Edvard Munch @ SFMOMA

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Y’all, over our brief 3 day sojourn to San Francisco we got to see the opening of an Edvard Munch show.

It left me speechless for a few reasons.

First, America rarely gets to see Munch’s work in person. Most are in Oslo in the Munch Museum, and most others are scattered around Europe. I went to New York  in 2013 and saw one version of The Scream there but other than that I have not seen many Munch paintings.

The exhibit was bare except for his canvasses. You could tell many had never been framed as the frames were new and showed the edges of the canvas. The edges were beautiful, just as beautiful as the paint filled middles, because you could see the nails and the ends of the paint and the work felt more human.

Logan said that Munch felt like Renoir on ether, and Adrienne and I both looked at how he painted women- as muses, sexual objects, creatures who reviled Munch, as temptresses and devils. It was agreed that Munch was, in many ways in his later years, a dirty old man.

But a damn talented one. His use of color and his skill with layers and washes were incredible. I felt full as I looked at his depictions of himself, of death, of isolation and lost love. Munch clearly had a powerful imagination that often threatened to swallow him entirely, as he depicted himself in Hell and being watched by eerie masks. We did loops, seeing new things at each turn in front of different canvasses. We sat in front of some and got closer to others. I felt my mind turning to a dirty, poor, unsophisticated Oslo where Munch grew up and wondering about who this man was.

It was a fantastic opportunity for us Americans to see the work of somebody who so clearly had a different mindset, set of motivations, morals, and ideas. It was, though this is difficult to accurately explain, very obvious that these works were by a brooding Norwegian.

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

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I love how Manet consistently used colors to embody luxury and how he used light to enhance everything. The dark backgrounds with bland colors set his subjects in contrast, making them more illuminated and glowing. I love how delicately he does hands- they don’t look stiff or too formal at all. The tiny peeled lemon he leaves in the bottom right corner of the painting make it both a portrait and a still life. I love how quick and easy his brushstrokes seem. Manet was a passionate creature, and his paintings and pastel works are infused with emotion. There is no passivity in his creations, no pauses, but they are not rushed works. Purposeful, clever, and exquisite, Manet’s portraits are some of my favorites to observe.

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Working Title/Artist: Young Lady in 1866 Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1866 photographed by mma in 1993, transparency 2a (8×10) scanned by film & media 9/19/04 (phc)

You can tell a woman did this: Artemisia Gentileschi

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Details from Judith Beheading Holofernes, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I love Judith and Holofernes paintings quite a bit. Lots of artists have done their interpretations of the scene- and most of them have been men.

The way that men typically paint Judith is either as she’s about to cut off Holoferne’s head or after, or if she’s shown actually beheading him she’s very flimsy about it. Her grip on the sword seems less than realistic, and she usually looks calm and beautiful (you know, for that pesky thing called the male gaze).

Here, we have Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, giving us her version. While I don’t think it’s been substantiated, this is seen as something of a revenge painting. Artemisia was supposed to have been raped at some point as a young woman and it could be said that this painting is her version of getting back. It certainly is a bloody scene, and much darker than many paintings.

I love how intensely Judith is in the process of beheading him (realistically decapitation is no piece of cake- you’ve got muscles, sinew, ligaments, a spine, etc. to get through) because it feels real. You can see her hand gripping the hilt of the sword while one hand is tangled in Holofernes hair so as to get a better grip. Her assistant holds him down, and his massive form is shown writhing, desperately trying to avoid the inevitable. His blood streams down the edge of the mattress and sprays un-elegantly out of the side of his neck (those arteries!). This feels legitimate. It wasn’t painted for some man to stare at as some gorgeous, poised Judith delicately saws through Holoferne’s body passively- it was created by a woman who imagines if she were actaully given the task to get Holofernes drunk and then dispatch of him. If you were a female assassin, what would you do? This. 

This painting is magnificent. I wish I had known about Artemisia when I was at the Uffizi in 2009- I was much more obsessed with seeing Botticelli and Michelangelo at the time. Someday I will go and honor this wondrous woman’s creation in person properly. Until then, she has all my respect.

 

Kunsthaus Focus: Ferdinand Hodler

The Kunsthaus in Zurich might be one of my favorite museums ever. It’s usually not terribly crowded, and it’s collection is well rounded. Despite the lack of benches (the plight of all museums!) there was so much to see. However, my focus today was definitely on Ferdinand Hodler.

His stuff is amazing. I hate using that word, stuff, so let’s use this word: His amazingfantasticgeniusrelatable creations. He’s a 19th century Swiss painter, born in Bern, and is an Expressionist.

For all of you who may not speak the Art History lingo, there are two kinds of painting.

Haptic and visual. Visual is like Renaissance Italian painting: It’s realistic, and while it’s no less beautiful, it’s much more accurate, refined, and less emotional.

Haptic painting is like Expressionism. It’s less accurate, it’s more of a Northern painter trait, like Edvard Munch (The Scream). Expressionism is pretty self explanatory…

Anyway, back on track!

So, basic sum: Ferdinand Hodler = 19th century Swiss painter-badass. The Kunsthaus had an entire room of his works, which were each a gem to behold.

Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Brughel the Elder

I love this painting. It’s about something totally tragic, a horrible killing in a winter village, but it’s painted with vivacity and even energy that is not a horrific energy. Yes, it’s chaotic, and yes, what is happening is violent: the title indicates this for us. Pieter’s blues and his use of reds though are more energetic than terrifying, and more encouraging rather than horrifying.

Northern art is for the win for me a lot recently.