Beijing (English) - - FEATURE - Trans­lated by Ni Weisi, Li Xia Edited by David Ball, Justin Davis Pho­tos by Liu Yu

An English-style feast of paint­ing has kicked off in Bei­jing.

The Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China (Namoc)—in­ter­na­tional Ex­change Ex­hi­bi­tion Se­ries: Land­scapes of the Mind–

Mas­ter­pieces from Tate Britain (1700-1980) has been at­tract­ing paint­ing lovers to the to part mu­seum in Bei­jing. The area from the chalky grass­lands in the Scot­tish High­lands to the south­ern Eng­land coun­try­side is abun­dant with var­ied nat­u­ral land­scapes. The rapid in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion in the 18th and 19th cen­turies caused anx­i­ety af­ter deeply al­ter­ing the ru­ral, pas­toral en­vi­ron­ment. There is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween aris­to­cratic iden­tity and clas­si­cal cul­ture. The land­scape of the Ro­man plains is an ex­am­ple. The great in­flu­ence of na­ture and mo­ral and spir­i­tual truths be­hind ap­pear­ances are also a theme in art that can be re­vealed through metic­u­lous ob­ser­va­tion.the cur­rent ap­peal­ing ex­hi­bi­tion ap­peals to Bei­jingers for many rea­sons.

These eter­nal works bring joy and in­spi­ra­tion, which can­not nec­es­sar­ily be cap­tured in the anal­y­sis of his­tory. Works with long-last­ing sig­nif­i­cance are not just ex­hibits at an ex­hi­bi­tion.

Art of­ten touches the heart. It can of­ten ex­tend be­yond a piece it­self and res­onate in other ways. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, watch­ing movies and read­ing books is re­fresh­ing amidst the hus­tle and bus­tle of mod­ern life.

The Scot­tish High­lands and the Welsh Moun­tains, the vast fields of East Anglia... Po­etic paint­ings rep­re­sent mo­ments that Bri­tish land­scapes that have been frozen in time at their best. The del­i­cate brush­strokes of clas­sic works such as “Con­tem­pla­tion” and “Nor­wich Mar­ket” en­com­pass pas­toral Bri­tish beauty. Turner's and Con­sta­ble's mas­ter­pieces fea­ture unique in­spi­ra­tion. Mod­ern English land­scape paint­ings are of­ten in­vig­o­rat­ing.

From Septem­ber to Novem­ber this year, the Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China and the Tate Britain are jointly host­ing the “NAMOC In­ter­na­tional Ex­change Ex­hi­bi­tion Se­ries: Land­scapes of the Mind–mas­ter­pieces from Tate Britain (1700-1980)” at the NAMOC. The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures nearly 70 Bri­tish land­scape paint­ings from the 18th cen­tury, in­clud­ing oil paint­ings, wa­ter­colours and oth­ers, as well as a va­ri­ety of styles and eras from the tra­di­tional to the mod­ern, in­clud­ing the works of fa­mous pain­ters such as Gains­bor­ough, Turner, Con­sta­ble, Thomas Girtin, Cozens fa­ther and son, Pre-raphaelite Mil­lais, as well as im­pres­sion­ist, sur­re­al­ist and mod­ernist avant-garde pain­ters. Be­gin­ning with tra­di­tional 18th cen­tury geo­graph­i­cal paint­ings and clas­si­cal paint­ings, the ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures works from the clas­si­cal to the mod­ern and from the spe­cific to the mul­ti­cul­tural over three hun­dred years.

Tate Britain was the first of the four Tate mu­se­ums in the UK. It is fa­mous for col­lect­ing and dis­play­ing Bri­tish paint­ings and mod­ern art from var­i­ous coun­tries since the 15th cen­tury. Land­scapes have al­ways been a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to vis­ual arts in the UK. World-renowned artists in­clud­ing

Thomas Gains­bor­ough, Ge­orge Stubbs and Joseph Mal­lord Wil­liam Turner are the crème de la crème in land­scape paint­ing. Their land­scape paint­ings un­der­score the pro­jec­tion of the in­ner world of hu­man be­ings into na­ture, which is sim­i­lar to the as­pi­ra­tions and in­ter­ests of tra­di­tional Chi­nese land­scape pain­ters. At first, how­ever, land­scapes only ap­peared as back­grounds for por­traits. It was not un­til about 1700 that peo­ple be­gan to take in­ter­est in the land­scape it­self as a sub­ject. Land­scapes may be cre­ated purely from one's imag­i­na­tion or may de­pict a real area. By the 18th cen­tury, land­scape paint­ings had shaken the dom­i­nance of por­trai­ture in Bri­tish art since the 16th cen­tury. From small wa­ter­colours to huge oil paint­ings on can­vas, peo­ple's in­ter­est in land­scapes be­gan to in­crease.

Some artists left their fam­i­lies for a while to travel around the UK and Europe. They painted land­scapes at home and abroad based on their travel ex­pe­ri­ences and brought land­scape paint­ings to the peo­ple around them. In the 19th cen­tury, the Bri­tish Empire con­tin­ued to ex­pand, and peo­ple be­gan to cast their cu­ri­ous eyes to In­dia and be­yond. The scenery that was de­picted on can­vas was rich and var­ied. Lo­cal Bri­tish land­scapes, and es­pe­cially scenery in towns, is most in­ter­est­ing to artists and buy­ers and has be­come an on­go­ing theme.

By the 20th cen­tury, Bri­tish land­scape art had ex­pe­ri­enced con­tin­u­ous changes, which em­pow­ered it with vi­tal­ity and un­ex­pected new pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Gaz­ing and Dream­ing

De­pict­ing the scenery of a spe­cific place and cre­at­ing ideal scenery us­ing one's mind: Bri­tish land­scape art is based on these two meth­ods.

Driven by the sci­en­tific rev­o­lu­tion in the 17th cen­tury, artists be­gan to de­pict the nat­u­ral world in de­tail. Drift­ing clouds, scat­tered stones, flow­ers and trees were cap­tured by pain­ters. Dutch artist Jan Siberechts (1627–1700) spent his artis­tic ca­reer in the UK and pi­o­neered this form of ex­pres­sion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion at the NAMOC fea­tures “Land­scape with Rain­bow, Hen­ley-on-thames,” which was painted by Jan Siberechts around 1690. The Thames is re­garded by the Bri­tish as their most im­por­tant river. It passes through the cen­tre of Lon­don and emp­ties into the North Sea. This paint­ing de­picts a busy town on the banks of the Thames. The work may have been com­mis­sioned by a lo­cal busi­ness­man to cap­ture the town's fields, wharf, malt work­shops and boom­ing mar­kets. The two rain­bows in the paint­ing add a dra­matic touch to the work and sym­bol­ise grow­ing in­ter­est in sci­en­tific re­search of the nat­u­ral world at the time. In the 1660s, Siberechts brought his land­scape art skills to the United King­dom, which was ea­ger to have its charm­ing scenery cap­tured and to cel­e­brate its pros­per­ity.

Ge­orge Stubbs was also af­fected by this trend. He made land­scape art that of­ten fea­tured horses. In 1766, Stubbs' book The Anatomy of the Horse was pub­lished. He per­son­ally painted the fine de­tails of a horse with fine brush­strokes, made etch­ings and printed them into books. Stubbs had al­most mo­nop­o­lised the horse paint­ing mar­ket and did busi­ness with aris­to­crats ob­sessed with breed­ing horses, rac­ing horses and bet­ting on them.

This is ev­i­denced by his metic­u­lously crafted paint­ing “Otho, with John Larkin up.” Otho is a dark brown male horse who was owned by the Earl of Up­per Os­sory. In 1767, Otho won sev­eral races in the town of New­mar­ket, Suf­folk, the birth­place of thor­ough­bred horserac­ing, and gained con­sid­er­able fame. The paint­ing de­picts jockey John Larkin mounted on Otho near a sta­ble. New­mar­ket is in the back­ground.

At the time that land­scape be­came more com­mon in the Bri­tish art world, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal forces in the UK were ex­pand­ing rapidly. The pain­ters and art col­lec­tors had a sense of pride in the past and present of the coun­try. This pride gives peo­ple the im­pulse to fully de­pict the coun­try in de­tail.

Paint­ings in­volv­ing land­scapes paint­ings can also de­pict peo­ple in na­ture. Joseph Wright (17341797) cre­ated a paint­ing in which an aris­to­crat stood near a for­est stream. The scenery is redo­lent of Der­byshire in Cen­tral Eng­land. He held Di­a­logues:

Rousseau, Judge of Jean-jacques with his friend the Swiss philoso­pher JeanJac­ques Rousseau. The book was pub­lished in 1780. The paint­ing de­picts Rousseau's views on the har­mo­nious co­ex­is­tence of man and na­ture through the re­laxed con­tem­pla­tive ges­ture of the am­a­teur Busby.

As a pi­o­neer of mod­ern Bri­tish land­scape paint­ings in the 1760s, Wright con­ducted iconic sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments and cre­ated new in­dus­trial land­scape paint­ings. His works of­ten fea­ture a vi­o­lent con­trast be­tween light and dark, cre­at­ing a sense of drama.

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures such paint­ings as “A Wind­ing Es­tu­ary,” “nor­wich Mar­ket,” “The Rev John Chafy Play­ing a Cello” and “Boy Driv­ing Cows near a Pool.”

Clas­si­cism and Ro­man­ti­cism

Clas­si­cal land­scapes call to mind the works of two great French pain­ters, Claude Lor­rain and Ni­co­las Poussin, who cre­ated paint­ings in Rome in the 17th cen­tury. Their works usu­ally adopted Latin and Bib­li­cal themes, fea­tur­ing har­mo­nious com­po­si­tion and pro­found lit­er­ary and mo­ral sig­nif­i­cance. In the 17th and 18th cen­turies, Bri­tish tourists brought back sam­ples of many paint­ings of the two from Italy. These be­came pop­u­lar among the up­per class like wind blow­ing through the land.

Richard Wil­son skill­fully con­tin­ued the style of Claude Lor­rain and Ni­co­las Poussin when de­pict­ing the Bri­tish land­scape and the Ro­man land­scape. Peo­ple who painted dur­ing this pe­riod were no longer con­fined to the use of brushes to re­pro­duce aris­to­cratic Bri­tish manors, such as Stour­head, and be­gan to ex­plore sub­jects such as tem­ples and lakes.

Ro­man­tic land­scape paint­ings were born at the end of the 18th cen­tury. They chal­lenge clas­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics that fo­cus on bal­ance and aes­thet­ics. Artists as a group gen­er­ally like chal­lenges. Pain­ters be­gan to re­think ev­ery­thing around them and look for themes that blend with na­ture. Haz­ardous nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non such as storms and earthquake­s even­tu­ally be­came com­mon themes in land­scape paint­ings.

Joseph Mal­lord Wil­liam Turner is the most out­stand­ing of these pain­ters. The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures “The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons.” He utilised ex­treme asym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tion to ex­press the great power of an avalanche as it rushes down a slope. Turner vis­ited the area in 1802. He may have been in­spired by the Grisons avalanche in 1810 though, which claimed the lives of 25 peo­ple. Turner de­picted the rich tex­ture of the ice and snow in the paint­ing. Stand­ing in front of the paint­ing, one feels the solemn feel­ing of the great de­struc­tive power of na­ture.

John Martin may have had the most ex­treme ro­man­tic ap­proach. He is cel­e­brated for his Bi­b­li­cally-themed paint­ings, which de­pict a world that will be de­stroyed by the wrath of the God. Although some crit­ics re­gard his

paint­ings as vul­gar, this does not prevent peo­ple from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also fea­tures

“The De­struc­tion of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum,” which was cre­ated by John Martin in 1822 and re­stored in 2011. In 79 AD, the Ve­su­vius vol­cano on the coast of Naples seemed to erupt with anger. Her­cu­la­neum on the lower slope was covered with lava, and Pom­peii to the right was buried. Martin painted the dis­as­ter in great de­tail. Fright­ened peo­ple can be seen run­ning to the ground. Fiery red magma is in the fore­ground, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the sky, as if hear­ing the light­ning and thun­der above.

“Chain Pier, Brighton,” which was painted by John Con­sta­ble, cools the eyes af­ter hav­ing seen hot magma. Brighton is a re­sort on the south coast of the UK. It be­came pop­u­lar un­der the in­flu­ence of Ge­orge IV in the early 19th cen­tury. The per­spec­tive in the paint­ing fol­lows the beach and ex­tends into the dis­tance. The left side of the paint­ing fea­tures the sea­side prom­e­nade. The Chain Pier that was built in 1823 is lo­cated di­rectly ahead. Mod­ern leisure and tra­di­tional fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are oc­cur­ring un­der the vast and dark sky, form­ing a stark con­trast. Ev­ery­thing seems busy but or­derly.

It is said that this kind of sce­nario can fas­ci­nate pain­ters but may cause them to be world-weary. This paint­ing dif­fers in sub­ject from most of Con­sta­ble's paint­ings. He only went to Brighton be­cause he ac­com­pa­nied his wife who was ill. He pre­ferred paint­ing the scenery of the Bri­tish main­land, es­pe­cially land­scapes in his home­town Es­sex and Suf­folk. When he de­picts the scenes he loves, his brush strokes feel dif­fer­ent.

Late Mod­ern Land­scape Paint­ings

Land­scape paint­ings record peo­ple's evolv­ing views of na­ture. They emerged and de­vel­oped in the Mid­dle Ages and have be­come part of hu­man­ity's re­la­tion­ship with na­ture. In the 1950s and 1960s, many Bri­tish artists quickly changed their land­scape paint­ings in re­sponse to daz­zling changes in Euro­pean and Amer­i­can art.

Peter Lanyon used the large scale and dy­namic paint­ing tech­niques of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism to de­pict the nat­u­ral land­scapes in his home county of Cornwall. The paint­ing has a sub­tle mood and de­picts his love of the county. Many of his works are in­spired by the ex­pe­ri­ence of glid­ing sports. The dy­namic char­ac­ters in­ject move­ment and vi­tal­ity into his land­scape paint­ings.

In Mark Boyle's orig­i­nal works, the in­flu­ence of con­cep­tual art can be seen. He mas­tered a mys­te­ri­ous tech­nique that ac­cu­rately por­trays Lon­don's side­walks. While he was busy with this method, artists such as Richard Long and John Hil­liard aban­doned paint­ing and used pho­tog­ra­phy and text to present their thoughts about land­scapes.

Long had a whim­si­cal mind and made sculp­tures us­ing ma­te­ri­als such as wood and stone that he col­lected dur­ing his trav­els around the world. Un­prece­dented in­no­va­tion has a re­fresh­ing feel. Many artists con­tinue to use tra­di­tional meth­ods to ex­press tra­di­tional themes though. One ex­am­ple is “An English Oak Tree,” which is an oil paint­ing that was cre­ated by Stephen Mckenna.

Bri­tish artists con­tinue to cre­ate land­scape paint­ings. They have var­ied sub­jects, and their paint­ings are done in dif­fer­ent styles. They are cre­at­ing a new chap­ter in the his­tory of Bri­tish land­scape art.

Artists can cap­ture and de­pict spe­cific mo­ments and con­dense eter­nal feel­ings.

Movie di­rec­tors com­bine a va­ri­ety of artis­tic lan­guages. His­tory is cap­tured in some of the old movies that have been made. A mo­ment in time can be pre­served. In­ter­pre­ta­tions of art may change as time passes. Some of these ideas are re­lated to the fol­low­ing movies.

Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring Soft Light in the Dark

The al­lur­ing Scar­lett Jo­hans­son per­formed roles of grown-up women when she was less than 20 years old. In the movie Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring, she stars as a young girl named Griet, who is a maid at the home of the pain­ter Jo­hannes Ver­meer. Ver­meer lives with his wife and mother-in-law. They are of­ten ar­ro­gant and cre­ate a harsh and op­pres­sive at­mos­phere. Griet had to bow and scrape be­fore them.

Ver­meer's paint­ings bring a bit of fun to Griet's life. She talked to Ver­meer about ideas re­lated to paint­ing and the two de­vel­oped a rap­port. Griet knew that there would be no ma­jor out­come to this ar­range­ment, but she was will­ing to serve as a model for him. She silently en­dured Ver­meer pierc­ing her ear, plac­ing his wife's pearl ear­ring into it and paint­ing the beauty of the mo­ment.

The story and char­ac­ters are a lit­tle weak in the movie, but a lot of de­tails about the life of the pain­ter are por­trayed. The tex­ture and colour of oil paint­ings in the film are in­ter­est­ing also. Peo­ple who watch the movie have a sim­i­lar feel­ing as peo­ple who ob­serve the paint­ing of the same name by 17th cen­tury Dutch pain­ter Jo­hannes Ver­meer in 1665.

The orig­i­nal paint­ing de­picts a girl wear­ing brown clothes and a yel­low and blue head­scarf, with out­stand­ing de­meanor. She has a calm and un­hur­ried ex­pres­sion, wish­ing to speak but stop­ping on sec­ond thought. The ex­pres­sion on her small face is im­pal­pa­bly sub­tle and melan­choly. The pic­ture fea­tures an all-black back­ground, high­light­ing the out­line of the girl. Aglance to the side is a glim­mer of can­dle­light, quiet and gen­tle. The ear­ring in the film is like the teardrop-shaped pearl ear­ring worn on the girl's left ear in the paint­ing. Pearls of­ten sym­bol­ise chastity in Ver­meer's paint­ings.

The era in which the paint­ing was cre­ated pro­vides back story in the film. The mid-17th cen­tury was a spe­cial pe­riod in which Dutch cul­ture and art grad­u­ally lost its cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics. Peo­ple also be­came more demo­cratic and freer to a greater ex­tent un­der the emerg­ing cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem of the Nether­lands dur­ing this pe­riod. Art rid it­self of the shack­les of re­li­gion and the court be­came open to sec­u­lar life. The emerg­ing bour­geoise bought a wealth of oil paint­ings in a show of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion and to beau­tify their liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments. At this time, pain­ters no longer paid at­ten­tion to ma­jor so­cial themes but in­stead turned their eyes to de­pict­ing the de­tails of life. This hap­pened to cater to the aes­thetic tastes of the bour­geoisie and the civic class. “Small Dutch paint­ings” came into be­ing in such an at­mos­phere. Ver­meer is one of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of this school. “Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring” was cre­ated dur­ing this time. It is said that the hero­ine in the pic­ture is his first daugh­ter Maria. She was only 14 years at the time and was a model.

Camille Claudel Time­less Love

In the film Camille Claudel, French ac­tor Gérard Depar­dieu (1948–present) stars as the world-renowned sculp­tor Au­guste Rodin (1840–1917), cre­ator of the sculp­ture “The Thinker.“When­ever Rodin is men­tioned, peo­ple would ad­mire both his artis­tic tal­ent as well as his lover Camille Claudel (1864–1943, a French sculp­tor), who played an es­sen­tial role in his art and per­sonal life and is played by Is­abelle Ad­jani (1955–present) in the film.

Camille, Rodin's most ca­pa­ble stu­dent and as­sis­tant, had unimag­in­able nat­u­ral gifts and pas­sion in such a tiny fig­ure, with some even be­liev­ing that she was more testos­terone-filled than Rodin him­self. Yet, when Camille chan­nelled her love of sculp­ture into Rodin and be­came his lover, she be­came more fem­i­nine. Their crazy yet pas­sion­ate love hurt Camille, who was tor­tured emo­tion­ally for 30 years and faced a life of suf­fer­ing and dif­fi­cul­ties.

Camille's life and artis­tic tal­ent was over­shad­owed by the renowned Rodin, and thus her work has been un­fairly ne­glected. Yet it can­not be doubted that she was in­cred­i­bly gifted. A bust of Rodin, cre­ated by Camille from mem­ory, is con­sid­ered the finest bust of the artist and is an un­re­pro­ducible trea­sure cre­ated from their deep love. The years Rodin spent with Camille were the most pro­duc­tive pe­riod through­out his long life. Dur­ing that time, his works reached a higher level, as ev­i­denced by his most fa­mous work: “The Thinker.“

Some ar­gue that the film Camille Claudel re­veals the other side of Rodin, namely his self­ish­ness, ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity and even vul­gar­ity, although de­spite this, he tries his best to help Camille and her fam­ily. In the film, Camille's brother, Paul Claudel (1868–1955, a French poet, drama­tist and diplo­mat) is able to join the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs thanks to Rodin's help. Paul later be­comes a fa­mous poet and play­wright of the Postro­man­ti­cism pe­riod, works as the French Am­bas­sador to Japan and stays in China for 14 years—all be­cause of Rodin.

Rodin bridged both Ro­man­ti­cism and Mod­ernism. In his book L'art, he cites a poem by Vic­tor Hugo (1802– 1885), stat­ing “women's mus­cle is an ideal clay, it is a mir­a­cle.” Con­sid­er­ing the artis­tic skill of Rodin, it is pos­si­ble to gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of these words af­ter watch­ing the film Camille Claudel.

Car­avag­gio Blend­ing Re­al­ity and Fan­tasy

Ital­ian pain­ter Michelan­gelo Merisi da Car­avag­gio (1571–1610) was born in Car­avag­gio Vil­lage in Italy's Lom­bar­dia re­gion, a place which be­came fa­mous be­cause of him. When peo­ple think of Car­avag­gio, a pi­o­neer of Baroque art, they of­ten will think of Diony­sus hold­ing a bas­ket of ripe fruit or David hold­ing the head of Go­liath in his hands. On one hand, he loved to paint male mod­els and on the other, he killed a man to take re­venge on a pros­ti­tute; he loved filthy re­al­ity but also de­picted noble, sa­cred scenes. He lived a full life, was looked on favourably by spon­sors and the art world, but he never es­caped his image of be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual, vi­o­lent, mur­der­ous and an out­law and died alone in his 30s.

Bri­tish avant-garde di­rec­tor Derek Jar­man (1942–1994) was also a pain­ter. Out of rev­er­ence for and in­ter­est in the life of this great artist, he di­rected the bio­graph­i­cal film Car­avag­gio in 1986. The film high­lights the crazy side of Car­avag­gio and also records sev­eral ir­ra­tional episodes from his life in a some­what ex­ag­ger­ated man­ner.

Derek Jar­man was very fa­mil­iar with the life and works of Car­avag­gio. For this rea­son, he was able to de­sign the struc­ture of the film eas­ily, use var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als freely, and play with time and space, to make au­di­ences think deeply as they watched the movie. At the be­gin­ning of the film, the di­rec­tor uses in­ter­laced nar­ra­tive with cau­tion, pre­sent­ing the episodic mem­o­ries of a dy­ing Car­avag­gio along with his short, tur­bu­lent life through mon­tage. The oil paint­ing-like pic­tures present scenes of many of his fa­mous works, fol­lowed by the di­rec­tor's un­re­strained stream of con­scious­ness, with idio­syn­cratic touches such as a cal­cu­la­tor, car horn and type­writer ap­pear­ing ran­domly.

With a unique theme, the film rep­re­sents the di­rec­tor's deep un­der­stand­ing of sex, crime and art, thus bring­ing a fresh per­spec­tive. Us­ing var­i­ous “tricks,” the di­rec­tor suc­cess­fully com­bines film and paint­ing with the

most im­por­tant el­e­ments in Car­avag­gio's life, thereby nar­rat­ing how he lived. By telling Car­avag­gio's story, Derek Jar­man was ac­tu­ally shout­ing about his own short yet tur­bu­lent life as a gay man. As one of the big­gest gross­ing films of 1986 in Britain, the film also won the Sil­ver Bear for out­stand­ing sin­gle achieve­ment at the Ber­lin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in the same year.

Mr. Turner Un­der­stand­ing Light

Fa­mous English Ro­man­tic pain­ter Wil­liam Turner (1775–1851) was billed as a “pain­ter of light” and the “Shake­speare of land­scape paint­ing.” Show­ing a tal­ent for draw­ing at the young age of 10, Turner later en­tered the Royal Academy of Arts for pro­fes­sional train­ing. He shot to fame with his first oil paint­ing ”Fish­er­men at Sea” and soon emerged as a key leader in Bri­tish art cir­cles. When he was just 26, he was ad­mit­ted by the Royal Academy of Arts as its youngest ever mem­ber. In his later years, es­pe­cially af­ter the 1840s, Turner de­voted him­self to the ex­plo­ration of forms and colours. He used food ma­te­ri­als, saliva and other unimag­in­able pig­ments in his paint­ings, even strug­gling to get up and copy a paint­ing of a fe­male corpse whilst ly­ing on his deathbed.

The film Mr. Turner be­gins in 1826, when Turner was al­ready 51. No one knows ex­actly how the artist looked and char­ac­ter ac­tor Timothy Spall (1957– present) por­trays Turner as a grumpy, sullen old man with a chaotic pri­vate life. Spall builds the ec­cen­tric char­ac­ter of the pain­ter with well-de­signed mum­ble, snore and bravado.

Af­ter An­other Year and Se­crets and Lies, this is an­other dis­tinc­tive film by the English writer and di­rec­tor Mike Leigh (1943–present). Triv­ial and or­di­nary life de­tails are brought to­gether to shape a strong sense of drama and des­tiny, and a quiet nar­ra­tive is used to shape the char­ac­ters. Mike Leigh casts his eyes on the sim­ple and even soli­tary per­sonal life of Turner. Be­hind the around-the­clock travel and cre­ation of the artist, we can see his two lovers and his fa­ther, who all in­flu­enced him greatly.

The great­est suc­cess of the film may be that it shows peo­ple how Turner grasped “light.” In his works, as his scenes of light be­come more and more blurred, er­ratic and in­dis­tinct, they show a great power that pierces into peo­ple's hearts. In his shots, Mike Leigh de­lib­er­ately im­i­tates the land­scapes and com­po­si­tions of Turner's works. He also uses moon­lit shad­ows to make for a vague, long-sighted and ex­pan­sive pic­ture, as well as re­veal an un­ex­pected tran­quil­ity be­neath the fierce winds and clouds, thus re­pro­duc­ing the charm of Turner's works.

In this film, au­di­ences can ap­pre­ci­ate the ma­jor paint­ings of Turner, wit­ness his re­lent­less artis­tic pur­suit, and feel his sen­si­tiv­ity and sen­si­bil­ity as an artist. When Turner's fa­ther dies, the di­rec­tor uses a sim­ple long shot to ex­press the artist's sor­row and lone­li­ness. He rows a boat on a lake sur­rounded by forests, with faint mist lin­ger­ing over the wa­ter and lush

flow­ers and grass on the lake­side, giv­ing the au­di­ence a sense of soli­tude. The use of close-up re­flects a con­cept of Turner's, namely “ex­press­ing in­tense emo­tion and tragedy through pic­tures and shadow.”

Séraphine Ce­les­tial Paint­ings

Art is a ne­ces­sity of life, just like bread, wine or a win­ter coat. Peo­ple who see art as a lux­ury only see part of life—art sat­is­fies spir­i­tual needs, just as food sat­is­fies phys­i­cal needs. Com­pared with the pro­tag­o­nists of the films men­tioned above, the fe­male house­keeper in Séraphine looks hum­ble, but she is also an artist who grasps the art of light.

The film Séraphine fol­lows the life of a plain-look­ing, unso­cia­ble mid­dle-aged woman called Séraphine Louis, who lives in the town of Sen­lis near Paris be­fore the First World War. She works as a house­keeper for a Madame Duphot, spend­ing her days clean­ing the house and wash­ing clothes. De­spite her mea­ger in­come, she spends ev­ery­thing she earns on paint­ing ma­te­ri­als and all her spare time on paint­ing. Wil­helm Uhde, a Ger­man art col­lec­tor and ad­vo­cate of “naive art,” rents an apart­ment be­long­ing to Madame Duphot. Im­pressed by Séraphine's works, Uhde buys all her paint­ings and en­cour­ages her to con­tinue her cre­ation. When the First World War breaks out, Séraphine stays in the town alone and con­tin­ues to paint. For all the hard­ships she en­coun­ters, she none­the­less main­tains her vi­tal­ity in paint­ing which dis­play a bizarre in­no­cence and re­serve in ex­ag­ger­a­tion. In her works, flow­ers move like worms and fruit ap­pears like wounded eyes.

Séraphine ex­plains to Uhde why she de­cided to paint. In 1905, a guardian an­gel told her in a dream that she should pick up a paint­brush. From then on, her nights are longer than her days. When­ever she picks up a brush, she leaves the “present” and her soul starts to mi­grate; when paint­ing, she is no longer a house­cleaner, but rather a per­son as noble as Uhde.

French di­rec­tor Martin Provost (1957–present) wrote: “Soon af­ter I saw Séraphine's paint­ings, I read about the story of her life. Since then, I of­ten imag­ined her sit­ting on the floor of her lit­tle room and rack­ing her brain mix­ing pig­ments, de­vot­ing her­self to art as if sub­ject to some great power.” The scene made Provost think of Bel­gian ac­tress Yolande Moreau (1953–present), who played a mime artist in the film Paris, I Love You. Martin be­lieved that he could cap­ture the mys­ti­cal power that ran through Séraphine's life with the help of the su­perb act­ing skills of Yolande Moreau.

A good story, a tal­ented ac­tress and an in­sight­ful di­rec­tor, com­bined with hard work, made the film pos­si­ble. Fi­nally, Séraphine won the Best Film, Best Ac­tress, Best Orig­i­nal Screen­play, Best Mu­sic Writ­ten for a Film, Best Cin­e­matog­ra­phy, Best Pro­duc­tion De­sign and Best Cos­tume De­sign at the 2009 César Awards in France, and was also nom­i­nated for Best Di­rec­tor and Best Sound awards. The greater sig­nif­i­cance of the film is that it en­ables au­di­ences to ap­pre­ci­ate the power of art, which lifts a per­son out of the mud of life and gives light to oth­er­wise un­ro­man­tic lives.

“Fine art,” or more broadly “art,” has an enig­matic charm which most peo­ple like to be near to and talk about. Paint­ing, sculp­ture and all other art forms make ex­cel­lent sub­jects for books. The de­vel­op­ment of art can be sum­marised into his­tor­i­cal episodes and ex­pounded on via the writ­ten word. With no colours or sound, words can de­scribe trace­able yet in­fin­itely ab­stract tech­niques, and cap­ture recog­nised con­cepts and un­re­peated artis­tic in­spi­ra­tions.

The His­tory of Western Art

The best way to learn about an art­work is to view it with one's own eyes and com­pare it with oth­ers. It is said that when view­ing a piece of art, it is best to stand within five me­tres of it. One can squint to ob­serve it closely, study it with eyes wide open and ex­pe­ri­ence it with a calm mind, and wait for it to re­veal some­thing to you.

How­ever, the most con­ve­nient way to learn about art is from books writ­ten by ex­perts. The His­tory of Western Art is an ex­cel­lent choice for any­one in­ter­ested in the world of art. First pub­lished by the China Youth Pub­lish­ing Group in 1983, the book was writ­ten by Chi Ke (1925–2012), a life­time pro­fes­sor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and chair­man of the Guang­dong Aes­thet­ics As­so­ci­a­tion. Chi Ke be­gins with the ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery of prim­i­tive art, then ex­pounds on the Euro­pean Re­nais­sance and mod­ern schools of art. In chap­ters about western mas­ters of fine arts, the au­thor in­tro­duces both their life sto­ries and cre­ative en­deav­our, and also analy­ses their works from the per­spec­tive of their artis­tic value.

It is im­pos­si­ble for books on art his­tory to fully en­hance read­ers' artis­tic tastes if they only touch upon thoughts and sto­ries while ne­glect­ing artis­tic tech­niques. For this rea­son, the au­thor of this book also dis­cusses tech­niques and the de­vel­op­ment of these var­i­ous tech­niques. While com­ment­ing on these art­works, it is nec­es­sary to re­fer to the opin­ions of both the cre­ators them­selves and western art crit­ics. There­fore, when it comes to ex­plain­ing art­works or schools, Chi Ke opts to ex­am­ine the opin­ions of the artists them­selves or con­tem­po­rary crit­ics, seek­ing to make the book more per­sua­sive. The artis­tic ac­com­plish­ment and aes­thet­ics of an au­thor also af­fect the se­lec­tion of opin­ions.

As a pop­u­lar book on the his­tory of western fine arts, this work fea­tures vivid lan­guage and in­ter­est­ing con­tent. It helps read­ers gain a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of the de­vel­op­ment of western fine arts and of­fers non-ex­perts some ba­sic and nec­es­sary knowl­edge. The book, writ­ten in a time when the­o­ret­i­cal works on art were not as widely-avail­able as they are to­day, still re­tains a spe­cial charm.

L’ Art

Au­guste Rodin was an out­stand­ing re­al­ism sculp­tor from France. Hav­ing started to learn paint­ing at age 14, he took classes from an­i­mal sculp­tor An­toine-louis Barye (1795– 1875) at age 18 and from 1840–70, worked in the stu­dio of fa­mous sculp­tor Al­bertErnest Car­rier-belleuse (1824–1887). In 1875, he trav­elled around Italy and stud­ied the works of Donatello (1386–1466, an Ital­ian sculp­tor), Ghib­erti (1378–1455, a Floren­tine Ital­ian artist), Michelan­gelo (1475–1564, an Ital­ian sculp­tor, pain­ter, ar­chi­tect and poet) and other mas­ters. In this way, he broke away from academia and es­tab­lished an artis­tic method of re­al­ism, trans­form­ing the land­scape of sculp­ture. Based on his per­sonal un­der­stand­ing and deep feel­ings as a sculp­tor, he used di­verse tech­niques to shape artis­tic im­ages with vigour and vi­tal­ity, en­dow­ing them with pro­found psy­cho­log­i­cal con­cepts and so­cial mean­ing.

Look­ing back over Rodin's life, we can see how his works, such as “The Age of

Bronze,““The Gates of Hell,““The Burghers of Calais,““The Thinker,““Mon­u­ment to Vic­tor Hugo,““Mon­u­ment to Balzac,““The Kiss“and “Eve“en­able view­ers to grasp the beauty of art. We can also feel the sig­nif­i­cant im­pact Rodin had on the de­vel­op­ment of sculp­ture around the world.

In his later years, Rodin looked back over his im­pres­sive ex­pe­ri­ences and achieve­ments and wrote the book

L'art. Start­ing from “re­al­ism in art,” the book in­clude chap­ters on top­ics such as: move­ment in art, sketch­ing and colours, fem­i­nine beauty, an­cient peo­ple and mod­ern peo­ple, the ide­ol­ogy and mys­tery of art, Phidias (480–430 BC, a Greek sculp­tor, pain­ter, and ar­chi­tect) and Michelan­gelo, as well as the con­tri­bu­tions of var­i­ous artists. In the book, Rodin ex­pounded on his un­der­stand­ing of gen­eral ques­tions re­lated to artis­tic cre­ation, his opin­ions on the laws of sculpt­ing and his com­ments on artists and their cre­ations. Sim­ply put, the book re­flects the artis­tic views and aes­thetic thoughts of Rodin.

Thanks to a trans­la­tion by Fu Lei (19081966, a fa­mous Chi­nese trans­la­tor and art critic), Chi­nese read­ers can also get ac­cess to the knowl­edge con­tained in the book.

Twenty Lec­tures on World Mas­ter­pieces of Fine Art

In his youth, Fu Lei had worked in as a teacher of art his­tory in the Shang­hai Art Academy. His lec­ture notes from this pe­riod were later re­vised into a com­plete book ti­tled Twenty Lec­tures on World Mas­ter­pieces of Fine Art.

The book in­tro­duces nearly 20 mas­ters since the Re­nais­sance and their works, such as Giotto (1267–1337, an Ital­ian pain­ter and ar­chi­tect), Donatello, Bot­ti­celli (1445–1510, an Ital­ian pain­ter), Da Vinci (1452–1519, an Ital­ian Re­nais­sance poly­math), Michelan­gelo, Raf­faello (1483–1520, a sculp­tor and ar­chi­tect), Bernini (1598–1680, an Ital­ian sculp­tor and ar­chi­tect), Rem­brandt (1606–1669, a Dutch draughts­man, pain­ter and print­maker), Rubens (1577–1640, a Flem­ish artist), Velázquez (1599–1660, a Span­ish pain­ter), Poussin (1594–1665, the lead­ing pain­ter of the French Baroque style), Greuze (1725–1805, a French pain­ter), Diderot (1713–1784, a French philoso­pher, art critic and writer), Reynolds (1723–1792, an English pain­ter), and Gains­bor­ough (1727–1788, an English por­trait and land­scape pain­ter). With an easy-tounder­stand ap­proach, the au­thor ex­plains dif­fer­ent artis­tic styles and mo­ral qual­i­ties com­bined with thoughts on lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic, phi­los­o­phy, so­ci­ety and the times, mak­ing the book an in­ter­est­ing read.

In 2007, the Jiangsu Lit­er­a­ture and Art Pub­lish­ing House re­vised the book and pub­lished a col­lec­tor's edi­tion, fea­tur­ing high-def­i­ni­tion il­lus­tra­tions, printed in full-colour on spe­cial pa­per. In this way, read­ers can truly feel the art world ex­pressed by Fu Lei.

Lust for Life

There are many artists with unique per­son­al­i­ties and dif­fi­cult life ex­pe­ri­ences, but Vin­cent van Gogh (1853–1890, a Dutch Post-im­pres­sion­ist pain­ter) is per­haps the most renowned of such peo­ple.

In his youth, Van Gogh got a job as an art dealer for Goupil & Cie through fam­ily con­nec­tions. Dur­ing that pe­riod, he loved read­ing and the nat­u­ral land­scape and started a cor­re­spon­dence with his brother that lasted his whole life. Later, he be­came ob­sessed with re­li­gious be­liefs and even went to Britain in the hope of be­com­ing a mis­sion­ary. Yet such a dream was not to be. It was then that Van Gogh found his deep pas­sion for paint­ing, which burned for his en­tire life. As he once said: “As long as I work hard, I be­lieve there is noth­ing show­ing that my paint­ings are not good. I'm not a per­son who works slowly and is filled with wor­ries. Paint­ing has be­come a pas­sion in my life, and I am im­mersed in it. Noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble to a will­ing mind...” In 1882, 29-year-old Vin­cent van Gogh dreamt that he could achieve some­thing through paint­ing. Fi­nally, he be­came one of the great­est artists in the world in the 19th cen­tury, cre­at­ing much-loved paint­ings in­clud­ing ”Sun­flow­ers,” ”Starry Night Over the Rhone” and ”Self-por­trait.”

What kind of life did Van Gogh lead in his pur­suit of suc­cess? Amer­i­can writer Irv­ing Stone (1903–1989) an­swered this ques­tion in the book Lust for Life. Stone was a fa­mous bio­graph­i­cal writer who went on to write 25 bio­graph­i­cal nov­els, on such his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural fig­ures as Jack Lon­don (an Amer­i­can nov­el­ist), Michelan­gelo, Freud (1856–1939, Aus­trian neu­rol­o­gist and founder of psy­cho­anal­y­sis), Dar­win (1809– 1882, English nat­u­ral­ist, ge­ol­o­gist and bi­ol­o­gist) and oth­ers. Lust for Life was writ­ten in 1929 when the au­thor was only 26 years old, and Vin­cent van Gogh was not well­known. Stone recorded Van Gogh's love for life through his ex­pe­ri­ences. He was a man who de­voted him­self to art, bold in­no­va­tion and ex­ten­sive learn­ing, thus form­ing his unique artis­tic style and cre­at­ing works filled with pas­sion and hu­man­ism. Irv­ing Stone be­lieved that the most valu­able things are not the achieve­ments of renowned fig­ures but the process of their pur­suits and ex­plo­rations. That is why the book high­lights Van Gogh's an­guish, sor­row, sym­pa­thy and hope.

“The De­struc­tion of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum (1822),“by John Martin


“Otho, with John Larkin up (1768),“by Ge­orge Stubbs

“Nor­wich Mar­ket (1809),” by John Sell Cot­man

“Por­trait of Sir Brooke Boothby (1781),” by Joseph Wright

“The Dis­carded Tin Ore (1959)” by Peter Lanyon


A scene from the film Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring

A scene from the film Camille Claudel

The poster for the film Car­avag­gio

A scene from Mr. Turner

A scene from the film Séraphine


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