A Christmas Rose – A Legend

Today is Christmas and I offer (a poor effort of poesy on my part) a tale which is known near and far.

There is a tale told from old

Two thousand years plus a number more

Of starry skies and winds blown cold

From heav’n to earth with angels by score

To shepherds appearing at dark of night

Telling of a glorious delight

Quiver and shake in dread they fear

As news of great joy rings round their state

A King is born in Bethlehem near

Why stand thus still, for time does not wait

With haste to see your King new born

And Bethlehem gain ere the morn

Our flocks to care, the young lass, we allot

Haste then we with gifts to see that which is new

To Bethl’hem we traverse and tarry not

To see our King which was told to so few

Kneel in adoration in place so low

Gifts we have not only hearts to bestow

Pensive sits she and ponders all that was brought

Then rises and runs with pace and fast

O’er hill and dale with anxious thought

She hurries on while strength does last

To see this King in Bethlehem born

Tho’ clad in rags, so rough and torn

A stable warm with ox and ass

Manger blest, and parents rest

Sweet smell of hay and breath of kine

Animals nigh, kneel before their guest

Here shepherds bow, their homage pay

Good news to men they then relay

In vain she seeks a gift from near

But naught is found for such a King

Who lies in stable sleeping without fear

Dare she enter with nothing

In despair, she searches near and far

For that which is pure and without mar

A seraph nigh, with piteous eye

Whisks with wing, the snow aside

A rose, pure, white and fair, for her to espy

And gathering close, with ox and ass beside

She gifts a ‘Christmas rose’ to the infant King

And all heav’n and earth rejoice and sing

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Dolly Varden

It is at this time of year that Dickens becomes a household name. His story ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a stalwart on television and radio with numerous productions and remakes for every following generation. It is in so many ways a timeless tale and worthy of note. But there is a good possibility that you have never heard of #DollyVarden. Dolly Varden is a young lady in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge. #BarnabyRudge was produced by Dickens during 1840-41 in serial form. It was intended to be Dickens’ first publication in book format but due to publication problems it was actually his fifth published book. If it had been published first, he might have struggled with other books because it is considered to be his weakest effort. Barnaby Rudge is largely set during the Gordon Riots of 1780. The Gordon Riots began as an anti-Catholic protest in London against the Papist Act of 1878. The protests devolved into rioting and looting. The riots also occurred at the height of the American War of Independence and rumours ran that they were influenced by France and Spain in an attempt to weaken Britain.

The mixed method mezzotint pictured is by #SamuelWilliamReynolds (the younger) and is taken from the painting by #WilliamPowellFrith. It was etched in 1844 and published by Thomas Agnew & Sons. Dolly is described by Dickens as “the very pink and pattern of good looks, in a smart little cherry coloured mantle”. A wonderful piece added to my collection..

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Creation or Copy

I have been contemplating a question. Which is greater, an artist who creates his own image or one who copies from another? To do this I have been looking at two oil paintings in my collection. So as not to influence the argument by using known artists and their fame, the works are done by artists of little renown. We will begin with a rendering of an icon of American modern art.

Welcome to ‘Christina’s World’. The original of this study hangs in the MoMA in New York as part of it’s permanent collection. It is roughly 32″ by 47″. It was created in 1948 by Andrew Wyeth. The study which is shown here is 10″ by 13″. The fine brushwork used is superb and painstakingly precise, although some of the fine work on the original has been lost due to the reduction in size. There are also a number of minor variations in the rendering, evenso, this is a finely painted study by RC Maddison.

Now we continue with a rendering of ‘Amiens Cathedral’ by Vernon Carder done in 1970. Painted in wonderful colours with hints of Impressionism yet rooted in Realism through the architectural presentation of the cathedral and dwellings. A somewhat dreamy image. The brushwork is less specific. There is a vagueness and blending of application which lends itself to the overarching presentation of the image.

Which of these two are the greater accomplishment by the artist. Both have wonderful attributes which argue for supremacy. But does one need to come to a resolution to the question or can/should we just enjoy the art for art’s sake. I continue to ponder.

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Mughal Paintings II

Mughal paintings were generally created as miniatures either to be collated into book form or possibly as single artistic works combined into albums or folios. They originate in and around the Indian subcontinent. Emerging from the Persian miniature, the Mughal art of painting was also influenced by Indian Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism and thrived from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Mughal painting evolved by mingling or combining the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu influences. There were artists who developed this art form even further by the application of European techniques especially those involved in the rendering of space and volume.

A rather odd thing in regards to Mughal painting is that they were usually a collaborative effort between a number of artists. The first artist would decide the overall composition, the second would paint what the first envisaged, and a third would focus on the portraiture- executing each and every face shown. Mughal art was generally secular, being illustrations to historical and/or literary works, portraits of royals and their courts, natural life and genre scenes.

Mughal era paintings began as elegant artworks displaying a richness of style and colour. Over time they became stultified. They became cold and rigid through lack of imagination and the over-copying of the first masters.

The three pieces from my collection here display the colourful and vibrant artistic style which first infused the artistic style.

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Mughal Paintings

#Mughalpaintings originate in Southern Asia at a time when that area was called Persia. They were generally created as book illustrations or as single works of art to be included into albums and flourished between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Mughal paintings concentrated on realistic portraiture, the depiction of animals, birds and plants as they really appeared. Making them, today, a tremendous source of information – historical, biological etc. The great painters of their day illustrated the Persian literary works but found that the Mughal emperors- wonderful diarists that they were – provided not only opportunity to lavishly decorate text but also illustrate their memoirs via portraits, historical events, courtly life, flora and fauna. Aside from the fact that they were well compensated for their endeavours. It was typical of Persian art to richly decorate the borders framing a central image.

The images of the Myna bird and the pair of Mallard ducks are typical of the style. The decorated border, the gold work all enclosing a central image. Even the great artworks of the time are unsigned for though we can assess who the leading artists were (through historical writings) we cannot attribute individual pieces of art to any one artist. Only a handful are actually signed in any way. There is an inscription on the image with the mallards but you will have to look closely. It resides along the bottom right corner of the central image – which makes it 1mm tall and 25mm long – and unreadable without a magnifying glass and there are two stamps on the verso of the Myna bird. I have contacted a specialist in the hopes of deciphering both inscription and stamp. Next we’ll look at three other Mughal paintings I have.

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Ohara Koson Woodblock Prints

This past week saw me add a couple of #woodblock prints to my collection. The artist is #OharaKoson (1877-1945). Koson’ history is somewhat vague. He was born Ohara Matao in Kanazawa in the province of Ishikawa and is believed to have begun his artistic studies in painting and design at the Ishikawa Prefecture. At some point he studied painting technique under Suzuki Kason. In the late 1890’s, Koson moved to Tokyo.

In Tokyo, Koson worked with a number of publishers. He concentrated on works which portrayed birds and flowers although he did produce works – triptychs- illustrating scenes from the Russo-Japanese war.

It was quite Normal for an artist to use several ‘nom de plume’ and Koson was no different. While working with publishers Akiyama Buemon and Matsuki Heikichi, his works were signed Koson. When he worked with Watanabe Shozaburo (from 1926), he became Shoson and while working with Kawaguchi, he signed as Hoson. It’s no wonder people get confused as to artists when they look at Chinese and Japanese art. It was through his association with Watanabe that Koson became popular internationally, especially in the United States. Koson produced prints until 1935 and he died in 1945 at his home in Tokyo.

The three woodblock prints I have are Crow on Cherry Tree @ 1910, Flowering Plum and Full Moon @ 1910, Badger and Bamboo in Moonlight @ 1910. They are superb examples of his technique even though they are fairly early productions in his artistic life. Koson’s depiction of birds and body details is masterful. Take note of his work on the feathers especially. They are done with meticulous care. Koson’s bird depictions are considered to be among the best in the 20th century.

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Henry Holiday ‘Dante and Beatrice’

I have written in regards to Dante in a couple of other chapters and today we look at an image by artist #HenryGeorgeHoliday (1839-1927). Perhaps Henry Holiday’s best known painting is that of Dante and Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinitas in Florence. Holiday was a landscape and historical scene painter who also designed and worked in stained glass, sculpture and illustrating. In the timeline of art, he would be considered a Pre-Raphaelite.

The painting #DanteandBeatrice is based on Dante’s work La Vita Nuova. The work describes Dante’s love for Beatrice Portina. Dante tries to conceal his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted to other women. But this backfires when Beatrice learns of his affections and his pretence and snubs him by refusing to speak to him. The event is shown as Beatrice and two other women walk past Dante at the Ponte Santa Trinita. Beatrice in the white dress walks beside her friend Monna Vanna, with Beatrice’s maidservant slightly behind. To assure authenticity in regards to the image portrayed, Dante traveled to Florence in 1881 to study buildings and architecture. He even created small clay models of the buildings and persons. Although the pigeons appear here, they were painted by #JohnTrivettNettleship for Dante’s large oil painting created in 1883.

The small watercolour in my collection is unsigned. It appears to be old enough to be by Holiday but it is in rough shape. Woodworm have eaten the backing wooden boards and paper artist board and left even a few holes in the image. This is what happens when art is not cared for. There are a couple of charcoal sketches which Holiday created in study for his large work and maybe this was created for colour reference as well as architectural accuracy.

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Robert Thornton’s ‘Temple of Flora’

Today, I managed to find a plate from one of the finest books ever made. It is the frontispiece to folio size of #TempleofFlora by #Dr.RobertJohnThornton published in 1807. Robert Thornton (1768-1837) was the son of Bonnell Thornton an English poet, essayist, and critic. Robert was studying at Trinity College, Cambridge for ordination into the Church when he was inspired by lectures given by Thomas Murray on botany and the work of Linnaeus. He eventually worked at Guys Hospital in London where he lectured on medical botany. Robert also traveled but settled in London to work. He, after the deaths of his mother and brother, inherited the family fortune.

Dr. Thornton’s homage to Linnaeus was his publishing of New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Von Linnaeus of which The Temple of Flora was the third and final part. The large folio sized floral prints are considered by many to be the most magnificent such work ever produced. Each print was the result of a mixture of elaborate engraving processes often employing mezzotint, aquatint, etching and line engraving on a single plate. The plates were printed in colour and finished by hand.

One might think that such a work would be successful but it failed to pique public interest. There were to be some 70 plates overall but when support for the work could not be found only around 33 plates were finished. They were collaborations between some of the best artists of the day. Paintings by Reinagle and Henderson were turned into engravings by Thomas Medland and Joseph Stadler as well as others.

The plate, as I said, is the frontispiece for Temple of Flora and shows ‘Cupid Inspiring Plants with Love’. The plant he is shooting at is Strelitzia reginae or ‘Queen plant’. Thomas Burke engraved it after a painting by Philip Reinagle and Thornton published it in 1805. A superb print executed with exquisite skill and artistry.


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Salvador Dali Surrealist

When we think of modern day artists, certainly, #SalvadorDali (1904 – 1989) is a name that comes to mind. Dali was born in Figueres, Catalonia, SpaIn. A talented draftsman, Dali is best known for his imaginatively striking and even bizarre images. He was one of the leading figures in the ‘Surrealist’ genre.

Greatly influenced by the Renaissance masters, he did not restrict himself in the medias in which he worked. A painter, an engraver, a sculptor, a photographer, a film maker – Dali dabbled in many artistic media. He not only dabbled but was efficient and even proficient in whatever media he chose to work in. He worked along side many great artists involved in those various fields.

Dali’s success came early. His works were exhibited in his home in the beginning. Studying first in ‘drawing school’ in Figueres and later in Madrid. His work in the area of ‘Cubism’ brought him notice while at school but his supreme painting skills were evidenced by his realistic work ‘The Basket of Bread‘. His studies finished, Dali visited Paris, where he met Picasso and Miro and many other Surrealist artists who had a great effect upon his work.

Dali created more than 1,500 paintings and numerous drawings, lithographs, etchings, films, books, and sculptures. Dali often used images and symbols which included melting clocks, elephants,eggs, ants, snails, and locusts in his works. Dali was highly imaginative, flamboyant, extravagant, and eccentric not only in his art but also in his person.

The two pieces in my collection are an etching of ‘Don Quixote – El Cid- Cervantes’ and a woodcut ‘The Black Devil – Canto 21 – Hell – The Inferno – The Divine Comedy – Dante’ . Both reveal his uniquely creative and imaginative style.

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Dehua Porcelain

Dehua porcelain is a white porcelain produced at Dehua in the Fujian province of China. The western or European name for it is ‘Blanc de Chine’ (white from China).

#Dehua porcelain has been produced from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the present day. Dehua porcelain concentrated in producing Buddhist and Daoist deities, vases, incense burners, stoves and teapots with reliefs of plum blossoms. By the 18th century, large quantities of Dehua porcelain was being exported to Europe and Japan. Some of these were altered in form and style so to appeal to Western tastes. Dehua porcelain was copied in Europe by porcelain makers such as Meissen and others. Within the porcelain originating in China, Dehua finds itself among the few makers on which potters seals can regularly be found. Dehua porcelain has a fine, grained, vitreous, white body stemming from the use of the local pulverised porcelain stone. It is covered by a thick satiny glaze which may vary in colour from milky white to ivory to a light rosy hue. The real problem with Dehua porcelain is that since traditional techniques were used for extensive periods of time as well as copying of traditional pieces and styles, it is very difficult to date.

The piece I acquired this past week has been greatly restored – as you can see. But since I paid very little for it I felt it a worthwhile purchase. It is of the goddess #Guanyin (Kuan Yin) with a child – she is the goddess of fertility. I believe it to be made in the 17th/18th and the only images I can find of other copies are in a collection of #BlancdeChine at Blenheim Palace (mostly collected in the 17th century).

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