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Picturing a World

Hilma af Klimt

An article, Hilma af Klint: Swedish mystic hailed as the true pioneer of abstract art, in the Guardian calls attention to a new biography of and film about a woman artist who flourished in the early 20th C. She still astonishes today. At first sight, her work reminded me of Agnes Pelton's—and it came forty years earlier. If she is as new to you as she is to me, I recommend Hilma af Klint's Visionary Paintings, a review of the 2018 show at the Guggenheim by the late Peter Schjeldahl. As a quick introduction to her work, it is informative, well illustrated, and as always with Schjeldahl lively and engaging. Image via Open Culture post on the publication of the af Klint catalogue raisonné.

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Thaulow bridge

Websites for auction houses can be great sources for images to help writers as well as art historians or would-be buyers. In my pursuit of aids to visualizing a river bank with a bridge, I came across this one at Bonham's by one of my favorite Scandinavian Impressionists, Frits Thaulow. At the Bonham's link, you can zoom in on details. What interested me most was the ramshackle staircase on the left and the grass-and-flower-covered bank opposite a brick retaining wall.

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Laundry drying

I first became aware of Helene Schjerfbeck at the exhibition Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900, but this painting is new to me. I love its combination of garden imagery and a mundane task. Just look at those delphiniums behind the beautifully rendered curves of netting!

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Nikolai Astrup

Exhibition alert: Yesterday, for the first time since the 2020 lockdown, my husband and I went to a museum exhibition, namely Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts (through September 19, 2021). It had been scheduled for last summer and was the closing that disappointed me most after COVID hit. I was delighted therefore, when I learned that it would be delayed rather canceled, and I can assure you that it was worth the wait. 

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Helene Schjerfbeck’s Convalescent

A tick bite has me on a prophylactic antibiotic, which in turn has side effects. Drat! But it's a good excuse to post this image of a convalescent by Helen Schjerfbeck, which I recently ran across in an article about the artist.  Schjerfbeck was a splendid find for me at a show of Women Artists in Paris at the Clark. She's quite astonishing.
Convalescence was a common motif in late-19th C painting, but this one strikes me as particularly interesting because it doesn't stress piteousness. Instead it shows the child on the mend—a welcome motif during a pandemic. Or at the start of tick season. Stay well, everybody.

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Getty—recreate art

As a way to help us all cope with self-isolation, The Getty posted a challenge to recreate art in their collection using household objects. The Hammershøi response was so perfect for this blog (with its running motif of rooms as portraits without people) that I had to choose it for this alert. But really you should see the other colorful, witty examples at the Getty website and even better examples at Sad and Useless. (Now, is there a short story to be derived from some sequestered people using household objects to …?)

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Holsøe’s daydream

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe's painting is obviously not one of Jeanette's "portraits without people"; but it is an example of that stillness in a near empty room, interior recessions (in this case in the mirror), and the importance of a door that appeal to me and led me to invent the genre for her. Glimpses outward through a window are also always mysterious invitations. The October 23, 2019, Sotheby's catalogue calls this a "a tonal poetics of greys and blacks" and observes that "[t]he mirror imperceptibly reveals the imprints of a personality." It also refers to "the enigmatic effect of the silent atmosphere." Right. Can't you feel yourself becoming quieter just by looking at it?

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Holsøe’s Candlelight

Mostly, I like to highlight lesser known women artists, but sometimes it's worth calling attention to a man. A post at GurneyJourney reminded me of Danish painter, Carl Vilhelm Holsøe. Holsøe's depictions of rooms are atmospheric interiors, a genre at which his generation of Scandinavian artists seems to have excelled. (Think Harriet Backer or Anna Ancher.) I didn't know about him when I was imagining Jeanette's "portraits without people," but his work illustrates the way a room can embody psychological insight.
Pictures of rooms are also a boon to historical-fiction and fantasy writers for the details they provide—in this case, a candle in the darkness. 21st C people have little idea how dark rooms really were before electric lights. Older stories in which characters are hidden in shadow become much more believable when you experience a black-out, or light a room with only a candle or two as an experiment, or, as here, see the effect in art.


To see this still life as part of a larger interior, click here.


For more of Holsøe's work, click here.

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Zorn’s bathers

As we near Labor Day, Anders Zorn’s bathers are a reminder of summer’s pleasures that will soon be coming to an end. I loved this picture when I was writing about my young artists in Pont Aven. Nudes were basic to academic training  Read More 

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Wegmann and Bauch

Blog tip: This is one of around twenty portraits of Swedish artist Jeanna Bauck by her Danish friend Bertha Wegmann, who reciprocated with several portraits of Bauck. It appeared recently at a Gurney Journey post, one of several on artists painting each other’s portraits. What strikes me as a writer is the challenge in Bauck’s eye, her fashionable dress, the thoughtful touch of the eyeglasses to the mouth. What a lot the portrait could suggest for a fictional character!  Read More 

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