Saturday, June 27, 2009

Art sites for children

When I got the idea to list these sites I had presumed that most museum websites had subsites for kids. Wrong. Here are four that I have come across.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) This is a really
cool site with a lot for kids to do. There's Degas'
ballerinas, knights in Central Park, Japanese
picture scroll,Marco Polo, about 18 different
subsites. The whole website is terrific

Museum of Modern Art (NYC) nicknamed MOMA.
I wasn't thrilled with this one. It's ok but takes
longer to load and it's kind of cutsie. This museum
has Van Gogh's Starry Night so that is one of the
pictures you can interact with.

National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.)
I like it better than MOMA but not as much
as the Met. They go into detail about a few
paintings. Plus there is interactive art you
can make online.

The Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia)
This has a couple of subsites - Virtual Academy
and Games Room. I couldn't really check these
out as it requires Internet Explorer 5 and I use

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bridget Riley

I am not a big abstract art fan. Occasionally there is something I like but generally not a big fan. But I do like Bridget Riley's work. I first her paintings while I was still in my teens -early 70s I guess. The Museum of Modern Art had a special exhibit. Some- thing about it just fascinated me. Since then, I have tried to do similar drawings (mostly through doodling.)
Bridget Riley was born on April 24, 1931 in London and grew up in Cornwall. She began doing semi-impressionistic paintings, then in the late 50s did her version of pointillism (see Seurat). It was through studying Seurat that she became interested in optical effects. In 1960 she began doing studies in black and white and had her first solo exhibit in 1962. Her style of work was dubbed "Op-Art".
Her works give the viewer sensations of movement or color. In the 1960s it is said people would experience varied sensations such as seasickness or sky diving.
In 1967 Riley began to experiment with color with her
first stripe painting. And in the early 1980s, after a trip
to Egypt, she was inspired by the hieroglyphics and began
to explore color and contrast. Some these paintings use lines of color to give a shimmering sensation; in others she uses tessellating patterns. (also used by M.C. Escher in many of his works) At right Shadow Play (1990) an example of tessellation.
Here is a link to an interview she gave last year.
There is the question though - is this great art or is Bridget Riley a decorative artist. Personally I wouldn't put her up there with the greats. I find her paintings fun but she is no Monet. Here is a link to a discussion on this

Paintings shown: Top: Movement in Squares (1961); Above left: Brittania (1961);
Above right: Orphean Elegy I (1978)

Bridget Riley does not do her own painting. Would you believe she has others do it for her!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Brooklyn Bridge" by Joseph Stella

Joseph Stella (1877-1946) was born in a small village near Naples, Italy. He emigrated to New York at the age of 18 and anglicizing his name Giuseppe to Joseph. His older brother, a doctor, was already in New York and the plan was for Joseph to follow in his footsteps. After a year of medical school and another year of pharmacy school, Joseph gave up both and turned his sights to a career in art. He began attending classes at the Art Students League in New York where studied under William Merritt and, like Edward Hopper, Robert Henri, who had joined the Arts Students League in 1903.
Henri's philosophy that no subject was too mundane for the artist. Stella embraced this and began illustrating subjects of his fellow immigrants, becoming involved in immigration issues. He also began making a name for himself as a painter.
In 1909, homesick for Italy, he returned home for a visit. He also visited Paris where he saw, for the first time, Cubist and Futurist paintings. The Italian Futurists especially made an impression on him and he returned home to New York and completely changed his style of painting.
Italian Futurists believed that the modern artist should not look back to the past for his inspiration. The founder was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He published his
Futurist Manifesto on February 5th, 1909 in an Italian newspaper. It was reprinted in France. Thus a movement began. Marinetti expressed a disdain for everything of the past, especially in politics and in the arts. Technology was the Futurists god. Speed, youth, violence, the car, the airplane, the industrial city, anything that represented technology's besting of nature. They were also passionate nationalists. I guess you could say that they were the opposites of the flower children of the sixties.
Stella returned to New York in 1912 and got to work. In 1913 he produced
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras. This is considered the first American Futurist painting.
Although Stella is considered the Father of the American Futurists, he did paintings many surrealistic paintings such as

When Joseph Stella arrived in New York the Brooklyn Bridge was only about 15 years old. Designed by John Roebling, it connected Manhattan Island and Brooklyn on Long Island (a fascinating book about the building of the bridge is The Great Bridge by David McCullough.) Of course, he had never seen anything like it. It fascinated him and gave him comfort. He would walk across the bridge late at night and stand in awe of it. He did several paintings of the bridge, all from the same viewpoint. His perspective captures the impression you get when you walk over the bridge. This particular version was painted in 1939 and hangs in the Whitney Museum in New York. Here are Joseph Stella's own words about the bridge: "Steel and electricity had created this new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violations of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity… The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes and expanded to vast latitudes with the skyscrapers and with bridges made for the conjunction of worlds."
Other versions of the Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Night Hawks" by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was born on July 22, 1882 in Nyack, New York. He is one of the most famous and greatest of the American artists. A realist painter, his works were were primarily of urban scenes and landscapes. An intensively private man, his paintings convey this sense of solitude.
He shown a talent for drawing at an early age and by 1899 decided to be artist. His parents persuaded him to study commercial art so he enrolled in the New York School of Illustration. In 1899 he transferred to the New York School of Art. It was here that studied under Robert Henri, one of the founders of the school of American Realism. Hopper himself said that Henri was the most influential teachers he had.
1906 he did what all artists want to do - study in France. But he was disappointed. The Modern Movement was in full force and Hopper could not relate to it. He himself claimed that it's effect on him was minimal. The one European artist to have influenced him a bit was Rembrandt,especially the painting The Night Watch. He travelled to other cities and made 2 more trips to Europe in 1909 and 1910. And although he often travelled during the rest of his life, he never went back to Europe again.
For a time he painted things he remembered from Europe but found little success so returned to what he was known for - American subjects. In 1913 he made his first sale but he was now 37 and began to doubt that he could make a living as an artist. He wanted to give up working as a commercial artist but couldn't. He discovered that prints were becoming popular so he began to make prints of his work which sold better than his paintings. He also began painting in watercolors for the same reason.
Hopper married at age 42 and this marked a turn in his fortunes. His paintings began selling. In 1924 his show at the Rehn Gallery was a sellout. In 1925 he painted what is considered his first fully mature picture, House by the Railroad. It is typical of the paintings he did from this point on. There is a modern bleakness and a sense of isolation here. At the same time there is a seemingly nostalgic regard for American puritan values of the past. There is also a theme of the loneliness of travel. (The Hoppers had begun to travel a great deal within the United States and Mexico.)
Hopper's star continued to rise and in 1929 and 1933 he had exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both MOMA and the Whitney Museum bought his paintings for their permanent collections.
"Hopper became a pictorial poet who recorded the starkness and vastness of America. Sometimes he expressed aspects of this in traditional guise, as, for example, in his pictures of lighthouses and harsh New England landscapes; sometimes New York was his context, with eloquent cityscapes, often showing
deserted streets at night. Some paintings, such as his celebrated image of a gas-station, Gas (1940), even have elements which anticipate Pop Art. Hopper once said: 'To me the most important thing is the sense of going on. You know how beautiful things are when you're travelling.'
"He painted hotels, motels,
trains and highways, and also liked to paint the public and semi-public places where people gathered:restaurants, theatres,cinemas and offices. But even in these paintings he stressed the theme of loneliness - his theatres are often semi-deserted, with a few patrons waiting for the curtain to go up or the performers isolated in the fierce light of the stage. Hopper was a frequent movie-goer, and there is often a cinematic quality in his work. As the years went on, however, he found suitable subjects increasingly difficult to discover, and often felt blocked and unable to paint. His contemporary the painter Charles Burchfield wrote: 'With Hopper the whole fabric of his art seems to be interwoven with his personal character and manner of living.' When the link between the outer world he observed and the inner world of feeling and fantasy broke, Hopper found he was unable to create." (Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists by Edward Lucie- Smith)
Edward Hopper died May 15, 1967

Edward Hopper was my mother's favorite artist. She especially loved The Night Hawks. This painting, like many of his paintings, portrays a typical city scene. I am guessing that these paintings are more appreciated by city dwellers than non-city dwellers. I was born and raised in New York City and have walked by scenes just like this. It's the kind of painting that you can weave stories about. (The couple seem unhappy, together but not talking. Perhaps they just had an argument. The solitary man, maybe a gangster waiting for his contact. Or just a lonely man looking to be around other people.)

This painting has something in common with Van Gogh's Starry Night.Both have been popular with young people and both have become part of modern pop culture. The Night Hawks has been referenced in numerous films and tv shows (such as The Simpsons- right) as well as in music and literature. In the current movie Night at the Museum:The Smithsonian it is one of the paintings that comes to life.(although it actually hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the way, on the outside of the diner is an advertisement for Phillies cigars.

Edward Hopper began this painting right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The mood of the country was somber and gloomy. this feeling is captured in the painting.

The paintings below are: The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929) which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and New York Movie (1939). this hangs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Friday, June 12, 2009

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia is one of the most exquisite buildings ever built. The Russian Orthodox cathedral was commissioned by Ivan IV (the Terrible) to commemorate the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan in 1552. Since this victory occures on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin, the cathedral was officially named The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat (at that time there was a moat running beside the Kremlin.) It's been almost always been known as St. Basil's though. St. Basil the Blessed (1468-1552) impressed Ivan when he predicted in 1547 that a fire would sweep through Moscow. St. Basil was buried in the Trinity Cathedral that stood on the spot where St. Basil's is now.
The Cathedral was built between 1555- 1560. The architect was Postnik Yakovlev. Legend has it that Ivan had him blinded so he would never build a building more beautiful than St. Basil's. But, in fact, Yakovlev went on to design several churches in Russia .
St. Basil Cathedral is located at the south-east end of Red Square just across from the Spasskaya tower of the Kremlin. It is not very large and consists of nine chapels built on a single foundation. Each chapel is filled with icons, medieval painted walls, and varying artwork on the top inside the domes. Unlike Western cathedrals which are massive naves, senses of grandeur,and one design, St. Basil's is more intimate with varying styles.

It originally had eight chapels but in 1588 Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich added the ninth to house the grave of St. Basil.

Outside in the garden stands a bronze statue commemorating Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin who rallied Russia's Volunteer army against Polish invaders during the "Time of Troubles' in the late 16th and early 17th centuries

St. Basil's came close to being destroyed by Stalin. He wanted the cathedral razed so that his soldiers could leave Red Square en masse. But the architect Baranovsky stood on the steps of the cathedral and threatened to cut his own throat if the cathedral was destroyed. Stalin relented - but put Baranovsky in prison for 5 years.
In recent years, St. Basil's has suffer from weather damage and neglect. it wasn't until the Millenium that the funds were available to repair it.

all photos by Brian McMorrow

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vincent Van Gogh

Irises (1889)
I have a terrible need of -- dare I say the word? -- religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars...
- Vincent van Gogh, Arles, 1888
Everybody knows Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890). Well, almost everyone. Even if they don't know his artworks, they know the name. Since the 1960s, perhaps earlier, young people have taken Vincent to heart. He has had a hit pop song written about him (Vincent - also known as Starry,Starry Night by Don McLean), as well as a piece of classical music (Timbres, Espace, Mouvement, by Henri Dutilleux, also inspired by Vincent's painting Starry Night). There have been several films of his life. And Playhouse Disney uses Vincent's paintings more than any other artist in their children's program Little Einsteins. Books of letters between him and his brother Theo have sold in the millions. Why has he become a cultural phenomena? Perhaps there is something in his works that modern men and women relate to. Perhaps it is his sad life or the words he writes to his brother and the love the two of them had for each other.
What would Vincent make of all this. I think he would be bewildered by it, not quite understanding it.
Vincent lived in abject poverty his whole adult life. If it wasn't for his brother Theo, he never would have lived as long as he did. Everything he tried was a failure. Often he undermined his own success. He worked as an art dealer, book clerk, teacher, and preacher. He tried to study theology. He felt his calling was in the ministry, his father's calling. Eventually he obtained a position as a missionary in a coal-mining district in Borinage, Belgium. Here he felt he should live like those he preached to, sleeping on straw. He was dismissed by church authorities and returned to the Netherlands to his parents but the conflict between him and his father forced him to leave. He returned to Borinage and bordered with a local baker. It was at this time he began to draw. By 1880 he had taken up art as his profession and went to Brussels to study art.
He returned to the Netherlands where he was constantly sketching,
his surroundings, his neighbors, bird's nests. In 1885 he produced his first major work, The Potato Eaters.
He wanted to show people behaving naturally,
not posed. There are a lot of subtle details, the rafters, the pouring of coffee, lines in the window, etc. Vincent had planned out this painting for at least 2 years. He had hoped that it would make his name. It was not successful nor was it accepted by the Salon. Today it is considered his first great painting.
In late 1885 he moved to Antwerp. There he discovered the works of Peter Paul Rubens and also Japanese painting. He began to study color theory. He also began to drink heavily and his health began to deteriorate.
In 1886 he moved to Paris. He saw Impressionist painting for the first time as well as Neo Impressionist - Seurat, for example. Vincent began to adopt some of the pointillism style, juxaposing complementary colors (i.e. blue and orange) to form vibrant contrasts.
In November of 1887 he met and befriended the artist Paul Gaughin (he's the one who went to Tahiti). Then in February 1888 he arrived in Arles. He asked Gaughin to come down and stay. The landscapes were beautiful, the light perfect for an artist. But by the end of the year their friendship had come apart and Vincent was showing signs of a mental breakdown. It was at this time, after Gaughin left, that he cut off his ear. There are several different versions of what happened. Some say that it was actually Gaughin who cut off the ear. Whatever happened, Vincent spent several days in critical condition .
In May 1889 Van Gogh had himself committed to a hospital in Saint-Remy, about 20 miles from Arles. It was here that he painted Starry Night. He started getting recognition and respect from his fellow artists. His works were displayed in several avant-garde exhibitions.
In May 1890 he went to Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris where he was closer to his brother, who was now married. But he depression deepened and in July 1890 he walked out into a field and shot himself, dying 2 days later. Theo's grief overwhelmed him and he died 6 months later.
There are many theories about the state of his health.* Some say he was epiliptic, others say he had a brain disorder.
Vincent's paintings are often turbulent, swirls of color moving about. The sun, the stars are brilliant lights moving around the sky. Cypresses that seem to be crawling up the painting.
Vincent sold one painting in his lifetime - The Red Vineyards of Arles. Today his paintings are sold for millions of dollars.

* This article has a section at towards the bottom of the page about his health.

An aside - in November 2004 a dutch filmmaker was assassinated by a Muslim extremist because of a 10 minute made by this filmmaker. Called Submission, it was about the violent treatment of women in some Islamic countries. The name of this film maker was Theo Van Gogh, great -grandson of Vincent's brother
Paintings below: (Left top) Red Vineyards of Arles (1888); (right) one of the many self-portraits he did. (bottom left) Starry Night (1889); (right) Cypresses (1889)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Japanese Footbridge - Claude Monet

One of the most wonderful "art experiences" I have ever had was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (I really shouldn't "one of" because I went several times.) In one room they have 3 of Monet's Waterlilies - all wall size. You can sit on a bench and be surrounded by these beautiful paintings. I hope they still have it that way. I haven't been back to New York in several years.
Claude Monet was born November 14, 1840 in Paris and died at Giverny on December 5, 1926. He is the epitome of Impressionist painting. In fact he is considered the founder of Impressionism.The term Impressionism is derived from one of his paintings - Impression, Sunrise (It was part of the first Impressionist exhibit and an art critic used the term to disparge the artists. But the artists liked the term and decided to use it to describe their work).
Monet always knew that he wanted to be an artist. He began studying art at age 11 at the Le Havre Secondary School of the Arts. Around 1857 he met fellow artist Eugene Boudin who became a mentor to Monet. He taught how to paint with oils and, perhaps most importantly, how to paint "en plein air" - the outdoors.
Occasionally Claude would travel back to Paris to the Louvre Museum. He met several other painters including Edouard Manet, whose works bridge realism and impressionism.
In 1870 he went to London and became inspired by the landscapes of John Constable and Joseph Turner. These two artist would also have a profound effect on Monet.
In May 1883 Monet and his family moved to Giverny. He would remain there the rest of his life. He would find some of his greatest inspirations there, especially in his gardens. He began working on series of paintings. For instance his "haystacks" paintings. He would paint them at different times of day,different points of view, and different weather conditions, in order to see how the sunlight changed the shadows and colors.
As he became more successful he was able to spend more on his gardens. He planned them out, making precise designs for planting, everyday giving instructions to his gardeners. Today, the gardens are still there and opened to the public. Monet said of himself, "I'm good for nothing except painting and gardening."
There is a wonderful book called Linnea in Monet's Garden - also a DVD. It is a fantastic introduction to Monet for children - and adults can enjoy it as well.
The Japanese Bridge Over the Lily Pond was first painted in 1899. By the way this is not one of the paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. The picture at the right is bridge as it looks today, probably not much different than it did in Monet's day. The bridge appears in at least 40 of Monet's paintings
The painting at the right is also the bridge. It was painted in 1926 after Monet had developed cataracts. His eyes were operated on in 1923, but it is possible that he was now able to see certain ultrawave violet that the normal eye usually can't see. If you squint your eyes you barely make out the bridge. The other paintings are referred to as Waterlily Pond, Symphony in Rose (above, far right), Water Lily Pond (below right), and Water Lily Pond,Symphony in Green (below left)

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Pentecost" by El Greco

El Greco (1541-1614) was a painter,sculptor, and architect. His name was actually Doménikos Theotokópoulos (for those of you interested in Greek, here is his name in the Greek alphabet - Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος) and he was born in Crete, which was part of the Republic of Venice at that time. After he settled in Spain people began referring to him as "El Greco"- the Greek.
After leaving Crete in 1568, where he painted mostly Byzantine icons, of which almost nothing has survived, he went to Italy. He spent time in Venice and Rome. He then went to Spain, where he spent the rest of his life, occasionally making a return visit to Italy.
El Greco had a distinct style - his elongated figures, his intense colors, often his figures looking upward. Mannerism had developed by artists such as Michelangelo. In Mannerism, painting took on more subjective view of the physical world. Often space was compressed, figures elongated and entwined, colors were out of the ordinary. It emphasized the artist's stylishness. It appeal to the artist's intellect and that was something that appealed to El Greco.
After failing to find much success in Italy, El Greco moved to Spain.In 1577 he moved to Toledo, Spain and remained there the rest of his life.
The Counter-Reformation was in full force and in Spain there was a great demand for religious art. The majority of his paintings are religious works, painted with zeal and passion.
After his death, El Greco fell out of favor in the art world. In fact he was down right disdained by the Baroque artists of the 16th century. It wasn't until the late 18th century that he was rediscovered. The Romantics embraced him. In 1890s he became an inspiration to Spanish painters living in Paris. Gradually the rest of the world began to "discover" him. His influence on other artists is varied but is most evident in Paul Cezanne, a forerunner of Cubism, as well as Picasso.
The Pentecost ,which hangs in the Prado in Madrid, Spain, was painted around 1600. It is an oil painting on canvas. It is a good example of El Greco's work - the colors, the exaggerated figures, the intensity and pareligious fervor.
View of Toledo, one of El Greco's most famous works

Paul Cezanne's Road Before the Mountains, Sainte-Victoire (below)