Raphael Kirchner’s Salomés

kirchner1.jpg

This drawing by Austrian artist Raphael Kirchner (1876–1917) caught my attention for its apparent combination of the Salomé theme with an arrangement of stones and cypresses that bring to mind Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead. All supposition on my part since I can’t find any definite confirmation that the picture is meant to depict Salomé, while a stand of cypresses is often just a stand of cypresses. But the Salomé theme and Böcklin’s island were popular enough fin de siècle subjects to be gestured towards in this manner, even on a piece of postcard art. In one of Kirchner’s other alleged Salomé cards he has a building that resembles the Temple of Cybele in Rome so the cypresses may simply be there to signify Ancient-World-plus-Mediterranean-setting (which in itself contradicts the Judean setting of the Salomé story). Kirchner’s speciality as an artist was attractive young women, often in states of undress, so the Ancient World here and elsewhere is providing the same excuse for a straight audience as “Greek” themes provided for homoerotica in the 19th and 20th century. There’s a lot more of Kirchner’s tasteful cheesecake at Wikiart.

kirchner2.jpg

kirchner3.jpg

kirchner4.jpg

kirchner5.jpg

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Salomé archive

More Isles of the Dead

janny.jpg

Die Toteninsel by Georg Janny.

Arnold Böcklin’s masterpiece, The Isle of the Dead, is a perennial source of fascination here, in part for the way the picture has fascinated other artists, writers, film-makers, etc, for the past 140 years. Something about the image compels people to rework it according to their own predilections, or to incorporate it into a narrative. Böcklin began this process himself, painting five different versions from 1880 to 1886, one of which was lost during the Second World War. The final version, which is now at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, seems to be the favourite among the copyists. Toteninsel.net is a site devoted to cataloguing the influence of the picture but despite considerable thoroughness they don’t seem to have added this watercolour homage by Georg Janny (1864–1935), an Austrian artist and scenic designer.

diefenbach.jpg

Toteninsel (c. 1905) by Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach.

They do have an entry for Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s painting but not the painting itself which is a surprising reworking of the Leipzig version. An ostensibly Greek island has gained a domineering portico in an Egyptian style. Böcklin was Swiss but his paintings made a huge impression on the younger generation of German and Austrian artists.

giger.jpg

Toteninsel (nach Böcklin) (1975) by HR Giger.

Diefenbach’s picture reminds me of a favourite variation by another Swiss artist, HR Giger, who painted two homages to the Leipzig version in the 1970s. One of these is a fairly close copy, albeit without the funeral boat, and with the addition of Giger’s usual biomechanical details. The other version adds an industrial structure to the stand of cypresses. This is a hatch from the rear of a German refuse vehicle which had provided Giger with a subject for several paintings in his Passagen series. The Surrealist juxtaposition is worthy of Magritte (who also alluded to Böcklin in The Annunciation), drawing a parallel with bodily interment and waste disposal.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Isles of the Dead
A Picture to Dream Over: The Isle of the Dead
The Isle of the Dead in detail
Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

Picturing Vermilion Sands

knight2.jpg

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.

Continue reading “Picturing Vermilion Sands”

The art of Boleslaw Biegas (1877–1954)

univers.jpg

Univers de la tendresse (1918).

This Polish artist came to my attention recently while looking for something in a book about Surrealist art. As before, the web has its uses especially when it comes to discovering more about artists such as Biegas who were never prominent enough to be given more than a passing mention in art histories. Biegas isn’t really a Surrealist, however, although Apollinaire apparently liked some of his stylised sculptures. The paintings Biegas produced from around 1920 separate into two surprisingly different groups: semi-abstract portraits rather like the later wholly abstract works of Frantisek Kupka, and the Symbolist-styled nocturnes featured here. I naturally prefer the latter, not least because some of them nod to the dark cypresses and islands that populate many of Arnold Böcklin’s paintings, but the portraits and sculptures are often very good as well. There’s an artist’s website although the reproductions there are small and watermarked.

byron.jpg

Lord Byron (1919).

chopin.jpg

Chopin (1919).

grotto.jpg

Grotto of the Temple of Secrets (1924).

Continue reading “The art of Boleslaw Biegas (1877–1954)”

Isles of the Dead

iod_leipzig.jpg

The Isle of the Dead (version five, 1886) by Arnold Böcklin, Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste.

Reading old comics recently turned up the page below by Philippe Druillet which I didn’t remember having seen before. The drawing is from Gail, one of Druillet’s Lone Sloane stories (but not one included in the Six Voyages of Lone Sloane), and shows the entrance to a typically sinister Druillet city modelled on one of Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead paintings. (Druillet’s original was in black-and-white but was later coloured.) This derivation manages to keep all of Böcklin’s details while cleverly turning the cypresses into a fanged mouth.

isle1.jpg

Philippe Druillet (1976).

isle2.jpg

Böcklin’s cemetery isle has been the subject of several posts here, being one of my favourite paintings and also an object of fascination for its continuing influence in a variety of media: novels, films, music and, of course, comics. Druillet quotes from other artists in his Lone Sloane stories—notably Escher and Grandville—so the Böcklin quotation wasn’t too much of a surprise. Toteninsel.net, the website devoted to works influenced by The Isle of the Dead, turned up a few more comic-related examples, some of which are featured below. What’s notable about the examples at Toteninsel is that they’re all from European artists; that’s not to say there isn’t an example to be found in American comics but European comic art seems much more aware of Symbolist painting.

Continue reading “Isles of the Dead”