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Posts Tagged ‘murals’

Padova,_cappella_degli_scrovegni,_esterno

Exterior of the Scrovegni Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel, in Padua, Italy

This particular walk (or ramble) through history began after reading a footnote by stained glass historian Virginia Raguin. In her online history of stained glass in America, there is a footnote that reads, “Client and patron intermingled intellectually and socially; Brooks, H. H. Richardson, and La Farge had viewed Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua together. See John La Farge, The Gospel Story in Art (New York, 1913, repr. 1926), 279. ” I first learned of Reverend Phillips Brooks, architect H. H. Richardson and painter and stained glass designer John La Farge through their creative collaboration that produced the National Historic Landmark Trinity Church in the City of Boston. But what were they doing hanging out socially? What was The Gospel Story in Art that, if indeed it was published in 1913, it was done so after La Farge’s death? Who was Giotto and was there something special about his Arena Chapel?

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Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), John La Farge (1835-1910)

The first question is easy to answer. Born in the 1830’s, these gentlemen were of a generation. Though ostensibly from very different backgrounds, they were each members of a larger social class that would have socialized in the U.S. and abroad. With earned and/or inherited family wealth, they were expected to travel … the oceans were no barrier to lengthy tours of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The men were also connected by their attendance and/or connection to elite schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. They would have attended the same literary and art salons in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Richardson and Brooks were friends long before Richardson entered the competition to build the new Trinity Church in Copley Square. And Richardson and La Farge were well-acquainted long before La Farge was asked to orchestrate the interior decoration of the new church. It would not be unheard of for these three men to be meandering about Europe and somehow meet up at a church. As for the second question …

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Painting of Mary Caldawader Jones, and self-portrait of John La Farge

Apparently, The Gospel Story in Art, was a labor of love for La Farge that he never completed. Today La Farge is most well-known for his stained glass windows but he began his career as a painter and muralist. Throughout his life he studied art (even when he thought he was to become a lawyer), and eventually he would become a prolific writer and lecturer on the subject. La Farge died in 1910 but his friend New York socialite and philanthropist Mary Caldawader Jones compiled his work, with the illustrations that he used as reference for his text, and had the book published in 1913.  In the preface she explains that La Farge “had cherished the wish to write a book on the representation of the Christian story in art, a work for which few men were so well-fitted. Born and educated in the older faith of Christendom, he brought to his task not only the reverence of a believer, but also full knowledge of the widely different forms through which the life of Christ has been expressed by artists.”

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I found the reference on Page 297 referred to in the footnote, and, if I do the math correctly based on some other information I know, the three men likely stood in that chapel in 1882. Yet I know from other letters, memoirs, etc. that at least Brooks and La Farge had visited the chapel earlier in their lives, La Farge in 1856 just as he was beginning his artistic studies in Europe, and Brooks possibly in 1865 as he took a respite from preaching in Philadelphia. The young La Farge was so moved by what he saw that, once back in the U.S., he purchased etchings of Giotto’s paintings.

By 1872, Brooks was Rector of Trinity Church in Boston. His friend Richardson was overseeing construction of the new church. They’d discuss wanting the interior to be colorful, atypical of a traditional Episcopal church. When, in 1876, they commissioned John La Farge to decorate, did they reference Giotto and the chapel in Padua?

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decorative detail of wall inside Trinity Church

H. H. Richardson died in 1886, and his friend Phillips Brooks passed away in 1893. Whenever the two men had stood in the Padua chapel with La Farge, this is what La Farge remembered of the moment in The Gospel of Art. “Let us turn once more to Giotto, as the greatest of all those who represent the history of Our Lord. … 

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In his book, La Farge references Giotto (c. 1267-1337), an Italian painter and architect, at least 49 times. He includes excerpts by Leonardo about Giotto as a leading figure in resurrecting art“…it was in truth a great marvel that from so rude and inapt an age Giotto should have had strength to elicit so much that the art of design, of which the men of those days had very little, if any, knowledge, was, by his means, effectually recalled into life.” A noted painter during his day, Giotto’s work in the Scrovengi Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel, is considered his masterpiece. Frescoes depict the life of Mary and Jesus.

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detail from Last Judgment fresco

La Farge writes:

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scene from the life of Joachim

“Were we to stand before the painting of Giotto in Padua, we should find it difficult to realize, in our present habit of passing over legends, how important these legends once were …”

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detail from the Ascension

“If a movement of line can give the impression of sound, Giotto has done it … “

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angel

In earlier essays in his life, La Farge describes how his youthful travels in France and Italy, and in England among the Pre-Raphaelites, influenced his understanding and use of color. But only in this book do I suspect that he rhapsodizes about Giotto in a book that is about art and perhaps about La Farge’s connecting with his faith. One can only wonder what lasting impressions were made when a 21-year old La Farge first walked into that church.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrovegni_Chapel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giotto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_La_Farge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Hobson_Richardson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips_Brooks

http://college.holycross.edu/RaguinStainedGlassInAmerica/Home/index.html

http://college.holycross.edu/RaguinStainedGlassInAmerica/Museum&Church/Museum&Church.html

Image Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Cadwalader Rawle Artist: William Oliver Stone (1830–1875) Date: 1868 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Oval: 12 x 10 1/2 in. (30.5 x 26.7 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Max Farrand and Mrs. Cadwalader Jones, 1953

The Gospel Story in Art by John La Farge page 297

The Gospel Story in Art (Archive.org)

Playful Padua by Rick Steves

Web Gallery of Art: Frescoes in the Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

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LaFargeScarfPromotion

Not only will there be a new audio tour available at Trinity Church coming soon, but during the next two weeks, a new scarf will be available inspired by the magnificent mural, Christ Woman at the Well, by John La Farge. Recently cleaned and restored with improved lighting, it is even easier now to understand the impact that this colorful mural, as well as the other interior decorations, had on society when the Copley Square building (the third building for the parish) was consecrated in 1877.

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While best remembered today by many people for his later grand achievements in stained glass, John La Farge was first and foremost a painter of light and color. It is indeed an honor to be surrounded by his work and to be inspired by his creativity.

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Follow the shop Facebook page to keep on top of this scarf’s arrival and of what’s new in general. Tours to learn more about La Farge (and others!) can be found at: https://trinitychurchboston.org/visit

 

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They are meant to be viewed from afar, the wall paintings in the Boston Public Library’s Abbey Room, but I do love zooming in on the murals. There’s always something new to appreciate.

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http://www.bpl.org/central/abbey.htm

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I have read too many headlines this morning. My head is full of thoughts. I think I shall take a break from the computer screen until I can sort them. Meanwhile, I share these last images from my recent visit to the Boston Public Library’s Abbey Room and painter Edwin Austin Abbey’s expression of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

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Panel XIII. Sir Galahad crosses the sea in Solomon’s Ship

As for what’s happening in this scene, from the BPL website: “Sir Galahad crosses the seas to Sarras in Solomon’s Ship, guided by the Grail borne by an angel. Sir Bors and Sir Percival accompany him, while three spindles for the Tree of Life rest upon the stern of the ship.”

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/sets/72157647672175522/with/15074561737/

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St. Dominic’s life is on display in Stephen’s living room. Grand in its expression, it appears in a small painting on paper, only slightly larger than 2′ x 2′ unframed. It is in fact the colorful sketch for a much larger work — a mural on the wall of St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington, D.C.

Each section of the painting, and of the final mural, has meaning. The image is divided into seven parts, depicting seven scenes from Dominic’s life, from the center upper part where “God’s Hand puts halo around St. Dominic and drops into beggar’s bowl a star …” to the center lower part where “Two Angels lift the saintly pilgrim by his bleeding feet toward the stars in heaven.

The painting was in the possession of Ludwig Joutz (1910-1998), an architect with the D.C. based firm, Thomas H. Locraft and Associates, noted for what today is often described as sacred architecture. In 1960, his company designed a new priory for St. Dominic’s Church. Construction was completed in 1962.  On a lined office pad Joutz sketched the initial concept for the mural. That yellowing piece of paper remains with the painting, a painting that is signed and dated by artist Pierre Bourdelle (1901-1966).

Loutz must have treasured Bourdelle’s work.  After he retired, he and his wife moved to Florida and with him he carried Bourdelle’s painting. Loutz, himself an artist, would sketch the interior of his home in Florida. In one drawing there on the wall is the same painting that Loutz’s son would eventually give to Stephen after his father’s death.

artwork by ludwig joutz

artwork by ludwig joutz

Ludwig’s son remembered his father meeting with Bourdelle as he worked on the mural but little else could he tell me and so my research began. Thankfully, there was quite a bit of information to be found online and in newspaper archives.

Born in Paris, France, Pierre Bourdelle was the son of famed sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.  He studied under Auguste Rodin in whose studio his father worked from 1893-1908. During his time as Rodin’s chief assistant, his father taught the likes of Henry Matisse and Alberto Giacometti. One biographer notes that with Rodin, a young Bourdelle visited Europe’s great Cathedrals.

rodin by edward steichen, 1911

rodin by edward steichen, 1911

Eventually Pierre would move to the United States and set up a studio in New York. In effect, he stepped out of his father’s shadow.

antoine bourdelle, 1925

antoine bourdelle, 1925

In a 1934 interview, he expressed: “In France, a man is judged by what his father did or by his family tree. In the United States a man is judged by himself, his personality, his own work. In France, they offered me mural jobs because my father was a well-known artist. They did not even look at my work.

pierre bourdelle, 1934

pierre bourdelle, 1934

A man of diverse interests and talents, he’d traveled the world studying the art of different cultures, observing the nature of different places.  Over time, based on some of the things he’d seen, he developed a new technique that set him apart as a muralist.

excerpt from 1934 article

Search online and you’ll find a wealth of information about his Art Deco paintings and sculptures from the 1930s and 1940s. His bold and vibrant work adorned the interiors of ocean liners, railway lines like the California Zephyr, and the walls of institutions like Union Terminal in Cincinnati.

jungle mural by bourdelle for cincinnati terminal

He was a versatile artist capable of working with many media.  For Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, he not only created exotic jungle murals carved in linoleum, he also painted the ceilings of several rooms using an electric spray gun on canvas.

For the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, he created murals for Food Building North No. 2.  As described by a journalist covering the fair for Collier’s Magazine in 1939, There was Pierre Bourdelle, stripped to the waist in the hot sun and covered with red plaster dust. Gobs of wet plaster, a good blank wall, tools in his hands. That’s all Bourdelle, pupil of Rodin, asks to make him happy.”

His design motif for the fair was described as low bas-relief representing Bacchantes reveling at a wine-harvest festival, mythological animals, and scenes of beverage-making in various cultures.

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larger detail of vineyard mural on food building, 1939

Vineyard by Bourdelle 1939

While not everyone appreciated his style, e.g. so many sinuous forms wrapped around each other, few could deny the provocative and captivating nature of his work.

When World War II broke out, Bourdelle felt compelled to join the war effort.  He’d served in France during World War I. He’d been too young, only 15, but he’d lied about his age and was able to join an aviation unit.  When his plane went down, he suffered traumatic ear injuries.  A number of the biographies I found suggest that the horrors of that first war, the so-called Great War, influenced his art as no doubt did his participation in World War II. While unable to enlist because he was considered too old, he did serve in his own way, as a volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service at the North African and Italian fronts.

In 1945, upon his return to the U.S., Bourdelle would produce a book of images, simply titled, War. For the foreward, Stephen Galatti , the Director General of the AFS, would write, “Overseas Pierre Bourdelle saw suffering. He did his best to alleviate suffering, driving the wounded soldiers of many Allied armies. Helping staunch and bind their wounds in the field dressing stations. He knows the agony of war. He has no fear of showing war at its useless worst. He is not only a personally brave man who volunteered to go, and went, wherever the wounded were. He is an intellectually brave man, who makes no pretense at hiding the bare hideousness of warfare. … They are not pretty pictures. They show nothing but reality …”

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They may not be pretty but they are horribly beautiful.  And as I perused all 50+ images, viewable online here, I could not help but be fascinated by Bourdelle’s evolution as an artist …

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… seeing these works done in the 1940s and then …

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… being able to look at the drawing he did in the early 1960s for the St. Dominic mural.

I suspect I will never see in-person the actual St. Dominic mural.  First of all, it is in a monastery chapel. Second of all, it has been covered in an attempt, I believe, to preserve it from the deterioration of time.

During the latter years of his life, Pierre Bourdelle continued to work as an artist and as a teacher.  He taught at C. W. Post, part of Long Island University, as an artist-in-residence. He died in 1966 while traveling with his family in Switzerland.

 

Sources and Additional Reading

Bourdelle Family History – http://www.mountharmonyfarm.com/GH-P-BourdelleItems.html

SS America Unique Story of a Great Ocean Liner/Bourdelle Page – http://www.ssamerica.bplaced.net/art2-en.html

Artwork for the California Zephyr – http://calzephyr.railfan.net/artists/bourdelle.html

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Art – Murals – Food Buildings – The Vineyard (Pierre Bourdelle)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1935 – 1945. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-7352-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Collier’s, Volume 103, p. 16

Bourdelle Art for Dallas Fair Park – http://frenchsculpture.org/dallas-fair-park-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_Museum_Center_at_Union_Terminal

The Glass Storybook and the Great Menagerie The Art of Winold Reiss and Pierre Bourdelle – http://www.cincymuseum.org/union-terminal/art

History of Cincinnati Union Terminal – http://library.cincymuseum.org/75th-anniversary/main.swf

Bourdelle’s War – http://www.ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/Bourdelle/pbTC.html

Bourdelle Papers at Syracuse Libraries  – http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/b/bourdelle_p.htm

 

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These are the hands of St. Paul, St. Peter and Jesus as painted by John La Farge in the murals for Trinity Church.  I was inspired to create this compilation by the moving images and words in Steve McCurry’s recent post, The Language of Hands. I may write more about hands in the future, but for now, I hope you enjoy these images.

St. Paul’s hands

St. Peter, the key in his hand

Jesus with Nicodemus, hands resting

Hands of Christ and Woman at the Well

St. Paul Mural by John La Farge, 1877

St. Paul

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ by John La Farge, 1878

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ

 

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In The Art and Thought of John La Farge, author Katie Kresser writes that John La Farge (1835-1910) completed his first sketch of Nicodemus and Christ in 1874.  That biblical encounter is a subject that La Farge would depict in several different forms over time.  Here is a sketch dated 1877 in the Yale University Art Gallery, and here is an oil painting completed in 1880, now housed at the Smithsonian.  He would also create a stained glass window for the Church of the Ascension in New York.  The following image, The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, is a photograph of the mural La Farge painted on the walls of Trinity Church in Boston.

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, mural by John La Farge

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, mural by John La Farge, 1878

It is one of several murals that La Farge painted inside the building with the aid of assistants like Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Francis D. Millet and Francis Lathrop.  I keep photographing them because I think that there is always something new to see and experience.

In the literature of the time period critiquing his work, there is often reference to La Farge’s use of color in the murals that borders on the poetic.  For example, “In his “Christ and Nicodemus,” … we find the color quality strongly dominant. … the rich blues vein the draperies and background like the threads in a Flemish tapestry …” (The Churchman newspaper, July 6, 1901).

Christ Woman at Well, mural in Trinity Church by John La Farge

Christ Woman at Well, mural by John La Farge, 1877

The beauty of La Farge’s murals is constant but their colors do shift in the light.  Different details become present depending upon where one stands and at what time of day.

David, mural by John La Farge

David, mural by John La Farge, 1877

My favorite is perhaps the painting of David, because of the colors and especially for the expression on the young man’s face.

I had originally titled this post “in his own words” because I came across John La Farge: A Memoir and a Study compiled by Roy Cortissoz, literary and art critic for the New York Tribune, and La Farge’s friend.  In the book, completed in 1911 shortly after La Farge’s death in 1910, La Farge reminisces about what it was like painting the murals at Trinity under tight time constraints, in poor health, up high on scaffolding.  Reading the words made me appreciate the skills of all the artists even more.  If you’d like to read La Farge’ account, begin at the end of page 31 of the book, available online here.

Learn how you can see these murals and other architectural and design features at Trinity Church first hand here. Postcards of some of these images available via The Shop.

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