16 December 2009

Angels We Have Heard On High

At this time of year, remember the Parisi, the original settlers of Paris and environs, who were Celts. This heritage helps to explain the distinctive sound of French Chirtsmas carols. Il est né le divin enfant, Minuit Chrétien, Un Flambeau Jeannette Isabelle, and Les Anges dans nos campagnes or Angels We Have Heard On High are readily distinguishable from English and German carols for their sprightly rhythms and celebratory mood.

Although Stefan Lochner (c. 1405-c.1452) who painted Angels Adoring Baby Jesus was a German Gothic artist, I think his angels are the ones we imagine when we hear the angel carol. Lochner's curly-headed angel children are anything but saccharine. Notice the little hand reaching over the picture frame, the moving eyes. Each child an individual personality within the group. They are children, children who like to have fun, just the ones to invite to a celebration.

Note: Stefan Lochner's work is in the Bavarian State Museum, collection of Old Paintings, Munich, Germany.

05 December 2009

Henri Riviere at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

If you are in Paris now, and looking for something to see while many museums are closed, you might check out the recent gift of Henri Riviere's personal collection to Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The Riviere collection includes, along with his lithographs, watercolors, the artist's notebooks and preparatory drawings, and illustrated calendars. His personal collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints runs to more than 700, and BNF considers it an essential tool for the study of Japanese influence on French art, equal to that of l'Art Nouveau Bing.
Among the highlights of Riviere's own work are the series of fourteen drawings Light on the Copse at Longivy (1898), last displayed at the Musee D'Orsay in 1988 and another series, The Enchanted Hours (1901-1902).

Although Impressionism was the dominant movement of his time, Riviere's only brush with it seems to have been his friendship with fellow artists Paul Signac.

Henri Rivière (1864-1951) never visited Japan but created his own personal Japan in Brittany, finding in its landscape echoes of Japanese prints.

Archetypal Breton subjects – fishing and the ever present sea, rural agriculture and antique peasant burial rites become, in Riviere's works, if not universal, then trans-continental. The pared down, decorative style creates an extraodrinary effect. Rivière recreated the ukiyo-e style, down to his monogram, without compromising the Breton geography, its vegetation and topography. Like the Japanese masters, Rivière's work shows a sensitivity to the time of day and the weather as integral parts of his subjects.

Also, from Japanese print makers Rivere took the idea of series of works organized around a theme. If Hokusai composed Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, then Riviere made Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower, a magnificent series of lithographs in beige and peach tones. This may have inspired the comic strip Tin Tin. Did Hergé know Riviere's work?
Riviere’s watercolors are less well known than his lithographs. While watercolors are often full of washed-out tones and fuzzy forms, Riviere’s are more precise, a taste carried over.
Tree in the Snow strikes a seasonal note, reminiscent, oddly enough, of the work of the early 19th century German romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich.
Images: works by Henri Riviere and Katsushika Hokusai are from the Henri Riviere Collection at the Bibiliotheque Nationle de France in Paris. Visit http://bnf.fr/ for more information.
Addendum: There is much more of Henri Riviere's work here.