A blog about the 19th century and now

A blog about the 19th century and now

About the blog

From my perspective as a visual art practitioner I will research two areas of interest.The first being 19th century French history painting and the second the attitude of the artists towards the free and censored press. I will connect this research with contemporary developments and my personal artistic engagement. Through blog posts I will reflect on the works I have created and the sources I have used, but essentially the focus will be directed towards the future.

Le Nain Jaune

Le Nain JaunePosted by Stijn Peeters Mon, December 17, 2018 13:32:15

One of the reasons I started this blog and the research for it was my fascination with the interaction between high and popular art. And how this can be studied by looking at the personal practices of individual artists. When artistically dealing with the workings of politics and personal engagement. The first time I encountered the yellow dwarf was while leafing through a Time-Life book , ‘The world of Delacroix’, written by Tom Prideaux. On page 35 of the Dutch translation a black and white reproduction is shown of a drawing of three monkeys, the accompanying caption reads; while still studying at the École de Beaux Arts (1816-1817) Delacroix began publishing caricatures in a Parisian newspaper Le Nain Jaune, unbiased social satire. In Delacroix’ etching ‘three literary midgets’ quarrel on the gravestone holding the remains of Le Nain Jaune, caused by a contemporary process threatening the closure of the newspaper. ( 1)

A coloured version of the image I found on the internet shows that the fur of the dwarfs or monkeys has different colours(2). I like to think that they represent the ‘tricolore’, red-white-blue. Although the blue has a viridian, dark green hue. (2) The donkey in the middle tries to protect white and yellow booklets against the attempts of the other monkeys to take them away. He is in a desperate situation because of the giant goose feather and the foolswand he clutches at the same time. The subtitle of the print reads; les trois Nains Littéraires, ou les bâtards du Nain Jaune, Se disputant ses Dépouilles. In a rough translation this is ‘The three literary dwarfs, or the bastard children of the yellow dwarf fight over its corpse’.

In the recent catalogue published on the occasion of the Delacroix exhibition in the Louvre ( 3) I find another image and here the monkey in the middle has a grayish blue fur. Which goes to show that it is advisable to check multiple sources. Ségolène Le Men names the three dwarfs as representatives of three competing smaller satyrical ‘journals’. From 1807 to 1820 Delacroix lived in the Rue du Coq Saint Honoré, also the address for the Martinet Libraire this etching could have been printed ‘on the premises’. ( 3)

Delacroix and his relation to caricature is a very complex matter. There has been written a lot about a group of prints signed EXXXXX .

One of Delacroix’ earliest friends and first biographer Achille Piron recalls that Delacroix supposedly cooperated on two caricatures for ‘Le Nain Jaune’ and in 1930 in an article for ‘la Gazette des Beaux Arts’ Jean Laran confirmed that the 6 letters represent his first name Eugene. (4) Nowadays doubt reigns. The British Museum, owner of a substantial group of Delacroix prints, mentions ‘formerly attributed to Delacroix’ behind producer name

In a next blogtext I will go into Delacroix and the more than 20 lithographs he made for Le Miroir.

Le Nain Jaune must have been a real collector’s item. Every five days a gathering of a 24 page issue in a book-sized format was published , accompanied by nine large, hand coloured fold out caricatures each month.

Le Nain Jaune became especially famous for inventing two new royalist “orders” as a means of riculing the supporters of the prerevolutionary regime. One of these orders was that of the girouette (weathervane). A statesman was pictured with a particular amount of weathervanes representing the numbers of times he changed his opinions and allegiance to regimes. As can be seen in this print of a sixheaded Talleyrand. The second invention is ‘The order of the Eteignoir’ ( “candlesnuffer)‘ , playing on the double meaning of the French word lumière to indicate both “light” and “enlightenment.” The candlesnuffer became a symbol of reactionary attempts to turn back the clock and stifle liberty.

Members of the Order of the Eteignoir wear candlesnuffers as hats, Le Nain Jaune , 15 februari 1815.

In Juli 1815 ‘Le Nain Jaune’ was suppressed by royal decree, the editors found refuge in Brussels ( at the time ruled by the Dutch) where they established ‘Le Naine Jaune Refugié’ and succeeded to smuggle this exile version into France. International pressure on the Dutch government resulted in closure of the paper after half a year.

I suppose that the name of the paper was a reference to ‘Le Nain Jaune’, a fairytale written by Madame d’Aulnoy in 1698. In contrast with the ending of a lot of fairytales in this story the bad guy wins and not the charming, but greedy princess Toutebelle and her parents. A promise is a promise even little princesses cannot get away with breaking it. So the yellow dwarf in this sense is an avenger of broken promises.

The Yellow Dwarf in an Epinalprint and Le Nain Jaune the namesake of the paper.

(1) De Wereld van Delacroix, Tom Prideaux , Time-Life Bibliotheek der Kunsten, 1971. A lot can be argued against this text fragment. Le Nain Jaune was founded in December 1814 and was suppressed in July 1815. The date 1816-1817 as mentioned by Prideaux as the date that saw Delacroix earliest attempts at caricature is after the closure of the paper. Unbiased social satire is a strange sentence connected as it is with a satirical political magazine. And it might be an interesting discussion if the remains of a magazine rest in a gravestone or in a grave.

(2) https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6955849s.item

(3) Delacroix, Musée du Louvre, Éditions Hazan, 2018. ‘Delacroix et L’Estampe, by Ségolène Le Men, page 375.

(4) Jean Laran, ‘Péchés de Jeunesse d’Eugene Delacroix’, La Gazette des beaux Arts, janvier 1930.

(5) Censorship of Political Caricature in nineteenth century France, Robert Justin Goldstein, Kent State University Press 1989, page 101 and further

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ManetPosted by Stijn Peeters Tue, December 11, 2018 09:24:12

Last week I saw a series of photographs on the website of the Guardian. Photographs by Philippe Blet and Kamil Zihnioglu documenting graffiti connected with the ‘Gilettes Jaunes’ protests(1)

Striking were historical references like; “Macron = Louis 16”, a combination of Emmanuel Macron the King that was publicly guillotined in 1789. Political texts like; ‘Taxera les Riches’ ( Tax the Rich) and ‘La crise climatique est une guerre contre les pauvres’( The climate crisis is a battle against the poor), and even a biblical quote ‘And when they say ‘peace and security’, then the world will be lost’ But the most fascinating photograph for me was this one.

The half-circle behind the pedestal shows workers with baskets, a wheelbarrow and spades. Grouped around the pedestal are four men, a painter with a palette in hand, a bricklayer and an architect, the profession of the man on the left is unclear to me. The graffiti “insurrection Populaire”makes it difficult to decipher the name of the man on top. But aided by the first four readable letters ‘Alph’ I found out that the monument was dedicated to Jean-Charles-Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891). Chief engineer under the famous Baron Hausmann, Alphand created walks, parks and gardens remodelled the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. So not the socialist leader the graffiti had let me believe, but a foreman directing his co-operators and workers.

I discovered that the monument was a work by Jules Dalou, the man with the brick in his hand leaning on the half-circle is a sculptor and not a bricklayer as I assumed. The names of the others are known also. Architect Bouvard, painter Roll, and engineer Huet. Interesting names for sure, but going into their careers distracts from my storyline. While searching for information about Alphand I came upon the following pdf

It is striking that this link does not seem to work anymore after a day and a message informs me about the occurance of an Error 404. Possibly a form of ‘linkrot’ a strangely naturalistic concept in relation to Alphand’s career. Look at the illustration, doesn’t is show similarities to Manet’s ‘View of the Universal Exposition of Paris, 1867’?

By leafing through my own collection of books and browsing the internet I’m unable to find this image. T.J Clarke’s ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ even shows the painting on the cover. In ‘Art and Politics of the Second Empire, The Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867’ Patricia Mainardi offers a thorough analyses of the painting which takes up seven pages.

I don’t want to go into it in deep although it’s worthwhile reading. Just some sentences that caught my attention;“Because it is the only painting of the Universal Exposition, and because Manet’s intention was clearly to create a major work summing up both the event and his own aesthetic principles, issues both public and private, both aesthetic and political,can be illuminated through an analysis of this one painting.” ( ...)” This was Manet’s first –and last- view of Paris, and if he painted it on the motif it would be his first plein-air picture”. (...) “Manet, whom Zola had recently defended against the accusation that his painting was as primitive as Epinal prints, has here adopted a similar spatial disjunction and taken it even further. He has dropped out the middleground completely and jammed together the two areas of maximum interest, the immediate foreground and the distant panorama”.

Mainardi quotes an Epinal print as a possible source( Pinot et Saciare, General View of Paris and the Universal Exposition of 1867, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris), Berthe Morisot’s painting ‘View of Paris from the Heights of the Trocadero, 1872, (Santa Barbara Museum of Art) and the masthead engraving from the official exhibition catalogue( L.Dumont, LÉxposition Universelle de 1867 illustrée). But the image I came upon while researching the graffiti on the monument is nowhere to be found.

What do you think? Could this be a possible source for Manet’s painting?

1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/dec/03/words-on-the-street-graffiti-of-the-paris-protests-in-pictures

2. Photograph: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

3. https://www.parcsetjardins.fr/docs/data/actualites/documents/1016-1494.pdf

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Layer upon layer

ManetPosted by Stijn Peeters Mon, December 03, 2018 09:08:36

During the first seven years of my artistic practice I painted landscapes or illusions of it. This last approach became gradually more important. From the middle of the nineties on I started to focus more on the figure and storytelling. I experimented with the possibilities of paint to create atmospheric illusions. One of the methods I used is visible in this painting, the gessolayer is two-toned ,on it I poured a liquid yellowish brown paint.

There must have been a suggestion of this female figure visible in the wet paint which I manipulated to become even more visible. The woman reminded me of a Pieter de Hoogh painting , earlier I copied a lot of his paintings in ink drawings. After enhancing the female form I began to think about a suitable partner for her. It had to be some sort of man, but then in an artificial way. Based on the pose developed in the sketch I tacked some clothes on the studio wall and painted them as real as possible . As a head I drew a silhouette on paper and painted this as well.

At the time I regularly read issues of The Burlington Magazine. In the November 1994 issue I found an article by Peter Rudd; ‘Reconstructing Manet’s Velasquez in his Studio’ . Rudd weaves an elaborate web of Manets’ working method and influences. Refering to Germain Bazin he writes ; ‘For Bazin, Manet’s engagement with the art of distant masters exemplified the museum’s rise as a site of artistic instruction. The variety of the museum collection, he argued, promoted stylistic freedom, substituting choice for the tradition of apprenticeship to a single master’.

‘Velasquez in his studio’ is known today only by fragments of the original canvas. According to Rudd it must have been a reference to both Velasquez’ ‘Las Meninas’ and Courbet’s ‘Atelier’ with Manet as the painter taking the place of Velasquez. Further in the article he compares this way of working with Manet’s ‘La Pêche’, a painting which cites a landscape by Caracci and again Courbet (this time ‘the Desmoiselles du Village’) . In ‘La Pêche’ Manet paints himself as Peter Paul Rubens, walking arm in arm with his future wife Suzanne Leenhof. Both of them wearing 17th century costumes

The still life painting of the tacked clothes didn’t produce the effect that I had hoped for. The picture needed more, extra layering. Motivated by reading Rudd’s article I decided to paint one of Courbet’s sisters from the ‘Desmoiselles’ over the maid of de Hoogh, but I left half of her visible.At the same time I painted in the dog, ‘a frightful little bastard , according to reviewer s of the 1852 Salon who incorporated the innocent animal in their critiques.

Rudd, in his essay adds another interesting, formal, observation; ‘Like those of Rubens and Courbet, Manet’s landscape includes a curious dog sniffing at the middle distance as if pointing out its very lack of recession, its telescoping of remote objects up against the foreground plane. Manet’s reprise of Courbet’s quizzical dog announces his flatness as a wilful ineptitude which, like his verdant pigment, asserts a rejection of the museum’s enshrined standards’.

Stijn Peeters, Nr 695, 200 x 130 cm, 1996. Present whereabouts unknown, sold in 2001 to Collection van den Ende, Essen

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StonebreakersPosted by Stijn Peeters Wed, November 28, 2018 15:05:31

“It’s rare to meet the most complete expression of poverty,so an idea for a picture came to me on the spot. I made an appointment with them at my studio for the next day” Courbet wrote in a letter to Francis Wey about the moment he saw the two men.

In ‘Gustave Courbet, His Life and Art’ (1972) Jack Lindsay writes ; “he posed the two models separately. The old man , Gagey, had spent his whole life on the roads around Ornans and was a well known character. The painting was much admired by local folk, who, according to Proudhon, proposed to buy and hang it over the altar in the parish church, as it pointed so strong a moral, that was no doubt a tale told him by Courbet. And in a later fragment; “His remarks during the work on the canvas to Wey and Champfleury show that he particularly felt his emotion because of the way in which the working-together of the old man and the youth expressed the cycle of unending misery that the system around him perpetuated. He was not painting two workers doing a specially backbreaking job and getting a poor reward for it, but the whole endless repetition of hopeless toil among large sections of his people, the whole endless cycle of exploitation. The strength and fullness with which he felt the nature of the image was determined by the movement to socialism which was going on inside him”. This fragment clearly shows that Lindsay writes from a Marxist art -theoretical perspective.

According to Michelle Facos; stonebreakers were peasants forced off the land into backbreaking and poorly compensated wage labor, the benefits of which went directly to the middle and upper classes. Because of this, Courbet’s stonebreakers did not represent an ideal image of the rural peasantry to contemporary viewers. Significantly Courbet did not idealize these stonebreakers, they wear dirty, tattered and mended clothing. These strong and oppressed workers who spent their day hacking apart stones, seemed threatening to contemporary, middle class viewers in 1850, the year stonebreakers debuted at the Salon. While the majority of 1848 revolutionaries were urban craftsmen and workers Courbet’s stonebreakers instilled fear because they wielded implements that were potential weapons and produced the paving stones used for barricades and projectiles by revolutionary insurgents

Courbet encouraged a feeling of mistrust by shielding the men’s faces from the viewer. Because their expressions and physiognomies could not be read, viewers could not determine whether these men were dangerous or submissive. Courbet painted an image that provoked anxiety in a destabilized and modernizing world”.

TJ Clark describes this feeling of unease; “(...)if people and bourgeois were true allies, then the People must be represented- and the bourgeois was going to find himself in their midst, one against four, or one against hundred, a colonial planter surrounded by slaves.”

The final version of ‘the Stone Breakers’ didn’t survive the second World War and was destroyed when a transport of paintings from the Dresden Gemäldegalerie to Königstein Castle was bombarded by American war planes. Purely by associating I had to think about Kurt Vonegut’s book ‘Slaughterhouse five, or a children’s crusade’. In it Vonnegut describes his own experience as a prisoner of war, and the senseless destruction of Dresden, in the only possible way he saw fit. His main character Billy Pilgrim seems to travel through time and space, human years do not seem to matter and chronology is in a total mix up. Billy seems to float from sphere to sphere, his total acceptance and the way Vonnegut describes everything in a clinical way makes reading the book an intense experience.

Still from the movie ‘Slaughterhouse 5 or a Children’s Crusade’, 1972, director George Roy Hill. ( Music score by Glenn Gould!)

“Many holes were dug at once. Nobody knew yet what there was to find. Most holes came to nothing- to pavement, or to boulders so huge they would not move. There was no machinery. Not even horses or mules or oxen could cross the moonscape. And Billy and the Maori and others helping them with their particular hole came at last to a membrane of timbers laced over rocks which had wedged together to form an accidental dome. They made a hole in the membrane. There was darkness and space under there. A German soldier with a flashlight went down into the darkness, was gone a long time. When he finally came back, he told a superior on the rim of the hole that there were dozens of bodies down there. They were sitting on benches. They were unmarked.
So it goes.
The superior said that the opening in the membrane should be enlarged, and that a ladder should be put in the hole, so the bodies could be carried out. Thus began the first corpse mine of Dresden.”

Because of his role in the Paris Commune Courbet was imprisoned and later held personally accountable for the destruction of the Colonne Vendôme. He was sentenced to pay a sum of ten thousand francs a year to pay for its reconstruction.

In this caricature by Schérer Courbet is pictured as a convict, the text reads; “The man who was called to demolish the Column might just as well start working as a stonebreaker”

The conviction and trouble to bring in the 10.000 Francs a year was so oppressive that Courbet decided to flee to Switserland in 1873, where he died on the 31st of december 1877.

According to historian Pierre Chessex Courbet’s family wanted to bury him in Ornans; “but on Monday Dr Blondon of Besancon, the fiancee of Courbet’s sister Juliette, bought a concession in the morgue of the cemetry of La Tour- de -Peilz.” From 1878 until 1919 Courbet’s body rested in a double coffin of oak and lead in the morgue. Today one can find, hidden between a couple of shrubs, a plaquette marking the location of Courbet’s temporary grave. Body and tombstone were moved to Ornans in 1919. What I find striking when I look at the two photographs is the fact that while the grave in La Tour-de Peilz was covered in ivy, the Ornans grave is covered with gravel!


‘Gustave Courbet, His Life and Art’ (1972) Jack Lindsay, Jupiter-London 1977, ‘An introduction to 19th century art’, Michelle Facos , Tailor & Francis Ltd, 2011,

‘The Absolute Bourgeois, Artists and Politics in France 1848-185’, T.J.Clark, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1973. Slaughterhouse 5, or the Children’s crusade; A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Vintage UK , 2000


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On disappearing

StonebreakersPosted by Stijn Peeters Mon, November 19, 2018 10:08:15

It seems quite likely that my mother-in -law, Mien Thissen-Mulder, found this book while browsing in the second-hand shop where her sister Doortje volunteered. It is called ‘De schilderkunst der XIXe eeuw’, (painting of the 19th century) written by Léonce Bénédite, curator of the Musée de Luxembourg, its date 1910. And, as was her habit, she must have asked her daughter, my wife, “do you think Stijn has any use for this?’ I haven’t seen it for a long time but now that I started this blog I’m glad I kept it because it offers many interesting starting points.

The Paris Bibliotheque Nationale is the keeper of ‘Courbet, Gustave (1819-1877) Critique et interprétation’ a biography and critical essay written by Léonce Bénédite. I intend to translate it from the French and read it because I’m curious about the content. I will come back to that later on. If you want to read it already you can find it here:

Curiouser and curiouser I get ( thank you Lewis Carroll ! ) by reading this fragment from an article by Oliver Larkin, titled; ‘Courbet and his contemporaries, 1848-1867’ (Science & Society,Vol. 3, No. 1 (Winter, 1939), pp. 42-63)

“Because Courbet was so long a prophet without honor in his own country, a large proportion of his work is owned by museums and collectors outside France. Many phases of his career, notably his activities during the Commune, are still imperfectly understood. Before 1900 scarcely a single French art journal of repute cared to publish material on the painter. Belatedly in 1919, when New York’s Metropolitan Museum was honouring the centenary of his birth, France bought the Atelier for seven hundred thousand francs. Two years later, Léonce Bénédite was invited to represent the State at the unveiling of a tablet placed on Courbet’s birthplace at Ornans. The curator of the Luxembourg declined to attend the ceremony on the ground that he had “received counter-instructions”.

This is a page from my book.

The caption under the reproduction of ‘The Studio’ still gives Collection Desfossés as its owner, and the caption under ‘the Stonebreakers simply mentions Museum, Dresden. The enlarged image shows that an error occured, it is the wrong painting. This, mirrored, version is today in the Collection Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur.

But it looks like a very different painting when I study the reproduction on the site of the Oskar Reinhart Collection. It seems to have darkened almost beyond recognition. Time and the use of bitumen in the paint have done their work. Courbet painted it in 1849, the book for publishing house Flammarion was produced in 1905, the work was possibly photographed at the time that the painting was 55 years old. And now the painting’s age is 169 years, so the discoloration took place over a period of 110 years. The effects of bitumen are common knowledge and many of Courbet’s works fade into darkness, an extra stimulant is his preference to work on dark tinted canvases.

This is the painting from the Dresden Museum collection. Together with 154 other paintings it was loaded in februari 1945 into a van and on transport from the Zwinger Museum in Dresden to Königstein Castle (The King’s Rock). In times of conflict this was a well known practice. The castle offered sufficient protection. But the road did not, the danger came from above. The transport was bombed by Allied planes.

December of last year I was offered a working period in a guest studio of the Vincent van GoghHuis in Zundert. I was able to go deep into van Gogh’s work and his engagement , and made a lot of painted monotype prints on the small etching press I brought along. After you have printed the image, the printing plate still shows a shadow of it on which you can react again with ink. Degas was very accomplished in this technique. I was fascinated to try out one of the possibilities I hadn’t experimented with and that was the ‘black manner’. With ink you cover the whole surface of the printing plate and start working back from dark to light by using brushes, cloth, sticks and fingers to delve up the image. It is a slow and time-consuming manner of working resulting in just one ‘good’ print. To start with I chose a reproduction of ‘the Stonebreakers’, the lost Dresden version.

The first fully inked print. And without adding any more ink to the plate I made three more prints on pink tinted paper, gradually losing more and more of the image.

Stijn Peeters 2018.

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CensorshipPosted by Stijn Peeters Tue, November 13, 2018 13:59:45

Last week I bought this book and it is exactly what I hoped it would be. The book by Goldstein published in 1989 gives a historical overview of censorship-practices and cases. It also provides me with a lot of information and reference material on the role of the media and the way opinions are formed and influenced then and in my own time. My artistic work will benefit from it. I will certainly use information gained from this book in future blog texts.

After 1822 the printed word was not subject to prior censorship anymore, but the possibility of postpublication prosecution loomed over the press, and could lead to fines and prohibitions. The creators and the publishers of caricatures however were subjected to prior censorship. Every change in leadership and political system created its own version of press-liberty or restriction. Thus prior censorship of caricatures was eliminated in 1814, restored in 1820, abandoned again in 1830, re-established in 1835, ended once more in 1848, reimposed in 1852, abolished again in 1870, decreed once more in 1871, and finally ended permanently in 1881.

Between 1830 and 1914 some 350 caricature magazines and newspapers were published in France. This amount shows that the most wellknown caricaturist of his days, Daumier was one of many.

A distinction between written and drawn agitation could be found , according to contemporaneous comments, in the difference between intellect and feeling, the slow process of reading , considerations made and options weighed during the process was incomparable to the immediate response to inflammable imagery. Images were immediately understood by the, mostly, illiterate majority of the population, a group the authorities feared was easy to manipulate and called into action. As a longtime user of Facebook I am familiar with the sudden emotions some images with a short accompanying text can trigger. Scrolling and swiping creates a dynamic that has an uneasy relationship with the reading of long texts. How much sympathy you may feel for the person who wrote it. At times a fast ‘like’ to suppress a feeling of guilt is the most attainable reward for my active ‘friend’s’ labours.

The continuous attention of the censors must have had a great impact on the artists who drew the caricatures. In defence they often referred to their artistic freedom, the ‘liberty de crayon’. The authorities also made similar distinctions. In 1829 the interior minister told his prefects, concerning the circulation of Napoleonic images, "In general, that which can be permitted without difficulty when it is a question of expensive engravings, or lithographs intended only to illustrate an important [i.e., expensive] work, would be dangerous and must be forbidden when these same subjects are reproduced in engravings and lithographs at a cheap price."

One can argue that works that are functioning in the realm of the arts are viewed as more neutral than works that aim for mass-communication and call for direct emotional response.

Philip Guston went from figuration to abstract expressionism, a route a lot of his colleagues followed but his decision to turn back to figuration was heavily criticized. About his motives for this switch he said; . “The war, what was happening in America, the brutality of the world. What kind of a man am I sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue? I thought there must be some way I could do something about it.” At the beginning of the 70’s he made a series of drawings in which he dealt with, then, president Richard Nixon, the ‘Poor Richard-series”.

Initially he wanted to publish the drawings as comic books, but decided to keep them in the studio. A reason for this decision may have been the storm of critique that followed his move away from abstraction. It was a big thing in the artworld and former colleagues and critics blamed of treason. Maybe Guston didn’t need yet another complication as this kind of work could be seen as being too anecdotic and functional.

The conflicts between abstraction and figuration in the artworld seem to have disappeared in time, whole generations of artists cannot imagine that it was ever an issue.

In her artistic response to the Vietnam War Judith Bernstein took a feminist perspective. Her imagery derives from ( men’s ) bathroom-graffity , the screw as a symbol for phallic repression and violence in general. In her career she engaged herself with organisations like “the Guerilla Girls” and the “Fight Censorship Group”. At the age of 75 she showed a group of drawings (at New York’s Drawing Center) that she had made as a reaction on Donald Trump’s nomination as a candidate and the following victory in the election to become America’s president. She must have been shocked to the core of her being in the realization that all she had fought for all her life seemed to have made no difference. In het drawings she chooses to represent DT as ‘Schlongface’. In an article for elephant.art she says; “My work is crude, but it’s not obscene. It’s not sexually arousing, it’s done for a political reason.”

Scatology is a regularly occurring theme in caricature and folk art. A well known example is the Gargantua print by Daumier, in it you can see King Louis Philippe sitting on a large throne or toilet, being fed money and defacating laws and favours on paper. Another print by Traviès shows the same King in the form of a barrel in which the collective shit of a neighborhood was collected. The pearshaped barrel stands on small elegant feet.

Bernstein operates mainly in the artworld. Ward Sutton positions himself as a maker of caricatures explicitly in the public domain. His drawings are published in a wide range of magazines and newspapers, such as ‘The New York Times ,Rolling Stone, Time, The Nation, Entertainment Weekly and New Yorker. Under the pseudonym ‘Kelly’ , published in the ‘Onion’ he poses as a cartoonist from the ‘other side’ of the political spectrum, a strategy that can leave one with akward uneasy feelings. On his website ‘Sutton Impact’ he shown his continuing engagement with political and social actuality. In preparation for the midterm elections he offered free election posters to download and print , he writes; Please feel free to share these images and links! A wonderful gesture and I’m sure one that contributed to the positive result for the Democratic Party.

Sources: Photo Judith Bernstein by Donald Stahl.

Judith Bernstein, Drawing Center exhibition catalogue; https://issuu.com/drawingcenter/docs/drawingpapers133_judithbernstein

Ward Sutton’s website; http://www.suttonimpactstudio.com/

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How simple can your first Daumier be?

The studio...Posted by Stijn Peeters Tue, November 06, 2018 09:59:41

This little reproduction from a booklet about Daumier caught my eye, because of the theme of it and because of the relative ‘clumsiness’ that appealed to me. It has the look of a first version of an idea, a rough sketch that was never realized, I really liked the idea that I could ‘finish’ a sketch by Daumier . I thought about the question ‘can you be so drunk that the table gets stuck to you?’. The book is in German and the work is titled Trunkenbolde, which means something like ‘boozers’ and I guess that is exactly what the image communicates. The size is 24,5 x 26,2 cm, the technique oil paint on paper, glued to wood and the work is mentioned as coming from the collection Roger Leybold. ( 1896-1970) This owner of an industrial brewery had a large collection of paintings, drawings, prints and letters by Delacroix, Daumier, Jongkind, Corot and Boudin. A certain ’Madame X’ is mentioned by auction house Drouot as the heir of the Leybold collection. It is possible that this work was auctioned on the 17th of November 1982 .

To start I copied the work by making a small etching, the printing plate on the left and the print on the right.

After this the man leaning on the table top shows up on three paintings of 1998. As a description of the individual works I used the abbreviation M.A. for Molino Alto, ( M.A. 11, M.A. 3 and M.A.1 are shown) a reference to the old watermill in Niguelas, Spain that we rented in the spring of 1998 for a period of three months from the Scottish poet Martin Bates. These works are made during this time.

This painting , M.A.1, was raffled during a national tv broadcast. In a programme called AVRO’s Kunstblik, a nice studio visit was filmed with the former director of the Arnhem Modern Art Museum Liesbeth Brandt Corstius as reporter.

After our return back to the Netherlands I made this painting, its title Nr 794, also not very creative and referring to the number of paintings I started on since moving to Eindhoven in 1987. Because you never can be sure if a work you start on will reach the endstage, there are missing numbers of destroyed paintings, mostly victims of complex transition periods). The work measures 130 x 200 cm and contains all the elements of the Works made in Spain, the ‘Daumier’-figure, the table with influences from Dutch genre tavern scenes, my then 3 year old first son drawing , the inn and the ‘fincas’ along the river with the olivetrees and the highway bridge in the direction of Granada spanning the valley. The painting was shown in an exhibition at Oele Gallery in Amsterdam September 1998

I will go into the Spanish period in later posts

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Advice to younger colleagues

The studio...Posted by Stijn Peeters Fri, November 02, 2018 11:21:17

From the very moment you made the brave, overconfident, reckless, socially inconvenient decision to apply at an art academy, I have seen you as a young colleague. I, too, decided I was going to be an artist when I was 17. A little hesitant at first, I spent my time around art, but more so on the applied side of things, which seemed to offer a little more financial stability. But after graduating, I took the plunge. I turned 60 last year and haven’t regretted my choice for even a single day. I couldn’t have wished for a more fulfilling life.

Now this is the part where I’d talk about the downsides – they do exist, but I’ll put it off for a while as you’re already getting hit over the head with downsides in this day and age.

I was probably quite headstrong and curious about studying everything I didn’t know yet, very much at ease with contemplating, reading and observing. Realise that we didn’t have smartphones or computers, and unless you wrote letters or used a landline to make phonecalls, you could be out of touch with everyone but the people in your direct surroundings for months. I recall the oceans of spare time, the boredom, but also the freedom to pick up whatever captured my fascination. I had no learning goals or a master plan whatsoever, but I was aware that I knew very little indeed. Newspapers, literature, poetry, history, philosophy, the bible, biographies, even encyclopaedias – I read everything I could get my hands on, often several books at once. Sometimes I wouldn’t be sure why I even picked up a book after having finished it, at my wits’ end that I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the writing, let alone to contextualise it.

Having been trained as an illustrator, I suffered from an abundance of effect-oriented mannerisms; my drawings were focused on visual niceties, and were disconnected from the function that drawing should serve. The means to understand a shape, tracing its outlines, observing the play of light on it. It wasn’t until a lot of time and practice later that I managed to learn to do boring, investigative drawing with the purpose of getting a feel for the shape before starting on a painting. These are drawings that you can’t sell, they’re found in a sketchbook or on a sheet of paper that you cut templates from.

I often say I’ve had to learn everything by myself, I tell people I’m a self-taught painter, forgetting the semiweekly model drawing classes, the practical training in the graphics room, with a teacher and unsupervised on Fridays (hurray!), typography, typeface drawing and calligraphy, graphic design and working in the in-house printshop serving the applied departments, photography, analogue, both black-and-white and colour. And all this for three years.

My understanding of art history was limited at the time, I thought I was a real hot shot doing my graduation thesis on “abstract book illustration”. Limitations notwithstanding, it introduced me to notions like visual poetry, Paul van Ostaijen and Guillaume Apollinaire, illustrations by Jean Arp, poetry by Francis Ponge (“listen carefully and you’ll find almost everything can’t talk”) and the concept of an artist’s book.

That may sound pretty clever, but in my studio in a squatted building, above a Turkish club, I was mostly studying Matisse, Dufy, while also doing material etchings I printed on a wooden mangle. My paintings generally featured my new girlfriend and me, naked on a bed (Luxe, Calme et Volupté). This new girlfriend and I have stayed together ever since, and she was the one who pushed me to apply at Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht.

My advice to you, young artist, whether you’re a lad or a girl, is that it’s best to enter a relationship while the both of you are still developing. That way, you can grow together, both in your own way, since you do have to give the other person space. And if you’re lucky, you’ll grow older together, and as long as you keep living your own life and have friends of your own, you’ll still be exciting to one another. It’s always handy to be with someone who needs as much freedom as you, as it’s nothing but trouble when people demand your attention when you’ve just sat down to read something beautiful, or when you’re delving deeper into your visual research. Taking on too many responsibilities is also something to be wary of, especially in the early days of a relationship; decorating your rented flat with trinkets from a thrift shop is a lot wiser for an artist than settling down. You may also want to avoid having children at an early age: spending a lot of time together, travelling, looking around, exhibiting, creating, and then, if the relationship lasts, having kids is great too.

Like so many things in (an artist’s) life, it takes luck. There are limits to the amount of control you have. When it comes to having kids, being with another artist is ideal. You can set your own times, allowing you to take studio and parenting days at will, plus time for yourself (even if that just involves sleeping or dreaming in your studio) and the intimacy of your newborn love.

Try to stay close to yourself in your studio and make sure you can empty yourself. That’s not always an easy task, especially after an exhibition where you didn’t get any sales, after unkind remarks by gallery people and family members, not having a gallery at all is no walk in the park either. Broken promises, radio silence when you’d expected contact, after a rejected grant request or exhibition proposal. Feeling jealous is counterproductive – it’s just the reality of working in a field where many (good) colleagues are active, and limited budgets mean choices have to be made between the good ones. Life is most pleasant for those who show good sportsmanship, exchange advice and offer help.

At the risk of sounding too soft, jealousy is best replaced by competition. I have interpreted artistic letdowns as a call to action to improve my work even further, phrase my thoughts even more clearly, communicate even more carefully and astound my audience with undeniably great work. “Something ‘they’ can’t ignore.”

It’s also wise to avoid sticking around in bad collaborative situations for too long; if there are any business partners you’re constantly having angry internal dialogues with, you should at least tell them what’s on your mind. And if you can’t have a proper conversation, there’s no saving that working relationship. Ending it is preferable to staying in a bad one. Sure, you need to be pragmatic, but your inner stability is what counts. Aside from the lovely people working in galleries, there are also some who don’t have those people skills. And your identity and productivity as an artist is of daily essence to you, you have your own best interests at heart, while a gallery can only divide its attention among the artists it represents. It’s not an equal relationship, that’s just the way it is.

It’s important to keep an eye out for small successes, things in your direct surroundings. Being an artist means you’re in it for the long haul, and you can expect to discover new aspects of yourself throughout your whole life. You find yourself making things you could only have dreamt of years before. What has aided me the most is studying; improving and broadening my technical and artisanal skills. Being eager to learn about new materials, their properties and the way they can be used. Taking the time for this allows your brain to breathe, your thoughts about, say, a new motif can enter a more relaxed train of thought, and hey presto!, the thing you were trying to force through just happens of its own accord. For me, this also happens when I copy “the masters”. Spending more time looking at your predecessors’ works transports you into their thoughts and the decisions they took as creators, which is very educational.

Another recommendation: try to view as much contemporary art as you can. Schedule a day a month to visit all the galleries you can find in a city, write down your observations, the things you’ve read, and what stood out. This is the world you belong to. Don’t stick to the comfort zone of art you like the feel or medium of, but try to understand the concept behind work that’s less approachable to you. Choose a different city every once in a while, but be sure to make the rounds regularly, so you get to know the exhibition policy and artists at various galleries and other art spaces. When a gallery owner sees you drop by more often, he or she will understand that you’re interested in what they do. This can lead to them asking you what you think of a given exhibition. That’s the beginning of a conversation right there – networking in practice. Even if you’ll never show any work there yourself, it’s a joy to walk around a major art fair where you have plenty of contacts; a chat here, a compliment there, maybe even a retrospective on the days of yore and the exhibiting artist’s new work, and you’ll have carved out your own place in the art world.

Do not under any circumstances blithely walk into places showing off your portfolio, nobody’s got time for that sort of thing. The only outcome will be an awkward situation and hurt feelings.

Be sure to contribute to (group) exhibitions whenever you can, you’ll also meet artists on your monthly gallery tour, discuss each other’s work and arrange plans for new possibilities. If you have it in you, you can write a blog, analyse or observe the work of your colleagues that stands out to you, and publishing magazines or pamphlets can help foster recognition. My magazine Ezel, which is currently Dutch-only, will soon be offered at art fairs in Shanghai and New York with an English translation, and my expectations are high. After all, despite the fact that I’m past 60 and have seen plenty of successes, I’m still incredibly eager to find out what I can achieve in my work.

There’s much more I want to say, but I think you’ve probably heard enough out of me at this point, we can always carry on our conversation when we run into each other in this beautiful field of ours. We’ll travel together for a while, and then continue on our separate, great adventures.

(this letter was written for Witte rook, Breda and published on their website)


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