read it slowly. The Impressionists were a mixed bunch, including Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Caillebotte. I feel I got to know some of them more than others and have only just skimmed the surface of their lives, which is understandable in a book covering so many people.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists tells how the early leaders of the group met when students in the studios of Paris. There was Monet, from an affluent family background originally from Normandy, Pissarro a Portuguese Jew from a very different background, born in the Dutch West Indies, Cézanne, a strange and intense student from Aix-en-Provence. The group widened with the addition of Renoir, from a working family (his father was a tailor from Limoges), Sisley the son of an English merchant and a Frenchwoman, and Bazille the son of a wealthy Montpellier wine-grower. They rebelled against the Salon and were pillaried and criticised for their work. They struggled to make a living, although now their paintings sell for millions.

Manet, whose father was a judge and mother the god-daughter of  the King of Sweden, was not really a part of their group , although over the years he supported them but never exhibited at the Impressionists exhibitions. To say that Manet was a complex character is an understatement and I’m going to read a biography devoted to him alone at some point. I’d also like to know more about Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and Renoir in particular.

This book follows their lives and loves and how their art developed over 26 years between 1860 when they first met and the introduction of their work to America in 1886. The Epilogue summarised what happened to each artist as the end of the century approached and the Paris art scene changed completely.

I now feel rather sad to have come to the end but there is a bibliography, essential for non-fiction books in my view, listing other books on the artists. If I’m being picky I’d criticise the bibliography because it’s arranged a-z by author – I’d prefer it to be arranged the individual artists. I’d also have liked more illustrations, but there are plenty of books on Impressionism.  I’d also love to travel the world to see their paintings – in London, Paris, and the US – well maybe I’ll manage the London galleries.

These are some of my favourite paintings, some of which are in this book.

Impression - Sunrise by Monet
Impression – Sunrise by Monet
Bar at the Folies Bergere by Manet

 

Red Roofs by Pissarro
Red Roofs by Pissarro

 

La Loge by Renoir
La Loge by Renoir

This is the  eleventh library book I’ve read this year – still on target to complete the Support Your Local Library Challenge. library-challenge

This Week’s Library Books

I don’t need to borrow any more books, but I had to go to the library to return The Gargoyle (see here) and of course then I couldn’t leave without at least looking at the books. This  week I concentrated on non-fiction as I already have a few novels on the go. I  read non-fiction much more slowly than fiction, so I don’t read many.

The photo below shows part of my local library’s non-fiction section. It’s not large but it has a good selection of books and I always find something of interest there.

non-fiction
Non Fiction Books

I came home with three books (I was very restrained remembering all my unread books):

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  • I don’t read much poetry but The Poems of Thomas Hardy, selected and introduced by Claire Tomalin caught my attention as I’ve read several of Hardy’s novels, but none of his poetry. Hardy wrote over a thousand poems and this selection traces his experiences of life and love. This reminded me that over a year ago I started to read her biography of Hardy, which I’d put down for a while to read more of Hardy’s own works before finishing it. Time to get back to it soon.
  • Impressionism by Paul Smith. I’ve become very interested in the Impressionists since taking a short course recently. The course concentrated on the sites they painted rather than their lives. To supplement that I’m already reading Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists. This book looks at the social, political and intellectual contexts in which Impressionism came about. Plus it has many colour illustrations of their paintings.
  • Lost For Words by John Humphrys. I like John Humphry’s style – this book is about the “mangling and manipulation of the English Language”. He thinks language should be “simple, clear and honest” and provides examples of cliches, meaningless jargon and evasive language (which I detest).