Das Städel Museum 5 June 05

Section: painting

Categories: Exhibition / museum

Hexagonal Tables

In the Städel museum here in Frankfurt there is a small painting from around 1400 on the subject of the Garden of Eden, attributed only to the Meister des Paradiesgärtleins (Master of the Little Garden of Eden) of Strassburg: a dominant element of this painting is a hexagonal table, of stone I believe, which resonates strongly in me and, along with other examples of paintings of such a table, embodies for me the striving to see and represent the world around us. A hexagon is so easily constructed, but becomes more difficult to depict when tilted in space, particularly when you haven’t quite finished inventing perspective.

This painting (I haven’t been able to find a reproduction of it in the internet) touches on some of the feelings that Cézanne’s still–life paintings evoke in me. In the Strassburg meister’s painting, the back line of the hexagon lines up almost exactly with a bottom horizontal line of a garden wall in the rear of the painting, pulling both elements back and forth, but also perhaps being a conscious attempt to stabilize the table in space by fixing it to an object which is clearly behind it in order to compensate for the difficulties in placing the hexagonal shape in perspective. Or maybe the artist was playing with these ruptures as part of the excitement of the painting, like in so many of Cézanne’s paintings.

Whenever I think and feel about perspective it begs the question of which came first, perspective or our development of it as a tool to help us come to terms with reality.

Speaking of religion, this painting of the Garden of Eden is more a painting of a garden than of the biblical Eden. I mean this in the sense that it is a sequestered garden and conveys a feeling of security, enclosure, protection from the outside world, from an encroaching and potentially threatening material reality. But in that sense it is still very much a religious painting.

A Cézanne

The Städel has only one Cézanne in the permanent collection, or at least only one which I have ever seen on display there. It is an early painting, before Pissarro’s decisive influence, of a mountain road with trees and a rock precipice rising from the edge of the road. Though it is daytime, the sky is black. The painting is strong and solid, full of Cézanne’s struggle to make that way, and it has grown on me with time, perhaps even more so because it is in fact the only Cézanne to be seen here in Frankfurt.

Courbet’s influence is clear, and the rock face becomes one with the gray tones of paint smeared and scraped with a palette knife.

A Picasso

There is one Picasso Cubist painting, a portrait of Fernande Olivier in front of a landscape. As an example of measuring one’s own growth of perception — my own growth — against a relationship with great art, this painting becomes stronger and more compelling for me every time I see it.

A Daubigny

Always on display is a tremendously large Daubigny of an orchard which I am really just beginning to appreciate after knowing it for so many years. I assume the painting was made at or near his home in Auvers sur Oise.

One of my strongest associations with Daubigny has always been Vincent van Gogh. Daubigny’s residence is located not far from the hotel where van Gogh died in Auvers. The wikipedia entry on van Gogh contends that his painting, Daubigny’s Garden, was his last work before dying.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Frankfurt and the Städel Museum represented a leap in the growing European recognition of van Gogh’s art, particularly associated with the Städel’s purchase of The Portrait of Dr. Gachet (more →). There is an excellent book on the life of the painting written by Cynthia Saltzman: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece, Money, Politics, Collectors, Greed and Loss (amazon →).

Many Beckmanns

Max Beckmann lived in Frankfurt for many years and not surprisingly there are many of his paintings here. He is an artist who I have grown to appreciate with time, particularly his simple still–life paintings which are so solid and intelligent, and his self-portraits which have the same qualities.

Exhibition: The Permanent Collection

Museum: Das Städel Museum, Frankfurt Germany

  • Title: Das Städel Museum

Wunschwelten 2 June 05

Section: painting

Categories: Exhibition / museum

The high-culture camp of the culture industry meets Anacondas.

Title: Wunschwelten ("Wish-Worlds")

Museum: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt

  • Title: Wunschwelten

Der Zauber des Alltäglichen (Senses and Sins) 13 March 05

Section: painting

Categories: Exhibition / museum

Title: Der Zauber des Alltäglichen (Senses and Sins: Dutch Painters of Daily Life in the Seventeenth Century)

Museum: Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

Brouwer and Godard

Along with the half dozen or so Vermeer paintings in the exhibition, I loved the paintings by Adriaen Brouwer (1605/6 – 1638). One painting, Two peasants in a fist fight, reminded me of a fist fight in Godard’s Band à part which I saw the night before. It was almost as if Godard had based his scene on the painting: he choreographed it self-consciously — I think of the torture scenes in, I believe, Le Petit Soldat. Brouwer was trying to express the feelings of daily events: one painting, well enough known, is called The Bitter Drink. Brouwer’s fist fight seems not only staged but a bit awkward: done well before he had the benefit of stop-motion photography to better understand the dynamics of the human body in action, he isolated the various body parts and a tipping barrel and assembled them into his conception of a bar fight.


According to something I read once on the subject, in the 17th century, the provinces we now call The Netherlands and dominated at that time by Holland had the highest rate of literacy in Europe. Writing and reading letters as a theme play a dominant role in the genre painting of the time and in this exhibition as well.

Genre Painting and slavery

The Protestant Reformation had paved the way for breaking with a subordination to religious iconography as a dominant subject in painting. I am an artist, not an art historian, but I would imagine that one underlying force in the rise of genre painting in that area was a booming capitalism (the Golden Age), the growth of a thriving international trade, including the trade in slaves. Genre painting represents a development from painting as a window to our world — a world that can be possessed, owned — to depictions of daily life, divided between the upper and lower classes, images which reinforce outlooks and perceptions of the respective classes, paintings which can be marketed, perhaps to a broader market in the relatively wealthy society of Holland at that time.

Vermeer and the Camera Obscura

I have the impression that there is still some defensiveness among the ranks of art historians, and in the public, about the issue of whether painters such as Vermeer used a Camera Obscura to aid them in their painting. As if that would diminish their accomplishment — in the 19th century the development of photography had a tremendous influence on painting, and in the 20th century prominent painters, such as Picasso, sometimes worked directly from photographs and of course later painters worked from slides projected on their canvas.

In one historical reference to Vermeer (I don’t remember where I read it right now) it was even claimed that Vermeer couldn’t have used the technology of the Camera Obscura because he didn’t have access to it — the reference mentioned specifically that Vermeer “didn’t even know” Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a draper (note the extensive use of drapery in Vermeer’s work) who was a brilliant inventor of lenses and who discovered bacteria in 1683. Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek were contemporaries: born in the same year and both residents of Delft. According to Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything (page 454):

Leeuwenhoek was close friends with another Delft notable, the artist Jan Vermeer. In the mid-1600s Vermeer, who previously had been a competent but not outstanding artist, suddenly developed the mastery of light and perspective for which he has been celebrated ever since. Though it has never been proved, it has long been suspected that he used a camera obscura [...]. No such device was listed among Vermeer’s personal effects after his death, but it happens that the executor of Vermeer’s estate was none other than Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the most secretive lens-maker of his day.

  • Title: Der Zauber des Alltäglichen (Senses and Sins)

Pinothek der Moderne 27 February 05

Section: painting

Categories: museum

A new museum of modern art in Munich.

  • Title: Pinothek der Moderne