The Apotheosis of Napoleon (1830) by Bertel Thorvaldsen. The marble piece sits in the final room of the Ben Weider Collection in Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Thorvaldsen was also responsible for the monument to Eugène de Beauharnais in Munich, erected in the same year, 1830. (Why not return to my post here, a mere 35 clicks away.)
The Egyptian Campaign is one of the most mythologized periods in Napoleon’s career: The Alexandrian ambitions, the visit to the plague-ridden soldiers in Jaffa, the siege of Acre, Monge and the accompanying scientific expedition. But most of all it is the Battle of Pyramids with its famous tagline, ”From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us” (as quoted by Eugène de Beauharnais). In Jean-Léon Gérôme‘s painting Bonaparte Before the Sphinx (1868) we see Napoleon as myth-maker, juxtaposed with the Sphinx itself. Napoleon is, as Peer Gynt after him, wondering where he has seen this face before.
Above is a photo of the Sphinx taken not long after Gérôme’s painting was finished. Presumably the soldiers are English.
I recently finished reading an astonishing biography about Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen by Michael Meyer is a monumental effort, and apparently still the most in depth work on the playwright. Among its many highlights is an anecdote about Ibsen’s apartment in Oslo. When Ibsen finally returned to Norway he was already a famous writer, reviled all over Europe yet inevitable in all its theaters. And Ibsen, not afraid of embracing controversy, had brought it into his home. He purchased and installed an oil painting by Christian Krohg, portraying the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. The younger Swede had been an early admirer of Ibsen, now turned ardent critic. Ibsen at some point called Strindberg his nemesis, and in his erratic stare the older and more famous Ibsen found both inspiration and an unwelcome reminder.
Maybe the portrait is still there in the apartment. It’s now part of the Ibsen museum in Oslo. I’ll find out in August when I’ll finally be in Oslo again.
Video from Bergman’s Summer with Monica (1952)
Above you see Collage with three photographs by Julien Levy by Dorothea Tanning. At his New York exhibition “The Images of Chess” (Jan 1945), Levy organized a chess simul between the exiled surrealists and American-Belgian IM George Koltanowksi (0.5:6.5). To the right you see an aloof Max Ernst playing on a board of his own design, flanked by Dorothea Tanning. Standing with his back towards us is Marcel Duchamp executing the moves for Koltanowski. The IM himself is sitting, facing the wall. [source]
I had to do some rather inelegant sneaking around to take illicit photos of the Canova statue in Number One, London, or Apsley House. Perhaps precisely because of my efforts to dodge security, my photos came out terribly. So the one above I’ve stolen online.
Actually there isn’t much security at Apsley House. Or much of anyone. I was practically alone in the building for a good hour, except for an old couple whose taste was Portugese silverware, not Napoleon artefacts. The upstairs has a number of well known Napoleonic themed paintings, including some of his brothers and Josephine. But it is really the downstairs exhibition that has the most interesting items. Among the many gifts the Duke received from monarchs across Europe is a collection of marshal batons.
The Duke was a Field Marshal of the Austrian Army, the Hanoverian Army, the Army of Netherlands, the Prussian Army, the Russian Army, Marshal-General of the Portugese Army, and Captain-General of the Spanish Army. Oh yes, and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces.
All these trinkets come to feel pretty insignificant, however, if you have time to study the exhibition room ceiling. Hidden above in the dark are countless standards captured during Wellington’s campaigns. The Aigle de drapeau is everywhere staring back at you. French soldiers swore to defend the Imperial Eagle with their lives, and battle accounts are littered with anecdotes about those who died attempting to avoid the disgrace of returning without their regimental standard.
I don’t know if Wellington also had a rank in Louis XVIII’s army. What he did have, at least, was another token of their appreciation—the enormous marble statue by Italian scultpurer Canova. After Waterloo, the French convinced the British government to buy the statue as a gift to Wellington. It was then brought to Apsley House where the floor had to be reinforced to carry the weight. It seems that Napoleon never took to Canova’s design, finding it too athletic for the dignity of an aging emperor.
Of course, it might just be that Canova’s controversial nude of his sister, Pauline Bonaparte, as Venus clouded his artistic judgement.
Jesse and I went to Jenny Saville’s solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. I didn’t know her work, but I was instantly taken in by it. Huge canvasses, expressionism, Bacon references, and flesh—lots of it. There was also a phenomenal video interview with Saville in the basement. I thought it was an insightful commentary on her own work, and also educational for people like me, who know little about painting as technique. The video, Jenny Saville in conversation with Michael Stanley (Director of Modern Art Oxford), is available on Vimeo.
I’m giving this one an ‘of course’.
PS The exhibition is unfortunately now closed.
The Glyptothek in Munich was opened in 1830. The musuem contains a number of masterpieces collected by Ludwig I. Chief among them is the Medusa Rondanini and the Barberini Faun (seen above). In fact, the exhibition is to a large extent unchanged since visited by the likes of Goethe, Thorvaldsen, and Mann.
Yet, something has changed after all. The austere white interior of the Glyptothek used to be decorated with elaborate frescoes. As seen here. I can only imagine what a marvellous sight that must have been. Unfortunately, the fragile decor didn’t survive the war.
I visited the Glyptothek on my 30th birthday. I thought seeing someone even older might help. Why, they weren’t bothered at all.
To quote The Stranglers: ‘Whatever happened to all the heroes / all the Shakespearoes’.
Although the Centre Pompidou had the same Richter panorama that I’ve already seen in Berlin, it was fantastic to see the permanent collection again. I’ve only been once before, and the mere size is overwhelming. There is a whole catalogue of Braque and Picasso cubism, and a monumental Kandinsky collection. It also helps when I stumble over gems such as Maryan’s grotesque seven part series Napoléon (yes, omnipresent), or Oleg Kulik’s photo installation Mad Dog.
Above you see Peter Doig’s 100 Years Ago (2001). The theme is inspired by a The Allman Brothers Band cover sleeve, with band members in a boat together. In Doig’s painting only one member is left though (bassist Berry Oakley). He’s not rowing, but staring towards us while the boat drifts aimlessly, maybe forwards, maybe backwards. In the background, balancing on the horizon, a prison island off Trinidad. But the island looks serene and lively, setting into relief a ‘different kind of prison’ beneath, where Oakley’s singular shadow reflects the red of the boat.
Update: And then suddenly there is this.