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Subject: ‘Famous artists’

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The comic genius of Rowlandson and Cruikshank

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, London on Thursday, 20 February 2014

This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 560 published on 7 October 1972.

Vauxhall 1732,  picture, image, illustration
Vauxhall 1732 by Thomas Rowlandson

Ridicule is a powerful weapon. James Gillray discovered this when he followed William Hogarth as a major British cartoonist. The period which came after them was one of the richest and liveliest in the history of caricature. Like all important epochs, the period was memorable for a very large number – about fifty or sixty – of very competent practitioners, and one or two giants who bestrode all the rest like giants. And the two giants who followed after poor James Gillray were Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank.

Thomas Rowlandson was the son of a London merchant. He had a straightforward art education at the Royal Academy and in Paris. With the kind of talent he had for recording the English landscape, young Tom might well have been remembered alongside Gainsborough and Constable. But, as in so many cases, including the case of Hogarth, he turned to commercial draughtsmanship to keep himself fed and clothed. Also to support his passion for gambling, which was nearly his ruination.

In his political cartoons, he consciously aped the style and bite of Gillray; but, unlike the earlier master, he was not a politically-minded person; he was an observer of the passing scene of life about him, and this he recorded with honesty and affection.

Do not look to Rowlandson for an insight into the obscure and involved political set-ups of the late eighteenth century; but, rather, for a pictorial journalist’s view of the rollicking life of the taverns and the docks, and in dance halls and pleasure gardens. His pen dealt with a wide cast of people, particularly women, whom he loved dearly: all kinds of women, from overblown fishwives, to delicate misses in crinolines. He drew them all, even at their most outrageous, without any venom.

He had a masterly eye for a crowd scene. He would have made a splendid film director. This shows best in his large drawings of processions, and in his coloured drawing of an evening entertainment in Vauxhali gardens – surely his tour de force.

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The rise of caricature in eighteenth-century British Art

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, News, Politics on Thursday, 20 February 2014

This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 559 published on 30 September 1972.

Very Slippy Weather,  picture, image, illustration
Very Slippy Weather by James Gillray

It was a poet, Edward Bulwer-Lytton who coined the much-quoted truth:

“Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

As a weapon of protest, attack or satire, the pen can be a deadly instrument. Even the best intentioned rulers and leaders have tended – and still tend – to dislike criticism, particularly when it is served up in the form of pictorial satire and ridicule.

In this series, we shall be dealing exclusively with the pen as a weapon of satire and comment in the field of graphic art.

Two terms we shall use are “caricature” and “cartoon.” Caricature is an exaggerated way of drawing a subject, whether it is the size of a man’s nose, the height of a mountain or the speed of a horse.

It comes from the Italian word “caricare,” which means to overload with exaggerated detail.

Nobody knows the name of the earliest caricaturist. But by the beginning of the 16th century, highly-regarded serious artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were making satirical comments on the shape and character of the human face that had everyone in stitches of laughter.

Also serious and respectable is the origin of the word “cartoon.” In the days of the Renaissance, it was simply the name given to the finished and perfected drawing from which the artist worked to paint his picture.

By the mid-19th century, most painters were working more or less directly on to the canvas, so the word slipped into disuse.

It picked up an entirely new meaning when the humorous magazine “Punch” used it to describe the type of drawing that relies upon parody and satire and the devices of caricature.

By this name, we know the political and humorous drawings that are so much a part of newspapers and topical magazines today.

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Thomas Gainsborough preferred landscape to portraiture

Posted in Art, Artist, British Countryside, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

This edited article about Thomas Gainsborough first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 558 published on 23 September 1972.

Gainsborough as a boy,  picture, image, illustration
Thomas Gainsborough sketching an apple thief by Ron Embleton

When he was still a lad in Sudbury, Suffolk, Thomas Gainsborough sketched the face of a man peering over a hedge. The man ran away with the pears he had stolen. But young Tom’s sketch was a good enough likeness to identify the thief.

Later, Tom made a painting on wood from the pencil sketch and cut round the outline of the head. He would prop this up over the top of a hedge, and laugh at the people who bowed or raised their hats as they passed by.

It was this ability to capture the likeness of a human face and form, and paint it with photographic realism, that made Thomas Gainsborough in later life the most popular portrait painter of his day. Remember this was the eighteenth century, long before the colour camera.

A painter has to make a living, and to do this he has to sell his paintings. Gainsborough had his early struggles. He studied the engraving of pictures on metal plates. Prints from such plates could be made in some numbers. And even if each print fetched only a small sum, the total from each plate could make the effort worthwhile.

But Gainsborough had only small success. He tried painting landscapes, which failed to sell. And he gained few commissions for portraits, even at the low price of between three guineas and five guineas apiece.

His marriage in 1745, to Margaret Burr, a young lady with an income of £200 a year, enabled him to establish himself in a studio in London. Slowly, he built up a reputation as a portrait painter, both in London and later at Bath. He was soon demanding and getting a hundred guineas a portrait.

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Sir Henry Wood and the invisible pianists

Posted in Famous artists, Famous Composers, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Music, Oddities on Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Henry Wood concert,  picture, image, illustration
Sir Henry Wood and the invisible pianists

A remarkable concert was recently held at Queen’s Hall, where a ‘Pianola’ Piano (‘Duo-Art’ Reproducing Model) – untouched by human hands – played Harold Bauer’s interpretation of Saint-Saens’ Concerto in G minor, accompanied by the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under the direction of Sir Henry J. Wood. It adequately accompanied Miss Carrie Tubb in vocal numbers, and Mr William Murdoch in a pianoforte duet. Pianoforte recordings by Paderewski, Madame Chaminade, Busoni and Pachmann were also given, the latter listening to his own playing from a seat in the stalls.

Many more pictures relating to London entertainments can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Italian Renaissance architecture bore modest fruit in England

Posted in Architecture, Country House, Famous artists, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 6 February 2014

This edited article about architecture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 544 published on 17 June 1972.

Monument of Henry VII, picture, image, illustration
Pietro Torrigiano's monument of King Henry VII and his Queen in Westminster Abbey; it has been called “the finest Renaissance tomb north of the Alps”

Henry V, victor of Agincourt, died in 1422 and in that same year they began the building of Manchester Cathedral, in the Perpendicular Gothic style. It was not finished for nearly 100 years, and was one of the last of the great medieval cathedrals to be put up in this country. Yet, before Manchester Cathedral was even begun, an event took place in far-off Florence that was to mark the beginning of the end of the Gothic style in architecture.

In 1420, Filippo Brunelleschi, a disappointed goldsmith turned architect, began to build a great dome over the uncompleted cathedral of Florence. The dome was not finished in his lifetime, but Brunelleschi took time off to do other architectural jobs around the city, notably a Foundling Hospital in which he put up a graceful colonnade of Composite columns in the old Roman manner.

This was a sensation. Outside of Roman ruins, no one had ever seen a Composite column; nor a Tuscan, Doric, Ionic or Corinthian column.

With Brunelleschi’s dome and his colonnade, the phenomenon of Renaissance architecture had started off with a bang.

It was quite a while before the reverberations of that bang reached the shores of England.

This Renaissance – which means “rebirth” – started off in literature with the writings of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. They revived interest in the works of Ancient Greece and Rome, and set the stage for a revolt against Gothic architecture, which had never been widely popular in Italy anyhow.

Among the great classical works that was rediscovered was the “treatise on Architecture” by Vitruvius, who lived in the time of the Emperor Augustus. It was Vitruvius’s book that laid down the rules for building in the grand old Roman manner. The book soon became a “must” for all Italian architects.

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The genius of Michelangelo – sculptor, painter and poet

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Religion on Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This edited article about Michelangelo first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 528 published on 26 February 1972.

Michelangelo,  picture, image, illustration
Michelangelo with St Peter's, the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta

Michelangelo Buonarroti, was born at Caprese in Tuscany in 1474 or 1475. His father was a nobleman, although the family was no longer affluent, and his mother was also of noble birth.

The infant Michelangelo was nursed by a stonecutter, which caused the great sculptor to say jestingly to his friend and biographer Vasari, the painter and historian of the Italian artists, “Giorgio, with the milk of my nurse, I sucked in the chisels and hammers wherewith I make my figures.”

From an early age, the boy’s talent for drawing was self-evident and he was sent to study in Florence. But at the age of 14 there was nothing more his teacher – himself a famous artist – could teach him. “The boy,” he said, “knows more about it than I do.”

At that time, a nobleman of Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, was decorating his garden with beautiful examples of Greek and Roman sculpture and there he founded a school for artists. Michelangelo entered this school at the age of 15 or 16 and one day he sculptered an antique satyr’s head in marble with extraordinary skill.

Admiring the work, Lorenzo remarked in jest that Michelangelo’s satyr had its mouth open, showing the teeth all complete, which was strange for so old a person as the satyr seemed to be. Michelangelo thereupon knocked out one of the teeth with a hammer, to Lorenzo’s great amusement.

Thereafter, the Medici nobleman took the boy into his own family and treated him like one of his own children.

When Lorenzo died, Michelangelo, aged 18, was launched upon his long career of ceaseless, almost miraculous creation. He went to Rome where he executed his first large sculpture, the “Pieta” (the dead Christ with his mourning Mother), now in St. Peter’s Cathedral. This lovely group established his fame.

After executing his David in Florence, Michelangelo returned to Rome to work for Pope Julius the Second. Here he carved an awe-inspiring image of Moses.

Here too, he painted the gigantic frescoes on the vault of the Sistine Chapel, working day and night for 20 months in a constant fury of divine inspiration. And here he laboured for 17 years as the architect of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

Working, always working, he was nearly 90 when he died, leaving another brilliant artist, Raphael, to “thank God that he was born in the time of Michelangelo,” and the painter Vega to describe him as “the master, the prince, the deity of Design.”

Michelangelo’s David – the finest statue since Antiquity

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This edited article about Renaissance sculpture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 528 published on 26 February 1972.

David by Michelangelo,  picture, image, illustration
The head of David by Michelangelo

The two great artists looked at the vast block of marble, felt its texture, took measurements, and stepped back to survey its length, all the time making notes on their pads. At last, they turned away thoughtfully and walked out from the yard of the Opera del Duorio where the marble block lay, into the hard bright sunlight of the streets of Florence.

The two artists were Sansovino the sculptor and Leonardo da Vinci, who is best described as all things to art. The giant marble block they had come to look at was fast becoming a bit of a nuisance to the authorities of Renaissance Florence.

For more than 20 years it had lain in the Opera yard. An artist-sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, had attempted to make something of it with no success. In doing so, he had cut it about so much that most people thought it was no longer of use to anyone.

Now Sansovino and Leonardo had both agreed to check its proportions to see if their brilliant hands could make something of this huge problem stone.

While they were considering the problem, a young man rode into Florence. He was broad-chested with muscles of iron and there was a defiant, independent look in his eye.

Although he had come northwards from Rome, Michelangelo Buonarroti, for that was his name, was no stranger to Florence. For years before this his talents had dazzled even that dazzling city. But during his sojourn in Rome he had produced works which had made his fame all over Italy. And now he was returning to his favourite city in search of something out of the ordinary.

It was not long before Michelangelo and the problem hunk of marble in the Opera yard made each other’s acquaintance. He might have had doubts as he surveyed it, for to fail with it would have been a serious setback to his career.

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The craftsmanship and precious trade secrets of Antonio Stradivarius

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Music on Monday, 16 December 2013

This edited article about music first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 495 published on 10 July 1971.

Stradivarius, picture, image, illustration
The violin: Stradivarius in his workshop

On a bright March day in 1783, Father Ascensio, a violin maker and friend of the Spanish King Charles IV sat down at his desk and opened his diary.

“The Keeper of the Royal Musical Instruments,” he wrote, “has brought me a violin today asking me, by order of His Royal Highness, to Improve the tone. The instrument is dated 1709, and bears the name of Antonio Stradivari.”

Father Ascensio looked at the violin which lay on the table beside him, then closed the diary. It was a magnificent instrument, this Stradivarius, with a deep lustre made even richer by the morning sun which flooded in through the windows.

“It’s almost a crime,” he told himself. “This instrument is perfect. The tone is mellow, but powerful, and the craftsmanship is superb.”

The violin that had so impressed Father Ascensio had been made by Antonio Stradivari, one of the greatest violin-makers of all time, and a painstaking perfectionist.

Stradivari was born in the Italian town of Cremona, although the exact date of his birth is not known. At the age of 12, he had been apprenticed to the violin maker, Nicolo Amati. But Amati soon realised that the boy needed little tuition. He had a genius for his trade.

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Rembrandt upset the Captain of the Civic Guard in Amsterdam

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 12 December 2013

This edited article about art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 491 published on 12 June 1971.

Rembrandt, picture, image, illustration
Rembrandt painting 'The Night Watch' by Angus McBride

Captain Frans Banninck Cocq was standing in the artist’s studio, among a litter of etchings, canvases, drapery and other bric-a-brac. And he was an angry man.

He had commissioned a picture of his officers from the foremost painter in Amsterdam, Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, and now the picture was finished it embarrassed him. His officers were bewildered by it. The background was dark and undefined, the figures looked vague.

The year was 1642 and the picture, The Night Watch, was one of his greatest works. But it marked the end of his career as a fashionable painter.

Rembrandt painted his sitters in dark clothes against a deeper, shadowy background, with only part of the flesh illuminated by a shaft of light.

When the rich burghers suggested that these pictures were gloomy and unflattering and asked for alterations, Rembrandt showed them the door.

The Night Watch is today honoured in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, but there is no doubt at all that it was the cause of his troubles. Or rather, that the attitude he adopted to paint this picture caused his troubles. Rembrandt was not a stupid man – he must have known that all the officers would wish to be as much in the foreground as the others, and as they were paying for the picture it was only right that they should get what they paid for. This was no time for the painter to indulge his wish to produce a personal masterpiece. Considering that artists of Rembrandt’s calibre must have been hard to find, one wonders if perhaps, after his quarrel with the officers, the artist did not forget about trying to please the people and was therefore responsible in part for his own poverty.

Rembrandt died in 1669, at the age of 63. His debts were enormous, but they had not stopped him painting.

Today, on the few occasions that Rembrandt’s paintings have come up for sale, fortunes have been paid for them. Each picture has fetched the sort of money that would have kept the artist in luxury all his life.

Animated films depended on supreme drawing skills as much as technology

Posted in America, Art, Artist, Cinema, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 26 September 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 411 published on 29 November 1969.

Zoetrope, picture, image, illustration
In 1834 W. G. Horner invented a machine which he called a zoetrope

Slowly, painfully, and with much grunting, the squat, misshapen figure completed the outline of a bison on one of the walls of the cave in which he lived. It was only one of several drawings of a bison, all of them crudely done, which was understandable enough as the artist was a prehistoric man. For all that, he had done something quite remarkable – he had analysed movement and had drawn it in a series of pictures. He was, in fact, the first animator.

The problem of making a series of successive images move was not solved until the beginning of the 19th century, when a Belgian professor, named Plateau, invented the phenakistoscope, a revolving disc, with figures drawn on it, which came to life when viewed through a series of slits. Two years later, in 1834, W. G. Horner, an Englishman, invented a similar machine called a zoetrope. Emile Reynaud of France took the next step forward with his machine, called a praxinoscope. By 1888 he had developed it to such a degree that he was able to give public performances by projecting his pictures on to the back of a screen which greatly enlarged the image. These performances, which were accompanied by special music and sound effects, were so successful that he opened a larger theatre in the Musee Grevin, in Paris, which remained open from 1892 until the turn of the century. During that time, no less than half a million people attended his performances.

But Emile Reynaud’s work in the field of animation was soon to be overshadowed by the moving pictures of the Lumiere Brothers. Unable to compete with the rapidly-growing cinema industry, Reynaud became so depressed that he finally threw most of his apparatus into the River Seine.

Although a large number of rather primitive cartoon films were made in America and France during the first years of the 20th century, the animated film did not begin to come into its own until the early years of the First World War, when the cartoon character, Felix the Cat, began to appear regularly on cinema screens all over the world.

Felix was simply drawn, and the films in which he appeared did not even have sub-titles, but everyone loved him. Technically, he was no better drawn than most of the other cartoon characters of the time, but he had a special appeal of his own, thanks largely to the imagination of his creator, an Australian, Pat Sullivan, who had learned his craft drawing comic strips. Felix also had the honour of having a special theme tune written for him called, “Felix Kept on Walking,” which was hummed by children everywhere.

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