Saturday, August 30, 2014

Exhibition Hopping - Part 1

Over the past two months I've seen three exhibitions that have shown the impressive curating teams at three of our Canadian museums. Two have been right here in Ottawa and the third in Montreal.

Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination - National Gallery of Canada

Traditionally the NGC attempts to mount a "blockbuster" for the summer months when the tourists are flocking to the National Capital to stare through the fences at the now inaccessible Parliament Buildings and manouveur the detours and construction that is Ottawa.  In past years it has included a Van Gogh Exhibition (with not a sunflower in sight!!) that drew the biggest crowds in the history of the Gallery.  This year's Exhibition deserves to have a similar success but unfortunately a drop in tourism, road construction that makes access difficult and the sad fact that Doré is not a household name has meant that attendance has been disappointingly low.

The National Gallery and Musée d'Orsay used Doré's well-known illustration of Le Chat botté as their poster for Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination.  A click on the picture will take you to their mini-site devoted to this exceptional exhibition.

If attendance has been low the quality of the exhibition is of the highest.  Of course Doré the illustrator is a known quantity: it is Doré the sculptor and, for me at least, Doré the landscape artist that astounds the most.  As you enter the exhibition area it is difficult to miss Poème de la vigne, the massive (4 metres high and weighing in at 6000 lbs) bronze that was brought to Ottawa on a flatbed from its home at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  But as is often the case as impressive as the large pieces are it is  the smaller exhibits that cause that little catch in the throat that says you are looking at a master at work.

Frolic (Leapfrog) is a bronze from 1881 - a brilliant piece of suspended animation.  Its form and fluidity are a prime example of the talents of the artist as more than an illustrator.  The delicate balance of the work is an astounding piece of calculation.

If his bronzes impressed it was his landscapes, particularly those of Scotland and the Pyrenees that came as a complete surprise.  Unfortunately I found that most of his religious paintings - and he did a great many - reeked of that faux-sanctitity that was typical of French art of the period.  But those landscapes! 

A range in the Pyrenees painted in 1860 - Doré's landscapes are romanticism at its highest - and that is meant as a compliment.

Several years ago the summer show was a brilliant exhibition: The Great Parade: Portrait of the Artist as a Clown.   It celebrated the history of the circus with some 200 lithographs, paintings, photographs and sculptures.  Though Picasso's overwhelming show curtain for Parade had me near tears with its sheer exuberant glory what stuck in my memory were two paintings of French street performers:   Grimaces et Misères (Les Saltimbanques) (1888) by Fernand Pelez and an earlier work by Doré: La famille du Saltimbanque: L'enfant blessé (The Family of Street Acrobats: the injured child (1874).  

 The artist's comment on the painting removes any taint of maudlin sentiment and places the scene in the very real world:
He (the child) is dying.  I wished to depict the tardy awakening of nature in those two hardened, almost brutalized beings.  To gain money they have killed their child, and in killing him they have found out that they had hearts.
When curators Paul Lang, Édouard Papet and Phillipe Kaenel set up the exhibition they wanted to show the often overlooked influence that Doré has had over visual arts up to our own time.  In the work of cinema directors as diverse as George Méliès, Jean Cocteau, Cecil B. DeMille, Carol Reed, Terry Gilliam,  and Roman Polanski entire frames mirror the work of the Illustrator.   And the sway he has held over cartoonists and graphic artists to this day is another aspect of this remarkable man that, until now, has been neglected.

That rocket struck Moon in George Méliès La voyage dans la lune bears a more than passing resemblance to Dore's Frost-Bitten Sun.

During a recent members' night a series of Méliès' films were shown including a Cendrillon which was Doré inspired by way of the Folies Bergère.   At times it was like one of Doré's Contes de Fées come to life at other times pure escapism for the tired tycoon.  And the special effects were remarkable considering Méliès was working with one camera and very primitive techniques.  And a recent viewing of L'Inferno - the first full length silent film ever made in Italy - reveals that many of the tableau vivant and effects are straight out of Doré's famous plates for Dante's masterpiece.  And in more recent times take a look at that Dream Works Puss in Boots?  He remind you of anyone?

Two very different views of Street People by Doré.  Above:  London from a series of studies of Victorian London that accentuate the grim and smog laden atmosphere of the world's largest city of the period.  Below:  The Beggars of Burgos, the former capital of Castille have a more romantic appearance than their Albion neighbours.   Doré's views of Spain were to add to the Romantic notions the French seemed to harbour about the people beyond the Pyrenees.

There are only two weeks left before the exhibition ends (September 14) and I urge anyone in and around Ottawa to catch it while you can.  I certainly plan to make a visit in the next few days - once was not enough.

"How long must one be an illustrator before they become illustrious?" - Gustave Doré

August 30 - 1918: Fanni Kaplan shoots and seriously injures Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. This, along with the assassination of Bolshevik senior official Moisei Uritsky days earlier, prompts the decree for Red Terror.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Now, fair Hippolyta

In 1976 Stratford was bursting with Canadian and International theatrical royalty - Kate Reid, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Gordon Pinsent, Jeremy Brett, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Brian Bedford and Maggie Smith. Several were to be visiting for the season but others like Hutt, Henry, Bedford and Smith became members of a company that gave some of the most exciting and memorable performances and theatre experiences of the period.

It was at Stratford that Smith and Beford were to forge a partnership that flowered in The Guardsman, Much Ado About Nothing and Private Lives.  And over five seasons Smith spread her wings in many of the great classical roles:  Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Marsha, Milliament, Elizabeth Gray, Beatrice, Madame Arkadina, Judith Bliss  and in 1977 the duel role of Hippolyta/Titania in a gorgeous A Midsummer Night's Dream set as an Elizabethan court masque*.

Susan Benson's costume sketch for Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1977.
It was a revival of the production from the previous year with Maggie Smith replaced Jessica Tandy as the earthly and fairy queens.  Designer Susan Benson created new costumes for Smith - Titania in flowing white, silver and gold floating through the woods almost mocking the stiff black, silver and gold of the court bound Athenian bride.

Maggie Smith as Hippolyta - every inch the image of Gloriana.  And a rollover will reveal her alter-ego  Fairy Queen Titania.  Perhaps the real Gloriana wished she could have been so free-spirited.
The work that goes into the costumes for any production at Stratford is remarkable - whither it is  a sequined cowgirl outfit for a dancer in Crazy for You or the Chaplain's stained and worn shirt in Mother Courage.  As part of a Festival display at the Stratford Perth County Museum (a delightful side trip that is definitely "worth the detour") several designers thoughts on how to dress Gloriana on the stage were on display.  And as with any costumes made in the workshops at Stratford they were stunning examples of the craftsmanship that has become one of the trademarks of the Festival.

One of those displayed was Hippolyta's first costume from that 1977 production. To get a closer look either left click on the hot spots at various points on the costume or left click on one of the titles below the picture.

A dress fit for a queen!  Fair Hippolyta indeed.

* The first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream I saw at Stratford in 1960 also had Elizabethan costuming though the fairies were dressed à la Turque.

August 28 - 1879:  Cetshwayo, last king of the Zulus, is captured by the British.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stylish in Stratford

One of the pleasures of returning to Straford this year has been the chance to reconnect, other than virtually, with our friends Spo and Harper’s Other Daddy. Laurent first met them through Spo’s blog three years ago. Of course that led us to HOD’s blog and eventually the chance to meet them here at Stratford last year.

Though they may have had other ideas we decided to make it an annual event. So last Monday we endeavoured to meet at several corners of York and Wellington Streets in Toronto (don’t ask but I believe Shakespeare wrote a play about it – The Comedy of Errors?) and drive up to Stratford. As well as the opportunity of breaking some rather fine bread with them, discussing the plays and just sitting fixing the problems of the world over fine scotches, whiskies and other libations we were the recipients of much anticipated creations that are the talk of the blogosphere: a Spo custom made shirts.
A Spo by any other name!

I won’t go into the story of how Spo came to become a master shirt maker, as that would be his story to tell, but let us just say that he has an eye for fabric and a deft foot at the treadle. And we are the beneficiaries of those talents.

Laurent looking dashing in an elegant Asian print - and sadly
the fireplace was needed to keep our room warm - in August?

Knowing Laurent’s penchant for things Asian – oh stop it I mean artifacts – Spo chose a Japanese print for him. Aware that I am the faithful vassel of a domination of dachshunds he picked an appropriate pattern redolent of snowy walks and struggles with winter coats for me.

And I proudly display my domination of dachshunds.

The waitress at Bijoux (where we received our Spo creatons) was impressed with the perfect
match at the placket. There isn't a break in the parade of pampered pups.
And to the several people who wanted tried to bribe Spo into giving them our shirts I say: Na yana nana!!

August 22 - 1654:  Jacob Barsimson arrives in New Amsterdam. He is the first known Jewish immigrant to America.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

I don't normally find this sort of thing very funny but for some reason this had me chuckling yesterday afternoon.

And on a more subtle note:

David Sipress - The New Yorker - Conde Nast Publications

Something tells me I should be looking for bodies along the cliffs behind Parliament!

August 18 - 1612: The trials of the Pendle witches, one of England's most famous witch trials, begins at Lancaster Assizes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sidd Gets Some Culture - Ontario Style

It's been almost a year since we had the pleasure of Sidd's company on one of our travels.  The last time the Hounds from Hell were left to the gentle mercies of their Uncle Pervy Sidd was off gallivanting around the United States of America with another colleague from work.  At that point we had the pleasure of Juan's company for a jaunt through Germany and Austria.  He attended the opera, several impressive exhibitions and even had caffe and strudel mit schlagsahne at the Zwinger in Dresden.

Juan has an afternoon coffee with a rather taciturn but seemingly contented Matrone aus Dresden in the
square in front of the Zwinger.  Her strudel was - you should excuse the expression - smothered in schlag.

However now it's Sidd's turn to join us for a bit of culture - Ontario style as we head down to Stratford.  Sidd has travelled on trains in Europe but this will be his first adventure on Via Rail - going to have to see how it compares.

Sidd was a bit overwhelmed by everything that's on offer this season but decided that for
his first go at Ontario Culture he'd try Shakespeare, Brecht, Gershwin and Farqhaur.
And though he's been to the theatre in London, Salzburg and several other places he's never seen anything by that Shakespeare guy.  And apparently this Stratford Shakespeare Festival has been going on for a while and has a reputation for doing the guy's stuff up pretty good.  And Sidd's heard there's a chance he'll be able to try some fancy stepping and learn a number from Crazy For You at one of the extra events.  Plus he'll get to meet Spo and Harper's Other Daddy and have some good food and wine.  Now if that ain't culture I don't know what is.

August 17 - 1959: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, the much acclaimed and highly influential best selling jazz recording of all time, is released.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Much Is That Half Doggie.....

... in the Museum Shop.

You may recall that earlier in the week I posted some wonderfully lunatic furniture by French designer Hubert Le Gall and asked if anyone could identify the decorative purpose.  Well a rollover the picture  below will give you a view of its role in the interior scheme of things.

And this little half-doggie accent lamp can be yours for only $700.00 - Canadian of course and plus tax ... cause its a luxury product you know!

August 14 - 1040:  King Duncan I is killed in battle against his first cousin and rival Macbeth. The latter succeeds him as King of Scotland.