Thursday 27 August 2015

Peter Paul Rubens: The Glamourist

“My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings.”

Few artists have been as popular or successful in their own lifetime as Peter Paul Rubens.

Born in the town of Siegen in Germany he is most closely associated with the city of Antwerp where he was raised, trained as an artist, established his studio, and was to have one of his many homes.

His father, Jan Rubens, was a prosperous lawyer and magistrate but one whose suspected Calvinism led to the fear, if not always the reality, of persecution which led to frequent flight and constant instability but never to impoverishment and the dread pauperism.

When his father died in 1587, the young Rubens, born a Protestant, was raised a Catholic by his mother and educated in the humanist tradition providing him with a perspective that allowed him to carefully navigate the political and religious controversies of his day.

Indeed, he was to acquire a diplomacy as delicate as his brushwork and become as well-versed in the art of fine words as he was with oil on canvass.

He made friends in high-places, and he kept them, so much so that he could be knighted by both the Catholic Philip IV of Spain and the Protestant Charles I of England.

Although he was loathe to politicise his art, never shy of being all things to all men, his historical and religious work  became very visible exemplars of the Counter-Reformation strategy of using art as propaganda.

Said to have been influenced by Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, but most particularly Caravaggio, he never permitted the reality of the Italians vision to impinge upon his own. For him art was the portrayal of beauty whether contrived or merely imagined. He had no desire to devote his exquisite baroque style to the depiction of warts.

With his ability to make a small man larger than life, a sallow woman the buxom beauty of rude good health there were few notable people in seventeenth century Europe who did not want to be painted by Peter Paul Rubens.

He was the ‘Glamourist’ of his age.

Anne of Austria

Maria Pallavicino

Susanna Lunden

Clara Serena

Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia

Brueghel Family

Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel

Anne Fourment

Landscape by Moonlight

King Solomon

Feast of Herodes

Fall of Man

Immaculate Conception

St George and the Dragon

Saturday 15 August 2015

Notable Britons Who Fought In World War One

Lieutenant-Colonel Winston Churchill, Royal Scots Fusiliers

In remembrance of those many thousands who were deprived of the opportunity and the millions more who served their country and survived to live more humble but no less valid lives - a short article on notable Britons and their contribution in the Great War.

Lieutenant J.R.R Tolkien, Lancashire Fusiliers author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

A reluctant warrior who feared he lacked courage he did not enlist during the wave of patriotic fervour that swept the country following the declaration of war and only did so almost a year later in July 1915, when he began to find the whispering campaign against him intolerable.

Later joinig the Signals Corp he was to fight during the Battle of the Somme and in the ferocious struggle for the Schwaben Redoubt before finally being struck down not by enemy fire but trench fever.

He was later to write that his idea for Middle-Earth came from his experiences of the subterranean existence that almost constant shellfire often made trench warfare.

Private Ronald Colman, London Scottish - Oscar winning actor and Matinee Idol.

Serving in a Territorial Regiment prior to the war he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force and so was one of the original ‘Old Contemptbles.’

He was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the Battle of Messines in October 1914, which was to leave him partially maimed, in frequent pain, and with a permanent limp.

Private Charles Laughton, Huntingdon Cyclist Battalion - Oscar winning actor he served on the Western Front where he was to fall victim to a poison gas attack.

Captain Robert Graves, Royal Welch Fusiliers  poet and author of I, Claudius was so badly wounded during the Battle of the Somme that he was removed from the hospital to be given the Last Rites.

His death was later confirmed and his parents informed.

Much to everyone's surprise and against the odds he survived.

Captain Harold MacMillan, Grenadier Guards - Prime Minister from 1957-63 he would tell the British people they had never had it so good and as a man who bore the burden of the trenches as a personal trauma he should have known for he never forgot the men who served under his command and would speak of them with admiration often with a tear in his eye.

Lieutenant Rupert Brooke, Royal Naval Division – a poet who expressed his love of country in his verse and was thrilled by the prospect of combat but instead died of blood poisoning en-route to Gallipoli on 23 April, 1915.

Captain Anthony Eden, King’s Royal Rifles – the Prime Minister 1955-7 who would be brought down by the Suez Crisis, an example of the very aggressive militarism he had spent so much of his life opposing.

He was awarded the Military Cross for valour and would rise to become the youngest Brigadier in the British Army.

Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, Royal Welch Fusiliers – a poet so brave that he earned the nickname ‘Mad Jack’ and was awarded the Military Cross but was later to turn very publicly against the war.

Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, the Manchester Regiment – a poet who unlike his friend Sassoon, never ceased to believe in the justice of the cause he was fighting for.

He was killed on 4 November 1918, during the last great offensive on the Western Front.

His parents learned of his death on 11 November just as the church bells rang out in celebration of the end of the war.

Lieutenant Basil Rathbone, London Scottish – actor.

Most famous for his roles alongside Errol Flynn and as Sherlock Holmes he was awarded the Military Cross for valour but after his brother was killed on the Western Front was often criticised for being reckless with his own life and with those of his men.

Major Clement Attlee, South Lancashire Regiment and future Leader of the Labour Party who would shock the world by defeating Winston Churchill in the post VE-Day Election.

He would serve as Prime Minister from 1945-51 and would introduce the Welfare State and the National Health Service thereby transforming British society forever.

He was the second from last man to be evacuated from Gallipoli and fought in Mesopotamia and on the Western Front.

Lieutenant Ralph Vaughan Williams, Royal Army Medical Corps – one of Britain’s favourite composers he was already 41 years of age when war was declared but enlisted nonetheless as a private serving as a stretcher-bearer, one of the most traumatic and perilous assignments on the front-line.

Lance-Corporal Arnold Ridley, Somerset Light Infantry – Actor most famous for his role in Dad’s Army and as the author of the Ghost Train he was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme where he was shot, clubbed, and bayoneted but managed to survive and fight on.

Later promoted to Captain he would also serve in World War Two.

Lieutenant Wyndham Lewis, Royal Artillery – the painter and author who despite his often louche manner became an effective battery commander on the Western Front before becoming the official war artist for the Canadian Army.

Lieutenant A A Milne, Royal Warwickshire Regiment – the poet and author of Winnie the Pooh fought on the Western Front and first wounded at the Somme was later repatriated following a serious illness where he transferred to Military Intelligence.

He also served as a Captain in the Home Guard during World War Two.


Sunday 2 August 2015

Jan Vermeer; Magic as Light

Born on 31 October 1632, Johannes Vermeer was barely known outside of his hometown of Delft in the Netherlands where a local celebrity, at least as a painter of some distinction, he found patronage enough to provide for his wife and ever increasing family.

But following his death in 1675, aged just 43, he was speedily forgotten only being rediscovered in France in the 1860’s. His reputation has since soared and he is now considered to be one of the premier Dutch Masters.

Yet he only produced 34 known paintings during his lifetime leaving no etchings or preliminary drawings and his subject matter was limited rarely painting beyond the parameters of his own physical and emotional awareness with one or two rooms of his modest house, the furniture artfully reassigned, becoming the tiny sphere of his creativity.

With the emphasis on light and colour he daubed the canvass with a delicacy and precision that would leave a paintbrush barely tainted and in doing so created images of crystallised perfection.

His alleged use of the Camera Obscura, a box that captures and preserves the image reflecting it upon a canvass or wall whilst also maintaining both its colour and perspective remains controversial.

His unrushed and sober style of painting has seen him accused of lacking both dynamism and daring and drawn comparisons with his contemporaries most notably Rembrandt.

But whilst Rembrandt, for whom there could never be enough paint, revealed beauty in the grime and filth of everyday life and sought respect through the willingness to offend, Vermeer painted unblemished visions of perfection leaving the space of eye and thought for the suggestion of others.