Saturday, April 30, 2022

tree bark, lichen, sheep, hands, feet, and a dyed tail

Today, to Stockton - a beautiful drive, following the river (I didn't take the 5), full of summer-perfect fields and tree-lined levees (and tractors.  UK readers will understand if I say that I've not been able to look at tractors with a straight face, today).  Even Stockton itself looks leafy and sunny and not at all like William Coulter's 1884 painting.

Why Stockton?  The Haggin Museum is a pretty terrific small museum of nineteenth century art, and well worth the visit.  Among other gems ... a new one for my collection of artists who "carve" their names or initials into tree bark: this, believe it or not, is George Inness, in an early painting, Juniata River (1856).

Then this was my favorite bit of lichen, from Thomas Moran's Woodland Temple (1867), which was full of delicately and accurately painted foliage and grasses and tree bark -

in contrast to so many of Albert Bierstadt's, which started to irritate me, en masse, with their slick formulaic qualities - he's one of those artists who reproduces better - small and intense - than he comes across when looked at closely (of course, he's meant to be seen from a bit of a distance, at which point the paintings make an impact again).  I hadn't realised quite how many little groups of deer he includes - they somehow always look like the same, not-at-all individualised deer.

And then I got to one of his Barbados paintings, and the wave in this is quite striking different, and excitingly lively.

But what was most fascinating about the museum wasn't the C19th US art, though that's what I'd gone to see, but its status as a Gilded Age collection of European art, especially French and Belgian.  Here's Blanche Butterworth Haggin dressed as a Renaissance lady being poled along in a gondola ... painted by Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant.

The Haggins (I'm talking as if there was just one couple, but there were three, and all went to Europe, and brought art back) - loved animal paintings - there are some Rosa Bonheurs, and a great sheep picture, Highland Monarch (1862) by the Belgian Eugene Verboeckhoven - not exactly the Monarch of the Glen.

A great painting by the Italian, Marco Calderini, with silver birch trunks;

and, quite differently, part of Harry Watrous's Sophistication (c.1908) - which was very unlike so much of the slightly earlier stuff ...

... like these sheep - more sheep - from Giuseppe de Nittis's The Serpentine, Hyde Park, London (c.1874-77);

or these vegetables - sold by an interesting range of ethnic types - in Jean Béraud's Les Halles (1879).

And some tiles, from the Spanish painter Raimundo de Madrazo's The Master Returns - he was also painting in France;

a completely bizarre tangerine colored dyed horse's tail in Jean-Léon Gérôme's The Saddle Bazaar, Cairo (1883);

and then we get to the even weirder ones - another Gérôme, The Artist and His Model (1895), a self-portrait of himself at work on Tanagra - he is sticking his sculpting knife so realistically into the statue's leg ...

Of course there was a Bougereau, with feet and buttocks.

And even after the paintings, the History of Stockton and the San Joaquin valley was well done, too.  I've always had a soft spot for room reconstructions, and here's the forge.


Friday, April 29, 2022


To Oakland today - a very pretty train ride from Sacramento (I wasn't interested in tussling with Bay Area traffic when I could be looking out of the window) - and the Oakland Museum of California, which had only a relatively small amount of nineteenth and early twentieth century art on show, but what it had was good - especially when it came to the history of mining.  This is another Charles Christian Nahl - a portrait of Eliza Jane Steen Johnson, who ran the Lace House Store in San Francisco and - the wall placard tells us - "Capitalizing on the scarcity of women in California's Gold Rush, she increased sales by modeling dresses for miners."  I don't suppose the miners were - for the most part - likely to be buying these to wear, so this is a little oddly put - but what is the whole history of this Irishwoman?  There was a daguerreotype of her on display, too - indeed a number of Daguerreotypes overall (OMOC has an excellent photo collection - lots of Dorothea Lange on show).  She doesn't look as though she'd stand much nonsense.

Then these ridiculous figures are from Antoine Claveau's 1858 Falls, Yosemite - the same year as Nahl's portrait - which is the earliest known oil painting of the Yosemite Valley - these are some of the wedding guests of banker William Ralston having fun around the Merced River.

But for the most part it was things that I hadn't gone to see that I liked the best, like Michael McMillen's Aristotle's Cage (1983) - I've chosen this shot of trailer park wreckage because you can see the mysterious skeleton man and dog flying across the sky -

and this 1959 Ruth Asawa sculpture.  Mostly, the lighting in the galleries was terrible when it came to photographing, and reflected off everything one didn't want it to - but this worked to perfection.

It's an excellent history museum for California itself - very interesting to compare with the Autry, since it tackles much of the same material, but is more focused on gold, and less on ranching and guns; and is much stronger on Black and Asian history - plenty of wonderful Black Panther stuff - and not so much so on Latino.  But very interactive, and lively...

... and then a great walk back to Oakland's Jack London Square station, through Oakland's Chinatown (some fascinating Asian cauliflowers, and roosters) with really striking street art.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

paws, feet, vegetables, smoke ... and some roses

I feel saturated with looking at masses of C19th Californian art today in the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento (and some C20th, and contemporary stuff, too, of course) - some of it for research; some for teaching - though the two blend - which means that I was taking many, many pictures of details.  So here are just a few of them, starting with an avatar of Gramsci, in Charles Christian Nahl's And a Little Child Shall Lead Them - a kind of Germanic/West Coast answer to Edward Hicks' multiple Peaceable Kingdoms.  Nahl moved from Germany, to Paris, to New York, to California in 1851 (thinking to strike it rich with gold, but not doing so ... so he turned back to painting).

This is, however, part of a Gold Rush portrait of a young girl, Little Miss San Francisco (1853) - she has a chunky gold necklace, gold braid on her dress's shoulders, and gold decorations on these shoes (so how quickly will she grow out of them, one wonders?).

Here are some of my favorite vegetables, from William Hahn's Market Scene, Sansom Street, San Francisco (1872) - I was super pleased to be able to get detailed images of all the ethnic diversity in this, from an African American woman, to Chinese, to white agriculturalists; and of all the advertising - one can't quite make out all the lettering in reproductions that I've seen, which is frustrating, but it's a showpiece in getting students to think through Californian history (and to realize that the prevalence of kale in Californian cuisine has a long, long history).

I was very taken by all the paintings by Edwin Deakin - lots of landscapes, and also still lifes: Deakin emigrated from Sheffield (indeed, very many of the paintings demonstrate how C19th Californian art history is also a history of 1st generation immigration): here you see his reflection in the polished brass jug behind the onions.

And here's some appalling pollution! from the steam engine driving Hoag's Monitor, a monstrous wheat separator: it's from Andrew Putnam Hill's George W. Hoag's Record Wheat Harvest (1876), which is an extraordinary record of industrialized agriculture.

The Crockers were very keen on German art - and, indeed, northern European art more generally (though there wasn't a single British work on show, unless one's counting immigrants: I must find out if there are any in the collection at all).  This is the top of an extraordinary German piece, Theobald Reinhold von Oer's 1868 Allegory of Mining - both its dangers (underground) and benefits, like the refining furnace chuffing away here.  We might see industrial pollution foretold: I suspect it seemed more like profitability, at the time.

After this ... and much much more - I went on a tour of Leland Stanford's Sacramento mansion (no pictures allowed inside, alas), which reminded me that I'm looking forward to Richard White's book about Jane Stanford's murder/death that's out next month, and after a walk, returned through the Peace Garden that's part of the Capitol Park, and is full full full of roses.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Californian art

I'm on a whirlwind tour to central California to see some paintings: tomorrow in Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.  Here are some people climbing in and out of Charles Christian Nahl's Sunday Morning in the Mines (1872) which has made its way onto the side of a building - opposite it is

Much of this area of Sacramento (I'm staying on J street, convenient for the Museum and for the Amtrak station, on Friday) seems very post-pandemic closed: this may be because it was already late afternoon by the time that I drove up after a depressing drive up the 5: depressing because of the evidence both of the California water crisis - devastating seeing huge abandoned orchards of grey dead trees - and because who gets the blame for this on all the roadside placards - and the abandoned machinery in fields, with big signs saying "No Water" - but Governor Newsom.  The only visible point of view is the one that Trump promoted - that Newsom and the Democratic Senate let water "go to waste" by letting it flow to the sea (have they never heard that fish like to have water to swim in?  That low rivers cause algae to bloom, which gets into drinking water, etc?) - no mention of unsustainable amounts of deep underground pumping, or the fact that Central Valley soils aren't all that suitable for irrigation systems in the first place (etc).  

And I don't suppose this is directly related to padlocked buildings here ...

nor the flourishing of trash and graffiti here ... I realize I'm staying just by the court house, which would explain all the bail bond establishments, though.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

the poet's wife

And no, I don't know which poet, or why her or his wife is equally anonymous; nor can I find out, it would seem - one of those secrets that the David Austin website keeps to itself.  Only I did learn that she's exceptionally fragrant, which makes me very sorry I didn't stop and sniff her.  Another day; another rose photo - you might well, and correctly, surmise that I was at home almost all day - apart from a walk after dinner - because I was waiting for the plumber.  Now, with all fingers crossed, our pipes will stop wailing like a banshee.


Monday, April 25, 2022

one of our own

Wedgewood - one of our own.  I planted her last spring - bought on our first post-vaccination outing - and she was doing pretty well next to Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Poet's Wife until a pipe burst somewhere in the front yard, and she had to be uprooted while everything was dug up, and I put her in a large pot, and for a while she didn't look particularly happy.  But then she started to shoot, and bud, and I'm reluctant to move her again.  


Moth would like you to know ...

... that Gramsci is not the only cat in this house, and that she feels that his photos receive an undue amount of appreciation.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

outside the zoo

We decided not to take our usual walk down by Crystal Springs Drive when it was full of not-very-enthusiastic middle school runners semi-trotting along wearing competition numbers - there seemed to be countless multitudes of them - so we headed in the other direction, past the Zoo (and immediately vowed to come back, not at a weekend, and visit the Zoo).  There's a huge ornamental sculpture-fence of animals outside, but I can't (despite diligent searching) find out anything about it ... Then we looked hungrily up the hill, into Griffith Park proper - Alice's tendon problem (which would seem to be her anterior tibial tendon, not her Achilles, but it's still a tender tendon) is slowly improving, but not yet ready for steep paths ...


Friday, April 22, 2022

after rain

There was a sudden intense period of rain in the middle of the night - a welcome surprise for the garden.  
Then the garden had its annual shock, when the Mowers and Pruners turned up, en masse, at 8 a.m., to make it fire regulation compliant through turning most of the ground completely bare - so farewell to my inflammable poppies and wild flowers.  Not that they were doing particularly well this year, and everything regrows, and this will all pass muster when a drone flies over it to check ... but I'm still always jolted by how barren it looks.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

afternoon walk, with roses

It was fairly chilly today (by Southern California standards, that is), which meant that I could go for a walk after lunch without overheating - so took the longest road loop from our house, which means passing what's always been one of my favorite patches of roses.  They're set off against fiddlehead ferns, here - a very rural-seeming corner.

I was tidying a drawer today, and found a long-mislaid Flip video camera - with very little by way of videos on it, alas (I've always preferred taking still photos to video - no idea why) - and what is there mostly commemorates now-deceased cats.  But there are several short clips of my parents' garden, which was full - just full - of roses.  I'm hoping they'll be very much out and flourishing when I'm there next month.


buffalo, etc

To the Autry Museum today, to look at some paintings - but what really caught my eye were these buffalo chairs.  Oh! I thought. I was reading about some chair just like this a month or so ago - made especially for the Scotsman, William Drummond Stewart, of Murthly Castle, about whom I was speaking at NAVSA last month, briefly - mentioning that he imported a herd of buffalo into his Scottish estate, and noting that Millais rented his lodge at Murthly Castle just after Stewart's death - a great base, he found, for shooting and fishing.  And then I read the label - *and these are the Murthly Chairs!*

And then - this will surely fit into the same book chapter - there was Wendy Red Crow'ss wonderful installation, Token, Gold, and Glory - a commentary on hunting and also on the removal of indigenous people from their lands, especially those who were removed during the gold rush - a work about resource extraction; commodification; wealth over life; superficiality and artificiality (hence the Astroturf).

Oh, and here's an actual buffalo, too.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

flowering cactus

It's always good when these come into flower: surprising, delicate nopales opuntia - or prickly pear - flowers.  And yes, I could pick and cook the nopales, if it weren't for the fact that the "prickly" part of the name is there for a reason.  I brushed up against it a few weeks ago, and had a whole lot of tiny little spines enter my hand, one of which became decidedly uncomfortable, so I'm wary of it.  I suspect that it will have to go, when our terrace gets renovated.

In other wildlife news, there are some very noisy coyote yaps outside; there's a Great Horned Owl hooting, and not a squeak at the AirBnB.  That's how I like it.