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Desert Monet: Emily Kngwarreye

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Last Friday marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996), an Australian Aboriginal artist. She has been described as “one of the most prominent and successful artists in the history of contemporary indigenous Australian art,” “one of the world's great painters,” and the “Desert Monet.” Akira Tatehata, the director of the National Museum of Art in Osaka, summed it up by saying, “...there can be only one way to describe her. She was just a genius.” So today we present some fun facts about Australia's most popular aboriginal artist... perhaps their most popular artist period.

1. Only beginning her painting career at age 78, Emily Kngwarreye went on to become a highly prolific artist and “one-woman industry,” producing more than 3,000 paintings by the time she died at age 86. That averages out to about one painting a day for those eight years. (She finished her last painting, “Yam Awelye—Blue” just four days before her death.) Her high output was due in part to the dependence of others on her income: more than once she postponed retirement in order to continue providing funds for her community. Despite having no children of her own, she was responsible for as many as 80 kinspeople. The money she earned—estimated to be as much as A$500,000 a year—was spent not on herself, but on purchasing necessities and gifts for others, including supplying a car each week to the community.

2. Kngwarreye, who never studied art, developed her own unique methods for painting. She would spread her canvases on the ground and paint while sitting on or next to them. Over the years, she began using larger brushes, and eventually began trimming down the hairs around the edge of the brush, leaving the middle hairs longer. This styling of her brushes produced unique effects in her paintings, like dots with strong centers and softer edges. Kngwarreye could use both her hands to paint and would often switch from hand to hand, sometimes employing a brush in each hand to paint simultaneously. She was reportedly strongest with her left hand, though.

3. “Earth's Creation,” the sister painting to “Earth's Creation II” (shown above), is considered by some to be “Australia's most important painting.” The 6.3 meter by 2.7 meter work, sewn together from 4 smaller pieces of linen, was sold in 2007 for $1.056 million, setting a record for the sale of indigenous art. But it wasn't just the highest price paid for an indigenous work of art – at the time, it was the highest price ever paid in Australia for a work of art by a female artist, too.

4. When asked to describe the meaning of her paintings, Kngwarreye answered, “Whole lot, that's all, whole lot, awelye, arlatyeye, ankerrthe, ntange, dingo, ankerre, intekwe, anthwerle and kame. That's what I paint: whole lot.” (Or, in English, “...whole lot, my dreaming, pencil yam, mountain devil lizard, grass seed, dingo, emu, small plant emu food, green bean and yam seed. That's what I paint...”) Many of her paintings center around yams, an important source of food for the aboriginal people and especially dear to Kngwarreye, whose middle name, Kame, refers to the yam's yellow flower.

5. Although she didn't begin her painting career until she was almost 80, Kngwarreye had been creating batiks for several years before that. She was a founding member of the Utopia Women's Batik Group in 1977, but gave up batik when she began painting on canvas. Kngwarreye cited several reasons for her switch, including that she “got a bit lazy... it was too much hard work,” that making batik uses up all the soap powder, and that her “eyesight deteriorated.”

6. Kngwarreye's community was fairly isolated, so it wasn't until the age of 9 that Kngwarreye saw a white man or a horse. Then, one day, she was out in a dry riverbed digging for yams when a white policeman passed through on a horse, leading an aboriginal prisoner in chains. Viewing this strange sight, Kngwarreye believed the white man to be a devil-spirit.

Larger versions of Kngwarreye's "Earth's Creation II," shown above top, and "Yam Dreaming," shown just above, are available.

Fans should check out the collections of Kngwarreye's work at MBANTUA and Songlines Aboriginal Art; the retrospective exhibition at DACOU Melbourne and the National Museum of Australia's "Utopia: the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye" exhibition; the Message Stick episode on Kngwarreye; this AIAM100 video on Kngwarreye; this Japanese video about Kngwarreye; and DACOU's collection of articles and stories about Kngwarreye.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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10 Facts About The Ten
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In 1897, ten painters seceded from the Society of American Artists in protest of the group's increasing focus on “too much business and too little art.” These 10 artists signed a charter for their own new group, agreeing to hold an annual exhibition, for each person to exhibit at every annual show, and to only admit new members who were unanimously supported, yet they assigned no name for themselves. They became known as “Ten American Painters,” or simply “The Ten,” by the press after their first exhibition, called “Ten American Painters,” which featured a Roman numeral X on the program.

Today, to celebrate this day of tens, we present 10 facts about The Ten.

1. The title “The Ten” is not the most applicable description for the group.

Originally, the founding members intended for there to be 12 members of the group: Frank Weston Benson, Joseph DeCamp, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Henry Twachtmann, and J. Alden Weir. Homer rejected the group's invitation, though, as he reportedly wasn't a fan of official organizations. The New York Times announced “Eleven Painters Secede” on January 9, 1898 (the day after the artists resigned), but after the article went to press, Thayer changed his mind, leaving the final tally at ten members. Despite their signed agreement, most of the members didn't exhibit every year; most of the annual exhibitions featured works by only nine artists. During the group's 20 years, membership at any given time never surpassed 10 artists, but by the time they stopped exhibiting in 1919, eleven artists had been members—William Merritt Chase had joined the group in 1902 upon the death of Twachtman.


Pictured above are the 1908 members of The Ten, with Chase and not Twachtman.

2. The Ten were known for their Impressionist works, but at least one member had originally despised Impressionism.

While studying in Paris, J. Alden Weir was first exposed to Impressionism, and it sure left an impression on him. “I never in my life saw more horrible things,” he said about the style. “They do not observe drawing nor form but give you an impression of what they call nature.” That's not all, though – he went on to say, “It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors.” Eighteen years later, he was singing a different tune, having adopted the style fully by 1891.


Above is Weir's "Autumn Rain," 1890.

3. Childe Hassam was the most prolific member, which may be why he's also the most well-known of The Ten today.

Hassam's first forays into the art world were as a wood engraver and a “black-and-white man” (a freelance illustrator), jobs that necessitated high levels of output. He was successful enough as a freelance illustrator to afford an apartment with a maid for him and his wife in the center of the art community in Paris. Even as a painter, Hassam continued to produce works in larger quantities than his peers. Hassam's output was so large between 1910 and 1920 that one critic complained, “Think of the appalling number of Hassam pictures there will be in the world by the time the man is seventy years old!” By the time Hassam died at age 75, he had created more than 3,000 works of art—mainly paintings, watercolors, etchings, and lithographs.


At left is Hassam's "Flags, Fifth Avenue."

4. They were natural leaders.

For many of the members, The Ten wasn't the only group they helped form. William Merritt Chase established the Chase School—known today as Parsons The New School for Design—in 1896 and taught there for more than 10 years. He also served as president of the Society of American Artists for 10 years. Edmund Charles Tarbell, a popular teacher whose followers were dubbed “The Tarbellites,” co-founded The Guild of Boston Artists in 1914 and served as its president for 10 years. Tarbell also served as co-director of the Boston Museum School with fellow Ten member Frank Weston Benson. J. Alden Weir was the first president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, though he only served for one year; he later served as president of the National Academy of Design.


At left is Willard Metcalf's "Au Cafe," 1888.

5. Their artwork doesn't just hang in museums and collections; it also graces the walls and ceilings of public buildings.

Artists like Robert Reid and Edward Simmons are as well-known, perhaps more so, for their decorative work as they are for their Impressionistic paintings. Reid developed a name for himself painting murals and creating stained glass designs. He was also a contributing artist for the frescoes of the dome of the Liberal Arts Building at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Simmons was awarded the first commission from the Municipal Arts Society: a series of murals for the Criminal Courthouse in Manhattan; he also decorated the Waldorf-Astoria (NY), the Library of Congress (DC), and the Capitol at Saint Paul (MN).


Above left is Reid's "Knowledge" mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.


At left is Simmons' "Melpomene" (Tragedy) mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

6. Like any turn-of-the-century artists worth their salt, they all studied in Europe.

Paris was, of course, the place to be if you were an artist—nine of the eleven members of The Ten studied in Paris. The Académie Julian was attended by John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Frank Weston Benson, Willard Metcalf, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Edward Simmons, and Childe Hassam. J. Alden Weir was the sole member of the group to attend the École des Beaux-Arts. Twachtman also studied in Munich, as did William Merritt Chase and Joseph DeCamp. Both Twachtman and Chase studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, while DeCamp attended the Royal Academy of Munich.


Above is Chase's "An Italian Garden," 1909.

7. They painted into their old age.

All of The Ten continued painting up until their deaths, whether they died relatively young, like Twachtman (age 49), or after a long life, like Simmons (age 79). While they remained creatively productive through the years, the critics didn't always reflect kindly on them. At the 1913 Armory Show, Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir were nicknamed “the mammoth and the mastodon of American Art” because they were the oldest exhibitors there at ages 54 and 61, respectively.


At left is Twachtman's "Fishing Boats at Gloucester," 1901, painted the year before he died.

8. They retreated from the cities—Boston and New York—to summer houses, farms, and artist colonies.

A 1902 article in the New York Times observed that The Ten “appear to live in some realm apart from mankind where the important things are not the struggle for existence or the Boer war, but whether Jack Jones has succeeded in painting a child in the full sunlight just right...whether Robert Robinson has managed to get the proper atmosphere in his townscape...” The artists' retreats to artist colonies or their own farms probably helped cultivate this distance from worldly concerns.

William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and Frank Weston Benson all had summer homes, in Shinnecock Hills, NY; New Castle, NH; and North Haven, ME, respectively. Willard Metcalf and Thomas Wilmer Dewing spent summers at the Cornish Art Colony in New Hampshire, while the artist colony at Cos Cob, CT (outside of Greenwich), was frequented by Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. Hassam also visited the artist colony at Appledore Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, and Weir owned two farms—one in Branchville, CT, and another in Windham, CT. Weir's Branchville farm and studio are now a protected National Historic Site, while his Windham farm remains in his family.


Above left is Dewing's "In the Garden," 1892-1894.
Directly above is Benson's "Eleanor Holding a Shell," 1902.

9. Many of the women in their paintings are their wives and daughters.

Edmund Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William Merritt Chase all earned fame for their glowing paintings of their wives and daughters. Tarbell and his wife Emeline had four children: Josephine, Mercie, Mary, and Edmund. All four kids and Emeline, as well as other relatives, feature prominently in Tarbell's paintings. “In the Orchard,” which cemented Tarbell's standing in the art world, depicts Emeline with her siblings. Benson, too, established himself with a series of paintings featuring his family. He spent some 20 summers painting his wife, Ellen, and their daughters at the family's Maine summer home. Chase and his wife Alice had eight children, but only two of his children frequently posed for him—his oldest daughters, Alice and Dorothy.


Above is Tarbell's "In the Orchard," 1891.

10. The Ten's tenth anniversary exhibition in 1908 was, fittingly, their biggest.

The 1908 exhibition was one of the rare exhibitions when all the members actually fulfilled their agreement to exhibit: all 10 of the 1908 members exhibited that year. Amongst The Ten, they had nearly 100 works entered for the exhibition. 1908 was the group's apex; the group began a slow decline not long after the exhibition. By their 20th anniversary, their annual exhibition was considered “a retrospective of artists whose days together had served a purpose that was now a part of the past.”


The 1908 exhibition catalog is available here.


At left is DeCamp's "The Cellist," 1908, which was included in the 1908 exhibition.

Larger versions of all the works shown here are available; just click on the images.

Fans of The Ten should check out the William Merritt Chase gallery and Wikimedia category; the Joseph DeCamp gallery and Wikimedia category; the Childe Hassam gallery and Wikimedia category; the Edmund Tarbell gallery and Wikimedia category; the John Henry Twachtman gallery and Wikimedia category; the Wikimedia categories for Robert Reid, Thomas Dewing, J. Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf, and Frank Weston Benson; and 2008's Quick 10: The Ten.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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The People's Artist: Qi Baishi
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Thursday was the 53rd anniversary of the death of Qi Baishi (1864-1957), who is considered an “obscure Chinese artist” by westerners but “the Picasso of China” by the Chinese. So, in the hopes of educating the west about this influential Chinese painter, today's post is devoted to Qi Baishi.

1. Copying figures and motifs from The Mustard Seed Garden, a famous Qing Dynasty painting manual, Qi Baishi taught himself to paint. He was never formally trained at an art school, though he went on to teach at them, but he did find professional artists to mentor him. It was in training with his mentors that Qi realized art was something he could actually pursue professionally. The first paid painting gig he landed was as a family portraitist. He went on to become the most popular 20th-century painter in China, as well as a skilled seal-carver and calligrapher.

2. Qi is perhaps known as much for his clever titles and inscriptions as he is for his painting skills. The painting of baby chicks, shown above, is titled “The sex of the chicks not yet determined,” while a painting of two chicks fighting for the same worm is inscribed “Friends in the past.” It's probably no surprise, then, that Qi was also a poet. He formed the Longshan poets society in 1895 with several of his friends, who then elected him the director. His poetry collections, Jieshanyinguan Shicao and Baishi Shicao, were published in 1928 and 1933, respectively.

3. During the Sino-Japanese war, Qi was adamant that he did not want the Japanese purchasing his work. In 1937, when they gained control of Beijing, Qi locked his door and refused to admit any guests. He posted a sign outside that read, “Old Man Baishi has had a recurrence of heart sickness and has stopped receiving guests.” (Some sources say he went so far as to put a sign stating, “Old Man Baishi is dead.”) He also quit his job teaching at the Beijing Art College.

4. Qi is most famous for his paintings of flowers and animals, especially prawns, many of which were created while he was over the age of 70. Interestingly, though, Qi actually preferred painting landscapes, and considered his landscape painting skills superior to his skill at painting birds, flowers, and other objects.

5. If you research Qi on the internet, you may come across reports that he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956. Pretty impressive for a painter, right? Well, those reports are wrong—Qi didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 (in fact, it wasn't awarded to anyone that year) or any other year. What he actually received in 1956 was the World Peace Council's International Peace Award... which is still pretty impressive.

6. Westerners received a bit of a surprise this past March when it was announced that Qi is the third best-selling artist at global art auctions, based on Art Price's market data. Qi's $70 million in auction sales last year comes behind only Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, who each had $220 million in auction sales last year. While he is virtually unknown in the US and the UK, Chinese art lovers have been collecting Qi for years, with Qi's work in “every important Chinese collection.” Qi's past sales have been almost exclusively in Chinese auction houses, which makes his spot on the best-selling list even more of an accomplishment.

Larger versions of the four works shown above are available: the first landscape, the birds in the tree, "The sex of the chicks not yet determined," and the second landscape.

Fans should check out the collections of Qi's paintings at China Online Museum, About.com, and China Page; a sampling of his woodblock prints; and CCTV's documentary, "Civilization and Innovation: Qi Baishi."

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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