Joseph Klibansky – All I Ever Wanted Was Everything and Other Works

Joseph Klibansky – All I Ever Wanted Was Everything and Other Works

I do not remember how I cam across Joseph Klibanksy’s work but I shall certainly be following him keenly from now on. I am always on the lookout for unusual, unique and interesting works of art. Klibansky delivers on all three counts. Below I shall discuss a number of his excellent works in the hope of bringing this new artist to your attention.

The Thinker, 2018

The Thinker is a 2018 piece, clearly echoing its Rodin namesake, made of polished bronze and spray paint. The scale of this work is most impressive, as you will see from the below work. Rodin’s Thinker is often used to portray the idea of philosophy, Klibansky’s work seems to add a spacial element to this. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Probably not, but it is fun. I have not yet seen spray paint over bronze, especially not detailed polished bronze like this. And the fact someone has had the foresight to cast an astronaut in bronze is striking in itself.

Leap of Faith 2018

The faithful among you will recognise this piece mirrors a passage in the Gospel about Christ carrying His cross, (John 19:17-18). Klibansky has, perhaps bafflingly, transformed Christ into an astronaut for reasons beyond my own limited comprehension. I suppose this is supposed to signify the metaphorical cross we all bear? Who is to say. I still think outside of a subjective conversation about intrinsic artistic merit, I think this piece is pretty cool, if not a tad sacrilegious.

Happily Ever After 2019

This is from the more recent Klibansky exhibition and is made of  polished bronze which was then chiselled more finely with what resembles a bone saw. Where to begin with this wonderful piece? The piece depicts a fattened croc wearing a party hat and tooting a party whistle. The scales are done to perfection for me. The little feet are detailed beautifully. The tail is astonishing to me in its length and detail. This is also such a fun piece that I could not help but share it with you.

Final reflections: does this mean anything? Probably not. Is it technically impressive? I think so. Is this good art? That is entirely up to you. I had a conversation with M about whether this constitutes ‘good art’ and we concluded that in truth there is no such thing as good art. Some art has political sway, some had religious implications and can inspire, but in the end art is only as good as you, the viewer, think it is. To this end, I hope these three Klibansky pieces have brought you some joy. I encourage you to delve further into his world as it is quite exciting.

You can see the Klibansky exhibition at the House of Fine Art in Los Angeles.


Boat Lying at Low Tide – Monet 1881

Boat Lying at Low Tide – Monet 1881

Avid readers of this blog will know that I am a great fan of Monet. Monet is one of the most celebrated Impressionist Masters. My favourite piece by him is Train at Saint Lazare, but this blog post will focus on Boat Lying at Low Tide, a piece Monet completed in 1881. See it below.

There is so much about this which impresses me. Firstly the scale of the thing is massive. It encompasses so much from the workers on the shore to the majestic ship itself, to the row of houses behind. All together the scope and amount of aspects depicted in this painting is immediately impressive. Looking more deeply, then, at the ship: the first thing which always impresses me with ship paintings is the depiction of the various ropes around the sails.

This rope detail was particularly well done by van de Velde II in The English Ship, Hampton Court in a Gale, which I had the pleasure of seeing again at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery before the Brave New Lockdown (‘with dead people in it’). Once you have appreciated/ recoiled at my bowdlerisation of Shakespeare, observed the aforementioned work below:

Going back to Monet, another detail I harp on about in his paintings are the visible brushstrokes. See how the people milling about are quite distinctive but also made up of only a few strokes, as it were. The sky and cloud detail too are gorgeous. The houses in the background provide perspective and scope, they are colourful which is a great contrast to the ship itself. Finally the curvature of the ship itself is shown beautifully.

Overall, this is a lovely painting which brightened my day when I saw it. I hope it will do the same for you.

Frédéric Bazille – Three Favourites

Frédéric Bazille – Three Favourites

Inspired in part by Eugène Delacroix, one of the founders of the French Romantic school, Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) was a French Impressionist painter. He originally studied medicine and indeed completed his studies. However, he never practiced medicine, choosing painting instead. He was close friends with Monet, Sisley and Manet. I will today speak about three paintings of his which I enjoy, starting with The Little Gardener.

The Little Gardener

This is an oil on canvas landscape painting. This is a lovely, serene isolated scene. The pink Rhododendron or peony tree in the background echoes the main piece in today’s review, below. The pine tree is magnificent in the background. The landscaped garden itself is quote stunningly arranged. The young man to the left is tending to the garden with care. The shading on his trousers is done very well. I so enjoy seeing individual brush stroked as well. All together this is just a delightful piece.

Young Woman with Peonies 1870

This wonderful painting was produced in 1870, a few months before the outbreak of the Franco Prussian war, where Bazille would die. It was in a way a tribute to Manet, who would grow peonies in his garden. I love this painting. The colours are so vivid, the shading is exemplary throughout, especially on the young woman’s face. The panoply of colours is excellently presented. I also very much enjoy the almost scornful look on the young woman’s face. Her eyes seem to be telling us off for interrupting her at work. Hands are notoriously difficult to render and I think Bazille has done an excellent job here. See also the wonderfully rendered fabric of her frock. Overall, this is a very skilfully depicted scene.

One of Bazille’s more famous pieces, La Toilette (meaning one’s washing ritual in French, as well as the more obvious direct translation of a toilet itself) depicts a scene of three women washing. Bazille’s doctoral background are on show here. Notice the large goitre on the neck of the woman in the right of the picture. This was the result of a thyroid disease common in the late 19th century. The shading and lighting of this woman’s silk dress are wonderfully rendered. Central to the painting is French model Lise Tréhot. Tréhot was the main muse of Renoir between 1866 and 1872. She appears in most of his works depicting females. In this painting, Tréhot is being tended to and looks very comfortable on the large fur throw upon which she is seated. Her maid is painted quite beautifully. Again, I must highlight the lighting and shade depictions as being really quite remarkable. Interestingly, this painting, unfinished, can be seen on the wall in the centre ground of Bazille’s studio in his 1870 painting Studio in Rue de La Condamine.

“La toillete” oil on canvas was finished in 1870 just before Bazille’s death (Fig. 1). It presents a French art model Lise Trehot, but for us more interesting is a mysterious woman on the right side. We see clearly large, smooth goiter. No eye signs, but slim woman’s stature does not help with differentiation between simple goiter and Graves’ disease. Historically, goiter seems to be “older” disease (i.e., paintings of Flemish or Italian Renaissance painters) but this question will be unanswered – La Toilette”. When a doctor becomes a painter: Frederic Bazille

The studio of the artist in Paris, rue de La Condamine; Astruc or Monet at the easel; Manet and Bazille; Edmond Maitre at the piano.

Overall I have been most impressed by Bazille’s works and may indeed be reviewing more of them in more detail in the coming weeks. I hope you, too, have enjoyed these four paintings.

René Magritte – Three Favourites

René Magritte – Three Favourites

You will have seen a few surrealist posts on the blog recently, it was only right I should write one about one of the great contributors to this artistic movement. René Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian born artist whose work was primarily in the genre of surrealism. Many will know the famous Son of Man, the portrait of the man with the bowler hat and an apple in front of his face. This post will focus on less famed works of his which I find personally thought provoking.

The Lovers, 1928

When I first re-discovered Magritte, I looked at the totality of his career and picked a few pieces that stuck out. The Lovers was one such piece. The theme of frustrated desires is common in Magrite’s work and even more common in our current COVID situation. Don’t worry, the viral references stop there. This piece has rather struck me and I’ll tell you because why. Above the frustrated desire reading, one can interpret this as an exploration of the idea that we can seldom reveal the true extent of who we are, even to those most close to us.

The fabric is done beautifully, the shading is impressive and the background is sufficiently simple that we can focus our attention on the lovers themselves. On a factual level, Matthew has pointed out to me that the skulls depicted are not anatomically correct. People’s skulls are not as shapely and spherical as depicted. It is more of a rounded triangle with a bulbous bottom from the profile. In addition, the rest of the painting is crudely rendered. The tie and collars look as wilted as the kimchi we have just made. The lady lover’s arm looks like unfired clay and their outfits are almost an afterthought. But in spite of this I am quite taken by it.

Enshrouded faces were a common motif in Magritte’s art. The artist was 14 when his mother committed suicide by drowning. He witnessed her body being fished from the water, her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Some have speculated that this trauma inspired a series of works in which Magritte obscured his subjects’ faces. Magritte disagreed with such interpretations, denying any relation between his paintings and his mother’s death. “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing,” he wrote, “they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does it mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.” MOMA

Time Transfixed

Time Transfixed is another oil on canvas painting. This was originally a commission by Edward James, art collector, to be displayed in the ballroom of his London home. Magritte has transformed the coal burning stove into a churning LMS Black 5 4-6-0 Locomotive headed straight for the viewer. Its original title, La durée poignardé, actually translates as Time Stabbed rather than Time Transfixed. Magritte wanted this painting installed at the bottom of James’ staircase so it would ‘stab’ the feet of his guests on their way up to the ballroom.

The combination of a train and a fireplace puts the two in sharp contrast and allow us to consider both individually. Magritte wanted to ‘evoke the mystery’ of both aspects of the painting. I should say he succeeded in this respect. On an aesthetic level, the train is quite beautifully rendered too.

The artist later explained this picture: “I decided to paint the image of a locomotive… . In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery—the image of a dining room fireplace—was joined.” The surprising juxtaposition and scale of unrelated elements, heightened by Magritte’s precise realism, gives the picture its perplexity and allure. Artic

The next piece we will consider, below, is Perspective: Madame Recamier. This is the one which took me most by surprise. Hitherto Magritte has consistently succeeded in making me think about certain things in completely different ways but this one made a lasting impression. Madame Juliette Recamier was a Parisian socialite whose salon was frequented by many important, and doubtless a few self-important, French people. There is a famed painting of her by Jean Louis David, below, which Magritte seems to parody here.

Perspective: Madame Recamier

If you compare the above to the original below, you will see that there is a noticeable difference. To me both are phenomenal in their own right. The original is a beautiful and flattering depiction of a young socialite at the height of her social powers. Each element is delicately portrait and adequately spaced to give its central figure an even more elevated status.

One can surmise the addition Magritte has chosen. I am impressed by the way the his piece has sharpened elements of Jean Louis David’s work and made everything clearer. I am interested to know why he chose to leave Mme Recamier’s dress visible. But most of all the addition of the coffin says something fairly startling. It is in effect saying that when we admire commissioned portraits of figures, we are essentially looking at cadavers. This thought will follow me now as I look at new pieces of art in the future.

Madame Recamier original, Jaques-Louis David

Overall I know Magritte will become a favourite artist for me. His perspective is as enlightening as it is jarring. I do not think I will look at art the same way. I hope these pieces have evoked some joy in you. I look forward to reviewing the next Magritte paintings which strike me.

Henriëtte Ronner-Knip – Three Feline Favourites

Henriëtte Ronner-Knip – Three Feline Favourites

Henriëtte Ronner-Knip (1821-1909) was born in Amsterdam to Josephus Augustus Knip and Pauline Rifer de Courcelles, both artists. She was the first woman admitted as an “active member” to Arti et Amicitiae, a prestigious art society in Rokin in the Netherlands. From 1870 she painted her most famed works, focussing on cats and dogs in bourgeois settings. We shall focus on a few of them below.

The Piano Lesson 1897

This was my first introduction to Ronner. I am a cat person myself hence I shall be biased in favour. This above painting is truly adorable and exquisitely well done. The scene would be beautiful even without the cats. The piano is rendered beautifully, the dull, weathered dark wood being a particular highlight. The marble statuette in the top left has a lovely reflection on the rich table top. The candle holders are lovely and ornate. In addition to all of this… cats! My favourite is the one hiding behind the sheet music. I am also deeply enamoured of the weary mother cat watching on, exhausted.

Kittens at Play

This is perhaps less refined than the one above but is still delightful. The surroundings are not as clear cut, one is not exactly sure which room the cats are in, tormenting their poor mother. What we do know is that one has managed to pearce a sheet of paper, another is having a nice conversation with Mother and one is falling into a box and looks quite distressed. My favourite kitten in this painting is that one clinging for dear life onto the curtain. The detailing of the cats’ coats is beautiful. Mother cat is most likely a Turtle Shell cat and looks quite divine.

Mostly sentimental portrayals, her paintings rarely offer any metaphorical meanings and are focused only on the cats themselves. She studied her cat subjects avidly and with sincerity. She even went so far as to construct a specially built glass-fronted studio in which her cats could freely scamper about, sleep, and get into the types of trouble that only cats can get themselves into. Daily Art Magazine

Cat At Play

For our final piece we will study a lone cat being mischievous with. This Moggie is clearly in its master’s games room or office, as evidenced by the smouldering cigar in the right foreground. The cat is occupying itself by playing dominos, or at least moving the pieces around as it sees fit. Its reflection in the finely lacquered table is very well executed, as is the shadow of the pencil perched precariously on the table edge. I also like the artist’s name on the marble plinth in the corner.

These paintings are just lovely and adorable. There is not much to think about beyond this, which is a bonus for this reviewer. I thought it might be useful to contrast these with the below.

Cecilia Beaux – Sita and Sarita (1921)

This was a portrait of Sarah Allibone Leavitt, Beaux’s cousin, with a black cat perched on her shoulder. This and the earlier paintings are linked by the idea that they don’t mean anything profound, they are just excellent paintings of cats. Beaux’s painting was accused of being witch like in its mystery. Beaux’s sister later remarked: “Please make no mystery about it—it was only an idea to put the black kitten on her cousin’s shoulder. Nothing deeper.”. I love how the cat appears to merge with Sarah’s hair. I also admire the luxurious way the white fabric has been rendered. All in all an excellent delightful painting.

I hope you have enjoyed a much needed vacation from excessive thought in reading this post. Sometimes we need to stop thinking so deeply about things and just appreciate them for what they are.


The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake – Thomas Eakins – Realist Excellence

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake – Thomas Eakins – Realist Excellence

This wonderful offering by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), a Philadelphian artist, depicts the events of a famed rowing race on the Schuylkill River in May 1872. Eakins was an important American painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. H graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 1866. He is said to have carried American Realism to its height. The Gross Clinic (1875) is considered one of the most importance pieces of American art. But today, we shall focus on The Biglin Brothers, featured below.

Thomas Eakins was at the forefront of Realist painters who shifted the focus of American art from landscape to the figural subjects favoured by the European academies in the 19th century. Working in oil, watercolour, sculpture and photography, Eakins is renowned for his pictures of outdoor activities and portraits of intense, brooding figures—many of whom were his friends and acquaintances—pictured in darkened interiors. Influenced by the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge [(1830-1904)], Eakins was fascinated by the male physique, often unabashedly photographing his models in full nudity while boxing or wrestling. Artsy

For me this is a triumph in composition. The way motion is depicted is just superb. Observe the way the rowers’ arms are locked and the clarity with which their hands gripping the oars is depicted. This is even correct down to the thumb detail on the first rower’s right hand. Following on from the earlier point of Eakins being inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies; look at the four different sets of rowers shown in this picture, all at different stages of motion. We can draw a direct parallel here with Muybridge’s motion studies, one of which is included below. I have chosen the camel in motion because the others are mostly nude and this post will be going up before watershed.

Another aspect of this which I think is executed very well is the reflection in the water. It cannot be overstated that it is very difficult to depict water. The detailed split reflection in the foreground of the painting helps us to focus on the rowers in the foreground. In addition, the luminosity of this piece is excellent. Eakins has portrayed the two rowers with light coming from their right and created a sort of spot light for them, while also allowing shadows of the other rowers to be cast in the water in less detail.

Finally, I love the addition of the blue flag matching their hats and the steamboat in the right hand corner of the painting. Seen together as a whole, the elements of this painting meld to make a delightful picture of a day at the races in Philadelphia.

Eadweard Muybridge – A Camel in Motion

I shall endeavour to investigate Eakins’ work with added zeal and may well take on the task of reviewing his masterpiece. But for now, I hope you have enjoyed this small tribute to a magnificent painting.