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Félix Vallotton and the Dark Heart of the Nineteenth-Century Bourgeoisie

ArtNews News Feed - 2 hours 36 min ago

The bourgeoisie: now there’s a subject for a nineteenth-century artist. In little more than a century, this newish class had gone from being comedic fast-talking Figaros to planet-altering overlords striding across the globe in search of a soul, status, and an appropriate self-image. What, aside from double-entry bookkeeping, lurked in the heart of the bourgeoisie, and how to represent its likeness?

Enter Félix Vallotton, striver son in a Swiss bourgeois family who came to Paris in 1882 and enrolled at the Académie Julian, a freewheeling alternative to the École des Beaux-Arts. He soon fell in with the Nabis (Hebrew for “prophets”), a group united in their esteem for Gauguin and Cézanne that included Bonnard and Vuillard. They preached spiritual renewal and, more productively, a jettisoning of the canvas’s illusionistic space in favor of stylization, lurid color, and an overt use of ornament. Bonnard and Vuillard took this approach indoors, turning bourgeois interiors into hallucinatory scenes.

As demonstrated by the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective of Vallotton’s work, “Painter of Disquiet,” the artist was a fine colorist, on par with his better-known peers. Yet his signature contributions to modern art eschewed the riotous chromatic wallpaper of Bonnard and Vuillard—and even color in general. The artist’s great achievement was to revive woodcut printing in Europe. If it hadn’t been Vallotton, someone else would have done it, with half of Paris high on ukiyo-e woodcuts ever since Japan had been forcibly opened for commerce in the 1850s. But we’re lucky it was Vallotton, whose stark black-and-white prints, produced using matrices of soft pearwood, provide a singularly critical look at both private and public life.

Few artists have made the dark heart of the bourgeoisie more visually interesting, and none with such perfect economy of means. Vallotton cast his gaze into private apartments, where the clocks seemed stuck in le cinq à sept, adulterous witching hours. His greatest single work is the woodcut series “Intimités” (Intimacies, 1897–98), published in La Revue blanche, the flagship little magazine of Parisian decadence. The standout print is L’Argent (Money, 1898), whose leftmost edge displays a louche canoodling couple, while the right two-thirds of the composition is an immaculate expanse of thick, fudgy noir.

The exhibition includes a few of Vallotton’s preparatory gray-shaded ink-wash sketches alongside the prints, showing how much he gained by losing tonal value gradations in favor of flat white and black—especially the black whose vast joined allotments suggest so much obscured detail, much of it no doubt illicit. Within these self-imposed limits Vallotton produced an astonishing variety of atmospheric effects, from fireside heat and light to greenhouse humidity in one 1896 series on domestic music-making.

Félix Vallotton: The Lie, 1897, woodblock print, 7 1/8 by 8 7/8 inches, from the portfolio “Intimacies”; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Equally striking are Vallotton’s crowdscapes and city scenes—an execution, a traffic accident, a sudden downpour, faces in a darkened theater—which, like Weegee’s snapshots of working-class urban life, brim as much with eerie weirdness as with conscientious reportage, the teeming people showing more mask than face.

These graphic works were immensely popular, not just in Paris’s thriving radical print media but in the Anglosphere from London to Chicago, where a couple of Harvard guys ran the Francophile magazine The Chap-Book, which published Mallarmé poems even before its Parisian counterparts. Vallotton’s woodcuts are reproduced in the New York Review of Books today, proof of both the abiding freshness of his designs and the enduring appeal of fin-de-siècle Paris as a mythical homeland for intellectuals. Vallotton’s graphic works anticipated the incriminating tenebrism of cinematographers like John Alton and Gabriel Figueroa, who lensed the world and its surfaces, from velvety divans to hard asphalt, as one big crime scene.

This depiction of outwardly respectable bourgeoisie as secretly scandalous rewarded all parties, throwing a bone to socialists and moralists while tickling the self-regard of a social class long anxious about being too staid, too dull. And the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, it turned out, had a healthy appetite for introspection and self-criticism. (Ibsen did not starve.)

Vallotton’s radicalism almost made it to the end of the century. In 1899 he married a wealthy widow, Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, a move that was good for business—her family connections guaranteed him steady gallery representation—and that provided a free source of domestic alienation for his art. That same year, he painted Le Dîner, effet de lamp (Dinner by Lamplight), a dinner table nightmare in which his new stepdaughter stares out at him from Stygian darkness while his stepson yawns. His Intérieur avec femme en rouge de dos (Interior with Woman in Red Seen from Behind, 1903), a view through three doorways in a bourgeois dwelling, with a woman in a nightgown standing in the middle of the scene, conveys emptiness and a sense of the uncanny amid quietly sober brushwork, a mood later distilled to higher proof by Magritte.

Vallotton did make more than bourgeoisie genre scenes. He painted nudes, whose generally frigid and listless flesh prefigured Weimar Germany’s Neue Sachlichkeit. More appealing are his paysages composés, shimmery coastal and riverine landscapes synthesized in the studio from sketches and snaps from the artist’s beloved Kodak; the technique was a retreat from the plein-air honesty of the Impressionists and, despite the daring Japanese-inflected formalism of his waves and moonrises, a throwback to more traditional landscape works, with their heavy cargo of symbol and portent.

Félix Vallotton: Naked Woman Holding Her Shirt with Both Hands (Femme nue retenant sa chemis à deux mains), 1904, oil on canvas, 50 13/16 by 37 3/8 inches; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vallotton grew old enough to glower at the next wave of ambitious avant-gardists rolling into Paris. Picasso made his great portrait of Gertrude Stein resembling a neo-primitive terra-cotta vessel in 1906, and the following year, the Swiss artist painted her as a direct descendent of Ingres’s iconic bourgeois M. Bertin, with the same mass, cold dignity, and restless, sausage-y digits. The Met, in a curatorial coup, hung the two Gertrudes side by side in uneasy company. It must be said, though, that Picasso’s modernist portrait is not much touched by Vallotton’s traditionalist retort.

After European leaders started their Great War, Vallotton, like other formerly radical painters, ranging from George Bellows to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, caught war fever, hiring himself out to his adopted homeland to make prints depicting the Western Front, unedifying little images lacking bite and aesthetic charge. It is a mercy that the Met’s presentation does not include these woodcuts, which were featured in the show’s first incarnation, at the Royal Academy in London.

Vallotton died in 1925, leaving behind an exemplary body of work. Unlike Bonnard, he never got his own volume in the Thames & Hudson “World of Art” series, his painterly talent too various, his output irreducible to a single stylistic brand. (Vallotton also wrote plays and novels. His posthumously published, campily doom-laden novel La Vie meurtrière [The Murderous Life] is still in print.) One can easily imagine the Calvinist elders of Vallotton’s native Lausanne looking with approval at his moralizing, his eventual complaisance, and the stark astringency of his images.

 

This article appears under the title “Félix Vallotton” in the February 2020 issue, pp. 81–83.

Three Iraq protesters killed as anger boils over govt 'procrastination'

Yahoo - Art News - 3 hours 16 min ago

Three Iraqi protesters were killed in the capital as thousands of anti-government demonstrators sought to shut streets across the country on Monday, their deadline for authorities to implement long-awaited reforms. Rallies have rocked Iraq since October but fearing they would lose momentum amid spiralling regional tensions protesters last Monday told the government it had one week to meet their demands or they would escalate their demonstrations. Protesters sought to ramp up pressure on the government on Monday with pop-up rallies away from their main gathering place in Baghdad's iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square.


Portrait Hidden in Gallery Wall Confirmed as the Stolen Klimt and More: Morning Links from January 20, 2020

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News

The inaugural edition of Desert X AlUla, the outdoor sculpture exhibition in Saudi Arabia, has named its artists list. [ARTnews]

A prized work by Joseph Wright of Derby could not be saved by the UK from export. [The Art Newspaper]

The Momentary, a satellite of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, will reopen next month with work by Hank Willis Thomas and more contemporary American artists. [WSJ]

The Real Deal

The Gustav Klimt painting found last month in an Italian gallery has been authenticated. [CNN]

A long-disputed self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh has finally been deemed genuine. [Bloomberg]

Artists

Simone Leigh is headed to Hauser & Wirth. [ARTnews]

Installation artist Krzysztof Wodiczko was commissioned to reimagine a 19th century monument in Manhattan. [Gothamist]

Native American women will be in the spotlight at two new art exhibitions in the U.S. [Forbes]

Deep Dives

How did Isabel dos Santos, art collector and Africa’s richest woman, build her empire? [The New York Times]

Barbara London explores the pioneering video artists of the last half-century. [The Guardian]

The US Air Force recently acquired a new $64 million Gulfstream private jet for VIP government officials — see inside

Yahoo - Art News - 4 hours 58 min ago

The US president isn't the only government official that flies in a VIP plane operated by the US Air Force.


'I stayed alive to tell' - Auschwitz's dwindling survivors recount horrors of Nazi death camp

Yahoo - Art News - 5 hours 36 min ago

A strip of skin tattooed with the Auschwitz death camp number 99288 sits in a silver frame on a shelf in Avraham Harshalom's living room. As the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation on Jan 27, 1945, nears, Harshalom, 95, is very clear about why he kept it. Harshalom is one of some 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today.


Erdogan says Somalia has invited Turkey to explore for oil in its seas: NTV

Yahoo - Art News - 5 hours 57 min ago

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Somalia had invited Turkey to explore for oil in its seas, after Ankara signed a maritime agreement with Libya last year, broadcaster NTV reported. Turkey has been a major source of aid to Somalia following a famine in 2011 as Ankara seeks to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa to counter Gulf rivals like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


EU won't meet China halfway in investment talks - EU trade chief

Yahoo - Art News - 6 hours 34 min ago

The European Union wants to agree a deal with China this year to protect foreign investment and increase investment market access, but it will not meet Beijing halfway, EU trade chief Phil Hogan said on Monday. Hogan told a conference held by business lobby group BusinessEurope that the EU wanted to see "concrete progress" from China on opening up its markets.


Photos surface showing convicted Nazi guard Demjanjuk at Sobibor

Yahoo - Art News - 7 hours 14 min ago

New photos have emerged which for the first time show convicted Nazi guard John Demjanjuk at the Sobibor death camp, a Berlin archive confirmed Monday, although he always denied ever being there. Ukrainian-American Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of nearly 30,000 Jews at Sobibor by a German court in 2011. According to the Berlin-based Topography of Terror archive, photos of Demjanjuk are among a newly discovered collection of more than 350 snaps which give "detailed insight" into the camp in German-occupied Poland.


Milder days ahead for Midwest, Northeast following bitter cold

Yahoo - Art News - 7 hours 17 min ago

The midwestern and northeastern United States will gradually emerge from a deep freeze as Arctic air retreats northward by late week.Prior to the milder shift, the snowy and icy landscape left behind by a far-reaching winter storm will be stubborn to melt away in the beginning part of the week.Despite some sunshine, high temperatures will be no better than the teens, 20s and 30s F from the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic and New England through Tuesday. A brisk breeze will contribute to even lower AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures into Monday night."On Wednesday, an area of high pressure will settle over the mid-Atlantic, signaling the start of a moderating trend," AccuWeather Meteorologist Kyle Elliott said. Highs will return to seasonable levels at midweek, trending into the middle to upper 20s across northern New England and 30s and lower 40s farther south. Given ample sunshine, light winds and the prior bitter cold, it's likely to feel even warmer than the thermometer suggests."Temperatures should return back above normal by Thursday and Friday as the high moves off to the east," Elliott said.Daytime temperatures in the lower to middle 40s from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh, New York City and Boston late this week will be 5-10 degrees above late January normals. Caribou, Maine, is forecast to reach the 30s on Thursday after spending much of the first half of the week in the single digits and below zero.CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APPMotorists and pedestrians will need to keep an eye out for icy patches that can develop during the overnight hours around the middle and latter part of this week as snow and ice that melts during the day refreezes after dark.Bright sunshine glaring off the glittering snow and ice will be the main hazard to drivers across the region into late week, with no precipitation in the forecast into at least Thursday. Make sure to grab the sunglasses before hitting the roadway. Clouds and precipitation will be working their way through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys by the end of the week, and this unsettled weather could arrive in the Northeast by the weekend, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Heather Zehr.The damp weather will be associated with a storm system first expected to return wintry weather to part of the central Plains and Great Lakes and soak the South Central states with rain and thunderstorms.Even with the milder trend ahead of the storm, AccuWeather meteorologists cannot rule out the storm having wintry complications in the Northeast during the last weekend of January. The extent of any snow and ice will depend on how much cold air the storm will be able to tap into or manufacture on its own.Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.


Iran Threatens Non-Proliferation Treaty Exit Over European Move

Yahoo - Art News - 7 hours 20 min ago

(Bloomberg) -- Iran will withdraw from a major non-proliferation treaty if European nations attempt to refer the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council over its infringements of the 2015 nuclear deal, the country’s foreign minister said.The U.K., France and Germany said last week they would trigger the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism, which could eventually mean the matter being referred to the Security Council. The move inflamed tensions with Tehran, which is locked in an economic confrontation with the U.S. that this month sparked a military exchange.“If Europeans continue their untenable conduct or send Iran’s nuclear case to the United Nations Security Council, we will withdraw from the N.P.T.,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told lawmakers, referring to the international treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, the official parliamentary news service ICANA reported.Iran was an early signatory of the 1970 treaty, which was designed to eventually lead to disarmament. Non-nuclear weapons states that are signatories, including Iran, agree not to pursue weapons and to only develop peaceful atomic technology.Earlier on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran is planning “one last step” in its gradual draw-down from complying with the nuclear deal, raising the possibility that it’s close to announcing a complete withdrawal from the embattled international accord. The final measure will have “more effective consequences,” Mousavi said.Iran has been gradually reducing its compliance with the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, since U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it and began reimposing sanctions on the country’s economy.Earlier this month, Iran announced it’s no longer observing limits on uranium enrichment or research and development activities, but insisted it was still working within the parameters of the deal and would continue cooperating with United Nations nuclear inspectors.President Hassan Rouhani last week said all the steps could still be reversed as soon as Europe was able to commit to the agreement and take concrete steps allowing Iran to sell oil.Days before European nations turned up pressure on the Islamic Republic, the U.S. and Iran came to the brink of war after Trump ordered the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. As Iranian forces launched retaliatory attacks on U.S. facilities in the Middle East, they accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner over Tehran, triggering protests against the regime.Britain has also infuriated Iran’s government by proposing that the current accord be replaced with a “Trump deal.” Mousavi said that while Iran remains open to talks with the EU on the future of the agreement, the Islamic Republic won’t agree to any proposals from either the bloc or the U.S. for an alternative to the existing deal.(Updates with Zarif comments)To contact the reporter on this story: Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at ashahla@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Mark Williams, Paul AbelskyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


First production 2020 Chevy C8 Corvette auctioned off for $3 million

Yahoo - Art News - 8 hours 5 min ago

At a Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona this past Saturday, the first production 2020 Chevy C8 Stingray was bought for $3 million -- more than $2.9 million over its starting MSRP. During the summer of 2019, Chevrolet announced the eight-generation drop-top version of the iconic American sportscar, the 2020 C8 Corvette Stingray. Despite the fact that the first production model hasn't even been built yet, it was already on the slate at the auction house and sold for millions over its actual base retail price of $59,995.


A Drexel University professor has been charged with stealing $185,000 in government grant money to spend on Philadelphia strip clubs and iTunes

Yahoo - Art News - 8 hours 20 min ago

The Philadelphia district attorney's office charged Chikaodinaka Nwankpa with theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception last week.


Norway left with minority government after populists quit

Yahoo - Art News - 8 hours 23 min ago

The populist Progress Party pulled out of Norway's center-right governing coalition Monday over the decision to repatriate an Islamic State group-linked woman and her two children from a detention camp in Syria. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she would continue with a minority government comprised of three coalition partners — her own Conservatives, the centrist Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.


The Wuhan Pneumonia Crisis Highlights the Danger in China's Opaque Way of Doing Things

Yahoo - Art News - 8 hours 33 min ago

Downplaying the spread of a deadly new virus is a dangerous strategy


Evacuation crackdown ordered as Philippine volcano 'recharges'

Yahoo - Art News - 9 hours 9 min ago

Philippine authorities ordered a crackdown Monday on evacuees' daily visits to their homes in the danger zone around Taal volcano as scientists warned it could be "recharging" for a more powerful explosion. More than 110,000 people have taken refuge in evacuation centres since Taal burst to life a week ago, but many hard-hit towns have let residents back for hours each day to fetch items, feed livestock and clean up their houses. "We are directing DRRMCs (civil defence officers)... not to allow anyone to enter the danger zone," said Epimaco Densing, undersecretary for the Department of Interior.


Ukraine to press for plane crash black boxes as Iran minister visits

Yahoo - Art News - 9 hours 9 min ago

Ukraine will press Iran to hand over the black boxes from the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane at a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation on Monday, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told reporters. Ukraine would convey the message to visiting Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, that returning the black boxes would show that Iran wanted an unbiased investigation of the crash, Prystaiko said. Iran had said on Sunday it was trying to analyze the black boxes from the airliner its military shot down this month, denying an earlier report it would hand them to Ukraine.


US envoy say it's his mustache; South Koreans say otherwise

Yahoo - Art News - 9 hours 27 min ago

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea has some unusual explanations for the harsh criticism he's faced in his host country. Or a Japanese ancestry that raises unpleasant reminders of Japan's former colonial domination of Korea? Many South Koreans, however, have a more straight-forward explanation for Harry Harris' struggle to win hearts and minds in Seoul, and it's got more to do with an outspoken manner that they see as undiplomatic and rude.


China repeats call on Canada to release Huawei CFO Meng

Yahoo - Art News - 10 hours 38 min ago

China repeated its call on Monday for Canada to release detained Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou as soon as possible, ahead of the executive's first extradition hearing later in the day. "The resolve of the Chinese government to protect Chinese citizens' proper legal rights is firm and unwavering," foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told reporters during a daily briefing. Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of the United States, where she is charged with bank fraud and accused of misleading the bank HSBC about Huawei Technologies' business in Iran.


Iran says Zarif not attending Davos as its organizers 'changed its agenda'

Yahoo - Art News - 10 hours 40 min ago

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will not attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos this week because its organizers had "abruptly changed its agenda", its foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. Reuters last week reported that Zarif was no longer on the list of nearly 3,000 people due at the event, which is being held under the banner "Stakeholders for a Sustainable and Cohesive World".


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