Friday, April 30, 2010

Ornamental Death

These two illustrations are by the Austrian Art Nouveau painter Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) and belonged to the book "Die Nibelungen. Interpreted by Franz Keim" (Wien and Leipzig 1909)

Like in the artwork by Howard Pyle the turn to a subjective interpretation of history can be observed. Even much more Czeschka refrains from any naturalistic depictions. His illustrations are first and foremost decorative ornaments. Nevertheless are his arms and costumes much more historical than that on history paintings which pretended to be realistic. And above all he achieves a kind of neo-Romanesque style like that of medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Really great art!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Marble Body

Death of Cleopatra (1874) by the French Orientalist painter Jean-Andre Rixens.

Like many of his colleagues Rixens shows here the dead Cleopatra bitten by an asp as it was told by Shakespeare and frequently interpreted by painters. Though there is not much new concerning the subject, it is interesting how Rixens painted the dead Queen. The body is so pale and perfect that it resembles much more a statue of marble than something of flesh and blood. Despite the theatrical gestures it’s pure art, already anticipating the upcoming Art Nouveau.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cossacks on the March

The Caravan (1881) by the Polish artist Józef Brandt (1841-1915).

Once more Brandt shows the every day life of war. There is no glorious fighting, there’s a muddy, endless road, the southern Ukrainian steppe, which produced this kind of warriors.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Romantic Pirates

Two Pirate Illustrations by the great American artist Howard Pyle (1853-1911). They were published in the book "Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates", published in 1921, ten years after his death.

Maybe there are some art historians who think that Pyle was no real artist more an "illustrator". But I think that’s totally wrong. These two "illustrations" show the influence of Impressionism and because of that a modern treatment of history. There’s no "pseudo-realistic" treatment of history like by Alma-Tadema or Blair-Leighton. Pyle depicted colourful and bold but also subjective impressions of history.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Babylonian Princess

"Princess of Babylon" (1904-1910) by the Dutch Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968).

Kees van Dongen was a modernist painter and was counted among the Fauves ("Wild Beasts"). So it’s clear that he was something like the contrary to the traditional history painter. Nevertheless he called this painting "Princess of Babylon", referring to a historical subject. But that’s all, his Princess is a modern "femme fatale", maybe a prostitute. In modern art history is no longer tellable, it’s raw material to illustrate recent circumstances.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An American Hero

Columbus before the Council of Salamanca (1847) by the American painter William Henry Powell (1823-1879).

Powell was in his time one of the most famous history painters of the United States. He is best known for his painting "the Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto A.D. 1541" in the Capitol Rotunda.
Here he depicted Columbus defending his plans before the Council of Salamanca. It’s one of these typical history paintings with well arranged groups of persons and an illumination like on a stage.
But the real interesting thing is that Columbus is in a very similar pose like the then so popular anticlerical heroes Luther or Galileo. His clerical adversaries rely on books, Columbus instead stands alone only supported by his maps. He’s a modern man fighting against religious ignorance. And that for Powell is claiming him as a real American hero.