Miguel Blay: The First Cold

Miguel Blay ~ Los primeros frios (The First Cold ) ~ 1892

Miguel Blay y Fàbregas (1866-1936) was a Spanish sculptor who should be better known today. He was only 15 years older than his peer Pablo Picasso, like most of the artists featured on this site, Blay’s work has been overshadowed by the trends in modernism. I find it rather odd that Blay’s best known work Los primeros frios is classified as a modernist piece.

Blay was born in the city of Olot, to a humble family. He began his formal education in the Municipal Drawing School and the studio of El Arte Cristiano where he was a disciple of Josep Berga i Boix and the painter Joaquim Vayreda. In the studio of El Arte Cristiano he drew and painted various religious pieces. At the end of 1888, he receives a grant from the provincial government of Girona to study in Paris.

In Paris he studied at Ecole des beaux-arts and at the Academie Julian under the sculptor Henri Chapu, whom Blay credits to having a large influence on his sculpture. Blay leaves Paris for a few months to study in Rome and return to Olot. In 1889 he won a gold medal in the Universal Exhibition in Paris and the following year was  named knight of the French Legion of Honor. In 1892, Blay competed in the National Exposition of Fine Arts and won first prize for his work Los primeros frios (The First Cold). The piece was also awarded a gold medal in Barcelona in 1894.

Miguel Blay ~ Los primeros frios (Detail) ~ 1892

Although several sites document Blay’s The First Cold, there is little information available concerning the symbolism of the piece. Most of the articles claim that the work reflects the influence of modernism through the sculpture of Rodin. Like the Impressionists, Rodin did not finish the surface of his work. Many of Rodin’s sculptures actually look unfinished. It was difficult for me to judge the surface quality of Blay’s piece from many of the images available on the web. But this detail of The First Cold makes it clear of how fine his technique was. Blay had such a mastery of the medium that he was able to accurately sculpt the texture of the wrinkles of the old man’s skin. This certainly not an “Impressionistic” sculpture!

Miguel Blay ~ La niña desnuda ~ 1892

La niña desnuda was created as a study for The First Cold. Some may refer to this piece as an example of Blay’s “modernism” due to the way the figure emerges from the stone as some of Rodin’s figures. But Blay’s delicate modeling of the young girl is nothing like Rodin’s bumpy gouged roughened surface found in a study for a monument to Balzac. I would say the expression of Blay’s piece is anti-modern because the essence of modernism is a cold formalism which suffers from an ascetic conception of life.

Miguel Blay ~ Los primeros frios (The First Cold) ~ 1892

I thought there may have been a meaning for the title Los primeros frios in the Spanish language that doesn’t exist in the English translation. I asked a friend who is fluent in Spanish if there was a subtext for the title in Spanish culture. He seemed to indicate there was none by saying “It probably had to do with the first onset of Winter, the hunger and cold that looks ahead.” But I believe the title implies more than an allegory of the changing of the seasons. I did find an article that stated “The “cold” is not only a low temperature in this sculpture but it can also represent the bad times that are coming, politically and socially, and can refer to the passage of time, to the cold of the death of the older man, with respect to the girl’s youth.” But I feel the article understated the depth of the “cold” anticipated by the piece. I think the words of Max Weber come close to expression of the work: “Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness”. Weber was speaking of the drastic dehumanizing effects of modern organization on society. Works like The First Cold are rarely sculpted today because we live in the age of icy darkness.

Miguel Blay ~ Los-primeros-frios (The First Cold) ~ 1892



Alphonse Osbert: Aloof Muses

Alphonse Osbert ~ Muses: The Waterfront

Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939) was a French Symbolist painter. It is often noted that Osbert’s technique was influenced by the pointillism of the Post-Impressionist Seurat, however the philosophy reflected in Osbert’s is very different from the Impressionists. He was heavily influenced by Puvis de Chavannes’ serene art. His style consists of ghostlike Muses in dark mysterious landscapes, rendered with an abundant use of blue. Osbert’s more artificial approach may have been due to his associated with the order of Rosicrucianism.

Alphonse Osbert ~ Vision de Sainte Genevieve

I know little about the Rosicrucianism movement but it seems that the movement was a form of mysticism. Although there are various forms, mysticism regards the physical world lower than the spiritual realm. The pleasures of nature are considered bad, an obstacle to a spiritual destination. Osbert’s allegorical figures are reminiscent of Puvis Chavannes paintings of women, yet they are more impersonal. Although Chavannes idealized his images of women, he painted them interacting with others; life is being lived. The figures in Osbert’s Vision de Sainte Genevieve are more active than in most of his painting but the figures are so bloodless that the effect of the painting approaches Surrealism.

Alphonse Osbert ~ Harmonie du Soir Sur La

Osbert’s paintings of Muses holding lyres looking off into the distance lack the warmth of the allegorical figures of previous periods. I believe this reflects the psychology of Osbert and many of his contemporaries. The aloof Muses may be a manifestation of the difficulty to imagine a woman as truly warm and forthcoming. The preceding generation of artists (for example, the Pre-Raphealites) often painted women to express ideals which stood apart from the values of the institutions of men. By the late 19th century, women began to enter world system, many adopted the impoverished values of bureaucracy/affluence. There was a loss confidence in the transcendent “Good”, rather reality was perceived in the terms of material goods.

Puvis de Chavannes ~ Hope ~ 1872

One of the most popular paintings of the period was Chavannes’ Hope. The painting is a bit unconventional in that the figure is seated not in a tranquil place but rather in a modern landscape. Ruins of a building and a graveyard contrast the gentle form of the girl. The painting could have been titled Peace as well as Hope. The nude figure can be interpreted as symbolizing the peace which existed in the Garden of Eden. A state the soul longs for, but a longing punitive rationality dismisses as mere lust. Unlike the figures of Osbert, Hope engages the viewer offering a flower. Hope’s warm face has a personality which is lacking in Osbert’s ghostly figures. Since a mature modern woman had become unconvincing as a bearer of virtue, many artists at the turn of the century painted the Muse as a radiant young girl.

The Surrender of Liberty

Peace silver dollar ~ 1935

Many years ago I noticed that the iconography of US coins changed in the early 20th century from images of the allegorical figure of Liberty to profiles of presidents. Like most, I didn’t recognize the significance of the choice in figures. The change in images was reflected in art as well; nymphs and other mythological figures were common in fine art and illustrations up until the 1930’s. H.R. Rookmaaker claimed “Venus was killed in the 18th century;” however, I believe her “death” did not occur till much later. The image of Liberty struck on coins reflected a belief in principles external to man. I am certain that the change in coin iconography which occurred during the early 20th century reflected a significant transition in world-view. The transition from a society with faith in transcendent principles to one with a faith in the rationality of progress.

flowing hair dollar ~ 1795

In 1789, the United States Constitution granted Congress the power “to coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures”. While debating the specifics of a Mint Act in 1791-92, a number of proposed coin types were struck by private individuals bearing the image of President Washington. For many, the notion of an engraving of the president’s image on a coin was too monarchical. Most historians believe that George Washington himself disapproved of seeing his image on coins. Mint Director James Ross Snowden wrote in 1861:

“It is a well-ascertained fact that Washington did not favor the proposition to place his likeness upon the coins of the United States. It is even said, that when several specimens of that description were exhibited to him, for inspection and approbation, he indignantly ordered the dies to be destroyed; and expressed his desire that there should be placed on the coins an ideal head of Liberty.”

Walking Liberty half-dollar ~ 1929

Neil Postman, in his significant book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology makes the case that faith in technology and technical progress has become a religion. Since the benefits of technology are obvious, faith in God has been compromised. In the search for scientific knowledge there was great advancement for the domination of nature. But in this one-sided view of reality, religious faith was lost along with the humanistic values bound to it. Theology once provided people the authorization for how to live but by the mid-20th century the role of technology became so powerful that it determined the direction of society. Postman wrote:

“In a technocracy, tools play a central role in the thought-world of culture. Everything must give way, in some degree, to their development. The social and symbolic worlds become increasingly subject to the requirements of that development. Tools are not integrated into the culture; they attack the culture. They bid to become the culture. As a consequence, tradition, social mores, myth, politics, ritual, and religion have to fight for their lives.”

Liberty quarter ~ 1916

The transition of coin images coincided with the rapid technological development of the mid-20th century. The figure of Liberty which symbolized liberal democracy with its transcendent narrative was forfeited for images of men. This reflects a confidence in men making rational decisions to suit them in what Francis Schaeffer called the “material-energy chance universe.” If human beings are biochemical machines which evolved by chance, then liberty is a merely an arbitrary social construct. By the mid-20th century this view became influential. Politics which are based in this materialistic view of humanity, will disregard the dignity of individuals as B.F. Skinner did in order to maintain the collective stability of society while conditioning society with illusions of “progressive liberty.” Many women who aspire to advancement in the technocratic system would view allegorical images of Liberty from the subtext of “commodity capitalism.” The figure would not be perceived as reflecting an aspect of the Platonic “Good” but only Marxists goods. Feminist theorists, like Mary Devereaux, would read such a depiction as an”oppressive text.” In the final analysis, Liberty would be deemed “politically incorrect.”

Donald Trump coin ~ 2017

In truth, there are no grounds for values from technocracy; it gives no foundation for action in life. Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia stated in an address to the U.S. Congress, “We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of our actions- if they are to be moral – is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my firm, my success.” The United States was not merely an experiment in a new form of government; it was founded on transcendent principles found in the Bible. Scripture provided a base for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The great shift came with the commitment to technical progress that has its origin in the Industrial Revolution. This development has disenchanted men from transcendent principles. Most men in positions of authority, only have confidence in their rationalism; they are like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia character Trumpkin, who claims, “I have no use for magic lions which are talking lions and don’t talk, and friendly lions though they don’t do us any good, and whooping big lions though nobody can see them. It’s all bilge and beanstalks as far as I can see.” Today, politics are defined by Trumpkins who hold the “material-energy chance view of final reality.” Schaeffer wrote:

“The result of the original base in the United States gave the possibility of “liberty and justice for all.” And while it was always far from perfect, it did result in liberty. This included liberty to those who hold other views – views which would not give the freedom. The material-energy, chance view has taken advantage of that liberty, supplanted the consensus, and resulted in an intolerance that gives less and less freedoms in courts and schools for the view which originally gave the freedoms.”

The Chronicles of Narnia ~ Prince Caspian (film still) 2008





Arthur Hacker

Arthur Hacker (1858-1919) was a versatile late Victorian artist. His work spanned a wide range of subjects, from genre and portraits to religious and mythological subjects. This makes him a bit difficult to define, but his most distinctive works reflect the spirit of the Pre-Raphealites. He established a lucrative portrait painting practice in the early twentieth century. Narrative paintings like And There was a Great Cry in Egypt made Hacker famous and popular in the 1890s. But as the taste for grand paintings began to wain in the twentieth century, he concentrated upon portraiture and genre subjects. Like many of the artists featured on Celestial Venus, Hacker is not very well-known today despite being prosperous in his own time.

Arthur Hacker ~ Abundance ~ 1916

At first glance, Hacker’s allegorical painting Abundance looks as if it was painted in the seventeenth century but it was actually painted in 1916. The style of work has qualities of both Mannerism and the Baroque, so it’s a bit surprising when one reflects that it was painted at the same time Picasso was working in the cubist style. The first image I saw of the painting was very small, the brush work seemed to smooth as in classical paintings. But when I found a large image of the work, I was surprised by the loose rendering of the painting.

Arthur Hacker ~ The-Annunciation ~ 1892

I think Hacker’s Annunciation is his most beautiful painting. The contrast of the golden and blue palette gives the painting an ethereal mood. I’ve noticed how English art remained traditional in the early twentieth century while other European artists were experimenting with modernism. I suspect that this because English artists still held the spirit of Romantic resistance. Since England was the birth place of the industrial revolution, with its, as William Blake said, “dark Satanic mills.” English culture developed an awareness of the ills of modernism. But artists native to less developed countries, Picasso from Spain and the Futurists from Italy, looked to technical progress as the goal of existence. The “dark Satanic mills” became a standard of aesthetics.

Arthur Hacker ~ By The Waters of Babylon ~ 1888

Arthur Hacker ~ And there was a Cry in Egypt ~ 1897

Arthur Hacker ~ Persephone

Arthur Hacker ~ The Sea Maid

Arthur Hacker ~ Vale of Farewell ~ 1913



Anna Lea Merritt: Love Locked Out

Anna Massey Lea Merritt (1844–1930) was an American artist. She painted portraits, landscapes and religious scenes but she is best-known for Love Locked Out. As a young girl, Anna Lea Massey taught herself to paint, but later she studied anatomy at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. After moving to Europe with her family in 1865, she took formal art lessons in Italy, Germany, and France, becoming a versatile artist and writer. The Massey family moved to London in 1870 to escape the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1871 she met he future husband Henry Merritt (1822–1877), a noted art critic and picture conservator. They married 17 April 1877 but he died 10 July the same year. She had no children and did not marry again. Merritt spent the rest of her life in England, though with frequent trips to the USA, with exhibitions and awards in both countries.

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Eve ~ 1885

Eve Overcome with Remorse was Merritt’s first success, it won a medal when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy but attracted censure because Eve was nude! There were restrictions during the 19th century for women painting nude figures. Merritt’s strongest works express remorse which seem to reflect the loss of her husband. Eve Overcome with Remorse was the first work by a woman ever purchased by the British government.

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Eve ~ 1887

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Love Locked Out ~ 1890

Merritt painted Love Locked Out in memory of her late husband. She had hoped to have the image done in bronze as a monument, but could not afford it. The single painting brought her considerable fame, a political cartoon reflects how the fame of the work lasted till the 1950’s. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890, it was so well received that it was purchased for the British national collection, Queen Victoria herself was a fan of nude artworks. Aware of her viewers’ delicate sensibilities, Merritt painted Cupid as a nude child instead of an adult to avoid the controversy. But she broke with convention by depicting Cupid without wings. Unfortunately, most of Merritt’s other paintings seemed to have vanished without trace.

The Tate gallery label for Love Locked Out reads:

Cupid, the god of love, is shown here trying to force open the door of a mausoleum. Merritt made the picture in memory of her husband, who died within three months of their marriage. Both Merritt and Cupid face the task of conquering death, which they are bound to fail.

The depiction of the male nude by a female artist was a contentious issue in the late-nineteenth-century art world. Merritt escaped censure by choosing to paint a child, rather than an adult. Children, she believed, were less conscious of nudity and had ‘no sense of shame before artists’.

Merritt Anna Lea Merritt ~ War

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Piping-Shepherd

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Annunci

Annie Swynnerton: New Risen Hope

Annie Louisa Robinson Swynnerton (1844–1933) was an English painter whose work reflects a transition from Pre-Raphaelitism to Symbolism. She trained at the Manchester School of Art and the Académie Julian in Paris. Swynnerton was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artists George Frederic Watts and Edwards Burne-Jones as well as by the rustic realism of the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage. She was an active feminist and suffragette and co-founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters in 1876. Although she may have been regarded as “liberal” in her time, her activities as a feminist reflected humanism within the framework of the traditional religious and philosophical view of the world.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton~ Cupid and Psyche ~ 1890

The Manchester Art Gallery is currently holding the first major exhibition of Swynnerton’s work since 1923. One site makes the claim that her work fell into obscurity during the 20th century due to “dominance of male artists, administrators and historians in the art world and prejudices that deemed women incapable of creative thought and vision equal to men”. Such a claim is severe disinformation. Male artists as well as females who expressed the metaphysical tradition in the early 20th century were marginalized by modernist agendas.

As I did research for this post, I found articles on online which placed Swynnerton’s activity within the framework of a socialist class struggle but none which focused on the poetry of her art. The lead sentence for the Manchester Art Gallery Swynnerton exhibit web page claims she “challenged convention in art and life”. Give me a break, Swynnerton’s lovely Cupid and Psyche doesn’t challenge convention any more than  Bouguereau’s figures challenged convention. Yes, there were restrictions during the Victorian period prohibiting women from painting nude figures but the freedom Swynnerton sought was not a transgression against tradition. Many feminist theorists such as Mary Devereaux would regard Cupid and Psyche as an “oppressive text” and would object to Swynnerton’s seeing the world “thought male eyes.” Only feminist doublethink could appropriate Swynnerton’s art.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ Illusions

I’m sure when Swynnerton’s painting was titled Illusions there was an understood allegorical meaning of the painting. Swynnerton was a symbolist painter, I assume she would have hoped for an interest in her symbolism! I couldn’t find any articles online that interpreted the title of the painting but I did find a site that describes the painting as a “half-length portrait of a young girl with blonde hair, dressed in a suit of armour and chain mail…A bird sits on the girl’s right shoulder with a ploom that extends dramatically to the chest area.” The “bird” that sits on the girl’s shoulder does not have an eye or beak since the feathers are part of the girl’s left wing, part of the other wing can be seen to the left of the girl’s sun lit hair. The girl in Illusions is a painting of what is known to people with traditional beliefs as an angel. As far as the interpretation of the painting, my best guess is that the angel is visiting from the metaphysical realm, she has extended her right hand to touch our world, but fortunately, she is armored against the illusions of materialist perception.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ New Risen Hope ~ 1904

Several of the articles I found on Swynnerton gave attention to the loose brush work of her paintings, comparing her work to the Impressionists. But such a comparison is misleading, English artists had painted with loose brush work since the time of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792) founder of the Royal Academy. Reynolds’ loose hand was actually was the source of scorn for the original Pre-Raphaelites. But later Pre-Raphaelites, such as George Frederic Watts painted with looser strokes, in turn, Swynnerton was inspired by Watts’ work. So Swynnerton’s loose hand was certainly not a challenge to convention.

A preoccupation with brush strokes is like reading a poem to enjoy the sound of the words without reflecting on what the words mean. The most “challenging” aspect of Swynnerton’s art is the symbolism of her paintings which is generally ignored. The subtext of New Risen Hope reflects a faith in the innocent subject who has not been disenchanted by the artificial organization of the modern world. Rather than placing faith in the collective progress of intuitions, the painting expresses the sacramental dignity of being human. The semantics of New Risen Hope are in complete opposition to the transhuman arc.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ The Sense of Sight ~ 1895

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ Oreads ~ exhibited 1907

Joseph Bouvier: Le Printemps

Laurent-Joseph-Daniel-Bbouvier ~ Le Printemps ~ 1870

Laurent-Joseph-Daniel Bouvier (1841-1901) was a French academic artist. There is literally no biographical information for him on the internet. I came to know of Bouvier from a reference to him in a book covering the figurative work of the American portrait painter John Sinnger Sargent. A reproduction of Bouvier’s charming painting Le Printemps was featured, which honestly, I found the painting more appealing than any of Sargent’s work in the book. William Bouguereau appears to have held the same opinion, he thought Sargent was “a clever youth but on the wrong track.” Although Bouvier was not as advanced in technique as Bouguereau, the composition of the girl sitting in the flowering tree is quite original.

Miss Crab Nebula


This site was created to cover art and culture, but since it is called Celestial Venus, it reasonable to focus on the relationship between science and culture. I’m rather disgusted by the state of science today. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Star War films, as a child I imagined we would have huge space stations orbiting the Earth by the 2010’s. It’s 2018 and we are far from having a public space station. Instead of serving society, science is often used as a tool of manipulation by the synarchy.

Playboy Bunny ~ circa 1970

Traditionally, the images of culture nurtured the heart and mind. Beautiful figures of women were rendered to express the highest principles of Western culture. But the radiant torch of culture has been extinguished. The unenchantment of modern times has caused the implosion of the image. Herbert Marcuse brought attention to the “new authoritarianism” which is able to provide “satisfaction in a way which generates submission and weakens the rationality of protest.” Marcuse’ s term for the submission, “repressive desublimation” is an illusion of hedonism. Once Playboy Bunnies hopped their way through every slick movie. Today, Men are given images in more perverse forms to narcotize them into submission, in reality the sexes have become profoundly estranged from each other due to the shackles of corporate life. In actual lived experience, men avoid contact with women for fear of charges of sex harassment.

Miss Crab Nebula

In the field of science there are other forms of manipulation, which could be called “astronomical repressive desublimation.” The ambitions of space exploration have been forfeited for a spectacle. Here’s the centerfold of Miss Crab Nebula, she’s a gorgeous supernova!

Miss Messier 83

Here’s an other airbrushed beauty, Miss Messier 83. She measures over 40,000 light-years, making her much more petite than our own Miss Milky Way. But she is quite similar to our own galaxy. Both galactic beauties possess a bar across their galactic nucleus.

Miss Sh 2-106 in the constellation Cygnus (The Swan)

Without a doubt, Miss 2-106 deserves her title as the Celestial Centerfold of the Year.

All the previous images, I am sure are actual photographs of heavenly bodies. But like the playmates in Playboy, the cosmic beauties of NASA have become less real as time went by. Of all of the images of celestial centerfolds, the most deceptive are the images of Miss Black Hole. Any images of black holes which are similar to the previous images are fantasies more wild the Barbie Twins. This is due to the nature of black holes, since they are stars that have burned out, illuminating no light. Obviously, a mass no matter how large it is, can not be seen if there no light to illuminate it. Scientists presume these dark stars are in the universe and it is reasonable that they exist. But the only way they are detected is by observing wavelengths with a spectrograph. The ionized magnesium (mg II; blue) represents the mass of the suspected black hole. Since spectrographs of black holes are not going to turn anybody on, they give us CGI fantasy.

Kubricks’s vision of 2001 versus the reality of 2018

NASA’s budget for 2017 was $19.65 billion, I would say that is absurd that taxpayers  get only celestial centerfolds for such an astronomical figure. I suppose NASA must do some practical things, like maintenance on AT&T satellites. But with a budget of $19 billion a year, we should have a REAL space station like the one orbiting the Earth in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Such a station is within the limits of today’s technology. Compare these two images. The above image is a still image again from Kubrick’s 2001. A group of civilians are seen chatting inside the space station, the Earth can be viewed from the window to the left. This is the kind of relationship people should have to technology. Science should be used as only as tool to effect nature but should not set the values for culture.

The photograph of the Facebook controller Mark Zuckerberg with a crowd wearing virtual reality headsets is a striking image of the actual relation between technology and society. The technology isolates the people from interacting with each other in the real world while providing illusions of reality to narcotize them. It may seem my claim is an exaggeration but why is it that none of the local art galleries show figurative art? The lack of images of human interaction in contemporary art reflects this profound state of alienation. Much of my time is spent trying to wrestle people free from these illusions. I can imagine taking the virtual reality headsets off of one Zuckerberg’s slaves and saying “The images in those headsets can not be trusted, they are not reality. Come and interact with me in the real world. Help me free the others.” But the slave would respond by saying,”Of course you say this doesn’t exist….but your own ignorance is what exists…. absolutely.”

Miss Black Hole’s screen debut in Walt Disney Pictures The Black Hole 1979

For example, an article on the web site of the Smithsonian claims that “the universe could be a hologram, a computer program, a black hole or a bubble…Just like the plot of the Matrix, you may be living in a highly advanced computer program and not even know it.” The first thought that came to my mind after I read that sentence was “they really have lost their sanity!” I am certain the claims are a form of psychological manipulation. Not only the claims of this article, the manipulation is also in the philosophy of materialism that was spread by Stephen Hawking. He supposedly said,”What I meant when I said we would know “the mind of God” was that we would know everything God would know if there was a God, which there isn’t.” The excessive claims of near omniscience made by the gatekeepers is recognized by the artist scientist Miles Mathis as a complete sham. The media often makes claims like ” science is unlocking the final secrets of universe”, the fact is, we are not even close since Mathis found errors in the equations of Albert Einstein. Of course Mathis has been criticized from the gatekeepers but he is beginning to have influence. Mathis wrote an article in response to the notion of all know physics. The google search results for ‘all know physics’ shows Mathis’ article comes 1st before articles on the topic published by Forbes and physicforums.com


Ferdinand Hodler

Alongside Arnold Böcklin, Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) advanced to become the most important Swiss artist of the 19th century. As has been recognized and increasingly stressed in recent times, from an international point of view he ranks amongst the most individual “stylists” of his age and among the great innovators of European painting around 1900. Hodler, who came from the plein air painting of the Barbizon school, subsequently embarked along a more expressive path characterized by a hard, angular manner of painting, a rigorous draughtsmanship and a strongly rhythmical composition. From the late 1880s onwards, line began to assume an ever more prominent role, with the result that Hodler in places approaches the linearity of Art Nouveau; for the most part, however, his works remain more realistic, weightier in their forms. The expression of his figures is often akin to Paul Gauguin’s interest in seeking a harmony with nature in life. The idealistic and symbolic references full of pathos that characterize the themes of Hodler’s art make him one of Symbolism’s chief masters and most striking personalities.

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Night ~ 1890

Ferdinand Hodler ~ The Truth II ~ 1903

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Spring ~ 1901

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Communion with Infinity ~ 1892

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Enchanted Boy ~ 1894

Ferdinand Hodler ~ The Consecrated One ~ 1894

David Hamilton: The Enormous Bliss of Eden

I think it’s quite possible that the 1960s represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished and that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now, and that, from now on there’ll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing.  ~ My Dinner with Andre

David Hamilton (15 April 1933 – 25 November 2016) was a British commercial and fine art photographer. He is best known for romantic soft focus photographs of young girls. Today would have been his 85th birthday. Hamilton’s work reflected the spirit of the 1960’s counter-culture. The dissenting youth of the 1960’s were a mass movement which had its grass-roots in early 19th century Romanticism. The youth rejected the impoverished values of the advancing technocracy: personal peace and affluence. The utopian group understood the total threat of the machine which is now eating up the biological core of humanity. Hamilton has said that his work looks for “the candor of a Lost Paradise”. But his vision of the Garden of Eden is threatened today by political intolerance and a jaundiced eye. I was fortunate to discovered Hamilton’s work when I was fourteen, the same age as many of his models. His tranquil images have been a great influence on me as a painter. If it was not for Hamilton’s enchanting vision, I may have been swept away by the postmodern tide of self annihilation.

David Hamilton ~ The Lost Sheep, Bornholm ~ 1984

I’ll begin with an image that is not common for Hamilton’s work. Could The Lost Sheep be a satire of the aesthetics of formalism? The photograph reminds me of the abstract modernist work of painters like Mark Rothko. When you look at the picture from a distance you can’t see the sheep, just blurry areas of light and dark. This is the sort of thing that is encouraged by the current art establishment. The photograph bares a resemblance to zombie formalism. The formalism reflects an absurd ascetic materialism which has lost contact with emotional and physical life. The lost sheep will invest thousands and in some cases millions of dollars for what?

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

 I first encountered Hamilton’s work many years ago in the film review magazine Preview. There was advertisements for photography books at the back of the publication. Images from Hamilton’s book were presented with the images of other photographers. I despised the commodification of women reflected in the images of the other photographers. The sentiment of Hamilton’s work was different. I recall, there was an image of group of girls skinny dipping by a misty lake. The image reflected an innocence which is apart from the competitive economic concerns. It is an error to read his work as an expression of the “sexual revolution” which allowed women to be equal partners in the societally sanctioned roles of materialistic conquest.

David Hamilton ~ from Dreams of a Young Girl ~ 1971

My appreciation of Hamilton’s work at a young age is parallel to CS Lewis’ interest in Romanticism. A Pilgrims Regress was an allegory of Lewis’ journey to Christian faith. John, the main character in allegory, has a vision of the home of the Landlord, an ethereal island inhabited by “small-breasted Oreads, wise like gods, unconscious of themselves like beasts.” This brings a painful longing to John, filled with a desire to find the island, he sets out on a quest. Since the story is an allegory, the narrative is to be understood symbolically. The ethereal island is apparently a symbol of heaven and paradise, the home of the God. Much of the great art of Europe was drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, the Oreads were the nymphs of the mountains. Rather than see the nude figures as just an object of lust, very often the figures reflected a desire for the prelapsarian state. In Transposition and Other Addresses, Lewis wrote: “We do not want merely to see beauty… We want something else which can hardly be put into words, to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves.”

David Hamilton ~ The Three Nymphs, Ramatuelle ~ 1988

Frank Schaeffer makes the point in his insightful Sham Pearls for Real Swine that traditional artists working with classical nude themes are caught in a miserable dilemma. Both the Christian fundamentalists and skeptical postmodernists are indifferent to ideas expressed in traditional western art. The mass media’s preoccupation with sexual violence has perpetuated this state of alienation even further. It has become nearly impossible communicate a deep understanding of tradition subjects. Schaeffer gives the following example:

“There are some African languages in which the future tense does not exist. (This linguistically reflects a theological belief in animistic fatalism.) Thus for some tribes there is no way to discuss the future as we would understand it; what the ancestors did of old will be done again tomorrow. An African health worker who is confronted by such linguistic barriers to progress and tries to explain some future project, for instance changing a tribal custom in a way that will be of benefit hygienically, has a nearly impossible task. The very words do not exist with which to describe a different future reality.”

To discuss traditional nude figurative art one is faced with an opposite challenge. Both political sides of contemporary society are alienated from their cultural traditions and rituals of past reality. When I look at this photograph, the first thing that comes to my mind is the classical Greek theme of the Three Graces. The overwhelming beauty of the figures express Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden. But to the sham swine and lost sheep, the three girls are just wasting their time, they really should be sitting in school to get a good education to be productive citizens.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

Since the cultural traditions have become alien to the collective social conscious, the subtext of Hamilton’s work is often misunderstood. Granted, Hamilton’s work had more acceptance when it was created due to the counter-culture’s attempt to maintain the subjective values of culture. Hamilton said the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach was an influence on his work. Cranach’s dainty figures of Eve and Venus resemble some of Hamilton’s standing figures. Schaeffer explained the subtext that many Renaissance artists worked by:

“The Florentine philosophers and theologians during the Renaissance taught that of the two aspects of love, divine and earthly, divine love was superior. To express contempt for the things of this world, they believed that divine love should be symbolized by a naked woman. Earthly love was portrayed as a clothed woman, rich dressed and bejeweled.”

The innocent girls in Hamilton’s work can be interpreted as reflecting a contempt for things of this world. This was the spirit of the dissenting youth who rejected the plastic culture which is poor in its sensitivity to nature and beauty. Of all of Hamilton’s photographs, this is probably my favorite image by him. The sweet girl appears to be writing a heart in the sand with her foot. Such an image is a world apart from the sham swine and lost sheep.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

I recall a few occasions when I showed photographs of petite models to friends. I recall my friend complained that Kate Moss was so flat that she look like a twelve-year-old. Then he raved about how breast implants are so great. My other friend responded in a similar way to Guinevere Van Seenus, we were looking at different models in French Photo magazine. He said he liked all the models but then he pointed to the photo of Guinevere and said, “except for that.” I considered Guinevere to be the most lovely of girls in the magazine! These experiences actually infuriated me, many men suffer from a perverted perception of beauty due to mass media images. Not only are young women made to feel inferior if they do not measure up to Hefnarian standards, but men who are attracted to petite women can be made feel there something wrong with their attraction. The beauty of this fair maiden is so overwhelming, it certainly does not matter that she has a little bust.

David Hamilton ~ Mina ~ 1983

Mina was one of the most recognizable models who posed for Hamilton due to the distinctive dimple in her chin. This simple portrait is a masterpiece of form. Such expressions of the heart seem to belong to ancient times.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

I am aware that some of Hamilton’s photographs are erotic but my view of beauty was fortunately shaped by his more innocent images that I knew when I was young. This beautiful girl appears as if she is praying. The lost sheep obviously have no tolerance for that. They assume that she should have the privilege of a cell phone with unlimited data, talk and text…… the true path to happiness.