One of our department’s significant responsibilities is modern donated collections. Our blog has chiefly focused on such collections in European languages, but this post looks at one largely in English – the collection of Professor Sir Alan Bowness, former Director of the Tate. Recent arrivals in the Bowness collection include items from the library of Dame Barbara Hepworth. These came to us with the aid of Sophie Bowness, the art historian and maternal granddaughter of Dame Barbara.
An exhibition in Trinity College’s Wren Library which runs until 12 June 2018 celebrates the work of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, using items from the Wren’s extraordinary Kessler Collection of Artists’ Books. In this blog post, we look at the University Library’s own holdings of Lam books and related material.
The exhibition focuses on Wifredo Lam’s many collaborations with a wide variety of international artists and writers such as Aimé Césaire, Gherasim Luca, and René Char. The UL’s earliest holding of his work reflects this aspect of his career: a 1969 English translation of André Breton’s poem Fata morgana illustrated by Lam (1990.9.1800). This collaboration dates from the Cuban artist’s time in France from 1938 to 1941, when he met and worked with many of the Surrealists and other leading European writers and artists of the period. However, the artistic exchange between Wifredo Lam and contemporary European art and literature had already begun years before, when he first went to study in Madrid in 1923. We hold a number of titles in French, Spanish and English dealing completely or in part with this side of Lam’s life and work:
- André Masson : de Marseille à l’exil américain (2016.9.657)
- Lam et les poètes (S950.b.200.559)
- Más allá de lo real maravilloso : el surrealismo y el Caribe (400:8.c.200.186)
- Diálogo de las artes en las vanguardias hispánicas (C213.c.6463)
- Wifredo Lam and the international avant-garde, 1923-1982 (405:6.b.200.8)
- The colour of my dreams : the Surrealist revolution in art (S950.b.201.911)
Later this week, on 19 and 20 April, the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, will hold an international conference in Cambridge on The People’s Art School and Unovis in Vitebsk. Vitebsk, in present-day Belarus, was the home of an extraordinary avant-garde art school at which Marc Chagall (the town’s most famous son), Kazimir Malevich, and El Lissitsky taught. Many of the artists at the school joined the art union UNOVIS, set up by Malevich. Unovis stands for Utverditeli novogo iskusstva (Champions of the New Art).
Among the early Soviet treasures in Catherine Cooke’s collection in the University Library is a small and fragile Unovis publication dating from January 1921 and described as the union’s second publication or edition. On its cover is Malevich’s famous Black Square, with the words “Let the overthrow of the old world of arts be traced out on the palms of your hands” written above it. The booklet has four sections in it (NB the links below are to Russian Wikipedia entries for the authors):
On its back cover, the booklet ends with an exhortation: “Comrades! Get ready for the all-Russian spring exhibition of ‘Unovis’ in Moscow”.
Lithographed on poor-quality paper, the booklet is a rather miraculous survivor. According to the WorldCat and COPAC union catalogues, Cambridge is unique amongst major Western collections in having a copy. The title can be accessed through the Rare Books Reading Room. Its classmark is CCC.54.464.
A few spaces remain at the conference this week. For those interested in attending, please see this page for joining details.
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was one of the most relevant Art Nouveau artists. He created the “Mucha style” that had a great influence in decorative arts and advertising illustration. Several exhibitions on this artist have taken place recently, both in the UK and other European countries; all have been promoted by the Mucha Foundation. There is also a permanent collection at the Mucha Museum in Prague, opened by the foundation in 1998.
Mucha was born in Ivančice (near Brno) in 1860, when it was part of the Austrian Empire (now Czech Republic). He lived his youth in Brno in a growing atmosphere of Czech nationalism. Despite having artistic talents from a very young age, he was not able to gain a place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Mucha worked for a major theatrical company in Vienna, but the theatre burnt down. Then he ran out of money, but he was lucky enough that his portraits were appreciated by the Count Khuen Belasi in Moravia. Thus, the Count Khuen and his brother, Count Egon, decided to commission him to paint some murals. The latter was so fascinated by his works that decided to become his patron. Thanks to his benefactor Mucha received two years of training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Paris in 1887. There he continued his formal art training and worked for a magazine creating advertising illustrations. He met Paul Gauguin in 1891; they become friends and Mucha offered Gauguin his studio, which they shared for some time. Continue reading
The University Library has recently acquired the catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition A.R. Penck, Rites de passage (S950.a.201.5701) which was held at the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence near Nice from March 18 to June 18, 2017. Penck was one of the greatest German artists of the late 20th century along with Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Sigmar Polke and Jörg Immendorff. The focus of the exhibition was on the challenges of his painting and sculpture through different periods, each chosen to give a better understanding of the richness of his aesthetic, existential, philosophical and literary worlds. The exhibition presented around one hundred paintings, sculptures, large sets of drawings, prints and artists’ books. Continue reading