Friday, November 11, 2016

Art as a Creative Endeavor : Adolf Hitler

The pictures of Adolf Hitler's watercolor paintings are from the TV show "Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds : A Tale of 3 Cities" (2014) Season 1 Episode 1 "Vienna 1908" from BBC Four. The show covers three cities at particular times and their creative output.

First let me mention how annoying this presenter is. Dr. James Fox (not to be confused with the black Jamie Foxx)  is a total ham and makes a variety of assertions which he states with confidence but usually doesn't back them up.

Adolf Hitler spent 1905 to 1913 in Vienna, Austria as an aspiring artist. Below are the 3 examples of Hitler's work shown. I suggest that one of them might have been drawn from a photograph and that the other two were almost certainly drawn using a photographic reference.

St Charles Church (Karlskirche), Vienna watercolor by Adolf Hitler

The two columns are not parallel and they aren't the same height. The columns lean away from one another. The perspective of the capital at the top of the columns looks about correct but the top of the column on the left was drawn too high so it doesn't quite look right. When drawing from a photo sometimes the focus on copying means you miss the position of the details within the whole.

Austrian Parliament (Österreichisches Parlament) building watercolor by Adolph Hitler
in the background at center left is the Votivekirche church spires and to the right is the Burgtheater.

The first thing is the bird's eye perspective. It is possible that he went across the street from the parliament and drew it from the 3rd or 4th floor of the building across the street but it is doubtful.

This picture postcard of the Austrian Parliament and the drawing are very, very similar.  

photograph of the Austrian Parliament dated 1906

Now just because the perspective is the same doesn't mean he copied it from the photo. He could have coincidentally chosen the same viewpoint as the photographer. It could just be a coincidence that he included nothing outside of the boundaries of the photograph. He may have even chosen essentially the same composition. But would he have coincidentally included pedestrians (and a streetcar) in nearly the exact same places as in the photograph? 

But the third shown is the coup de grâce.
Vienna National Theater watercolor by Adolph Hitler
The presenter says about this :
"It's not hard to see why Hitler didn't get in [to the Vienna art school]. When you compare him with his contemporaries his quaint pictures of Vienna's historic landmarks seem embarrassingly old fashioned. This is a typical watercolor by Adolph Hitler. I'm slightly pained to admit that its not that bad. There is plenty of precise architectural detail, there is some evidence of perspective and actually his handling of the paint brush is quite confident. But you know what I find so interesting about it? This building, the National Theater, didn't even exist. In fact it had been demolished 20 years before Hitler even arrived in Vienna. But that's because Hitler was painting Vienna a hundred years out of date. A harmonious and eternal Vienna, the city that would never die."

This is what I mean by him making assertions and then failing to back them up. Did Hitler draw the building because it was an essential element of eternal Vienna or what I think is far more likely : he drew the building because that is what his reference photo showed. And if it had been demolished years before he arrived in Vienna how would he know it was part of eternal Vienna and how could he have included precise architectural detail of a building he had never seen.

If you didn't dislike Hitler before you should now that I've shown he was a cheater; a mere copyist and tinter of photographs taken by other people.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Art as a Creative Endeavor : Edward Burne-Jones

Phyllis and Demophoon by Edward Burne-Jones, 1870
watercolor on paper,  93.8 x 47.5 cm (36.9 x 18.7 in)

The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones, 1882
oil on canvas, 190.5 × 106.7 cm (75 × 42 in)

In 1870, Edward Burne-Jones exhibited Phyllis and Demophoon
Phyllis, Queen of Thrace, falls in love with Demophoon, son of Theseus. He departs but promises to return in six months' time. When he fails to keep his promise, Phyllis hangs herself, and is turned by the gods into an almond tree. On his eventual return, Demophoon remorsefully embraces the tree, which blooms, as Phyllis emerges to forgive and reclaim her faithless lover.
Both Phyllis and Demophoon are modelled on Maria Zambaco, with whom Burne-Jones had been having an affair since June 1868 (a host of studies exist for both figures, in various locales). And for this reason, in conjunction with Demophoon's nudity, a controversy ensued when it was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society for the Summer Exhibition of 1870. Within two weeks of the exhibition's opening, Burne-Jones withdrew the painting due to complaints, and two works by other artists were exhibited in its place. In August 1870, Burne-Jones resigned from the Society, over artistic integrity.
In the catalogue for the Summer Exhibition at the Old Watercolour Society, Burne-Jones included the following caption, a quote from Ovid: 'Dic mihi quid feci? Nisi non sapienter amavi' [Tell me what I have done? I loved unwisely.] Burne-Jones later reworked the painting entirely in oils, transforming the bodies of both Phyllis and Demophoon into an homage to Michelangelo, calling it 'The Tree of Forgiveness' (1882, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), where Zambaco's face remains only on Phyllis.

The Tree of Forgiveness, 12 years later,  is about life sized. The figures are not identical to the previous version but they are remarkably similar and the concept is the identical. The colors are different. in the 1870 painting Demophoon looks slight and ashen.

The drapery in Phyllis and Demophoon covered Phyllis' body along with her arm covering her breast and the magical drapery wrapped itself around Demophoon's leg without providing him any modesty (modesty in the sense of avoiding impropriety or indecency but modest in the sense of "a small amount" could be used to describe him). In contrast, in The Tree of Forgiveness magical drapery covers his manhood and flowingly wraps around his leg and only his leg while she is exposed fully nude.

It is interesting that Michelangelo depicted women by drawing men and the "feminizing" them and Burne-Jones in Phyllis and Demophoon drew a woman and then "masculinized" the figure.

An attempt to show the scale of the pictures.

below the fold is an animated gif contrasting the two.