Archive for February, 2012

Photography | Caroline’s Flowers

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A year in flowers

Photographed at Spencers, Great Yeldham, Essex, UK

A herd of black and white cows, with the odd brown one mixed in for good measure, grazed happily, trimming the lower branches of the trees to that uniform, hovering level, so familiar in English parkland, against which the white-painted, squarish silhouette of the house in the classic English Georgian style should have jarred but, on the contrary, was perfectly complementary. At Spencers, deep in the Essex countryside, until her husband’s untimely death in March 2010, life had been pretty hunky-dory for Caroline and William Courtauld.

The previous summer, having been granted permission to take photographs in the beautiful walled garden I turned up one fine day to find Caroline, elegant in Chinese straw hat, loose top and wide-legged, linen trousers, leading a group of ladies on a tour – one of the many she took around the garden and gave tea to each summer amongst organising the jazz festival, to-ing and fro-ing between Hong Kong, where William was a banker, and Spencers, and running Château Marcoux – ‘A hill-top medieval stone house and pigeonnier with panoramic views over Southwest France’s idyllic countryside, fully renovated with a swimming pool and extensive gardens’, as it says on the website. She skipped through the colourful flowerbeds to briefly greet me, then returned to her charges. Over tea in the kitchen, my shoot over, the ladies long gone, Caroline told me a little about the history of the garden and how its renovation was an early commission for the now eminent garden designer, Tom Stuart-Smith. Caroline herself, I discovered, was a retired photographer, film-maker and writer, with several published book and films, mostly concerned with the Far East, to her credit. I remarked upon the many vases of flowers one couldn’t help noticing about the house. Neither prissy, nor overly primped – a universe away from the floral creations of the professional florist – and much like the interiors of the house, which appeared to have undergone a gradual coalescence and now embodied the spirit of its inhabitants, made no pretence to having been styled. Filled with family mementoes, a mixed collection of modern paintings, Chinese and Japanese antiques, the Courtauld’s home exuded an informal, relaxed charm. One of the key elements of her brief to Stewart Smith, Caroline explained, had been that any of the flowering plants put into the garden should be suitable for cutting and bringing into the house, so that at all times of the year, she could have it filled with flowers. During the winter months, the greenhouse, reputedly the oldest in Essex, provided exotic, potted orchids.

I wasn’t to return to begin the project I later formulated and suggested to her until February, 2010. My simple idea was to photograph one of Caroline’s vases of flowers per month, in situe, over the course of a year. However, when I returned in March, she mentioned that William, who I had not met, had become seriously ill and must return from Hong Kong. Within the space of a few weeks he tragically died. Stoic in the face of her grief and despite my protestations, explaining to me that the sale and disposal of the estate was likely to be a protracted affair, Caroline generously insisted on my continuing: allowing me free rein to take pictures of any of the flowers, wherever I found them in the house.

That summer’s jazz festival was cancelled. The property, broken up and being sold off, William and Caroline’s two daughters and their families who lived in cottages on the fringes of the estate, moved out later in the year. After a few false starts, the sale of the main house was eventually agreed in spring 2011. Having returned, on successive visits – keeping a low profile while estate agents and valuers, clip boards in hand, photographers in tow, pawed over the house – I was able to see the project through to completion.

Inevitably, that summer Caroline left, too. She was able to retain the property in France and has bought a house for herself in central London. It has a terrace but no garden. I hope she was able to hold on to some of her precious vases and that they are forever filled with the freshest flowers.

From top
February, 2010
June, 2010
August, 2010
November, 2010

Photographs © Pedro Silmon, 2012

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Photography | Hollywood & Berlin in Detail

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Hollywood in Style: a homage to the icons of film
Camera Work, Berlin, Germany. Until 4th March, 2012
Robert Polidori
CWC Gallery, Berlin, Germany. Until 21st April, 2012

Based in the well-to-do Charlottenburg area of Berlin – one of the most galleried cities in the world – Camera Work is regarded as one of the world’s top 10 photography galleries. Named after the legendary, quarterly photographic journal published in New York by Alfred Stieglitz from 1903 to 1917, the gallery opened its doors in 1997 and has a well-earned reputation for presenting the work of many photography greats: Man Ray, Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh, Peter Beard, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Helmut Newton, but also for exhibiting young, up-and-coming artists.

The Kennedys archive, part of Camera Work’s permanent collection is a wide-ranging compilation of photographic work, official documents, private documents, and memorabilia of the Kennedy family. First put on show at the Camera Work building in 2004, it now has its own premises where, on the occasion of The 62nd Berlin International Film Biennale, Camera Work is exhibiting Hollywood in Style – much of the content also belonging to the gallery’s collection –  a photographic homage to the icons of film. Archive images by Edward Steichen and Horst P Horst that testify to the glamour of the screen legends of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly striking characteristicly elegant poses, are juxtaposed against more ballsy shots of 1950s bad boys James Dean and Marlon Brando. A sexy Sophia Lauren exemplifies the free spirit of 1960s movies; Jack Nicholson, the characterful 70s and 80s, while the distinctly sensual, provocative and style conscious stars of today: Angeline Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Christian Bale and Johnny Depp, are captured by contemporary photographers: Nadev Kander, Annie Leibovitz and Anton Corbijn.

Emerging from the same stable, a second gallery CWC – Camera Work Contemporary, housed in a former Jewish girls’ school – opened last week in Berlin’s Mitte district, home to the city’s major internationally famous art galleries and will, alongside contemporary photography, exhibit large-scale retrospectives in painting and sculpture, as well as conceptual group exhibitions. As its debut, CWC presents Polidori, a major showing of the work – including some seen here for the first time – of the substantial oeuvre of the Canadian-born photographer, Robert Polidori, born in 1951, who lives in New York and Paris and has achieved international success via substantial photo stories in magazines such as The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Geo and Vanity Fair. His work has been shown by numerous galleries and is also featured in the collections of several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Famous for the extremely high level of detail in his photographs – literally nothing is left unsharp – the selected images, which on the surface appear as straightforward architectural and urban scenes – Gallery of the Battles, Chateau de Versailles, 1985 – Unit 4 Control Room, Chernobyl, 2001 – View of Central Park from the East, New York City, 2004 – possess the unnerving quality of drawing the viewer ever further in to examine and question each detail in turn and to puzzle endlessly over their relationship to one another and to the whole.

Images from top
Jeremy Irons with Monicle, London, 1990
© Michel Comte

Michel Anguir by Jacques D’Agar, 1675. Salle la Surintendance de Colbert,
Salles du XVII, Aile du Nord – RDC, Chateau de Versailles, 1984
© Robert Polidori

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Architecture | 9 X 9 | Villa Noailles

Friday, February 10th, 2012

9 Architects / 9 Proposals for Living
Villa Noailles, Hyères, France
19th February – 25th March, 2012

The slick photography and artistic impressions – like those above – that appears in architectural magazines or online, commissioned by the architects with a view to amazing us all  – often with due cause – is as close as the public are ever usually allowed to get to architect-designed, one-off homes. The idea behind this Villa Noailles show is to try to provide visitors with a revealing peep behind the scenes. And the exhibition setting is perfect; designed in 1923 and inhabited from 1925, the Villa Noailles was one of the very first modernist homes constructed in France. Now a cultural centre, the original villa, built for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, who first came to prominence as a film set designer, exhibits the founding tenets of the rationalist movement: practicality, absence of decorative features, flat roofs, terraces, light, hygiene, while also managing to resemble an ocean liner perched on top of Montée Noailles, a steep-sided rocky outcrop above Hyères, not far from Toulón in the south of France.

Museum director Jean-Pierre Blanc and associate curator, architect and writer Florence Sarano, the duo responsible for last year’s Iwan Baan: 2010 Around the World – The Diary of a Year of Architecture at Villa Noailles, chose 9 buildings in Europe designed by 9 different architects, or architectural practices, and minutely examined each. Their aim was to explore the universe of the architect, to look closely at, in each case, the trains of thought, the processes of creativity and the architect/client relationships that led to the realisation of the unique final building, then to put it all on show. Visitors will see sketches, plans, photographs, models, texts and 9 films, through which they can weave and navigate their own way, comparing and contrasting each case scenario.

See also Dada’s Cubist Garden featuring photographs taken at the Villa Noailles

Typography and montage above by Pedro Silmon

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Sale + Exhibition | Klimt: Impressionist & Modern?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Exhibition: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 2nd – 8th February, 2012
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 8th & 9th February, 2012

It’s often argued that modernism began some time in the 1860s and ended in the 1970s, roughly spanning the period from the beginning of Monet’s painting career to Picasso’s death, and therefore including impressionism and cubism and a long and very diverse list of other ‘isms. Living and working within the prescribed time scale but not usually considered to fit comfortably into any particular ‘ism, it’s interesting that Sotheby’s should include a painting by Gustav Klimt in this sale of impressionist and modern works.

The first paintings recognised as impressionist were produced in the 1870s. Claude Monet was already 22 years old when Klimt (1862-1918) was born and, dying in 1926, outlived him. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso gave birth to cubism in 1907, initiating the movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 had said artists should treat nature ‘in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.’ Picasso, born in 1881, 19 years Klimt’s junior, had an extraordinarily-long and prolific working life that finally ended in his ninety-second year, 1973.

Starting out as classically-trained artist with tremendous draughtsmanship skills, Klimt eschewed the formulaic work that was acceptable in Vienna and threw all he had into symbolism often with quite shocking results that rocked the establishment. But the landscape paintings he produced on his regular summer retreats in the latter part of his working life, harped back to earlier 19th century Viennese and Central European picturesque art that aimed to capture and glorify nature – then, only recently discovered by middle and upper class townspeople, jaded by their everyday, urban lives, seeking some form of escape – largely due to the invention and proliferation of the railways, and by the access to the countryside this new mode of transport afforded. In the latter decades of the century, however, the goal of Austrian painters like Emil Jakob Schindler and Eugen Jettel was to evoke the atmosphere of the rural world, often through paintings of otherwise banal countryside scenes, subject to adverse weather and light conditions. No-one could argue that Farmhouse with Birch Trees (Lakeshore with Birches) below, the painting coming up for auction at Sotheby’s is the most exciting of Klimt’s landscapes but it is a good example of his own obsession with nature and his absorption and blending of the many influences he gathered up and played around with.

For his portraits, Klimt drew heavily on his study of the same Japanese prints the impressionists had looked at before him; in his less familiar landscape work, he sketched and painted directly from nature and experimented with the brush techniques that the impressionists had invented, but very often finished the paintings in his studio. As in the portraits, the composition and framing of his landscape paintings was influenced by the typical cropping seen in early scenic photography. In many, the foreground is little more than a very prominent textured surface, as in Attersee 1, 1900, with landscape details and a thin sliver of sky squashed up at the top of the canvas; typical of the effect of looking at a scene through a wide-angle lens. There is evidence that Klimt used a telescope to flatten his townscapes, the buildings in which however, remained true rather than abstracted as in cubist treatments of similar subject matter. He looked closely at Van Gogh’s outlining and colouring; Klimt’s Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, 1912, could easily be taken for a Van Gogh. He studied Seuerat’s pointilist system, adapting it to create depth in paintings that were essentially two-dimensional so that each remained one of what Renaissence polymath Leon Battista Alberti christened ‘Windows through which we look out into a section of the visible world.’

Ever curious, Klimt was an avid experimenter, but I think it’s safe to say that he was neither a cubist nor an impressionist.

Klimt certainly consorted with individuals who, evidently, had modern ideas; Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918) – Austrian architect and urban planner – among other contemporary mainland Europeans, is said to have become a proponent of Architectural Realism, and, mitigating the reliance on historical forms in the Jugenstil – an Austrian version of Art Nouveau – buildings he began to design in the 1890s, opened the door for what became modern architecture. And if I seem to be going off at a tangent: Wagner was one of the group of Austrian artists, sculptors and architects who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, the Künstlerhaus – similar to the Paris Salon – along with Klimt, Joseph Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Joseph Maria Olbrich, nineteen in all, to form the Vienna Secession in 1897, asserting their right to be able to create what they wanted to create rather than having to adhere to strict, official guidelines. Gustav Klimt was the group’s first president. Interestingly, Moravian-born, Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who objected to the amount of surface decoration on Jugenstil buildings, didn’t join. Klimt’s poster for the First Exhibition of the Society of Pictorial Artists in Austria – the Secession, in 1898 in which he chose a classical Greek theme – Theseus about to liberate the youth of Athens from the tyranny of the Minotaur – is a tense stark, asymmetric, linear composition in black, red and gold on a yellow ground, strongly reminiscent of the painting style Mondrian was to adopt some 20 years later. In 1903 Hoffmann and Moser left to found the Wiener Werkstätte, a fine-arts society with the goal of reforming the applied arts that could be described as being a prelude to Germany’s seminal Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.

But, was Klimt’s painting ‘modern’? His roots firmly in the 19th century, could he have ever felt at ease in the 20th. Had he lived longer and had more of his work survived – many paintings were confiscated from their Austrian Jewish owners and destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, while a great number of other works had been moved in 1943 to the ’safety’ of Schloß Immendorf in lower Austria, only to be destroyed when retreating SS troops set fire to the castle to prevent it falling into enemy hands – the problem of classification might have been somewhat simpler. I don’t know and it’s possible that Sotheby’s aren’t sure either.

Paintings from top:
Pablo Picasso, Buste d’homme, 1969
Private collection

Claude Monet, Berges de la Seine près de Vétheuil,
Private collection
Estimate £800,000-1,200,000

Gustav Klimt, Seeufer mit Birken (Lakeshore with birches), 1901
Private European collection
Estimate £6,000,000-8,000,000

Middle, top: Gustav Klimt, c.1909. Detail of original photograph by Pauline Hamilton.
Taken from Gustav Klimt, Landscapes. Edited by Stephen Koja. Published by Prestel, 2006

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