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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Red House – The Birth of Arth and Crafts

The nineteen-year-old Jane Burden agreed to marry Morris. His friend, the architect Philip Webb whose acquaintance Morris had made during his year at Street’s architectural firm, was commissioned to build Red House, their first married home. Red House is distinctly medieval in appearance. Moreover, the location of Red House was no coincidence. It was built along the path the pilgrims would have taken on their way to Canterbury, in Chaucher’s Canterbury Tales.

Red House defines the early Arts & Crafts style — with its steep roof, brock fireplaces, and ordinary materials such as stones and tiles. William and Jane were dissatisfied with the type and quality of the mass-produced furnishing they found in the shops. Morris and Burne-Jones had commissioned some pieces of furniture when they shared bachelor quarters in London, but Red House was largely unfurnished.

And now reader, look around this English room of yours, about which you have been proud so often, because the work of it was so good and strong, and the ornaments of it so finished. Examine again all those accurate mouldings, and perfect polishing, and unerring adjustments of the seasoned wood and tempered steel. Many a time you have exulted over them, and thought how great England was, because her slightest work was done so thoroughly.

Morris resolved to furnish Red House himself. He paid attention to every detail, designing and handpainting the tiles in the garden porch, the ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’. The furnishing and decoration of Red House became a usual weekend activity for the Morrises and their friends, Edward-Burne Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal, architect Philip Webb and others.

It was one evening after a dinner at Red House that the group of friends formed the partnership of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co., a business venture built on the rejection of machine-produced decorations in favor of hand-craftsmanship. The Firm initially focused on stained glass and Firm windows are still common in England’s 19th century churches. The ‘Morris Chair’, designed by Philip Webb, is still available by catalog and online. Morris wallpaper and textile patterns are still sold in high-end shops.

But to smother their soul with them, to blight and hew into rotting pollars the suckling branches of their human intelligence, to make the flesh and skin which, after the worm’s work on it, is to see God, into leathern thongs to yoke machinery with, — this is to be slavemasters indeed… (Ruskin, Nature of the Gothic)

The defining characteristics of English Arts and Crafts are a return general simplicity of design and hand decoration of items with images and symbols that have a meaning for the user. For Morris, these included medieval themes and there is indeed a link to the ethos of the medieval artisan guilds, but as his interests grew, so did the subject matter. Persian designs and themes, the influence of old Iceland tapestries on his designs, drawing on the beauty of the natural surroundings and his personal history growing up as a child riding his pony through Epping Forest, mythic and fairy tale themes — all of these were drawn into the circle of Arts and Crafts subjects.

What is Arts and Crafts?

Arts & Crafts is more a philosophy of design than a set of characteristics. At the center of the Arts and Crafts Movement is something holy, a reactionary vision standing against materialism. The the spirit of Arts and Crafts is a kind of kairos, the moment when the spiritual breaks through or incarnates the spiritual into the material worlds of architecture, furnishings and the decorative arts — and it is from that center of understanding that we can trace its lineage and its future.

John Ruskin and William Morris

Although it was William Morris whose name became known as the cornerstone of the Arts and Crafts movement, it was John Ruskin’s second chapter on the Nature of the Gothic in his book, The Stones of Venice wherein he expounded the Arts and Crafts heresy against 19th century industrialization:

You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them…. — a heap of sawdust, so far its intellectual work in this world is concurred: saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the forms of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten years are over, into fireside humanity.

Entering Exeter College at Oxford in 1852, William Morris intended to take holy orders. At Oxford, he met Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and joined a group called ‘The Brotherhood’ whose members were strongly influenced by Ruskin’s praise of the creative imagination expressed by medieval artisans:

On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing: and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out comes all his roughness, all dullness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure; pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds settling upon him. And whether the clouds be bright or dark, there will be transfiguration behind and within them.

After spending a summer touring the the cathedrals of northern France, and being particularly stricken at the beauty of Reims Cathedral, Morris returned to England resolved to study architecture. He took up an apprenticeship at the architectural offices of George Edmund Street, a leading Gothic revival architect. Within a year, on the advice of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he abandoned architecture in favor of painting. It was during this brief time as a painter that he made the acquaintance of Jane Burden, later persuaded by Rossetti to model for their small circle of painters.

Dutch Old Masters on world tour

The largest private collection of 17th-century Dutch painting will tour the globe, starting in February 2017. The first survey of the Leiden Collection, assembled by the US commodities magnate Thomas Kaplan and his wife Daphne Recanati Kaplan, is due to open at the Musée du Louvre (22 February-20 May) as part of a season at the museum celebrating the Dutch Golden Age. A larger presentation of around 60 works is scheduled to travel to the Long Museum in Shanghai, the National Museum in Beijing and the Louvre Abu Dhabi later this year and in 2018.

The travelling show includes the largest number of paintings by Rembrandt ever shown in China and marks the first time Vermeer has ever been shown there, according to Kaplan. He says he views the tour as an opportunity “to build bridges at a time when so many are being burned all over the world”.

The Kaplans have assembled the Leiden Collection at breakneck speed—over just 14 years—with the assistance of Old Master dealers Johnny van Haeften, Otto Naumann and Salomon Lilian. (The collection also has a three-person in-house research and registrar team.) Since 2003, they have acquired more than 200 works, including 13 Rembrandts—11 paintings and two drawings, the largest number in private hands—and the only privately owned paintings by Vermeer and Carel Fabritius.

“For a period of almost five years, we were collecting on average a painting a week,” Kaplan says. “There are only 30 or so Rembrandts in private hands. If people are willing to sell me Rembrandt for less than the price of Warhol, I was thrilled to be able to collect what we loved.”

The Kaplans have lent works from their collection to museums anonymously for years, but recently decided to make their passion public. On 23 January, ahead of the opening of the travelling exhibition, they will launch a free online catalogue dedicated to their holdings. “Any delusion I might have had that we would be able to retain some level of anonymity was not going to happen,” Kaplan says. “We decided to go with it and explain why these artists are still so relevant in the modern world.”

The catalogue includes high-resolution images, essays by scholars, detailed provenance information and technical studies of each work. Visitors to the site can search by artist, date, medium or subject, and all images are available for download in high resolution free of charge. Arthur Wheelock, the curator of Northern Baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has served as an advisor to the project since 2009.

Dominique Surh, the curator of the Leiden Collection, says the Kaplans’ holdings represent “a remarkable genealogy” of the Dutch Golden Age. “Rembrandt had a huge workshop and many of his pupils are represented in the collection, and in some cases, their pupils’ pupils.”

To mark the Louvre presentation, the Kaplans have also donated the painting Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well (c. 1645-46) by Rembrandt’s student Ferdinand Bol to the French museum. Kaplan bought the Biblical scene at auction in 2009 for €1.3m with fees; he had no idea he was bidding against the Louvre. “It was always our policy that if we knew a museum was going for a painting and had the money for it, we would not try to take it away from them,” Kaplan says.

When he discovered who had been on the other side of the bidding war, he offered the work to the Louvre on long-term loan. The museum—which generally does not present loans in its permanent collection spaces—made an exception for the work and put it on display in its Dutch galleries in 2010. Now, it will become a permanent fixture. “It was an accident that we had it in the first place,” Kaplan says.

Paris blockbuster Modern art collection extended

French billionaire Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton has announced that it is extending its blockbuster exhibition in Paris of Impressionist and Modernist masterpieces collected by the pre-revolutionary Russian arts patron Sergei Shchukin. Icons of Modern Art, which opened to the public on 22 October and was initially scheduled to run through 20 February, will remain on view until 5 March. The opening hours will also be extended in the final week from 7am to 11pm.

Featuring 130 works by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin, the show has already drawn over 600,000 visitors, the foundation said in a press release on 9 January. The display brings Shchukin’s collection together for the first time since it was seized by the Soviet state after the Bolshevik Revolution and ultimately divided between the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Shchukin’s French grandson, André-MarcDelocque Fourcaud, worked for years to organise an exhibition of the collection and finally succeeded with the backing of Arnault, the chief executive of the luxury firm LVMH. Putin did not attend the show’s opening after Russia’s international relations deteriorated due to events in Syria, but he thanked the luxury goods titan and art collector personally at the Kremlin on 24 November. A photograph of their meeting was posted on the Kremlin’s website, which stated that the “president expressed gratitude to Mr Arnault” for organising the exhibition.