Tag Archives: portrait

White Helmet Rescue

Marc Nelson  Charcoal and Watercolor  2016

Today we remember the protest of March 15, 2011 in Damascus. Joining what had already been dubbed the Arab Spring, Syrian protesters took to the streets to demand governmental reform and the release of prisoners. Six years of civil war, chaos, and destruction, and there is still no reform.

When we saw the security forces open fire on the crowd that day, we knew it was bad.  But which of us realized the future that lay ahead for this country?  Who among us knew the suffering children not yet born would endure?  Could we have predicted six years of civil war with no relief in sight?  And most alarmingly, how could we possibly have known our own country would turn our backs on those most in need, those seeking refuge?

The Syrian Civil Defense, more widely known simply as the White Helmets, are the best hope for Syrian civilians.  They are not military or militia.  They do not defend homes with weapons, nor do they sit in offices in far off lands debating the fate of others.  They are the heroes.

They may consider themselves unarmed volunteer rescuers, but what they are is something bigger than heroes.  They’re angels.  They are hope.  They have saved over 78,500 lives after attacks.  More than 150 have lost their lives in the process.

Last year, a middle school art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois challenged his students to draw portraits of people who performed acts of kindness “under the radar.”  Marc Nelson used the White Helmets as examples for his students, and has several sketches of them in action.

I love the bright, white helmets in the drawing.  They seem to cut through the fog of rubble and chaos behind them and shine as beacons of hope.  The boy’s face is grey and ashen.  The face of the man that’s holding him is happy to pass him over to the rescuer.  But the boy, the far off look of his eyes is almost eerie, lost.  This is a child  who has probably spent half of his short life with the hum of airstrikes looming.  Gunfire just a part of the soundtrack to his everyday life.

One has to wonder, have we lost them?  Have we lost them all?  A whole generation that knows nothing but violence.  Their parents protested in peace to have the freedoms that we in America enjoy.  They once envied our way of life of religious freedom, tolerance for all ethnicities.  Now do we show them our true colors?  Do we tell them they are not entitled to the rights we enjoy?

Each time we take to the streets to protest, let us remember we have not only that freedom.  We also have the freedom to go to bed without the fear of bombs falling on our heads.  We have the freedom to buy food or walk across the street without the fear of gunshots killing our children.  We have the freedom to live in a land where all peoples are represented in our government.   We are free.  I hope that some day the Syrians will be too.

To read more about the White Helmets, click here:White Helmets

To see more work by Mr. Nelson, click here Marc Nelson

 

 

 

The Carnival in Rome

Jose Benlliure y Gil  Oil on Panel  1881

Fastnacht Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnivale, Pancake Day–whatever you call it, celebrate it today!  How do you celebrate? Eat, drink, be merry!  And don’t just eat, eat fatty, rich foods like fastnacht and paczki (doughnuts), pancakes, king cakes, or anything else you may not be able to eat starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Today marks the last day of Shrovetide, the period before Lent.  It is a time of self-examination for Christians.  The general idea is self-reflection leads to repentance and the absolution of sins.  It is a way to prepare for the somber season of lent.  And by prepare, I mean eat alot.

Jose Benlliure y Gil is a Spanish painter of the late 19th and early 20th century.  He is known for both his beautiful portraiture, as well as his work based on flowers and floral work.  This painting is a lovely combination of both.

To me, this painting is somewhere between Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist, and I love it.  There’s so much happening with the flowers and the costumes and the banners.  My favorite is the woman on the left in red lowering a basket of flowers from the balcony.  Who is she lowering them to?  Or is an admirer sending them up?

And I  also like the child on the right.  It looks like a young person has just tossed flowers and maybe pamphlets or flyers over the balcony.  You can see blue papers or pieces of fabric and flowers floating down in front.

The cool tones of the palette, especially cerulean blue, contrast wonderfully against the warm grey walls.  And the texture is just layer after layer.  The blotchy walls, the fabric, the flowers.  There is just great depth in this painting that I enjoy.

Please check out Museo CarmenThyssen Malaga for a description from the museum where it is housed.

I hope you have enjoyed your final day of Mardi Gras!

 

 

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Jose Benlliure y Gil  Self Portrait

 

Adoration of the Magi

Albrecht Durer   Oil on Wood  1504

The story of the Magi, the Three Kings, the Wise men, however you know them, it’s one of my favorite Biblical stories.  I love the mystery of who they were, where they were coming from, and where they went after they saw baby Jesus.  Matthew says “they returned to their country by another route” in order to avoid King Herod.  But where was “their country?”

Most Western Protestants and Catholics follow the tradition of three Magi, although some traditions say there were up to 12.  Traditionally, there are three men, Melchior of Persia, Casper of India, China, or “the Orient”, and Balthazar the African Wiseman, possibly from Ethiopia.  They are known by different names and countries in different traditions.

I’ve always had this nagging question no one seems to have a good answer for.  What would three men of such different ages (traditionally 20, 40, and 60) from incredibly different backgrounds be traveling together for?  Some traditions even suggest Balthazar was Muslim.

I think it seems more likely that all three were Zoroastrian.  This would probably explain not only why the three were traveling together, but also the use of the term “magi.”  Although it was also associated with magicians, alchemists, and astrologers, it was also commonly used to describe followers of Zoroaster.  (A people I hope to expand on in a later blog.)

The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which are another mystery.  Who gives a baby incense and embalming oil?  Of course, the symbolism is heavy in this story.  Gold for a king, frankincense for God, and myrrh for death and the subsequent Resurrection.

Still, what mother wants to deal with that?  Oh great, let me lug this stuff around while I ride a donkey.  You could have just paid for a room at the inn so we weren’t still hanging out in this stable 12 days later.  Of course, I may be a bit more practical than one that has just experienced a virgin birth and is by now quite accustomed to visits by angels.  A surprise visit in your recovery stable from some random foreign dignitaries must have seemed quite in the ordinary.

I’ve pasted the story from Matthew 2 below.

Albrecht Durer is one of my favorite artists, and is by far my favorite printmaker.  Since this blog is already long, I’ll save his story for another time.  I’m sure I’ll post a block print of his sometime soon.

I do want to mention the person that commissioned this painting.  Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, commissioned the painting in 1504 for the church in Wittenberg.  You may think he or the church seem vaguely familiar.  He was an early ally of Martin Luther. The church at Wittenberg is the same church where Luther nailed the 95 theses, prompting the Protestant Reformation.  Frederick actually hid Martin Luther at Wartburg Castle to avoid arrest.

You can read a blog I wrote about another piece involving a dream Frederick III had about Martin Luther here.  Frederick III’s Dream

At first glance at this painting you may just see three Magi, but you’ll notice there are actually four.  Kneeling in front of the baby is Melchior, the oldest, traditionally aged 60, and representing Persia.  He presents gold.  Over his shoulder is Balthazar, representing Africa or Arabia.  He’s the youngest and is presenting the gift of myrrh.

And although it seems obvious that person next to him must be Caspar, I disagree.  Caspar is the Magi from India, or some even say China.  To me, the figure on the far right with his hand in his bag is more likely the third of the traditional Wise men.  His complexion, facial features, and attire show this man represents the East.

Then who is the long-haired man in the middle?  Albrecht Durer himself.  The artist created several self portraits, and there are just too many similarities to ignore.

Now most scholars look at this painting and say the three men in the center are the Magi, including the obvious self-portrait.  The fourth man is always considered a servant.  But why would there be only a servant for Caspar and not the others?   And why is he presented in such an “ethnic” way?  No, I’m sticking to my claim that Durer represents someone else, possibly one of the 12 Magi, or maybe just himself.  There are so many different stories about these men, and practically every nation claims one of them represents their culture.  Some even believe one was from Tuscany.  I think he’s representing Europe.

I love the wonderful architecture in this painting.  There are arches connected to what seems to be a crumbling wall.  I especially like the roof over the cow and donkey that is attached to what seems to be part of an arch.  Notice that little detail near the top that looks like it’s some sort of pin keeping the curved  block attached.

And the animals, although we can’t see much of them, are marvelous.  Look at the expression on that donkey.  The fur on the face of the cow is so rich and varied.  I just want to reach in and pat him on the nose.

And of course, we can’t leave out my favorite part, the stag beetle.  On first glance, my thought was whoa, what happened to the proportions?  Then I remembered seeing another wonderful painting of Durer’s, one of this same beetle.  I can’t seem to come up with a good reason for this, but for some reason Christ was sometimes symbolized as a beetle during the 16th century.  Whatever the reason, it makes for an interesting and visually appealing part of the painting.

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You can read a very insightful essay about this piece that I enjoyed here: Durer Magi

If you’re anything like me, the story of the Magi will continue to be an intriguing  story and mystery for years to come.  I hope you look up other versions of the story you know.

Happy Epiphany!

Here is the Biblical account of the story of the Magi as found in Matthew 2.  It is the only one of the Gospels to include the story:

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

Be Be

Paul Gauguin  Oil on Canvas  1896

I was having a hard time deciding which of the hundreds of thousands of Nativity paintings I should share for Christmas.  Then I remembered this very interesting and unusual painting by Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin during his second stay in Tahiti.  I thought I would share it as it is not very well-known and is quite an unusual take on the very familiar scene.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Gauguin.  I prefer the Renaissance masters for religious images like the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Pieta.  But it’s the history, the story behind the story that interests me with Gauguin.  Like Picasso, it’s not the aestheticism I enjoy, it’s the reason he painted what he did.  (To read my blog on Picasso’s Guernica,  click here Guernica).

Two Decembers ago, Kip and I attended a lecture at the St. Louis Art Museum about Gauguin’s time in Tahiti and its influence on his work, which was quite interesting. Although he originally left his wife and kids to go to Tahiti to get inspired and get rich, it seems that he spent a great deal of his time conquering very young teenage girls.  He returned to Paris to a relatively positive reception to his new work, but it wasn’t long before he returned to Tahiti to take up residence (without his wife and children).

The first time he went to Tahiti was only about two years after his short-lived stay at The Yellow House with Vincent Van Gogh, which ended with Van Gogh cutting off his own ear.  Although their relationship was strained to say the least, they continued corresponding until Van Gogh’s suicide about six months later.  Although it doesn’t seem that Gauguin used the loss of his contemporary as a reason behind the first trip, I can certainly understand how it could have been.

Van Gogh desperately wanted Gauguin to be the first of his friends to join him at The Yellow House to start an artist colony.  When Gauguin discovered he couldn’t tolerate living in Arles with a genius that happened to also be unbearable to live with, he had to go.  Van Gogh never recovered.  Gauguin had to feel some regret, some remorse, and to some degree, like the cause of Van Gogh’s quick decline and death.  A remote island full of beautiful young girls seems like a logical place to go.

In 1895 Gauguin returned to Tahiti to live with his very young Tahitian wife, Pau’ura, who was also his most widely used model for many of his nudes.  It was during this period in 1896 when he painted Be Be and Nativity.   Pau’ura was most likely the model for Mary in Nativity, seen below.

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Nativity   Paul Gauguin Oil on Canvas  1896

It’s wildly annoying to me that Be Be and Nativity are not in the same museum, as they are obviously meant to be viewed together.  Painted in the same year, both paintings show the same scene from different angles.  Nativity shows a Tahitian Mary on a very yellow bed, with animals around her.  The color scheme is so typical of Gauguin, bright, bright yellow with rich browns.

But Be Be is the painting I enjoy the most.  At first glance one might think it’s just a painting of a Tahitian woman holding a baby.  Then you notice the angel to her right, and the halo encircling the baby’s head.  The same livestock are in front of her as in Nativity.  And then you notice at the very top of the painting Mary herself, also with a glow about her.  Then it seems obvious that this is indeed, the same location, the same baby, the same stable.

So who is this woman?  Some believe she is Pau’ura.  Honestly, I don’t buy that.  She may have been the model, but I have serious doubts that a playboy like Gauguin was so infatuated with his young wife he made her the center of a religious painting, particularly because he had multiple young girls in his bed.

I tend to believe she is a representative of humankind in general.  Mary is long ago, in the background.  Jesus is being held by the native girl front and center.  She is us.  She is every Christian that holds Jesus as the center of their religion.  She is just a regular, normal girl, with Christ at the center of all things.

Today Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.  They continue to hold the Christ child lovingly, just as the young Tahitian girl does for Gauguin.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

The Thankful Poor

Henry Ossawa Tanner  Oil Painting  1894

Over the years, I’ve often filled my social media with rants about Thanksgiving and its misrepresentation of a joyful time of Pilgrims and Native Americans happily eating turkey and beautifully colored corn and pumpkin pie.  I would sometimes include paintings or articles about the persecution of Native peoples.  My favorite was to include statistics about the deaths in the turbulent times following (and preceding) the first Thanksgiving.

Sometimes I would point out that if there hadn’t been a smallpox outbreak amongst the Pokanoket brought to them via the Europeans, their leader, Oasamequin, wouldn’t have even had to make the alliance with the Pilgrims at all.  In reality, he could have let them starve to death.  All pretty gloomy stuff.

When Kip died in November of last year, I really thought about what he always said when I would post that sort of thing.  He would point out how although it may be true, I could focus on something positive in the world, instead of always something negative, even if I thought I was “shedding light” on some of America’s darkest times.

So last Thanksgiving I broke with tradition.  I instead posted a painting by Camille Pissaro entitled The Crystal Palace.  I wanted to “shed light” on a successful refugee who became the father of Impressionism.  You can read what I wrote last year here:  The Crystal Palace.  So in an attempt to keep with the positivity, I have chosen the painting The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner to share with you today.

Henry Ossawa Tanner is generally considered a realist painter, although I find that is a bit of a misnomer.  He did have highly realistic paintings, but he had others that were Impressionistic.  He was a painter of portraits, landscapes, Biblical scenes, and is even sometimes categorized as a Mystic painter.  He really has one of the most diverse libraries of work of any painter I’m aware of.  In this particular work, you can plainly seen the influence of his teacher, the great Realist Thomas Eakins.

Henry’s father was a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  His mother was born a slave and escaped via the Underground Railroad.  He grew up in Pittsburgh and became the first and most successful African-American student accepted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Although he was successful in the States, he didn’t find true freedom until he went to Europe.  In Paris, he could live without the racism he endured during Reconstruction in a Southern leaning city.  He was free to marry his Swedish-American opera singer bride.

In Europe he wasn’t a successful “colored” artist.  There he was a highly acclaimed American artist.  The color of his skin didn’t define his artwork, his talent did.  He became the first African-American in history to have his works shown in a Paris Salon.

Henry O. Tanner went on to work for the Red Cross Public Information Department during World War I where he painted the front lines.  In 1923 he became a knight of the Legion of Honor for his service.

The Thankful Poor was painted on a visit back to the States in 1894.  This was done shortly after his award-winning The Banjo Lesson was met with acclaim all over Europe.  I like to believe both paintings share the same subjects, although I can’t find any sources to back up that theory.  However, the older man and child appear to be in the same room in both paintings.

This painting really expresses to me what Thanksgiving is actually about.  The man and child are bowing their heads to give thanks over their small, but sufficient meal.  The blended color of the walls is echoed in the table covering, giving a wonderfully muted yet colorful backdrop.  It really allows the folds in the man’s shirt and the curls on the boy’s head to really pop.

The grandfather figure’s face is in shadow, so you can’t see his features well.  The boy, conversely, is bathed in light.  The glow on the boy’s face from the light streaming through the window is nearly angelic.  To me, this seems like a metaphor for their lives.  The man has come through dark times, the boy has a bright future.

I imagine the man thanking God for his ability to have survived through his hardships, while asking for protection over his young grandson.  The boy maybe thanking God for having his grandfather there to protect him and support him and provide him with the meal.  That’s the beauty of art, it’s up to you to decide what it means.

However you spend this Thanksgiving, take a minute to be thankful for those around you.  Remember not only the parts of their lives they share with you, but those parts without you.  Be grateful for everything they have gone through to get to where they are today, and be hopeful for their future.

Happy Thanksgiving!

henry-ossawa-tanner-banjo-lesson-resized-600

The Banjo Lesson, 1893

 

 

HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal

 

June Mendoza  Oil with Pastel  1983

Happy Birthday to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, Princess Royal, who turns 66 today.  Princess Anne holds the title Princess Royal, as she is the eldest daughter of the British Monarch, HRH Queen Elizabeth II.  She is the younger sister of Prince Charles.

Often over shadowed by her older brother and her younger brother, Prince Andrew, Duke of York and their children, Princess Anne began taking on royal duties at a young age.  Following her graduation, she immediately began representing the Royal Family at engagements.  She was the first member of the Royal Family to have an official visit to the Soviet Union in 1990.

Aside from her royal duties, she keeps extremely busy with charitable work.  She has been the president of Save the Children for over twenty years.  She continues to maintain a hectic schedule saying she likes to be busy and is meant to work.

By all accounts, HRH is down to earth and level-headed.  Her children, Zara and Peter, do not have titles.  She refused their right to honorary titles.  Instead, they carry the last name of their father, Mark Phillips, whom she divorced in 1992.  Most would argue this divorce made it easier for nephews Charles and Andrew to obtain divorces shortly after.

Although the divorce caused a bit of a stir, she hasn’t created much controversy.  Aside from some love letters to and from her second husband (hence the divorce), she’s kept a pretty low profile.  Her biggest “scandal” (if one can even call it that), was her statement that the UK should reconsider their ban on horse meat consumption.

The statement caused quite a kerfuffle, particularly since HRH is an accomplished equestrienne.  She was the first British Royal in history to participate in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 (Zara would follow her in 2012 in London winning a team silver metal).  However, she gave some very legitimate and interesting arguments about horse welfare when owners know they can sell the horses for meat after their athletic careers are over to keep them in good health.

Her official title is Her Royal Highness The Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, Princess Royal, Royal Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Dame Grand Cross and Grand Master of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

June Mendoza is an Australian portrait painter.  She is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and has painted several royal portraits.  This painting was commissioned in 1983 for the Royal Scots, in which HRH Princess Anne is the Colonel-in-Chief.

I find this portrait interesting partly because it is so flattering.  Of course, Princess Anne is quite a bit younger in this painting, but it seems she may have taken just the right amount of liberties to accentuate her positive attributes.  It’s also interesting to see her presented in such a girly, fluffy dress.  HRH has always been considered a tomboy, and has never been shy about admitting she has no interest in fashion.  Aside from the odd selection of dress, I think it’s still a lovely portrait.

Happy birthday to the most under appreciated British Royal, HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal!

Amelia Earhart

 

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Howard Chandler Christy  Oil  1933

“We must be on you, but cannot see you – but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”  This is one of a series of radio transmissions from Amelia Earhart to the Itasca, the Coast Guard cutter tasked with communicating with the famed aviatrix during her 1937 world flight on the Howland Island leg.  Although they were receiving her messages loud and clear, she could not hear their response, nor could she see the island.  That was 79 years ago today.

In 1923, the 26-year-old became the 16th woman in history to be issued a pilot’s license.  This after much hard work and determination.  She reportedly had to take the bus to the end of the line in Long Beach and then walk the remaining four miles to get to her flying lessons.

Arguably the most famous pilot in history,  Amelia Earhart has stood as a role model for generations. For girls and young woman she is seen as proof that we can all make our dreams come true.  In the field of aviation, her awards and honors are numerous.

Although some may find it controversial that I say this, I believe hers is also a cautionary tale.  She was one of the biggest celebrities of her time.  She had major endorsement contracts.  She was the most photographed woman in the United States.  And some would say her celebrity became more important than her aviation.

We may never know what happened that day as she and her navigator Fred Noonan seemingly blindly searched for their refueling station.  At this point, we still don’t know if they landed and perished on another island, ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, were shot down by the Japanese, ran away together, or were abducted by aliens.  We may never know for certain.

But what we do know is that the radio equipment on the Lockheed Electra was new and unlike what she or Fred Noonan had used before.  We know neither were formally trained on how to use it.  We also know that the Itasca could hear them, but could not place them.  They were close, but were transmitting on the incorrect frequency.

It’s also widely accepted that Fred Noonan, an extremely accomplished navigator, was also an alcoholic.  Reportedly, he was sometimes incapacitated or at least not at his best.  Due to his accomplishments and expertise, he did not feel the need to learn to use the new equipment installed that would have helped them find Howland Island.

What’s my point?  Keep your eye on the prize.  This, of course, is merely my opinion.  But it seems that maybe the focus was no longer on being the best aviator and navigator, but being the most famous.  And who knows, maybe that was just the pressure surrounding a superstar, but certainly there was some human error involved.  If nothing else, the fame and hoopla surrounding the flight led to poor preparation.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe someday we’ll learn there was a malfunction with the equipment or there was a problem on the Itasca.  But maybe I’m right.

Howard Chandler Christy was an American artist that initially gained fame as a combat artist.  He illustrated several  posters for the Navy and Marines, which led to illustrating magazine covers.  His most famous work is Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, which hangs in the Capitol building.

I love how strikingly confident Amelia Earhart appears in this painting.  She wears a slight smile that could almost be characterized as a knowing smirk.  She’s the best there is and she knows it.  It’s not a look of braggadocio or pretentiousness, but a look of accomplishment.

I love the colors in this painting.  Of course, this was the jacket and attire she was known for, but the artist captures the folds and highlights.  Her pink scarf floats in the wind without looking romantic, and her hair looks perfectly out-of-place.

What a senseless loss of two amazing talents.  Maybe some day the mystery will be solved.  But sometimes solving the mystery doesn’t make the story happier.  I choose to remember Amelia Earhart as an extraordinary woman, pilot, and activist.

Learn more about the search for clues here:  TIGHAR