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Monday, November 12, 2012

Berthe Morisot

I developed a new appreciation for Berthe Morisot recently seeing an exhibition of her work at the Odrupgaard museum outside Copenhagen. I had always dismissed her as a lesser Impressionist. Boy was I wrong. I found her work fresh and confident with wonderfully expressive brushstrokes that reveal an exceptional sensitivity to both formal and psychological concerns.

A beauty, painted repeatedly by her brother-in-law Édouard Manet, Morisot was born into affluence and lived her life as a member of the haute bourgeoisie. Her family supported her decision to become a painter (her sister Edma was one too) and she was accepted and admired by her male peers—Manet had four paintings of hers hanging in his bedroom—exhibiting repeatedly at the Salon de Paris (the annual exhibition of the Ácademie des Beaux-Arts) until 1874, when she joined Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley in the Salon des Refusés held in the studio of photographer Nadar. The one real hardship Morisot experienced was her husband’s premature death, which left her devastated, turning her hair white overnight.

Morisot’s many advantages didn’t blunt her talent, although her circumstances limited her oeuvre to what was considered appropriate subject matter: domestic life, landscapes, portraits and the like. Her composition, palette, light and representation have a remarkable veracity. Morisot is also a master of restraint. Because her work doesn’t shout, you almost overlook what a truly great painter she is. I was struck by how she conveys so much with so little. On display at the museum were two portraits of Morisot’s daughter, Julie, one by her (she painted many), the other by Renoir. Hers depicts the ennui and nascent beauty of a pouty teenager; Renoir’s a flabby orange-tinged simp.

Morisot died at just 54 in 1895. One wonders the direction her work might have taken if she'd made it into the 20th century and lived another 20-30 years, like Monet for instance, a year older than she, who died in 1926.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finn Juhl House

Mid-century Danish architect/industrial designer Finn Juhl’s house, located in a suburb of Copenhagen, is a must-see. I'm still not completely sold on Danish furniture, but seeing Juhl’s designs in their natural habitat, surrounded by his careful arrangement of objects and inspired color accents in this modest, richly appointed abode made me a convert.

In the living room, the "Chieftain" chair’s oversized proportions and shield back seemed to reference some ancient Viking past. The one here is a pinkish leather. The diminutive "poet" settee was inviting with its high curved back that looks like it would surround the sitter in an embrace. The graceful and petite "sculptural armchair" spoke to me of Wegner. An elegant shape with a carved curved back, contoured arms and clever "V" shaped support. The design was sufficiently challenging that only 12 were ever made, making them exceedingly valuable. I couldn't like the other armchairs used in the living room and dining room. I think I saw too many of the type in cluttered Upper West Side apartments.

But Juhl's use of Asian ceramics, Scandinavian woven rugs, his collection of artwork, palette, proportions and modesty of scale was genius. It was these elements, together with how he treated nature and light that reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright, and in particular Wright's Usonian houses, although the exterior, at least, looks totally different.

I loved the almost adobe fireplace in the living room and bookshelves which boasted three doored cabinets and a set of colored drawers. 

I think my favorite room was the dining room. Here, one wall is a two sided glass display cabinet, which allows light in from the adjoining conservatory. Opposite, tall windows afford a view of green--a curtain of vines growing up an exterior wall p
rovide color and texture. The piece I covet most in the house is the dining room table which features Swedish coins sanded down so that they look like silver metal discs embedded in the surface. It appears to be an abstract pattern but was apparently intended to act as a guide for where to put the place setting.

The dining chairs are covered in an intense kelly green wool to echo the outside foliage and pick up the hues in the artwork. Here, the ceiling is painted a surprising deep curry gloss, adding warmth and a wonderful, unexpected dash to the room. His use of ceiling color was inspired overall--I love the electric blue in the entrance foyer. I adore that color, the inside of the Whitney Museum's elevators were painted it originally. It's too much to have on a wall, but on a ceiling it's brilliant: you see it only when you look up. 

There was so much to admire and emulate in this wonderful domestic interior.