Wintertag Kurz vor Mittag

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Wintertag Kurz vor Mittag (Paul Klee, 1879 – 1940)Wintertag Kurz vor Mittag (Paul Klee, 1879 – 1940)

This painting titled ‘winter day just before midday’ dates from 1922. When I saw it I was keen to know more about the artist behind it, and just what inspired him to be so far ahead of his time. In the first instance Paul’s mum was an amateur painter and his dad a professor of music, so he had a head start growing up in a creative home.

He studied art in Munich in 1898, where he excelled in drawing. However his sense of colour remained undeveloped until he experienced the bold use of it by the emerging Cubist movement. After a visit to Tunisia he wrote, “Colour has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever… colour and I are one. I am a painter.”

He became an art teacher after a spell painting camouflage on First World War airplanes. Despite this the Nazis singled him out for being Jewish, and he lost his job. He took refuge in Switzerland in 1933 where doctors discovered he had a wasting disease. His son placed the following remark on his tombstone after he could no longer sustain the fight, although he painted in great pain until the end.

“I cannot be grasped in the here and now … for my dwelling place is as much among the dead as the yet unborn … slightly closer to the heart of creation than usual, but still not close enough”.


Children’s Sumo Class

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Children's Sumo Class (Kawanabe Kyosai, 1831 – 1899)Children’s Sumo Class (Kawanabe Kyosai, 1831 – 1899)

Artists have strong opinions that they express through their work. Kyosai was certainly no exception. He lived during the period when Japan emerged from feudalism into a modern state following a period of upheaval, and was highly critical of some leaders. He went to prison three times for his trouble.

He was also something of a ribald character, which means the opposite of refined. Contemporaries wrote of him as undisciplined and seldom far away from his favourite saké wine. Whether it is true that he created his best work when he was drunk, I do not know. Let us consider his work instead.

Sumo is the Japanese style of wrestling in which opponents try to force each other to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of their feet. The children waiting their turn are as uproarious as children ever are. In the background, the revolutionary politicians are already behaving like little emperors. I think this drawing is great fun!


Apache Scouts Trailing

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Apache Scouts Trailing (Herman Wendelborg Hansen, 1854 – 1924)Apache Scouts Trailing (Herman Wendelborg Hansen, 1854 – 1924)

The Apache are a group of native American-Indian tribes linked by a common language. They defended their homeland vigorously when European settlers arrived but were hopelessly outnumbered. They used finely tuned instinct and local knowledge to resist defeat for many years. These days, they live in reservations where they are mere shadows of their former selves.

Hansen was born in Germany and lived there until he moved to London in 1876 at the age of twenty-two. The following year he moved to Chicago, America to study at the Art Institute. After he settled in San Francisco, he began to make treks into the ‘Wild West’ that is the subject of so many cowboy movies. His paintings appealed to city folk who were becoming conscious of their national identity.

Hansen’s work is illustrative as opposed to being original or creative. He had a fine eye for detail and a great love of horses. He has captured this dry, dusty scene perfectly in frozen animation, and created a pictorial history that might otherwise have been lost. By the time he died there were hardly any horses left. Like the Apache warriors, Henry Ford’s Model T car had triumphed over them.


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