Category Archives: Artists

Three Witches for Halloween


Henry Fuseli, a Swiss artist, painted “The Three Witches” from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in 1782. They look surprisingly modern to me. They look like they know unspeakable things, and their mouths are set as though they’re not about to tell all they know. I always think of Shakespeare’s three “weird sisters” as sort of endearingly eccentric mumblers, but these three look like they mean business. 

In theater circles, this play is usually called “the Scottish play.” There’s a superstition that saying the actual title inside a theater, except as necessary in performance of the play, invokes a curse. Terrible things will happen.


The painting is in the European collection at the Huntington Museum and Gardens in Pasadena. I think it’s pretty scary, especially after reading that since the play was written, many people have believed that it incorporates actual supernatural incantations used by actual witches. Speaking the words out loud is said to invoke real spells and curses. (Cue thunder and lightning).

The inscription on the frame is in Greek. It’s a quotation from the ancient playwright Aeschylus: “Not women, but Gorgons I call them.”


Who are Gorgons? They are Medusa and her sisters, monsters whose glance turns men to stone. The Medusa painting above is by Caravaggio, around 1593-1610. It’s in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (The image is in the public domain). OK, if I suddenly had snakes instead of hair, I’d scare myself to death before I turned anybody to stone. Just saying. 


No doubt there are many other images of Shakespeare’s witches. I’ll close with one painted by an American artist, William Rimmer, in 1850. The weird sisters here have called up some kind of apparition.


I expect to see all kinds of apparitions (wanting candy) on Halloween. Me? I was Cleopatra for this year’s youth group Halloween party. (I could have carried some kind of snake, come to think of it).


But it’s chilly out. For the Halloween Stroll tonight in my small town, when traffic is blocked on the main drag and everybody turns out in costume, I might go with an older outfit: Crazy Cat Lady. Some people would say it’s not a costume: it’s what I really am. Anyway, it features a comfy chenille bathrobe. Happy Halloween!

A Bad Day for Santa Croce


A Spanish tourist was just killed by a falling stone fragment inside Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica. How could this happen?


Santa Croce is one of the major sights in Florence. The interior is warmly lit and surprisingly peaceful, considering the number of visitors.

People pause to pay their respects at the tombs of the great and good:


Michelangelo…


Machiavelli…

Dante…


Galileo…


Rossini, and many others I feel like I should know.

Santa Croce is said to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, with beautiful Giotto frescoes honoring the humble monk from Assisi. 


St. Francis is believed to have actually founded this church. 

And now, it’s closed while the authorities investigate why an unsuspecting tourist was killed by a chunk of falling stone.

No tourists will be gazing up at the beautiful ceilings for awhile. The faithful will have to light their candles and murmur their prayers elsewhere in the city.

Italy has artistic treasures everywhere, but it seems there is never enough money to properly take care of them, or to accommodate the number of visitors lining up to see them. 

In 1966, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Florence. Damage to Santa Croce took years and years to repair. There are still high water marks in the building, and some of the artworks can’t be completely restored. I hope Santa Croce can be made safe again.

No doubt lots of ink will be used as the investigation goes forward. One article about it is at:

https://www.msn.com/en-my/news/world/falling-stone-kills-italy-church-tourist/ar-AAtKeGo.

Lord Anglesey, A Man of Parts


Henry, the dashing 7th Marquess of Anglesey, came to mind this morning. In a burst of fall energy, I started madly cleaning out drawers, cupboards, closets and even the dreaded garage. I thought of Henry.


After a couple of strenuous hours of pitching and organizing things I had forgotten I owned, I sank into my softest chair and thought admiringly of Henry’s study at Plas Newydd in Wales. Henry was Marquess from 1947 until he died in 2013. In 1976, he gave Plas Newydd–“New Mansion”–to the National Trust, but still lived upstairs with his family. I think his heirs still live there, too. So would I.


Henry’s study, used daily during his lifetime, is a magnificent jumble of books, papers, drawings, photos, magazines, and who knows what else.


Another part of Plas Newydd displays stuff from the family’s colorful history. Henry was a distinguished historian, and well he might be. His ancestors included the first Marquess, Henry “One-Leg,” whose leg was shot off by cannon fire at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, while he was right next to the Duke of Wellington himself. On the occasion, Henry coolly said, “By God, Sir,    I’ve lost my leg.” The Iron Duke replied, “By God, Sir, so you have.”


The Marquess had what remained of his leg amputated, with a stiff upper lip and no anesthetic, and was fitted with a wooden leg. Afterward, he fathered ten children and walked nine miles a day for the rest of his life.


But back to the 7th Marquess. He must have been something of an artist as well as a politician and a writer. He kept a special drawing table, under a window with good light. Of all the rooms in grand homes that I’ve seen, Henry’s study is one of my favorites.


I can see him happily puttering around, going from one table to the next. The jumble made perfect sense to him. He just kept a separate place for each one of his many projects. If only I had the space to do the same.


The other unforgettable room at Plas Newydd is the dining room. In 1936, the 6th Marquess commissioned Rex Whistler to paint the entire long wall as a mural.


The artist was happy to spend endless hours on the mural, partly because he was in love with one of the daughters of the family, whom he also painted. Tragically, Rex Whistler was killed in action in Normandy in July 1944, having insisted on fighting rather than serving in some less dangerous way. He had just arrived at the front.


I could spend hours taking in the detail of the Whistler mural, which is full of gentle humor and family references.


If I get to return to Plas Newydd, I’ll try to find time to look into the grounds and gardens, another interest of Henry’s.


Meanwhile, I’ll dream of having a room all my own, like Henry’s. “A man of parts” is the British term for a multi-talented Renaissance man.Henry is the best example I know of. Now, about my basement storage room…

There’s an article about the 1st Marquess at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11682406/The-Battle-of-Waterloo-is-this-the-most-British-conversation-ever-to-be-held-on-a-battlefield.html

Thanksgiving Day: A Berwick Memory

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For Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d post some paintings from beautiful Berwick Church in southern England.  St. Michael and All Angels is a little parish church in Sussex, dating back to at least the 12th century.  Parts of it are even older, dating from Saxon days. It was given a modern artistic touch in the 20th century.

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During the First World War, the famous Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and intellectuals decamped from their London homes and occupied the Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House in this area.  The men were mostly conscientious objectors.  They fulfilled their patriotic duty by doing farm work in Sussex.

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In 1941, several artists from the group were hired to paint new murals and decorations in the ancient church.  These are some of the few remaining works of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Quentin Bell.  They depicted themselves and their friends, both as country laborers and as figures in sacred scenes.

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The artists were all free-thinkers and even atheists living unconventional, sometimes scandalous lives.  But the local religious authorities hatched an ambitious plan to give artists employment; they hoped the plan would spread all over England’s ancient churches.  That didn’t happen, but I’d like to think the Bloomsbury group occasionally attended a service at the little country church they decorated so beautifully.

Berwick Church stands as an example of cooperation and understanding between people with very different views of the world.  After the tumultuous election season Americans just endured, I think we can use some cooperation and understanding. We’re different, but we can stand together.

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As for me, I’m spending Thanksgiving Day on an airplane, heading off on a new adventure.  They’re serving pumpkin pie in the airport lounge.  It’s pretty good!

Waldemarsudde: Favorite Room in Favorite House in Favorite City

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Considering the national election turmoil that’s going on in the USA this week, I’d like to transport myself to a more peaceful place:  Prince Eugene’s blue-and-white dining room in his beloved lakeside home in Stockholm, Waldemarsudde.

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It looks inviting, don’t you think?  Come on in and have a seat at the table. Here, between about 1900 and his death in 1947, the Prince entertained his friends, fellow artists, writers, and the odd anarchist.

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Eugene’s state-of-the-art kitchen, all shining white tiles, is now a little cafe. Photos of the Prince decorate the walls.

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Eugene was a handsome fellow, and must have been a charming companion. He fulfilled royal duties when asked, but mostly he lived his own life exactly as he pleased. As a younger son of the monarchy, he was under no pressure to marry.

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Whatever his lifestyle choices, it appears the Royal Family left him in peace, to pursue his art and his friendships. In his Salon, Ernst Josephson’s painting “The Water Sprite,” 1884, dominates the room.  It was considered so scandalous at the time that the Academy in Stockholm didn’t dare to accept it as a gift. I don’t think the nudity was the problem; it was the new-fangled Symbolist style.

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Eugene hung a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia, directly across from the daring Water Sprite. She gazed gently and benevolently on her son’s private goings-on, however raffish. I’m guessing Eugene was a loving son who never caused his mother much worry.

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Eugene loved flowers.  His sunroom, overlooking the water, was always blooming.

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He designed a pretty ceramic flowerpot that’s still in use all over Sweden. I’d have brought one home if I didn’t always travel light.

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I’m already planning a return trip to Stockholm in the spring.  I’ll see Eugene’s flowerbeds filled with tulips, I hope.

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Meanwhile, I can dream of my favorite room in my favorite house in my new favorite city, Stockholm.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Eugene, the Painter Prince of Sweden

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

If I were born royal, I’d for sure want to be a younger child.  It looks to me like Prince Harry has a lot more freedom than the more direct heir to the throne, Prince William.  In Sweden, Prince Eugene was the fortunate younger son of the royal family in the late 19th century.

Eugene was born in 1865 in Drottningholm Palace, on a beautiful island about an hour by boat from Stockholm.  It’s still the home of the Swedish royal family, and makes for a dreamy visit. Eugene was fourth in line to the throne, so he was pretty much free to do as he liked. Nobody expected him to marry and produce an heir, although he did cheerfully carry out many royal duties.

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What Eugene wanted was to paint and to hobnob with artists and writers. He found the perfect spot for his home on the island of Djurgarden, with views over the water of the Stockholm skyline. He studied painting seriously, in Stockholm, Olso and Paris.

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Today, his beloved home, Waldemarsudde, is an enchanting museum with the rooms left as they were at his death in 1947.

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His top-floor studio space is a gallery with rotating exhibits, some by artists the Prince patronized during his long life.

In his studio and on his peaceful grounds, Eugene contentedly painted the Swedish and Norwegian landscapes he loved. The painting just above is a beloved country home where he spent time.

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Eugene decorated his home with the work of other artists who were his friends. He considered “The Water Sprite” by Ernst Josephson, 1884, to be one of his best acquisitions.  Josephson did three versions of this painting of a character from Swedish folklore. Eugene offered it to the Academy in Stockholm, but they considered it too daring to accept.  It seems the problem was not so much the nudity as the style.  Josephson was breaking away from the time-honored traditions of Realism and Naturalism.  He was getting into the movement that later became known as Symbolism. Eugene was more than happy to keep the painting, which dominates his salon.

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Inside Waldemarsudde, Eugene studied, read, and entertained his friends–most of them artists, and many of them partisans of the then-radical ideas of the 1880s. Although he was named the Duke of Narke at his birth, Eugene much preferred artists to royalty.

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Having seen Drottningholm Palace, the Royal Palace in Stockholm, and Waldemarsudde, I’m with Eugene.  The palaces are showplaces, gilded, confining, and a little dreary. Waldemarsudde is a light-filled home.  I’d choose the artist’s life over the Royal Prince’s any day.

 

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Swedish Small Tables

 

img_2974If you come over to my house, you might disapprove of my housekeeping. You might not appreciate having one of my cats jump up in your lap and settle in as though she owned it (she thinks you came especially to pet her). But you will have a cup of good coffee, and you will have a place to set it down. I have a thing about having a little table beside every single chair or sofa in my house.  When I sit down, I need a lamp for reading. I need a place for my book and my coffee cup. I think this need comes from my Swedish ancestry.

In Stockholm last month, I admired countless pretty little tables. The one above is more of a cabinet, really–all the better.  It’s in the island home of Prince Eugene in Stockholm–more about him in a post to come.  Above it, there’s a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia.

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Prince Eugene was a younger son of the royal family, so he did not have the pressure of marrying and producing heirs.  Instead, he designed and lived out his life in a beautiful house/studio, Waldemarsudde. He was a very good landscape painter.  And he appreciated fine workmanship and artistry in all things.

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No IKEA space-fillers for Prince Eugene.

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If he wanted to write a letter to one of his artsy-Bohemian friends, he sat down at a proper desk, like the one above with its delicate wood inlays. I saw similar exquisite little tables, desks and cabinets all over Stockholm.

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The simple but beautiful little table above is really more of a shelf unit, cleverly attached to the wall. It was at the nearby Thielska Gallery, another formerly-private home full of art and distinctive furniture.

I loved Sweden.  I’ve already figured out a way to return to Stockholm in the spring.  There are any number of cups of good strong Swedish coffee waiting, with my name on them!  And there are plenty of handy little tables to set them on.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, history and culture of Europe!