Easter Eggs in Famous Art

by Aileen Mitchell 14. March 2017 11:10

This is for everyone who has been told to "stand back please" when examining a piece of art. This month we bring you 'Easter eggs' in famous works of art - the secret bits you may have missed. 

Easter eggs - unexpected or undocumented features in a piece of work - have appeared in artwork as far back as ancient societies and have been anything from a sneaky self-portrait to a UFO sighting! Here are some of the most well-known Easter eggs in art that you may have missed:

The Creation of Adam c. 1508-1512 by Michelangelo 

The Creation of Adam

This renowned work from Michelangelo has graced the Sistine Chapel since 1508, and has been copied, parodied and satirised many times. But how many noticed a tribute to the artist's passion for science and the human anatomy as well as his fine painting?

It appears that God floating in his crimson pod to the right of the piece, complete with seraphim, is the exact outline of the human brain. The leg of one of the cherubs is in the correct place and shape for where the spinal chord is attached, and another's foot is in the place of the pituitary gland. The floating green scarf is even in the precise location and shape for the vertebral artery. 

If that all sounds a little too much like coincidence, you may also want to know that God even extends his arm to Adam through what we now know as the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that gives humans the gift of reason and deliberation - something that sets us apart from animals. There is also a sad looking angel in the area of the brain that is activated when we experience sad emotions.

Although the discovery of the prefrontal cortex was not until the 20th century, Michelangelo had a profoundly advanced knowledge of the human anatomy due to years of dissections from the age of seventeen. But the mystery continues as dissection of the brain alone does not reveal which parts are activated for different emotions. Could this be coincidence?

With all this new information, a controversial interpretation of the art has arisen. For hundreds of years scholars believed God to be pointing at Adam as the title suggests, giving him life. After the discovery of the anatomically correct brain representation, some believe Adam is in fact pointing at God, which gives the painting an entirely different meaning. Was Michelangelo suggesting God to be a creation of the human mind? We'll never know the true answer, as none of these things were recorded by the artist. We are left to gaze and wonder...

Madonna with Saint Giovannino - Domenico Ghirlandaio

Madonna with Saint Giovannino (1449-1494)

This Italian Rennaissance artwork by Domenico Ghirlandaio is subject of much online debate. There is some speculation over who actually painted the piece, but this is not the issue that has fuelled so much debate. People are talking about the small, dark shape in the sky behind Madonna's right shoulder, which is believed by many to be a UFO. Up close, the dark shape certainly does look a little extra terrestrial and almost spaceship-like. Others have backed up this observation by adding that the lone figure in the distance and his dog are also looking up at it. 

These shapes, however, are quite common in this era of artwork and were intended to resemble a gap in the heavens where divine light would shine through onto the subject in the painting. It is very much a religious trend that was around a lot in Rennaissance art. Not alien appearances. 

 

The Mona Lisa 1503-1505 - Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa

One of the most famous artworks of all time, mentioned in many conspiracy theories and books is Leondardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Art historians recently discovered the existence of another woman painted below the surface which raised even more questions and theories about the work. On close inspection we can also see that the artists has initialled "LV" in her right eye and the number 72 on the bridge in the background. There is also a theory that the lady in the painting is pregnant, as her arms are covering her stomach and she is wearing a veil commonly used by Italian women before and after childbirth.

 

The Arnolfini Portrait - Jan van Eyck

Close up of The Arnolfini Portrait Mirror

The Arnolfini Portrait

Another very famous painting from 1434 that demonstrates Jan van Eyck's meticulous brush skills in the details in the woman's dress to the right of the scene. Although it's bursting with detail for us to appreciate, there is something you may not have spotted from behind the red ropes of the National Gallery. 

Look carefully at the back wall in the painting and you'll see a mirror. There are two new people painted in the reflection of the mirror, presumably the other guests in the room that we cannot see from the position the portrait was taken from! Art scholars think that one of these people may be a sneaky self-portrait of van Eyck himself, as one of the guests in the mirror has their hand held up in a gesture of greeting. 

Take a look at our online gallery and see if you can spot an Easter egg in our own artists's paintings!

Image credits:

The Creation of Adam/ en:Image:Creation of Adam.jpg/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Madonna with Saint Giovannino/ http://www.italymagazine.com/news/madonna-saint-giovannino-ufo-inspired-art/ 

The Mona Lisa/ Musée du Louvre/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Tags:

Art History | Artists

Artists Inspired By Mothers

by Aileen Mitchell 27. February 2017 10:37

Mother’s Day is just around the corner (26th March – put it in your diary!). Today we look at mothers who inspired, encouraged and modelled for some of the most famous artists of all time.

Mother and Child by David Freeman
Mother and Child by David Freeman

Lucian Freud, one of the most celebrated 20th century portrait artists, had a close relationship with his mother, which we can see in his portraiture. Throughout Freud’s childhood his mother took a very keen interest in his talent, and later his career. This all stopped, however, when Freud’s father died. The death of Ernst L. Freud had a catastrophic effect on his mother, Lucie, who suffered from deep depression until she died.

It was in her long period of depression that Freud began to paint her in a collection of very intimate works. These are very detailed snapshots into a private time with mother and son that really shows the lengths of her suffering and distance from her son and the world. Works such as, ‘The Painter’s Mother Resting I, 1975-1976’ are some of Freud’s most well-known and critically acclaimed. 

It is believed that throughout his mother’s period of depression, Freud spent over 4,000 hours painting her. Art historian, Lawrence Gowing, wrote that this was the longest time in three hundred years since a painter showed so much about their relationship with their mother in art since Rembrandt.

This picture is a faithful representation of one of Rembrandt's portraits of his mother.

Rembrandt van Rijn, iconic Dutch artist, is well known for documenting his own self-portraits to show his aging process. He also used his mother as a model for many of his portraits to display similar details of aging. It was common during Rembrandt's era for artists to hone their skills by creating portrait studies of aging subjects, however Rembrandt took his portraits one step further. Using costume and lighting, he created much more theatrical interpretations of his mother that have become highly collectable. 

 

Potrait of the Artist's Mother - Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh has to have a mention here, as he is also one of the most famous artists who was directly inspired by his mother. Anna Carbentus van Gogh was an energetic, family oriented woman who always expressed great affection for her children and husband. One of her beliefs to a happy life was spending time watching flowers grow. She divided up responsibility of the family garden between all the family, which meant her son Vincent spent a lot of his time around flowers that can be seen later in his artwork. Anna was an enthusiastic amateur artist herself and loved to sketch flowers and plants. She noticed van Gogh had a keen talent for drawing and painting their garden flowers from a young age and continued to show her support when he became a full-time artist.

 

Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

The Whistler's Mother, or to give it its correct title, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 is one of the most famous paintings of an artist's mother. Originally meant to be a portrait of the much younger daughter of an MP, Maggie Graham, this convas was instead used as a study of James Abbot McNeill Whistler's mother. 

In a letter to a friend, Whistler's mother explained how Graham had not shown up for a potrait appointment, and how she had decided to stand in. Anna McNeill Whistler also detailed how her son had failed to finish a painting of Mr Graham despite several sittings, producing only half finished, unsuccessful portraits. Anna Whistler was also a very supportive mother and was even James Whistler's art agent for a time when she stayed with him in London.

Blue Iris in my Garden by Simon Knott
Blue Iris in my Garden by Simon Knott

Van Gogh’s feelings of isolation from the family increased as he got older. His unusual love life, his unorthodox views of the world and his battle with mental illness were all said to be strains on the family. Despite this, he always enjoyed sending his most prized paintings back home to his mother. These included giant irises, roses and great bouquets of flowers – all of which he knew she would love. Van Gogh’s famous portrait of his mother also captures her proud and vibrant nature in the colours chosen by the artist. Whilst painting his mother’s portrait he wrote to his brother Theo, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colourless photograph, and I am trying t do one in a harmony of colour, as I see her in my memory.”

The theme of motherhood is also used by many of our own artists at artgallery.co.uk. Have a look at some of our own artists inspired by mothers…

Madonna Of The North by Stephen Davison
Madonna Of The North by Stephen Davison

Stephen Davison has taken inspiration from visit to an Inuit community and their culture of loyalty and motherhood. This rich monochrome oil painting is based on a photograph taken by Henry G. Kaiser circa 1906.

Happy Memory by Mrs Wilkes
Happy Memory by Mrs Wilkes

Mrs Wilkes’ line drawing is a great modern take on the notions of motherhood. The simple addition of red lips and the mark on the mother’s tummy draws the eye to the main theme of the drawing. 

abstract mum by Sandy Jai Hughes
abstract mum by Sandy Jai Hughes

Sandy Jai Hughes has created a portrait of a mother and three children in the famous cubist style of Pablo Picasso. She has also incorporated texture into the piece by adding papier-mâché stained with coloured ink.  

Mother Protects Her Child by Hanan Saied
Mother Protects Her Child by Hanan Saied

Hanan Saied has created a dramatic acrylic on canvas depicting a Nubian woman in traditional dress protecting her baby from the natural disasters in the wold like flooding and tsunamis.

Take a look on our online gallery to find more art from our own artists inspired by their mothers.

Image credits:

Portrait of Rembrandt's mother/ Own work photo of Horst Gerson 1968 catalog/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of the Artist's Mother/ Mefusbren69 (talk | contribs) / Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 by James Abbot McNeill Whistler/ Musée d'Orsay/ Publlic Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

 

Tags:

Art History | Artists

Why Do We Draw Hearts In The Famous Shape?

by Aileen Mitchell 1. February 2017 14:03

Kaleidoscope Butterfly Heart Picture by Sara Lawson
Kaleidoscope Butterfly Heart Picture by Sara Lawson

The heart shape is a world-recognised symbol of love, romance and conversely sacrifice.  It can be seen everywhere – it's even on our emoji keyboards in multiple colours, and being trademarked by footballers. Although the heart shape bears little resemblance to the anatomical shape of the heart, it has been used and accepted as the recognised shape since the late Middle Ages and depicted this way in art history. 

Up until the Middle Ages, the heart was typically depicted as a pear – yes, a pear – or a pine cone, and then the shape seems to have been turned 180 degrees so that the point faced down with the scalloped edge at the top. There are no records that explain why this change occurred or why it then became the way to represent the heart, but from 13th and 14th century Britain the heart symbol was recognised as the same way up that we see it today.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne (1645 - 1650)

Although this shape that hasn't changed in hundreds of years and was established fairly quickly, it was not used as a symbol of romantic love until later. The heart shape during the Middle Ages still symbolised exactly what it was meant to be: the heart. This led to its use in many religious paintings, most famously works painted for Martin Luther, an important influencer in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The 'Sacred Heart' of Christ was often depicted with the new shape, and was supposed to remind people of Jesus' sacrifice for the good of humanity. Not only in art, but the new shape got top billing on the deck of playing cards for the heart suit during the 15th century – a design that remains the same today.

 Sacred Heart of Jesus with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga by Jose de Paez

Sacred Heart of Jesus with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga by Jose de Paez (1729 - 1790)

There were some variations in the design of the heart shape – particularly in religious paintings. Some painters still kept the aorta on show, but this extra detail gradually died out because the heart symbol we see today was already recognised on playing cards and many other places. 

There are various theories as to how and why the new shape came about: some say it is the shape of fig leaves, ivy leaves or the water lily – all symbols associated with fidelity. Some say that the top of the shape represents the buttocks, breasts and various other parts of the human anatomy associated with desire. These hypotheses, however, appear to have come about in the 1960s and have no real historical evidence to suggest this is the case. There doesn’t even appear to be sufficient evidence connecting the old pear shaped heart with the newer version.

 

Big Pink Heart (circa 1910)

During the 19th century, a period heavily influenced by the Romantics (late 18th century to early 19th century), the heart symbol became heavily associated with romantic love, passion and sacrifice. This was also the time when the penny post created the craze for greetings cards. St Valentine's Day cards with copious, heavily decorated heart symbols were very popular and, at the time, deeply romantic. Since then the use of the heart around St Valentine's Day has become more popular than ever.

Image from 'Keith Haring: The Political Line' exhibition by Keith Haring

In contemporary art, artists took the heart symbol and included it in some of their most famous works. Keith Haring, the American artist and social activist used hearts in his earliest work and carried this theme on throughout his entire career. At a glance, the vibrant, cartoon-like simplicity of Haring's illustrations look innocent and fun. The drawings are in fact of two men in love, which was a bold and positive statement during the time it was created in the 1980s. The positive statements were praised as helping society accept people for who they were. The bold lines around the heart are seen as large gestures of positive energy – something very characteristic of Haring. He was believed to be a real romantic and noted for believing in the best in humanity with the power of love.

Queen Kate of Hearts by Marietta Osyan
Queen Kate of Hearts by Marietta Osyan

Tracey Emin had a variety of live exhibitions of her neon signs, most famous among the locations were Times Square and The Peninsula, Hong Kong. These neon signs were messages of love, often surrounded by the heart symbol. In a world where most signs are advertising, a message of genuine love really stands out – particularly when it has a heart drawn around it. In an interview with the White Cube gallery Tracey Emin explained, "It's an eternal statement about love […] Even if it sounds over romantic or corny, at the end of the day nearly everyone must have experienced that." 

Love Heart 'embrace' Lino Print by Lauren Downes
Love Heart 'embrace' Lino Print by Lauren Downes

After much research and few answers, historians have concluded that there are a number of possibilities to explain the reason why the heart symbol is the shape it is, but none of them have been documented. Much like art itself, the answer to our title is subjective – a heart shape can be the way it is for any reason you want.

Why do you think hearts are drawn the shape they are?

Golden Heart by Kris  Mercer
Golden Heart by Kris Mercer

Image credits:

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne/ Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Sacred Heart of Jesus with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga by José de Páez/ http://arttattler.com/archivelatinamerica.html/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showing woman holding heart shaped decoration and flowers, scanned from period card from ca. 1910 with no notice of copyright.

Keith Haring: The Political Line/ Aaron Muszalski - Flickr/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

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Art History | Artists

Capturing The Beauty Of The Rain In Art

by Aileen Mitchell 6. January 2017 09:00

From 'Purple Rain' to impressionism, this month we take a look at how art celebrates the beauty of some classic British weather. January isn't exactly famous for its sunny skies, so what better time to throw a positive and artistic light on our winter elements?

The impressionist painters of the 19th century were also known for celebrating wet weather in their art. A large part of impressionism is about capturing the ever-changing light and atmosphere in a painting. For example, Renoir's beautiful sunny afternoon pieces and Claude Monet's dreamy botanical landscapes. But there are some famous pieces that depict less than ideal weather conditions for painting en plein air, as the impressioists did. 

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

Although it may not seemlike the typical style of impressionist paintings with its almost 3D-like quality, 'Paris Street; Rainy Day' shows a very real atmosphere in the way the rain is painted, shimmering on the cobbled streets. 

Hiroshige van Gogh

Bridge in the Rain by Vincent Van Gogh (right, seen here with Hiroshige's original, left)

Vincent Van Gogh was a huge fan of Japanese art, so much so that he created his own paintings in the same style. 'Bridge in the Rain' is actually Van Gogh's painted copy of the original print by the Japanese artist, Utagawa Hiroshige. Although the dimensions were kept the same, Van Gogh has added his signature textured brush strokes and vibrant colour to the piece to make it his own. 

Jockeys in the Rain

Jockeys in the Rain by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, one of the founding fathers of impressionim, is famous for his equine art and portraits of ballet dancers. Here we see the jockeys and their horses in the rain but in the rain. Degas painted many scenes of jockeys and horses, but not many in the rain. Degas's classic delicate strokes and depiction of the light creates the impression of soft and heavy rain. 

Morning on the Seine

Morning on the Seine In The Rain by Claude Monet

Unlike the dreamy landscapes of river on sunny afternoons, Claude Monet's 'Morning on the Seine In The Rain' depicts the busy surface of the river as rain drops hit it. The blend of the same colours from the sky and the trees into the river create the impression of a downpour and a very wet morning. 

ArtGallery artists capturing the rain

Evening City Rain by Aisha Haider

Evening City Rain by Aisher Haider

Evening City Rain celebrates the atmposheric scene of a rainy evening. The very realistic rain drops in the forground create the illusion of looking out at the painting through a window onto the rainy street. 

Silhouettes by Stephen Casey

Silhouettes by Stephen Casey

Stephen Casey creates the feeling of falling rain in the large, vertical brush strokes that make up the background of the piece. 

After Rain by Olena Topliss

After Rain by Olena Topliss

Olena Topliss has created a very dramatic skyscape achieving photorealism with her dabbed, soft clouds. Playing with light in a way that would make any impressionist proud, this piece is very atmospheric and really captures the beauty of a rainy landscape. 

Autumn Rain by Robert Jackson

Autumn Rain by Robert Jackson

Robert Jackson's abstract is a very tangible piece portraying condensation, water droplets and the suggestion of an autumn landscape in the background.

The Walk Home  by Pippa Buist

The Walk Home by Pippa Buist

A watercolour scene reminiscent of Caillebotte, Pippa Buist has created a classic city street scene in the rain. The light reflected on the wet pavements and water of the canal really gives the viewer the beautiful impression of a very wet day. 

Fin by Yary Dluhos

Fin by Yary Dluchos

Yary Dluchos's oil painting on canvas has bold strokes and palette knife strokes that catch the constantly changing atmosphere in a scene that impressionism also captures. The drips trickling down the canvas in a background layer gives the sensation of drizzly weather, combined with downward strokes emulate falling rain.  

Raindrops On Hosta Leaves by Kate Esmarch

Raindrops On Hosta Leaves by Kate Esmarch

A subject can be beautiful to observe and paint whether it is a wide open landscape or a very small detail. 'Raindrops On Hosta Leaves' is a great photorealist acrylic painting that captures the small but beautiful detail of raindrops on a leaf. 

Londoners in the Rain by Lesley Blackburn
Londoners in the Rain by Lesley Blackburn

London is always a great muse: full of drama, interesting scenes, and a never ending opportunity to people-watch. Lesley Blackburn has captured the hustle and bustle of a busy London street in the rain wit her oil on canvas painting. The wet, reflective pavement in the foreground really catches the eye and sets the rainy scene from a firest glance. 

Find more paintings, illustrations and drawings on our gallery that either depict the rain or distract you from it on our online gallery

Image credits:

Rue de Paris, temps de pluie, Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) / 5wEUCOlEf-EaVQ at Google Cultural Institute / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Montage personnel de deux images : un tableau original d'Hiroshige et une copie de Van Gogh / 'Own work' / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Jockeys in the Rain, Edgar Degas 1886 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Morning on the Seine in the Rain, Claude Monet 1897 - 1898 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

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Art History | Artists

Father Christmas in Art History

by Aileen Mitchell 19. December 2016 08:56

There are few iconic celebrities who make the select group of people painted again and again throughout history. Religious icons have secured most of the top spots, but there is one much-loved individual who has also made his mark many times. We're talking, of course, about Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas.

*Spoiler alert: This post is about to detail spoilers about Father Christmas.

Father Christmas, or Santa, is a character based on the real life fourth century archbishop, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Asia Minor (known today as Demre, Turkey). Well respected for his regular miracles of resurrecting children and saving men from drowning at sea, Saint Nicholas was made patron saint of sailors, merchants, children and much more.

Saint Nicholas was also widely known for his secret gift giving, a trait that directly inspired the creation of modern day Father Christmas.

Saint Nicholas, 1799

Usually found in Russian Eastern Orthodox paintings, Saint Nicholas sports a modest white, fluffy beard and his archbishop robes.

Medieval depictions of Saint Nicholas often portray him as having darker skin, a complexion akin to the people of his Myran origin. Here was see him with darker skin and a bald head, surrounded by famous scenes from his life like resurrecting three children from a wooden barrel.

Russia ca 1675 St Nicholas of Zaraisk with Saints and Festival Scenes

Russia ca 1675 St Nicholas of Zaraisk with Saints & Festival Scenes

Many people believe the red worn by modern day Father Christmas was designed as marketing by the fizzy drink giant, Coca Cola. Although this colour definitely works in their favour, there are many paintings of Saint Nicholas wearing red archbishop robes that pre-date Coca Cola by hundreds of years – a good bit of trivia to use at the table during Christmas dinner!

Unlike many saints whose bodies were divided and distributed to various churches after their death (for religious reasons), Saint Nicholas remains in one piece where he was laid to rest in Bari, Italy. Because of this, a team of scientists in the 1950s were able to analyse the body and reveal the man was barely five feet tall with a broken nose.

Christmas Scene, 1820 by Franz Xaver Frh, vom Paumgartten

Christmas Scene, 1820 by Franz Xaver Frh, vom Paumgartten

This painting from Austria shows how Saint Nicholas is beginning to become part of the Christmas scene and take on a role similar to the Father Christmas we know today. We see the classic depiction of the archbishop with the white beard joining in with the family's festivities and, importantly, holding a child's hand. This shows how Saint Nicholas's recognised kindness to children was used as a main theme for the character of Father Christmas.

The character peering round the door on the left is known as 'Krampus', a popular figure in the Christmas story in Austrian and Nordic countries. Sometimes seen as the 'anti-santa', Krampus would punish naughty children. This, thankfully, did not make it over to the British interpretation. He's terrifying.

1888 Saves from Death

Saint Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents From Death by Ilja Repin

Saint Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents From Death by Ilja Repin

One thing Saint Nicholas does not seem to have been is overweight – probably because the real Saint Nicholas didn't have to make his way through thousands of mince pies. In this painting by Ilya Repin, he is notably thin, but still supports the iconic white beard.

Whilst the real man is still being painted, the character Father Chirstmas began to model for several paintings, etchings and illustrations by this point. One of his most famous debuts was a starring role for Mason's wine essences – yes, he became a commercial man very quickly!

Father Christmas, Tuck Photo Oilette postcard 1919

Father Christmas, Tuck Photo Oilette postcard 1919

During the early 1800s, Father Christmas kept a relatively low profile so as not to be associated with the Lords of Misrule. By the 1900s he made a full comeback and was a well-established figure appearing in many famous paintings and adverts according to his newly found official description in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Old Christmas, Illustrated London News 24 December 1842

Old Christmas, Illustrated London News 24 December, 1842

He is described as "the personification of Christmas as a benevolent old man with a flowing white beard, wearing a red sleeved gown and hood trimmed with white fur, and carrying a sack of Christmas presents". Magazines began to print pictures of a cheerful old man still in red robes and surrounded by food.

And to this day, Father Christmas lives on in art! See for yourself on our online gallery.

Santa Claus by Christina Panou

Santa Claus by Christina Panou

Welcome Santa Claus by Christina Panou

Welcome to Santa Claus by Christina Panou

PLAYING FATHER CHRISTMAS by NIGEL FARNWORTH

Playing Father Christmas by Nigel Farnworth

Image credits

Saint Nicholas, 1799 Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos/

Copyright © 2002-2016 St. Nicholas Center

Russia ca 1675 St Nicholas of Zaraisk with Saints & Festival Scenes/1998,1104.1/ © The Trustees of the British Museum

Christmas Scene, 1820/ Franz Xaver Frh, vom Paumgartten Kunstverlag Wolfrum Vienna, Austria 2005/ © 1987 Museen d. Stadt Wien

Saint Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents From Death by Ilja Repin/ GalleriX/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Tuck postcard, in the Photo Oilette series, number C7513/ TuckDB Postcards/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

'Old Christmas' The illustration is accompanied by a verse, 'The Song of the Wassail Bowl'/ User:MichaelMaggs/Gallery / Wikimedia Commons

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Art History

Movember Special: The Importance of a Moustache

by Aileen Mitchell 18. November 2016 15:53

The moustache is a real statement whether its handlebar, pencil or cowboy. It also plays a key role as a statement in art as well as fashion in everyday life. Join us this Movember as we look back at the historical president of 'the tash'.

One of the first and greatest celebrations of the upper-lip adorner was the Sutton Hoo helmet. This extraordinary object is a pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon burial art. The helmet was found as part of a ship-burial from the very rich archaeological site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Look closely at the face mask and you can see that the neatly clipped moustache represents not just a moustache but the tail of a bird flying upwards. Surely one of the most recognisable tashes in art history.

When we think of medieval knights we imagine tall, handsome men astride a horse with – of course – a terrific moustache. This hairy status symbol was of such importance that in the fourteenth century Edward Prince of Wales had an effigy on his tomb showing him in full battle dress armour but with his moustache on show.

We have always looked to our monarchy and aristocracy to keep up to date with the latest vogues. Although Queen Elizabeth didn't sport a handlebar, the Elizabethan era was the start of men choosing to be very bearded. This was then further refined by King Charles I and his iconic handlebar moustache and goatee beard.

There have been many modern artists who have used the moustache as statements in their work, and in fact on people's art! Revolutionary artist Marcel Duchamp, famous for the statement urinal in the 1917 exhibition for the Society of Independent Artists, has also paid homage to the moustache. In a series of works titled 'found objects', Duchamp would take a mundane and ordinary object and alter it, making it extraordinary. L.H.O.O.Q. is a postcard print of the Mona Lisa with Duchamp's addition of a moustache and goatee.

As Duchamp demonstrated, it's not just men who have an important relationship with the moustache in art. Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter most famous for her self-portraits, often depicted herself with a moustache – or more accurately the natural layer of hair that lined her upper lip. This attention to her natural features is for a number of reasons from pride in her Mexican heritage to painting exactly what she saw, to a feminist statement about her main pleasures in life being considered as 'manly'. Putting herself under such scrutiny as she painted, it has been observed that Kahlo would make the hair on her upper lip more prominent than it really was.

Our next moustache-wearing art icon appeared in Spain at the beginning of the surrealist movement. Salvador Dali's moustache is almost as iconic as the melting clocks in his artwork. When asked in an interview whether his moustache was in fact a joke, he responded by saying it was "the most serious part".

Dali's moustache was not only a famous part of his look that we remember him by even today, but an extension of his personality and mood at the time. One day it would be tied in a bow, the next stuck in spikey straight lines, sometimes curving up like the horns of a bull. He also would sometime use his moustache to paint – either whilst it was still attached, or he would use the trimmings to make his own bristle head on a paintbrush. 

 

Van Gogh is another famous artist who had a very close bond with his moustache. Almost every self-portrait he painted includes a beard and moustache – so much so that the painting of himself simply named, Self-Portrait Without a Beard, is one of the most expensive of his paintings going for 71.5 million dollars!

It is interesting to see that in his self-portraits his brush strokes do not change from the texture of his face to the moustache and beard; the only thing that changes is the colour. Art historians consider this as Van Gogh expressing how his facial hair is very much an extension of himself rather than a grown accessory. Closer studies on this subject have also shown how little difference there is between the way he paints his landscapes and the way he paints himself. Another example of very deep levels of an artist expressing their character in their masterpieces.

There are such strong links between artists and the moustache throughout art history it would be wrong to deny its constant presence and significance. Not only is the moustache a statement on a fashion and visual level but an embodiment of an artist's emotions and opinions at that particular stage of their career.

Image credits:

User: vggallery.com/ Self-Portrait with Straw Hat / Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

User: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei / Self-Portrait Without Beard / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

User: Karl Stas / LHOOQ (1919) / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

User: Thomas Gun / Charles I of England / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

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Art History | Artists | The Art World

Happy Birthday Picasso and Giacometti

by Aileen Mitchell 21. October 2016 11:16

October is a wonderful time for artists: leaves begin to turn red and gold, the light changes from a hot sun to a warm glow, and morning dew begins to look exceptionally pretty. As well as celebrating the changing of the season, we're also celebrating the birthdays of two very influential artists, Pablo Picasso and Giacometti.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) mastered many movements in art throughout his extremely busy career as an artist. From cultivating Cubism to coming up with collage, Picasso was a man who was constantly seeking to experiment and grow as a person through artistic expression, which resulted in a legacy of 50,000 works that we can all admire today.

After learning the basics of how to paint and draw from his father, an art professor, Picasso attended art school, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, before dropping out and making his own way in the world of art. This is known as his 'Blue Period' due to all of his portraits conveying undertones of depression – but was also partly down to the colours and materials Picasso was able to afford at the time.

Although a classically trained artist, each of his styles was considered ground-breaking. After Picasso moved to Paris, his paintings became much more optimistic. Each piece was tinted with orange-pink hue and is known as his 'Rose Period'. It was in Paris that Picasso began experimenting with form and tribal influence, creating one of the most famous works of art that also paved the way for Cubism,

George Braque was an artist also living in Paris, who was later to become the co-founder of Cubism with Picasso, didn't immediately take to the style. After seeing Les Demoiselles d'Avignon he was recorded to have said,

"It's like he wants us to drink gasoline and eat fire!" Needless to say, he grew to like the painting and Cubism was born.

Picasso's boundless energy and non-stop artistic experimentation meant that he did not stay a Cubist for very long. He began adding mixed media to his canvases including newspaper and cloth, which is said to be the birth of collage art. Although he was constantly experimenting and producing art, Picasso stopped exhibiting his works whilst living in Nazi occupied Paris during the Second World War. Picasso did not feel his work would fit the Nazi's ideals of 'perfect art'.

Today we can enjoy a wealth of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and rugs that span from Cubism to Surrealism, created by one of the most famous artists of the twentieth century.

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'AvignonLes Demoiselles d'Avignon.

Pablo HoneyPablo Honey – Czar Catstick

Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966) was born in a small town called Borgonovo in the southeastern Swiss Alps. His parents recognised his artistic talent from a young age and encouraged it as much as they could.

Giacometti soon became and artist who could create portraits in stunning realism, using bold strokes and a bright palette. A theme that developed throughout Giacometti's career as an artist was the figure of portraits (usually himself) kneeling on one knee, gazing towards the viewer. As a young boy, Giacometti's drawing studies changed from the classical three-quarter face pose to completely frontal view. This was incredibly stylised art from someone so young.

Gradually, Giacometti's portrait subjects would be bent and constrained to fit into the canvas size they were painted on and altered for geometric clarity. This then lead to Giacometti's contribution to art as a cubist painter.  

After his initial successful early beginnings, Giacometti's most famous work comes from a period that is largely considered as modernism, as they are arguably devoid of meaning. In truth, Giacometti found himself living through a prolonged existential crisis with his art. Although able to use techniques that produced wonderfully realistic portraits, Giacometti found he was unable to unravel what his latest, more modernist style meant and was almost permanently in a state of lost frustration.

The most famous works from Giacometti are the elongated figure sculptures. These willowy people grew slimmer and taller the more he made, partly due to being constantly re-worked and re-modelled (this also explains their texture). Giacometti himself confessed that these sculptures were more akin to the shadows that these figures cast; ultimately, he did not know to translate what he saw into his art. This became apparent in his paintings too as the surfaces grew much thicker with layers of re-worked paint.  

These two artists are both fascinating examples of people who devote their entire lives to working out how to express their creativity, giving the art world some of the most influential and iconic pieces in return.

To see some of our own talented artists' modern day masterpieces, stop by our online gallery.

GiacomettiGiacometti and his large scale famous figure sculptures, 1962

Alberto GiacomettiGiacometti working on his smaller sized famous figures, 1962

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Art History | Artists

What Is 'Fauvism'?

by Aileen Mitchell 17. August 2016 12:00

The Turning Road, L'Estaque – Andre Derain

Fauvism is one of the most influential styles in contemporary art, whether today's artists are fully aware of it or not. The 'wild beasts' of Fauvism radicalised colour and form, and inspired the next generation of young artists to engage with their surroundings on a whole new level, changing art forever.

Last month we looked at the trailer for the new film, Loving Vincent. It's from the legacy of Van Gogh that the story of Fauvism begins …

Starry Night – van Gogh

French artist Henri Matisse is considered the founding father of Fauvism. Inspired by Van Gogh's post-impressionist style of intensifying colours and distorting forms to create images fraught with emotion, Matisse began to use colour on a very emotional level. The results of this were bright, multi-coloured paintings and scratchy brush stroked figures.

In complete contrast to the pastel coloured impressionist paintings from the 1800s – 1900s, Matisse would use paint straight from the tube without mixing them, and combine cold and warm palettes in the same work.

The concept behind creating these daring new paintings was to not paint the scene before them as realistically as possible, but to interpret how the scene was conceived in the mind. Matisse didn't choose colours based on what looked technically correct, but based his palette on the feelings and emotions he had whilst painting a particular 'experience' rather than 'scene'.

The first time Matisse's colourful works were displayed, a respected art critic exclaimed that the one renaissance sculpture in the exhibition was surrounded by work created by 'wild beasts' (les fauves). Although this comment was intended to be highly damming, Matisse and his fellow artists in this new style decided to take this as inspiration for the title of the new movement they had created, Fauvism.

The Green Stripe – Henri Matisse

One of the most famous works created during this movement was the portrait of Amelie Matisse – wife of Henri Matisse, called Green Stripe, carrying the famous green stripe down the middle of her face.

Dividing the face into two shades is a conventional portrait technique – usually used to divide the face between light and shade – but Matisse chose to use the line as a divide between cool and warm tones.

This bold new move was analysed in many different ways – some said the green stripe was for jealousy, others said it divided the painting into purity and serenity. The most likely reason, however, is none of these. Matisse was not called a wild beast for nothing. Art was now beyond the point of displaying well-known representations and symbolism. The green stripe is simply there because it was what Matisse felt inspired to do at the time. Under close analysis, art historians claim that much of the painting appears to have been 'improvised'. This is indicated by the brush strokes – which are perhaps most obviously ad lib in the black patch centre-right. 

Paysage du Midi – Andre Derain

Although revolutionary, this gaudy movement did return to familiar territory in the subject matter artists would choose to paint. Moving away from the popular urban depictions, les fauves returned to painting landscapes.

In fact, London played a large part in the Fauvist movement. We can really see this period of history in context when we compare Claude Monet's dreamy, misty picture of the Houses of Parliament with Andre Derain's piece of yellows, pinks and lurid greens.

Houses of Parliament – Claude Monet

Charing Cross Bridge – Andre Derain

London art is still by far one of our most popular categories of art to this day! Perhaps it was Fauvism that set off this iconic theme with our very own ArtGallery artists.

Icarus – Henri Matisse

Fauvism was also a revolutionary movement for exploring the negative space in a painting. This is how works like 'Icarus' came to be so famous. Out of context, some people can find it difficult to understand why a piece so simple has become so revered. The answer is context. There may be thousands of people who can reproduce work like this, but les fauves were the first to do it – the first to have this original idea of completely breaking away from traditional art.

Inspired by some of the greatest painters of the previous era, like van Gogh, Munch and Cezanne – Matisse inspired many young artists who in turn became notable painters of their respective fields, such as Chagall, Levy and many abstract expressionists.

At the time of Matisse's first exhibition, another critic commented that his work was, 'a pot of paint flung in the face of the public.' This could either be taken in a negative way, or a great of describing the rebellious, spontaneous spirit captured by fauvism. We'd like to see it as a compliment to one of the most energetic and influential styles in Western art.

[Image credits]

User: artfactory.com/ André Derain, The Turning Road, L’Estaque (1906)

/ Public Domain

User: bgEuwDxel93-Pg at Google Cultural Institute

/ Starry Night – van Gogh/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

User: William Allen, Image Historian

/ The Green Stripe – Henri Matisse

/ Flikr / Public Domain

User: Sharon Mollerus

/ Paysage du Midi – Andre Derain

/ Flikr / Public Domain

User: Unknown

/ Houses of Parliament – Claude Monet/ Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

User:  André Derain / Charring Cross Bridge – Andre Derain / Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

User: Sharon Mollerus / Icarus – Henri Matisse/ Flikr / Public Domain

Tags:

Art History | The Art World

Why Do We Really, Really Like Art?

by Aileen Mitchell 28. July 2016 18:26

Creating and looking at art has been an important part of civilisation since its beginnings - from cave painting to fabulous costumes for fireside rituals. Today, most art resides on walls as canvases or as sculptures on pieces of furniture. Although its place in 21st century life has shifted, the most important thing has remained the same: we still have it because we like it.

But why do we have this ancient affinity with shapes, colours and patterns that still manage to give us as much pleasure now as it did thousands of years ago?

There have been a number of studies in recent years to get to the bottom of why it is that we like art. All of these studies come to the same conclusion and reveal something remarkable.

Many people believe that although we now live in a world full of modern comforts, there is still a part of our brains that strongly responds to the essentials: water, food, sun etc. 

Certain pieces of art have been noted to take the flowing form of water, and intensified its blue colours in paintings. When we view this art, our brains may recognise these characteristics of water and respond positively to it. We need water to survive, and seeing an essential part of our survival on canvas makes us enjoy the piece of art.

Credit: Vincent van Gogh - bgEuwDxel93-Pg at Google Cultural Institute / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

We also respond positively to the colour green. One German study reveals that green inspires creativity and motivation when we see it - time to paint our art studio green!

So perhaps all good art engages a deep-rooted obsession with needing to survive?

Detecting patterns

Other studies have made very clear that there is significance in the well-known 'golden ratio', or 'golden rectangle' and superior creations.

From buildings to paintings and sculptures, anything made using the golden ratio seems to have a greater chance of becoming famous and noted throughout history than those that do not.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris can be divided into golden rectangles

Credit: Peter Haas / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A study from the journal of Brain and Cognition shows that there are two areas of the brain that respond to art.

First, we process a piece of art visually. This includes trying to work out "how it works". For example, when shown a picture of a knife, we don't just see it as a shape, but register what we do with it (or in other words, how it works).

This study from the University of Toronto also confirms that this first stage takes place in our posterior cingulate cortex. This is the name of the part of the brain that deals with logical thinking and understanding function.

So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that we enjoy a puzzle. And art provides much more of a mental stimulus than other types of puzzles.

The study also goes beyond this first logical reaction to works of art. After we have thought of "how it works", the posterior cingulate cortex is also stimulated. This is the part of the brain that deals with our most inner thoughts and emotions.

This explains why people can feel such happy bliss when sitting and looking at a Kandinsky, or shedding a tear to a particularly moving Rembrandt. The famous quote by Hans Christian Andersen, "Where words fail, music speaks" also applies to art.

The study shows we can create and experience a wide range of emotions from all works of art, be it fear, joy, peace, or pain.

Of course, art is also now academic. We have genres like conceptual art, which can be deeply intellectual and enjoyed at that level. But beyond the analysis that these pieces "require" to be enjoyed, there is a deeper, primal response that we all experience.

The results of these studies also suggest that responding and appreciating art is a biological predisposition, not a culture that has to be learned. Anyone and everyone can create wonderful art and enjoy it. We can also like art for a number of reasons, but none of these reasons are more or less valued than each other.

We like art because it is in our nature.

Tags:

Art History

Happy Birthday Damien Hirst & Paul Gauguin

by Aileen Mitchell 10. June 2016 10:00

This month we're celebrating the birthdays of two famous artists, Damian Hirst and Paul Gauguin. These two artists have given so much to art as we now know it today, from the creativity behind a concept to a renewed appreciation of bright colours.

Damien Hirst

Hirst in a still from the movie The Future of Art

There are few Brits who have not heard of Damien Hirst. As one of the most influential thinkers and artists of the modern scene, Damien Hirst has inspired many, split opinion, and created his own legacy.

Now one of the wealthiest British artists, with a net worth estimated to be £200,000,000, Hirst's creative path began when he took A-level art – only to be graded E. After applying more than once to the two art colleges he attended, (Jacob Kramer School of Art and later Goldsmiths, University of London) Hirst began to make a lasting impression on agents and curators that came to graduate exhibitions – namely Charles Saatchi.

Saatchi was so taken with Hirst's work that he offered to fund absolutely anything Hirst wanted to make for the showcase of the first ever Young British Artists (YBA) exhibition in 1992.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living "Death Denied"

This exhibition saw the birth of the formaldehyde series – some of Hirst's most famous (or infamous) work. This piece was a shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. It also saw him nominated that year for the Turner Prize.

Since his YBA debut, Hirst's work has continued to sell out at auctions and galleries and he has designed charity CD album covers and even an image for a space probe to calibrate its onboard camera.

"Damien Hirst at the exihibition Damien Hirst The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, Gagosian Gallery, NYC."

Although he has been widely received as a pioneer in modern art, there are also critics to Hirst's particular style. Some have described his paintings to be produced in a 'factory' setting. The famous spot series are largely painted by someone else, as Hirst has always believed that the creativity and art is in the concept of his work, rather than the production. He is even known to have said, "The best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She's brilliant."

Paul Gauguin 

"Paul Gauguin, photography, ca. 1891"

Paul Gauguin was a French post-impressionist who was largely undervalued by critics until long after he died. In his lifetime he did however make a profound impact on Vincent van Gogh.

Inspired by his mother's Peruvian heritage and the bright colours of their culture, Gauguin incorporated bold, bright lines and backgrounds in his work that woke European art up from what he believed was a dullness in creativity.

"Parahi te maras, 1892, Meyer de Schauensee collection"

Initially a stockbroker, Gauguin began to paint in the late 1870s when Impression was the popular art style. Gauguin decided to paint with the colours he wanted to give life and vibrancy to his art, which was not in keeping with the style at the time. This lead to many bad reviews from critics and dealers alike, apart from one in particular…

Theo van Gogh was a big fan of Gauguin's work and bought three of his paintings. At the same time, Gauguin became close friends with Vincent – so much so they spent nine weeks painting together in Arles, France.

"Vahine no te tiare (Woman with a Flower), 1891, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek"

It was Gauguin who can be said to have had the biggest influence on van Gogh's progression and style as a painter. Sadly, their friendship ended after their nine weeks of painting, resulting in van Gogh allegedly threatening Gauguin with a razor blade before cutting off the lower lobe of his own ear. Van Gogh was subsequently admitted to hospital and Gauguin returned home.

Today, Gauguin's work is admired for its colours. The inspiration for these was African and Asian art – not to mention the Peruvian pottery and art that his mother collected whilst he was growing up. Gauguin tried to add a passion and depth to Western art that he thought impressionism lacked, creating the Symbolist movement.

Image credits

"Hirst in a still from the movie The Future of Art" by Christian Görmer licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living "Death Denied" by Agent001 licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

"Damien Hirst at the exihibition Damien Hirst The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, Gagosian Gallery, NYC." by Andrew Russeth licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

"Paul Gauguin, photography, ca. 1891" by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel - Museum page licensed by Public Domain

"Parahi te maras, 1892, Meyer de Schauensee collection" by The Yorck Project licensed by Public Domain

"Vahine no te tiare (Woman with a Flower), 1891, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek" by The Yorck Project licensed by Public Domain

Tags:

Art History | The Art World





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