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  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
  • Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)
    Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)

    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    When British stencil artist Banksy traveled to Los Angeles to work, he came across obscure French filmmaker Thierry Guetta and his badly organized collection of videotapes involving the activities of graffiti artists. Inspired, Banksy assembled them with new footage to create this talked-about documentary, and the result is a mind-boggling and odd film (so strange as to be thought a hoax by some) about outsider artists and the definition of art itself.
  • The Impressionists
    The Impressionists
    A dramatization of the Impressionist movement as seen through the eyes of Claude Monet. Highly entertaining and informative.
  • The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    A very personal and revealing look at the personalities that created Impressionism.

Ukiyo: The Floating World

Hishikawa Moronobu - Cherry-blossom Viewing at Ueno - Edo period - Six-panel folding screen; ink, color and gold just on silk - 38 7/16 x 16 1/4 in. - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (click photo for larger image)Ukiyo-e (pronounced oo-kee-oh-ay) was a popular form of printed art in Japan during the Edo period (1600s-1867). It was inexpensive and usually depicted scenes from everyday life.

Ukiyo translates as the floating world—an ironic wordplay on the Buddhist name for the earthly plane, the sorrowful world. Ukiyo was the name given to the lifestyle in Japan's urban centers of this period—the fashions, the entertainments, and the pleasures of the flesh. Ukiyo-e is the art documenting this era.

Ukiyo-e is especially known for its exceptional woodblock prints. After Japan opened trade with the West after 1867, these prints became very well-known and influential in Europe, and especially in France. Japonisme (as it was called) influenced such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and Whistler. It also influenced the graphic artists known as Les Nabis. (These artists and Les Nabis are all discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) 

The founder of the Ukiyo-e school was the 17th-century artist, Hishikawa Moronobu (c. 1618-1694). He was born in Hota on the Boso Peninsula (present-day Chiba Prefecture). His father is said to have been a brocade artisan producing nuihaku embroidery (using gold and silver thread) who had moved to the Kanto region from Kyoto. Moronobu left home for nearby Edo in 1662 to study painting. While it isn’t known who taught him, we do know that he learned the basic techniques that had been developed by the Kano school.

Before long, he became active as a book illustrator. There are more than 60 extant books bearing his signed illustrations. He also became well-known as a scroll and screen painter. His favorite subjects included flower viewing at Ueno, people enjoying the evening breeze along the Sumida River in summer, and people attending plays. It seems that he received many contract orders, and some of his works were produced in ateliers where he employed several pupils. He was successful in popularizing some of his originally one-of-a-kind paintings by making copies as woodblock prints.

Moronobu produced only 12 handscrolls, but each of these was later adapted to multiple production in the form of monochrome woodblock prints. Moronobu's pupils of a somewhat later generation experimented with large monochrome prints based on what were originally hand-painted bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) produced as hanging scrolls.

Moronobu's importance lies in his effective consolidation of the ephemeral styles of early genre painting and illustration. His controlled, powerful brushstrokes and solid, dynamic figures, provided the groundwork for ukiyoe masters of the following two centuries, Ando Hiroshige among them.


Paul Cadmus: Pushing the Envelope

Paul Cadmus - Gilding the Acrobats - 1935 - Oil and tempera on masonite - 36 3/4 × 18 3/8 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, NYMagic Realism is an American style of art with Surrealist overtones. The art is anchored in everyday reality, but contains elements of fantasy and wonder. The term was later also applied to the literary works of authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

One of the artists associated with this movement was Paul Cadmus (1904-1999). A native New Yorker, Cadmus began his art studies at age 15, at New York City’s National Academy of Design and then later at the Art Students League. He landed work at an advertising agency, and later traveled with his partner, artist Jared French, to Majorca, in Spain where he created two of his better known paintings, Shore Leave and YMCA Locker Room (both 1933). Upon returning, Cadmus painted for the Public Works of Art project. It was during this time that he created The Fleet’s In! (1934). This was one of a number of works by the artist that were controversial. A work of social satire, it depicts sailors on shore leave and contains elements of prostitution, homoeroticism, and drunkenness. The work infuriated navy officials, and was pulled from an exhibition in Washington, D.C., in 1934. It was not displayed publicly again until 1981.  

The work featured here, Gilding the Acrobats, “reenacts literally the experience of painting the figure with thinly veiled homoeroticism. In an era when homosexual behavior was criminalized and homoerotic imagery was intensely policed, gay artists like Cadmus turned frequently to circus performers and athletes as the few socially permissible subjects that offered the opportunity to lavish attention on the male body.”


Quote of the Day

“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.”  - Edvard Munch


Winold Reiss: A Unique Understanding of America

Winold Reiss - Portrait of Langston Hughes - c. 1925 - Pastel on illustration board - 30 1/16 x 21 5/8 in. - National Portrait Gallery - Smithsonian Art Museum - Washington, D.C. (click photo for larger image)German born American artist Winold Reiss (1888- 1953) was primarily known for his portraits of Native Americans and African Americans.

He attended art school in Munich, where he learned to work in the style known as Jugendstil (a German version of Art Nouveau). He left for the United States in 1913 filled with romantic idealism about Native Americans and the vast Western frontier.

In 1924, Reiss was commissioned by Survey Graphic magazine to capture the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance (discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) with portraits of the residents of Harlem in New York City. Among his many subjects was the poet, Langston Hughes.

Hughes was a trailblazer, not only for black writers but also for his ability to force his way into mainstream American literature. Although white intellectuals projected their racial fantasies and preconceptions onto African Americans, seeing them as a way of revitalizing a sterile culture by injecting a dose of the "primitive," Hughes focused on a deep commitment to African American history, treating the subject with the framework of modernist poetry.  

Viewing and studying the work of Winold Reiss presents a series of challenges. To understand this remarkable artist, who came to America with a unique sense of what this country was, is to challenge our own preconceptions about what American art is and should be.


Romaine Brooks - An Intensely Contradictory Nature  

Romaine Brooks - Self-Portrait - 1923 - Oil on canvas - Smithsonian American Art MuseumRomaine Brooks (born Beatrice Romaine Goddard 1874-1970) was an American painter who worked primarily in Paris and Capri. Specializing in portraiture, she used a subdued tonal palette keyed to the color gray. 

Brooks ignored contemporary artistic trends such as Cubism and Fauvism, drawing, instead, on her own original aesthetic. Her subjects ranged from anonymous models to titled aristocrats. She is best known for her images of women in androgynous or masculine dress, which directly challenged conventional ideas about how women should look and behave”. The self-portrait featured here exemplifies her approach to both life and art. It is her most widely reproduced work.

Brooks survived a devastating childhood. The memories of the cruelty and insanity she endured haunted her throughout her life. This particular work embodies her “intensely contradictory nature”.