Friday, December 23, 2016

1911-2013: Ángeles Santos Torroella, Spanish

Self-portrait, 1928, age 17
Ángeles Santos was a Spanish painter whose work created a great sensation when she was 18 years old, but after a couple of intensely creative years, her work fell off in both quantity and quality, so that her full talent was unrealized.

Some Spanish sources refer to her as Ángeles Santos, but other sources add a surname: Ángeles Santos Torroella.

Background: Ángeles was born into a family of painters and writers in a small Spanish town near the French border, the eldest of 8 children. Her father was a customs official and the family moved around a lot.

Training: In 1924, when she was 13, Ángeles was sent to a convent boarding school in Seville. When the family settled in Vallodolid in 1927, she had daily painting classes before school.

Career: Ángeles exhibited for the first time at the age of 16 in 1929. After 2 years of showing her student works in her home town, she sent a painting to the prestigious Salon in Madrid and it was accepted. Called Un Mundo, it was a large, surrealistic vision, comparable to the works of Salvador Dalí. It created a sensation in the art world in Spain, especially when it was learned that the painting was created by an 18-year-old in a provincial town.

In the very same year, Ángeles painted another masterpiece, called La Tertulia, or The Discussion Group, in a style that was comparable to the German movement called New Objectivity.

Ángeles had a period of furious activity from 1928 to 1930, age 17 through 19, in which she painted several striking paintings in various Spanish and European styles. Her work is of such high quality that it is hard to believe she had not seen works in these various styles, at least in photographs.

In 1931 Ángeles stopped painting. She had a nervous breakdown; she destroyed paintings, ran away from home, and spent six weeks in a sanatorium. During the 1930s, she painted very little, although her work was exhibited in various shows.

In the 1940s, Ángeles resumed painting, but her style changed to a bland sort of Impressionism. Some of these works are very attractive, but they have none of the ambition or passion of her teenage works.

In the 1950s, Ángeles abandoned her artistic production.

In the 1970s, Ángeles starting getting more attention and recognition, and her work was in major shows every decade for the rest of her life.

I photographed her two best paintings at the Reina Sofia; they are on my website: Painting 2.

Private life: In 1933, when she was 22, Ángeles settled in Barcelona. In 1936 she married a painter named Emili Grau. The civil war erupted the same year, and the couple escaped to France. The following year, Ángeles returned alone, to live with her parents in a village in the Pyrenees, when she gave birth to her only child.

In 1962—after a separation of 26 years— Ángeles reunited with her husband and lived with him between Madrid and a smaller seaside town.

Ángeles' husband died in 1975. Ángeles spent her final years with her son in Madrid. She lived to be 102 years old.

My photos of Ángeles's work:

A World, 1929
Reina Sofia / Jan's photo, 2015

The Gathering, 1929
Reina Sofia / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples:

Uncle Simon, 1928

La Marquesa de Alquibla, 1928

Calle Alonso Pesquera, 1929

Nita and the Dolls, 1929

The Dead Girl, 1930

This example is like the German movement New Objectivity.

Family Dinner, 1930
Later in life, Ángeles worked in an Impressionistic style that is considered bland and uninteresting. The only examples I could find were paintings for sale by galleries, and they were undated.

View of City with Flowers, date unknown

Luxembourg Gardens, date unknown

Paisaje, date unknown

Los Arcos (Sitges), date unknown

1891-1955: Charley Toorop, Dutch

Self-portrait, 1928
Charley Toorop was a Dutch painter who was active in the first half of the 20th century. Her style was generally realistic, with heavily accentuated lines and strong color contrasts. She did not divert her energies to a variety of art forms, but concentrated forcefully on painting.

Background: Originally called Annie Caroline, Charley was the daughter of Jan Toorop, one of the foremost artists in the Netherlands during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Training: Rather than attending art school, Charley learned art skills from her father.

Career: Charley rejected such advanced, experimental styles as the geometric abstractions of Mondrian, because they had no bearing on reality. She felt that art should serve human values.

At the beginning her career, she allied herself with a group of artists who aimed at depicting the essence of reality, and favored the use of strong colors and heavily lines. Her work first appeared in a show with that group in 1916.

Charley developed a style of confrontational realism, presenting her subjects head on. This applies not only to her remarkable self-portraits in which she penetrates the viewer with her steely gaze, but also to her portraits of farmers, labourers and fishermen.

From 1926-1928 she lived in Amsterdam, where her painting became influenced by film. Her faces appear to be lit by individual spotlights creating strong contrasts between highlights and shadows.

From the 1930s onwards, she painted in a powerful realistic style—notably self-portraits and many female figures. She also did still lifes that were influenced by synthetic cubism.

Toorop's work is widely collected by Dutch museums.

Self-portrait with Three Children, 1929
Private life: In 1912, Charley married philosopher Henk Fernhout. They had 2 sons and a daughter. They divorced in 1917.

Charley remained single the rest of her life, though she is rumored to have had a brief relationship with a Dutch poet.

After much moving about, in 1932, Charley settled in a town in North Holland, where she lived in a house of her own design.

There is a very nice selection of Charley's work on Artnet: Charley Toorop

The Kroller Muller Museum has a huge collection online: Toorop Two

Our photos of Charley's work:

Self-portrait in front of a palette, 1934
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2015

Fruit and Autumn Leaves, 1952
Gementemuseum / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples:

Farmers, 1930

Clown in the Ruins of Rotterdam, 1941

Photo of Charley in 1951

Self-portrait, 1953

Roses in a Glass, 1953

Still Life with White Pitcher, 1954

1889-1943: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Swiss

Max Ernst, Gala, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Paul Eluard, 1928
Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a multi-talented Swiss artist who worked in the first half of the 20th century. She was innovative and productive as a painter, sculptor, textile designer, interior designer, and architect, and she even did a little dancing. She was a key figure in the important art movements in Europe.

Background: Sophie Taeuber's mother, who was also called Sophie, was a powerful and capable figure. Sophie was the last of 5 children, and her father, a pharmacist, died when she was 2. This left Sophie, the mother, a single-parent with 5 children to support. She solved this problem by opening a boarding house.

Training: An amateur painter herself, Sophie's mother recognized her youngest child's talent, and sent her to private school for art and design when she was 15, in 1904. This is where she began to study textiles. She later attended art academies in Munich and Hamburg, in Germany. She also attended a School of Dance in Zurich.

Career: Sophie began her career by getting a steady job: From 1916 to 1929—13 years—she taught weaving and other textile arts at the Zürich University of the Arts. 

Even though she was Swiss, her early style in textiles and graphics, was influenced by the Russian Kasimir Malevich, founder of Constructivism. These sophisticated geometric abstractions reflect a subtle understanding of the interplay between color and form.

At the same time she was also working on projects with the sculptor, Jean Arp, who had come to Zurich in 1915 to escape the First World War.

During World War I, Zurich, Switzerland, became an important center for the Dada art movement. As a capital in a neutral country, it became a gathering place for advanced artists seeking refuge from the disastrous and disheartening war.

"Dada" is a deliberately nonsensical word to describe a movement that sought to upend the tenets of European culture, which the war had turned into nonsense. Both Sophie and Jean were central to the movement in Zurich. Sophie took part in Dada-inspired shows at the Cabaret Voltaire as a designer, dancer, choreographer, and puppeteer. In 1918, she co-signed the Zürich Dada Manifesto.

Some Dada art is angry about the pretensions of high culture or of politics, and seeks to expose and destroy them. Sophie and Jean Arp created joyous abstractions that create a kind of visual jazz. In a world being torn apart by war, her colorful abstract art was a blissful alternative reality.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp in 1927
In 1926 Sophie and moved to Strasbourg, a nearby town in France, with Jean Arp. From this time she began to specialize in interior design and received several commissions.

In 1928 Sophie and Jean moved to a suburb of Paris, where she designed their new house and some of its furnishings.

Sophie was at a high point of her career in terms of organizing, writing about, and exhibiting her abstract, multi-disciplinary art. During the 1930s she was active in advanced art groups and socialized with all the key artists in Paris. 

Sophie was not well known outside of Switzerland until the recent period of rediscovering women artists. One reason is the fact that she expressed her creativity in so many different forms, and many of these forms, like weaving, have not received much respect in the art world traditionally.

Personal life: It appears that Sophie had one stable romantic relationship throughout her life. In 1915, when she was 26, she met Jean Arp, a German-French artist who is best known for his sculpture, though he too worked in many media. Arp was born in France to a French mother and German father. When he spoke French, he called himself Jean. When he spoke German, he called himself Hans. After collaborating on artistic projects for several years, Sophie and Hans married in 1922, and Sophie changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp.

Sophie and Jean, with puppets made by Sophie
Sophie and Jean were together while she was teaching in Zurich, and in 1926, they moved together to Jean's home town of Strasbourg, and became citizens of France. In the 1930s, they lived in the house she designed in a suburb of Paris.

When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, Sophie and Jean, returned to Zurich because of Jean's German connections.

Sophie died in 1943, at the age of 54, from  accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty stove in the home of a friend.

Jean Arp lived on until 1966, which gave him two more decades to develop his art and his reputation. Partly because of this Jean Arp is a very famous artist, while Sophie is barely mentioned in his biography. Lately, however, the art world is coming to see that to apply the principles of Dada to the practical arts was an act of genius.

My photos of Sophie's art:

Dada Tapestry, Composition with triangles, rectangles and parts of rings, 1916
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition dada (Tête au plat), 1920
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition of circles  with arms and rectangles, 1930
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples

Elementary Forms in a Vertical-Horizontal Composition, 1917 (goache)

Elementary Forms, 1917

Untitled (Composition with Squares, Circle, rectangles, Triangles), 1918

 Composition in Dense, Polychrome, Quadrangular Spots, 1921

Composition Of Circles And Overlapping Angles, 1930

Untitled, 1932

Composition, 1937

Thursday, December 22, 2016

1882-1949: Alexandra Exter, Russian

Alexandra Exter was a Russian painter and designer of international stature in the early 20th century.

Her name is sometimes spelled "Aleksandra Ekster." She was born in the Ukraine section of the Russian Empire.

Background: Alexandra Grigorovich was born to a wealthy Ukrainian family. Her father was a businessman; her mother was Greek. She was raised in Kiev.

Training: Alexandra received an excellent private education, including private drawing lessons. Later she attended public "gymnasiums." Alexandra attended the Kiev Art Institute, graduating in 1906.

In 1907 and 1908 she studied art in Paris. She met all the key players in the art scene, which became important to the development of her career. She was good friends with Sonia and Robert Delaunay. She was especially interested in Cubism and Futurism.

Career: Alexandra started out as a Cubist, but she soon incorporated the Futurist dynamic into her work. She created her first purely abstract paintings in 1916, when nonobjective art was still rare. In the 1920s she progressed towards Constructivism and she played a key role in the development of Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich. She also had  a major influence on the Art Deco movement.

During the first phase of her career, from around 1910 until the outbreak of the First World War, Alexandra maintained a studio in Paris but she traveled frequently to Kiev and Moscow, and she took part in numerous exhibitions in all three cities, as well as Milan and Rome. She was an important disseminator of the new ideas from Western Europe in her country.

During the war, Alexandra opened a studio in Kiev that was an important center of avant-garde artists for a few years.

Costumes for the first Russian science fiction film
"Queen of Mars," 1924
Alexandra is particularly recognized for her original contribution in the sphere of theater design between 1916 and 1921, in which she applied Constructivist principles. She focused on structure and volume in her stage sets. Her innovative ideas brought a new dynamism to the design of stage scenery, costumes and lighting.

From 1921 to 1924 Alexandra held a teaching position in Moscow, where all the arts groups were dominated by the constructivist wing of the avant-garde. Alexandra was actively involved in all the avant-garde activities and showed work in an important constructivist exhibit.

In 1924, Alexandra immigrated to Paris.

Costume design for Salome, 1917
During the 1920s and 1930s, Alexandra continued her work as a theater designer. She worked on ballet, stage and film designs for Paris, London and Rome, and also designed furniture, china, and textiles, and illustrated books.

She was also an educator, teaching first at the Académie Moderne in Paris. Two years later she moved to the Academy of Contemporary Art, founded by Fernand Léger, where she lectured on theater art and stage design.

In 1936, she participated in a major exhibition in New York.

After that she concentrated on book illustration, and did some of her most renowned work in this field.

Private life: During an early stay in Paris, Alexandra had a romance with a painter and art critic named Ardengo Soffici.

In 1908, after her training period in Paris, when she was 26, Alexandra married a successful Kiev lawyer, Nikolai Ekster, who was her cousin. Between 1908 and 1914, Alexandra made long stays in Paris and frequently traveled between European and Russian capital cities.

Nikolai died in 1918 and Alexandra's mother died soon after.

In 1920, while she was concentrating on theatrical design, Alexandra married an actor, George Nekrassov.

In 1924 Alexandra and George emigrated to Paris.

She died in obscurity and poverty in a suburb of Paris in 1949 at the age of 67.

My photos of Alexandra's work:

Italian Town by the Sea, c. 1917
Minneapolis / Jan's photo, 2013

Construction, 1923
MoMA / Jan's photo, 2012

Theatrical Composition, c. 1925
Whitney (belongs to MoMA) / Jan's photo, 2015

Evening Dress, 1926
Los Angeles County/Jan's photo, 2017

Internet Examples:

Constructivist Stage Design:
Design for a Constructivist Stage Setting, 1924


The first example is influenced by Orphism.

Color Construction, 1912

Blue, Black, Red, 1918


Vernice, 1924
Art Deco

City, 1927

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

1883-1956: Marie Laurencin, French

Marie Laurencin was a French multi-disciplinary artist who was a famous figure in Paris through the first half of the 20th century. She is best known as a painter, but she also designed costumes and sets for ballets, and she was in great demand as a book illustrator.

Background: Marie was was born and raised in Paris, the only child of an unwed mother; her father was a government official, but he was already married to another woman when she was born. He made infrequent visits that Marie found repugnant. None of my sources indicate how Marie's mother supported herself and the child, so I'm assuming the father took responsibility for that.

Training: Marie had proper, middle class schooling. She is said to have been an indifferent student, but an avid reader. When she began drawing at an early age, her mother discouraged her efforts and destroyed her drawings because she wanted Marie to be a teacher. Marie continued to be interested in art, so at age 18, her mother sent her to a porcelain factory in Sèvre to learn porcelain painting.

Marie entered a major art academy when she was 20, in 1903. There she met another student, Georges Braque, who admired and encouraged her work and introduced her to Picasso and his circle of friends.

Private Life: In 1907, Picasso introduced Marie to the poet and aspiring art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire. The attraction was immediate and mutual. Both were illegitimate and brought up by domineering women. At age 24, Marie still lived with her mother, and the 27-year-old Apollinaire lived with his mother as well. They were lovers for the next 6 years; they didn't live together, but Apollinaire did leave his mother's house to live near Marie and her mother. Apollinaire is said to have been tyrannical and possessive—as well as a womanizer—but he appreciated Marie's style and strongly promoted her work.

Marie began to separate herself from Apollinaire around 1912. Her mother died in 1913.

In 1914, Marie married a German baron. It was bad time to marry a German because war between France and Germany was imminent. They moved to the coast of France, and later to Spain, where they would live for almost 5 years. She never felt comfortable away from Paris.

In 1919 Marie and Otto moved to Düsseldorf. Here Marie designed wallpaper and illustrated a friend's novel.

In 1921, when she was 38, Marie returned to Paris and divorced Otto, whose alcoholism had caused their marriage to deteriorate.
Photo by Cecil Beaton, 1929
Marie never remarried, but she had numerous male friends and several lovers. The nephew of a well-known Paris art dealer was her devoted companion for many years, and wished to marry her. There were rumors that Marie had female as well as male lovers.

In 1925 she took responsibility for the education the daughter of one of her maids, a girl named Suzanne Moreau. In 1954 she made the adoption official.

Marie died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

Career: Marie's association with the avant-garde group around Braque and Picasso was very beneficial to her early career. She was included in their exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants that autumn. Although she socialized with the Cubists, and she was fascinated by their experiments, she felt unable to pursue their advanced agenda.

The first phase of her work is characterized by large group portraits in strong colors and gently stylized forms.

Group of Artists, 1908
Picasso, Laurencin, Apollinaire, Fermande Olivier
Musée Marmottan Monet

In 1908, Marie painted a group portrait called Apollinaire and His Friends that showed Apollinaire and herself with Picasso and his muse of the moment, Fernande Olivier. This piece was purchased by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo. It was Marie's first sale. The following year, Marie did a larger version, including Gertrude Stein and others.

Apollinaire and His Friends, 1909
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2015

In 1913, she obtained contracts with two art dealers, and 7 of her works were exhibited in the Armory show in New York.

While Marie and Otto were living in Spain, she became involved in the avant-garde movement called Dadaism—and wrote poetry for a Dada review—but it had no effect on her own painting. She did not feel inspired to paint while she was in exile.

After her return to Paris in 1921, she worked in a graceful, decorative style that made her a popular portraitist among prominent social figures. She used a delicate palette and simplified forms. She also painted decorative groups of virginal women with pale, oval-shaped faces, fair hair, and black, almond-shaped eyes. She depicted a world of lyrical melancholy in pastel hues with a dominance of white. She exhibited her works in a Paris gallery and received large commissions. During this time she was one of the most well-known women in France. She exhibited in London, New York and Berlin as well as Paris.

Marie Laurencin by André Kertész, 1930
In 1923 she was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev to provide costume and set designs for a ballet. She went on to produce various stage designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. She also designed interior decoration and wallpaper, and illustrated more than 20 (80?) books.

During the Depression, she worked as an art instructor at a private school.

After this, Marie's reputation declined and it was said that her painting had much coarser use of form and color. She was considered "dated" and predictable.

She taught at an art academy in Paris from 1932 to 1935.

She stayed in Paris during World War II and suffered various privations, but she continued to paint and to exhibit her work, as well as to design sets.

She continued to paint until she was nearly 70.

The largest collection of her works—about 600—is in a private museum in Japan.

Women artists who worked for Diaghilev:
Marie Laurencin
Natalia Goncharova
Sonia Delaunay


Painting 1

Portrait of Baroness Grourgaud in Black Mantilla, 1924

The Kiss, 1927

The Rehearsal, 1936

Portrait of Marcelle Dormoy, 1937

Ile-de-France, 1940

Wikiart has a good selection of her work: Artworks by Date

There is a very large, but unlabeled, selection of her work at this poster site: Marie Laurencin