Marriage à-la-Mode

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Marriage à-la-Mode (William Hogarth, 1697 – 1764)Marriage à-la-Mode (William Hogarth, 1697 – 1764)

Hogarth was a painter, printmaker, satirist and social critic all rolled up into one. He enjoyed poking fun at people. To this day critics describe paintings done in his style as ‘Hogarthian’. The French expression à-la-mode means done according to the current fashion. In this picture, Hogarth is pointing fingers at arranged marriages.

Marriage ethics were the subject of heated debate in 18th Century Britain, as the new industrial class jumped status by marrying into wealthy aristocratic families that had money to invest. In this version of Marriage à-la-Mode (there are six in all) the artist depicts a disconnected husband wishing he were somewhere else, and his wife clearly on another planet.

Hogarth lived at a time when lithographers were finding ways to reproduce paintings, and introducing commercialised art into peoples’ homes. Writers had begun producing novels with a moral twist. Hogarth described himself as ‘painting and engraving modern moral subjects … to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture was my stage.’


Gabendorf II

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Gabendorf II (Lyonel Feininger, 1871 – 1956)Gabendorf II (Lyonel Feininger, 1871 – 1956)

Lyonel Feininger was born in New York to a German violinist and an American singer. They encouraged his artistic talent and sent him to Germany to study further at age 16. He began his career as a cartoonist, but from age 36 onwards branched out into fine art, photography and writing music. He returned to America in 1937 when Nazis declared his work ‘degenerate’ and threatened to arrest him.

He painted this picture in 1926 when he was at the peak of his creative curve. This is a superb example of architectural drawing with transparent overlapping geometric planes in the Cubist style. Notice how they combine in an infusion of browns and yellows, as if we were walking through morning mist in the Weimar District of Germany.

Lyonel Feininger did not return to Europe when the war was over. Too many of his Jewish friends had suffered Nazi atrocities for him to bear. He spent his declining years painting and teaching art. His two sons also became artists. I find it so sad to discover yet another life half snuffed out by war, but encouraged that he passed the baton on.


The City Dream

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The City Dream (Victor Brauner, 1903 – 1966)The City Dream (Victor Brauner, 1903 – 1966)

The Surrealist movement aimed to build a bridge between reality and fantasy. This echoed a growing tendency to externalise dreams as encouraged by psychologist Sigmund Freud. Brauner was thirty-four years old when he created this masterpiece. By then, he had lived among the artist community in a Paris commune for a while, before returning to his native Bucharest and joining the Communist Party.

After he exhibited his work in 1935 a critic wrote, “In contrast to what one may see for instance in the neighbouring exhibition halls, Victor Brauner’s painting means integration, an attitude that is a social one, as far as art allows it”. So what then does the City Dream have to tell us? It is clearly quite militaristic in tone.

I am torn between two choices. I think this is either a corrupt pre-revolutionary leader the people have turned away from, or a post-revolutionary vision of a transformed world. I do not think it really matters whether we agree on this or not. Surrealism invites us to explore our fantasies, each of which is unique. This is also a very good study in perspective.


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