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Onwards to Vienna, Part 3: Palaces of Art

To say that there is a lot of art in Vienna is like saying there are a lot of paellas in Spain. The city literally lives, breathes and exudes art from its every corner and facet. Everywhere you go, large posters advertise the latest sensational exhibition appearing at the Leopold, or the Albertina, while inside the Belvedere and the Kunsthistoriches museums, some of the most famous paintings ever known to the history of art happily reside. We were literally astonished by the wealth of art contained within a small central core of the city, and by the end of our trip were rendered utterly exhausted by the amount of art we saw. But we were all the more fulfilled as a result.

If I were to reproduce a photo of all the paintings we saw in permanent collections and temporary shows alike, the single blog post resulting would probably keep you scrolling downwards for a lifetime. Rather than do that therefore, I wanted to focus a little on the majestic buildings which host Vienna’s amassed artistic treasures, before showing you just a few of the works on show within them.

Almost unable to take in the breadth of art at the Kunsthistoriches Museum

Almost unable to take in the breadth of art at the Kunsthistoriches Museum

There was no missing the incredible grandeur of the building hosting the Kunsthistoriches Museum (The History of Art Museum), which sits opposite its domed twin – a duo of palaces built some 150 or so years ago upon the advent of the Ringstrasse. With an art collection mainly built up over successive generations of Hapsburg rule, and containing breathtaking masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Velazquez, it is no wonder that the museum is visited by more than 1.5 million people every year. But beyond the art on the walls, what is truly momentous is the building itself which, tailor-created especially to hold the very collection which graces the building today, is filled with every kind of creative lavishness, from murals to sculptures, friezes and reliefs, and chief amongst them all, some beautiful wall murals by Gustav Klimt himself.

Klimt murals in the main hallway of the Kunsthistoriches Museum

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Klimt was of course to take centre stage across Vienna’s artistic offerings, not only in the galleries but in every manifestation of souvenir and guidebook. At the core of the city’s multifaceted Klimt showcase, his famous painting The Kiss lords over all the rest, glimmering with its multi-layered gold leaf in a long gallery on one side of the Upper Belvedere gallery. This equally spectacular palace is just one half of an iconic centre of art which offers exhibitions in both the Upper and Lower galleries and whose buildings are laced with all of the elaborate pomp intended by the original owner, Prince Eugene of Savoy, to evoke the magnificent of his various 17th century military successes.

The beautiful Belvedere

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But back to the 20th century, and my favourite of all the Klimt spectacles is the Secession building, a glimmering gold spectacle of modernism constructed in the Jugendstil style as a showcase for the Secession movement’s artists, chief amongst whom was of course Klimt himself. And today, the star attraction is Klimt’s allegorical Beethoven Frieze, one of the most iconic of the artist’s works.

The Secession Building and Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

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In all, during 4 days in the city of Vienna, we visited some 8 galleries, an equal number of permanent exhibitions and an additional 12 temporary exhibitions. The vast wealth of art on offer was simply mind blowing, from the ancient treasures of the Kunsthistoriches museum and the delicate 19th century works of the Belvedere, to the in depth studies of Klimt and Schiele in the Leopold museum, and the incredible collection of impressionist art in the Albertina. Below are just a few photos of the many artistic treasures we saw. Far too many to take in, but we made and enjoyed our every attempt.

Lunch in the Café Eiles (Vienna Muse)

There are times in life when a single moment gains more clarity than the thousand moments before and after; when the significant size of a city space shrinks in the coincidence of two people meeting again and again, quite unplanned, as though destiny had it all preemptively narrated. Such were the moments in Vienna when I, previously untouched by the poetic force of a female muse, found myself repeatedly captivated by a mysterious, delicate girl.

It was a fascination which might not have been so fortified were it not for the repetition of the first encounter. I first saw my muse in the elegant cafeteria of the Kunsthistoriches Museum. Dominik and I had both marked her out, quite independently of one another. We were struck by the purity of her face, quite devoid of artificial make up but alive with a natural innocence, and by her clothing which was different. Her outfit looked almost home-made, but betrayed a feminine elegance in each of its carefully combined components.

I might not have thought of her again, had it not been for the coincidence of a second encounter the following day, some kilometres away on the other side of Vienna, in the Café Eiles. Unable to believe the coincidence of quite independently finding the same girl who had so captivated me in the art museum the day before, my interest peaked and I found myself utterly enraptured by this girl. Again she betrayed characteristic elegance as she went about sipping a tea while writing what looked like a journal, and knitting a rather complex scarf.

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Lunch at the Café Eiles (Vienna Muse) (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

By this point I knew that the girl was becoming something of an inspiration to me, and like paparazzi I grabbed for my camera, desperate to capture the sight of this girl who I was sure I would never see again. It’s just that the following day a third encounter, in the same café, occurred. No longer a coincidence of place, but of timing. Another encounter which appeared to defy chance and confirmed to me that the paths of this girl and I were meant to cross. That she was my muse and that I must paint her.

As soon as I saw my muse on that second encounter this painting formed in my head. Now I have created it, complete with the lunch we ate in the cosy Café Eiles as I sat, captivated by my muse, I feel somehow satisfied that my muse has been set down on paper. But I can’t help but feel sad that even now, after three coincidental encounters I know nothing more about the girl who ensnared me. Neither her name, nor her voice, nor even a single thing about her. I just know that to me she was very special. Maybe one day we’ll meet again.

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Lunch at the Café Eiles (Vienna Muse) detail, 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Exploring the Josefstadt

Behind every great performance, there is the understated support; the less pretentious but no less important timid figures who some might suggest make up the true soul of a show. And thus it is in the city of Vienna, whose grand boulevards and broad open spaces are lined with the most tremendously ornate public buildings and private palaces. Yet step a few paces away, just behind the scenes, and you find the quieter neighbourhoods of Vienna which, for me, give the city its true character.

One such neighbourhood, the Josefstadt, can be found tucked away mere metres behind the grand museums of the Ringstrasse, and by a sheer unplanned coincidence was the location of our hotel for the duration of our stay. Grand in name – the area was named after Emperor Joseph II – Josefstadt nonetheless felt to us notably different from the imperial centre, with its smaller buildings, narrower streets, and the kind of cosier neighbourhood feel lacking in the city centre.

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Despite the biting cold, a morning blessed with a little sunshine provided us with the perfect opportunity to explore this area, complete with its little tram lines, beautifully personalised shops and toasty cafes and even the odd church or two (no less grand than their bigger neighbours a kilometre or so down the road).

Walking around this charming area, which is popular with local students from the nearby university as well as lawyers from the political and legal centres along the Ringstrasse, we could not help but be struck by its village like sensibilities. In a city known more for its pomp than for its human embrace, it was perhaps altogether ironic that on this most cold of all the days of our travels, it was probably the morning when our welcome in Vienna felt at its warmest.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Onwards to Vienna, Part 2: The Churches

If the Ringstrasse and the palatial buildings that line it are demonstrative of Vienna’s more recent 19th century prowess (and, with the recent additions of the MuseumsQuarter, its 21st century cultural advances to boot) then its spectacular churches are demonstrative of a magnificent history which goes back yet further. For these religious monuments have truly stood the test of time, from their inception as far back ago as the 13th century, to the progressively exquisite embellishments which have since followed.

The Stephansdom inside and out

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We begun our tour of Vienna’s grandest religious spectacles with the centre point of them all, the Stephansdom cathedral. Often called the soul of the city itself, it is perhaps no coincidence that the cathedral contains a great many of the remains of some of the most historically significant of the Hapsburg rule which lorded over Vienna, and the empire which spread out around it, for centuries. But rather than begin this visit from the inside, we instead claimed the 300 or so steps of its main gothic spire, taking advantage of the aspect which is perhaps most characteristic of this building – its enormous height. There, from somewhere close to the top of the “Steffi” or spire, we were able to enjoy magnificent views not only over all of the city, but of the incredible tiled roof which contains almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles, meticulously restored after the damage inflicted towards the end of the second world war.

Vienna from the top of the Stephansdom

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Having caught our breath upon our rather perilous descent down a very narrow spiral staircase, we did not linger in the inside of the cathedral for long. This was not so much owing to a lack of content, but to both the queues for, and the price of, admission, both of which inspired us to take our leave and seek further thrills in this city of plenty.

The Stephansdom’s spectacular tiled roof

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Next on the list was the equally impressive domed Peterskirche, a romantic oval-based construct remodelled in the 18th century on St Peter’s in Rome, and by no means lacking the exuberant ostentatious interiors of its inspiration. For the interiors of Peterskirche are amazingly lavish, with an eye-catching pulpit meticulously sculpted by Matthias Steindi, and frescoes embellishing the huge dome depicting the Assumption of the Virgin by J M Rottmayr. From the extravagant altar to the richly carved pews, this was a church whose every detail was dripping in embellishment, and easily the equal of the Stephansdom up the road.

Peterskirche

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We encountered several other religious spectacles as we proceeded with our tour around Vienna, although we seldom ventured inside. One we would have liked to have explored, on the inside and out, was the last iconic church of the city, Karlskirch, sitting at one end of the central Karlsplatz. But as I bemoaned in Monday’s post, a further prohibited entrance fee found us fleeing from the tourist entrance, leaving us to appreciate this columned baroque masterpiece from the outside – an aspect which, like so many others of the magnificent buildings clambering to be admired in Vienna, could not fail to impress.

Karlskirche

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My travel sketchbook: Karlskirche, Vienna

The minus temperatures in Vienna were in no way conducive to the gentile activity of taking out my sketchbook en plein air and capturing the city “live”, as it were. But having somewhat shunned the interior of the Karlskirche, arguably one of Vienna’s best known monuments and most famous churches, owing to the exorbitant costs of entry, I felt that I should at least begin a sketch in appreciation of its glorious exterior, before completing the drawing back in our wonderful hotel suite. 

With my rather exacting method of sketching direct with sketching pens (I enjoy the permanence of the final effect as opposed to a paler sketch from pencil), getting the proportions of the church right from this rather difficult angle, seen from one corner through the trees of the impressive Karlsplatz gardens, was not easy. And while the sketch which results would probably send architects quaking for its lack of precision, I am more than happy with the result. After all, it captures all of the grandeur of this most charismatic of monuments, while being viewed in the softened context of the gardens which surround it. 

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Karlskirche from the Karlsplatz, Vienna (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Enjoying the Viennese Coffee House

Along with the waltz, the Danube, Klimt and the Wein Schnitzel, Vienna can count its famous coffee houses amongst those icons which have come to characterise the city. Dating as far back as the 17th century, and reaching their popular height in the 19th century, the cafes have long been the focus of Viennese society, as a place to read the paper, take a strudel, dig into a plate of sausages and of course enjoy a coffee. And of the latter, a fair number of Viennese specialities have developed alongside the historical cafes, including the Brauner (coffee with milk), the Melange (blended coffee and hot milk), the Kurz (extra strong), Obers (with cream), Kapuziner (double mokka with a hood of cream) and the Schwarzer (black) to name but a few.

Of the many cafes which have come and gone over the centuries, a renowned few have retained their standing as icons of the city, including the Central, the Ministerium, the Museum, the Frauenhuber, the Raimund, the Eiles, the Schwarzenberg and the Zartl. All are unique, but share common trends: a cosy interior with comfortable booths and little armchairs; smoky ageing mirrors, brass lamps and dark wooden furniture; and of course the all important display case in which the famous Viennese cakes are given the attention they deserve.

The famous Cafe Central, and the impressive cafe in the Kunsthistoriches museum

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And whichever of the iconic cafes you choose to venture into, the formal etiquette tends to remain the same. Each coffee is served on a small silver tray with an accompanying glass of water. The waiters will most likely be tuxedoed, and it is generally anticipated that you will linger in the cosy surroundings with a paper or a book, long after the last dregs of coffee have been enjoyed.

With ferociously cold temperatures keeping us from the streets, my partner and I were often to be found in a coffee house in Vienna, lured by the cosy interiors and the traditional elegance which each exuded. We never quite made it to the famous Cafe Central, since the queues which seemed to perpetually form outside somewhat defeated the object of venturing to escape the cold. But we did make it into the Cafe Museum and, our favourite of all, the Cafe Eiles.

Enjoying the Eiles

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With its eclectic mix of clientele, from the students of the local university to the lawyers and civil servants of the government buildings nearby, we immediately felt completely at home in the Eiles (having personal experience of both sides of the client mix). Its little curved sofa-booths, old fashioned brass lamps and a cream and brown interior felt perfectly traditional, and after several visits we soon got to know that it was the very best place to sample the famous Wein schnitzel, and a range of cakes to match.Best of all, with the accompanying mood of permitted languor, it felt like the best place in which to rest after the mass of museums on offer in the city, to people watch, to warm up, and of course enjoy the coffee.

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Photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Onwards to Vienna, Part 1: Imperial City

It felt like we had returned to the glory days of the 20s. Fresh from a cosseted beverage in Harry’s Bar, the venerable watering hole of Hemingway, and having headed along the Grand Canal by vaporetto to the Stazione Santa Lucia, we left Venice one foggy freezing night by night train. With our own little private compartment complete with bunk beds, complementary towels (and bubbles!), and even a tuck away sink and wardrobe, the only thing missing was the inevitable Agatha Christie-esk murder. And while things certainly did go bumpety-bump-bump in the night, we (and as far as I know, the other passengers) arrived early the following morning very much alive and vibrating. Our new destination: Vienna.

Vienna is synonymous with New Year thanks to its famous New Year’s Day concert from the grand Musikverein, and likewise with the festive season owing to its multitude of Christmas markets perfumed with the scent of mulled wine and spiced pastries. The city was therefore an obvious choice after our Christmas in Venice, and with our night-journey also doubling as a hotel, it was the most convenient of onward travels.

Vienna, first views

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If Venice was remarkable for its decadent, fading grandeur, Vienna was notable for its utterly breathtaking majesty. While Venice’s palaces and piazzas were to be found nestled alongside a maze of tiny canals, and hidden in cosy corners, from our first steps within Vienna, it presented as a city on show. A city-spectacular, straight out of the gilded pages of its imperial past. A city built as a manifestation of an empire’s utmost power, spectacular riches and the very best of refined taste and unceasing elegance. It felt like a city almost untouched by the turbulence of past centuries, as its resplendent monuments and palatial public buildings glittered as though brand new.

This was no more evident than on the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s principal boulevard and main inner-ringroad, an avenue whose construction 150 years ago coincided with a race to build alongside it the most spectacular buildings the city had ever seen.

Our location in the comparatively village-like Josefstadt region led us directly onto the Ringstrasse, and our first encounter was with the phenomenal neo-gothic Neues Rathaus, the new city hall built by architect Friedrich von Schmidt and including an impressive 100m central tower topped by a 3m statue of a knight in shining armour.

The Neues Rathaus

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Just a few metres onwards and we came face to face with the classical masterpiece of Theophil Hansen’s Parliament Building, a temple-like construction whose positioning up a gentle sloping hill and collection of grand mythological statues imbued the site with all the majesty and power which would be expected of such a key component of the state. Meanwhile, just opposite across many of the grassy gardens which also line the Ringstrasse, further majesty could be found in the form of the Hofburg Complex, the sprawling network of former imperial apartments and the Presidential offices; a cluster of palaces whose impressive scale is softened by the elegance of its green cupolas and gilded details.

The Parliament building and the Hofburg Complex

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And so with each and every step we took along this impressive broad avenue, we encountered a new masterpiece of architectural prowess, from the twin places of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum to the stunning State Opera House, one of the first of the grand Ringstrasse buildings to be completed, and of course the famous Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. And these views only got better as night quickly fell, and the grandeur was aptly illuminated against a starry blue sky.

The Opera, and the Musikverein

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As Sigmund Freud once noted, Schein über Sein – looking good is better than being good. And while Vienna struck us almost immediately as a veritable showpiece rather than a place of cosiness and homely welcome, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the show being laid out before us, a performance whose protagonist would continue to dazzle as this next leg of our winter journey moved onwards.

The Ringstrasse at night

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Interpretation No. 19: Venice, the Dorsoduro from above

It’s hard to believe that my series of landscape interpretations are now entering their third year. Started back in Positano on the Amalfi Coast when I was inspired by the cubic contrast of urban development against rugged natural scenery, the collection has morphed and developed, now reaching its 19th in number. While traditional landscape painting seems to be too often looked down on by the so called “experts” in today’s contemporary art world, these simplified landscapes allow me the opportunity to relive a landscape, to simplify it into the basic forms which make the view so beautiful, and most importantly to relax and enjoy the process of creation.

As my little Venice seasons comes to an end here on The Daily Norm, and we travel together, to cities further afield, there could have been no more appropriate final curtain to the collection than to share this, my latest in the interpretations series. Inspired by the stunning views over the city which I photographed from the top of St Mark’s campanile and shared on The Daily Norm last week, this view for me was compositionally just too tempting not to paint.

Interpretation No. 19: Venice, the Dorsoduro from above (2016 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Interpretation No. 19: Venice, the Dorsoduro from above (2016 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

With its waves of terracotta rooftops covering Venetian red, cream and ochre buildings, all leading to the magnificence of the church of Santa Maria della Salute at its centre,  and with its intersection of creamy turquoise canals and a view of the Giudecca island in the foggy distance, this is a view of the Dorsoduro region at its best. And it makes for a fine addition to the urban wing (Paris, London & Palma and counting…) of my continuing collection gouache landscapes.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Photos from Venezia: Capturing a city

I defy even the most inexperienced of photographers not to start snapping away, be it on a traditional camera or on a mobile telephone, when they go to Venice. It is, I would venture to guess, almost scientifically impossible for a visitor to the city not to become captivated by the beauty which exists at every corner, to fall under the spell of its utterly unique character, and to therefore attempt to capture themselves a little piece of the city, be it through photos or souvenirs (or usually both).

Regular readers of The Daily Norm have probably already noticed that I took a fair number of photos on my recent trip to Venice, even though it meant defying the cold and taking off my new comfy rabbit-lined gloves (bought on the Rialto Bridge) in order to do so. But despite the so often gloomy winter weather, it will come as no surprise that Venice inspired an entire flurry of photos, and I have plenty still to share in addition to those already posted.

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And so in this last post looking back over my recent Venetian adventure, I am including a miscellany of photos which do, I think, effectively capture something of the essence of the place. Through the textures of the city – from crumbling walls to luxurious golden silk, and through the colours – ocres, yellows, the turquoise green water and of course the characteristic Venetian red; through its historical palaces, and even a shop filled with old waterlogged books…This is a selection of photos which is innately Venetian, transporting me back to that foggy, watery wonderland where a part of my heart remains firmly captured by the city in turn.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Las Meninas (In Our Time)

I’m feeling terribly pleased with myself. It’s only the second week of January in a fresh new year, and already I have ticked a new year’s resolution to give more time to my art. For asides from a number of projects started and now pending completion, one new canvas has already left my easel as a finished piece: Las Meninas (In Our Time). 

Anyone who is familiar with the great masterpieces of art history will probably recognise the setting of this painting. It is of course based almost exactly on Diego Velázquez’s best-known 1656 work, Las Meninas. And yet this is no copy. Rather it is a statement; a narrative, about what was, and what is. For in my Las Meninas, Velázquez’s room is eerily empty. There is no princess glowing in the light, nor the maids whose assistance to her majesty gives the painting its title. Gone too is the court jester, the dwarf, and the King and Queen in the background. Even Velázquez himself is nowhere to be seen. And it’s not just the figures who are missing: here even the art on the wall is blank and simplified, reduced down to blocks of colour in a room stripped of its majesty. At all that is left behind is a lone object: a ceramic figurine with a price tag, straight out of a souvenir shop.

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Las Meninas (In Our Time) 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

I was inspired to paint this work back in November when I visited Velázquez’s great work, for the umpteenth time, in Madrid’s Prado Gallery. Two things struck me as I left the gallery: First, how sadly different are the richly executed wonderfully fine art works that fill the Prado from the art which so called “contemporary artists” seem to produce today. Is our time, I wondered, a time that will ever be noteworthy in the future books of art history? And second, I was struck by the degree to which consumerism and commercialisation dominates today’s imagination. The extent to which the demands of mass production and imitation cause a unique masterpiece like Las Meninas to be replicated in every conceivable form, from key rings, magnets, ceramic figures, cuddly figures, to cushions, aprons, tshirts, and mobile phone cases.

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Velázquez’s original masterpiece

So in recreating Las Meninas for our time, my room is emptied of the royal sumptuousness of the past. The figures of history have retreated, and the fine art that adorned the walls is no more. The time of imperial splendour is long forgotten, and all that remains at the room’s centre is the tacky souvenir which commercialises the past; a glossy gift for a present generation so often devoid of the imagination to create unique splendour anew.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

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