Posts Tagged ‘Hieronymus Bosch’

Blackpaint 580 – The Best Exhibitions of the Year (and the worst…)

December 29, 2016

Compulsory Annual Review time

Kicking off with exhibitions, in order of merit (sort of):

Abstract Expressionism, RA

Room after room of masterpieces; the (first) red de Kooning and Joan Mitchell’s “Salut Tom” get my prize, but it’s all good stuff.


Robert Rauschenberg, Tate Modern

Staggering – although I don’t think he’s a “modern Da Vinci”; his inventiveness is confined to the art world.  I loved everything except the bubbling mud bath.


Hieronymus Bosch, s’Hertegenbosch, Netherlands

Exploding with imagination and an exquisite painter.  Everything on sale in town has a “Bosch” trademark.

bosch john the baptist

Saul Leiter, Photographers Gallery/William Eggleston, National Portrait Gallery

Separate exhibitions but equally brilliant – by sticking them together, I get one more place on my top ten.  Leiter made me think of Cheever and Norman Rockwell; Eggleston of “Psycho” and Arbus.  But they are both much more than that…

saul postmen


eggleston 2


Intrigue, James Ensor, RA

Surprisingly brilliant, amazingly varied – and still on, like AbEx and Rauschenberg.


He does a scintillating vegetable and his skate is rather alarming (see below) – see also Chardin and Soutine for two other skates – but not a pair.


William Kentridge, Whitechapel

I think it’s his flick book pictures I like best.



Robert Motherwell, Bernard Jacobson Gallery


Round the corner from the other AbExes at the RA, some lovely big pictures that were NOT from the “Requiem for the Spanish Civil War” group.

Etel Adnan, Sackler

Israeli artist; earlier pictures better, I think, reminiscent of de Stael.  Terrific colour and texture.


Mary Heilmann, Whitechapel

Any other year, she would have been higher on the list.  I don’t like the spots and the nursery colours, however.

mary heilmann3


Russian Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

A revelation, before the Revolution (sorry).  Repin, Serov.. brilliant.

Russia Morozov


The list doesn’t include Baselitz, Paul Nash, Terence Donovan, Botticelli, Delacroix, Infinite Mix, Turner Prize (!), Saatchi Champagne Life…. what can you do?  An exceptionally brilliant year in every respect, except the US election, terrorist attacks, foreign wars, global warming…


Georgia O’ Keefe at Tate Modern.  Well, not really – just don’t like her stuff generally (although I DO like the one below).


Also disappointing…

Winifred Knights, Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Deluge 1920 Winifred Knights 1899-1947 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1989

Too mannered.And…

Wifredo Lam, Tate Modern


Too black and white.  OK, films, museums, DVDs, theatre tomorrow.


Cleveland Way, 82







Blackpaint 541- Bosch to CoBrA and thence to Berlin

April 17, 2016

Hieronymus Bosch at s’Hertogenbosch – where else?

Well, also at the Prado, where the Garden of Earthly Delights triptych lives and the London National Gallery, where Christ Mocked (the Crowning with Thorns)  lives –

bosch natgal

and at Lisbon, where the Temptation of St. Anthony triptych lives – although this last has apparently been demoted to “follower of ” status, despite containing several of the best known “monsters” (see below).  The saddled fish, the little bird thing in the red tunic and funnel helmet….

bosch triptych-the-temptation-of-st-anthony-1516

Although these three works are missing for some reason, the exhibition is still fantastic in every sense and the town is making the most of it, quite rightly.

The paintings have lights within the frames and so look like slide projections in the darkened galleries.  The weirdness of Bosch’s figures and landscapes, I think, have distracted viewers from the sheer quality of the painting; the colours are beautifully subtle.  The Death of a Miser, for example, is in that Duccio pink/brown/Venetian red palette.

There are several similarities to Bruegel, of course; There’s a “Dulle Griet” character dragging a cart, angels with long trumpets, just like those in Bruegel’s “Fall”, crows on bare tree branches, distant gallows and wheels on top of poles (Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death”), street cripples with similar aids (maybe these are stock figures).

I noticed the same model cropping up in several paintings; the old geezer with the white hair, tooth stumps and inane, cruel grin shows up in two versions of “Ecce Homo”, one by Bosch himself, another by a follower  and the NG “Christ Mocked” (above); the man on the left.


That’s him, in the white robe, isn’t it?

The little armoured character in the St. John of Patmos (below) is a self-portrait of Bosch; why the arrow through his torso – something that crops up in many Bosch paintings?

bosch patmos

I like the monsters in the workshop drawings; “OK fellows, today we’re going to have a competition to see who can draw the best monster…”.  No picture, unfortunately.

Some other highlights for me:

The red/black background in the boy with the walker;

bosch little boy

St. Jerome, lying down with that fish-like tree trunk behind him, and that doggy lion;

bosch st jerome

St. Christopher, with the bear hanging going on behind;

bosch st christopher

St.John the Baptist, or “Doper”, as it is – appropriately? –  in Dutch, looking bored, waiting for TV to be invented, maybe;

bosch john the baptist

The tunnel, or sewer in the sky route to Paradise – is it based on a local canal?

The Disneyland pink tower things in “Garden of Earthly Delights” – sadly, only a copy in the exhibition.

Finally, the workshop painting of Noah’s Ark, grounded after the Flood.


Me on the left, next to a Bosch “monster” in the town.  I managed to get dressed before the police arrived.

Karel Appel’s animals and settings for “The Magic Flute” and “Noach”

I’ll be blogging about the fabulous Appel and the other CoBrA artists next time, but I’m including these pieces, from the CoBrA Museum in Amstelveen, because they seem to me to relate in some way to Bosch’s flying fish and other weirdnesses – rougher and “childlike”, sort of, but definitely related.

appel - flute1


appel flute2

Victoria, dir. Sebastian Schipper (2015)


German film, set in Berlin, famously done in a single take, like “Russian Ark”.  A happy-go-lucky (she even looks a bit like Sally Hawkins) Spanish girl takes up with a goonish bunch of Berliners one night  and gets involved (predictably) in serious complications.  I found the first half hour or so irritating and tedious as the Berlin lads clown around and say “fuck” a lot – this sent several of the ICA audience into fits of excited laughter.  It has a definite “Euro” feel about it; could have been set in any Eurocity.  Story was cliched and implausible.  This one take thing has a sort of fetish feel for me – why is it better to do things in one take?

OK, other Dutch museums next time.

life drawings in pastel

Life Drawings in pencil and pastel

On the Rocks

On The Rocks




Blackpaint 520 – Bellini, Bruegel, Bosch, Berger, Bromden, Bergman

November 16, 2015

Giovanni Bellini again

Returning briefly to Venice,  I have to post a few of Bellini’s Virgins; it’s so obviously the same young girl modelling the BVM and the same child too, I think – ginger hair and normal proportions.




Definitely a different child in this one though.. or much younger.


In the new John Berger collection, “Portraits” (Ed. Tom Overton, Verso 2015) , Berger says that Bellini’s Virgins represent a journey towards the open air; they start in dark interiors and progress towards open meadows.

Portraits; John Berger on Artists

Two more startling insights – well, I found them startling – on Bosch and Bruegel:


The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)

“…Bruegel’s paintings are more relevant to modern war and the concentration camps than almost any painted since.”  I find that hard to contest, looking at the “Triumph”;


The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (1500 – 5)

Berger compares Bosch’s vision of Hell to “a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass media news commentary.  There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

“Bosch’s prophecy was of the world-picture which is communicated to us today by the media under the impact of globalisation, with its delinquent need to sell incessantly.”

Overstated no doubt, but apart from the last bit about selling, I thought this was pretty close to right, as regards the coverage of the Paris murders on Friday night.  Sky, Euronews, France 24 all overstated the numbers of dead, as if they weren’t bad enough; BBC repeated some story on Twitter about the jungle camp at Calais being on fire (why do they repeat this shit on “social media”?); it seemed to me that Al Jazeera came closest to getting casualty numbers and other details right at the time.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


I was roundly criticised by women friends for praising this “misogynist and racist” film when it was first released back in 1975 – and no doubt some of the criticism was justified.  Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the embodiment of controlling, malignant authoritarianism; the thuggish, cynical guards are black, the mental patients are white (exception being Chief Bromden, played by Will Sampson) and the anti-hero McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) treats his girlfriends as chattels, to be smuggled into the institution for sex – with himself, Turkle the corrupt guard (the brilliant Scatman Crothers) and, disastrously, with Billy (Brad Dourif).  McMurphy comes close to strangling Nurse Ratched near the end, so violence against women too.

After watching it again on DVD, I have to say that it was even better than I remember; the fishing expedition, the after-hours orgy and the rousing ending were the highlights.  They don’t make them like that any more; tried to think of something similar and the best I could do was Mark Rylance as Rooster in Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem”.


I was sad to read on Wikipedia that Will Sampson died of scleroderma at only 54, after a heart and lungs transplant.

Ingmar Bergman

I wrote last week that a lot of Bergman’s films seem to be set on islands; I did a bit of research and found there are at least seven, starting with “Eva” in 1948 to “The Passions of Anna” in 1969.  Bergman moved to the Swedish island of Faro in the early 60s and founded a studio there – but there were already three films that were wholly or partly island -bound. Something to do with isolating the characters and developing the tensions or attractions between them, maybe; or, as in “Shame” (1968), watching the effect of the outside world bursting in on them – civil war in this case.


Bergman was arrested for tax evasion in 1976; although the charge was dropped, he closed down Faro and said he would make no more films in Sweden.

I was going to write something about Kitaj, but since he doesn’t begin with a “B”, it would mess up my title – so next time.




A couple of life drawings/paintings – yes, I know, but I can assure you the model is alive – or at least, he was when I did it.



Blackpaint 365 – Heroic Mannerism in the Ironic Park

November 2, 2012


I’ve been referring to the great film modeller as Harry Harryhausen; I now find, sadly from his obit., that it was RAY Harryhausen.  Sorry Ray – apposite really, as I’ve been in Budapest for a few days, and visited..

Memento Park

This is where they put a number of the Communist – era socialist realist and- what to call them? heroic mannerist?- statues to pose and beckon to each other across the grass and gravel paths.  Amongst these monstrosities is a memorial to the Hungarian International Brigade that fought with the Republicans in Spain; the unfortunate volunteers resemble, to me, the inhabitants of that island of Goonies that were in the old Popeye cartoon (apologies to my younger reader).  Some of these statues remind me of Ray Harryhausen’s work.

I was quite impressed that, so relatively soon after the end of communist rule, Hungarians can treat these relics with the irony shown here.

Budapest Fine Art Museum, Heroes Square

A Cezanne exhibition, Cezanne and the Past, in the museum at the moment; many of his drawings of Old Masters, and some paintings which were surprisingly bad.  BUT – there was Madame Cezanne with her striped, picket-fence skirt (best picture), Madame C. in Blue, with her face almost a Modigliani (second best) – and “Basket of Apples” and “Kitchen Table”; fabulous fruit and tablecloths, tilting to the spectator.  In both, the table fore-edges are out of line, as if there were two small tables in each picture, the divide hidden by the snowy tablecloths.  My partner insists that this is part of the intentional (and revolutionary) distortion – I can’t see it, I think he just couldn’t be bothered to re-jig it.

In the permanent exhibition, which we had to shoot through at speed, I noted the following:

Sassetta, St. Thomas Aquinas in Prayer – beautiful, Duccio-like green “framing” – my favourite picture.

Maso di Banco; obviously “influenced” by Giotto – or maybe the other way round? No – one of Giotto’s best pupils.

Lorenzo Monaco – a cut-out crucifixion; never seen anything like it;

Bosch – “The Bacchus Singers”; one with a finger down his throat, puking on the floor behind the oblivious others;

Bosch again – a very damaged copy of a section of “Garden of Earthly Delights”;

Lucas Cranach – Salome with John B’s head, smirking at the spectator, really pleased with herself; JB looking less so;

Pieter Brueghel – John the Baptist (in happier days) sermon; the one with the woman in the Japanese hat.

Hans Holbein the Elder – “the Dormition of the Virgin”, in a style so much more archaic than the realist portraits of his genius son (although H the Younger’s biblical scenes were not so different);

A couple of brilliant Bonnards – look at them from across the room to see them as abstracts, they work brilliantly.

And lots more, will finish next blog.

Adrian Heath

Thought he was a minor painter, sort of link between London and St.Ives; but I’ve just got the new Lund Humphries book by Jane Rye – he was staggeringly good.  There are obvious similarities in places to Poliakoff, Terry Frost (a friend and also ex -POW) and Roger Hilton; but I think they are richer and more interesting than any of them.  Rye is right when she talks about the sense of calmness, balance, and chaos breaking through.  they are just beautiful and I can’t over-praise them.




Blackpaint 202

October 6, 2010

Michelangelo’s God (Sistine Ceiling)

I find it amazing that the brain – my brain, anyway –  seems not to register things that should be obvious and impossible to miss.  God animates Adam with the famous touching finger, reaching out from his seat in the brain – shaped thing (see Blackpaint 165) .  Don’t look – is he alone in there?  I thought so, but I was wrong – the deity is surrounded by a group of attractive young persons of indeterminate sex, presumably members of a high order of angels, seraphim maybe.  The touch, of course, is also Michelangelo’s invention – Genesis speaks only of god breathing life into Adam.

All this stuff – about the Flood, Adam and Eve and the serpent, etc. –  is trivial, I suppose, but it does illustrate how freely M. took liberties with the text and got away with it.  I think it was only the nakedness that led to problems.  When you think that printers had their ears cropped for little errors – “thou shalt commit adultery”, for example – although that’s a bad example, because it’s quite a serious mistake…..


I’ve been reading the story “the Unknown Masterpiece”, in which the painter Frenhofer believes he has created a masterpiece in his portrait of Catherine Lescault, “the beautiful courtesan”.  He invites two fellow painters in to see; what they see is an unintelligible mass of paint, with only a human foot recognisable in a lower corner of canvas.  Meanwhile, Frenhofer raves about the light falling on the hair, the flesh of the bosom quivering until he hears one of his friends remark that there is nothing on the canvas.  At this, he collapses in tears and self-pity, which rapidly turns to defiance and the assertion of his own mastery, which others are too small to recognise.  Typical artist.

Open House

The point of the above is that it reminds me of the reactions of some visitors when they come over your doorstep and see abstract paintings.  No doubt their hearts sink (cliche, sorry) and they try to think of something to say.  A frequent response is, “Well, there’s certainly a lot of paintings; you’ve been very busy.”  After an interval of, say, five minutes they leave, thanking you politely and heading for the next house on the list .  Fair enough, of course; there’s nowhere to go with abstract art, people are either pleased and/or excited with what you have done with the paint, repelled and appalled –  or it’s nothing.  A bad figurative painting is still a bad painting of Something. 

Still, sold five – a big one, a middle one and three small ones; not too bad and another weekend to go.


Last blog, I was looking at Gilles Neret’s little coffee table Taschen on angels; today, the companion on devils – which he interprets very loosely to include satyrs, fauns, pans, demons.  The sexual content is frank and startling and demonstrates clearly that these illustrations must have acted, perhaps unconsciously, as a safety-valve in medieval times and pornography in the 19th century.

My favourites are:

1.  Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgement”, in which the damned appear to be in a series of S and M parties in a block of flats, opened up to the viewer;

2.  Georgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, “Punishment of lechery”, in which burning torches are being thrust by demons into vaginas and anuses (ouch!); and

3.  Hieronymous Bosch, “Last Judgement”, in which the various fantastical monsters have that luminous and translucent appearance that one associates with recent photographs of deep-sea creatures.

Gone but not forgotten.



Blackpaint 149

June 10, 2010

Bruegel and Bosch

An obvious pair for comparison, I suppose – but why not be obvious for once, instead of subtle and insightful (lovely word)?

Bosch is considerably earlier, I was surprised to find; C1450 – 1516, lived at ‘s-Hertogenbosch; Bruegel 1525-1569, maybe born at Breda, lived in Antwerp and Brussels.  Bruegel was much younger than Michelangelo, which again, was a slight surprise, since B’s paintings always struck me as more archaic, the difference in place and influences, I suppose.  On reflection though, maybe Bruegel’s peasants, lumpy, awkward and working as they are, are more naturalistic, more “modern”, than the idealised forms the Italians copied from the Greeks and Romans.

Back to Bosch and Bruegel.  The similarities are obvious:

  • the weird beasts and animaculae;
  • the themes;
  • the nightmarish visions.

First, the beasts.  Bosch had the “Tree man”, with the body of a cracked egg with a family inside.  He repeated the figure with minor variations, in “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.

He did several giant knives, including one like a cannon’s barrel,  poking up between a pair of ears.

He did various hybrid fish, bird, lizard and insect monsters, many wearing odd pieces of armour.  See his “Last Judgement”.

In “Death of a Reprobate”, he did two odd, armless, walking midgets dressed in black.

He did a bird-headed creature, seated on a sort of throne, eating the damned which it then excretes through a hole in the throne into a sort of darkened glass bulb and thence into the pit.  Glass spheres and bulbs feature frequently, for example, in “The Garden”.

Some pictures, eg “the Wayfarer”, contain torture, execution, gallows.


“Big fish eat little fish..”; his fish closely resemble Bosch.

“Dulle Griet” has a man with an egg backside, spooning gold out of it.  Eggs hatching various monstrosities abound in the picture.  Elsewhere, an upside-down man thing is spooning from a bowl with a spoon up his bottom.

“The land of Cockaigne” has a tiny egg on legs, containing a knife, presenting itself to the sleeping men.  Also in Cockaigne is a living pig with a cut out of its back and a knife through its skin (an idea borrowed by Douglas Adams – the cow that wants to be eaten in “Restaurant at the End of the Universe”).

In “The Fall of the Rebel Angels”, he has a number of mutating, hybrid creatures cascading down with alarmed expressions, under the blades of St.Michael and others; there is a puffer fish, a butterfly, a toadlike thing, lizards with human arms, some clad in armour.

The world is portrayed as a young boy cutpurse, enclosed in a glass sphere, in “The Misanthrope”.

In “The Triumph of Death”, there are skeletal horses, carts driven by skeletons, gallows, executions, tortures.  More gallows (as the name implies) in “the Magpie on the Gallows”.

So in the paintings of both artists, many of the “personnel” resemble each other.  Interestingly (possibly), both artists have turned up on covers of 1960’s SF paperbacks – Bruegel’s “Triumph” on “Timeless Stories” ed, Ray Bradbury and a Bosch egg on legs on Fredric Brown’s “Nightmares and Geezenstacks”.  Sorry – another of my tiresome obsessions.  More at the weekend, when I’ll do themes.

Beefheart by Blackpaint