Archive for March, 2011


New11 @ ACCA, Melbourne

ACCA NEW11 002 - Shane HasemanWednesday, 16 March 2011

New11 @ ACCA, Melbourne

There’s an old Russian saying: everything new is well-forgotten old. This thought pulsated through my mind as I was walking through a recently opened exhibition at the ACCA. There was so much borrowing, so much recycling of old ideas, that I began questioning whether the exhibition’s title, New 11, was actually warranted.

It’s a worrying trend, especially since the artists that are profiled at these annual exhibitions are supposedly our youngest, brightest, and the most promising, guaranteed to become the favoured staple of contemporary art curators and collectors for at least the next five years. However, with one or two exceptions, there’s hardly a truly original idea among them. We have already seen so much of this earlier, beforehand, in other galleries, in other museums, in other artists’ spaces, that one begins to wonder whether there is an assumption that everyone suffers from some sort of a cultural amnesia, and that no one else, apart from curators and exhibiting artists, is supposed to know what happened in the history of art, whether in Australia or internationally, prior to entering the exhibition space.

ACCA NEW11 005 - Brendan van Hek

For, indeed, once you leave all your prior acquired knowledge at the gallery’s threshold, you would actually end up experiencing an entertaining and enjoyable exhibition – as I had done in the end.

The visitor is met at the entrance to the ACCA – and once again at the entrance to the exhibition space – but Tim Coster’s Umbrella, a sound installation of amplified street noises. You then proceed into Shane Haseman’s installation Lanterne Rouge, with brightly-coloured walls and a bicycle suspended on brightly-coloured MDF shards. From this bright cacophony you emerge into a contrastingly understated, cool, white, minimal space with an installation by Brendan van Hek, The Person who cried a million tears, with three oval mirrors, five glass panels with circular cut outs, and variously sized mirror balls spray-painted uniform white, the only light source in the room being a Dan Flavin-style neon tubes.

ACCA NEW11 007 - Justene WilliamsThe next room is filled with Justene Williams’ She came over singing…, an eleven channel video installation. Once the eyes get used to the fast-moving, pulsating, and brightly-coloured visions that surround the viewer from all four sides of the room, you slowly begin to distinguish in the videos two completely masked figures, dressed head to toe in closely resembling outfits, one in a suit of newspaper and magazine clippings, another in a similar suit of brightly-coloured geometric designs; both are almost lost within interiors that completely match their outfits, wrecking havoc within their respective environments. It is only then that the menacing retinal and aural onslaught gives way to a harmless, humorous, and entertaining voyeurism.

ACCA NEW11 010 - Greatest HitsThe next room contains one of the cutest things in the exhibition – aquae profundo by Gavin Bell, Jarrah de Kuijer and Simon McGlinn, moonlighting as a creative trio Greatest Hits: an ice carving of an alien displayed in a glass freezer, whose humorous, cartoon-like appearance and demeanour is worlds apart from Marc Quinn’s haunting ‘blood heads’.

There is also Dan Moynihan’s installation of a skeleton seated on a mound of sand under a plastic palm tree listening to a CD-player (how retro!) in a cylindrical enclosure with rainbow coloured walls; the artifice of the installation underscored by an adjacent fully equipped Ilya Kabakov-style utility closet.

ACCA NEW11 017 - Mark Hilton ACCA NEW11 019 - Mark Hilton (Detail)This leads us to perhaps the most striking and original, as well as the most disturbing  and haunting sculpture by Mark Hilton (in the room which contains other works by the artist, including three sump oil paintings on paper, and an exquisitely carved human bone). Fashioned in a shape of a mark on the outfits of colonial convicts, and resembling a melted Cricifix, the wall sculpture presents a macabre rendition of Jacques Callot’s The Hanging from The Miseries of War suite, or Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War.  A tree is growing from the human DNA, on the branches of which the “undesirable” elements of society are hung: mentally and physically disabled; homeless, elderly, obese, and infirm; women in burkas and indigenous chieftains; prostitutes, drug addicts, and pregnant teens; paedophiles and their victims; and there’s even a statuette of a guy in a military uniform hung while choking with a rope another guy whom he is sodomising. The edge of the ‘Cross’ is etched with jokes and one-liners about women, obese, drug addicts, etc. To my mind, this is perhaps the strongest, most outstanding, accomplished, and most politically and socially aware work within the exhibition that shows it is possible to quote from other artists and yet create one’s own iconic ideas, and develop one’s own unique iconographic language.

ACCA NEW11 021 - Mark Hilton

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Australian and International Fine Art @ Menzies

Arthur LoureiroMonday, 14 March 2011

Australian and International Fine Art @ Menzies

For their first auction of the 2011 season, which takes place in Sydney on March 24, Menzies pulled together a tight (only 100 lots) but strong group of paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and photography. Although the collection lacks significant 18th, 19th, and early 20th Century works (the market for which is dominated by Sotheby’s at the upper end and Leonard Joel at the lower end), the only notable exception is perhaps the lyrical Art Nouveau female nude by Arthur Loureiro (est $8-12,000), a rare and therefore institutionally significant work.

Brett WhiteleyIt is undoubtedly within the Modern masters that Menzies has its strengths, and the March offering is replete with representative selection of works by Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Russel Drysdale, Sydney Nolan, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Brett Whiteley, and Fred Williams. As the catalogue meticulously indicates, a number of works by the above-mentioned artists have been around the block a few times, having frequently appeared on the art market within the last decade. However, the auction contains a number of outstanding items which are fresh to the market, and which according to the auction staff, have been extremely popular at the Melbourne preview: the market can smell fresh meat!

Fred WilliamsThese include an outstanding beach nude by Brett Whiteley from 1985, Washing Out the Salt (est $1,250,000-1,750,000); a strong work by Albert Tucker, Gamblers and Parrots from 1968 (est $180-240,000), featuring his iconic Etruscan-inspired heads and abounding with colourful darting parrots; and a very extensive collection of sculptures by Robert Klippel, from early, small, delicately whimsical construction pieces (est $30-36,000), to later large-scale edition bronzes ($110-160,000). I also must mention another two pieces by Brett Whiteley, both relatively ‘fresh’ to the market that (if nothing else) are likewise worthy of a closer look: his brightly coloured Feeding the Doves from 1979, constructed along the dominant contrasts of purples and oranges (est $450-550,000); and a slightly earlier Bondi, which is remarkable for the shapes of houses deliciously blocked out in thick, square slabs of rich impastos ($85-100,000).

Garry SheadThere is plenty for more contemporary-focused art collectors to feast their eyes on, including at least two significant works by Garry Shead, both of which haven’t seen the market since they were purchased from their respective galleries: Revelation (Royal Suite), from 1997, remarkable for its sheer size and compositional simplicity (est $250-320,000); and Artist and Muse (Velazquez), 2000, an exceptional and dreamlike composition from an important series of artist’s works (est $80-120,000). There are also strong representative pieces by Jon Cattapan, Aida Tomescu, and Ken Whisson.

Tim McMonagleThose with a taste for younger artists might equally be drawn to paintings and photographs by Julia Ciccarone, Alexander McKenzie, Tim McMonagle, Darren Sylvester, and David Wadelton. None of them are offered at bargain basement prices, but the works are still offered below their retail value. Exceptional among them are perhaps Tim McMonagle’s Princess Park (est $8-12,000) and David Wadelton’s Move on Up (est $10-15,000), very strong pieces by worthy contemporary artists.

As always, should I have been blessed with an unlimited bank account, my three picks for the auction would be the above-mentioned Brett Whiteley beach nude; a very important early Arthur Boyd’s Death of a Husband, painted in 1958 and belonging to an important group of paintings with comparable examples in public collections (est $650-850,000); and a sharp, engaging, and brightly coloured with yellows, purples, and accents of reds, yet minimalist in its aesthetics Lysterfield Hillside II by Fred Williams from 1974, a representative work from the artist’s important period (est $400-500,000). The last two works have been bandied about the auction rooms all too frequently, so there’s a hope that with this auction these worthy paintings would acquire a ‘more’ permanent home.

Arthur Boyd

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Freehand @ Heide MoMA

ex de Medici Tooth-and-claw

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Freehand @ Heide MoMA

ex de Medici Tooth-and-claw

The exhibition Freehand at Heidi focuses on contemporary Australian works on paper. The visitor to the exhibition is greeted by the giant Tooth and Claw by ex de Medici. Her watercolours are always remarkable for the high quality of execution and superb draughtsmanship, and this large-scale work on paper is no exception. It depicts two skeletons, one of which is supporting on its shoulder a giant gun, while the other is being crushed by the weight of the second gun. The weapons are surrounded by darting swallows and garlands of carnations. Soviet-style five-pointed stars are interspersed throughout the intricate background design of the watercolour, and they also appear etched on the barrel of one of the guns, alongside the Stars of David. One would have wished to learn more about the intricate and complex narrative of this superb watercolour, but the information provided in the catalogue is rather meagre. While the multi-layered semantics of guns and skeletons are almost self-explanatory, as are carnations, which are symbolic of fallen soldiers, I am rather intrigued by the Jewish and Soviet references, which will remain a mystery for the time being (unless the artist, or someone who is well-versed in her iconography would care to contact me).

Mira Gojak

As one steps back to admire the large de Medici, one literally stumbles across a long trestle table supporting a work by Greg Creek. It is very similar to what the artist has been producing over the last ten years, and comparable examples had been shown in numerous locations, including Creek’s one-man-show at the ACCA. It represents a collection of seemingly unrelated images, executed by the artist over a period of time, and, knowing Greg Creek, it is quite possible that some of the figures and squiggles may have been ‘contributed’ by chance visitors to his studio. The work includes a beautiful glimpse of the Merri Creek Bridge; a highly competent from architectural and perspective points of view vista of Melbourne; and a silhouette from Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer skilfully disguised as a pink blob at the bottom of the page. Greg Creek’s skills and abilities are self-evident in this picture, but after roughly a decade of seeing “clever” works in unfinished state, one almost wishes to rest the eye on a completed piece.

Three works by Mira Gojak create a very strong statement. I must confess that the first time I saw her non-objective abstract pieces at the Murray White Rooms, I did dismiss them as being somewhat on the decorative side. But the more I see them (and one can’t miss a huge Gojak reproduced on a billboard on the corner of Chapel St and Alexandra Ave), the more I am growing appreciative of Gojak’s varied pigment applications; bold balancing of positive and negative spaces within the composition; and pulsating and rhythmical movements of her spiralling and undulating curves.

Del Kathryn Barton Freehand Heide

Another artist who leaves an unforgettable impression is Sandra Selig, whose works I saw for the first time a few years ago at an exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In essence, her pieces consist of spider webs, tinted with spay paint and adhesed to a black background. No doubt quite intricate and labour intensive to produce, they create delicate and evocative designs. While the concept is quite ingenious, given the context of this exhibition, these works did make me ponder, that they owe more to the wonder of nature than to the artist’s hand.

One of the artists who manages to produce works of consistent quality is Del Kathryn Barton, who is profiled quite extensively in this exhibition with a large number of works on display. Her drawings are superbly imaginative and disturbingly visceral, a visual chronicle of the artist’s innermost feelings and fears, and while a number of works continue the artist’s mediation on the female body, there are also cryptic references to the masculine fear of castration.

Gosia Wlodarczak DustCovers@Heide

And of course, one cannot go past the quirky madness that is Gosia Wlodarczak’s work. Depending on the direction of your exhibition perambulations, it is either the first or – as in my case – the last work to be seen in the show. Even though the surface of the work is assiduously covered with calligraphic scribbles, and figurative elements disappear under the ever-increasing layers of over-drawing, it retains the ghostly apparition of a car, which it originally covered, and on which the drawing was executed as a staged performance piece over a three-day period. It is interesting that Wlodarczak’s large-scale drawing is exhibited across the archway from the watercolour by ex de Medici, so the two works can be seen simultaneously from a single viewpoint. While Wlodarczak and de Medici’s works could not have been less alike, they converge at the pure joy elicited by both artists at the very act of drawing and picture making, and covering with markings almost every inch of the available surface.

Sandra SeligIn spite of the presence of a number of figurative artists mentioned above (including a selection of works by such ‘elder statesmen’ of Australian art as Peter Booth and Ken Whisson), the exhibition seems to be weighted more heavily towards abstraction as represented in works by Mario Fusinato, Dom de Clario, Robert McPherson, Eugene Carchesio, Aida Tomescu, and numerous others. Apart from a couple of artists, Freehand seems to overlook contemporary practitioners of traditional figuration, the likes of which one would have encountered, say, in the A.M.E. Bale Scholarship exhibition or on the walls of the Australian Galleries. However, I do accept that this is a strictly curatorial choice, which perhaps eschewed a well-rounded and all-inclusive survey of contemporary drawing in favour of representing recent developments and trends in present-day Australian art. In this the exhibition has fully succeeded by bringing together a representative selection of artists who draw in a variety of media, styles, and genres, and demonstrate in their works a thought-provoking plurality of artistic (self-)expression.

[PS: The photography within the gallery – even without flash – is strictly forbidden. I am relying on images of artists’ comparable works found elsewhere on the net.]

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Bernard Hall’s “The Suicide”

Bernard Hall, The Suicide (or Despair), c. 1916-18Saturday, 5 March 2011

Bernard Hall’s “The Suicide”

Among the most remarkable pictures in the Ewing Collection is The Suicide, painted by Lindsay Bernard Hall (1859-1935), a British-born Australian painter, around c. 1916-18. The artist is well known for his depiction of female nudes, yet few other paintings can match the high degree of drama and human emotion as captured in this work.

The museum’s website does not provide us with clues as to what may have driven this woman to the greatest depths of anguish and despair. However, if we were to examine the painting through the eyes of a late nineteenth / early twentieth century viewer, we may uncover the sad narrative behind this work.

A well-cared-for body; fashionably coiffed hair; opulent fabrics; fur skin rug; elegant shoes; imposing architecture of the apartment; a bowl of fresh cut flowers: all of these details might be construed as a tale of a courtesan, a fallen woman, who is driven to suicide by the break-up of a latest love affair; perhaps the one with a rich lover who kept her in a lavish lifestyle; and where a drastic measure of taking one’s own life is the only escape from a life in penury. As such, the story takes on puritanical, moralising overtones of redemption, though certainly with further research other clues to the painting’s origins or semantics might be uncovered.

And as we stop in front of the painting to ponder about the woman’s sad tale, just like a hundred years ago we subconsciously come to absorb and admire the many wonderful technical and artistic details within this work – which perhaps may have been Hall’s intention in the first place! The boldest foreshortening of the woman’s body shows him as a skilful artist, knowledgeable about the drawing of the human figure. The limited colour palette of the interior’s background concentrates our attention on the bright yellow of the dressing gown, luscious green of the drapery, deep red of the cushion, and, of course, the warm fleshy pinks of the nude female form, richly bathed in sunlight that floods the picture from a window opening in the upper right of the painting.

In other words, the intriguing narrative of the picture draws our attention to the excellence of the artist’s workmanship, and vice versa – Hall combines his academic skills with drawing, colour, composition, and brushwork, and vivid imagination to draw the viewer’s attention to what must have been – and still is – a highly contentious, unsettling, and confronting subject matter; creating one of those iconic images that is bound to stay in the mind of the viewer.

PS: The painting’s former owner, Dr Samuel Ewing, must have been so uncomfortable with the fact that this remarkable painting depicts suicide, that he changed its name to Despair, under which title this painting is still frequently exhibited.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


The Ewing Collection

Rupert Bunny New Step 1908Friday, 4 March 2011

The Ewing Collection, University of Melbourne

One of the pleasures of visiting the University of Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art is the high likelihood of seeing highlights from their permanent collection, which includes works of Australian art from the late 18th Century to the present day (this, of course, not taking into account their International collection, that has artefacts dating back to the Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome). The Museum currently has on display works from the Collection of Dr Samuel Arthur Ewing, which includes paintings, watercolours and drawings by Australian artists from the 1860s to the 1940s.

E Philips Fox - Rocks and SeaThe first room focuses on paintings from the collection, and includes a romantic landscape of Mount Buffalo by Nicholas Chevalier (1862); an iridescent twilight scene by J.F. Paterson, Evening at Croydon (c.1890); clear and fresh Sir Hans Heysen of River Flats (1930); a panoramic Sir Arthur Streeton of Cremorne (1907) and the iconic St Mark’s of Venice (1908), remarkable for its dappled sunlight effects. There is a beautifully intimate Rupert Bunny, The New Step (1908), of two ladies in diaphanous white dressing gowns within a pinkish interior; most “impressionistic” E. Phillips Fox of Rocks and Sea (1911), almost Monet-like in its appearance; and a shimmering Fred McCubbin’s Frosty Morning of the Como House environs (1910), which I am certain was exhibited in the artist’s recent retrospective at the Bendigo Fine Art Gallery.

Norman Lindsay Dr DeathThe second room features an abundance of drawings and watercolours, including most unique fan designs by Sir Arthur Streeton, very much in the Art Nouveau taste; numerous classic red and brown gum tree landscapes by Sir Hans Heysen; a beautiful selection of predominantly nocturnal works by Blamire Young; a selection of works by the talented J.J. Hilder, who died at the age of 35, with so much regrettably unfulfilled promise; a few excellent sketches by Charles Conder; a delicate landscape by Penleigh Boyd; and a number of watercolours by Norman Lindsay, including a most unusual black and white illustration, Dr. Death, refreshingly devoid of his signature voluptuous ladies.

John Longstaff Dr Samuel EwingA portrait of Dr Ewing by John Longstaff greets the visitor to this exhibition, a sober composition in a sparse and sombre colour palette, enlivened only by the gleaming white scarf of the sitter. The wall text explains that Dr Ewing was a University of Melbourne graduate, who donated his collection to the University in 1938, with a touching sentiment that ‘our youth may be inspired with the beauty as well as a deeper love of their country by the works of our artists’. One may only wonder what the future generations would make of Australia based on the museum’s contemporary art collections in a fifty or a hundred years’ time…

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Lynch, Marburg, McHaffie and McKenna: “Model Pictures”

James Lynch Disaster of the Month 2007Thursday, 3 March 2011

James Lynch, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie and Moya McKenna:

“Model Pictures”, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne

The recently opened Model Pictures at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, gathers together works by four contemporary Melbourne-based figurative painters, James Lynch, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie, and Moya McKenna. The title of the exhibition and the curatorial premise that unites the works on display refer to the current artistic trend of increasingly turning inward and creating (or re-creating) imagined environments. The intelligently written wall text anchors this development in the writings of Nicolas Bourriaud, but also references Juliana Engberg’s one and only Melbourne Biennale as a seminal event, which premiered sculptures, installation works, and paintings reflective of this artistic movement.

Ron McHaffie You Can Have the Power I'm Going to Bed 2007There is a noticeable commonality between the works of Rob McHaffie and James Lynch, inasmuch as they both draw inspiration from objects in the artists’ and / or their friends’ possession. As such, their paintings represent a snap shot of contemporary pop-culture, with fragmented pictures of celebrities, nudes, pets, and oblique references to current affairs. Though these paintings are essentially still-lives in a wider sense of the genre’s application, they can also be interpreted as composite portraits of the artists’ friends – or even self-portraits of the artists themselves – expressed through objects and images that are descriptive or representative of various individuals. Lynch’s works are perhaps more politically aware of the group, as his paintings feature images of rioters and street protesters. However, the artist acts as an impartial observer rather than an active participant of the scenes. While McHaffie and Lynch’s works are beautifully and even delicately executed (especially given the modest size of their works), it seems that both artists are fully reliant on painting from photographs rather than from life.

Moya McKenna Ancient Path 2008-9I must confess that I am not the biggest fan of works by Moya McKenna. I am aware that she had quite a bit of publicity recently; sold a number of works from her exhibitions at the Neon Parc and Melbourne Art Fair; had a feature article published in the Australian Art Collector; and had her works acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The inclusion of her works in this exhibition is therefore hardly surprising. However, I find her paintings muddy and unresolved; too heavily reliant on Expressionism; and filled with blatant and repeated borrowings from the Old and Modern Masters. I do not subscribe to the popular idea that McKenna’s ability to finish a painting within a day is a sign of artistic genius. Perhaps if the artist had a longer period to execute her works, they might result in a better resolution of the colour schemes, compositional construction, psychological depth, and original iconography.

Paintings by Amanda Marburg look infinitely more magnificent by comparison. She also seems to be making most effort (in a purely physical sense) to create her “model pictures”. She begins by making plasticine models; placing them within plasticine interiors; photographing them; and then painting from these photographs in a loose, painterly technique, producing ethereal, dreamlike compositions.  As such, her paintings are technically situated between the crisp reality of Lynch and McHaffie and muddied expressionism of McKenna. Her fluid execution and pared-down colour palette adds a sense of suspense and mystery to her film-noir-esque mise-en-scènes.

Amanda MARBURG The cold was dry 2007I have observed over the last few years an increasing trend among younger artists of turning inward, disengaging from social and political issues, and participating in a collective exercise of navel gazing. I ascribed it to the peaceful environment of Australia, the lucky country, untouched by major conflicts or social upheavals, where artists have little (if anything) to react against, and thus are free to escape into the world of their imagination. International artists display by far more awareness of the current issues affecting the world and the global community than their Australian “brothers (and sisters) of the brush”, where the only politically-charged canvasses are produced by urban Indigenous artists. For better or worse, Model Pictures confirms and “institutionalises” this trend of disengagement and disinterestedness in contemporary Australian art.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


[It all started with a] Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova

F.X. Wintehalter - Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova (1858)Wednesday, 2 March 2011

[It all started with a] Portrait of Princess Tatiana Yusupova…

The previous entry made think how did my “love affair” with Winterhalter began (“love affair” being an apt description, as several exes referred to Winterhalter as “the other man in my life”…).

In the late 1985, I was thumbing through my uncle’s collection of postcards with reproductions of paintings from the Hermitage Collection. From the multitude of images that flicked before my eyes, I was inexplicably drawn to a single picture. The inscription on the reverse laconically stated that this was a portrait of Princess Tatiana Alexandrovna Yusupova, painted in Paris in 1858 by an artist called Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

I was intrigued. I wanted to find out more. I wanted to see the portrait in the flesh. Being only fourteen years of age, I was not at liberty to jump on a train and make a lengthy journey to Leningrad (as St Petersburg was then called) for the purpose of seeing a single portrait. However, an opportunity presented itself in 1986, when a school excursion was organised to Leningrad, with the State Hermitage being a compulsory stop on its itinerary.

F.X. Winterhalter - Portrait of Sophia Naryshkina (1858)After a short introductory tour of this most magnificent collection, that lasted all of about forty five minutes, we were let loose around the museum. Clutching a crumpled piece of paper with the map of the Hermitage, I ran towards the French nineteenth-century section that was located on the third floor in one of the distant parts of the building. I passed the rooms studded with Rembrandts and Titians; I did not give a second glance to the priceless Leonardo da Vinci or the most ravishing Rubens. Through the convoluted system of rooms and staircases, I finally reached my destination. I did not stop to admire the David or Ingres; slid straight past a magnificent portrait of Empress Josephine by Gérard, until I was finally there, standing in front of the portrait of Princess Yusupova by Winterhalter.

The portrait exceeded all my expectations. Floating majestically on a cloud of lace and tulle, Princess Yusupova casts down her regal glance at the viewer from a sizeable canvas measuring approximately 150 by 100 centimetres. Her wavy dark-auburn hair is parted in the middle and arranged in a luxurious heavy chignon. Two massive pearl earrings drop from her ears; a magnificent necklace with gargantuan pearls adorns her smooth polished neck and shoulders. Her arms are weighed down by massive golden bangles and drown in the voluminous crinoline skirt, which is ready to burst forth from the confines of the picture. A heavy dark-crimson velvet curtain billows behind the Princess revealing an imposing marble column with a view to a park beyond.

F.X. Winterhalter - Portrait of Countess Varvara Mousina-Pushkina (c.1857)When I finally shook myself out of a trance-like state and tore myself away from the portrait, I looked around the rest of the room. To my astonishment, apart from the portrait of Princess Yusupova, there were more portraits by Winterhalter [as I would later discover, altogether the State Hermitage has sixteen paintings by the artist]. More grand titles were to be found on the wall labels – empresses, grand duchesses, countesses; more aristocratic names were to be read to stir up my curiosity – the Romanovs, Shouvalovs, Naryshkins, Mousin-Pushkins.

I wanted to find out more about the artist who created these magnificent portraits; and about the fascinating sitters, whom he recorded for posterity, who were staring from canvasses at the viewer through the veil of the ages. Thus began my journey into the life and art of Franz Xaver Winterhalter, which has continued (on and off) to the present day.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

March 2011
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