Victorian Radicals @ SAMA

Victorian Radicals: From the PreRaphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement at the San Antonio Museum of Art brings the art of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, John Millais and other artists and artisans of mid-19th Century England together in a stunning exhibit, showing through January 5th. The lush romanticism, idealization of nature and return to medieval mythic themes and legends grounded the bohemian and early avant guard members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (preferring Medieval and Renaissance art before Raphael), whose members represent some of the most well-known works in the exhibit. The brotherhood challenged the constraints of the formal art academy with vivid colors, flair for detail and a bold vision to bring beauty into the minds and homes of Victorian citizens, faced with the harsh and often ugly reality of the industrial revolution. Many adopted the egalitarian principals of socialism and encouraged women and working class artists, poets and writers to join their nascent aesthetic movement. They were inspired by the poetry of Shelly and Keats and encouraged Oscar Wilde, August Swinburne and emerging Decadent and Art Nouveau artists and writers to join in their Bohemian rhapsody.

Works below by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sydney Harold Meteyard, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Colman and John Brett

Wistful, idealized landscapes, beautiful male and female archetypes and love of myths and classic literature fed their romantic fantasies. The first image below, by Florence Jane Camm, is a beautifully detailed scene in stained glass depicting Beatrice turning away from Dante (from his autobiographical work, La Vita Nueva, 1295). The second portrait of Bacchus, by Simeon Solomon was painted during his residency in Rome, openly embracing pansexual Hellenistic legacies popular in the 19th Century. Rossetti’s Proserpine features his muse, Jane Morris as the Greco- Roman Goddess of the Underworld. These Medieval and mythic themes with the lush romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelites remain an enduring influence in Fantasy fiction, easy to see in the works of Le Guin, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll.

“I made a new religion of poetic tradition, of a fardel of stories, and of personages, and of emotions, inseparable from their first expression, passed on from generation to generation by poets and painters. I wished for a world where I could discover this tradition perpetually, and not in pictures and poems only, but in tiles round the chimney piece and in the hangings that kept out the draft.”  William Butler Yeats

The Arts and Crafts movement in England heralded a return to handcraft, emphasizing quality materials and the relationship between an artist and their work. The opaline glass goblet and copper tea service were produced by WH&B Richardson and William Arthur Smith Benson, both members of the Arts and Handicrafts Guild. William Morris & Company carried the banner of the Pre-Raphaelites, heeding Yeats’ call to bring art into the home with meticulous interior designs and beautiful objects to be used in daily life. Art Nouveau and American handicrafts movements were inspired to continue the tradition of artisanship as manufacturing and industry became the dominant aesthetic.

More on the American Arts and Crafts Movement

Wild Beasts of the Jazz Age – Matisse and Fauvism

Riverwalk by SAMA

The Matisse: Life in Color exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art, on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art features more than 80 drawings, paintings and sculptures.  The extensive Cone Sisters collection contributes the bulk of these phenomenal works and will only be in San Antonio until September 7, 2014.  A pop up cafe  (The Wild Beast) and Matisse themed treats are offered around town, in the spirit of the man whose exquisite sense of color started a movement all its own.

Fauvism poster at the Wild Beast Cafe

Fauvism was a short lived but potent bridge between the impressionist and later avant-garde movements of the early 20th Century.  Henri Matisse was the acknowledged leader and the yin to Pablo Picasso’s Cubist yang. Wild beasts were loosed into Europe, through the advent of psychoanalysis, World War I and the Jazz Age.  Vibrant, living, emotive color flowed from the Impressionists into the palettes of these passionate, unruly artists.  In 1906, the 20th Century was full of promise, psychology having just lifted the lid off the unconscious mind.  ElevatorWild beasts fighting the repression of the Victorian era found a welcome home in Paris, which later became an international haven for writers, artists and African American jazz musicians in the 1920’s.  I’ve separated the photos I took at the exhibit into 2 parts.  The gallery below focuses on the undulating rhythms of color and form, the beasts.  The second post will focus on the emergence of the dark feminine, the liberated erotic woman of the new era.  Asian and Africa design themes influenced European culture in ways never imagined by colonialists who kept Queen and country sacrosanct.

Paris was the crucible of art, literature, philosophy and fashion in the early 1900s. France and Spain were always more open to the exotic influences of the Orient and of Africa than the English and Dutch colonialists. Artists began to see the world in ways that could be considered prescient, given the perspectives  science and technology afford us today. Light, form and color were transformed to capture the life of the mind, the spirit and speak directly to the flesh. It’s that experience of color splashing into the body, senses undulating with the rhythm of the paintings, the secret language of artistic seduction that a live viewing of these works convey.   Energizing the body, mind and spirit and lifting us out of the doldrums that being human imposes – this is the gift of art.  Go and see for yourself.  MatisseBed

I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.