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Thoughts from the First Day of Toronto Pursuits 2014

July 15, 2014 in Art, Canada Travel, Classical Pursuits, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Special Events, Summer Fun, Toronto Pursuits

Susan Lahey signs up for Twitter Just before giving her talk on Chinese Decorative Arts.

Guest Post by Ann Kirkland of Classical Pursuits

The first full day of Toronto Pursuits was a great success. It was great to see and meet some of the new people and find out about how they discovered Toronto Pursuits. Some people said they were here for their love of discussions and great ideas. Others were from Toronto and lived here their entire lives but never knew about it. Many were repeat attendees who keep coming back to Toronto to join us and partake in sessions and discussions.

“The Forbidden City” Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

On Monday, we started the day with sessions and then after lunch had a great talk from Susan Lahey and learned more about an insider’s view of Chinese Decorative Art. We took a trip with her to the Royal Ontario Museum to see an exhibition on “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors.” Ian Scott shared his wealth of knowledge of Eastern and Western opera.

To finish off a rewarding day, we had an intimate reception at the Park Hyatt in Toronto. The week is just getting started and there is much more to come. Stay tuned!

Read more about Classical Pursuits and the Toronto Pursuits program.

Rest In Peace, Lucian Freud

July 27, 2011 in Famous Artists, Famous Painters, Lucian Freud, Portraiture

Lucian Freud, Girl with Roses, 1947

Last week, Lucian Freud, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, and grandson of Sigmund Freud, passed away in his London home. He was 88.

With a family history like his, it isn’t surprising that Lucien was brimming with talent. Though he started off his career a bit rocky (he was a gambler, womanizer, and a wild card), in the post-World War II years, he became one of the most significant artists working in Europe. His slightly abstracted, often grotesque paintings came to define a new wave of figurative art. Like the Secessionists before him, and the German Expressionists, his portraits were filled with a sense of vulnerability, intimacy, and occasionally, dread.

While you can compare some of Freud’s paintings to earlier artists like Egon Schiele and Otto Dix, he quickly created a style of portraiture that was all his own. I admit to finding his portraits incredibly disturbing—in a good way. Freud’s subjects stare out from the canvas, wide-eyed and distorted, with a fleshiness and weight that is at once exaggerated and oddly true to life. His portraits are neither beautiful nor smooth. They are not pretty to look at, but they convey something real, something human.

It’s always a tragedy when a great figure like Freud passes, but in many ways, Freud’s career had run its course. I can’t be alone in preferring his earlier work to his later portraits, though some of his most recent work is perhaps more recognizable, due to the status of his subjects. His depiction of Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is not really a traditional royal portrait, but it has gained widespread fame nonetheless. A painting he did in 2002 of a pregnant Kate Moss has the same odd combination of celebrity draw and high-brow artistic appeal.

Despite his later triumphs, when reading his obituaries I’m struck again and again by his first forays into figurative art. In paintings like “Girl With a Kitten” and “Girl With Roses,” Freud calls to mind the old masters and the traditional Flemish portraits. To me, these pieces look like a modernized version of Jan Van Eyck’s pieces, imbued with (unsurprisingly) a 20th century awareness of the complexity of the human psyche. There is something deeply psychological about Freud’s distortions, which both flatten the face and draw forth the eyes, which gaze distractedly. It feels at once both intimate and distant, smooth and slightly frayed. The subjects bare many of the markers of female beauty, yet under Freud’s brush they are thinned, flattened, and made far more ghostly.

Freud’s death is a terrible loss for the art world, but his artistic contributions will not be forgotten. As he once told his biographer, “For me the paint is the person,” and through his creations, Lucian lives on.

Site of Iconic Wyeth Painting Named National Landmark

July 18, 2011 in American Art, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Maine travel, Uncategorized

Andrew Wyeth’s art is quiet. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, whose works scream out for attention through bright colors and bold shapes (Rothko and Mondrian), or seduce with lush layers of paint and incomprehensible abstractions (Pollock and de Kooning), Wyeth’s paintings are subtle. They whisper their intention to the viewer. Muted colors and barren landscapes mark Wyeth’s most recognizable works, but all of his paintings share a common sense of stark intimacy.

I’m not the only one who feels this way about Wyeth’s art. Earlier this month, the house in Maine depicted in his most famous work, Christiana’s World (above), was named a national landmark. “It’s now affirmation that it’s an American icon,” said Christropher Brownawell, executive director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, in an interview with the Associated Press. On July 1, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that The Olson House, along with 14 other locations, is now officially recognized by the U.S. Government.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with American art. Though he didn’t fit into any of the major artistic movements of the 1940s, Wyeth was an exceedingly popular artist; something about his pieces felt recognizable in that post-depression era. I like to think it’s because his scenes are so touching and instill an immediate familiarity in the viewer: we can’t help but feel as though we’ve been there. His style may not have been as flashy as that of his contemporaries, but Wyeth’s work has long been recognized as different, respected in its own right. Quietly, it captured the era.

Painted in 1948, Christina’s World was titled after the woman who inspired the image, Wyeth’s neighbor, Christina Olson. But while the painting is ostensibly about her, Wyeth did not use Olson as a primary model. Instead, he called upon his wife to pose for the scene, recreating the moment he looked out the window and saw his neighbor, who suffered from polio, making her slow crawl across the yard. Looking at this painting, I believe I can see the love he had for his wife, and the sad respect he had for his subject. The landscape is bleak and muted, but there is a tenderness in the way Wyeth depicts Olson. I feel instinctively, as many have before me, that this piece captures something essentially human, something even bigger than the scene, more important than the farmhouse.

Though I’ve seen the painting in person—it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York—I haven’t yet visited the location in Cushing, Maine. But somehow, I feel as though I have been there, as though the moment he depicted is not in a place or a time, but happening constantly. It’s an ineffable thing, but one I’m not quite ready to mar with a visit to the actual location. But despite my personal reluctance, I’m happy to know that no matter what, the Olson House will be there when I’m ready to see it.

My Day at The Met

May 3, 2011 in Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Travel to New York City

Peter Kubicek w/ Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm / Photo by Sheva Tauby

On a sunny and warm spring day, I traveled from my Westchester home on the express bus down to New York City.  After a pleasant ride (only 38 minutes!), I arrived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on 85th and 5th.  The cherry blossoms in full bloom swayed with the breeze.  The emerald green of Central Park lured me as I sat on a bench, watching the joggers go round and round.  Finally, it was time to enter The Met.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but for the sake of LT honesty, I will.  After living in Brooklyn for two years and Westchester County for almost four years, this was my first time at The Met.  How shameful.  I’d even visited the Guggeheim, MoMA and The Museum of Natural History.

However, I couldn’t have chosen a better day and a better tour guide.  Peter Kubicek, subject of our latest interview, was my guide.  He earned a coveted docent position seven years ago and has been giving tours ever since.

I was first taken by the massive Auguste Rodin sculpture, The Burghers of Calais.  To me, it looked like a tribute to suffering and injustice.  The gargantuan feet of the men embedded in the earth, the nooses around their necks, the hands of despair covering the face of one man.  They all stood silently but bravely in black, robes flowing.

What struck me as we walked along was how Central Park was so well integrated with The Met.  Yes, of course, The Met is in The Park, but I expected a dark museum–like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  To my surprise, the windows gave way to the bright pink cherry blossoms, blue sky and cityscape.  I had the museum and the natural world.  I was having my cake and eating it too.

As the Monet and Picasso rooms were flanked by rowdy European kids on their spring vacations, we sidestepped the frenzy and opted for the serenity of the Asian world.  The Chinese Scholar’s Court had these interesting rocks, which reminded me of a cross between a volcanic rock and the elephant man.  The bizarre harshness of these structures mixed with the delicate, green plant life represented the balance–what Kubicek referred to as the “yin/yan” (or duality of opposites) the Chinese like to have in their gardens.  If only we Americans could achieve such a thing.

But perhaps my favorite of the day was the Jackson Pollock.  The painting entitled Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)–as seen in the photo above–was fitful.  As Kubicek stated, “there is no place for the eye to rest.”  This was true.  Calamity was not in Pollock’s interest.  The painting, to me, represented Pollock’s mind (perhaps alcohol-fueled mind), which seemed to never shut off.  Not until his untimely death.

My day at The Met was fun and refreshing.  It is a museum that lets the city in.  It breathes the life the people, the excitement of art and the spirit of New York.  Even though I am not a New Yorker, I almost felt like one in The Met.

Please continue reading Interview with Peter Kubicek, Author of Holocaust Memoir 1000: 1 ODDS.

To sign up for one of Peter’s tours, please see tour info.  His next scheduled tour is May 15, 2011.

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