The Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens,also known as Italian cypress,Tuscan cypress, Persian cypress, or pencil pine), has often served as a strong vertical element, and a dark contrast, in European landscape painting, where it evokes an introspective mood through its ancient association with mourning and death. Cypresses are commonly grown in cemeteries. In Islamic culture, its tendency to bow in the wind made it a symbol of surrendering to the Divine. Cypresses can attain great ages - there is a sempervirens in Iran that is estimated to be 4000 years old.
It's taken me a while to warm to the work of the Swiss artist, Felix Vallotton, and I still have reservations about much of his work.
There's certainly something odd about his paintings that takes a bit of getting used to. The eccentric colours are often unpleasantly dissonant, and the compositions can be, for me, somehow dissatisfying. The strange light effects he captures can produce a sense of unease, and there is a restlessness in his scenes. He loved to paint the sudden violence of the wind, for example. But, in common with the Nabis, there is often an interesting mythological narrative element to his landscapes (see 'Pentheus' below), and always a unique vision.
The Dordogne at Carennac, 1912
Vallotton's landscapes are painted more from within - perhaps even from the world of dreams - than from the world outside. They are mostly paysages composés, landscapes patched together from elements that probably derive from plein air sketches. As a result there is a paper cut-out feel, which is not always well integrated compositionally. This is one potential disadvantage of that method of painting landscapes, though many artists have mastered it.
In his late landscapes (after 1920) he returned to a more harmonious and refined style. I particularly love those in which he celebrates a certain green - the vivid green of new grass after rain.
Vallotton painted in various genres besides landscape. He moved to France, and became associated with the Nabis. Despite being an established figure in the Parisian art scene of his day, Vallotton is not as well known today as similarly talented artists of his generation, mainly because most of his work is held in private collections, and rarely seen in public galleries.
The Austrians seem to have a thing for squares. Gustav Klimt used the square format almost exclusively, and the Czech/Austrian modernist architect Adolf Loos popularised the use of square windows in his facades.
These square paintings are by Carl Moll, another Austrian.
Moll successfully incorporated into his work Impressionist techniques of colour and brushwork, and the compositional daring of Modernism, while still preserving 19th century accuracy.
Despite its quality, Moll's work has been pushed to the side somewhat (I only discovered it fairly recently). A founding member of the Vienna Secession, he exhibited with Klimt, and was considered his equal. Both artists broke away from the Secession in 1905.
Perhaps the main reason for art history's side-lining of Moll was his enthusiasm for the Nazi Party. It was very disappointing to read about this in his biographical data. There were some Jewish connections in his family, and it's possible that he wanted to be seen as a Nazi supporter as a means of camouflaging himself and his family. Moll's attitudes were conflicted, he was on very cordial terms with his Jewish son-in-law Gustav Mahler, but like most Austrians of his time and class he was anti-semitic. The fact that he committed suicide as the Russians marched on Vienna in 1945, unfortunately suggests that he was loyal to the Third Reich to the bitter end.
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