Irving Penn || Centennial

In 2017, Irving Penn (1917–2009) would have been one hundred years old. To mark the occasion, The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted ”Irving Penn: Centennial”, in collaboration with The Irving Penn Foundation. It was the most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of the great American photographer.

Here are some photos of the photos (and reflections thereof) which I hope you’ll enjoy :-

Image titles:

1/ Irving Penn: Centennial
2-3/ Roleiflex 3.5 E3 Twin-Lens Reflex Camera with 75 mm Carl Zeiss Planar Lens, 1961-64. Irving Penn acquired this camera in 1964 and used it and other similar models for portrait sittings for the next four decades. It is topped with a modified Hasselblad chimney viewfinder and mounted on a Tiltall pan/tilt head above a table tripod of the artist’s own design.
4/Carl Erickson and Elise Daniels, New York, 1947
5/Charles James, New York, 1948
Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1948
Alfred Hitchcock, New York, 1947
Dusek Brothers, New York, ca. 1948
Ballet Society, New York, 1948
The Tarot Reader (Bridget Tichenor and Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950
Vogue covers: Between 1943 and 2004 Penn produced photographs for 165 Vogue magazine covers, more than any other artist to date.
Vogue Fashion Photography (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris, 1950
Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell), New York, 1949
16/Man Lighting Girl’s Cigarette (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
Many Skirted Indian Woman, Cuzco, 1948
Cuzco Children, 1948
Butcher, London, 1950
Facteur (Mailman), Paris, 1950
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1957
Francis Bacon, London, 1962
Cecil Beaton, London, 1950
Cat Woman, New Guinea, 1970
Two Guedras, Morocco, 1971
Four Guedras, Morocco, 1971
Not an Irvin Penn image but the type of background he would frequently use, New York, 2017
Birgitta Klercker – Long Hair with Bathing Suit, New York, 1966
Clockwise from left: Ingmar Bergmann, Stockholm, 1964 – Alvin Ailey, New York, 1971 – S. J. Perelman, New York, 1962 – Tom Wolfe, New York, 1966
Truman Capote, New York, 1965
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, New York, 1993
Three Poppies ‘Arab Chief’, New York, 1969
Girl with Tobacco on Tongue (Mary Jane Russell), New York, 1951

The Met

May 28th, 2017

Meet Peder Balke || Painter of Northern Light

The North Cape by Moonlight, 1848
Oil on canvas

Finnmark Landscape, ca. 1860
Oil on canvas

Seascape, 1870s
Oil on wood

Northern Lights, 1870s
Oil on wood

To produce this striking image, Balke first applied a thin layer of paint for the sky and then a thicker one for the water. Subsequently, he removed paint with a serrated device to reveal the white ground layer, producing the effects of the lights. Finally, he added details such as the coastline and boats with a brush. 

Seascape, ca. 1845
Oil on canvas, mounted on masonite

Majestic mountains and immense, churning clouds are indifferent to the course of a steamer chugging along the coast, trailed by gulls. This work, a tour de force of Balke’s ability to dematerialize form through the use of a limited palette, strikes a balance between painterly effect and a poetic vision that aspires to the Sublime. 

Moonlit View of Stockholm, ca. 1850
Oil on panel

Incredibly, I had to cross the Atlantic to see these wonderfully poetic works and even learn about the existence of this artist.

Images from an exhibition of 17 paintings by Peder Balke, presented at The Met in 2017.

May 28th, 2017

Explicitly Erotic

“This Section Contains Explicit Material. Young visitors should be accompanied by an adult.” A sign, elegantly placed at the entrance of the gallery, warning visitors that they were about to step into Japan’s most intimate world. Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), flourished as an artistic genre during the Edo period. Catering to a clientele drawn from the rising middle classes, ukiyo-e artists focused on subjects closely associated with the fashionable, worldly pleasures of Edo itself, rather than the prescribed themes of Japan’s classical painting schools, traditional patronized by the nobility and samurai elite. The woodblock print, more affordable than paintings and easily reproducible, proliferated in concert with the rise of the ukiyo-e genre. Beauties, wrestlers, actors were typical subjects of ukiyo-e prints, as were erotic scenes known as shunga.

Most master printmakers designed shunga. Varying in style and explicitness, these prints were appreciated privately rather than being displayed on walls.

The examples on view here, by the artist Koryūsai, portray a variety of sexual pairings.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770)
Two Couples in a Brothel, 1769-70

Two separate encounters in a brothel are staggered across this skillfully composed print by Harunobu. In the background, an adult man with a fully shaved pate is having his moustache tweezed by a female prostitute, an act of intimacy. In the foreground, a slightly more mature prostitute attempts to woo a coy young wakashu who fiddles with a folded fan and diffidently resists her embrace.

Attributed to the Utamaro School
Woman and Wakashu, ca. 1790s

Pages from an unidentified Utagawa-school erotic book, ca. 1850s
Two half-sheets glued together from a printed book with colour illustrations

In this illustration, a prostitute sporting the shaved sot and forelocks of a wakashu takes charge with a male client. Her display of aggressiveness – conventionally gender-coded as a male prerogative – would have been typical of female sex workers, like haori-geisha, who sported the wakashu hairstyle.

Attributed to Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750)
A Prostitute with a Man, late 17th century

Women Using a Dildo, ca. early 1800s

The two women in this print appear to be ladies-in-waiting of a daimyō’s (feudal lord’s) household. Sequestered in inner chambers where men were not allowed, such women were required to be abstinent but encouraged to engage in self- and mutual-pleasuring for their health.

”A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints”, has been an enlightening exhibition and a very interesting look into the erotic life of the Edo-period Japan. Multilayered, complicated and, in many ways, much more progressive than one would have thought.

Japan Society, May 19th 2017

Who is Who

Bunrō (active 1801-1804)
A Wakashu and a Young Woman with Hawks, ca. 1803

The only way I could distinguish between the two was to read the accompanying tag. The Wakashu is wearing a kimono with Mount Fuji motifs.

From”A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints”, an exhibition that ran on Japan Society until June 2017.

May 19th, 2017

Merry-Making in the Mansion

Six-fold screen, gold and pigment on paper (detail)
Attributed to the Kan-ei Era (1624-1644)

“In this pansexual wonderworld, many beautiful women and wakashu are in the service of only a few men. The boat rowing in from the right carries one such man, who drinks sake while both a wakashu and a woman serenade him on shamisen. A group of wakashu frolic in the water, observed from above by other youths and some female prostitutes. On the gilded expanse to the left, a prostitute and her girl-servant (kamuro) chat up two wakashu while the multistoried pavilion above buzzes with music, drink and conversation between female prostitutes, wakashu and some men. To the right, a Buddhist monk topples over as a group of wakashu playfully hold down his hands and feet and ply him with wine; during the Edo period, monks were supposed to abstain from sex, even though nanshoku – sex between men and wakashu – was considered less karmically precarious than sex with women.”

From ”A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints” the first exhibition in North America devoted to the portrayal of wakashu, or beautiful youths—a “third gender” occupying a distinct position in the social and sexual hierarchy of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868).

May 19th, 2017

An intergalactic brunch

Under Marc Chagall’s murals and the iconic ”sputnik” chandeliers. Donated by the Republic of Austria as a gesture of thanks for the American initiative to mobilize the Marshall Plan, an aid to Western Europe to help rebuild its economy after the end of World World II, the ”sputniks” were designed by Hans Harald Rath for the historic glassware company Lobmeyr and were installed in 1966. 11 of them are in the lobby and 21 light up the auditorium. 

Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center

May 14th, 2017


Travelling on Memorial Day weekend…?

Roy Lichtenstein
Study for No Thank You!, 1964

That’s what I should have said. Probably. But I figured, if I avoided the rush on Thursday or – worse – Friday afternoon, I could just about manage to make it to destination unscathed. So, the next few weeks I hope to be bewitched, bedazzled and bewildered by the wonders of nature in Yellowstone, the savoury landscape of the Salt Flats in Utah, the coolest urbanity of Portland in Oregon and Seattle in Washington. Now, how about: travelling on Memorial Day weekend – Yes, please…!

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

The East Room || The Rotunda

The Original Library

With its three-story inlaid walnut bookshelves and magnificent ceiling, the East Room was designed as a treasury for Pierpont Morgan’s remarkable collection of rare printed books. The sixteenth-century Netherlandish tapestry over the mantelpiece depicts avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, personified by the mythological King Midas. Two staircases, concealed behind bookcases, provide access to the balconies. Paintings by H. Siddons Mowbray adorn the upper reaches of the room, and the signs of the zodiac are depicted in the ceiling’s hexagonal spandrels. (Morgan was a member of an exclusive dining club that admitted only twelve members at a time—one for each sign of the zodiac—and the arrangement of the signs in his library’s ceiling may carry a hidden meaning related to key events in his personal life.) Allegorical depictions of the arts and sciences alternate with portraits of figures from Socrates to Michelangelo, identifying the library as a place for the preservation of art and ideas.

Literature, Art, and Music from the Middle Ages to the Present

On view in the East Room are examples from The Morgan Library & Museum’s extraordinary collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts, rare printed books and bindings, and handwritten manuscripts of great writers, artists, and composers from the Renaissance to the present day. While some of the items on view were purchased by Pierpont Morgan, others have been acquired in the century since his death. Selections are changed regularly, but a seminal work is always on view: one of the Morgan’s three copies of a Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455. With Gutenberg’s Bible, the painstaking process of copying books by hand gave way to an innovative new technology—movable type—that facilitated the exchange of art and ideas in all spheres of human endeavor.

Taking another look at The North Room, before leaving.  The Rotunda

In Morgan’s day, visitors to the library passed through a pair of monumental bronze doors into a rotunda replete with opulent detail: variegated marble columns, an ornately patterned floor, and fine mosaic panels that line the curved walls. The ceiling paintings, by American artist H. Siddons Mowbray (1858–1928), depict three of the major literary epochs represented in Pierpont Morgan’s collections—the ancient world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. 

This portrait of Mrs. Morgan was on view at the Lower Level (and not in one of the rooms surrounding Mr. Morgan’s library, as I would have expected). John Singer Sargent, Florence 1856-1925 London
Portrait of Mrs. J.P. Morgan, Jr.

This spirited portrait depicts Jane Morgan (neé Jane Norton Grew, 1868-1925), the wife of Pierpont Morgan’s son, J.P. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943). Although the portrait is inscribed 1906, it appears that Mrs. Morgan sat for Sargent in 1904-5, when she was still living with her husband in London. The Morgans returned to New York in 1906. The following year Sargent declined the opportunity to depict Pierpont Morgan. Shortly thereafter he relinquished his practice as the leading portrait painter of high society in order to focus on landscapes and murals.

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

The West Room || The East Room

The West Room, Mr. Morgan’s Study

During the last years of his life, Pierpont Morgan spent a great deal of time in his richly appointed private study, away from the Wall Street offices of his banking firm. In this lush but intimate room, among some of his favorite works of art, Morgan worked, relaxed, and met with art dealers and business associates. It was here that he gathered a group of bankers in 1907 to orchestrate a dramatic resolution to a national financial panic. Low shelves containing rare printed volumes line the study’s walls. To the left of the massive fireplace, Morgan’s impressive manuscript collection was once secured in a vault lined with solid steel. The red silk wall covering (a reproduction of the deteriorated original) contains the insignia of the Chigi, a great Sienese banking family, and much of the furniture was commissioned by Morgan in the Renaissance style. Pierpont Morgan’s portrait hangs over the fifteenth-century mantelpiece, and that of his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., is displayed between the west windows.

[right] Hans Memling (Flemish, 1433/40–1494)
Portrait of a Man with a Pink, ca. 1475
Oil on panel

This is one of the finest paintings in the Morgan collection. The sitter may have been a member of the Italian merchant colony in Bruges, where Memling was the leading painter. The pink, or carnation, in the young man’s hand is likely a symbol of betrothal, suggesting that the painting may be one of a pair of wedding portraits.

[left] Workshop of Domenico Tintoretto (Italian, 1560-1635)
Portrait of a Man, ca. 1600
Oil on canvas

The unidentified subject of this portrait, painted in Venice in the workshop of Domenico Tintoretto, son of the more famous Jacopo, is believed to be a Moorish Ambassador to the Venetian court.

Frank Owen Salisbury (British, 1874–1962)
Portrait of J. P. Morgan, Jr. (1867–1943) in a Cambridge Robe, 1934

This portrait depicts J.P. Morgan, Jr., Pierpont Morgan’s son and founder of this institution, wearing the robes of a Doctor of Laws, an honorary degree conferred by Cambridge University in 1919. The degree was a gesture of gratitude to the younger Morgan, who, as head of the firm J.P. Morgan & Co., provided financial support to the Allies during the First World War. Commissioned by J.P. Morgan, Jr., 1934.

A glimpse into The East Room, the original library, more photos of which we will see tomorrow.

The Morgan Library & Museum houses one of the finest collections of music manuscripts in the country. In addition to a large collection of musicians’ letters and first editions of scores and librettos, it has the world’s largest collection of Mahler manuscripts and substantial holdings of Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart, Schubert, and Richard Strauss. The collection spans six centuries and many countries. The Morgan’s holdings of material relating to the lives and works of the dramatist William S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur S. Sullivan form the most extensive archive of its kind in the world.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Sonatine, 1903

Ravel’s Sonatine began life as a single-movement work. Only later did he add the second and third movements. Despite its many corrections, it is evident from the printer’s annotations in blue that this manuscript was used by the publisher Durand for its 1905 edition of the complete piece. Note that Ravel’s anagram at the top of the page, Verla, was crossed through and replaced with his proper name. Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturne in C Minor, op. 48, no. 1, 1841

The slow, dreamlike quality of the nocturne (night music) is a characterized by a simple, lyrical melody that becomes increasingly florid. The form, as developed for the solo piano, gained popularity in the early decades of the nineteenth century with the works of the Irish composer John Field. But it was Chopin who brought the nocturne to the height of its expression, and it is Chopin’s nocturnes that are best remembered.

Ancient Near Eastern Seals & Tablets

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017