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‘Behind the Mask’: Part 2

The concept of the mask is another motif which frequently occurs in women’s photographic portraiture. The French writer Claude Cahun was the first to exploit its possibilities to disguise her true identity. But what is true identity? She was born a female (Lucy Schwob), but changed her name to ‘Claude’ as it used by both […]

‘Behind the Mask’: Part 1

Julia Margaret Cameron, born in India, was a natural photographer, though she took it up late in life. In her short lived career of 11 years she produced some moving portraits and ‘tableaux’. Her depictions of her niece Julia Jackson (mother of Virginia Woolf) with long flowing hair and unmade looks, could have been taken […]

‘TWIN GWEN’ No. 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, Gwen John didn’t look after herself well. She ate little and lived in poverty for much of her life. Her attic room (high up therefore cheap), in Montparnasse is simply furnished, if not sparse. Whilst she lived there she was working as an artist’s model for Rodin, so […]

‘TWIN GWEN’ – No.1

Gwen John regularly executed several versions of the same composition (incidentally, she won a prize for composition at The Slade, where she trained). Here and in the next blog I’m going to examine two versions of a nude girl and two versions of her room in Paris. Though similar in so many ways, there are […]

‘Coke and Industry’

Joseph Wright of Derby was an unusual and eclectic artist. You only have to glance at his Self Portrait as a Young Man (above) to realize he was a bit different. He is most famous for his candlelit paintings of scientific experiments, the best known being ‘An Experiment with an Air Pump’. In this he […]

‘Not so Black and White’: 2

At first sight the beautiful, elegant and nobly attired black woman appears not much different from any other lady sitter – apart from the colour of her skin that is. Benoist enjoys painting its dark, sumptuous tones and contrasting them with the white cloth. She is perhaps showing off her skill to the Salon audience […]

‘Not so Black and White’: 1

No-one’s ever heard of Marie-Guillemine Benoist. For a start, her name is impossible to get to pronounce. Moreover, if you look at her flattering self portrait of 1790, you could be forgiven for thinking she’s more interested in being a fashion icon than an artist. With her classy neoclassical dress, her free-flowing hair and her […]

‘The Plot Thickens’

The oil painting of an old man in a Private Collection, attributed to Quentin Massys (another version exists in Paris shown here, with gold background and inscription), is thought to form a pair with the ‘Ugly Duchess’. The continuous ledge and reflected resting hands tie them together. The scale is slightly different, as is the […]

‘Mutton Dressed as Lamb’

There is some mystery surrounding the painting ‘The Ugly Duchess’, so nick-named as it was used by John Tenniel as the basis for an illustration of the Duchess from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Was it derived from an earlier Leonardo drawing (now lost) or is the reality vice versa and was Leonardo inspired by her? It […]

‘SP or not SP?’

Sofonisba Anguissola was an extremely successful Italian Renaissance artist who was admired by both Michelangelo and Vasari, who praised her in his ‘Lives of the Artists’. She was born in Cremona, went to Rome and from there gained the attention of Phillip II of Spain who contracted her to be an art tutor and lady-in-waiting […]

Agnes Martin – ‘a world without objects’

The little known Canadian artist Agnes Martin intrigues and fascinates me. When you see her at work, you realise how compelled she was to paint, and what a chore it was – especially later on in life. She continued to have visions whilst rocking in her rocking chair or meditating. These came to her in […]

‘The Weeping Woman’: Part 1

Dora Maar (born Theodora Markovitch in 1907), is better known as a mistress of Picasso than an artist in her own right. He did many portrayals of her and labelled her the ‘weeping woman’ because he said ‘he could never see her, never imagine her, except crying’. We usually see Dora Maar through Picasso’s eyes, […]

‘The Weeping Woman’: Part 2

Prior to meeting Picasso, Dora Maar modeled for the experimental photographer Man Ray – he did the famous photos of her with the intrusive elegant hands (for which she was famed), often including a miniature model of them. It is said that Picasso fell for her when she was stabbing a penknife between her fingers […]

‘The Charm of the Birdman’

Leonora Carrington fell for Max Ernst even before meeting the charming chap in London. She had seen his work “Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale” and loved its maker immediately. She could relate to it exactly and understood it intuitively. It is a type of combine before the time of Rauschenberg, (who invented the term to […]

‘Horse Woman meets Bird Man’

In ‘Inn of the Dawn Horse’, Leonora Carrington portrays herself as the central, almost supernatural character in her own drama (the theatrical open curtain on the rear wall underlines the dramatic effect). Her wild hair and electric eyes express her rebellious nature and unique individuality. Her bourgeois chair is feminine  (she came from a wealthy industrialist family), its quaint little feet discreetly […]

‘Art with Feeling’ – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe not only executed beautiful plant paintings, she also made some powerful, almost Futurist, abstract work. As soon as O’Keeffe broke away from the mimetic art that she was trained in, she inclined towards the abstract. Her early charcoal plant-based forms are what inspired her husband to be, Alfred Stieglitz, to exhibit her work at his cutting edge 291 gallery […]

‘Art without Feeling’ – The Arps

The Swiss artist Sophie Taueber-Arp, and her French husband Jean Arp, often collaborated. There seems to have been no unhealthy power imbalances between them as is often the case with artistic relationships. Sonia Delaunay, a good friend of Sophie Arp, for example, reduced her artistic output in favour of supporting her husband’s work. The Arps were […]

Neglected! – Gabriele Munter

Not many have heard of Gabriele Munter, though most will probably have heard of her more famous partner Wassily Kandinsky who wrote extensively about colour theory and is often thought to be the founder of abstraction. The two of them lived together in a house which she purchased in a small town called Murnau in the Bavarian […]

The Grieving Parents at Vladslo

‘The Grieving Parents’ by Kathe Kollwitz are monumental figures which dominate their territory like Sphinxes in the Egyptian desert. At first it is difficult to relate to them as they are abstracted, universalised, archetypal. But as you look more deeply, you see all the familiar signs and gestures expected from ordinary parents mourning the death of a child – but the emotion is buried, […]

Cassatt & Japonism

As we discovered in our last session of A History of Women Artists, Mary Cassatt was a great experimenter. Like her close friend and sometimes collaborator, Degas, she explored a variety of media including metallic pigments added into her paint or pastels, the use of old-fashioned paints such as distemper and combined printing techniques. In 1891 she commenced […]

Art in Partnership 3: Siddal and Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal worked part time in a milliner’s shop and her simple beauty was there spotted by the artist Walter Deverall. She later became the lover and wife of another Pre-Raphaelite, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It is thought he did over a thousand paintings which included her portrait. Other Pre-Raphaelites, notably Millais in his painting Ophelia, used her as a model. Though […]

Art in Partnership 2: Mayer and Proudhon

From her Self Portrait (above; date unfortunately unknown), Constance Mayer looks like a very interesting woman. In the archetypal pose of the creative melancholic, her head rests in her hand as she gazes dreamily into the distance, contemplating matters of a meaningful nature. But there’s also a sense that she’s already given up. A promising young artist, she exhibited […]

Art in Partnership 1 : Claudel and Rodin

Rodin loved Camille Claudel but was unwilling to leave his ‘permanent’ mistress Rose Beuret who kept his house, cooked for him and even tolerated his many affairs. Rodin had no reason to marry or commit to Camille. She however, wanted more – and quite rightly most of you will say. Typical male – wanted his […]

‘The Proposition’ Part 2

We can’t help but have negative feelings about the man in the work discussed earlier – ‘Man Offering Money to a Woman’ by Judith Leyster (shown above). We are ‘signalled’ to find him ominous. Firstly there is a vast shadow behind him, which we instinctively interpret as ‘dodgy’. Secondly he appears to have crept in from the […]

‘Breaking the Mould’ 2: Rosalba Carriera

Like Therbusch, Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), was another lady artist who broke with convention. She developed her own pastel technique to perfection using it as the finished medium, which was unusual as pastel was traditionally used only for preparatory drawings. She created beautifully soft, sensitive and insightful portraits which were immensely popular. She began her career by painting […]

Judith Leyster’s ‘The Proposition’

In Netherlandish art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, meaning is often hidden or ‘disguised’. This makes it difficult for us to be sure about interpretation. The 20th Century art historian Erwin Panofsky was the first to attempt to decode its iconography in his book, Early Netherlandish Painting. In the famous Renaissance Arnolfini Portrait (above), by Jan van Eyck, there are […]

Symbolism in Dutch Art (Clara Peeters)

Does all art have meaning? A question which arose at the last ‘Girl Power’ talk, was ‘does all art necessarily have a meaning?’ I replied that everything has a meaning (even the tiniest action or event – but then, I am a very Eastern-minded person believing in Karma, destiny, re-incarnation etc, which not everybody does). […]