In 2016, I was lucky enough to visit an exhibition presenting some of the most striking works of art I had ever seen: monumental pieces, several square metres each, all bursting with incredibly vivid colours. What surprised me the most was that these masterpieces were by an artist I had only vaguely heard of before, his talent apparently eclipsed by that of his more famous contemporaries. Perhaps this was due to the nature of most of his works: they were not paintings, but tapestries.
Tapestry in France was at its highest point in the late medieval period, with famous examples such as La Dame à la licorne and the Tenture de l’Apocalypse but was more or less a forgotten art by the beginning of the 20th century. A great admirer of this medieval tradition, Jean Lurçat, the artist whose works I was admiring, sought to revive it by borrowing many of its themes for his tapestries. The “mille-fleurs” for example, a style that consists in weaving hundreds of flowers, all different, around the main subject of a work, features heavily in his art. Fantastic creatures were a recurring theme in medieval tapestry and Lurçat created an entire bestiary in his main works. But he also enriched this medieval tradition by the addition of a surrealist twist, many of his tapestries presenting a disconcerting, oneiric, highly symbolical landscape. Continue reading
Just in time for the final episodes of Versailles on the BBC, the University Library has received Le roi est mort : Louis XIV, 1715 (S950.a.201.4340). Including imagery from the funerals of French figures from Henri IV to Charles de Gaulle, this book (the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Châteaux de Versailles marking the 300th anniversary of his death) discusses both the ceremony and legal proceedings resulting from the death of the king.
Documents such as Louis XIV’s will (available in part online through the Archives nationales), the seating plan in St Denis for his funeral service, and orations from his funeral are reproduced along with essays on the death and funerals of kings of France, specific aspects of Louis XIV’s funeral, and analysis of the music and ceremony of royal funerals. Continue reading
Popular demand for the Valentin Serov exhibition at the State Tret’iakov Gallery in Moscow saw its original closing date extended to 24 January. When visitor numbers even in its re-scheduled final week were so high that 4-hour queues formed outside in sub-zero temperatures, the gallery extended the opening again, to this Sunday, the 31st.
Visitor sentiment peaked on 22 January, when a door was broken in to gain entrance. Runet (the unofficial name for the Russian-language internet) promptly filled up with related humour, with the contrast of such high demand at the close of the exhibition’s run with the low visitor numbers seen when it first opened in the autumn a particular target for humour. A spin on one of Serov’s most famous portraits, ‘Girl with peaches’, for example, had the girl now lifting her hand to her head and wearily saying “that feeling when you’ve been sitting here with peaches since October, and they break the doors down in January” (here).
One of the advantages of working in European Collections and Cataloguing is the opportunity to see new exhibition catalogues shortly after publication, which can be very useful when planning a visit to a European capital. When the workflow is at its most efficient, the catalogue’s acquisition can coincide with the opening of the exhibition, often the case when the volume is supplied under the terms of one of the Library’s approval plans.
In the middle of May I spent a long weekend in Paris, and before departure had the chance to look through two catalogues of exhibitions I was visiting – Poussin et Dieu (S950.a.201.3164) at the Louvre, and Velázquez at the Grand Palais (S950.a.201.3127). It was particularly interesting in the latter case to be able to compare the range of paintings exhibited with those presented at the National Gallery exhibition in 2006. Both the Paris catalogues are very substantial publications, presenting the latest research on the artists in question, but it is hard to imagine anyone actually carrying the books round and consulting them whilst in the exhibition.
Nowadays art exhibition catalogues are frequently very substantial items, rich in illustrative matter and with extensive introductory essays as well as detailed description and discussion of individual paintings. Catalogues of exhibitions mounted 100 years ago are usually much slighter publications, but still of value for the Library for what they reveal about which art works were displayed, and the sometimes rich associations which they reveal.
Catalogue of an exhibition of the work of German painter Hans von Marées (S405:3.d.9.38)
The catalogue of an exhibition of the work of German painter Hans von Marées, held in Berlin in 1909, has just been added to the University Library catalogue (S405:3.d.9.38). Although illustrations are included, they are small scale pictures in black and white which are tipped in to the volume. 148 paintings and drawings were shown in the exhibition, but only 12 are illustrated. Nevertheless this is in many respects an interesting publication.