31 December 2008

Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments blog: Symposium: The Holocaust Effect in Contemporary Art

From Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art and Monuments blog

Symposium: The Holocaust Effect in Contemporary Art
Sunday, 25th Jan 2009
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM.
A reception will follow
Timken Lecture Auditorium,
California College of the Arts (CCA), 1111 8th Street, San Francisco


At any given time, there are at least several - and often dozens - of exhibitions of Holocaust-era art, Holocaust-inspired art or art that in some way references the Holocaust.

Degenerate Art Exhibition, Munich 1937

National Socialist rhetoric did not spring from a vacuum. The tirades against Bolsheviks, Jews and other alien elements were not an isol­at­ed aberration in an otherwise uninterrupted cultural history of civ­il­ity and humanity. The contin­uum dated at least back to the C19th (Ursula Ginder). The general anxiety in Germany about the future of moral, physical and intellectual strength fostered the myth about a culturally distinctive and racially pure Volk. Many late C19th art­ists saw the alien elements infiltrating German art as those of the French avant-garde (Peter Paret). But conservative cultural critics blamed the destructive influences on the purity of German culture on the greed of Jews eg all the prominent art dealers. The Jew was a dangerous enemy that had “penetrated” the citadel of German culture.

Given this history of cultural xenophobia, Nazi prop­aganda made sure that the discourse surrounding the notion of the "unhealthy" in a people became a common concept among the general populace. It could then be easily directed at intellectuals, artists, Jews, Comm­unists and all opponents to the Reich’s philos­ophy.

I find this very ironic. Germany had emerged as a leading centre of the avant-garde in music, art, film and architecture, giving to the world the Brucke Group, Otto Dix, Ernst Kirchner, Arnold Schoen­berg, Kurt Weill and Fritz Lang. But the Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimar period with reactionary disgust. Their response stemmed partly from conservative aesthetic taste and partly from their determination to use culture as a prop­a­ganda tool.

Klee, Head of a Man

The so-called Jewish nature of all impenetrable, distorted or depr­av­ed art had to be suppressed. By propagating the theory of degeneracy, the Nazis combined their anti-Semitism with their drive to control the culture. And in Nazi Germany from 1933 on, the terms Jewish, Degen­erate, modernist and Bolsh­evik were all used to refer to non-Germanic art, whet­her it was created by German artists or not. Hitler, Goebbels and others did not dislike art. On the contrary, they were pass­ion­ate art patrons, collectors and sometimes connoisseurs. In fact as an art-loving chan­cellor, Hitler viewed art as the expression of a racially pure culture and as a means to unite a community.

Dix. War Cripples

While modern styles of art were prohibited, the Nazis actively pro­moted paintings and sculptures that were narrowly traditional in manner and that exalted the True Blood and Soil values of racial pur­ity, nationalism, mil­itarism, health and obedience. They referred to this style of art as Heroic Romantic Realism. Hitler himself said that “we have come to the end of artistic lunacy and with it, the artistic poll­ution of our people. National Socialism has set out to rid the German Reich, and our people, of all those influences which threaten its exist­ence. And although this purge cannot be accompl­ished in one day, from now on we will wage an un­relenting war of purification against the last element of putre­faction in our art”.

By 1937 racial purity was firmly entrenched in Nazi policy, and auth­orities purged German museums of modern art now labelled degenerate. The selection criter­ia were to be scientific­ally based on the new Aesthet­ics: all German art had to serve a state purpose. Heroic German Art symbol­ised racially pure art, while modern styles dev­ia­t­ed from the prescribed norm of clas­s­ical beauty. Racially pure art­ists prod­uced racially pure art; modernists of an inferior race pro­d­uced contorted works. Any that "insults German feeling, or destroys or con­fuses natural form, or reveals an absence of ad­equate manual & artistic skill" was culled. Inventory lists indicate that at least 16,500 works were seized from Germany’s galleries.

Joseph Goebbels ordered that once this purging of all of Germany’s public collections was done, the art that had been sel­ec­ted out for destruction would be shown to the German people for the last time. A special Exhibit­ion of Entartete Kunst/Degenerate Art was to be held in 1937 in Munich. Painter Adolf Ziegler was prof­es­sor at Mun­ich Ac­ademy of Fine Arts and under Joseph Goebbels, he became pres­­ident of the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts in 1936. Ziegler was auth­orised to confiscate works for the Entartete Kunst Exhibit­ion and in 2 weeks, he ch­ose 650 works by 112 artists, many being Jews or mar­r­ied to Jews.

Hitler’s vicious speech against modern art in July 1937 was the op­ening gambit to the Degenerate Art show which opened 1 day later. Trying to outdo his Führer, Professor Ziegler succeeded in invoking equally evil forces in his speech at the exhibition opening.

The massive Munich exhibition astounded its German audience: the queues were very long for the 4 months of the exhibition! The show was intended as an official condemnation of modern art, and included 650+ paintings, sculptures, prints, and books from the collections of 32 German museums. Expressionism and the Bauhaus were heavily represented. Pictures were hung badly, in poor lighting and were surrounded by scribble. Modernism was shown to be a conspiracy by artists who hat­ed German dec­ency; those artists were identified as Jewish-Bolshevist. At least half were neither Jewish nor Bolshevist, but the damage was done.
The list of degenerate artists included some of the best modern art­ists in Eur­ope, but why were these particular art­ists and not oth­ers, defined as Degen­er­ate? Being at Bauhaus was the kiss of death: Walter Grop­ius, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Her­b­ert Bayer, Lud­wig Hil­b­­er­seim­er, the Moholy-Nagys, Oskar Schlemmer, Lud­wig Hirschfeld-Mack and Lyonel Feininger were all included. So were George Grosz, Emil Nol­de, Han­n­es Beck­mann, Amadeo Modig­liani, Salv­ador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Fernand Leger, Max Beck­mann, Wassily Kandin­sky, El Lissitzky, Marc Chagall, Piet Mon­dr­ian, Oskar Kok­os­ch­ka, Max Ernst, Josef Albers, Jankel Ad­ler, Ludwig Meidner, Kurt Schwit­ters and Otto Dix. These were my favourite early C20th artists.

Pechstein, Self Portrait with Death

It was far more popular than the nearby Grosse Deutsche Kunstaus­stel­lung/Great German art exhibition, featuring officially sponsored Her­oic Art. But not just in Munich. After Munich, the touring exhibition covered 11 other cities in Ger­m­any & Austria, attracting 3 million visitors in the two countries by the time the tour ended April 1941.

Kirchner. Berlin Streets

After the exhibit, paintings were sorted out for sale and sold in Sw­itzerland at auction; some pieces were acquired by museums, others by private collectors. Party lead­ers appropriated some paint­ings for their own collections. In March 1939, the German Fire Brigade burned the less important paint­ings and books publicly. The degenerate art NOT included in Entartete Kunst were stored in a warehouse in Berlin. When the Russian army was the first to liberate Berlin after the war, some artwork may have been transported back to Russia.

Other art shows were mounted outside Germany in the late 1930s, trying to alert the public as to what was happening to modernist works in Munich. The C20th German Art Show was held at the New Burl­ing­ton Gall­eries London in 1938. In 1938 MoMA in New York mounted an exhibition called Bauhaus 1919-1928. And The Herald Exhibition of French & British Con­t­em­p­orary Art travelled around three Aust­ral­ian capital cities in August 1939. Although successful, these “alternative” art programmes were most modest, less strident and less Jewish versions of modernism that the Nazis themselves mounted.

A Blog About History has given us access to The Free University in Berlin's data base, documenting 21,000 works of art which were labelled by the Nazis in 1937 as Degenerate.

29 December 2008

The Ultimate Grandparent

Country Life, my source of information on architecture, landscape gardening, paintings, furniture and all things Georgian and Vic­t­or­ian, has recently addressed the subject of successful grand­parenting. The Really Useful Grandparents’ Book  has come just a little late for me, since I already have four grandchildren.

But the topic is a vital and perennial one. A recent survey showed that 60% of British children today see their grand parents at least once a week, and there is every reason to think it would be the same in Australia and New Zealand.

Nanette Newman, Tony Lacey and Eleo Gordon discussed all the ideas that the modern grandparent will have thought of. That:
1. people in their late 50s and early 60s had expected to be retiring and travelling, not baby sitting.
2. children’s taste in music, clothing, television can be horrendous. And loud.
3. grandparents need to be fit. Otherwise cricket matches and crawling around jungle gyms will be impossible. And
4. temper tantrums can be just as irritating as they were when our own children were toddlers. Or more so.

Just reflecting on my own family, it is clear that first time grand­parents are becoming older and older with each generation. My grandmother was 43 when her first grandchild was born; my mother was 48 when she first became a granny; and I was 54. Although there are fewer financial difficulties with advancing age, there is perhaps less energy. So grandparents need to be smarter.

Newman, Lacey and Gordon conclude that we, the grandparents, need to be open to the little ones’ experiences but that we also need to introduce them to the things that matter most to us. The authors suggest, for example, that shared cooking is a great opportunity to talk with grandchildren and to teach them. And art galleries.

But I was most interested in the delicate issue of how much influence grandparents can and should have on these small children. After all, they have their own parents. Newman, Lacey and Gordon suggest talking to the child’s parents and staying very friendly with them, since a falling out would be a disaster. But do I discuss socialism, pacifism, religiosity, charity, smacking, killing animals for meat and a million other value judgements?

26 December 2008

Tintoretto, but not at face value

I don't mind a rollicking good historical novel, as long as the author and the publishing house remember that the story was merely the product of someone's fertile imagination. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a fun read on the beach one summer, but it was not a reliable reference on the Knights Templar, the Cathars, the marriage of Jesus or secret Vatican conspiracies to silence the Church's enemies.

The intelligent reader needs to do his/her own research on any historical issue. If that is not a realistic possibility, then he/she needs to read quality analyses done by academic experts in the field.

This is equally true in art history. There is nothing more exciting than good quality research done on a piece of art, pulling apart the "truths" that people have always "known" and revealing a new truth underneath. This historical detective work is sometimes accidental but always thrilling, as seen in Thomas Hoving's King of the Confessors 1981. Here Hoving painstakingly chased and analysed every reference ever made to the medieval Bury St Edmund Cross.

This week, my great friend Will Roberts in Boston sent me the story of an amazing piece of detective work in Boston. Even if you don't love the painting, you will love the process.

A Nativity Revelation,
Linda Matchan, Boston Globe, 23rd Dec, 2008

Even scholars of the Renaissance painter Jacopo Tintoretto have been dismissive of his enormous Nativity, which presides over the Koch Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts. They have viewed it as awkward, or, if they're being generous, enigmatic or complex.

Tintoretto, Navity, c1580

But it turns out that the painting was a lot more complex than anyone guessed. In the process of restoring it for an upcoming exhibition, the MFA made a surprising discovery. In the Renaissance equivalent of a cut-and-paste job, it appears that Tintoretto changed his mind about the subject, cut the original canvas to rearrange the pieces he didn't like, then some two decades later painted over parts of the result to come up with an entirely new composition. The painting that is now a horizontal nativity was once a vertical crucifixion.

Frederick Ilchman, a specialist in the Italian Renaissance, said "It's not uncommon to X-ray a painting and find a completely differ­ent subject underneath. But cannibalising your own picture is a very rare thing in European art." Ilchman and others say that what they once deemed a second-rate painting is now looking a lot better in a new light. Even an untrained eye can see there is something seriously amiss about the nearly 12’ wide painting, which was created c1580. Densely composed and boldly coloured, the work has large, muscular figures in the foreground, iconic religious imagery in the background and a diverse menagerie of animals. One principal figure, St Anne, a lavishly garbed woman presumed to be Mary's mother, is gazing in the direction of the serene baby, but she seems to look right past him to focus on a lamb, and she's flinging her arms out in dismay. A bearded shepherd behind her ignores the baby altogether and is staring at some fixed point in the sky. The crouching Virgin Mary, a luminous figure in a bright blue cloak, is out of scale for the painting.

Neither Ilchman nor MFA paintings conservator Rhona MacBeth expected to find anything so dramatic a few months ago when six men hauled the hefty painting into the MFA's lead-lined X-ray room to scan it for routine restoration and technical analysis. While they could see that the painting was composed of five canvases stitched together, it became clear with the first X-rays that the two outer sections, in­cl­uding a shepherd and Magi, had been painted in a different hand, possibly by workshop assistants. Then they noticed something peculiar in the layers of paint under the nativity scene. Beneath the elderly shepherd was a younger, beardless man, perhaps a saint. And hovering near his head was the bottom of an angel.

And they noticed a pair of legs above the Virgin's head and something that appeared to be a vertical piece of wood. It was a crucifixion. It was clearly taken from another painting, from what appeared to be quite a finished painting.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place by manipulating digital images of the X-rays. MacBeth lifted out the middle section of the top painting, the compressed nativity scene, and pushed the remaining four panels together to create a different, self-contained tableau. Now the central figure was Christ’s legs, apparently nailed to a cross. Why did Tintoretto alter his painting so radically? Ilchman has no shortage of theories. Perhaps his client abandoned the comm­is­sion or refused to pay for it. Maybe the painting was finished but got damaged. Or maybe he wasn't satisfied with it but saw an opp­ort­unity later to make money by reconfiguring it, "hoping that a few existing figures could hold together a new picture which con­tained lots of additions by workshop assistants."

And where is the missing upper part of the original painting? Ilchman agreed "This is a great mystery. But given Tintoretto's thrifty nature, I like to think that he didn't waste any canvas, and it's underneath some other painting, perhaps in a church in Venice." Happily for us, the Tintoretto discovery has inspired the org­an­isers to create a separate room dedicated to the technical examinat­ion of the paintings, including the Nativity X-rays that show the change of plans.

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice opens at Boston's MFA on 15th March, 2009.

25 December 2008

Chaim Soutine, sad expressionist

I have come back to Chaim Soutine 1893–1943 because of two unexpected blog entries. Susan's Museum Experience analysed Little Girl with a Doll 1919. Life at Willow Manor discussed a Soutine painting called Melanie the School Teacher 1922. These lovely works, new to me, are in the Hillman Foundation NY and the Columbus Museum of Art.

Who was Soutine? Wh­ile still a young teenager from an impov­er­ished Russian village near Minsk, he attended the Acad­emy of Fine Arts of Vilna where he met another of my favourite young art students, Michel Kikoine. In order to survive financially, Soutine work­ed at odd jobs, until a doctor discovered his talent and paid for his train ticket to Paris.

What prompted Soutine and the other 100 foreign painters, largely from Eastern Europe, to travel all the way to Paris? They had no mon­ey, no French and no family support. Their arrival in Paris coin­cided with an extraord­inary artistic revolution getting under way then.

Sout­ine settled into his circle of émigré artis­ts in 1913, as had the slightly older Amadeo Mod­igliani in 1906. At first Soutine lived in dire pover­ty, kept alive by the food charity of Modigliani, Kikoine and Sonia Terk Delaunay. But som­ething in Soutine’s character made it impossible for him to man­age. He was always hungrier, dirtier and more needy than the others. Today I would read it as chronic anxiety, but I cannot find any contemporary diagnosis.

Luckily for Soutine, he was admitted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, probably because his ear­liest art training in Lithuania had been good. And al­though he was uncouth and unmannered, he did read poets and phil­osophers, and admired the works of Rembrandt, Courb­et and Bonnard.

Expressionism was intense, passion­ate and highly personal, based on the concept of the paint­er's canvas as a display for his emotions. Vio­lent, unreal colour and dramatic brush-work made Ex­press­ionist painting rock! Its emphasis and distortion, from the artist’s emot­ion­­al resp­onse to the sitter, was a reaction to C19th shallow­ness. In Man with Ribbons 1921, the model’s head and neck were elong­ated and an agitated flicker ran down the full length of the body. The colours were unpolished and the angles were rough.

Man with Ribbons

Soutine and other ot­her Eastern European Jews were seen to have brought with them a general sense of the hope­less­ness that comes with be­ing ex pats. Unwil­ling to adjust to the prevail­ing rules, they ex­p­ressed their feel­ings in their art by the bol­dness of their strokes and colours. Freedom allowed them to exper­ience everything for the first time. I am guessing this was because of hostile reg­imes in Eastern Eu­rope, not because of family controls.

In 1919-22 Soutine painted in Ceret, a small town in the Pyrenees. There his work reached its most express­ion­istic extreme and there he exec­u­t­ed a series of very distort­ed landscapes with agitated rhythms. I didn’t like his early landscapes at Ceret: they were messy in concept and in practice. In any case he was totally isolated in Ceret since he didn’t speak a word of Catalan. Worse still, the death of Modig­liani in 1920 left Soutine bereft. Only Modigliani, his mentor and teacher, had regarded Soutine as a genius.

Soutine spent 3 years there and painted 200 works, including Woman in Red 1922. What kind of fev­er­ish, Van Gogh-like passion drove him to pro­duce these distorted and viol­en­tly coloured works? Were the dis­t­ort­ions reflec­tions of his inner disturb­ance or of his inspir­at­ion?

Woman in Red

Soutine visited his favourite southern towns each summer: Cagnes, Montpellier, Nimes, Beziers. His friends drove him around for days, in search of the perfect image. Once he found what he wanted, he worked with such concentration that he lost all sense of time and place. This made for good paintings, but it was very tough on his friendships.
I would not have included any landscapes since I am not sure that expressionism works as well for inanimate objects as it does for human beings. However toomanyfrogsand1brit discussed chaïm soutine 's stint in Cagnes and in Céret. This blog suggested that "Soutine depicted villages all in a jumble, like hazy memories souvenired from Mediterranean towns, basked in a warm sunlight but lacking structure and foundation. It was just like German Expressionism mixed with one too many beakers of pastis!" Great description.

View of Cagnes, 1924

Soutine was only seen as bad-tempered and unsociab­le by men. To women he was cute. And he stayed in contact with his ex pat friends in Mont­par­­nasse, painted their portraits eg Kisling C1925 and treated their portraits with respect.

The American collector Dr Albert Barnes arrived in Paris in Dec 1922, to enlarge his own collection. Paul Guillaume escorted the man around the galleries and artist studios for several weeks, but nothing part­ic­ularly grabbed his attention. Finally Barnes was visiting a studio to see a Modigliani, and noticed in the corner a work that immed­iate­ly caught his eye: Soutine’s The Little Pastry Cook 1923. Barnes wanted to buy it straight away. Guillaume took Barnes to Zborowski who had a number of rec­ent landscapes that Soutine had painted, and Barnes bought them all.

Little Pastry Cook

Soutine worked intensely and managed to sell 100 of his works to Dr Barnes. The sale of his pictures in 1923 was his first big succ­ess after years of poverty and Soutine was launched. Barnes opened his Foundation and Museum, in Merion in the USA in 1924.

Having previously known poverty, Sou­tine now enjoyed a comfortable life and could stay at luxury hotels and spas: he divided his time between Paris, the Riviera and the Pyrenees. In towns where he and Zborowski went to take waters, he observed the staff and painted the well-known series of bellboys and waiters. Soutine seems to have felt a bond with these lowly workers, victims of a rejection he himself had experienced. Through typical workers, Soutine evoked the endless mass of the working class eg Room-service Waiter c1927 (below).

Sout­ine himself ac­k­n­owledged that he was at least once saved from suic­ide by a fr­iend. Obses­sed by forms and colours, and dejected and unsatisfied, Soutine destroyed many paintings during fits of des­p­air. This may explain why such a passionate artist left relatively few paintings. The Great Depression years were terrible for Zborowski who died bankrup­ted in 1932. Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing were pass­ionate ab­out art and they took it upon themselves to buy Soutine’s works AND to have him as a guest in their rural property near Chart­res every year from 1930 on. He was not well, but he was well looked after by the Castaings and even fell in love (with Gerda Groth).

Oscar Grillo has a painting of a Naked Woman by Soutine that I have never seen before. Might it have been of Gerda Groth?

In 1937 in Paris there was an Exhibition of Indep­endent Art where he was at last hailed as a great painter. Profile of a Woman 1937 was highly thought of, even though the same painting 15 years ear­lier would have been dismissed. In 1937 he rented a studio at Vil­la Seur­at. The sculptor Chana Orloff was there often and wrote about Soutine’s painting habits.

Sadly his glory was short-lived. In 1940 Groth was deported. A few months after the in­vasion of France by Germans, he fled Pa­ris in order to escape the Vichy pol­ice and Gestapo. Soutine was forced to seek shelter wher­ever he could doss down. Suffering from a bleed­ing st­omach ulcer in 1943, he had to leave his hid­ing place to undergo em­ergency surg­ery but died a few hours later.

It is ironic that Soutine largely had a miser­able life, yet he became a legend after his death. I liked Norman Kleeblatt’s and Kenneth Silver’s conclusion: that Chaim Soutine didn't quite fit into a particular era, style or movement.

23 December 2008

"Pushing Time Away" in Vienna

Prof Peter Singer, born safely in Australia straight after the 1939-1945 war, wanted to get to know his late grandfather, David Oppenheim. This was a man who died in the war in 1943, before he could reach a safe place. Luckily for Singer, heaps of documents survived. His aunt, Doris Liffman, had studied some of the letter-based material years earlier for her university degree.

These days I ask my students in Melbourne to read Pushing Time Away ( Ecco Publications, 2003), but not because they are necessarily sympathetic to Peter Singer’s task in discovering his own family history. Rather I want them to un­derstand Viennese Jewish intellectual life from the late 19th century until 1933.

A new golden age of building came to Vienna, based on the grac­ious Ring­strasse (1860-90): all the city’s great institutions were lo­cated there. Different from the churches and imperial buildings which were already present in central Vienna, the new Ringstrasse devel­op­ments were buildings which stressed secular culture, education and the new constitutional government, including the Parliament, Rathaus, galleries and University. But above all, it was a place for café society to parade and discuss.

Vienna was hopping and jumping in this period, creating world leaders in medic­ine, psychiatry, chemistry, physics, design, architecture, painting, music, politics, publishing, philosophy and every other intellectual field. The Jewish community of Vienna was largely secular, highly educated and extremely motivated to succeed intellectually.

At the end of the century, 10% of the total pop­ulation of Vienna were Jews, while c30% of the Gymnasium students were Jewish. 60% of Vienna’s physic­ians were Jewish and more than 60% of Vienna's lawyers were Jewish.

In Oppenheim, Singer found a well placed man to witness Vien­na’s Golden Age. Oppenheim “only” taught classical languages in a high-class school (Akademisches Gymansium), so he was not in the cen­tre of Vienna’s intellectual ferment at work. But he moved to the cen­tre in everything he did. Oppenheim's life was lived in cos­mop­olitan Vienna and he could not help contemplating and writ­ing about many of the significant issues that crossed his fertile mind. Singer may have been rescuing his grandfather’s memory, but the reader uses Oppen­heim’s connections to link up with Freud, Adler and the other members of their group.

I am uncertain what to make of Singer’s grandmother, Amalie Pollack Oppenheim. She was no intellectual slouch herself, having enrolled at the University of Vienna in 1899; she was only the 39th woman to grad­uate from that august institution ever. But her career went no­where, so one is left to guess that her role was a] raising healthy, happy, educated children and b] supporting her husband in his resear­ch, writing and publications. I was quite interested in the comp­lex­ities of David’s and Amalie’s relationship, but I would have loved to have known what contributions to learning Amalie made, outside the home. At least Amalie had the huge good luck and the strength to survive the camps, and to reach freedom in Australia.

Historical researchers have to thank families who kept copies of all the letters they wrote and received. Those families have enor­mous foresight. And even had David Oppenheim been born in Ballarat or Leeds, his story would have been worth telling. But Pushing Time Away focused on the critical moments in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s transition from the late 19th century glory days and learning, to the arrival of Nazism and despair. The book’s subtitle, The Tragedy of Jewish Vienna, should have been changed to The Great Successes and Unthinkable Tragedy of Jewish Vienna. Timing is indeed everything.

22 December 2008

Universal Exhibitions

In the early C19th the great increase in French industrial exhib­it­ions finally provoked interest in an "international" exhibition. In 1849 the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce suggested the inclusion of foreign exhib­its in the Paris exhibition of that year, but he failed. Thus it may have been quite accidental that the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 was the first truly international fair. Prince Albert was large­ly responsible for London's success, as was Joseph Paxton's amazing arch­itectural wonder, Crystal Palace. It was Britain that first created the indust­rial revolution and it was Britain that first created the model for industrial exhibitions.

I was particularly keen to unearth a number of important goals that the first universal exhibition in Britain had set for itself. Firstly it was hoped that by inviting ordinary families to walk around the various sites, those families would be inspired by science, technol­ogy and the arts towards education and self-improvement. Secondly it was expected that international trade would be greatly expanded, with raw materials coming in from the colonies and finished products finding new markets outside Britain. Thirdly Thomas Cook and other travel entrepreneurs saw a great opportunity to in­crease intellectual tourism. Railway tickets and hotel accommod­at­ion were packaged up with entry tickets into Crystal Palace.

Introducing locals to the host-nation’s colonies was more important for some nations than for others. The French took over northern and central Vietnam in 1884-5 and together with Cambodia and Laos, the three Asian countries formed French Indochina in 1887. Influence was also expanded in North Africa, establishing a protectorate on Tunisia in 1881. Grad­ually French control was est­ablished over much of Northern, Western and Central Africa. These colonies were all given space and press coverage at the Paris World Exposition 1889. They proclaimed France's status as a powerful nation, to the entire world.

The architecture inside all the late 19th century/early 20th century world exhibitions was sensational. Sometimes the buildings were accident­al­ly destroyed by fire (eg Crystal Palace, London 1851 and The Garden Palace Sydney, 1879). Oftentimes, the pavilions were specifically built to last only for the duration of the exhibition and were pulled down as soon as the last visitor departed (eg General Art and Indust­rial Exposition of Stockholm 1897). Occasionally the expensive build­ings were retained for the host city to use, in perpetuity (eg Melbourne 1880-1).

Not surprisingly Nicole Adams included Melbourne's Exhibition Building in her Top 50 Travel Spots for Architecture Buffs. A recent blog, Melbourne Art Network, carefully documented the renovation work done to the Exhibition Building. This undoubtedly contributed to  the building's 2004 inscription on the World Heritage List.

The Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne in 2008

Host cities poured money into building and improving their permanent archit­ect­ural stock, to be ready for the cashed-up visitors. The Parisian Universal Exhibition of 1889 celebrated the triumph of ironwork with the Palais des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Libéraux, the Galerie des machines and the Eiffel Tower. At the next Paris Exibition of 1900, Paris inherited some of its many of its most memorable structures: the Grand Palais, Petit Palais and the Pont Alexandre III. Being a host city for a Universal Fair was largely advantageous.

The opening of the exhibition, usually by royalty, was the highlight of the year. Vienna’s World' Exhibition 1873 was inaugurated by Emperor Francis Josef of Austria, with imposing ceremonies, in the presence of a vast assemblage of people. The day was immortalised by the music of Handel and Strauss. And almost all the fairs were immensely pop­ul­ar. At Chicago 1893 27 million visitors arrived, a third of the count­ry's populat­ion at the time. The number for Paris World Expo 1900 reached 48 million. 50 million people attended Montreal’s Expo 67 at a time when Canada's population was only 20 million.

World Fairs were instrumental in the spread of tech­nology. Host countries were proud to display their own scientific and technological advances; pavilions were estab­lished for other coun­tries to show off their contributions. The scientific centrepiece of the 1900 Paris Expo was the Great Exposition Refractor, still the the largest refracting tele­scope built. Exhibits in San Fran­cisco’s Palace of Machinery 1915 showcased Diesel engines and water-driven power plants. Wise gov­ernments sent scholars to study the technol­ogical progress of other countries and to write reports back at home. The expos also prompted the establish­ment of new museums which promoted scientific, technical and industrial advances and supported technical education.

The arts received just as much publicity. Rene Lalique’s magnificent jewellery was displayed at the Universal Exhibition in Paris 1889 under the signature of Henri Vever, Lalique’s boss. But the jewel­l­ery brought so many commissions that Lalique was soon working under his own magical name. Objects Not Paintings found the lamp that was part of the seminal exhibition of Tiffany’s work at London’s Graton Galleries, organised by Siegfried Bing in 1899. This exhibition introduced serious collectors to Tiffany’s work which was so successfully exhibited at Paris' 1900 Exposition Universelle. Mies van der Rohe designed the German pavilion for the International Exposition of Barcelona 1929, and the furniture to go in the pavilion. His Barcelona Chairs immediately became recog­nis­able, all over the world.

The following books have been particularly useful:

1.Allwood, John Great Exhibitions, Studio Vista, 1977.
2.Auerbach, J Great Exhibition 1851: Nation on Display, Yale UP, 1999
3.Bolotin, N & Laing, C The World's Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World's Fair of 1893, Illinois UP, 2002
4.Brown, Julie Making Culture Visible: Photography and its Display at Industrial Fairs in USA 1847-1900, Routledge, 2001
5.Burris, John Exhibiting Religion: Colonialism and Spectacle at International Expositions 1851-1893, Virginia UP, 2002.
6.Coletta, C.D Worlds Fairs Italian-Style: Great Expositions in Turin and their Narratives, 1860-1915, Toronto UP, 2006
7.Darian-Smith, K et al Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, Monash UP, Melbourne, 2008.
8.Dickinson Brothers Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, London, 1854.
9.Gibbs-Smith, Charles Great Exhibition of 1851, London, HMSO, 1981.
10.Greenhalgh, Paul Ephemeral Vistas: Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939, Manchester UP, 1988
11.Leapman, Michael World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation, Headline Books, 2001.
12.Mattie, Erik World’s Fairs, Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.
13.Pont, G and Proudfoot, P The 1879 Sydney Garden Palace International Exhibition: Origins and Precursors of the International Exhibitions,
14.Rydell, Robert World of Fairs: The Century-of-Progress Expositions, Chicago UP, 1993.
15.Rydell, Robert Fair America, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.
16.Sotheby's Great Exhibition Sale: Two Centuries of International Art and Design from the World's Fairs, London, October 2006.
17.Wilson, Robert Great Exhibitions: World Fairs 1851-1937, NGV, 2008.

21 December 2008

Preserving Heritage Buildings

At the 2008 AAANZ conference at Griffith University in Brisbane, Ann Toy presented a paper on Public Art and Vice-Regal Patronage at Government House, Sydney.

Government House Sydney was built between 1838 and 1845, to a plan by an architect in Britain, Edward Blore. Fortunately the builders, contractors, designers, craftspeople and materials were all local. It was built in the neo-Gothic taste, crenellated and turreted, with various coats of arms. Additions have included a front portico (1873), an eastern veranda (1879) and extensions to the ballroom and Governor’s study in (1900). From 1845-1996, it served as the Governor’s residence, office and official reception space. Since 1996, the Governor has not used it as a residence.

Government House, Sydney
Many Vice Regal families have come and gone over the decades. Conservation and refurbishment have been ongoing issues for the Historical Houses Trust of NSW , even now, since the building is still used for Vice-Regal, state and Commonwealth government functions.
The Trust's task was to respect the instrinsic historic values of the building's original fabric, decoration and collections, while integrating new technologies, new design and new art into the interiors. I realise that the old clutter needed to be pared back, but the result sofar seemed somewhat jarring. Nonetheless history will tell whether they achieved the ideal balance, or not.

The conservation Vs modern refurbishment debate reminded me of an earlier visit to Monticello near Charlottesville in Virginia, which I loved. Monticello was the private estate of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the USA. Designed by Jefferson himself in the Palladian style, work on the house continued intermittently from 1768-1809. Many changes were made to the original plans within Jefferson's own era, making Monticello virtually a lifetime's project.

By 1879, Jefferson Levy was the new owner of Monticello. He restored and preserved Monticello, which had been deteriorating seriously for many years.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the house in 1923, had it restored yet again by architects and opened the building to the public.

A correspondent to the AIA Archiblog [2] recognised that buildings have to change, as each generation finds new needs not being met by the existing architect­ure. “This house as architecture is a disaster, mishapenly proport­ion­ed, awkward, which is unsurprising given the interations it went through over the years. Monticello is a mess of a building. He (Jefferson?) can't even resolve the facade and interior well”.
Of course I cannot compare Monticello with Government House Sydney directly. Monticello now runs as a museum, fixed in time, not as an active arm of government. But that raises another important question: what extant design features in Monticello came from Jefferson himself, which belonged to Levy 100 years later and which elements arrived in the 1920s?

A line in The Design Public Blog [3] was right on topic for this discussion: “Anyway, it was meant to be a museum, full of artefacts from the territory in the Louisiana Purchase, maps, Natural History and American History”. Who decided Monticello was meant to be a museum? and was the decision made after the intial building plans were finalised?
Monticello <-library and bedroom ->

19 December 2008

Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus

In 1929, Le Corbusier created his definitive building: Villa Savoye in Poissy. It perfectly displayed Le Corbusier’s architectural laws:

1. raise the building from the ground on pilotis, to reclaim the lost space under the house;

2. build non-weight-bearing walls to free up the designer;

3. create an open and flexible interior floor plan, free of weight-bearing walls;

4. include long, sliding windows to bring the garden inside the house; and

5. create rooftop gardens to replace the green land swallowed up by the concrete block.

Le Corbusier's design

The Bauhaus School of Architecture did not actually get going until 1927, eight years after Bauhaus first opened its lecture rooms and workshops. And by that time, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and the other Bauhaus architects were very familiar with, and committed to Le Corbusier’s philosophies. Le Corbusier may not have lectured at Bauhaus’ Weimar or Dessau campuses, but his theories were enth­us­iastically read by the staff and students. Bauhaus architects agreed to use principles of classical architect­ure in their most pure form: without ornamentation of any kind. Thus they rejected cornices, eaves and decorative details. Bauhaus designs had flat roofs, smooth facades, cubic shapes, neutral colours (white, cream or grey), open floor plans and functional furniture.

In short they loved his view that architecture was the mould of the modern spirit and of the machine-age civilisation

Mies van der Rohe, 
Brno, then Czechoslovakia

Compare Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye with a] Villa Tugendhat in Brno, built by Mies van der Rohe in 1930 and b] Gropius’ house in Lincoln Mass, 1938. They were in three different countries, but Mies van der Rohe and Gropius were definitely paying homage to the master and to his five principles of domestic architecture.

Gropius, USA

In my post called The Bauhaus Moved to Tel Aviv, I wrote “German Jews who made aliya in the l930s brought with them the then-newest architect­ural ideas: the modernist ideas of ar­ch­itects Le Corb­usier and Walter Gropius”. It occurred to me that I better display a Le Corbusier house, and two Bauhaus designed houses, in order to explicate the link to Tel Aviv. To be sure Tel Aviv Bauhaus architects built blocks of flats, not individual homes. Furthermore they were building in a hot, Mediterranean climate, not a cool northern European or northern USA climate. But the European masters would have recognised their contribution to Tel Aviv’s architectural stock.

Tel Aviv flats
Bauhaus design

Would the Architectural Technologies blog have recognised their contribution? In 2009 the post Smart Sweet Smart Home discusses future buildings having non-weight-bearing walls to free up the designer; creating an open and flexible interior floor plan, free of weight-bearing walls; including 
long, sliding windows and doors to increase light and airflow; and creating rooftop gardens to increase warmth in winter and coolness in summer. Short of the computerised Greenness, I think Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus architects would have fitted the bill nicely.

18 December 2008

"Notes on a Scandal"

A film starring two mature actresses in tough emotional roles is a film worth seeing. The blog called The Balcony is Closed [1] reviewed one such brilliant film:

“I saw Notes On a Scandal a week or so ago, starring the succulent Cate Blanchett and dazzling Judi Dench. Talk about the year of the woman – here are two great roles for two actresses to really strut their stuff. And not in some chewing-the-scenery-I’m-trying-to-win-an-award kind of way.

Judi is Barbara, the older, rumpled, mean and rather strange history professor at a London school in a less than desirable neighborhood. Cate is Sheba (short for Bathsheba – hmmm) the bourgeois bohemian new art teacher who has decided to leave her housewifely duties behind and teach. Like an unsuspecting butterfly, Sheba falls into the web of Barbara, and what begins as a friendship turns into a scary, freakishly codependent relationship built on emotional blackmail.I am not going to give away what makes Sheba give into Barbara’s Single White Female ways, but trust me, you can’t turn away.

What a great foundation! Lots of tension, lots of ambiguous morality, and lots of London. Who could ask for anything more?Both women are excellent and portray characters that are sympathetic and dastardly at the same time. Only these two could elicit such a range of reaction from the viewer, I think. I can’t say I’m going to see this movie again and again, but I did enjoy the story and I love stories without tidy endings.”

But let me add to this blog. Barbara’s thinking about the new young woman teacher went well beyond sisterly friendship. Sheba started the story with enth­usiasm, energy and youth; she was almost a wide-eyed ingénue. Well not quite, in the light of her behaviour with a teenage student. But Sheba’s face told the story: pleasure, ambivalence, uncertainty, fear and finally complete comprehension in the face of sneaky blackmail.

There are not many actresses who could carry off these roles: Blanchett and Dench, to be sure; Emma Thompson for whom I would give a kidney; Helen Mirren, Toni Collette, Meryl Streep and Claudia Karvan.

Rebecca Solomon, London artist

In Victorian Paintings blog, Hermes gave many fine examples of paintings from the Solomon family of artists. But what scholarly art histories have been written about this amazing Jewish London family?

Michael and Kate Solomon had 8 babies between 1824-40, which app­ar­ently did not send the family into poverty. They were comfortable, fashionable and part of mainstream London culture .

The Solomons were naturally influenced by Victorian tastes in general and by the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic more specifically. See the Pre Raphaelite Art blog for two of Simeon's dreamy paintings "The Sleepers and the One Who Watcheth"  and  "A Prelude by Bach". The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood didn’t last for many years but it inspired art throughout the second half of the 19th century.

Of the 8 Solomon children, three of them became professional artists: Abraham b1824, Rebecca b1832 and Simeon b1840. Simeon was clearl­y talented AND was fortunate enough to meet and become quite close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. They introduced Simeon to William Holman-Hunt, Algernon Charles Swinburne and other members of the intellectual elite.

But Simeon’s impressive rise and disastrous fall has been very well documented. I am much more interested in Abraham and Rebecca.

The Parting, by Abraham Solomon

Abraham Solomon learned painting in a very decent school of art and went on to admitted to the Royal Academy. Second Class, The Parting 1854 was a very tragic image of a young lad who was about to emigrate to Australia, being farewelled by his mother and sister who feared they would never see him again. Maudlin perhaps, but every mother in Britain would have felt terrible, looking at Solomon’s scene.

The Acquittal 1857, one of a series of court-related images, showed an exhausted family who had waited in a court house all day, finally to hear their relative had been found not guilty of the charge. The relief, although overstated, was heartfelt. Art Blog By Bob makes the point that court cases and prisons remained a harsh reality for working class Victorians as the gap between the haves and the have-nots widened to a chasm. For the upper classes in England, Graphic Content like Abraham painted was largely invisible.
The Acquittal, by Abraham Solomon

Abraham taught art to his sister Rebecca, and it amazes me still that she was able to exhibit her paintings at the Royal Academy between 1851-75. She clearly had a long and successful career, yet I can find so little of her life and art.

The Governess, by Rebecca Solomon

The Governess 1854 showed a gent­eel young lady, attractive but with no family money, having no career alternatives other than being a governess to someone else’s children. The mistress and master of the house gaze with admiration into each other’s eyes; the governess can only dream of what might have been, had she had a family of her own. The Love Letter 1861 was more am­big­uous, but it certainly suggested that Rebecca was an artist of her (high Victorian) time.

Love Letter, by Rebecca Solomon

What is so irritating is that Rebecca has almost been written out of art history. Abraham died very young and Simeon was no longer accepted in fashionable circles because of indecent exposure and sodomy in a public place. But Rebecca’s career should have been well documented. While not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood herself, she was an assistant in the studio of John Everett Millais for a time and she worked for Edward Burne-Jones as a model. She was not “unconnected” in the art world.

Rebecca herself died at a relatively young age. She was run over by a coach in 1886, aged 54.
Solomons: A Family of Painters, Geffrye Museum, London, 1985 is a very useful book, but tricky to locate.

15 December 2008

"I've Loved You So Long" film review

The impact of I've Loved You So Long may take longer to seep in, so I have posted a very good review from the Guardian and have added my own conclusions, only where they differ from Peter Bradshaw's.
Peter Bradshaw’s review of
I've Loved You So Long (2008)

The presence of Kristin Scott Thomas in this literate French movie was so powerfully distinctive that it's as if director Philippe Claudel wrote the lead role for her. Her formidable presence, her middle age beauty, her awareness of all the tiny absurdities and indignities with which she was surr-ounded, all created an intelligent, observant drama about dislocation and fragility of unshakeable memories. Scott Thomas was on screen for almost every minute of the film, often in close-up and her face was eloquent and withdrawn.

She played Juliette, a woman who after a long and painful separation was taken in by her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). When we first saw Juliette, being picked up at the airport, she wore no makeup, smoked perpetually and had clearly been institutionalised.

Juliette and Léa's childhood home was near Rouen, but Léa had now moved with her husband (Serge Hazanavicius) and two young children to Nancy. Juliette's English-accented French was explained by the fact that she spent some time in England and that the women's mother (Claire Johnston) was English, a demented woman in an old age home. Juliette's sole meeting with her mother was relentlessly awful.

The reason for Juliette's absence was a grim, unnameable secret. It was the elephant in the living room whose shadow had fallen over all their lives, and it was only when Juliette went for job interviews, or for mandatory meetings with caseworkers, or the local police officer with whom she had to sign in once a week, that she could speak the truth aloud. This Juliette did with a proud defiance, and a perverse pleasure in shocking people, to pre-empt their scorn.

While Juliette's 15-year-old secret had sent her entire family into shock and collective dysfunction, it was Juliette who had been able to look the facts squarely in the face and, having had a long time to come to terms with it, was relatively well adjusted. But Léa, carry­ing the twin burdens of her own family respectability and the need to appease her parents' angry demands for silence on the matter, had to spend her adult life in denial. Yet all this made Léa's pass­ion­ate need to reach out to her damaged sister all the more moving.

Without any uncomfortable cramming, Claudel adroitly suggested the slow process by which Juliette was gradually accepted into the family and the community. With miraculous efficiency, he gave her a flirt­ation with a melancholy cop, a sexual encounter with a stranger in a bar, and a growing, tender intimacy with Léa's colleague and fellow lecturer Michel (Laurent Grevill). Bradshaw didn’t mention the children but I would suggest that they went a long way to ease Juliette’s gradually acceptance into the family.

Peter Bradshaw reported that the final revelation, when it came, was just a little strained. It turned on the discovery of a photo and certain details on the back of a handwritten poem. But these details, he thought, did not appear to offer us much more know­ledge than we might have already guessed. I, on the other hand, found the final resolution of the story to be artificial and trite. It retrospectively undermined what had been realistic and painful tensions in the story line.

12 December 2008

Annie Besant, Theosophy and Australian Women Artists

In An Edwardian State of Mind and Victorian/Edwardian Paintings, you will find all the facts about Annie Besant's early life. Now we need to examine her connection to Australia.

In 1889 Besant was converted to Theosophy i.e the supreme wis­dom religion that would supersede Christianity. Within a very short time, she was visiting Melbourne “for the purpose of lecturing on Theosophy. Mrs Besant's daughter is married to a Melbourne pressman .. and was a spokeswoman of an adult-suffrage deputation to the Vict­or­ian Premier”  (Bulletin, Sep 1894). Then Mrs Besant continued her lecturing tour in Sydney.

Annie Besant introduced a strong socialist element to Theos­ophy, because she was very well known in the Fabian Society. Her second important tour of Australia was in 1908.

In 1911 Besant was a keynote speaker at an important NUWSS suffragist rally in London. Soon after becoming a member of the Theosophical Society, Besant went to India for the first time. Thereafter she dev­oted her energy to the Theo­sophical Society, to India's freedom and to women’s prog­ress, in India and back at home. She started the Home Rule League in India for obtaining the freedom of the country and reviving the country's cul­t­ural heritage, attended the 1914 session of the Indian National Cong­ress and was elected its president in 1917. Despite being interned by the British authorities during WW1, Besant continued to write letters to British newspapers, arguing the case for women's suffrage.

The real surprise to me was not Besant’s energy and various pas­s­ions. Rather I want to know why intellectual, educated women artists in Australia would flock to Theosophy. Jane Price became a founding mem­b­er of the Melbourne Branch of the Theosophical Society, and spent long hours discussing theosophy and Besantian writings. May Vale in particular wanted to us Besant Hall as a venue for exhibitions. Wal­t­er Burley Griffin, the (male) American architect and city planner who designed Australia’s capital city, Canberra, was apparently another follower of Theosophy. Ethel Carrick Fox eventually joined the Theos­ophical Society in Sydney.

Artist’s Foot­steps concluded “The role of Theosophy in Australian art has yet to be fully examined. However, given the number of artists who took an interest in theosophy, esp­ec­ially in the early years of the C20th, it is likely that theosophy was a factor in the production of a number of their artworks”. Jill Roe in Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia suggested that Theosophy’s popularity was due to middle class Church of England women’s disappointment with their church’s lack of vision for women outside home, family and charity.

With its emphasis on the power of love, on service and on a duty to protect the weak, Theosophy prefigured many of the values of modern feminism. I would suggest that Annie Besant’s personal appeal to intellectual women was no less compelling. Certainly the Theosophical Society has become a major focus of interest by cultural historians.

10 December 2008

Were Some of Vermeer's Models Pregnant?

Were some of the Women in Vermeer’s Paintings Pregnant? by Nagore Barbero, 2/6/2008

Barbero wrote “Even though to the modern eye 3 or perhaps 4 women in Verm­eer’s works seem to be pregnant, there is good reason to believe that this was not the case. According to Marieke de Winkel, Dutch costume expert, pregnancy was not a common subject in art and there are very few depictions of maternity wear. Even in religious paint­ings such as the Visitation, where depictions of pregnant women is required, the bod­ies of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth were usually completely hidden by draperies. De Winkel further argues that to his knowledge there are no examples of or pregnant women in Dutch por­t­raiture, an interesting fact considering that many women were paint­ed in their first year of marriage, a time when they could have been with child. Pregnancy was most likely not seen as aesthetically attractive.

Arthur Wheelock wrote that Dutch fashions in the mid-C17th seemed to have encourage a bulky silhouette. The impression of the short jacket worn over a thickly padded skirt creates in Verm­eer’s painting in particular may create just such an impression. It is interesting to note that in the 1696 Dissius auction in which 21 works by Vermeer were sold, the Woman Holding Balance was desc­ri­b­ed as A young lady weighing gold, in a box, by van der Meer of Del­ft, extraordinarily artful and vigorously painted. Since preg­nancy was not portrayed in Dutch painting of the C17th, it seems noteworthy that the catalogue’s author would not have noted such an exceptional fact. Afterwards, no mention of the woman’s pregnancy can be found until 1971 despite the fact that the work can be traced in an unbroken line to this century.

And modern scholars generally believe that Vermeer syst­em­atically drew upon fellow genre painters of the time such as Gerrit Terborch, Frans van Mieris, Gerard Dou for both his compositions and themes. He did not substantially subvert or even widen established iconographical boundaries but rather seemed completely absorbed in realizing their fullest expressive potential. In this light, it seems doubtful that Vermeer addressed such an uncon­vent­ional theme such as that of a pregnant women.”

I too was very interested in Nagore Barbero’s question but came to a different conclusion. There were three main reasons for thinking at least some of the women in Vermeer’s works were indeed pregnant.

A] Firstly Mrs Vermeer and her contemporaries were almost always pregnant or nursing. Mrs Vermeer herself had 11 pregnancies where the babies survived infancy and possibly several more pregnancies where the baby did not survive. Vermeer would certainly have been used to the sight of pregnant women and he may have even liked the contemp­lative, peaceful glow of pregnancy. I am showing Woman Holding a Balance specifically because the woman may have been weighing hers and her baby's life in the balance.

Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance

B] Vermeer was a slow, extremely careful painter who completed relatively few (c34) paintings in his entire life. Money was a constant problem, so it seems unlikely that the artist would have wasted money paying a professional model. More than likely, Vermeer used his wife, family members, visitors and staff in the home as his models, whether they were pregnant or not.

C] Calvinist Dutch families valued cleanliness, godliness, thrift, educating their children well, teaching their staff well and keeping a well-run home. Having specialist maternity clothes for the last 20 weeks of pregnancy would have seemed extremely wasteful to these good burghers. So we might assume that pregnant women would simply wear their loosest, most comfortable ordinary dresses, above the fundus if necessary. Kees Kaldenbach was even more specific, noting that in French fashion, women would sometimes wear a robe battante, a naturally wide garment which would incid­ent­ally cover up any sign of pregnancy. However depicting pregnancy intentionally would have been totally unacceptable.

Specialist information is required here, so I recommend that interested people read the "Fashion and Its Histories" sessions of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Brisbane, Dec 2008.

09 December 2008

The Bauhaus Moved to Tel Aviv

When Tel Aviv was recognised as a city in 1921, Meir Dizengoff was elected mayor. He remained in office largely till his death. Sir Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) was a Scottish urban planner. Having publicised his Cities and Town Planning Exhibition 1911, Geddes lived mainly in India, where he was involved in town planning work. Geddes was not Jewish, but he was very familiar with the Old Test­ament and was committed to Utopian ideals that could be applied to the new Jewish homeland.

Rothschild Bld, green centre

In 1925 Mayor Meir Dizengoff asked Geddes to submit a mas­t­er plan for Tel Aviv. The city limits he worked to were the Yarkon River in the North and Ibn Gvirol St in the East, the original boundaries of the city. Ged­des presented a fascinating report in 1927 which was quickly ap­prov­ed by the City Council. He brief was to cr­eate a European Garden City for 40,000 citizens. Geddes’ plan provid­ed wide, main streets on a grid pattern, single plots for family homes, small pub­lic gar­d­ens in the side streets and open access to the beach. And Ged­des sp­ecified mixed residential-commercial use, at least on the main roads.

Bauhaus design, Tel Aviv: flats and shops

Inevitably Geddes’ plan had to be modified so it never fully mat­er­ial­­ised in its purest form. During its implementation, the density of the city had to be greatly in­creas­ed, to cater to the flood of imm­igr­ants to Tel Aviv in 1930-9. By the height of British Mand­ate, the city had grown enormously and was home to 150,00 people and 8,000 buildings. Of Geddes’ 60 public gardens, only half were ever built.

You can still access the 1931 Master Plan of Tel Aviv, drawn up by the city engineering department, according to the original Geddes master plan of 1927. The primary roads, containing the city’s com­m­ercial activity, are indeed broad and flow north-south. The second­ary roads, mainly residential and still broad, do flow east-west. Wide tree-lined streets increased the sense of shade and of pleasant public space; trees added essential colour.

German Jews who made aliya in the l930s brought with them the then-newest architectural ideas: the modernist ideas of ar­ch­itects Le Corb­usier and Walter Gropius. And at the VERY time the Tel Aviv was getting going, modernist archit­ects at the heart of the Bauhaus movement were leaving Germany: 1933! While many of the lead­ing Bau­haus ar­chitects fled to Britain and USA, at least 20 Bauhausers and their colleagues migrated to British Palestine. Timing is everything!

Tel Aviv very quickly adopted their style as a route to defining the charac­ter of a new Jewish city, burgeon­ing on the Mediterranean. No more Levantine made from stone, peaked roof, wooden balconies, Arab­ic windows, grand colonnades and lots of metal decoration. By the mid-1930s it was the only city in the world being built ent­irely in the Bauhaus Style; its simple concrete curv­es, boxy shapes, small windows set in large walls, glass-brick vert­icals, asymm­et­ric­al fac­ades, horizontal lines and balcon­ies all washed with white. I would love to have seen Tel Aviv when it app­eared as a vis­ion of startling white: c4,000 buildings, all built from 1933 on.

Tel Aviv city council design­ers chose the Bau­haus style because of four political, ideological and practical reasons:

1. There was no need for Tel Aviv architecture to be historically consistent with pre-existing buildings as there WAS no past. They could focus on developing a new, modern direction.

2. Bauhaus architects believed it was their job to improve so­c­iety with their designs: a new form of soc­ial housing for working famil­ies, trade union cooperatives and free medical clinics. Bau­haus' socialist ideas were popular with Jewish intell-ectuals, especially its view on form and function.

3. Bauhaus designs were quicker and cheaper to build. A Bauhaus building needed prefabricated blocks of reinforced concrete, had a flat roof and sheer façade, with no cornices, eaves, addit­ions or decorative bits. There was a 3 storey limit. As colour was considered bourgeois, build­ings were white, grey or beige.

4. At least 20 young, energetic Bauhaus-influenced architects fled Germany in 1933 and were living in Tel Aviv, looking for commissions. The city council could draw on this amazing pool of available talent.

The elements of the Bauhaus buildings were largely characteristic of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, with a couple of local Tel Avivadaptat­ions. Glass was used sparingly and long, narrow, horizon­tal win­dows are visible on many of the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv. Vertical windows were used on stairwells.

Along the Mediter­r­anean balconies were mandatory: to in­crease the movement of breezes and to enj­oy the sea view. Where possible, over-hanging brows blocked dir­ect rays of sunshine from entering the win­dows. Roun­ded balcon­ies were clearly no more functional than angled ones but they were often chosen to mitigate the harsh, linear fac­ades. This changed in the 1930s when immigrants arrived in desperate need of hous­ing. Many elegant Bauhaus lines were then obscured by balcony enclosures, giving an extra room but looking ugly.

Concrete stilts, which raised the buildings off street level, creat­ed room for a green garden area while providing greater air flow. As with the balconies, much of the once-open area created by the stilts has since been enclosed.

Flat roofs were already a feature of the Bauhaus buildings in Eur­ope, as opposed to the more typical shingled and slanted roofs. While Tel Aviv roofs in most cases did not feature roof gar­d­ens as planned by Le Corbusier, they at least served all building res­idents.

Note the flat roof  with gardens

Bauhaus interiors in Germany were already white, functional and unadorned. But Tel Aviv has a hot climate, so rooms had to be made as cool as possible. Wall to wall carpets and curtains were out; marble or tile floors were substituted; and shutters could close windows entirely. Since space was at a premium, there could be no narrow and useless hallways. And space could be used flexibly, of necessity.

I have lived in, or visited many modernised Tel Aviv flats, but I have never seen a photo of what the interiors looked like in 1933. Thus this photo is, at best, a guess.

Living area, 2008

The Bauhaus Centre, 99 Dizengoff St, organises group or individual tours on foot for visitors. The guide showed me buildings by the architects who worked in Tel Aviv from 1933 on, including Joseph Neufeld, Richard Kauffmann, Carl Rubin, Arie Sharon, Dov Karmi, Shmuel Mistechkin, Munio Weinraub-Gitai, Shlomo Bernstein, Sam Bar­kai, Ze’ev Rechter, Genia Averbuch and Benjamin Anekstein. I must find the work of Leopold Krakauer, Dov Kutchinsky, Joseph Berlin, Yohanan Rattner, Yehudah Megidovitz, Alexander Levy, Yossef Minor, Pinchas Hutt, Moshe Cherner myself.

Over the decades, buildings were seen to be too degraded to restore. The original Bauhaus build­ings would have all ended up being bull­dozed unless enough people cared to save the derelict ones still standing. Three miracles happened:

A] In 1991 the Engin­eer­ing Dept of Tel Aviv municipality created a Modern Heritage Preservation under architect Nitza Szmuk.
B] Bauhaus Renovation Foundation was formed and organised a Bau­haus Conf­er­ence for May 1994. 2,000+ inter­nation­al particip­ants arrived.
C] 2003-4, UNESCO declared central Tel Aviv a protected city, on the World Heritage List.

So I am sitting here in Melbourne, thinking fondly of Geddes. With the hearty help of Dizengoff, Geddes planned a Garden City of wide tree-lined boulevards, small roads with smaller green spots, clean-lined, boxy buildings with very little ornamentation and a beach focus. Appropriately Tel Aviv now has a Bauhaus Museum to dis­play Bauhaus-designed furnishings and related objects. It opened in 2008 at 21 Bialik Street.