Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Picture This!

I have been watching a wonderful lecture series on the History of European Art, from 800AD to the birth of modern art and the early 1900's. 48 lectures in all, they are fascinating, with a very accomplished and knowledgeable professor from the Smithsonian Art Institute explaining the most important and historically significant pieces of scultpure, paintings, drawings through the ages.

I found the section on the "Salon" very interesting, as far as art and the 18th Century is concerned. Officially established in 1725 in Paris, the Salon was an art exhibition from the Academie des Beaux-Arts, it became the greatest annual or twice-yearly art event in the Western world. It had its beginnings in France in 1674, when royalty called for art patronage, with works by recent graduates from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts on display. The event was created by Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister of France, and gave artists the opportunity to display current work for review by the critics, and it became a mark of royal favor to be included. The artist had the chance of becoming one of the "in crowd" if their work was particularly praised, and perhaps gain a royal commission or two!

In 1725, the Salon was held in the Palace of the Louvre, and by 1737, the exhibition became a public event, begining on August 25, the feast of St. Louis, and running for a few weeks. By 1748 a jury of awarded artists was included, and from that time, the influence of the Salon went without question.

Every inch of wall space was used for the display of paintings. There are, ironically, paintings depicting the event itself, and also criticisms of the Salon as well. The artist Daumier did a satirical cartoon of one event, with people running out of the gallery, aghast at what they saw. New artistic expressions are always at the mercy of the conservative conformists. Sometimes it takes years for an artist's inspiration to be acknowledged.

The Louvre shown just above at left and right is a magnificent art piece in itself, Palace of the Kings of France, it is serious and stately but remarkably decorative too. It has stood since the 1500's. Actually it was a fortress from the 12th Century, but became a residence centuries later. In 1793 it became a museum by national decree during the French Revolution.

Today the Lourve includes an incredible glass pyramid that graces its central courtyard. In 1984 Prime Minister Francoise Mitterand commissioned the work by famed Japanese architect/artist I.M. Pei, and it was finished in 1989. Some liked it, some were aghast, but today it is an icon, part of the entire space, an homage of sorts to ancient art and the Egyptians, down through history, to a modern expression on the past.

From time in memorium, once man has established himself in relative comfort and security, he has saw fit to decorate his environment. The famous pre-historic caves of Lascaux in France attest to that! Today, what artistic achievement can you refer to that does the same?
New York City graffiti?  One of the magnificent movie theatre picture palaces from the 1930's? What do you think?

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