Life imitating art?

A cat is loose in the National Gallery!

Over the period, I have developed a particular way to enjoy the gallery. Each time I visit there, I have a predetermined theme which I am to look for in the paintings. The theme can be clothing, jewellery, furniture, food, animal, building, weather, etc. 
Of course, I do observe the paintings in a more conventional way too and appreciate their subjects, compositions, colours and styles like everyone else. I especially adore Rembrandt and Gainsborough for their masterful brush strokes and the serene demeanours of their subjects. 

Unlike contemporary abstract paintings, old masters artworks are a great source of information on social and cultural history of the time when the paintings were produced. Dutch still life is a prime example of how daily life was conducted in the 17th century Netherlands. It is fascinating to see how the people loved one another, mourned the losses and nourished bodies and minds as well as all the artefacts which assisted and enriched their everyday life. Some of the artefacts are no longer so prevalent in our present daily life. However, furry friends, dogs and cats who graced the canvases of old masters, are still a permanent fixture of our daily life. And last Wednesday, I wanted to see how they were depicted centuries ago.

Diana and Actaeon by Titian…

A small spaniel type dog is yapping at the intruder, Actaeon. The way the dog is having a go at him with its ferocious yapping reminded me how Mr.B would respond to a door bell.

A Warrior adoring the infant Christ and the Virgin by Vincenzo Catena…

A grey dog by the side wall may be small but the meaning of it being there is no small matter. Dogs in old masters artworks could carry a number of implicit messages. They may represent a symbol of fidelity or purport the contradictions such as sexuality and promiscuity. I guess this small puppy/dog stands for fidelity as a future protector of the infant Christ?

Happy Union by Paolo Veronese…

A female in the middle who are about to receive a crown is Venus, the goddess of love. And the dog on her left with a gold chain represents marital fidelity.

The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor by Gerade David…

A whippet type dog lying down nearby the infant Christ may represent a dog from Book of Tobit. The dog in the story was a companion and a protector of the young Tobias who went on to an adventure with the dog.

During the second half of the Renaissance, dogs had become an independent motif of art. This elevation of their status was initiated by the trend of the European royalties and magnates, starting to own dogs for their pleasure, such as hunting and companionship.

The Family of Darius before Alexander…

On the large artwork, the dogs grace both end of the canvas. On the right, there is a hound type dog which appears to be accompanying the Alexander. And on the left, two spaniel like dogs are clutched by a short man who looks like a court fool.

The Vendramin Family by Titian…

Dogs have always been boys’ best friends no matter when the ages are, haven’t they?

A Lady teaching a Child to read by Caspar Netzcher…

And of course, they have been so to girls too.

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough…

Even if they are grown ups, dogs are still their faithful companions.

John Plampin by Thomas Gainsborough…

Or Mr.Plampin might perhaps love his dog more than his wife?

A Homage to Velázqueze by Luca Giordano…

I found this depiction of the spaniel rather unusual. Instead of appearing to be restrained by being on a leash or held in arm, the dog was jumping off the step and dashing forward.

However, some of the canines are not treated with all due respect. The unfortunate ones appear to be employed as a mere infill to occupy spaces which otherwise would look awkward if they were left vacant.

Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker by Pontormo…

You know what I mean, don’t you?

Joseph sold to Potiphar by Pontorno…

The composition sits better because the dog acts as an anchor.

The Milbanke and Melbourne Families by George Stubbs…

I am sure this pointer like dog is a companion of the rider. But also, he helps the composition to be perfect too.

The part which the artists imposed upon dogs may have been for the latter’s convenience, but it didn’t stop the painters to observe and portray the dogs with affection.

A Young Man and Woman making Music by Jan Miense Molenaer…

Two Men with a Sleeping Woman by Gabriel Metsu…

A Musical Party by Jacob van Velsen…

Four Officers of the Amsterdam Coopers’ and Wine-rackers’ Guild by Garbrand van den Eeckhout…

An Officer dictating a Letter by Gerard ter Borch…

I like the way the painter captured the glint in the dog’s eyes. It makes me imagine how the dog would jump to his feet and ask me to play if I whistled at him!

Comparing with the ever so obedient and docile dogs in old masters, the cats seem to be always cats and nothing but cats, mischievous, sneaky and…natural.

A Woman and a Fish-pedlar in a Kitchen by swollen van Mieris…

A Sleeping Maid and Her Mistress by Nicolaes Maes…

The Effect of Intemperance by Jan Steen…

The cats are not always just an opportunist but also a giver & receiver of affection. 

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster…

A kitten in his arm doesn’t look so overjoyed about its predicament though.

But a cat is a cat as a leopard can’t change its spots. It’s always up for a mischief.

The Graham Children by William Hogarth…

The cat definitely makes this already charming family portrait even more enchanting.

You will be happy to know that not all the canines behaves like their typecast.

A Merry Company at Table by Hendrik Pot…

Marriage A-La-Mode by William Horgath…

Their naughtiness is more endearing than their counterparts who behave like a saint. For the same reason, I did not like Lassie very much because she always behaved impeccably.

A final canine of the gilded frame is,

Portrait of Don Justino de Neve by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo…

There was no explanation about why the dog was wearing a bow. However, the love for the canine companion from its owner and the painter were more than evident. 

I hope you enjoyed the paintings as much as I did…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

 

Dutch Flowers

Prior to PHOTO LONDON, I visited National Gallery for an new exhibition, Dutch Flowers. The event was timed to coincide with RHS’s flower shows at Chelsea and Hampton Court.

I am afraid there is no image to show you as photographing was banned at this particular show. 

In spite of being a small scale show, it didn’t disappoint me, or it was precisely because a number of the paintings were limited, I was left craving for more. The works by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch were utterly exquisite and it transformed the walls of the intimate gallery space to a heavenly visual feast.

A tradition of Dutch flower painting stemmed from the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. During this period, the country underwent successful wars and a transition to becoming a republic, and as a result, prospered in trade, science, military and art. Most notably, Dutch East India Company had emerged and it monopolised on Asian trade for two centuries. A large variety of exotic goods were imported from all over the world in order to satisfy insatiable desire of a new social class – the affluent middle class which was consisted of Protestant ministers, lawyers, physicians, small merchants, industrialists and clerks of large state institutions. 

Tulip was one of those exotic arrivals from the East which was introduced to the Dutch soil by Carolus Clusius, a famous biologist from Vienna…

A point of Dutch still life painting differed greatly from the Baroque-style art which dominated the rest of the 17th century Europe. Instead of idealising religion or the existing political hierarchy and using mythical figures for expressing the splendours, Dutch artists studied their subjects with more observant eye, surveying and drafting as scientists or doctors would dissect and analyse their specimens. 

Cognoscenti in a Room hung with pictures, painted about 1620…

A Dutch flower painting is hung on the wall of the imaginary gallery in Antwerp. 

My eyes traced details on each part of the paintings – a petal, a leaf, a stem, a stalk, as well as the vase it was placed and the insects which congregated around it. They were meticulously illustrated and the result was magically real and fascinating. The sensation of seeing the paintings recalled a joyful time I enjoyed while I attended a drawing class when I was young. How a simple exercise of being face to face with the subject and transferring what my eyes saw onto a sheet of paper removed me from a chaos of daily life and enriched my sense for the objects around me. I would love to take up the practice again, I thought.

There were a few images I spotted at PHOTO LONDON yesterday.

Still life by Sharon Core…

Nexus by Ysabel Lemay…

Peaches and Hydrangeas by Paulette Tavormina…

Visiting the exhibition made me realise that I was being lazy when it came to seeing things. Because of my everyday life being inundated with objects jockeying to catch my eyes through shop windows, TV, internet and a smartphone, my attention span in general became far too short to discover anything meaningful. 

I must remember feasting with my eye and nourishing my mind can only happen when I take time to stop and look properly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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