The art of Henk Bremmer, 1871–1956

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Landscape with Mill (1894; Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden).

This week’s post is another by Sander Bink about a Dutch artist whose work may be unfamiliar to those outside the Netherlands. As before, Henk Bremmer was an artist whose work I hadn’t seen until now. My thanks again to Sander for the post.

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Hendricus (Henk) Bremmer was a Dutch painter, art critic, collector and art dealer. Nowadays he is mostly known for his role in forming the collection of what has become the Kröller-Müller Museum. He was enough of an authority on Dutch Modernist art from the early twentieth century to be known as “de Kunstpaus”—”the Pope of the Arts”. Bremmer was an early and important advocate of Mondriaan’s work, but the Bremmer landscapes I will focus on here are much more Modernist than those being made by Mondriaan at about the same time. Although Bremmer’s paintings from the 1890s and from around 1900 are seen as early examples of Dutch pointillism, readers of this blog will probably appreciate them for their Symbolist qualities. They are usually not seen as such but to me the Symbolist affinities are quite clear. That Bremmer was acquainted with Symbolist theory is apparent from his being an avid reader of the French Symbolists and a great admirer of Huysmans’ À rebours.

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Windmill (1894; private collection).

In the 1890s Bremmer was friends with Dutch (Decadent-Symbolist) writers and painters such as Henri Borel, Henri van Daalhoff, Jan Toorop and Johan Thorn Prikker. When Josephin Péladan, the High Priest of Symbolism, visited the Netherlands in 1892 he stayed with Bremmer and invited him to exhibit at his Rose+Croix shows in Paris. The exhibition never materialised but one can easily understand the mystical qualities Péladan must have appreciated in Bremmers paintings. Like many Dutch intellectuals of the period Bremmer was strongly influenced by Spinoza’s mysticism. But whatever the source of his art, the landscapes here depicted can be considered “Symbolist landscapes”, like those being painted in France by Alphonse Osbert or Charles Filiger.

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Weekend links 504

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Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass; Fillmore Auditorium, October 19-21, 1967 by Bonnie MacLean.

• RIP Bonnie MacLean, another of the original San Francisco poster artists, and the only woman of note in the US psychedelic poster scene. (Not the only woman, however; in Europe we had Marijke Koger.) Related: Bonnie MacLean’s posters at Wolfgang’s. And RIP to illustrator Tom Adams, an artist whose exceptional covers for novels by Agatha Christie are only one part of a long and varied career.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982), the short but uncompromising debut album by Diamanda Galás, is reissued on Galás’s own label later this month. Further albums from her remarkable back catalogue will follow. Related: video of Galás performing The Litanies Of Satan in 1985.

• “Scorsese is amazed that United Artists didn’t touch one frame of Raging Bull, since it’s the first time in his life as a feature director that this has apparently occurred.” In 1981 Derek Malcolm talked to Martin Scorsese about his reasons for making a boxing picture.

“…in a post-AIDS world, its scenes of mass male-on-male decadence evoke a sense of the spiritual: Not to put so blunt a phrase on it, but the majority of the men we see in Cruising‘s bars would likely die within the next decade, victims of a very heterosexual genocide of neglect. These are blurred, melancholic memories locked forever within Cruising‘s celluloid; a phantasmagoria of men whose liberation was not legislatively delivered, but recovered in the privacy of leather bars and cruising joints. The film’s overt sexuality makes it hard to escape a sense of catastrophic loss.”

Jack King on William Friedkin’s Cruising

• The Pet Shop Boys’ eccentric feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988), is released on blu-ray and DVD in June. The video for You Were Always On My Mind gives an idea of the contents.

• “Orion being one of the brightest constellations makes it a lot of people’s favourites, and he was my favourite as a kid.” Ben Chasny on his history of stargazing.

• “You think the Holy Grail is lost? No. I have it on my piano.” John Boorman talks to Xan Brooks.

• Laura Cumming on the dark and haunting paintings of Belgian Symbolist Léon Spilliaert.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 631 by Ondness.

Alistair Ryder chooses 10 great killer plant films.

Howl by John Foxx And The Maths.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Gleam.

The Litanies Of Satan (1969) by Ruth White | Grail (1971) by Grail | Plants’ Music (1981) by Ippu-Do

Exlibris (Bucheignerzeichen)

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I don’t use bookplates, and don’t know anyone who does, but the conjunction between art and literature is a fascinating one. Exlibris (Bucheignerzeichen) (1909) by Walter von Zur Westen explores the history of the bookplate, and would no doubt answer some of my questions about the form if it wasn’t in German throughout, and also typeset in the semi-legible Fraktur style that used to be de rigueur for all German texts.

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We still have the illustrations, however, and these range from woodcut engravings to contemporary works in pencil and ink, with many of the later contributions being from established artists whose names are familiar today; among the examples below are works by Symbolists Max Klinger, Fernand Khnopff and Felicien Rops. There’s also an especially fine example by Charles Ricketts. The latter are a reminder that bookplate commissions were a common thing for 19th-century artists, although their efforts are seldom seen outside collections such as this. Much of Zur Westen’s history is devoted to the German regions but later chapters cover other European countries and the United States.

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Picturing Vermilion Sands

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First UK edition, 1971. Art by Brian Knight.

Vermilion Sands (1971) is a story collection by JG Ballard which maintains a cult reputation even while being overshadowed by its author’s more popular (and notorious) novels. Most of the stories were written in the 1960s, and a couple of the pieces are among Ballard’s earliest works, but where many of his other short stories can read like the work of a writer with bills to pay, the tales of Vermilion Sands are much closer to Ballard’s core interests, filled with symbolic resonance and literary allusion.

Vermilion Sands, the place, is a near-future resort with a desert climate and an unspecified location, where the Côte d’Azur meets Southern California but the ocean is a sea of sand. The inhabitants are the idle midde-class types who populate all of Ballard’s work, and each story has a different artistic or cultural theme. Ballard was more receptive to visual art, especially painting, than many authors, particularly the SF writers of his generation for whom art was less interesting than science and technology. There is science and technology in these stories (some of the latter is now inevitably dated) but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The stories derive less from scientific speculation than from Ballard’s desire to create a future he would have been happy to inhabit himself, an alternative to the grim dystopias which proliferate in science fiction. The background furnishings also reflect the author’s ideal, owing much to the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, a pair of artists whose works are often referenced in Ballard’s fiction. Given all of this you’d expect that cover artists might have risen to the challenge more than they have. What follows is a look at the more notable attempts to depict Vermilion Sands or its population, only a few of which are covers for the book itself.

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Bruges in photochrom

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Maison du France.

I’ve looked through the Library of Congress collection of photochrom prints many times but somehow never noticed the 20 or so prints of Bruges until now. The Belgian Symbolists recorded their fascination with the Belgian town in paintings, drawings, photographs and Georges Rodenbach’s novel, Bruges-la-Morte (1892). The latter came illustrated by photographs that showed the town’s depopulated streets and empty canals, an early example of a novel using photography to support its text. Rodenbach’s photographs are all black-and-white, of course, and not the greatest quality (see this copy of the book). These photochrom prints may not be strictly accurate in their colours but they date from the same period as Rodenbach’s pictures; they also contain much more detail, and many of them replicate Rodenbach’s views. The ones here show the canals and gates but the library archive includes several views of the squares and the famous medieval Belfry of Bruges.

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St. Croix Gate.

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Ghent Gate.

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