Archive for Art

A Memoir of Thomas Bewick

Posted in Art, Education, History, Politics with tags , , , on January 11, 2022 by telescoper

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was a superb illustrator and natural historian who lived in the North East of England. He is celebrated primarily for his fine engravings and woodcuts of wild animals and birds, and humorous vignettes, some of which are quite cheeky, such as this one called “Man Pissing”…

Man Pissing (c.1797, wood engraving on laid paper, 8.9 x 12.5 cm)

You can find many other examples of his fine work here.

Bewick also held radical political views in a time of great social unrest across the continent of Europe. His views were heavily influenced by the terrible conditions of the rural poor in his native Northumberland and the corruption of the Government. In 1822 he began to write his Memoir, which is absolutely fascinating, not least because part of it is devoted to his views about the British Government and the media of the time. Two hundred years later, many of his words still ring true.

Here’s an excerpt from a section covering the period from about 1818 to 1823, a period of domestic instability in Britain that led to acts of protest and brutal suppression, including the Peterloo Massacre of 1819:

The pen of literature was prostituted to overshade the actions of good men, and to gloss-over the enormities of the base. The energies of many members of both Houses of Parliament were unavailing against this compact confederacy of undeserving placemen and pensioners, who were bound together by fellow feelings of self-interest, in which all ideas of public trust were lost in private considerations. They had sinned themselves out of all shame. This phalanx have kept their ground, and will do so till, it is to be feared, violence from an enraged people breaks them up, or, perhaps, till the growing opinions against such a crooked order of conducting the affairs of this great nation becomes quite apparent to an immense majority, whose frowns may have the power of bringing the agents of government to pause upon the brink of the precipice on which they stand, and to provide in time, by wise and honest measures, to avert the coming storm.

A Memoir of Thomas Bewick, Written by himself, CHAPTER XVII.

Plus ça change

P.S. Not far from where I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne there is a school for children and young adults with autism called the Thomas Bewick School. His name is well known in the Newcastle area for that reason and his artistic legacy, but I’m not sure his memory is as widely celebrated as it should be. He was a fascinating character.

The Messenger of Autumn – Paul Klee

Posted in Art with tags , , on November 2, 2021 by telescoper

by Paul Klee (1922, 24cm x 31cm, watercolour and pencil on paper, Yale University Art Gallery).

Remembering Charles Byrd

Posted in Art, Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , on September 4, 2021 by telescoper

Most of the belongings I’ve just had delivered to Maynooth are of sentimental rather than financial value so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d get a bit sentimental opening them up. The painting above is by a Cardiff-based Welsh artist called Charles Byrd and it was painted in 1963, the year of my birth. The story of how it came into my possession over a decade ago can be found here.

I unpacked this yesterday along with most of my other artwork but I haven’t decided where to put it yet so it’s sitting on my desk until I decide where to put it.

It was with some sadness that I found out recently that Charles Byrd passed away in 2018 at the age of 101. There’s a nice little tribute to him here. I found out reading it that in the least years of his life he lived in a little flat on Llandaff Road, very close to where I lived in Pontcanna, though I never met him, which is a shame because he seems to have been quite a character!

Rest in peace, Charles Byrd (1916-2018).

Birth of a Galaxy – Max Ernst

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 17, 2021 by telescoper

by Max Ernst (1891-1976), painted in 1969, 92 x 73 cm, oil on canvas.

Dream Time

Posted in Art, Biographical, Covid-19, Mental Health with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by telescoper

The Dream (Salvador Dali, 1931)

I know I’m not alone during this strange and unsettling Coronavirus period in having extraordinarily vivid dreams almost every night.

I’m grateful for two things related to this. One is that I’m sleeping much better than usual, with not a trace of the insomnia I’ve experienced in the past during times of stress. The other is that these dreams are very far from being nightmares. Most of them are benign, and some are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The other day, for example, I had a dream in which Nigel Farage returned from his recent trip to Dover in search of migrants publicity to find his house filled with asylum seekers singing the theme from The Dambusters. There was also a cameo appearance by Nigella Lawson in that dream but I forget the context.

I’ve written about dreams a few times before (e.g. here) and don’t intend to repeat myself here. It does seem to me however that dreams are probably a byproduct of the unconscious brain’s processing of notable recent events and this activity is heightened because the current times are filled with unfamiliar experiences.

I know some people are having far worse nocturnal experiences than me, and I don’t really understand why I’m having a relatively easy ride when my past history suggests I’d be prime candidate for cracking up. Perhaps I’ve had enough practice at dealing with anxiety in the past (not always very satisfactorily)? Perhaps the sense of detachment I’ve experienced over the past few weeks is part of some sort of defence mechanism I’ve acquired?

Anyway, don’t have nightmares!

Van Dyck and Beards

Posted in Art, Beards with tags , , , on April 23, 2020 by telescoper

The 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) is famous not only as an artist but also for a particular style of facial hair, the goatee/moustache combo now known as a “Van Dyke”, as demonstrated by the man himself in this self-portrait:

What I didn’t realise until recently however that van Dyck painted a very large number of studies of men with all kinds of beards. Here is a particularly fine example (Study of a Bearded Man with Hands Raised, 1616).

I’m not an expert but based on the poses I suspect these studies were done in preparation for paintings with biblical themes. Indeed the model looks rather similar to the figure in Jude The Apostle completed about three years later:

Silhouettes of Gustav Mahler – Otto Böhler

Posted in Art, Music with tags , , , , on April 25, 2019 by telescoper

Schattenbilder (Silhouettes) of Gustav Mahler conducting, by Otto Böhler (1847–1913), published posthumously in 1914.

Star Maker, by Remedios Varo

Posted in Art with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2019 by telescoper

by Remedios Varo Uranga (1908-63), painted in 1958.

Waves Breaking on the Rocks at Kilkee

Posted in Art with tags , , , on January 5, 2019 by telescoper

Back in Ireland on Thursday I was pottering about in my flat listening to the radio when I heard an interesting discussion about the work of art shown above, by Nathaniel Hone the Younger. It’s not a finished painting, but a small sketch made in watercolours, probably a study for a larger work. Hone made lots of these sketches over the years; this one was made in about 1890 at Kilkee and is in the National Gallery of Ireland. The dark palette and rough texture created by very thick application of the paint is unusual for a watercolour. No doubt all that is at least partly because of the windswept location in which the artist was working!

Jazz – Man Ray

Posted in Art with tags , , on October 6, 2018 by telescoper

by Man Ray (1919, oil on canvas, 71.12 x 55.88 cm).