Old Masters Museum, Brussels

2 Oct

Knock-kneed mortals and skeletal angels. Grisly death and sumptuous embroidery you could almost reach out and touch. Saints with the implements of their martyrdom. The divine and the infernal side by side.

I can’t remember all of the artists, but i’ve named them where I can.

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Hieronymus Bosch:

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Lucas Cranach:

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The next three are by Brueghel:

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Musée Wiertz

2 Oct

Fashions change, are born, die, disappear and reappear. It’s like a window into history; not the history of kings and queens, but of convictions and desires. Maybe that’s how and why I look at old art: to snatch a bit of permanence amidst all that birth, death and flux.

That said, the next three posts are about old art. There’s lots of glory, vanity and death, which points up what I said just above. The next two posts i’ll do on Flemish Primitives and other bits and bobs in the Brussels Old Masters museum, and the St. John’s Hospital and Groeninge museums in Bruges. This one though, this one is about Antoine Wiertz.

The story here is that our Antoine managed to get an agreement with the Belgian state under which they built him an enormous studio which, on his death, would be turned into a museum to house all his work in perpetuity. Not bad, Antoine. Trouble is, he’s since fallen seriously out of fashion, to the point where the Economist magazine dubbed his museum the worst public art collection in Europe. If you ask me, Wiertz should’ve gone the whole hog and had himself interred in it as his mausoleum too. I like it when an artist is so puffed up with bombast that they start to look silly.

Here are the pictures.
This is La Belle Rosine. She’s looking at her own skeleton. You can tell it’s her before dear Antoine has painted a post-it note on the skull which reads La Belle Rosine. Can you tell yet that he doesn’t do subtle?

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He does do high camp though.

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This next one is so big, it won’t sit flush against the wall. Think about it: King Leopold II built him a massive studio so Antoine made something that was slightly
bigger than it, the bitch:

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See the trompe l’oeil in the corner? No, not the rapist being shot in the face, to the right of that. The little one. Zoom in. It was freaking me out.

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What’s this? Eve, a Pietà and who’s that on the right? No idea-

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I’d say it was St George, only it looks like the dragon wings are coming out of his back.

Antoine Wiertz. Not the genius he thought he was, but some other kind of genius nonetheless.

Art Nouveau

1 Oct

Art Nouveau is something i’ve had a soft spot for for a long time, and my attraction to the style deepened when I encountered the many continental expressions of it – the more flamboyant stuff, that looks like it might rip free of its moorings and run amok with lethal results, triffid style. The stuff that isn’t going to sell if printed on tea towels and coasters.

This house reminded me of a Hieronymus Bosch monster-

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Truth be told though, what we saw wasn’t quite as wild as I expected. It was an eye-opener so find out that the style took off when the nouveau riche saw it as a way to distinguish themselves and that it was later used by Belgium’s first liberal/socialist coalition, who saw it as a progressive style with practical applications.

Art Nouveau was very diverse in another way too, a way I was more familiar with: its spread across the decorative arts. Some of what we saw was glassware and furniture, some of it we saw on a guided tour of Brussels buildings done in the style. One place we visited on the tour wasn’t generally open to the public, for the very good reason that it was built as a school and is still a school. It’s called School no.1. It was a wonder to see mops, brooms, benches and children’s drawings sat there amongst whiplash mosaics and masonry:

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Various private houses:

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A department store designed by Victor Horta, now the cartoon museum:

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And some items for the home – these were mingled in with the Symbolist paintings in the Fin de Siècle museum:

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Belgium, part two

1 Oct

On a more down to earth note than the previous post, here are some photos of the place we stayed, what we drank and the bars we drank in.

We stayed in Brussels and spent all our time there, bar a day in Bruges. The B&B:

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Next, BEER! The stuff I was after can mostly be found in and around where I live, but I was looking for a wider range of a certain kinds of beer than I can easily find at home. There’s lambic, which is a sour beer fermented with wild yeast (i.e. the only yeast used is whatever falls out of the air into the open-topped brewing vessel). Oude Gueuze is a beer made from new lambic mixed with older lambics, matured in oak casks for eighteen months or so before a final fermentation in the bottle, which gives it a lot of fizz. Some call it Belgian Champagne for that reason. As often as not, cherry juice is added to Gueuze, in which case it’s known as Kriek. Finally, i’d have liked to try some different quadrupel beers, which are dark, strong beers.

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Keep up, we’re off to Halve Maan brewery in Bruges for a Straffe Hendrik. Careful now, it’s too delicious to notice the 11% alcohol content . .

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Belgium!

30 Sep

This was my first trip abroad for seven or eight years. You can imagine how much thought I put into what I wanted to see and do; this wasn’t a beach holiday (I don’t do beach holidays, or even relaxing holidays, but still). This was a trip to find the art and the beer that can’t be found at home.

First stop Musée du Fin de Siècle at the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. It was arranged so as to make me wait for the good stuff, which is mainly kept on the last floor.

What follows is a lot of images of their collection of Symbolist paintings. They need a bit of explanation, I feel. Symbolism was an art movement which peaked in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The society in which they lived was an increasingly calculating and industrialised one. The population of Brussels had increased enormously in the previous few decades and the bourgeoisie had grown in wealth and confidence.

Symbolist artists were self-consciously making demands which were incapable of satisfaction within that society. In that sense, it is an Ideal art. There was, among the artistic circles of that time, a widespread interest in esoteric or occult beliefs, Theosophy and Rosicrucianism for example. The artistic muse was a way out of the world, and beauty was the apotheosis of any such visions as the artistic muse could offer. What we now call modern art followed a different path, towards self-expression through abstraction. It made the artist into God. Symbolist art, by contrast, did not serve to deify authorship. Its gods were a panoply of symbols – chimeras, Philippe Jullian calls them – and its religion was the clamourous pursuit of transcendence through beauty.

All of this is totally foreign to the Anglophone world.

Jean Delville first.
The Treasures of Satan:

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The Angel of Splendour:

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Orpheus:

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Parsifal:

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Carlos Schwabe, Spleen and Ideal:

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Fernand Khnopff, Les Caresses:

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The Faerie Quuen Acrasia and Britomart:

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony:

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A Blue Wing:

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Garden Update

30 Sep

I’ve moved out of the old house. . . again!

All’s well: my brother and sister-in-law have bought it. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I are renting a place a few miles away until we find something more permanent in the spring. Priorities for the next place are
1) Near enough to my children, our friends and our workplaces
2) Has a bigger garden

Because you know, i’ve ambitions for gardening. It’s my creative outlet. My brother is under orders not to disturb the garden until I have another garden to move the plants, compost heap and greenhouse to. The only thing that’s had to be altered is a tetrapanax that was taking over the drive. It’s been cut back a bit so they can park their car. I don’t know, tetrapanax vs car, the former wins every time if you ask me, but seeing as it isn’t my house, it’s the least I can do to chop it back.

I’ve been dropping in to keep things ticking over and to start to pack away for winter. As ever, late summer is a lesson in what grows too big for its place and what suffers in the shade. No further comment, just some photos, for the record.

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Cairngorms, part five

27 Sep

Sunday. Corrour bothy to the Sugarbowl. Fifteen miles walking.

Having risen late, not setting off until a quarter past nine with a mild hangover, I was lacking confidence in my ability to climb Devil’s Point, plus three of the five highest hills in the country, and reach Aviemore the same day. The decision I made was to stick to the same side of the Lairig Ghru (a grand pass through the Cairngorm massif) as i’d intended yesterday, but ignore the Devil’s Point because it is an outlier: i’d have to double back from my route if I was to reach the summit. I gave myself an hour and a quarter to reach the col where the path from the bothy arrives on the west Cairngorm plateau. It took me thirty-five minutes! So, I dropped my pack and was at the top of the Devil’s Point (twentieth munro) and back inside twenty minutes.

Still not feeling totally confident, I picked and hopped my way up through the boulder field to Cairn Toul (1291 metres) and then Angel’s Peak.

View towards summit of Cairn Toul:

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View northwards, up the Lairig Ghru from Cairn Toul:

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Nonetheless, it still looked a long way round to Braeriach (1296 metres, third highest mountain in Britain and the highest point of the day) so I trudged dutifully on past catacombs of snow many feet deep in the corries, which drop precipitously from the edge of the plateau. Looking up every few minutes, I watched cloud simmering over from the north and melting away into the vast bowls of the valleys below. It’s a starkly beautiful place.

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The unique character of this weird mixture of shingle desert and sub-arctic tundra, dotted with such flora and fauna as can survive, suffused me with fresh joy. Earlier on, a mountain hare hopped across my path through a boulder field. Up on the plateau, a flock of ptarmigan trip-tropped through the golden gravel, grasses (deschampsia?) tiny flowering saxifrage and other alpines. The infant river Dee crossed my path, its waters as limpid, cool and crystalline as any water i’ve seen. What an extraordinary environment.

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At the summit of Braeriach I scouted about in the fairy mist to find the way down, and saw sunlight glittering on the wavelets of the green loch butted against Angel ridge, a mile or so away.

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Looking the other way I could see to Aviemore in Strathspey

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Which was just where I caught up with two of the Fife contingent from the previous evening, who gallantly offered me a lift back from the Sugarbowl, where they’d left their car. There was one last surprise, which was the descent into the Lairig Ghru and out the other side through the Chalamain Gap, a pass through another boulder field, this one lined with crags that hadn’t felt the sun all day, still cool to the touch. Trickles of water and our footsteps echoed from one cliff to another in otherwise perfect stillness. So peaceful. When we got back to the car, I topless and covered in goosebumps, I didn’t know if I was warm or cold, but I was definitely happy.

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