Sunday, January 28, 2024

Vagaries of The Weather over Time across Mount's Bay...

I came across this small painting at the Tate Britain last year; it immediately caught my attention and drew me in. Without even looking at its title or the name of the artist, I instinctively knew that it was a Cornish landscape with that distinctive but impossible-to-define light and unique atmosphere. Peering at the work, I even had the impression of familiarity so you can imagine my surprise, or perhaps lack of it, when I learnt that this was Mount’s Bay and Tolcarne, painted in c.1898 by Norman Garstin, one of Newlyn School of painters.
I even imagined I knew from which vantage point it was painted and so through it relived the invigorating feeling of looking down across the bay. Although over a century has passed since the artist captured the dramatic view stretched out before him and furthermore his position was closer to Newlyn than Madron, it did remind of being in the area in the summer... This is certainly a far cry from the work for which Garstin is perhaps best-known, in Penzance at least; The Rain It Raineth Every Day (1889). However both are equally representative of the weather in the region! The work is on display in Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Stamps of Time... Robert Nanteuil.

While I was looking at the limited edition stamps at the post office, this leaflet and indeed the postage stamp itself caught my eye. As the name of the artist commemorated was in no way familiar to me, I read the brief description in the display cabinet below. As it turned out, Robert Nanteuil (1623-1678) was in fact born here in Reims yet was to go on to become one of the leading portraitists of the Grand Siècle, renowned for his skills in etching, drawing and pastel. How strange that the name of Nanteuil appears, for the most part, to have fallen so far into the shadows of time. As I was reading over his life history, it seemed fascinating to me to realise that I must have traced some of the same steps as Nanteuil here in his birth city, at a remove of some 400 years, for what is now Sciences Po was once the Collège des Jésuites de Reims where he initially pursued classic studies.
Proving to be unable and unwilling to repress his artistic drive, Nanteuil felt himself 'persecuted' by the Jésuit teachers who disapproved of the incessant sketching which finally led to his dismissal from the establishment. Fortunately, the young Humanities student was received in a more comprehensive manner by the Bénédictines at the Abbaie de Saint-Rémi (today Musée Saint-Remi). By 1645, Nanteuil had already entered the atelier of the remois engraver Nicolas Regnesson, whose sister he went on marry, but he did not stay in Reims as the opportunities in engraving in la Cité des Sacres at that time were limited. Moving to Paris, he developed ties with engravers, publishers and print dealers and artistically was greatly influenced by the Flemish portrait painter, Philippe de Champaigne. From then on, his career took off, to the extent that his ascension was such that by 1658 he was appointed draughtsman and engraver to Louis XIV, thus establishig a position for himself in the royal court, executing numerous portraits of the greatest dignitaries of the kingdom such as Mazarin and Colbert, along with the Roi-Soleil himself, in engraved and pastel work. With an unparalled skill in engraving that somehow managed to represent less attractive features in a flattering manner, Nanteuil was in great demand. Famous writer Madeleine de Scudéry was so impressed by her portrait that she paid hommage to Nanteuil's 'divine art', with its ability to render her detested facial traits pleasing. Beyond his art, Nanteuil was a man of letters, greatly appreciated for the words and knowledge that enabled him to frequent the literary milieux with ease and yet neither his work nor his wit secured him a place of due recognition in the 21st century...
Portrait de Madeleine de Scudéry - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Helleborus Charm...

The end of the holidays and therefore just beofore plunging back into the madness of the working day, what more fitting as an antidote to all of that, than the sight of the beautiful Helleborus? The white Hellebore flower - the 'Winter rose' - is reputed to possess healing qualities in addition to an ability to ward off negative energy. In Greek mythology, the tears shed by the bereaved Aphrodite - goddess of love - resulted in the blooms of white flowers springing up from the ground.
However, it was the red Hellebore that caught my attention, with its typically discreet flower, bent gracefully down as if in modesty or perhaps hiding its face away. Again, it was cited in Ancient Greek mythology, with its name coming from heleîn - 'to injure' - and borá for 'food', since when ingested it could either combat bouts of madness or cause them, depending on the myth in question.
Despite there being various diffent sorts of flowerhead , either relatively plain or ruffled, common to most are the delicate veins traced through the papery aspect of each petal. The fact that you have to contort yourself in order to admire each flower makes the experience all the more special as they play 'hard to get', unlike a typical rose which radiates its full glory plainly and self-assuredly for all to see...