Thursday, April 16, 2015

VOTE FOR THE WONDERS OF VENICE! Virtual Treasures of San Marco

Lion of San Marco
(Venice, Italy) A super-cool new 3d interactive website called the Wonders of Venice, or Meraviglie di Venezia, Sacred and Profane Treasures in St. Mark Area launched yesterday, April 15, 2015. In 10 languages, it is the first virtual museum that zooms in on some of the stash that Venice has collected over the centuries. You can go on virtual tours, view nearly 400 virtual objects, go backstage and watch the camera drones buzz over Piazza San Marco, and visit 2 museums that no longer exist but have been reconstructed in cyber space. You can spin round and round, or fly up to the ceiling and examine an object in minute detail. They even put the statues back in the Tribuna of Palazzo Grimani!

The Triumphal Quadriga - The Horses of San Marco (detail)
The Treasure of San Marco is the most important treasure in the world in terms of rarity and type of objects it contains. Just the four Horses of San Marco are priceless beyond imagination. Even France returned the beloved Triumphal Quadriga, the imperial symbol par excellence, after Napoleon had plundered the astonishing horses and put them on top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Of course, Venice herself had looted the horses from the Hippodrome when she sacked Constantinople in 1204 during its realm as the capital of the Roman Empire. The Venetians mounted the powerful quadriga on the facade of the Basilica in Piazza San Marco; there are copies there today. The original ancient horses are now inside the Basilica, which protects them from pollution and makes them a bit more difficult to loot:)

Leda and the Swan
And now to the VOTE. Europa Nostra, "the voice of cultural heritage in Europe," has chosen WONDERS OF VENICE: VIRTUAL ONLINE TREASURES IN ST. MARK’S AREA as a winner in the Research and Digitization category. Venice wants to win the Public Choice Award. That's where you come in. It's relatively easy to vote if you remember it is a European contest:) For instance, it says you "can" vote for 3 winners. In reality, you "must" vote for 3 winners. Just be sure that one of your votes is for Wonders of Venice, which is about three quarters of the way down the page. You can't vote for the same country twice. After the third vote, click "complete." Next fill in your name, country and email, and then confirm the email. The deadline is May 31.



Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Designer Glass from Finland - the Bischofberger Collection at Stanze del Vetro, Venice

Designer: Tapio Wirkkala
Jääpala (Chunk of Ice) - Bowl, 1950
Company: Iittala

(Venice, Italy) Finland is a land of the Midnight Sun, covered with lush forests and more than 180,000 pristine lakes born from glaciers. Lapland, in the north, lies within the Artic Circle where the reindeer roam. Helsinki is the second most northern capital in the world after Reykjavik, Iceland. In ancient times, Finns believe that each tree was ruled by a spirit, and that certain wise old trees were sacred. So it is no wonder that much of the glass designed by the Finns was inspired by ice with a touch of whimsy from the woodland nymphs.

Designer: Alvar Aalto
Vase, 1937
Company: Karhula
Bruno Bischofberger, the Swiss art dealer and gallerist, and his wife, Christina, collect glass art objects from the most important Finnish designers of the 20th century. On display for the first time in Venice are over 300 works of art that reflect the soul and spirit of the collectors -- the Bischofbergers are passionate about magical, mystical Finnish glass.

Rågåkern / Ruispelto (Rye Field)
Vase, 1937
Company: Karhula
In the early 1920s, after becoming independent from what was about to become the Soviet Union, Finland used design as its manifesto in an attempt to establish its autonomy and cultural sovereignty. Some of the country's greatest designers began to use glass to create works of art that blended tradition, experimentation and technique. Unlike Venice, Finland had no tradition of glass blowing, but it did have one important element needed to create the blaze that melts glass -- wood, and plenty of it. Finland is the most forested nation in Europe; 76% of the land area is covered with trees. The decision to concentrate on the production of glass was pragmatic for a country rich with wood but without fossil fuels and other natural resources; to hire artists, architects and graphic designers to design the glass was divine inspiration.

Pitcher, Mug, Tumbler 1932
Company: Karhula
Finnish glass came on the international scene in the 1930s, after five top Finnish names designed glass objects for the first time. The impulsive Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was Finland's most widely known architect; his realistic wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894-1949) was also an architect, and worked in her husband's office -- the two opposites balanced each other. Arttu Brummer (1891-1951) designed furniture and glass, but was more influential as a highly-regarded teacher of design, spawning a pack of uber-cool future designers like Goran Hongell, Kaj Franck, Gunnel Nyman, Timo Sarpaneva and Tapio Wirkkala. Goran Hongell (1902-1973) was an interior designer before becoming a pioneer in Finnish glass design. He was the very first designer hired by a Finnish glassware company, Karhula-Iittala, to give the everyday piece of glass a lift. Gunnel Nyman (1909-1948) majored in furniture design, but started working with glass in her student years, and would become the most widely known Finnish glass artist in the late 1940s. These five designers would put Finland on the map when it came to visionary Scandinavian glass design.

Finnish troops during the Winter War
Then came World War II. Once part of the Russian Empire, Finland had dicey relationships with both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany -- it did not declare war on Germany, its former partner, until March 3, 1945 when the war was winding down; it would lose 10% of its territory to the Soviet Union. After three personal wars during the Second World War: two with the Soviet Union -- the Winter War, which the vastly outnumbered Finns fought on skis with reindeer, and the Continuation War -- and one with Germany, the Lapland War -- Finland need good publicity to illustrate that their sympathies were with the West, and they decided to use glass as the medium. Glass was beauty; glass was hope; glass was peace.

After the war, Finnish glass design had two different perspectives: as high quality art objects and as industrial products. During the press conference, the curators, Kaisa Koivisto and Pekka Korvenmaa, said that Finns are a practical people, and an object must be useful, so a glass sculpture that served no useful purpose was greeted with skepticism. While Italy has "always appreciated beauty for beauty's sake," in Finland, "first you take care of your basic needs."

Designer: KAJ FRANCK
Pitchers, 1954
Company: Nuutajärvi
The 1950s saw the beginning of the Golden Age of Finnish glass. Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), Timo Sarpaneva (1926-2006), Kaj Franck (1911-1989) and Oiva Toikka (1931-) burst on the scene, creating beautiful glass sculptures that served no useful purpose, as well as industrial objects such as practical drinking glasses, but with a flair. In Finland, glass designers were considered artists; the companies they produced for used their names to market the glass; they achieved cult status. You already know who Tapio Wirkkala is because he designed this bottle:

Wirkkala began his career as a commercial artist, and served at the front during the war. After the war, he married artist Rut Bryk. In 1946, he entered the Iittala glassworks design competition and won first prize.The international Milan Triennial in Italy was the Olympics of design, attracting top designers from all over the planet, and in 1951, Wirkkala won three Gran Premios, putting himself and Finland firmly on the globe. He and his wife loved Lapland and its Artic indigenous people, the Sami, in the north, and acquired a summer residence there; the magic of Lapland had a profound influence on his work. A highlight of the exhibition is Pilkkiavanto, or "Hole in the Ice," which the city of Helsinki commissioned in 1970 for the 70th birthday of Urho Kekkonen, the President of Finland. Wirkkala was inspired by the chunk of ice cut to form the hole for ice fishing.

Pilkkiavanto (Hole in the Ice)
Plate, 1970
Company: Iittala
Long before Apple started making iThings, Timo Sarpaneva created the i-glass collection for Iittala division of Karhula-Iittala, which focused on Art glass, while the Karhula division of the company focused on mass production. The i-glass logo turned Iittala into a coveted brand. Like Tapio Wirkkala before him, Sarpaneva won the Gran Premio for glass design at the Milan Triennial of 1954, transforming him into an internationally known glass artist. The Finns were the rock stars of glass design just about the same time Elvis became the first rock star. Both Timo Sarpaneva and Tapio Wirkkala would go on to work with the renowned Venetian glass company, Venini, here on Murano.

Designer: Timo Sarpaneva
Kajakki (Kayak) - Bowl, 1953
Company: Iittala
During the 60s and 70s, Finnish glass focused on color and energy like most of the rest of the world. The last designer of renown, who is still working today, is Oiva Toikka, whose fanciful Birds series became a popular gift item and collectible, and kept the Nuutajärvi glassworks in operation for several extra years.

Designer: Oiva Toikka
Kiikkuri (Red-throated Diver) - Sculpture, 1975
Company: Nuutajärvi

The Bischofberger Collection ends in 1973, when Finnish glass ceased to flourish due to international reasons. The energy crisis hit the glass industry hard, Finland and the Nordic countries in particular, which were known for handcrafted art and glass design.

Bowl with lid, 1936 
Company: Riihimäki
Personally, I would love to see a time when glass designers were rock stars once again and our everyday glassware had a little touch of soul.

IMAGES COURTESY:  Bischofberger Collection, Switzerland
Photos: Rauno Träskelin

Glass from Finland in the Bischofberger Collection
curated by Kaisa Koivisto and Pekka Korvenmaa  
3 April 2015 – 2 August 2015
For more information: STANZE DEL VETRO
on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Castle in Venice? San Pietro di Castello

Basilica of San Pietro di Castello
(Venice, Italy) The Basilica of San Marco is Easter headquarters here in Venice, but it wasn't always that way. Before there was a basilica in Piazza San Marco, Venice's cathedral was located on San Pietro di Castello, an island off the eastern tip of Venice, orginally called Olivolo. Castello means "castle," and there once was a castle on the Island of Olivolo, which then morphed into the Island of San Pietro di Castello.

Castle of Olivolo by Francesco Nardo (2014)
The first church on the island was built way back in the 7th century and was dedicated to the Byzantine saints Sergius and Bacchus, officers in the Roman army on the Syrian frontier who refused to sacrifice to the pagan god Jupiter because they were Christians, and were martyred for their defiance. The new church dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle was built in the 9th century; the one that stands today dates to the end of the 16th century.

Many years ago, when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, I wrote a sidebar about the church, which was first published on November 8, 2002. Here it is again, slightly edited:

San Pietro di Castello by Francesco Guardi (1712-93)

By Cat Bauer

Once the cathedral of the Republic, this church played a central role in Venetian history. San Pietro is situated on the island of Olivolo, a name that, perhaps, originated from the numerous olive trees that once stood there. Doge Pietro Tribuno (888-912) built a castle there for the defense of the city; hence the name "di Castello."

Olivolo was the first settlement in the lagoon and was once the center of religious, commercial and political life in the city. From 775 to 1451, San Pietro was a Diocesan Church under the patriarchy of Grado, a town on the Adriatic Sea north of Venice.

In 1451, the Grado patriarch merged with the Episcopal see of Venice, and Venetian nobleman Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381-1456), who is buried in the church, was named the first Patriarch of Venice. Back in 1433, Pope Eugene IV, who was also Venetian, had made Giustiniani the Bishop of Castello. Pope Alexander VIII (1689-91), who was also Venetian, then made him a Saint.  

St. Lawrence Giustiniani adoring the Baby Jesus by Luca Giordino (17th C)
The current building was started during the time of Patriarch Vincenzo Diedo, dating to 1594-96, and is the result of Andrea Palladio's project, realized years after his death by his follower Francesco Smeraldi. The architect incorporated a family chapel from the late Gothic period that had been commissioned by Bishop Marco Lando (c.1425), who is buried in a tomb in the floor. The Lando Chapel boasts an impressive ensemble of sculpture and decorative elements spanning an entire millennium. The oldest work of art (dated to between the second and fifth centuries) is a decorative Roman mosaic embedded in the floor in front of the altar. The large marble slab supporting the top of the altar, carved on both sides, is from the ninth century. Other examples of Veneto-Byzantine architecture are two freestanding columns from the 11th century that were probably part of the old baptistery, flanking a bust depicting San Lorenzo Giustiniani, the first Patriarch of Venice (1381-1456). The mosaic "All Saints" altarpiece is by Arminio Zuccato from a cartoon by Tintoretto. Near the entrance to the Lando Chapel is an altarpiece attributed to Paolo Veronese, "St. John the Evangelist, Peter, Paul."

Madonna and Child with Souls in Purgatory by Luca Giordano (1650)
The prolific Neapolitan artist Luca Giordano painted the brilliantly colored "Madonna of the Carmelites with Souls in Purgatory" inside the Vendramin Chapel. The painting was stolen in 1994, but found six weeks later in a garage in Mestre on the mainland.

Throne of St. Peter, Venice
The "Throne of St. Peter" made of marble with decorations in Arabic patterns and writing from the Koran was probably assembled in the 13th century, and incorporates an Arab funerary stele. Also in the right aisle is Tizanello's "God the Father Eternal in Glory." To the right of the presbytery is Pietro Liberi's masterpiece, "The Plague of Serpents," painted in 1660.

Campanile San Pietro di Castello
The impressive campanile, the bell tower in Istrian stone, was almost completely rebuilt between 1482 and 1488 by Mauro Codussi, who also built the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco.


Well, I just learned something new when I wrote this post based on an article I had written almost 13 years ago. Lorenzo Giustiniani, the first patriarch, who is buried in the church and was made into a saint, was in power when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Giovanni Giustiniani (1418-1453) part of the Genoa branch of the family, personally financed, organized and led 700 professional soldiers to Constantinople to help defend the city, but he died after being wounded by an Ottoman cannon. Almost overnight, the Eastern capital of Christianity turned into the Islamic capital of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople morphed into Istanbul -- and dramatically altered the core of a major Venetian trading partner. Interesting.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 30, 2015

Venice International Literary Festival - Incroci di Civiltà 2015

James Ivory
(Venice, Italy) James Ivory was the inaugural guest at Crossroads of Civilization, Venice's International Literary Festival, which kicked off on March 25, 2015 at the Goldoni Theater. Ivory was a unique choice since he is, of course, a film director, responsible for such stellar films as A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day which he created with his long-time partner, the producer Ismail Merchant and the Booker Prize-winning author, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Just those three Merchant-Ivory films were nominated for 25 Academy Awards, and won six.

Watching a Merchant-Ivory film is like having a weighty work of literature transformed into something more digestible, and Ivory gave the credit for that to Ruth. According to Wikipedia, "Of this collaboration, Merchant once commented: 'It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory... I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!'"

James Ivory has such vibrant energy that I was stunned to discover he will be 87-years-old on June 7th. He is also a screenwriter -- first, he would first write the screenplay and then give it to Ruth, who was a novelist as well as a screenwriter. Ivory said he never read  the classics he should have read when he was a teenager, and that he had to read Howards End by E.M. Forster three times because he "didn't get it." Ruth pressured him to make the film, insisting, "Let's climb that mountain."

The Piazzetta, Venice, photographed by James Ivory in 1952
The evening opened with a half-hour documentary called Venice: Theme and Variations that Ivory wrote, photographed, produced and directed in the winter of 1952-53 for his masters thesis at USC film school with money his father gave him. He had no crew; he was just one person with a camera shooting wherever he could in Venice, and didn't include Titian or Veronese because the paintings were "too big." The film was shot with 16mm silent speed. His professor congratulated him on making "the first silent film since 1929."

Francesca Bortolotto Possati, Michele Bugliesi, James Ivory
Ca' Foscari, the University in Venice, is the organizer of Incroci di Civiltà, along with the Comune. James Ivory was the recipient of this year's Bauer-Ca' Foscari award, presented by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, President and CEO of the Bauers hotel group, and Michele Bugliesi, the Rector of Ca' Foscari.

Ivory said he always had wanted to make a feature in Venice. He had the idea to set the Aspern Papers by Henry James not in the 1880s but the 1950s, and to use the papers of Ezra Pound. He had already completed his first draft and sent it to Ruth when he fell down the stairs and broke both his legs. Then Ruth became ill. Unfortunately, the film never happened, but that is one movie I would have loved to see.

Someone from the audience asked the renowned director James Ivory how the renowned actor Anthony Hopkins was to work with -- Ivory had worked with him on Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Surviving Picasso and The City of Your Final Destination. Ivory said that Hopkins was very easy to work with, very pleasant and professional. Hopkins thought he had never gotten Picasso's accent right in Surviving Picasso (Picasso did not speak English), but Ivory had no problem with it. Then someone asked Ivory who was the most difficult actor he had ever worked with, and he said, "Raquel Welch. She fired me!"

Incroci di Civiltà 2015 presented 29 authors from 21 different countries, making Venice the literary Crossroads of Civilization from March 25 to 28. Inviting international writers to share their singular perspectives of the world adds more zesty ingredients to the rich stew that is Venice.


Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Korea, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, Great Britain, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, United States, and Taiwan.


Sergio Álvarez from Columbia
Mathieu Amalric from France
Ana Luísa Amaral from Portugal
Li Ang from Taiwan
Sascha Arango from Germany
Antonia Arslan from Italy/Armenia
Jerry Brotton from Great Britain
Roberto Costantini from Italy
Francesco Cataluccio from Italy
Patrick Deville from France
David Foenkinos from France
Stefan Hertmans from Belgium
James Ivory from the United States
Billy Kahora from Kenya
Hanif Kureishi from Great Britain
Lucio Mariani from Italy
Shara McCallum from Jamaica
Kim Min-jeong from Korea
Mahsa Mohebali from Iran
Mark Mustian from US/Armenia
Vladislav Otrošenko from Russia
Víctor Rodríguez Núñez from Cuba
Tatiana Salem Levy from Brazil
Morten Søndergaard from Denmark
Agata Tuszyńska from Poland
Ludmila Ulitskaya from Russia
Tommy Wieringa from Holland
Wu Ming 1 from Italy
Xu Zechen from China

Click to go to Incroci di Civiltà 2015

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Indian Music in Venice - VISHWA MOHAN BHATT at the Giorgio Cini Foundation

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
(Venice, Italy) Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the virtuouso Indian musician, plays the mohan veena, a modified slide guitar he invented himself that sings the music he hears from the heavens. Vishwa believes that "music is the language of God for the benefit of mankind." On Thursday evening at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, God sang to the enthusiatic audience through Vishwa's mohan veena, accompanied by Krishna Mohan Bhatt on the sitar and Nihar Metha on the tabla, the drums.

The Beatles in India
Classical Indian music first hit the Western world big time in 1965 when the Beatles recorded John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" for Rubber Soul, and George Harrison played his newly-acquired sitar. In 1966 George Harrison studied sitar with the legendary Ravi Shankar, and then in 1968 all the Beatles and their women went off to India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi. During their stay, they wrote a bunch of songs which made it onto the White Album and Abbey Road. A spiritual craze for all things Indian set the planet on fire, affecting me deeply on a personal level -- I listened to Indian music to the point of obsession, had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my nightstand and wrote my high school term paper on reincarnation. So when I heard that the Intercultural Institute for Comparative Music Studies, the IICMS, which is one of the Giorgio Cini Foundation's institutes, was featuring the mohan veena and sitar, I had to go.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is a pandit, which is a wise or learned man. He, too, is a disciple of Ravi Shankar, as is sitarist Krishna Mohan Bhatt (I have not confirmed how they are related; I think they are cousins). Vishwa explained that a raga -- the musical structure -- in classical Indian music is connected to nature and human emotions, and associated with different times of day. The musicians improvise the notes within the raga as they play. Since it was evening when the concert began, Vishwa, Krishna and Nihar Metha played an Evening Raga, which left the audience transfixed.

Someone said the mohan veena was "dobro meets sitar," and that is just what it sounds like. I thought it was amazing that Vishwa created an instrument to express the music he feels inside, a kind of blues guitar with Indian zest. (I just discovered we share the same birthday, July 27; it feels like music made by a Leo.) Here's a YouTube clip so you can hear the mohan veena yourself:

From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

Founded in 1970 by Alain Daniélou, and subsequently directed by Ivan Vandor and Francesco Giannattasio, the Intercultural Institute of Comparative Music Studies (IISMC) promotes knowledge about some of the finest forms of expression in various musical cultures by organising courses, workshops, concerts, seminars, conferences and publications.

Fondazione Giorgio Cini
One of the magical things about living in Venice is that you can visit another world, another time and space, just by taking the boat across the canal. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 16, 2015

There's a New Book in Town - MY PRETTY VENICE

My Pretty Venice
(Venice, Italy) My Pretty Venice was created by three pretty smart ladies: Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and Beatrice Campagnol. Classy and sassy, My Pretty Venice is published in three languages with three different subtitles --  La Venise exclusive des Vénitiennes, La venezia vera delle veneziane and A Girl's Guide to True Venice -- for out-of-towners of any gender who want to know where real Venetian women get their goodies. The book was launched in the top-floor bookstore/exhibition/cultural Espace at Louis Vuitton Maison, which, to me, is like a little oasis off Piazza San Marco. 

Beatrice Campagnol, Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer, Luigi Casson, Nicoletta Mantoan at Louis Vuitton
Isabella Campagnol is part of a rare breed: a scholar who can communicate with earthlings. She's Venetian, a historian specializing in textiles and fashion, who lectures throughout the land. I first met Isabella at Palazzo Papadopoli aka Aman Canal Grande where she entertained us with the research she had compiled about the risque habits of Venetian nuns that resulted in a book called, Forbidden Fashions - Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Forbidden Fashions
Now, together with her sister Beatrice, who did the very-cool illustrations, and communications whiz Elisabeth Rainer (who is actually from Merano, which rivals Venice for my heart's affections), Isabella has turned her talents to guiding travelers where to find the good stuff in Venice -- clothes, food, perfume, art, everything -- in My Pretty Venice. Sprinkled throughout the shops and restaurants are tasty bits of history and information that, amazingly, has not been gathered together before. 

My Pretty Venice
Just when you think it is not possible to write anything new about Venice, someone does. It's nice that this time they're actually Venetian.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rousseau's Reality - An Angel in Venice

Merry Jesters by Henri Rousseau (1906) Philadelphia Museum of Art
(Venice, Italy) Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) never traveled to the lush jungles of Mexico except in his own mind, although he claimed he had fought during the French invasion of Mexico under Napoleon III in 1863. Rousseau was called Le Douanier, which means customs officer, although he was not a customs officer -- for nearly 22 years he was a lowly municipal toll collector on goods that came into Paris. Wilhelm Uhde, the art collector and critic who would become a significant figure in Rousseau's career said, “Rousseau had been next to worthless in the service. ...His job had been to hang around the quai like a watchman, keeping an eye on the barges.”

Girl with a Doll by Henri Rousseau (1904-05) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
Henri Rousseau was an ordinary man who had Walter Mitty dreams of becoming an famous artist. He had a wife, Clemence, whom he adored, and six children, only one of whom survived childhood. After nearly 20 years of marriage, Clemence, too, died of tuberculosis. During Rousseau's lifetime, he was mocked by the critics, and shunned by the establishment, but finally embraced by Picasso and the avant-garde the way young people adopt an eccentric old man, like a pet -- his naive ignorance made them laugh. Unlike most critics, real artists look at the world through the eyes of heaven, and the young avant-garde appreciated the primitive spirituality that radiated from Rousseau's work.

The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau (1907) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
What Henri Rousseau had was an obsessive belief in his own great talent. He once told the young Picasso: "You and I are the two most important artists of the age - you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one." He never achieved the success he craved during his lifetime, but after viewing Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, home to Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, his astounding declaration of assurance rings true.

Black Spot by Wassily Kandinsky (1912) Hermitage, St. Petersburgh
It was only after he died that Rousseau became the leader of a school of art, his "Archaic Candor," paving the way for magic realism. The mostly self-taught artist became known for his naive, childlike depiction of reality. It was not possible to stick a label on him and file him into a category -- there was no one like him. Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, whose work is represented in the exhibition Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico thought that Rousseau's spiritual greatness and strength derived precisely from his formal limitations. Kandinsky bought Rousseau's The Poultry Yard and exhibited it in the first Blaue Reiter show in Munich in 1911, after Rousseau was dead.

The Poultry Yard (1896-98) Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
I have been pondering for days who Rousseau reminds me of, and it finally hit me: the angel, Clarence, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Clarence is an Angel, Second Class who has been passed over for his wings for more than 200 years. Clarence's boss, Joseph, says to the head angel, Franklin, that Clarence has "the I.Q. of a rabbit," and Franklin replies, "Yes, but he's got the faith of a child -- simple." To me, the enormous faith that Henri Rousseau had in his own artistic ability made him an Angel, Second Class; his paintbrush earned him wings. Even though he claimed to have fought in the Aztec jungles, in reality he found his inspiration at the botanical gardens in Paris, the stuffed wild animals at the natural museum, pictures in magazines and the zoo.

Myself, Portrait-Landscape (1889-90) Prague National Gallery
Although Rousseau excelled at art and music as a young boy, he started painting later in life, quitting his government job as a toll collector at the age of 49 to devote his life to art. He was born in Laval on May 21, 1844, a medieval town with a castle, lush woods and rivers, the first boy in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys. Rousseau's father ran a hardware store, as did his grandfather; his mother's grandfather was a major in the Marching Regiment with Napoleon in Spain, and was later knighted; his mother's father was a captain in the Third Battalion. His father had lifelong financial problems, and lost their home when Rousseau was eight-years-old.

The Carriage of Father Junier (1908) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
At age 18, Rousseau worked for a lawyer in Angers, where he had moved with his parents, a town about 45 miles away from Laval. Together with two younger friends, he was caught stealing 15 or 20 francs and some stamps from his employer. He joined the army, hoping to avoid a jail sentence, but still ended up behind bars for a month. (We can imagine that even back then young men who got into trouble were urged to join the army, especially if their grandparents had been in the military.) Two battalions of his regiment did go to Mexico under Napoleon III to set up Maximilian as the Emperor, but Rousseau never left France. The stories of the returning soldiers set his imagination on fire, but he led an ordinary life, playing the saxophone in an infantry band. When he was 23-years-old, his father died. Rousseau left the army and moved to Paris; his widowed mother was still in Angers. He found a job as a bailiff's assistant.

In 1869, Rousseau married his landlady's 19-year-old daughter, Clemence, whose father, too, had recently died after gambling all his money away; her mother was a seamstress. When Prussia invaded France in 1870, he signed up to be a simple soldier, but was soon exempted. His first child died in infancy during the Siege of Paris in 1871 when people were starving; as life went on, he would lose all his six children but one.

The War - The Ride of Discord  (1894) Musée d'Orsy, Paris
“The War, terrifying, she passes, leaving despair, crying and ruin everywhere.”
The devastation of Paris and the effects of war left a deep impression on Rousseau which would later be expressed in his paintings. In February 1872, at age 27, Rousseau began working for the customs office, collecting tolls on goods that came into Paris, a government job he would keep for almost 22 years. About that time he started painting in his spare time, certain he had the talent to become an academic painter without studying at an academy. He tried to enter a painting in the official Salon in the Palace of the Louvre, but was rejected. In 1884, his friend and neighbor, Auguste Clement, got him a permit to study and copy in museums like the Louvre, and Rousseau taught himself to become an artist.

Carnival Evening by Rousseau (1886) Philadelphia Museum of Art
In July 1884, in response to the rigid control and requirements the government exercised over the official Salon, a group of artists, including Georges Seurt and Paul Signac, whose work is represented in Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico, created the Salon des Indépendants -- the motto was: "No juries, No prizes." Any artist could enter their paintings -- it cost 10 francs to show four works. After trying in vain to be accepted by the official Salon, in 1886, Rousseau exhibited four paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, including Carnival Evening.

Rousseau then became an annual fixture at the Salon des Indépendants despite receiving cruel reviews from the critics who called it the work of a "10-year-old child" and "the scribblings of a 6-year-old whose mother left him with colors." For the 4th Salon des Indépendants in 1888, he entered five paintings and five drawings. That same year, Vincent van Gogh, who had moved to Paris in 1886, entered three. Four days after the 4th Salon des Indépendants closed, Rousseau's beloved wife, Clemence, died on May 7, 1888 of tuberculosis, leaving him heartbroken. Ten years later, he married his second wife, Josephine Noury, who died within four years.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau (1891) National Gallery London
In 1891, Rousseau exhibited his first jungle painting at the 7th Salon Indépendants Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) (which is not part of the current exhibition) supposedly inspired by his combat adventures in the Aztec jungle under Napoleon III, but actually drawn from the Parisian botanical gardens and the zoo. Again, the critics laughed -- it had become a popular pastime to laugh at Rousseau -- however one young artist, Felix Vallaton, recently arrived from Switzerland, did not. He wrote:

“Monsieur Rousseau becomes more and more astonishing each year, but he commands attention and, in any event, is earning a nice little reputation and having his share of success: people flock around his submissions and one can hear the sound of laughter.  In addition he is a terrible neighbor, as he crushes everything else.  His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed;  it is the alpha and omega of painting  .   .   .   . As a matter of fact, not everyone laughs, and some who begin to do so are quickly brought up short.  There is always something beautiful about seeing a faith, any faith, so pitilessly expressed.  For my part, I have a sincere esteem for such efforts, and I would a hundred times rather them than the deplorable mistakes nearby."

The Salon Wars continued in Paris. In 1903, Felix Vallaton was part of group that created yet another new Salon, the Salon d'Automne in opposition to all other Parisian exhibitions, which caused all sorts of uproar in the art world. Henri Rousseau was sucked into the vortex of the Salon d'Automne, and in 1905, the 61-year-old struggling artist found himself in the same room as the 35-year-old Henri Matisse and 25-year-old André Derain along with his Hungry Lion -- and Fauvism was born.

The Hungry Lion by Rousseau (1905) Beyeler Foundation, Basel
Rousseau was not a Fauve, which is French for wild beast, but his Hungry Lion probably inspired the term "Fauvism" after the art critic Louis Vauxcelle saw a classical statue in the same room as the works of the avant-garde artists at the 1905 Salon d'Automne and decried: "Donatello chez les fauves" (Donatello among the wild beasts)." Rousseau wrote a long subtitle for his painting:

The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, [and] devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal which sheds a tear. The sun sets.

Horse Attacked by a Jaguar  (1910) State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
The Hungry Lion is not here in Venice, but a similar painting is, which is called Horse Attacked by a Jaguar. To me, the poor horse looks more like a bewildered unicorn.

Now Guillaume Apollinaire, writer, poet, art critic and guru of the avant-garde asked to meet Rousseau. Apollinaire then introduced Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, who had bought Rousseau's Portrait of a Woman on sale for five francs from a Paris junk shop, which was selling it for the canvas. In 1908, the 27-year-old Picasso held the famous banquet to "celebrate" Henri Rousseau, then 64, a lavish artisty kind of prank to play. Guillaume Apollinaire composed a satirical poem, praising Rousseau's adventures in the Aztec jungle, poking fun of Rousseau's long subtitles for his paintings. Also at the banquet were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who recorded the event in her autobiography.

The images you paint you saw in Mexico,
A red sun lit the banana treetops,
And you, courageous soldier, have swapped your tunic
For the blue jacket of the brave douanier.

Even though the banquet began in jest, it morphed into a genuine celebration, a drunken chorus of the avant-garde shouting "Viva, viva Rousseau!"

Portrait of a Woman by Henri Rousseau (1895) Musée Picasso, Pari
The focus of Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico in the Doge's Apartments at the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco is that "the artist was a point of reference for the great exponents of the historical avant-garde movements, for intellectuals like Apollinaire and Jarry, for great collectors like Wilhelm Uhde, and for many painters who preceded and went beyond the Cubist and Futurist movements. Artists such as Cézanne and Gauguin, Redon and Seurat, Marc, Klee, Morandi, Carrà, Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera, not to mention Kandinsky and Picasso. All these artists are present in the show."

The Grand Exhibit Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety runs from March 6 to July 5, 2015.
Please go to the PALAZZO DUCALE for further information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shocking Schiaparelli - MEETINGS AT THE PALACE - Venice

Elsa Schiaparelli
(Venice, Italy) Elsa Schiaparelli, the cosmic fashion designer who created the color Shocking Pink, was born into an aristocratic, intellectual family in Palazzo Corsini in Rome in 1890 -- her great-uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli, discovered the canals on Mars; her father was a professor of Oriental literature; her mother was descended from the Medicis. Elsa Schiaparelli - Fashion Artist was the topic of yesterday's inaugural conference of Incontri a Palazzo or "Meetings at the Palace," a series of lectures held in the piano nobile of Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice's Museum of Fabric and Costumes.

Miley Cyrus in Schiaparelli jumpsuit at Oscar parties Feb 22, 2015
Elsa Schiaparelli was a wild child. She liked to be called Schiap, not Elsa. Schiap ran away from home at the age of six and was found three days later marching at the front of a local parade. Criticized by her mother for her homely looks, she spent a lot of time with Uncle Giovanni, the astronomer, gazing at the nighttime sky through a telescope. In 1911, while at the University of Rome, Schiap published an mystical, overtly sensual poem, and her horrified parents sent her to a convent in Switzerland. Schiap went on a hunger strike and got out of the convent, then ran off to England and became a nanny. While attending a theosophical conference, she fell in love with the lecturer, Wilhelm Wendt de Kerlor, who claimed to be a Polish count, theosophist and spiritualist, whom she promptly married. They spent several seasons in Nice, then went to NewYork in 1916 on an ocean liner where Schiap became friends with Gabrielle Picabia, the wife of the avant-garde artist Francis Picabia, who would tug her into their circle of famous friends like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. 

Elsa Schiaparelli - Photo: Man Ray
The couple produced a daughter whom they called Gogo, who contracted polio. But Count de Kerlor turned out to be a con man and a womanizer, and when he had an affair with Isadora Duncan, Schiap asked for a divorce, and in 1922, took Gogo to Paris.

Schiaparelli trompe l'oeil Bow Tie Sweater
Schiap quickly became part of the Paris scene, encountering fashion icon Paul Poiret, who supported her fresh ideas. Schiap considered herself an artist who channeled her creative energies into fashion, and since she was touched by the cosmos, there was an element of other-worldliness to her designs. Her rise to fame was due to a simple hand-knitted black pullover with a white trompe l'oeil bow tie that Vogue declared a masterpiece and was a huge hit in the US.

Marlene Dietrich wearing Schiaparelli
According to "For Schiaparelli, fashion was as much about making art as it was about making clothes. In 1932, Janet Flanner of The New Yorker wrote: "A frock from Schiaparelli ranks like a modern canvas." Not surprisingly, Schiaparelli connected with popular artists of the era; one of her friends was painter Salvador Dali, whom she hired to design fabric for her fashion house."

Shocking de Schiaparelli Perfume
Schiap became a success on the Place Vendôme, counting Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo among her clientele. She invented culottes, the evening gown, the built-in bra and dared to expose zippers. In 1937 she launched a fragrance, "Shocking," its pink glass torso bottle based on Mae West's body. She began collaborating with the Surrealists, especially Salvador Dali, with whom she created a lobster dress which was worn by Wallis Simpson.

Wallis Simpson in Schiaparelli lobster dress
Schiap closed her business in 1954, and published her autobiography Shocking Life. She died in her sleep in Paris in 1973.

Kate Blanchett in Schiaparelli
In 2007,  Diego Della Valle, CEO and President of Tod's, acquired the brand Schiaparelli. In addition to Miley Cyrus wearing the brand to the after-Oscars parties, Schiaparelli has been recently worn by such celebs as Kate Blanchett and Lorde.

Lorde in Schiaparelli
Like many originals, Elsa Schiaparelli's spirit continues on long after her body was laid to rest.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog