Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Comment on a Comment

Way back on January 12, 2011, I posted one of the most popular (in terms of readership) items I've ever composed. I titled it, "The First Abstract Painting." It has long been in the top twenty. Today I received a lengthy comment on the subject from a reader, Ricardo Carbajal Moss. I began writing back an even more lengthy response at which time I began to realize the topic he wanted to discuss needed a broader stage from which to speak. For that reason, I'm presenting here, first of all, the original post in its entirety, then his comment, and finally my comment on his comment.

The First Abstract Painting

First Abstract Watercolor, 1910, Wassily Kandinsky
Russian born artist, Wassily Kandinsky, painted what he blithely named First Abstract Watercolor in Munich, Germany, in 1910. The title is apt. Only after a deliberate struggle with your imagination can you visualize any recognizable subject matter, which is just as Kandinsky intended. There is a kind of colorful swirl of activity of reds, pail blues, blacks, and yellows indicating some kind of maelstrom of activity in which any suggestion of external subject matter seems totally accidental. The painting had largely the same impact in the eastern European art community as Picasso's (non abstract) Cubistic Les Demoiselles de Avignon did during roughly same time in Paris. Only the differences in size and media would account for any differences in the impact these two paintings had upon the art and artists of that time.

In the East, artists such as Kasimir Malevich took toward stark black on white geometric symbols to fuel his Supremacist movement while Piet Mondrian took a much more gradual "wading into" abstraction of his own design with his ongoing study of trees, which ultimately ended in total abstraction but with a distinct set of "footprints" leading back to subjective painting. Like the first Sputnik, Kandinsky's efforts were like a wake-up call to the entire world that nothing less than a new threshold had been crossed after which any representational subject matter would somehow seem traditional and retrograde. It was not a moon landing, which allegorically we could say was left to the Americans of the New York school, but it was a ceremonial throwing down of the gauntlet declaring that this is the direction art will go in the twentieth century!
The comment (unedited):
Ricardo Carbajal Moss, October 21, 2016, at 5:42 AM--

Abstract art is a none real bunch of paint on something. The so called painting shows nothing. Paint is just paint. A thing painted is art. A none thing is a nothing. Nothing is nothing. The so called Abstract art is a way to give nothing something. This is like singing a song with no sound and call it a song. We should remember that Pollock wanted to go back to his first paintings was told not to by the gallery owners who sold his work. Today you can spend 20000000 dollars on a Pollock abstract painting if you can find it in a gallery. Perhaps in the near future we will buy and show art work that will be nothing. The so called artist with no results. The so called artists of abstract nothing are cold and dead. Realism is the only form of art. When we lived in caves many years ago we created the first form of art. As long as we can see real things in a painting we are looking at real art. Even if the painting is about a religious idea we are looking at forms that represent legality that represent what we can see. We can see paint in art but is the so called abstract art about real things???? Think about seen a something that represents a written story in a book but you see no words on any of the 300 clear pages in the book. This book could be called Abstract literature. But it would be as stupid as what we call abstract art. Art is art and art is a reality we know about.
My response:
Nowhere is it written that art MUST be about real life. First of all, you're equating Abstract art with non-representational art. They are NOT one and the same. An abstract (as in a legal context) is a shortened or abbreviated version of a longer, more complex document. The same applies to painting. Abstract art is not necessarily without content or meaning, it only abbreviates one or both, simplifying it and/or condensing it. Non-representational art, on the other hand, is ALWAYS and ONLY art about art. It has no other content, and is never intended by the artist to have any other frame of reference. You mention Pollock as an example. His paintings are about color, about texture, about lines, about shapes and space. They're about the way he could use all these basic elements to effect the psyche of his viewer. Pollock was not the first to do all that, but he was one of the best at doing it, which accounts for his dealers' attitude and for the kind of money you ascribe to his work.
You worship Realism. I, myself, tend to paint realistically so I'm far from biased against Realism. Yet even at that, only about ten-percent of all painting is truly realistic, in the absolute sense that it might be mistaken for the real world. Virtually all artist inject some of themselves into their work, thus separating the painting (or other media output) from the real world. This causes it to be, at the very least, an abstraction of reality--to some degree shortened, simplified, or abbreviated. I have long defined art as "creative communication." To quote the Captain in the movie, Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is failure to communicate." In order for communication to take place both the sender (the artist) and the receiver (the viewer) must speak the same (or a very similar) language. Unless the artist is using a language which no one else speaks (as sometimes happens), the responsibility in understanding is cast upon the viewer. Obviously, many (apparently very wealthy) people DO understand Pollock's visual language. They have taken the time to learn his language and thus allow him to communicate his thoughts THROUGH art, ABOUT art, and ONLY art.
With all due respect, you apparently have never come to understand the language of art. Your statement, "Realism is the only form of art," proves that. To put this in a literary context as you tried to do, it's the equivalent of your denigrating the Bible simply because you don't understand Hebrew. Pollock, in a sense, has translated art (the Bible) into a visual language you CAN understand IF you make the effort. Remember, the first modern translations of the Bible were not from Latin into English but into German. Aren't you glad you don't have to learn German to understand the Bible? Abstract art, and especially non-representation art, is NOT easily understood in the sense that Realism is. Realism, as in the case of Norman Rockwell, for instance, is EASY art. Pollock and the other non-representational artists of his time produced HARD art. To put this in a musical context, you no doubt understand the songs written by Chuck Berry. But do you understand the music written by Rachmaninoff? In an artistic context, you understand the drawings of Charles Schulz, which are in no way realistic but, in fact, quite abstract in their simplistic style. The difference is that they are NOT non-representational (and the titles are a bit longer). In fact, Peanuts was seldom art about art.
To put all this in an abstract, simplified form, you need to study art beyond an elementary (Realism) level in order to understand and appreciate the HARD (difficult) art as seen in the work of Pollock, Kandinsky, Malevich, Picasso, Rothko, Gottlieb, Hofmann, Newman, Noguchi, Kline, de Kooning, Nevelson, Gorky, and a host of others. If most of those names mean little or nothing to you, then that only goes to prove my point. Fortunately you've come to the right place. Click on each of the links above for a quick and easy primer. Then hit Wikipedia to deepen your understanding of each one and, in essence, the whole area of Abstract Expressionism and non-representational art. And remember...they are NOT one and the same.

Friday, October 21, 2016


If you had been a Renaissance painter, your art supply
cupboard might have looked something like this.
Today, when an artist sits down at his or her easel (do painters still work standing up anymore?) among the first tasks is to select the tubes of paint needed to complete the painting. Every artist has favorites, those they've fallen in love with and likewise, those they wouldn't touch with a ten-foot brush. In any case they give little though to what their paint is made of, how it is made, or where the different components originate. Most artists probably don't even give much thought to the varying cost of each color the choose, in that it's usually such a minor consideration as to the cost of creating their work of art. That's art now. Art then was a far different matter. Let's go back to the Renaissance era. Earth tones--ochers, sienas, umbers, blacks, whites, iron oxides, etc. were, in truth, "dirt cheap," and for the most part, readily available in most urban art centers. Bright colors were harder to come by--yellows, reds, gold leaf, and especially blues. The color we know today as ultramarine blue, then made from the semi-precious gemstone, lapis lazuli, was literally worth its weight in silver. Formal art commission contracts often specified how much blue (and gold) would be used in determining the cost of the painting.

Earth tone pigments. As the name suggests, they are
basically highly refined "dirt" (and thus, dirt-cheap)
For the benefit of those artists who have never even seen pure pigments before, let me begin at the beginning. A pigment is a material that changes the reflected wavelength of light through selective absorption. Although many materials selectively absorb certain wavelengths of light the materials artists have chosen (or developed) for use as pigments have special properties that make them ideal for coloring other materials. A pigment must have a high tinting strength relative to the materials it colors. It must be stable in solid form at room temperatures. And for the artist, permanence and stability are required properties. Pigments that are not permanent are called fugitive. Fugitive pigments fade over time, or with exposure to light. Some can also eventually blacken. Of course, pigments are used for coloring other items besides paint, including inks, plastics, fabrics, cosmetics, even foods. Most pigments used in paints are dry, usually ground into a fine powder. This powder is added to a binder (or vehicle), a relatively neutral or colorless material, that suspends the pigment and gives the paint its adhesion.

Prehistoric colors--rust red, carbon black, browns,
and sometimes dull yellows (ochers).
The very earliest painters had a quite limited palette (above), primarily, if not exclusively, what we call earth tones--various oxides and carbon black (burnt wood or bones). Before the Industrial Revolution, many pigments were known by the location whence they came. These pigments based on locally unique minerals and clays often bore the name of the city or region where they were mined. Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna came from Siena, Italy. Raw umber and burnt umber came from nearby Umbria. These pigments were among the first to be synthesize, as chemists created modern colors that were more consistent than colors mined from the original ore bodies. The place names, however, remained. Often a contemporary mixture of pigments that replaces a historical pigment is indicated by calling the resulting color a hue, but manufacturers are sometimes negligent in maintaining this distinction.

Australian ochre pits have become a tourist attraction.
As an example, Indian yellow was once produced by collecting the urine of cattle that had been fed only mango leaves. Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th and 18th centuries loved the stuff for its luminescent qualities, and often used it to represent sunlight. A patron of Vermeer is said to have remarked that that the artist had used "cow piss" to paint his wife. Since mango leaves are nutritionally inadequate for cattle, harvesting this pigment was eventually declared to be inhumane. Today, French ultramarine is manufactured from aluminum silicate with sulfur impurities. Similarly, royal blue, once referring to tints produced from lapis lazuli, has evolved into a much lighter and brighter color, usually formulated from phthalo blue and titanium dioxide (white), or from inexpensive synthetic blue dyes.

Ground pigments become brighter when mixed with various
mediums used in the manufacture of artists' colors.
One of the difficulties beginning artists (and some more experienced as well) have always had in dealing with color is that of equating pigment named paints with their understanding of the infamous color wheel (below). To make matters worse this "wheel," in its truest form, is actually a sphere when all the various tints and shades are accounted for. Thus, when you contemplate the complexities of this ancient color diagram you are, in fact, viewing a gross oversimplification. The "Real Color Wheel" (below) comes about as close as any simplification of the spherical nature of shaded (using complementary colors) and tints (using white) that I've ever encountered. I've attached some of the most common pigment designated paints around the edges. The outermost ring is comprised of tints with shades moving toward the center. The tiny white or black dots indicate some of the more common premixed shades also available under a variety of different names. Keep in mind that color designations will vary (sometimes greatly) among different manufacturers. Likewise, paints labeled "student grade" are formulated with colorless fillers (usually aluminum stearate) up to 2% by weight. That may not sound like much in terms of volume until you realize that aluminum compounds are quite light in weight while some of the more costly pigments are much heavier than others. The stuff is said to offer oil paints a more "buttery" consistency, but they also subtly effect the brightness of the colors.

Note: unlabeled hues are those usually mixed by the artist and seldom manufactured as tube paint.

For more details regarding the diagram above, click here.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Paintings I've Not Done Yet--Animals

Copyright, Jim Lane
"Look how brave my dad is."
There's no two ways about it; animals are hard to photograph. About nine times out of ten they're at least somewhat uncooperative. Only the most docile will pose, and even at that how they pose is their own prerogative. I have a rather large file of animals taken over the years, yet only about ten percent (if that) even come close to being suitable painting source photos. Like most lifelong photographers, the vast majority of my four-legged creatures fall in the canine or feline categories, with the equines coming in a distant third. An exception to that is the oldest in this group (above), taken around 1984 when our son was about two years old. I'm thinking it was at a petting zoo, probably Cedar Point Amusement Park, near Sandusky, Ohio. Actually it's based upon two separate photos taken by my wife just seconds apart. I don't think Jonathan had ever seen a deer before, certainly never so up-close and personal. In any case he was in no mood to feed the damned thing. His image I superimposed over one of myself nourishing the wildlife. The two photos were always favorites of my mother, who thought I should paint them both. Only in editing the two into one do they begin to come together to form an image worth painting.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Fileena (top); our son's boxer and her "boxerettes"; one of
the impudent pups trying to "pull my leg"; and an artist with her
two fully grown collies outside a cathedral in Florence, Italy.
Over the course of nearly fifty years we've had quite a roster of pets--two dogs and four cats...that I can recall...make that six cats and three dogs. I just remembered some more. Of them all, our most beloved was Fileena, a slightly oversized Sheltie we raised from a pup. She died several years ago at the age of fifteen (that's around one-hundred in people years). Our son and his wife are partial to boxers--not the most photogenic dog in the world--even when they're pups. In Europe, far more than in the U.S., people tend to take their dogs along with them...even to work. I wonder if the artist above sells more paintings with her beautiful, sweet-natured collies along. I forget the name of the church they're guarding, but Michelangelo is buried inside.
Copyright, Jim Lane
These three came to pose for us in 2005. Only Feisty remains.
I've always liked cats; and as my wife and I have grown older, they've proven to be far more appropriate to our lifestyle than dogs. Dogs need to go "out" every hour on the hour (not quite but sometimes it seemed that way). With cats, it's, "Whadaya mean go OUT? We've got our litter box, thank you," (or meows to that effect). If the food and water bowls are big enough, a quick refill twice a week will suffice. Since we travel about six weeks out of the year, a nice neighbor lady sees to the standoffish felines in our stead. The only problem is that when we return, our cute little bundles of nervous tension spend the next month trying to find it in their hearts to forgive us for leaving them alone for so long. Feisty, our white tom, left alone for the first time in his life this spring, was downright neurotic when we got home.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Sorrento, Italy. How do you say "giddy-up" in Italian?
Although I've never been around horses much, now or "then," I've always enjoyed painting them (probably at least a dozen times). In going back through my files I found these two horse-drawn carriage photos I always intended to paint but never found the right context or the requisite time to do them justice. The rather ornate carriage (above) was on the appropriately narrow streets of Sorrento, Italy (not so appropriate for tourist busses). The somewhat more compact (high mileage) carriage (below) was parked awaiting tourists on the island of Malta. One of these days, I'm going to take a ride in such style (or at least inquire as to how much it costs to do so).
Copyright, Jim Lane
A Maltese equine taxi.
As the eighth group in this series, like the others, these photos are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographical location. If you have a website, include the URL; and please, when finished, e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.

Copyright, Jim Lane
"Hello, what's your name?"


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tablescape Painting

Dinner Table, 1896-97, Henri Matisse
One of the most popular items I've ever posted here was a discourse on food art. A close second was a similar piece on photographing food. I've also written on the art of Nouvelle Cuisine (food presentation). Moreover, adding to my credentials in knowing my way around the kitchen, I fix breakfast for my wife and myself every morning (when she has time to eat it). My specialties include omelets and breakfast burritos. Although I've painted food more than a few times and I'm extremely fond of it, until recently I hadn't realized that there was an entire (though relatively obscure) area of painting content known as the "tablescape." (My spellchecker thinks that should be two words.) Such iconic artists as Pierre Bonnard and Edvard Munch (below) sometimes painted them. Henri Matisse, whose Dinner Table (above) first caught my eye, probably painted more tablescapes than either of the other two put together.
At the Dinner Table, 1925, Edvard Munch,
(sometimes titled The Wedding of the Bohemian).
The term "tablescape" is, of course, derived loosely from the term "landscape," meaning it tends to be an eyelevel depiction of the contents of a receding surface. All too often it is confused with, or lumped into, the overall area of still-life painting. Technically, I suppose that's reasonable in that both are a careful arrangement of painted objects. However, in the case of the tablescape, it refers only to those objects involved with, and arranged for, dining (sometimes with more diners than objects). Whether peopled with diners or merely prepared for them, tablescapes constitute some of the largest, most elaborate still-lifes ever rendered to canvas.
Heavenly tablescapes--let us to which fork to use.
I suppose no earthly hostess could hope to match the timeless elegance of a heavenly banquet (above), but that has not prevented them from trying, or prevented artists from trying to capture such extravagance on canvas, as see in the lavish setting by Jules Alexandre Grun in his 1913 The End of Dinner (below). Those pre-income-tax millionaires (and their wives and servants) really knew how to spread a table!
The End of Dinner, 1913, Jules Alexandre Grun. I wonder if the
artist was a member of the dinner party or just an observer.
Of course, the European influenced Americans weren't the first (or last) to go "whole hog" (pun intended) when it came to spreading a gold-plated feast. Going back to Roman times (and perhaps even to the Hellenic Greeks) the banquet, sometimes lasting days on end, was the gold standard of decadent entertainment. The seating arrangements (Romans reclined to eat) and the foods were quite different--meats, fish, cheeses, produce, olive oil, and spices were menu staples. The well-to-do people ate wheat bread while the poorer folks ate bread made from barley. More exotic Roman cuisine including blood puddings, sausages, cured ham and bacon. The milk of goats or sheep was thought superior to that of cows. Likewise, butter was seen as an undesirable Gallic foodstuff. Sweet foods such as pastries typically used honey and wine syrup as a sweetener. A variety of dried fruits (figs, dates, and plums) as well as fresh berries were also served. Consuming exotic birds is largely the stuff of myths.
Roman banquets were common. Their legendary descent into orgies was not.
During the late 19th-century, dining al fresco (outside) became quite popular, especially in the case of afternoon teas. Several of the Impressionist artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Monet, Renoir, and Degas featured tables placed in garden settings with sometimes rather formal tablescapes, though the tea and croissant crowd were often depicted as being quite informal in their romanticized afternoon repasts among the blossoms, buds, and bugs.
Tea was considered upper class. Café (coffee) was seen as a
street drink containing the dangerously addictive stimulant, caffeine.

Although it has long been a staple in England, regardless of class distinctions, except for the very most upper-classes, afternoon tea never caught on in America. (We much preferred "happy hour.") Americans ate hearty meals three times a day to such a degree that "dinner" and "supper," having two distinctly different meanings (and times of the day) in Europe, came to be almost synonymous in the United States. In more recent years, noontime diners have adopted the term "lunch," allowing "dinner" to return to its traditional place in the evening with "supper" relegated to the lower classes. Regardless of what the meal was called, Americans have taken no backseat to anyone when it came to "setting the table." Although gold eating utensils are uncommon even for the upper classes, "silverware" (which was often nickel-plated stainless steel) became the classic medium of good taste in putting out an attractive, even opulent, tablescape. Strangely, we have become so accustomed to the term silverware we often call our knives, forks, and spoon by that name, even when they're made of plastic (which is sometimes made to look silvery).
A British tablescape.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where Are We?

I hope you don't have the phobia connected with this place.
As a retired teacher, old habits die hard. I enjoy making up tests...except that these days I call them contests. In the past I've designed brain-teasers involving the naming the artist, or the titles of their paintings, or even parts of their faces. Today, as I was trying to get a somewhat different "handle" on landscape painting it occurred to me that very often the best such works involved paintings of cities (or cityscapes, as they're sometimes called). So combining these two ideas, I've put together a group of cityscapes by various artists, some famous, some relatively unknown (some completely unknown). Some are living, others long dead. In the past when I've run such contests readers have told me they were too easy. I suppose a case could be made that they are actually too hard, judging by the number of readers who don't even try to identify the images. In any case, see if you can name these cities; but don't expect to see readily identifiable landmarks in most of the paintings (unless you happen to live in the city depicted). You'll also find quite a diversity of styles and eras represented. I shall be identifying the first reader to get all ten correct when I reveal the answers within a week or two (depending upon the response time). The first one is above, the second is below. I hope the clues help (but not too much).

Not the one in Illinois.
Guess again; your first guess is probably be wrong.
This one should be the easiest of the bunch.
A city known by its initials.
By a British painter. Study it carefully, it's not that hard.
The oldest city of them all.
Named for a newspaper.
The youngest city of the lot.
Impression--Hazy Sunrise.
Send your list of cities to: You can win a free subscription to Art Now and Then.

Please do NOT post your guesses to the comments section below.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Occupied Paris, 1940-44

The German Wehrmacht marches down one of Paris' broad boulevards,
(color photo by Andre Zucca, a French photographer who collaborated
with the Germans to produce propaganda photos of occupied Paris).
On June, 14, 1940, the German army marched into Paris. A little over a year later, on July 16th and 17th, 1942, following German orders, the French police and gendarmes arrested 12,884 Jews, including 4,115 children, all of whom were eventually transported by train to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Few of the adults and none of the children were ever seen again.
Rather than mount a futile defense of their city, Parisians cried a lot.
As of 1901, the population of Paris had grown to 2,715,000. The city was inhabited by artists from around the world, including Picasso, Modigliani and Matisse. It was the birthplace of Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionist art. Paris authors such as Marcel Proust were exploring new approaches to literature. Then during WW I, Paris sometimes found itself on the front line as it supplied more than 6,000 soldiers at the First Battle of the Marne. The city was also bombed by Zeppelins and shelled by German long-range guns. The years after the war, in France and much of the rest of the world, were known as Les Années Folles (The Roaring Twenties). Paris grew to be a mecca for writers, musicians and artists from around the world, including Ernest Hemingway, Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, and the Surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí.
France was a complex, chaotic political geography of shortages,
chaos, conspiracy, deceit, perpetual fear for nearly four years.
France had first mobilized for war in September 1939, when the Nazi invaded Poland, but the war seemed far away; that is, until May 10, 1940. The Germans attacked France and In short order, defeated the French army. The French government scrambled out of Paris a month later on June 10th, shortly before the Germans occupied the city on June 14th. The French Government moved to Vichy, leaving Paris to be governed by the German military and certain French officials approved by the Germans. For the Parisians, the occupation was a series of shortages, frustrations, fears, and humiliations. A curfew was in effect from nine in the evening until five in the morning; at night, the city went dark. Rationing of food, tobacco, coal and clothing was imposed starting in September, 1940. Every year supplies grew scarcer and the prices climbed higher. A million Parisians left the city for the provinces (above), where there was more food and fewer Germans. The French press and radio contained only German propaganda. But by far, it was the Jews in Paris who suffered most.

Life on the streets of Paris was often a study in contrasts between those who collaborated with the Germans and those who didn't.
(All color photos, above and below, are by Andre Zucca.)
From the very beginning of the Occupation, Jews in Paris were treated with particular harshness. In October of 1940, the German occupation authorities decreed that Jews would be barred from "liberal" professions, such as commerce, and industry, thus affecting lawyers, doctors, professors, shop owners. And, they would also be barred from certain restaurants and public places. As if this wasn't bad enough, their property was seized. It only got worse. In July, Jews were banned from all main streets, movie theaters, libraries, parks, gardens, restaurants, cafés and other public places, and were required to ride on the last car of metro trains. Then on 16th and 17th of July, 1942, secret Gestapo orders sent 13,152 Jews some 20 kilometers north of Paris, while 8,160 men, women and children comprising families went to the Vélodrome d’Hiver stadium, where they were crowded together in the heat of summer, with little food, water, and no hygienic facilities for five days before being sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp. The roundup was considered a failure by the Germans, since they had prepared trains for 32,000 persons. Arrests continued in 1943 and 1944. By the time of the Liberation, it was estimated that 43,000 Jews from the Paris region, or about half the total population of the community, had been sent to the concentration camps. Some 34,000 died there.

The yellow Star of David became a virtual death sentence.
While some painters left Paris, many remained and continued working. Georges Braque was on who left, but then unaccountably, returned to Paris in autumn 1940 and quietly continued working. Pablo Picasso spent most of 1939 in a villa in Royan, north of Bordeaux. He returned to Paris and resumed working in his studio on rue des Grands Augustins (a narrow street just south of the Seine near the center of Paris). He frequently received visitors at his studio, including Germans. Some were admiring and some suspicious. Picasso had postcards made of his famous anti-fascist work, Guernica, to hand out as souvenirs to visitors (which was either very brave or very stupid). He often had serious discussions of art and politics with visiting Germans, including writer Ernst Jünger. Although Picasso's work was officially condemned as "degenerate", he continued to sell his paintings at the Hôtel Drouot auction house and at the Galerie Louise Leiris. German treasurer officials opened Picasso's bank vault, where he stored his private art collection, searching for Jewish-owned art they could seize. Fortunately, Picasso so confused them with his descriptions of ownership of the paintings that they left without taking anything. In a similar manner, Picasso persuaded the Germans that the paintings in the adjoining vault, owned by Braque, were actually his own (not too difficult a task in that their styles were virtually identical). Other "degenerate" artists, including Kandinsky and Henri Matisse, sent drawings up to Paris from his residences in Nice. Though they too were officially condemned, both continued to sell their works from the back rooms of Paris galleries.

Adolph Hitler plays tourist along with much of the German Wehrmacht.
In many ways Paris was lucky. Its early surrender largely avoided the mass bombing destruction endured by London. Within a week of his conquest, Adolph Hitler himself arrived to tour the virtually unscathed city joining much of the German Wehrmacht. For the most part, there was an effort on the part of the military to blend in with the French populace (except for their uniforms, of course) causing as little disruption of the Parisian way of life as possible under the circumstances. Unknown artists and students continued to sell their work (mostly to Germans) along the banks of the Seine (below); sidewalk cafes remained open (though coffee and wine was rationed, not to mention quite expensive). The Germans did their best to satisfy the French love of music, movies, opera, and plays, albeit with a distinctly German flavor.

Hitler and the Germans didn't necessarily know much about art,
but they knew what they didn't like.
Yet just below the strained normalcy of the city was the French Resistance. Within days after Paris fell to the Germans, Parisians heard an obscure French brigadier General named Charles de Gaulle, make an appeal from London on the BBC, for his nation to continue the resistance against the Germans. Although very few heard the broadcast at the time, it was widely printed and circulated in the days that followed. Shortly thereafter, the Germans ordered all Frenchmen to turn in any weapons and short-wave receivers they possessed, or face severe punishment. Within Paris, opposition was isolated and slow to build. On August 2nd, de Gaulle was condemned to death for treason, in absentia, by Marshal Petain's new puppet government in Vichy. During the remaining years of the occupation, the Germans found themselves dealing with the French resistance like a thorn in their side, one which grew more and more painful as the war progressed.

A post-war photo of stolen art, stashed away in a church in Elligen, Germany (top). The lower photo is the art collection of just one
man, German Reichsführer , Heinrich Himmler.
One of the greatest art thefts in history took place in Paris during the Occupation. The Nazis looted the art of Jewish collectors on an unprecedented scale. Most of the great masterpieces in the Louvre had already been evacuated to a châteaux in the Loire Valley and elsewhere in the unoccupied zone. They were relatively safe. The German Army was respectful of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and refused to transfer the works in French museums out of the country. However, the Nazi leaders were not so scrupulous. In June of 1940, within days after capturing the city, Hitler ordered that all art works in France, public and private, should be "safeguarded". Many of the wealthiest Jewish families had sent their art out of France before leaving the country, but others left their art collections behind considering themselves fortunate to escape with their lives. A new law decreed that those who had left France just before the war were no longer French citizens, and thus their property could be seized.

The Astronomer, 1668, Jan Vermeer
(Reserved for Hitler.)
The Gestapo began raiding bank vaults and empty residences, collecting the works of art. The pieces left behind in the fifteen largest Jewish-owned art galleries in Paris were also confiscated to be cataloged and stored. They were moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume (The Palm Gallery), a building in the Tuileries Gardens used by the Louvre for temporary exhibits. More than four-hundred crates of art works were brought to the Jeu de Paume by Luftwaffe personnel, unpacked and cataloged. Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, visited the Jeu de Paume on November 3rd, then returned on the 5th, spending the entire day there, picking out works for his private collection. He selected twenty-seven paintings, including works by Rembrandt and Van Dyck owned by Edouard de Rothschild, as well as stained glass windows and furniture intended for Carinhall, the luxurious hunting lodge he had built in the Schorfheide Forest in Germany. Another Rothschild-owned painting, The Astronomer (above) by Jan Vermeer, was reserved for Hitler himself. Fifteen railroad boxcars filled with art masterpieces were sent to Germany on Goering's personal train. Goering later visited the Jeu de Paume twelve more times in 1941, and five times in 1942, adding to his collection as new pieces flowed in. Confiscations continued at banks, warehouses and private residences, with paintings, furniture, statues, clocks and jewelry accumulating at the Jeu de Paume. They filled the whole ground floor. The staff at the Jeu de Paume cataloged 218 major collections. Between April, 1941 and July, 1944. The result was 4,174 cases of art works filling 138 boxcars, all shipped from Paris to Germany. Although much of the art was recovered, many pieces remained missing after the war.

French wine and German Beer, photo by Andre Zucca


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Elmer Bischoff

Two Figures at the Seashore, 1957, Elmer Bischoff
Almost fifty years ago now, back in the early 1970s when I was an undergraduate art education major at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I had two painting instructors who came of age as artists during the 1950s at the height of the Abstract Expressionist era. Both were accomplished painters, one a few years older than the other. They were not related to the famous New York School when I knew them, though one or both may have been at one time. Abstract Expressionism was such a dominant force in the 1950s that's altogether possible. In any case, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the last vestiges of the Modern Art era, Minimalism, was fading fast. They were not Minimalists, but instead had moved on to a derivative type of Abstract Expressionism referred to today a the "Figurative Movement." It was, in a nutshell, the creeping back of subjective content into Expressionism, perhaps an attempt to revive the distant past--the early decades of the 20th-century.

The abstract, pre-figurative work of Elmer Bischoff spanning about
three decades. Even his Figurative work didn't depart more than
and arm's length from the Abstract Expressionism he knew from the beginning of his career.
As a relatively naïve young student, largely self-taught at the time, and having never been exposed to much art of any kind in museums, Realism was virtually the only art I knew. I don't recall being particularly turned off by Abstract Expressionism (above). I probably didn't know enough about it to be effected one way or another; but as I saw up close more and more of the Figurative evolution of such art, I came to the conclusion I didn't much like it. And quite frankly, even though today I'm pretty familiar with most types of western art, the styles, eras, and movements, down through the ages, I must say, I still don't like the art of the Figurative Movement. One of the major practitioners of this type of art (he hated the term movement) was the California-born painter, Elmer Bischoff. I don't much like his work either (top).

The two paintings are self-portraits dating from 1955.
Bischoff was a second-generation Californian, born in 1916, who lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area. He was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his master's degree in May 1939. He quickly found a job teaching art at Sacramento High School for the first three years of his career. As it did virtually ever fighting man and woman involved, World War II, changed Bischoff's life. In 1941, he served as a lieutenant colonel in intelligence services in England, stationing near Oxford. He returned to the U.S. in November, 1945. In returning to San Francisco after the war, Bischoff found himself in the midst of avant-garde Abstract Expressionism as translated from the east coast New York School to what was known then as the "left" coast. He mixed and mingled with, among others, artists such as Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. In early 1946, a golden opportunity was offered Bischoff when an artist-friend suggested him for a position teaching at San Francisco's prestigious California School of Fine Arts. There Bischoff entered a rarified world which already included some of the most talented new artists of post-war America. It was there Bischoff met David Park and Richard Diebenkorn. In 1973, Bischoff was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, becoming a full member in 1985.

Interior with Cityscape, Elmer Bischoff
The art of the Bay Area Figurative Movement is distinct from Expressionism as imported from Europe. It displays the immediacy and warmth that one sees in its derivative, Abstract Expressionist painting, though not all Figurative painting was related to the New York School. Elmer Bischoff was older than Diebenkorn, and more worldly, which led him to take on an independent style in his painting. Bischoff's quietly lyrical paintings were serious in a different way from the type of painting which was being taken seriously at that time, during the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Although Bischoff did not rise to the national level of renown as did some of the others from the Bay Area Figurative Movement, as so often happens, he has been accorded a number of retrospective exhibits at major museums up and down the west coast--after his death in 1991.

Houses Along the Coast, Elmer Bischoff

Boat and Clouds, 1967, Elmer Bischoff