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Posts tagged ‘Orangerie’

Artist in Focus: Grant Wood

Two weeks over the Christmas period in London and Paris provided the perfect opportunity to play catch-up on some of the incredible exhibitions which have been popping up in both cities, and for which I have been pining from afar. Whether it be Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London or Bazille at the d’Orsay in Paris, I have been literally itching to get inside the galleries to discover artists both familiar and new, set within the context of a new curatorial manifestation. Out of these exhibitions, I walked away struck by certain paintings and by certain artists whose work I am keen to share on The Daily Norm. For life is a continuing learning curb, and even behind the most famous work lies an entire portfolio of unknown paintings coming from a relatively un-talked of artist.

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American Gothic, Grant Wood (1930)

This is the case with Grant Wood, who is far more famous for his emblematic 1930 painting, American Gothic, than he is for fame in his own name. Usually housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, which recognised the piece for its iconic depiction of life in the rural American midwest in the pre-Depression age and bought the work, American Gothic is one of the most iconic paintings of the 20th Century, and is currently making its first European visit. For me, it was clearly the highlight of the exhibition currently running at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, American Painting in the 1930s (although I gather that the work, and the show built around it, will soon make its way to London’s Royal Academy too).

Highlights of Grant Wood’s oeuvre

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Young Corn (1931)

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Parson Weem’s Fable (1939)

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Spring in the Country (1941)

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The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover (1931)

However, having swooned over my first face-to-face encounter with this iconic work and taken note of the name of its artist, what I wasn’t expecting was to find how prolific an artist lay behind the painting. For as we made our way around the exhibition, exploring its historically captivating theme of art before, during and immediately after the great American Depression, the name Grant Wood kept on popping up under all of the paintings to which I was instantaneously attracted upon entering each exhibition space.

Born in 1891 and painting until his death in the 40s, Wood’s early work shows the clear influence of impressionism and post-impressionism with more hesitant lines and a play on depicting realistic light. However, by the time he reached the 1930s, the artist had fallen upon a truly unique form of naive reality, depicting in beautifully bold colours and sharp, well rounded lines and figurative forms, the rolling rural landscape around his Cedar Rapids home.

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Death on the Ridge Road (1935)

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Fall Plowing (1931)

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The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931)

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Stone City Iowa (1930)

Without a doubt, my favourites of his works are his exquisite landscapes, painted so idyllically as to be charged with a kind of fantasy-land quality, albeit recognising in their carefully executed details the depiction of agriculture and industry. Reducing trees into rounded, wooly forms, and using idealised shadow to round-off the land like the  voluptuous flesh of a Rubens nude, these landscapes are pure works of genius, and why the artist Grant Wood will now remain lodged in my artist consciousness for all time.

Paris | Art tour 2013 – Kahlo and Rivera

I would like to start off my little Paris art series with a moan about London. For all the great events which take place in the city, its exhibitions tend to pale into insignificance when compared with Paris. Take the exhibitions that are on at the moment. At the Royal Academy, the grand galleries of the Burlington Palace are given over to an exhibition surveying the art history of Australia. Well we all know that Australia has no art history, and this exhibition demonstrates as much. Then there’s Tate Modern’s new retrospective on Paul Klee which presents room after room of samey small little Bauhaus explorations – and leaves the visitor as flat as the image so meticulously conceived by Klee on paper. And let us not forget the Royal Academy’s other homage to a nation’s art – its recent Mexico show, whose only inclusion of perhaps the greatest artist ever to come out of Mexico, Frida Kahlo, was a painting so small (and I mean ridiculously small) that you had to squint to see it.

Rivera's cubist period

Rivera’s cubist period

None of this in Paris, whose exhibitions present such a comprehensive survey of the particular artist at hand that you feel not only completely enriched at the end of the show, but also pretty exhausted too. And Paris doesn’t just have one blockbuster exhibition a year – no no, it holds a good three or four massive artistic events each season, hence why I feel the insuperable need to visit the city each year.

Really marking Paris out as the superior of its cross-channel neighbour this year is the Musée de l’Orangerie’s significant survey of the works of one Frida Kahlo, and her equally inspired artist husband, Diego Rivera. Entitled Art in Fusion, it explores what has to be one of the greatest married (and divorced, and then remarried) painterly partnerships of modern art history, with many of the most substantial of each artist’s oeuvres on exhibition, and not a tiny painting in sight.

The couple together

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I have always adored the work of Frida Kahlo, resonating so easily with her emotionally raw artistic expression right from the time I first saw her work (ironically in London – those were the good days). For me, Kahlo’s paintings will always trump those of her hubbie’s, which are altogether more political for my taste. Either that or they are too superficial – such as paintings of children tying up lillies or portraits of Mexican natives. His works are altogether too easy to interpret at face value, while faced with a Kahlo masterpiece, you are kept guessing about all of the multi-layered complex meaning with which she imbues her works.

As ever, my favourite of her paintings are those which deal the most viscerally with her experiences of personal trauma – both the bus accident which crippled her for life, and the series of miscarriages which resulted, as well as her painful experience of Rivera’s relentless infidelity. This may make me morose, even morbid in my preferences, but then it was Frida’s works which first inspired me to commit my own life-changing accident to canvas.

Frida’s visceral pain-filled works

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At the risk of being unfair to Rivera, of the canvases on show, a few stand out. I particularly enjoyed his cubist period when, as a young man, he found himself influenced by the early advent of this movement in 1900s Paris. However for the most part, it is Rivera’s murals which are his staggering life’s masterpieces, and sadly, despite some attempt at reproduction in the exhibition, these will require a trip to Mexico to be enjoyed to the full.

Rivera’s murals

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That said, this show, which is a unique opportunity to see both the works of husband and wife displayed alongside each other, is an indisputably unmissable opportunity to see the artistic fusion which these two icons of Mexican art produced during their years together. And, being as it is in the Orangerie, if you find the vitality of colour and the depth of emotional expression a little too much to muster, there’s always Monet’s ultimately calming waterlillies to soothe you upstairs.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera | Art in Fusion is on at the Orangerie until 13 January 2013. If you want to avoid the vast queues which characterise all of the Paris exhibitions, I recommend buying tickets in advance.