The Google Doodle for Shin Saimdang brought this Korean artist (1504–1551) to my attention. She painted botanically-correct plants and insects, and the way she fits into Korean culture is interesting.
Saimdang is one of her pen-names; her real name was Inseon. She was a calligrapher, poet, writer, embroiderer, and painter, although she is most noted for being the mother of the famous Confucian scholar Yulgok. She died at age forty-seven, when he was fifteen, and is credited with educating him so well that he went on to kick ass on all his civil service exams, even the optional ones.
Shin’s upbringing was highly unconventional. At a time when Korea’s Confucian culture demanded women leave their homes at marriage to be (only) Good Wives and Wise Mothers, Shin experienced education far beyond what a woman would normally have. She was the eldest of five daughters, and her grandfather decided to invest his resources in her as if she had been a boy (as he had done for her mother, also). Her husband, Commander Yi Wonsu, allowed her to take care of her parents after their marriage.
It was this unique situation, along with high social status and servants, that allowed her to raise seven children, several of whom became civil servants and artists. It might be considered ironic that being treated like a boy in her youth resulted in Korean culture remembering her as a “model of Confucian ideals” and the “face of Korean motherhood”.
She became the first woman to be printed on South Korean money in 2009; this bill, and another with Yulgok’s portrait, features some of her paintings.
Below are the few artworks I could find on English websites. Her insects are stellar; contemporary legend goes that chickens would mistake her painted insects for a real ones and peck at them. (Titles are descriptive only.)
And I still think de Lempicka’s is a great example of Art Deco style. However, it has a definite sensuality and life to it that I think other Art Deco artists lack.
de Lempicka was born in 1898 in Poland and her parents and relatives were very rich. She grew up vacationing and attending school in all the best places in Europe and it probably never crossed her mind that she would be anything other than rich her whole life. Her name then was Maria Gorska.
At age sixteen or seventeen, she became Maria Lempicki when she married a poor lawyer, Taduesz Lempicki. Her (rich) uncle gave her a dowry.
The couple lived in St. Petersburg for a year, during which she probably gave birth to her only child, Kizette. The sources vary on when and where Kizette was born but agree that Maria was very young. So young, in fact, that in later years she often pretended Kizette was her younger sister.
Taduesz was arrested during the Russian Revolution. The story goes that Maria used her feminine wiles to free him from prison. They escaped to Paris, where she changed her name to Tamara de Lempicka. There, her wealth and artistic ability kept her in the most exciting and exclusive social circles. She became friends with famous photographers and reproduced dramatic photographic lighting effects in her paintings.
With World War II on the horizon, she moved to the U.S, living in Hollywood and New York with her new husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner. (Taduesz had proved to be a ladies man and didn’t want to work, while Tamara had numerous affairs with both men and women, so neither was happy in the relationship.)
Unfortunately, Americans were more interested in her title and social activities than her art, and her career declined over the next twenty years. She moved on to painting with a palette knife and abstract art.
But, as she lived to the age of 82, she saw her works rediscovered in the 1970s. Her legacy of strong, sensual, and modern female subjects found a new audience, including famous collectors like Madonna and Barbra Streisand.
I like de Lempicka’s intensity, command of light and shadow, how she fused the sharpness of Cubism (which I’m not fond of) with the lushness of the Renaissance, and how she continued painting portraits long after portraiture became dominated by photography.
He constantly sought to break down compartmentalization, and, indeed, even in his own art he defied categorization and created a universe uniquely personal.
~Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) was a Russian artist and writer fascinated by the world. He traveled extensively, wrote poetry, and produced thousands of paintings with subjects ranging from landscapes in Maine to the Buddha meditating in a cave.
Roerich was the son of a lawyer and was brought up to become one, but he was interested in art, science, and archaeology from a very young age due to the guests that frequented the upper-class Roerich home. When it came time for him to go to college, his father let him go to both law school and art school (probably hoping he would exhaust himself and drop out of art school!).
Through this arrangement, he gained a friend in law school that helped him in the worlds of art and theatre. Sergei Diaghilev was a fellow law student who invited Roerich to contribute to his magazine, The World of Art, and eventually introduced him to the famous composers of the day. Roerich designed the sets of many stage productions, including the then-inflammatory The Rite of Spring, a collaboration between Roerich, composer Stravinsky, and choreographer Nijinsky. (Anna Pavlova was a dancer in this ballet – lots of talented people involved!)
Another partnership that benefited both parties was with Helena Shaposhnikova, his wife. He met her after graduating, just before he was about to embark on a tour of Europe’s cultural sites. She was a pianist, polyglot, eventual art restorer, and all-around brilliant woman. In his journal, he wrote,
I dedicated my books to Helena, my wife, friend, traveling companion, inspirer! Each of these concepts was tested in the fire of life. And in Petersburg, Scandinavia, England, America, and in all Asia we worked, we studied, we broadened our consciousness. Together we created, and not without reason is it said that the work should bear two names—a feminine and a masculine.
Nicholas and Helena, and eventually their two sons, traveled all over Russia, Europe, the United States, and Asia. One of their great accomplishments was a research tour of Asia, in which they recorded the religion, customs, artifacts, and languages of India, Tibet, Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan (modern-day Xinjiang), and Altai (the modern-day Altai Republic). Roerich made five hundred paintings about the excursion.
Roerich hoped for an enlightened humanity in the future, united “in Beauty and Knowledge.” Starting in 1914, he campaigned for an international law to protect the ancient cultural and religious treasures of all nations, during wartime and peacetime. Twenty-one years later, in 1935, the Roerich Pact was signed by the United States and other members of the Pan-American union. (It would be great if everyone signed it, though!)
I encourage you to browse for more of his works. Obviously I could only choose a few out of his seven thousand.
She never wanted for money, as she and her husband came from the upper class. She was tutored in art by her uncle (she often visited him in Florence, Italy) and attended Slade School of Fine Art, Britain’s most prestigious art school. Her husband, William, designed ceramics and was a friend of William Morris (Jane Morris’s husband). Although they worked in different media, the couple inspired each other creatively.
Besides art, the De Morgans were involved with the Women’s Suffrage movement, pacifism, and Spiritualism. De Morgan was deeply affected by the Boer War in the 1880s and World War I. She had an exhibition in 1916 of peace-themed artworks to benefit the Red Cross, and, to mark the 100-year anniversary of WWI, there is currently an exhibit of her pacifist paintings at The Arts & Crafts House at Blackwell, a museum in England. The exhibit continues through September 13.
I really like the Renaissance flair of the Pre-Raphaelite style in general, and De Morgan’s paintings are no exception. The theme of light and dark can often be seen in her body of work, and she executes that theme in ways that aren’t always in the stereotypical bad vs. good way. She has detailed backgrounds and employs an extensive knowledge of symbols to emphasize her subjects.
Here are some beautiful De Morgan paintings:
Not only is this painting below very well done, the painting within it is interesting. I assume it’s Jesus and St. Francis, but I’m not sure who the woman is. It almost looks like Jesus is marrying them, since he has their hands touching. Maybe it’s St. Clare?
I love the companion pieces Cassandra and Helen. The two women are kind of like bookends to the Trojan War: when Paris kidnapped Helen and brought her to Troy, his sister Cassandra, who could see into the future, warned everyone that this act would result in the destruction of the city. So Helen’s arrival is the beginning of the war and Cassandra’s vision is the end.
Evelyn De Morgan brilliantly contrasts the two women while mirroring their poses: Helen holds up her hair to admire it while Cassandra tears at hers in angst; Helen’s background is a tranquil body of water while Cassandra’s is the burning city (with the Trojan Horse in the center left); the roses at Helen’s feet are fresh and white, while Cassandra’s are red and dying.
I first heard about Dido Elizabeth Belle on Medieval People of Color (which I featured as an Art Discovery). She was super cool – the daughter of an admiral and a captured African slave from Spain, she was educated and seemed to have enjoyed a level of freedom and respect rarely experienced by women, black people, and/or illegitimate children in the 1700s.
She’s the subject of the film Belle, which I encourage everyone to watch if you get the chance!
Dido Elizabeth Belle was raised with her cousin in the house of her great-uncle, who was Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. She took charge of portions of her great-uncle’s estate and assisted him with his correspondence, which I’m sure was complicated business.
I drew her fairly quickly with pencil. I made her eyes super big because her portrait has those idealized big eyes too.
Every month, I profile an artist who inspires my own art, in several segments.
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) needs no introduction. He is an extremely well-known woodblock print artist; his images appear everywhere from posters in the workplace to math books to the film Labyrinth. I was ridiculously fortunate to view an exhibit of Escher’s work a few years ago, and I was just wiped out at the end – it was so amazing.
Obviously my four posts this month can’t do Escher’s art justice, so I strongly encourage you to research his massive body of work. My resources are at the bottom of this article.
Escher was born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, to George and Sarah. His father was Chief Engineer for a government department and Escher initially entered college to study architecture, but quickly switched to graphic design. Drawing had been the only subject he’d ever liked in school, and a university teacher (Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita) encouraged him to change majors. Escher probably went into woodblock printing because he had taken carpentry classes as a child.
Escher was very lucky to have been in college during World War I – he was able to defer military service in 1918; the next year, he was rejected by the military, probably because of his poor health.
After leaving school (it’s unclear to me whether he graduated or not), Escher attempted to sell art but wasn’t particularly successful. He had a few commissions and he also had some prints made to sell. In 1922, he vacationed in Italy and Spain to get inspiration. The landscapes and cities had a great affect on him, especially those in the south that had Moorish influences. It’s easy to see how Moorish architecture and decorative design sparked Escher’s lifelong exploration of “the regular division of the plane”.
Escher met his Swiss wife, Jetta Umiker, while she was vacationing in Italy and he was exhibiting his works. He proposed to her the next year, when she and her family returned. In 1924, nearly a year after the proposal, they married in Italy and honeymooned in Genoa (Italy), Annecy (France), and Brussels (Belgium). They lived in Rome for eleven years (1924-1935), having two children there.
Every spring, Escher and a group of artists traveled extensively to make sketches and get inspiration. Escher’s parents provided him an allowance to support his family and art during this time, but he sold many prints, published a book of artwork (Emblemata, 1932), and illustrated for books. Art critics described his work as “mechanical” and “reasoned”.
The Escher family moved to Switzerland in 1935 as the political situation in Italy shifted towards fascism. Jetta and M.C. disliked Switzerland, however, missing the warmth of Italian country and culture. Escher traded a few paintings in exchange for travel on a Mediterranean cargo vessel, and over the next few months, he visited Venice, Ancona, Bari, Catania, Palermo, Genoa, and other cities; Jetta met up with him near end of the ship’s run and they finished the trip together. At the end of the year, 1936, Escher began exploring perspective tricks and Moorish art again.
Unlike Alphonse Mucha, Escher escaped the ravages of World War II by returning to the Netherlands in 1938. This is when his inspiration turned inward: previously, he had reproduced Italian vistas and architecture, but he found nothing interesting to draw in the Netherlands, and so explored “the interpretation of personal ideas”.
The Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940; although Escher was able to continue working under the occupation, the man who had convinced him to study art, Samuel de Mesquita, died in Auschwitz. After the war, Escher was instrumental in preserving his mentor’s artworks and arranging an exhibit for him at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Escher himself had works in an exhibition of anti-Nazi artists, after which he gained several commissions. In the years after the war, his fame grew slowly but steadily: he lectured, had exhibits, attracted commissions, and was the subject of magazine articles. In 1957, he was unexpectedly awarded a Knighthood of the Order of Oranje Nassau. Writing to his son, Arthur, he said:
…did you ever imagine that your dad, who lives so far away from the bustle and intrigue of the world, working on his prints day after day like a hermit, would some day be drawn into the sickening scene of vain officialdom, despite himself? However, there is one thing they will never get me to do and that is wear a decoration in my buttonhole. When I’m tired, I occasionally travel second class on the train and I see one of these important gentlemen wearing his decoration. Their deliberate pose and condescending self-satisfied smiles clearly distinguish them from the sad anonymous crowd with empty buttonholes.
But what on earth can I do about it? Luckily I can swear by God and all his angels that I never moved a finger to get the decoration or licked the boots of any bigwigs.
In the early 1960s, Escher published a book of 76 prints with notes called Grafiek en Tekeningen. This book caught the attention of scientists, and Escher lectured internationally to mathematicians and crystallographers. In 1965, Professor Caroline MacGillavry wrote Symmetry Aspects of M.C. Escher’s Periodic Drawings, which focused on the geometric qualities of his works.
From 1964 on, Escher experienced ill-health. He hung on for another eight years, dying in 1972. In that time, he slowly completed projects (his last was Snakes) and enjoyed more popularity from a biography titled The World of M.C. Escher, published in 1971.
Join me this month as I present M.C. Escher’s traditional works, intriguing tessellations, and experiments with perspective.
Every month, I profile an artist who inspires my own art, in several segments.
Golden Eyes is one of several characters Nell Brinkley created to grace the covers of American Weekly. “‘Golden Eyes’ and Her Hero ‘Bill'” was a cover serial, which is what it sounds like – a story told in segments that appeared on the covers of the newspaper supplement.
This first image is a picture of Golden Eyes that appeared in The Seattle Sunday Times as an advertisement for Liberty Bonds. It demonstrates Brinkley’s solid command of line and movement, as well as emotive posture and facial expression. It also shows Uncle Sam, Golden Eyes’ dog, and a cherub/Cupid figure that Brinkley inserted into many of her works.
“‘Golden Eyes’ and Her Hero ‘Bill'” and its sequel “‘Golden Eyes’ and Her Hero ‘Bill’ Over There” tells the story of a young lady and her fellow, who is a soldier sent overseas during World War I. Golden Eyes decides to become a Red Cross nurse to follow Bill to France, taking Uncle Sam with her. You can read the twenty pages of both serials at The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library.
In No. 3, a shell has hit Golden Eyes’ ambulance (she is an ambulance driver) and she wanders, lost and wounded in the shoulder. Stumbling across a German patrol, she thinks quickly and gives Uncle Sam her Red Cross band in the hopes he will run to Bill.
Uncle Sam returns just in time to save Golden Eyes from a rape attempt, concealing a message from Bill that help is on the way. Bill and his regiment arrive just as the German soldier is about to shoot Golden Eyes in the trenches.
After her rescue, Golden Eyes spends some time in Paris, helping French war orphans, receives a medal, and returns to being a nurse. In No. 10, she and Uncle Sam overhear Germans planning a raid on Bill’s trench. Although the Allies beat back the Germans, Bill is wounded and Golden Eyes drags him back to safety. Interestingly, this part of the tale (No. 13) is told by Uncle Sam, the dog.
Golden Eyes’ story ends with marriage to Bill and raising their baby in France while Bill participates in reconstruction efforts.
Brinkley’s language is ridiculously propagandist and patriotic, but probably not more than anything else written at the time. Although the serial ends with a fairytale marriage and happily-ever-after, it features some pretty rough aspects – attempted rape, captivity, execution averted at the last minute, dead soldiers on the battlefield.
The most interesting line, in my opinion, is from “Over There” No. 7:
Had “Bill” seen her, this strange girl who was his and yet not his, curving like a vampire above her fallen foe, he would scarcely have known her smile—a smile of fear, triumph and hate!
It’s an interesting blend of propaganda, drama, and realism; and Golden Eyes certainly plays the central role in her own story.