Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Game of Art APPENDIX B(?): Household Art Edition

What do the art displays of disaffected provincial petit-bourgeois bloggers tell us? Today we are going to explore that very question.

Picture #1: Title unknown. Artist is the father of an acquaintance.

One of the few actual paintings in this collection, the small canvas hangs in the attic on some paneling near a chimney, and the whole arrangement gives that softly lit part of the room a cheerier appearance. It has been up there ever since I moved into the house, and for all these years I thought it had been left behind by some former tenant, an anonymous work, but now that I have been discovered/caught snapping photos of all the pictures in the house, the true identity of the artist has been revealed to me.

I assume that the painting depicts a New Hampshire scene. The rust on the roofs of the barn is the most intimate detail of place. The seasonal appearances of the natural elements--sky, grass, trees, light--strike me as perhaps more incongruent than one would like. Still, I find something in the picture reassuring. It projects an idea of existence as more or less benign, which is a sentiment I confess to being open to.

2. Renoir--Flowers in a Vase

I am not making up the title. On the pouring shelf in the refrigerator/pantry area, formerly known as the interrogation room for its charmlessness, lack of windows, and single severe lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. The fingerprints and other smudges on the glass make for a nice symbol of our current familial relation to the fine arts. Almost all of the pictures here are not mine, either by original ownership or inspiration by the way. I do not know what the origin of this particular print was, though the original is supposed to be in the National Gallery in Washington so perhaps it is a souvenir of a visit there. If I were decorating myself I would almost certainly have neglected any flower pictures and wondered what touch of delicacy or other the establishment was missing.

3. Gustave Dore, Illustration from the Inferno, Canto XIII (about the suicides)

In the upstairs "office", where I spend less and less time as the years go on. We had to pay some homage to the Great Books, I guess--it's a part of the household narrative. Back in the late 90s a used book store in our town that has long since gone out of business had an art section from which they sold color plates and illustrations that had been torn from or removed from books singly, almost as prints. These Dante pictures were from that stash. I recall at the time that we got and framed four of them. There is a second one further down on this page but I don't know what happened to the other two.

4. Harald Sahlberg--From Roros (Side Street)

Souvenir from our trip to Norway in 2000. We did not go to the actual town of Roros, famed for its copper mines, which is quite far north. Norway was a fairly poor country and was not even independent until late in the 19th century, so its art museums do not have much in the way of major foreign collections and are heavily domestic in orientation. This was good, as besides the considerable amount of Munch there was to see, I liked their old pre-World War I realist/academy school well enough at the time.

5. Vermeer, Milkmaid

Poster from an exhibit that we actually saw in London in 2001 (this painting is normally in Amsterdam, which I have never been to, though I once stood in a train station in Paris contemplating buying a ticket there and possibly seeking out a Dutch girl I had been pen pals with. It was only a couple of hours away. But, of course, I allowed the costs and practical difficulties for which I had not planned deter me from this romantic and possibly--why not?--fruitful plan). This is in the refrigerator room, on the wall opposite the Monet flower picture. I'm kind of surprised it's still up, though I guess it does have a kind of kitchen theme and it is a reminder that even I once had a different life before I had to fill out paperwork for kindergarten assuring my kid's 25 year-old teacher, that Yes, we have books in our home.

6. Alfons Mucha, Poster for Sokol Festival, which is a Czech Gymnastics-Calisthenic type thing.

Not one of my favorite efforts by this painter, whom I wrote about in one of my old "Favorite Women of Art" posts (#6 or 8, if I remember correctly). This poster had a companion, which was the illustration I used for that other post, but that picture was put away some years ago and I don't know where it is at present. This one is hanging up in the downstairs bathroom, or powder room, as we used to call it in Philadelphia (that would be the old Philadelphia). That wallpaper dates from the 1940s or 50s and is peeling badly in places, but I am going to cling to it as long as possible because whatever replaces it will never be as cool.

7. 1980s Tourism Poster, Limousin, France

This probably shouldn't count as 'art', but I tend to regard it as part of the visual collection. This is also in the attic, just below painting #1 and, as you can see, approaching the floor, or at least the top of whatever pile is stacked against this wall. As noted elsewhere, I am a bit of a nostalgist for the days when countries were a bit more a world onto themselves, less globalized, slightly fewer people speaking English and walking around with degrees from American and other great universities that get indigestion at the mere thought of people like me setting foot on their campuses even as a tourist. I regard France in this light maybe more than anywhere else. It had a lot of glamour and romance to lose by adapting more efficient and convenient modern habits, as well as becoming generally more accessible and accomodating to the global economy, and to my imagination it has lost a bit of it, but then again how reliable of a source am I on these sorts of things? The attic is a very suitable place for the poster.

8. The World of Mother Goose.

This is a print of one of my father's illustrations. Naturally it is in the children's room. This artist is not afraid of producing a busy composition, as you can see. I suppose I have inherited something of this same quality in my own outlook--my instinct is to pile up facts or names or other people's ideas and mistake them for detail. Detail is more akin to penetration. It is honing in on what is most significant, and that is why it is considered an important property of high art.

9. Gustav Wentzel, Sjaakspillere

Yes, I believe the title in English is "Chess Players". Unfortunately I could not get a good picture of this. If I turned the flash off it was too dark. Bear in mind I had a break of about 10 minutes in which to go around the house and take all these pictures or I probably could have figured it out. Here is a link to the picture as it is supposed to look. The flash notably obscures the tasty-looking mug of beer set beside the board.

This is the other print brought back from the Norway trip. Its appeal, formerly its air of a kind of gentlemanly bohemianism, is now augmented by that of leisure and relaxation, but still in a cultivated context, all of which is largely inaccessible to me at the moment. The picture's placement contains one interesting coincidence, in that as you can see our own chessboard is stored right beside it--and it does get a good amount of use, though as yet our games are not very relaxed affairs--and one irony, in that the major item of furniture beneath it, atop which all of these miscellaneous items are sitting, is an antique piano, which however, no one in our house knows how to play, and which is so badly out of tune that even people who come over to the house who can play cannot play it, because the sound is too painful to them.

10. The other extant Dante illustration, from Inferno XIX

The simonists. Those guys get it good and hard in hell. Also in the office. Everything framed in that room is small in size, no larger than a standard sheet of typing paper. There are also barometers and such kinds of things as people like to look at and be surrounded by when they are taking refuge from their actual lives.

11. Covered Bridge, Somewhere in Pennsylvania.

This is one of my father's early pictures from the 60s, when he was taking after the style of Andrew Wyeth. I am about to contradict what I wrote in my last entry, in that this picture is also in the office but is somewhat bigger than an ordinary leaf of paper. However it is set atop an enormous and nearly immovable wardrobe that is in the corner of the room, so that if one is sitting down in the room he does not notice it too readily.

This picture was around during my childhood, and then it came into my possession after an interval of some 10-15 years through a third party whose hands it had fallen into. I don't know what it represents to me, other than a time--which the tendency is to imagine as a happy one though in reality it was no more or less happy than any other time--before I was born to which I have some relation. My father is not like me where his painting is concerned, angst-ridden and constantly suffering from crises of confidence and inferiority complexes. He paints not in a desperate attempt to become vital but because he is actually is vital, and as a celebration of that vitality. Obviously I can't really relate to that mindset.

12. Constable, Dedham Mill, Essex

Doesn't this remind you of the painting in Mr. Rogers's kitchen? This, along with at least one other picture in the same style, decorated the paneling in my grandparents' basement for around 35 years. Now we have it up in the children's playroom. I don't know what happened to the rest of the set.

I have written elsewhere about my affection for this school of painting. It shares an attitude in common with other things I like, which is a kind of hopefulness or even optimism judiciously larded with a sense of authentic melancholy. As ways to understand existence go this seems to me a reasonable and comforting one, especially if a grander understanding is inaccessible due to limitations of the intellect or spirit which prove impossible to overcome.

13. A print, but who the artist is or anything else I do not know.

The figure in this picture bears some resemblance to Mrs Bourgeois Surrender. It was given to us as a gift for that reason. It currently hangs in one of the niches of the dining room, above a couple of items I did not include in this survey, one a framed, waterstained tableau of some antiquity featuring a black and white image of some woods with the oft-maligned Joyce Kilmer poem "Trees" incscribed beneath them, the second a poster of Neuschwanstein Castle, which I have never been to, but which the children like. If it helps them develop an interest in learning about/traveling to Europe someday--apparently nowadays getting boys especially interested in anything traditionally associated with learning or culture has become a Herculean labor--then it will have served us well.

14. Postcard of our house, circa 1905

It is largely obscured by the elm trees, which unfortunately of course all died in the great elm blight of the 60s which devastated this quintessential New England tree (it is still the state tree in Massachusetts) all over the region. We have planted one. It remains rather frail-looking even after a couple of years, but it is still alive.

A curious note for baseball fans, the house next door to us on the left, which is not visible in this postcard, was, I have been told, the boyhood home of Red Rolfe, who was the 3rd baseman for the Yankees from 1934-42, played on five championship teams, had several outstanding years, especially 1939 when he led the leagues in hits, runs scored and either doubles or triples, and was arguably the best player at his position in the history of that storied franchise (though granted, he would have batted 8th in the lineup of that all-time team) until the arrival of Alex Rodriguez.

This item hangs in the dining room above the china cabinet.

15. Degas, Portrait of the Belilli Family

The bourgeois family extraordinaire. To be honest, I flatter myself by insuinating that I am bourgeois. Real bourgeois are actually quite rich by the standards of the median income or wealth. Five years ago when I began this page my ego, believe it or not, was still nowhere near deflated to a level correspondent to the truth; it still is not all the way there, nor am I ready for it to arrive at that point, though it continues to make a slow and grinding progress. Anyway, I thought at the time that by being bothered with conventional things like jobs and children meant that one was bourgeois, which seemed bad enough. That the truth is, in fact, probably even worse is something that will take a further number of years to come to terms with.

This picture is big and used to hang on the large wall in the staircase. It has since been replaced by photographs of the children and has been retired to the attic.

The public library in our town used to have a collection of framed copies of famous artworks they would allow you to check out for 28 days. Sometime in the early 2000s they ended this service and had a sale of the pictures. This is one of them. There is another directly below.

16. Henri Rousseau, Family Outing

This is the other picture from the library fire sale. This is the 3rd picture in the very artsy refrigerator room, above the Vermeer.

I admit I was not a particular fan of Henri Rousseau, but my wife finds a lot of joy and life in his paintings, especially this one, and she is not somebody who goes around liberally declaring enthusiasm for artworks.

17. "Travel"

One of my father's prints--such money as there is in this type of art is the ability to sell prints. I have a reputation for being fond of travel, so I received one of these as a present. It is true, I have never been much of a homebody. I like to get out of the house, especially if I am not going to be able to read or write. This is probably the main reason I always envisioned myself living in a big city and renting, so I wouldn't have to be bothered with the responsibility of upkeep on a house, for which so many other people seemed to me so much better suited than myself, while I seemed so well suited for bohemianism and reflection and sensualism and all that.

18. The Prophet Jeremiah from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

In the dining room. I like it, though it does not really fit in with the rest of the collection.

19. Postcard of the Former Union Station, Portland, ME

I doubt I need to tell you what my opinion of the destruction of so many of America's great railroad stations is. A few years ago I saw a calendar/postcard type book featuring pictures of various stations in New Hampshire alone that were no more...but time is up. I will save my ruminations on America's lost train culture and how that may or may not have negatively affected my life in another post. It is 9 days since I started this, and it is time to move on.

1 comment:

Gil Roth said...

We've got a ton of work by cartoonists on our walls: 6 drawings by Xaime Hernandez, a series of 6 color prints of women by Lorenzo Mattotti, a print of "Golem in the Forrest" by Sammy Harkham, a framed poster of an ad exhibit by Los Bros. Hernandez, an Eddie Campbell splash page, a Jim Woodring drawing of Frank & Pupshaw, a trio of promotional drawings in a Kama Sutra-esque style by Joost Swarte, and the original art for a daily comic strip I sorta inspired. We also have several pieces by contemporary artist Riece Walton, a print by photographer Frank Rolle of a Katrina-devastated house in New Orleans, a woodcut print of a penguin by my college pal Marian Short, a pair of prints from my photos, and an adorable photo of one our greyhounds.