Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

Delve into the groundbreaking exhibition showcasing the genius of Eugène Delacroix at London’s National Gallery

It’s been 50 years since London has attempted to portray the genius of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), and due to no fault of its own.

Take his Liberty Leading the People (1830) for example. By providing France with Marianne, AKA the goddess of Liberty and the defining symbol of the French Republic, it’s unsurprising that this, alongside his other famous works, are at rest in The Louvre of Paris. For reasons that are not only patriotic, but quite simply, logistic, the ability to celebrate arguably the most talented French painter of the first half of the 19th century in any museum but France, is a near-enough impossible task.

But no challenge is too much for The National Gallery, of course.

Thanks to its latest exhibition:Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, London art-lovers are granted access to this revolutionary creative, despite being denied sight of his monumental masterpieces which must remain hanging in their Louvre-tomb.

On the contrary, The National Gallery proves that when it comes to portraying his talent, size really doesn’t matter.

By focusing on Delacroix’s cult-like following by modern masters of art, The National Gallery argues that Delacroix was in fact the first modern artist, who put forward risky, but fantastic new ideas about colour and painting technique.

Admittedly, on arrival, the evidence of modernity is at first hard to find. Powerful war scenes, sex and death communicate heroic terms that seem pretty predictable. But on closer inspection, you will come to realise that his use of colour and brushwork jilts the traditional stiff poses of the pasty classical style in the early 19th century. The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) which was condemned by his peers for its lack of compositional focus, provides a kaleidoscopic effect with a sense of improvisation – a style that’s free, and wildly energetic.

Delacroix’s fearlessness to redefine ideas of banal 19th century Europe is further underlined in the consecutive room, which highlights his fascination with North Africa. During his travels, he came to feel that the Jewish and Arab culture and dignity echoed that of the ancient Greeks and Romans; a “living antiquity” as he put it.

From ferocious lion hunts to the sultry Women of Algiers, Delacroix’s art is antithetical to that of ‘cold’ mythological and antique history subjects on show in Paris.

In the same room, you’ll spot Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s version of Delacroix’s ownThe Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1841), which executes the Delacroix vibrancy to perfection by cleverly combining a key Delacroix painting and a major Impressionist work all in one masterpiece.

The next galley is like walking into a virtual garden. It is in this room that the exhibition touches on Delacroix’s revolutionary flower paintings, which provided inspiration and instruction in a genre whose models were cheap. For artists at the turn of the 20th century, Delacroix’s example became a means to explore subjective feelings and dreams, and his offerings inspired an accessibility to any artist whether rich or poor (the penniless van Gogh being the perfect example).

The following room on religion is in stark contrast, portraying five dark, emphatic religious Delacroix pieces, yet in the room of flowers, the exhibition needs only one, large still life by Delacroix to prove his ability to rework genre – you’ll see how he inspired van Gogh’s famous Olive Tree series, mounted on the opposite wall.

And finally, the last room; a space that accentuates his obsession with synaesthesia. It is in this final gallery that his impact on art reaches a climax. From one tiny Delacroix painting, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, you won’t be able to miss how he has influenced the likes of Gauguin, Matisse and of course the improvisational master, Kandinsky. If you’re sceptical as to whether The National Gallery’s qualitative spin, rather than quantitative approach can be a success, this room will certainly set the record straight.

From van Gogh to Matisse, Cezanne to Renoir, you can’t leave the National Gallery’s show without realising his Kate Bush-like status in the minds of rebels famous 50 years after Delacroix’s death. No homage like Cezanne’s The Apotheosis of Delacroix (1890-04) proves this more ruthlessly, as his work shows himself and his fellow artists kneeling and praying as Delacroix is transported aloft. Furthermore, Henri Fantin-Latour’s Immortality (1889) which is placed emphatically at the end of the show, imagines an angel scattering roses on his name, inscribed across a Paris park.

By focussing, of necessity, on his smaller paintings, The National Gallery has actually done something quite extraordinary. We see a more intimate and spontaneous Delacroix than the one encountered in his famous paintings in the Louvre, yet leave with an equal appreciation for the artistic legacy that Delacroix had come to define.

Delacroix was prepared to alter anatomy as we know it, intensify colours and use techniques that many perceived as unrefined and scatty; proving that non-naturalistic forms can be the best ways to communicate what real emotion and real life looks and feels like. Delacroix was not undisciplined in his art; rather, he was gutsy enough to prove the press and public wrong by insisting individual creativity can mark new pathways for future generations. It was this belief that was precisely what made his art so relevant and modern.

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art at the National Gallery until 22 May. For more information, visit www.nationalgallery.org.uk

The History of Barcelona Street Art

2016-04-22-1461319301-6156751-ChristianGwemyakaC215-thumbAfter Francisco Franco’s death on 20 November 1975 a new sense of freedom was born in Barcelona. Artists came to Barcelona from all over the world, started to paint in the city’s streets.

Barcelona is a city that has long been celebrated in artistic circles for its Gaudi architecture, it’s Joan Miro sculptures, and its world-renowned Picasso museum. However, in more recent times the City has developed itself into a world-leading City for graffiti and street art.

Christian Gwemy, AKA C215, is a Parisian street artists who produces striking, highly intricate pieces. Many are intimate portrait-like images, in which ordinary people are treated as icons. C215 is also known as “France’s answer to Banksy”.

In 1989, Keith Haring traveled to Barcelona where he painted on a large mural “Todos juntos podemos parar el SIDA” (Together We Can Stop AIDS) in El Raval or the Barrio del Chino—a notorious drug area. An area where used syringes and drug paraphernalia cluttered the streets. The mural was painted on a concrete buttress in la plaza Salvador Segui and contained many of Haring’s famous trademark symbols—dancing figures, snakes, syringes and the three figures of See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil or in this case: speak out, educate, and understand the dangers of AIDs. Haring produced the work for free, hoping it would inspire change.

In the 1990s, the mural fell into disrepair and was moved to and commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona.

2016-04-22-1461319540-5533688-IMG_0812-thumbThe 1992 Barcelona Olympics, saw the City transform into one of the most rejuvenated cities of our modern world. “Barcelona” is also a single released by Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury. The song was performed by Freddie Mercury and Soprano Montserrat Caballe. Freddie said she was the most beautiful women he ever met. Caballe requested that Freddie write a song about her hometown, and he did so, in Barcelona, a song about meeting a lover in a breathtakingly beautiful city. “Barceloan” was supposed to be the theme song for the ‘92 Olympic Games, however the organisers chose another song at the last minute due to Freddie’s death at the end of ‘91 from AIDS. To avoid controversy the song was still performed at the opening ceremonies, with Caballe performing live to a backing track featuring Freddie’s vocals.

 Between 1999-2005, Barcelona was overflowing with international graffiti artists and highlighted the Spanish artists trying to become noticed. Barcelona was considered the unofficial graffiti city of the world. the Golden Age of street art. Since this transformation, Barcelona has also taken over the city- graffiti and street art included. Many artists are now disappointed with how the local government is taking away their public urban space artwork and are having to travel abroad to get their artwork noticed.

2016-04-22-1461319608-8960000-justiceforjaunJPG-thumbBecause of this, Barcelona is bursting with stencil work. Instalments of objects and pre-made artwork. Unless you create in the suburbs or have been commissioned on private property, your work needs to be efficient, otherwise you will be given a €3000 fine and the heart wrenching abolishment of your artwork.

After the well publicised death of local business man Juan Andrés Benítez, who died in Police Custody in 2013, the public cried out for more safe spaces within the city.

A large open space was opened for the locals, with community gardens and an open air cinema. The walls surrounding the space are nothing short of a collaboration masterpiece by graffiti artists worldwide. Barcelona’s ‘fun, happy and childlike’ graffiti style has illuminated this quarter of the city and filled it with colour, bold statements, identity and safety.

Globally recognizable characters such as Pez and Xupet Negre draw in both the connoisseurs and the curious, while the next generation of artists continue to fly the Barcelona flag abroad. Barcelona-based spray painters, sculptors, stencilists and muralists are now decorating urban spaces all around the globe.

2016-04-22-1461319739-483487-btoy-thumbEL Xupet Negre, which means ‘The Black Pacifier’ in Catalan, is another of Barcelona’s most famous street artists. He came up with his distinctive logo in 1989, and it has been found drawn, painted and pasted all over the city, attracting world wide recognition and fame throughout the 1990s and, like many of his contemporaries, he soon progressed from a world of illicit tagging and late-night creative escapades to the production of commissioned pieces and ‘live’ painting performances at galleries and festivals worldwide.

Xupet Negre has been less active since the mid-2000s, however, he remains a hugely influential figure in Barcelona’s rise to becoming one of the world’s best-known street art hotspots. Btoy Andrea Michaelson, who works professionally as Btoy, is intrigued and inspired by strong women, from early flappers to the present day.

Hopefully these artists will continue to inspire the artistic world and continue to give the city its beautifully vibrant character that resonates in every other aspect of its culture. Thank you to www.barceloanstreetstyletour.com I learnt more on this tour than I ever learnt in School and Nina Bumbalkova my travelling companion for her amazing pictures.

Post by Gia. Gia is a Public Speaker, Actor. Contributor and Writer

Admiring great art ‘is good for your health’, Italian experiment finds

Gazing at great art is not just uplifting for the soul but beneficial to our physical health, according to the findings of an experiment conducted in Italy.

A group of 100 volunteers were led up to the cupola of a vast basilica in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where they spent two hours admiring the cherubs, winged angels and bearded prophets on an 18th fresco.

The monumental Basilica of Vicoforte, near the town of Cuneo, boasts the largest elliptical cupola in the world and is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics. Before climbing the 240 steps to the top of the church, researchers took samples of their saliva and measured levels of cortisol, a hormone which is produced in response to stress.

After viewing the fresco, the volunteers’ cortisol levels were found to have drastically dropped, suggesting that viewing the art had a profoundly soothing effect.

“On average, we found that cortisol levels dropped by 60 per cent and that more than 90 per cent of the participants said they felt much better at the end of the experience,” Professor Enzo Grossi, who studies the relationship between culture and physical health, told La Repubblica newspaper.

“The idea of art as therapy is not new. But this is the first time that the beneficial effect of art on health has been measured.”

The cupola’s fresco was completed in 1752 by Mattia Bortoloni, a Rococo painter, and Felice Biella, a Milanese artist.

The volunteers were aged between 19 and 81, a mix of male and female and with different educational levels.

They were equipped with helmets and climbing harnesses for the climb up into the cupola, which soars nearly 200ft above the ground.

“The idea of art as therapy is not new. But this is the first time that the beneficial effect of art on health has been measured” – Professor Enzo Grossi

The sometimes disconcerting impact of being exposed to Renaissance genius was most famously documented by the 19th century French author Stendhal, who wrote of feeling overwhelmed by the masterpieces he saw during a trip to Florence in 1817.

The phenomenon of experiencing giddiness, a rapid heartbeat, fainting, discomfort and even hallucinations while gazing at exquisite art was dubbed ‘Stendhal Syndrome’.

“As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce (the basilica where Michelangelo and Machiavelli are buried), I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the well-spring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground,” Stendhal recorded in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.

Giuseppe Bertini, a neuroscientist at Verona University, said the drop in cortisol levels was not necessarily connected to the time the volunteers spent contemplating the splendours of the cupola.

“Cortisol levels vary during the day. They peak in the early morning and then they begin to fall. Since three hours passed before the first measuring of saliva and the second, it’s normal that there would be a drop in levels – regardless of what the people had done in the meantime,” he said.

“There have been lots of studies on the relationship between cortisol and well-being while people listen to music or practise yoga or do physical exercise.

“It is probable that looking at the beauty of the art did have an effect, but the result should not be seen in isolation,” said Prof Bertini.

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