Still Life with Cooking Utensils, Cauldron, Skillet and Eggs (Title in French: Ustensiles de cuisine, cauldron, poêlon et œufs) by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699 – 1779) was an 18th century French painter. His impeccable skill in rendering the paints has created scenes of human characters in everyday life and was also known as the master of still life painting.
Chardin, was apprenticed for a short time but largely self-taught; was known for his carefully balanced composition, background, rendering of lights, colours and textures. Initially he painted animals and fruit, by the 1730s he introduced kitchen utensils into his work, and soon human figures occupied his canvases or wood panels. In 1756 he returned to the subject of the still life. Chardin said about painting, “Who said one paints with colors? One employs colors, but one paints with feeling.”
Still Life with Cooking Utensils, Cauldron, Skillet and Eggs (Title in French: Ustensiles de cuisine, cauldron, poêlon et œufs) was painted in 1733-4 measuring 21 x 17cm and is residing in Louvre Museum, Paris.
Still Life with Cooking Utensils, Cauldron, Skillet and Eggs was one of Chardin earlier painting before he reached the height of his fame in 1740s. The items selected seem to be getting ready to cook for breakfast instead of for their shapes, textures and colours. Besides conveying the visual pleasures that he experienced in looking at them, Chardin strove for an overall effect, a unity of tone, colour and form.
The main focus is the large copper pot in the middle. The handle of the copper pot, the small container on the left with the skillet on the right formed the triangular golden rule in composition. The sprig of green onion sticking out of the table is a common display in Chardin’s still life paintings, more profoundly shown with the handle of a knife jutting out of the table in his other still life painting. The presence of the organic softness of green onion and eggs create contrast to the hard utensils.
Chardin’s still life still appeal to modern eyes because of the unified composition, pure forms uncluttered by emotion and details. He has imparted a message through his paintings and that is to see beauty in everyday objects. His paintings provides something of an existential experience, it is as though one is seeing the object for the first time.
In 1767, Denis Diderot wrote, “We stop in front of a Chardin as if by instinct, like a traveler weary of the road choosing, almost without realizing, a place that offers a grassy seat, silence, water and cool shade.” These words bear more than a passing resemblance to Matisse’s, who wrote nearly a century and a half later, in 1908, that he dreamed of an art “for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
As Chardin’s eyesight failed later, he switched to pastels to paint portraitures but were not well-received and he lived the rest of his life in quiet obscurity till mid 19th century when he was rediscovered and influenced many artist including Courbet, Manet, Cezanne, Matisse etc.
Gleaners by Millet
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was a French painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. Millet is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers. His empathy for their difficult lives came from his own farming background, he said, “I have never seen anything but fields since I was born, I try to say as best I can what I saw and felt when I was at work.”
Millet was trained in art in Paris and later returned to the village of Barbizon in the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1849, escaping from the cholera epidemic which followed the 1848 French Revolution. Life in rural agricultural landscape dominated Millet’s subject matter even though this topic was not well received during that time when the poor drastically outnumbered the rich and there was a nervousness in the revolutionary climate but he held on to his stance.
The Gleaners was painted around 1857 is one of the most well-known of Millet’s painting. The size of the painting is 85.5 x 110 cm which is an uncommon size used to portray the working peasants during that time. Gleaning, since ancient time, had been common practice among the poor. It was the gathering of leftover crops from fields that had just been harvested.
The painting featured 3 women bending down, picking up as many strayed grains from the ground as they can. Tied around their waists was calico apron with deep pockets to hold the grains. All 3 women wore different colours bonnets to keep their hair out of the way while doing the repetitive and backbreaking motion.
Millet smudges the distance into a powdery golden haze, the slanting light of the setting sun accentuates the 3 women in the foreground. The sunlit horizon picked out the women’s full body and brightens the colours of their clothing against a busy crowds of workers and loading the wagon with bales of harvested wheat. The laden wagon of rich harvest was a stark contrast against the meagre ears of wheat held in the 3 women’s hands which they were gleaning to feed their families.
Millet’s consistent feature on the agricultural landscape with the presence of peasants working often involved the cycles of nature, whether seasonal or the hours of the day, which seem to inform the viewer on the endless, timeless round of labour of the farming peasants life.
The Gleaners was not well received when it was shown at the Salon in 1857, it drew negative criticism from the middle and upper classes, who declared that he was glorifying the peasants. It was not until after the artist’s death that it become popular.
Gleaners是米勒最著名的绘画之一，于1857年左右绘制的，描绘在此期间工作的农民从刚收获的田地中搜集剩余的谷物。这幅画的尺寸是85.5 x 110cm，是一个不常见的尺寸，因为当时少数画家会用这种尺寸的画布画农民。这幅画的特点是3名女性弯下腰，尽可能地从地上搜集食用谷物。围着腰部的是印花布围裙，有深口袋可以储放谷物。所有3名女性都戴着不同颜色的帽子，以固定头发，不会妨碍她们进行重复和反复的搜集动作。
Dance in the Country by Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir needs no further introduction. He was a leading voice in the development of the Impressionist style. This 19th century artist is a celebrator of beauty and feminine sensuality.
In Renoir’s word: “For me, a picture should be something likable, joyous and pretty – yes, pretty. There are enough ugly things in life for us to add to them.” Thus to Renoir, painting acts not so much as a mirror of life but as an escape from it.
Renoir had painted numerous paintings on dance and party scenes. In this life-size painting, measuring 180cm x 90cm, a couple is seen dancing under a chestnut tree. Set in the open air, this painting depicts the merriment of country life. There is a sense of carefreeness, clearly evident from the hat dropped in the foreground or the disorderly table left behind by the couple who are swept away by the music.
The woman dancing is Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife, she holds a fan in her right hand, displays a smiling face and looks towards the viewer or the artist (Renoir)? She is wearing a bright red hat, her costume is in white with small orange red florets, which is a contrasting colour against her dancing partner, the man named Paul Lhote, a friend of Renoir, dressed in blue suits.
在雷诺阿的话中：“对我来说，一幅画应该是可爱的，欢乐的和漂亮的 – 是的，漂亮的。生活中已经有足够的丑陋事物无需让我们再加入其中”。因此，对雷诺阿来说，绘画不仅仅是生活的一面镜子，而是一种避世。
舞蹈和派对场景经常是雷诺阿绘画的主题。在这幅真人大小的画作中，尺寸为180厘米x 90厘米。 两个人在栗树下, 露天的场景跳舞。这幅画描绘了乡村无拘无束的生活乐趣，从前景中掉落的帽子或凌乱的桌子可见。这两个人已经全神贯注于音乐, 快乐地跳舞。
舞蹈中的女士是雷诺阿未来的妻子Aline Charigot，她右手拿着扇子，向着观众或画他们的雷诺阿露出笑脸？她戴着一顶鲜红色的帽子，她的服装是白色的，带有小橙红色的小花，与她的舞伴有着鲜明的对比，这穿着蓝色西装的绅士名叫Paul Lhote是雷诺阿的朋友。
Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor
Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) was a Swiss German artist. He painted on small-scale but towards his death, switched to work on bigger scale, often used geometric forms and grid format compositions as well as letters and numbers with playful figures of animals and people. His ‘childlike’ forms are embedded with influences from poetry, music, dreams and transcendental philosophy.
Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor was painted in 1923 at age 44. The write-up on this painting by The Met: “this work, with its humour and grotesque fantasy, may strike many viewers as the quintessential Klee. Imaginary beasts float within a transparent ventriloquist who appears to be all belly – except for a pair of legs, tiny arms and a head without mouth. The little creature inside the ventriloquist may symbolizes the odd noises and voices that seem to come from there. Yet why he stand on a small gangplank in a swamp and cries is everyone’s guess”.
The swamp is indicated by the background grid of warmth earth colours that turns dark toward the centre and against the figure portraying the transparency ‘body’. As if attracted by the animal sounds above him, a stray fish is about to enter a net hanging from the lower part of the body, perhaps to join the menagerie within.
Abstraction to Klee is the way the artist painted the picture and not at the picture’s message. He called it pictorially pure relations: light to dark, colour to light and dark, colour to colour, long to short, broad to narrow, sharp to blunt, left right – up down – behind before, circle to square to triangle. He said “Art does not reproduce what is visible, but makes thing visible. The nature of graphic art easily makes abstraction tempting, add rightly so. The imaginary character is both blurred and has a fairy-tale quality about it and at the same time expresses itself very precisely. The purer the graphic work, i.e. the greater the importance attached to the formal elements used in the graphic representation, the more inadequate the preparation for the realistic representation of visible thing.”
Klee passed away at age 61. In his words: presumptuous is the artist who does not follow his road through to the end. But chosen are those artists who penetrate to the region of that secret place where primeval power nurtures all evolution.
“口技和喊叫的摩尔” 绘于1923年, 在Klee 44岁时。背景网格由温暖的大地色调朝向中心变暗，透明的人物图形仿佛被他上方所吸引，一条鱼即将进入人物下部悬挂的网状物，也许是为了加入腹部的动物园。The Met写了“这部作品，以其幽默和怪诞的幻想，可能很多典型的观众不能轻易接受。虚构的人物, 除了一双腿，小胳膊和没有嘴的头部漂浮在一块木板上, 像是透明的腹部里的小动物似乎象征着腹语。或意味着那不明的奇怪的声音。然而，为什么他站在沼泽地的一个小跳板和哭泣就不得而知”。
Klee的抽象绘制方式，传达的不是图片信息而是他把它称为 “图形纯粹的关系”：从浅到深，从颜色的深到浅，从颜色到颜色，从长到短，从宽到窄，从尖到钝，左右, 向上 – 向后 – 向后，从圆到正方形到三角形。
Portrait of Dr Gachet and Foxglove
Portrait of Dr Gachet was painted by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh in 1890. The size of the painting is 67x56cm and was sold to a private collector through Christie’s New York in 1990 at US$82.5 million.
Dr Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909) was the doctor who took care of Van Gogh during the final months of his life. From Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo, his first impression on Gachet was not favourable as he felt Gachet is sicker than he is but after two days, Van Gogh’s impression on Gachet changed completely and said that he had found a true friend, like another brother and that they resemble each other physically and also mentally.
It was mentioned that there are two versions of this portraiture, the second version looked less finished. Both were painted in June 1890 when Van Gogh was discharged from an asylum at Saint-Remy and went to stay in Gachet’s second home in Auvers. This painting featured here is the first version sold through Christie’s New York, depicted Gachet sitting at a red table with his cheek resting on his right hand. The dark colour coat highlighted Gachet’s tired, pale facial features. His heavy-lidded eyes seem to be in deep thought gazing at nothing exuded a sense of melancholy and compassion.
There are two yellow books on the table; Germinie Lacerteux (1865) and Manette Salomon (1867), both by the Goncourt brothers, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. The two novels are depressing in content—Germinie Lacerteux is about a young servant who lives a debauched life and dies miserably in the workhouse and Manette Salomon describes the lives of four more or less unsuccessful painters.
In the foreground of the painting, one cannot miss a vase of purple medicinal herb known as foxglove. The foxglove is also known as fairy thimbles, witches’ gloves and dead men’s bells. The drug Digoxin is derived from this plant. The side effects affects the vision, imparting everything with a yellow hue and a halo. It is thought that some of Van Gogh paintings were painted under the influence of this drug which was prescribed at the time for epilepsy and mania (Van Gogh might be suffering from both).
The foxglove’s prominent place in the composition, might serve as a badge for the physician or the sombre purple blue hue has in come ways toned down the bright red table cloth and extend the melancholic feeling.
In Van Gogh’s word “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”
“Art” at the birth of word means “to put things together”, it is a verb instead of noun. To use the word “Art” as verb, “Creation” became repetitive.
The impulse to create is inborn in human. Since Palaeolithic time, art was infused with daily living connected to spirituality but to-date it has been institutionalized and separate from daily life. It has been commodified and requires expert to determine whether it is art.
Art creation is integrated with the social structures, their subject matter may be influenced by the art academies, systems of patronage or cultural background. These creations usually arise with an intent to communicate. And by posing questions on how these arts were created, a new set of ideas about the nature of art, artistic practice and the meaning of art may evolved. The question on what is Art may be as difficult to define as the question, who am I?
On the other hand, animals built nests, bee hives, cocoon, web etc for survival and reproduction, they may not (except Bower Birds?) be inspired by aesthetic or narrative ideas. But from the human perspective, that creations has become an object of beauty to mimic. An architect may observe the bee hives and transform it into a magnificent building. Artist is able to see or observe and transform natural shapes – metaphorical. Metamorphic translations is a necessary faculty for the creation of art, for example, Picasso see the number 7 as an upside down nose.
In art creation, making things is a powerful act rather than the ‘things’ you make. It is the making itself, the experience. One do it naturally, beautifully without a hint that we have done anything that has to do with art. The work of art lives in the experience, the journey within the process not resulting monument to be presented. It is a process of putting things into some order, it is the process of organizing ‘truth’ around a person nucleus.
Lilas et Roses
A still life painting by Edouard Manet in 1882. The size of the canvas is around 32x25cm. Painted in oil with his remarkable loose brushstrokes and sense of light are two roses and some delicate sprig of lilacs. The greyish background colour brought out the colours of the blooms.
Christie’s Senior Vice President Jessica Fertig said that it was more than a demonstration of the Manet’s skill because he often gave still life paintings of fruits or flowers to friends. As Fertig explains, ‘Manet was visited by his friends in his Paris apartment, and would often paint the bouquets they brought. Each one relates to the person who gave it, thus becoming an illustration of their relationship and in some sense immortalises the giver.’
Lilas et roses was painted during the final six months of Manet’s life. This particular painting was a gift to Ginevra Hareau de Villeneuve, the daughter of his doctor. Manet said, ‘A painter can say everything he wants with fruits or flowers, or even clouds. You know, I would like to be the Saint Francis of still life.’ Still life occupied one fifth of Manet’s paintings.
Most of Manet’s subject matters in his paintings focusing on observing the social life in 19th century Paris. People are depicted drinking beer, listening to music, flirting, reading or waiting. Among these paintings, there are a few well known controversial pieces like Olympia (1865) and Dejeuner sur I’herbe (1863) translated in English Luncheon on the Grass.
Lilac et roses with the simple subject of a vase of flowers exudes an endearing sense of presence. This painting was later owned by David Rockefeller who hung it in the front hall of his primary residence.
Titus van Rjin (1641 – 1668) son of Rembrandt
Titus is the son of master painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Saskia van Uylenburgh. He was the only child of four by Saskia who has survived infancy. His face has appeared in several of Rembrandt’s paintings. Titus grew up to be an artist but he died at a young age of 26 in 1668, a year before Rembrandt himself.
Majority of Rembrandt’s paintings are portraitures and self-portraitures. It seem that the study of human face fascinated him more than anything else. This portraiture was painted in his signature dark earth tones and golden highlights. The boy’s body and costume have been painted with a few broad and steady brushstrokes over the rich, dark background. Details were applied to the collar, hair and head with techniques of glaze and impasto. The face seem to be more finished compared to the cloak on his body.
The story on how this painting came into the scene as written by Christie Auction house was that in 1815, a British restorer named George Barker missed his boat home and took refuge in a farmhouse near Hague. Barker spotted this portraiture by Rembrandt on the farmhouse wall, and offered to round up the bill for the night’s lodging to one shilling – if the farmer would agree to throw in the painting. This painting reached Britain, where it remained until its sale at Christie’s 150 years later around 1965.
According to Christie’s Auction House, prior to the introduction of the paddle system, buyers were allowed to choose their own bidding signals. The American industrialist and collector, Norton Simon’s bidding instruction for this painting was misread and it was sold to Marlborough Fine Art in London at 700,000 guineas. Simon was enraged and demanded that bidding be reopened and won by an additional 60,000 guineas.
Simon’s obscured bidding signal’s instruction was intended to help him hide from press attention. But this incident has put him on the front cover of Time magazine that year. Today the portrait hangs in Simon’s museum in Pasadena, California.
The background story of the painting may bridge some links with the viewer. However, when viewing a Rembrandt’s portraiture, one should not focus so much on his mastery of techniques but instead felt the intangible characteristic of the human personality. Look at the face, the sensitivity and emotions of the eyes, be connected with the humanity portrayed on the canvas.
The Kiss was painted by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918). It was painted on a square canvas measuring 180x180cm and this painting is currently housed in Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
Gustave Klimt is one of the greatest painter of the Art Nouveau period. He was a successful painter of large paintings in public buildings. His style of paintings has evolved into a more ornamental and sensuous style synthetizing swirls, shapes, colours, gold and silver leaf.
This painting, depicting a couple locked in intimacy, their bodies enveloped in elaborate robes was painted in decorative style with oil paint and gilded with gold and silver leaf. It was mentioned that this style was influenced by the Byzantine mosaic arts, during his visit to Italy in 1903. But before his visits in 1903, gold and flatness composition has already appeared in his creations for example his Beethoven Frieze (1902).
There are several theories as to who are these two character in The Kiss. Popular perception is that they are the painter himself and his long-time partner, fashion designer Emilie Floge. Or it may be an allegory of Zeus kissing Danae in a shower of gold. Sister Wendy Beckett in The Story of Painting mentioned: The Kiss is a fascinating icon of the loss of self that lovers experience. Only the faces and hands of this couple are visible; all the rest is a great swirl of gold, studded with coloured rectangles as if to express visually the emotional and physical explosion of erotic love.
In this painting, the man’s head seem to touch the edge of the top canvas. Both the bodies are kneeling on a patch of flowery meadow with tendrils flowing from their robes. The man’s robe is decorated in masculine geometric shapes of rectangles in black and white colours while the female has feminine floral in circular shapes on her whole body from head to toes.
This painting, The Kiss has break new ground for Klimt. As his previous painting often depict dominating woman compared to this woman who is submissive and yielded to the man with abandonment with her arm clinging on the thick and masculine neck of the male.
Still Life by Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s (1571-1610), an artist whose paintings and personality was surrounded with riddles and tragedies. All levels of society from peasants to aristocrats played a part in his life and being his subject matters in his paintings.
Initially, Caravaggio painted fruits and flowers as accessories to the human figures. Basket of Fruits was painted around 1599, was one of his early masterpiece in still life. It was written that this still life was painted as the result of obsessive study of the objects depicted.
Eberhard Konig in his book Masters of Italian Art: Caravaggio (page 28) mentioned that according to Charles Sterling, an authentic still life is born on the day a painter takes the fundamental decision to take a group of objects as a theme and to organize them into pictorial entity.
Like the French form, nature morte, the phrase “still life” principally reflects an artistic process. This combination of words originating from the milieu of art does not means that life that stands still or dead nature, but the reproduction in paint of immobile or dead objects direct from life or direct from nature. Accordingly, like the portrait, the still life aims at imitatio. In other words, Caravaggio’s principle of portraiture could just as well be understood as his principle of still life.
The true and realistic spirit of Caravaggio’s was incompatible during his time even till now. He has always reflected nature as it is and opposed the rigid academic doctrine and the exaggeration and flashy. He was in pursuit of simple, fresh, direct way to face the nature.
In Basket of Fruits, the portrayal of a table with just a simple straight brown line was innovative during his time. With the edge of the wicker basket perched on the table, the image seem to be coming out of the canvas or trompe l’oeil effect. The whole subject matter occupied only half of the canvas with the top part completely blank is another innovative composition during his time.
Looking at the Basket of Fruits, the first object that caught one’s eyes is the apple with a prominent rot mark on it which is centre of focus. The golden triangle rule on composition is formed by the luscious unblemished yellow quince on viewer left side, the peach at the top and the green figs on right side. These three fruits are next to a pear, ripen figs and clusters of grapes in different colours. One can see that all the fruits are framed by the shrivelled, fungal and spot infested leaves. This composition with emphasis on the rotting fruits and withered leaves seem to inform the viewers on the aspect of vanitas, of the transience of all earthy things, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death.
Salvator Mundi By Leonardo da Vinci
(Writing below is partially extracted from Christie’s Online Magazine 112)
Who or What is Salvator Mundi? Salvator Mundi is not a name, it is Latin for Savior of the World. The painting is a portraiture on Jesus clothed in Renaissance apparel. The pose depict giving benediction with his right hand raised and two fingers extended, while holding a crystal ball in his left hand, signaling his role as savior of the world and master of the cosmos.
This greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century, Salvator Mundi, the last confirmed painting by Leonardo da Vinci to exist in private hands, was offered at auction at Christie’s on 15 November 2017. The work, which had previously been owned by King Louis XII of France, King Charles I, King Charles II and King James II of England, had vanished for almost 200 years.
The painting first resurfaced in London, where a 1913 catalogue described it as a copy of the lost original. In 1945 it was sold for just £45 (around $60) before disappearing again. Sixty years later, in 2005, an eagle-eyed purchaser spotted the work for sale at an estate clearance sale in the US. After several years of painstaking restoration, scientific analysis and academic research, it was presented to the world’s leading Leonardo da Vinci authorities, including experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris and the University of Oxford — who reached a broad consensus that it was the missing original.
The work, one of fewer than 20 autograph paintings in existence by Leonardo da Vinci, was unveiled to the public in 2011 at the National Gallery in London. The once-in-a-lifetime auction of Salvator Mundi, which followed a global exhibition that had seen thousands of people come to view the painting, produced an extraordinary 19-minute bidding battle before it was finally bought for $450,312,500. This stunning figure was a world auction record for an Old Master painting, a world record for any work of art at auction, and more than double the previous high, which was set for a work by Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955) sold in May 2015 for a premium inclusive price of $179.4 million.
Rembrandt and Etching
Many know about Rembrandt’s mastery technique in painting, but not many knew about his talent in printmaking.
Self-Portrait at a Window was created using etching medium. Etching and drypoint is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family. The image is first incised into a copper plate with a hard-point needle that is applied like a pencil on a drawing paper. Black ink is applied on the plate and the image is printed by pressing on a paper. In this self-portrait, Rembrandt has used technique known as burr, which gives a rich fuzzy quality to the engraved line.
Self-Portrait at a Window, reflects a different sensibility in Rembrandt’s personality. Dressed in warm clothing wearing a hat, he seemed to be travelling on a train, sketching on a stack of paper, studying his reflection intently in a mirror. It was at the time marked by personal tragedy, most notably after the death of his wife, Saskia in 1642 and the decline of his finances.
This self-portrait presented him in middle age with an image of sober view in life. The heavily shadowed interior was lit by a single light source from the window. He worked on the plate gradually, lightly etching the preliminary composition and then adding layers of etching, drypoint and burin, building up the rich contrasts of light and shadow.
The scenery outside the window was not defined clearly, his sorrowful eyes and clenched lips was an act of affirmation in the face of adversity. It was mentioned that this would be the last he would make in this etching medium.
Allegory of Scent
This painting Allegory of Scent is one of The Five Senses paintings by Flemish artist, Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568 – 13 Jan 1625). The five senses are: Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste and Smell. The Allegory of Scent illustrated how roses were used. It depicts a garden with flowering plants and rose pickers with a laboratory complete with distilling equipment to produce rose water as a medicine.
Since the Ancient Greek and Roman times, people have tried to capture the scent of rose flowers in a usable form. Perfumed ointments were produced by extracting the oils and fats from the rose petals. However, it was not possible to isolate the pure essential oil until the Arabs had invented steam distillation. Bulgarian rose oil is used not only in pharmacology and medicine, but also in the perfume and cosmetics industries.
Value of Art
As the world becomes more and more difficult for us to live in, I think that the value of arts become more and more important – Bridget Riley. (Quotes taken from Dialogues in Art with Neil MacGregor, Edited by: Robert Kudielka – the values of arts referred to the purpose of the great collection of Old Master paintings in a modern city).
As a painter, I believed in the existence of this subliminal quality in a painting that has the capacity to improve and enrich one’s soul. The ancient Greeks philosopher said that when one loose that sense of wonderment, or in another word that ‘wow’ factor, then art would cease also. The painted image will never allow this to happen because one still look in wonderment at images created hundreds or thousands years ago example the cave paintings. What is created out of the inner necessity will continue to appeal.
It is interesting to know how messages are embedded in an image. Chinese words are evolved from pictorial representation. And the Chinese language has more words than sounds, so one sound can mean several things (homonym).
It is Chinese custom that one do not talk about one’s gift to another party. Example a congratulatory is embedded in a gift with this images; a monkey on a horseback and bees flying around. The homonym for monkey (猴 = 侯) is marquis or high official; on horseback (马上) means immediate; and bee (蜂=封) means sealed or granted. The deciphered code means马上封侯congratulation on the immediate promotion. With this understanding, one can derived that the purpose of this snuff bottle is meant to be a gift for someone working in imperial court.
Literati painters believed that calligraphy is the basis and extension of painting. They seek simplicity, abandon actual appearance and seeking spiritual resemblance. In their paintings, orchid (兰花) and bamboo (竹) often depict a personality of loftiness; beauty and gentlemen respectively; plum blossom (梅花) and stone (石头) project principles and justice. 梅兰竹菊 were the common subjects in traditional Chinese paintings.
Gift of Nature
Through the hands of the artist the lifeless piece of canvas and tubes of pigments were transformed into a creation that has life with lines and colors. The artist has transmitted the essence of the spirit to the creation “the painting”.
I can enjoy a Beethoven symphony even if I do not understand anything from score and notes. Similarly, though there might be some measure of psychical distance, yet I can feel the fear of Edvard Munch in The Scream and the depressive elements in Rothko Chapels. Painting and music do not need to have names or subject, they just have to be looked at and listened to. Their meaning may not be expressible in words but that does not affect their value. Sometimes, the greater the music or painting, the harder it is to express just why it is so great – because it is just beyond the grasp of human beings, not easily categorized or understood.
It is this inner necessity to create, that produce the paintings. The excellence of technique and the inner necessity to create these painting to enrich one’s life was immeasurable. It is an affirmation of life, and inspires one to aim for the same excellence. That Degas and Monet both continued to paint after they were almost blind; Renoir continued to paint his happy pictures after his hands were so crippled with arthritis that the brush had to be strapped to his wrist to paint. Van Gogh attempted to continue, even though very few were interested in his works, Cezanne, Rembrandt and many others painted in obscurity and sometimes poverty, and painted with so much love and devotion; unselfishly leaving us works, sharing with us their perceptions.
Bridging the Link
Sometime, the essence of the painting is diluted from the painter’s studio to the curator or art dealer; through the ways the painting was interpreted and displayed. Most of the paintings installed in public spaces like galleries had transformed the painting into fragmentary, static product install as a relic for viewing.
Good consideration on the installation of paintings creates an interactive relationship between the viewer and the artist’s work. Installation here refers not to a particular form of art but rather how the painting can be installed in a way which would demand the viewer’s active engagement.
It is necessary to consider the period when the paintings were painted for example, the lightings. What effect will it exudes, if the paintings were viewed under the same lighting as the painter’s studio? We have to note that most of the earlier paintings were painted under the candle-lit studio. A good understanding on how the paintings were created may provide another level of understanding on the differences between studio and open air paintings.
Below is an example of how a painting was installed which may affects the viewer’s engagement. Claude Monet needs no introduction. He gifted his masterpiece Les Decorations des Nympheas to France to celebrate the 1918 victory. These paintings were installed in two oval room specially designed for them.
Harlequin and His Companion
I was reading a 2013 Number 1 issue of the Interior Design and came across this painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso who needs no introduction. I decided to pry into this painting.
Harlequin and His Companion, a painting using oil medium on canvas, was among the earliest pieces to bear Picasso’s signature, which he began using that year, around 1901. Picasso’s interest in social outcasts such as street performers or saltimbanques (French word for acrobats); doted from his days as a student in Barcelona. He frequented the café and witnessed the urban poverty brought about by industrialization. Street performers, such as the figure of the harlequin represented for Picasso the dark side of the city and were the subject in his work over the next few years.
Harlequin and His Companion featured two colourful characters which predate Picasso’s iconic Blue Period pieces. Both characters were seated too close for comfort together with contemplative expression. Their closeness exuded a need of solace in each other company. However, the empty space on the harlequin’s left side and the tightness of space for his companion suggested that the harlequin was the one in need of support and companionship. The lady was dressed in her bright orange-gold long-sleeved dress and her facial expression was melancholic staring directly at the viewer; whereas the harlequin was looking at the other side full of apprehension, as suggested by his nail biting.
Most people know or seen Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower, but how many people knows about Egon Schiele, Gustave Klimt, Anselm Kiefer or Piet Mondrian’s sunflowers? I think it might be interesting to create a gallery of sunflower paintings rendered by different artists.
Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger
In Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, change that happens in a split moment is captured in the painting. It is a form of consciousness of his surrounding during his immersive studies which is often overlooked by people due to the hectic schedules in life.
Chua’s knowledge of life, personal experiences and intuitions merged into his paintings which helped to bring the viewer’s consciousness to what has been overlooked. Chua’s painting was influenced by the concept of xie yi imparted by Fan Chang Tien of the Shanghai School who taught that the inspiration of a painting can have no other purpose (如是而已, 别无他旨) and yet somehow be embedded with ‘ideas’, creating a platform for sharing thoughts between the painter and the viewer.
In Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, Chua has personalized the lotus pond as suggested by the use of word ‘encounter’ in the title. The painter ought to become the object to be painted to study the object inwardly with the mind. Su Tung Po’s popular quote “one did not paint the bamboo but became the bamboo”, which is to keep the mind void of all interferences and ceases to be outside of the object but blending with the object.
In a painting, a clue or two may be supplied by the painter but usually, it is the viewers who complete the forms and significances out of their perception and interpretation. If the reflection of being was in Chua’s mind during the execution of Lotus Pond Encountering a Stranger, the ring of void in the painting may reflects the story of an encounter by a Zen master. One day, while meditating in his garden, Basho heard a frog jumping into his little pond. Spontaneously, he uttered the words in a famous haiku:
The old pond;
A frog jumps in:
Sound of Water
Three simple sentences reflect the notion of being, that true enlightenment is not found in any book but in one’s own consciousness; one can only live in the present moment and be conscious of the surrounding as the realities of life are most truly seen in everyday things and little actions.
 Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), a Japanese poet known for his composition of haiku infused with the spirit of Zen Buddhism
 Haiku – Japanese poem of seventeen syllables in three lines, five, seven, and five. It is usually composed by the monks in an instantaneous and intuitive rendition seized directly by the heart.