Arts History Update for early December 2011

Arts History Update for early December 2011 by David Cummins is the painting L’Angelus (1859) by Jean-Francois Millet. In English the Angelus means a Catholic devotion in memory of the Annunciation which was the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary advising her of her conception of Christ. Millet took two years to finish this painting and it is now among his most well known.


A man and a woman are reciting the Angelus, a prayer which commemorates the annunciation made to Mary by the archangel Gabriel. They have stopped digging potatoes and all the tools used for this task – the potato fork, the basket, the sacks and the wheelbarrow – are strewn around them. In 1865 Millet said: “The idea for The Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed”. So it was a childhood memory which was behind the painting and not the desire to glorify some religious feeling; besides Millet was not a church-goer. He wanted to catch the immutable rhythms of peasant life in a simple scene. Here he has focused on a short break, a moment of respite.

Alone in the foreground in a huge empty plain, the two peasants take on a monumental quality, despite the small size of the canvas. Their faces are left in shadow, while the light underlines their gestures and posture. The canvas expresses a deep feeling of meditation and Millet goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype.

Perhaps that explains the extraordinary destiny of The Angelus: it triggered an unbelievable rush of patriotic fervor when the Louvre tried to buy it in 1889, was venerated by Salvador Dali, was lacerated by a madman in 1932, and became a world-famous icon in the 20th century.


And I came to understand the Millet painting, L’Angelus, the strange fade of the light, the storm coming in from the right side of the canvas, close to the village in the distance, the way it burned on the arms of the man and the woman standing together in the foreground. It was she who was facing into the light, and the bridge of her nose and her fingertips glowed red, as if she would feel hot to touch, to kiss. And the light turned the field red too, the ground was burning — it would be impossible to walk across. How would they get home, this man and this woman? How would they lift their loaded cart and turn and move toward the village without bursting into flame? And what was there waiting for them anyhow? The place they lived was only a dark steeple, almost black, and a low rectangular structure that seemed to admit the light, a corn crib, a broken-down stable. No wonder she stood frozen, burning, her neck bent as if to take a blow.” Liza Wieland, First, Marriage, Quickening: Stories (Southern Methodist University Press 2011) at pp. 23-24.


Are they in repose and resignation, or in reflection bound into their faith and its promise of salvation in another different life? Many of us have heard stories that the painting commemorates a spot in the field where their new-born died and was buried. Some have even said the bag is swaddling for an infant. That is a later interpretation for which there is no evidence during Millet’s life. Clearly the bag is a potato bag, a tool of their peasant labor. The more simple the interpretation the more profound it becomes. We should understand, not reinvent, Millet’s world.


The Musee d’Orsay that contains this painting is not in Orsay, a Paris suburb twelve miles distant. The Gare d’Orsay was a Paris railway station and hotel and the terminus for the Paris-Orleans Railway, the first electrified urban rail terminal in the world, built for the 1900 Universal Exposition. After closure as a railway it was reopened in 1986 as Musee d’Orsay, an art museum.




Presidio de San Saba west of Menard Texas was rededicated November 19, 2011 after some restoration work updating the 1936-1937 reconstruction of stone work on the site originally done in a 1765 stone reconstruction of the original wattle and daub for walls and thatched roof presidio [building construction technique that in Spanish is referred to as jical] that was attacked and functionally destroyed by Indians in 1758 just a year after it was initially constructed by Spanish interests exploring in the area for the alleged source of silver deposits. Its other stated purposes were to protect Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba downriver [San Saba River] 3-1/2 miles, and to protect against Indian encroachments and raiding parties on the western frontier of Spanish-controlled northern New Spain above the Rio Grande River. The presidio [fort] was originally planned as Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas but came to be known as Presidio San Saba for its location on the river and connection to the mission by that name.


Today we instinctively ask why the mission and presidio were displaced on the river 3-1/2 miles distant. The Spanish had discovered by previous constructions elsewhere that the Indians would not come into the mission and settle around the church, be indoctrinated by the friars in the faith of salvation and taught how to farm, how to engage in animal husbandry, and the values of settlement, unless the Spanish soldiers were absent from the mission even though such soldiers might be nearby but out of sight at a presidio. The Spanish did not understand the dynamics between and among Indians who were members of different and often warring tribes. By befriending the Lipan Apache and welcoming them into Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba the Spanish alienated the enemies of the Lipan Apache who were inter alia the Caddo, Wichita and most importantly the Comanche. A warrior group comprised of those three tribe members appeared on the morning of March 16, 1758 at both the mission and the presidio, apparently after some excellent reconnaissance had informed them that most of the soldiers were away from the presidio on an information gathering mission.


Indians breached the mission’s wooden palisade and set fire to it and several buildings and threatened the sturdiest building, the church, into which residents had taken refuge. Upriver the thirty soldiers at the presidio heard the din, saw the smoke from the fires, but could not leave the presidio and come to a rescue because they were surrounded and threatened by Indians who damaged both palisade and buildings. That night, while the Indians feasted on their spoils away from the mission Juan Leal led the refugees as silently as possible out of the mission church and over to the presidio. The burned and shattered mission was abandoned and never rebuilt by the Spanish. It passed into history and legend and was not accurately sited until the 1960s [approximately] and 1993 [definitively]. The troops who were away from the presidio returned the very next day but by then the Indians were gone.


A mural painting located in Mexico City was painted in 1765 by Jose de Paez titled Destruction of Mission San Saba in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso de Terreros and Joseph Santiestaban. It is the first painting of a historical scene in Texas, the artist having been advised by eyewitnesses as to how the mission was constructed and operated. It was commissioned by a wealthy cousin of Father Alonso de Terreros, viz., the metals mining magnate Pedro Romero de Terreros. It shows tended fields, the wooden palisade, thatch-roofed buildings, the Spanish conquistador leadership herding the Lipan Apache toward the mission, and the attacking massed Indians breaking through the palisade. The two oversize-painted priests, each with a biographical shield, records their accomplishments and faithful service.


Another mural painting on the Mission Theater wall in nearby Menard Texas is less accurate of the period since it depicts soldiers inter-mixing with settled Lipan Apache and two friars in the stone-restored presidio in the 1760s after the mission had been destroyed and abandoned. The historical fact is that Christianizing the Lipan Apache and settling them in or nearby the presidio was a complete failure and by 1772 the presidio was abandoned and fell into ruins, lovingly restored by the Texas Centennial Commission in 1936 – 1937, and then restored again in 2011. Today it is surrounded by Menard’s municipal golf course. Artifact hunting is prohibited by amateurs, but one is more likely to find an errant golf ball than an artifact since Texas Tech University’s anthropology professor Grant Hall and his academic tribe have been on, over and under the ground for several years.


You may wish to read: Robert S. Weddle, The San Saba Mission – Spanish Pivot in Texas (Univ of Texas Press 1964 Texas Tech Library F389.W4 reprint Texas A&M Univ Press 1999 Southwest Collection TEX62.31 s197 W388) and/or

The San Saba Papers – A Documentary Account of the Founding and Destruction of San Saba Mission (transl. Paul D. Nathan, ed. Lesley Byrd Simpson, Southern Methodist Univ Press 1959 reprint 2000) Southwest Collection TEX62.31 s197 N274


V. Kay Hindes, The Rediscovery of Santa Cruz de San Saba, a Mission for the Apache in Spanish Texas (Texas Historical Foundation 1995) F392.S24 H56


Grant D. Hall et al., San Saba Mission: Royal Fort – Apache Mission, Self-Guided Tour of an Eighteenth Century Spanish Colony (Texas Tech Univ Press 2003) Tech Library OVERSIZ F392.M45 H35


Richard Scott White, The Painting: The Destruction of Mission San Saba: Document of Service to the King (Texas Tech University doctoral dissertation 2000) Tech Library AC801.T3 no. 47




Early Art & Architecture in the new Soviet Union


The Royal Academy of Arts in London has an exhibit Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915 – 1935 viewable through January 22, 2012. The catalogue by Jean-Louis Cohen and Christina Lodder is 270 pages, $43.68 at


Kazamir Malevich 1878 – 1935 was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and originator of the Suprematist Movement Black Square (1913) Black Circle (1913) and Supremus No. 58 (1916) are examples


Andrei Bely [pseudonym] 1880 – 1934 was a novelist poet and literary critic who wrote the novel Petersburg (1916 rev. ed. 1922) that was a manifesto for the Symbolist Movement. published in many translations and editions, most recently by Penguin Classics in 2011 to be released January 31, 2012. Really great novels are out of print for short periods.


Natalia Goncharova 1881 – 1962 has 31 pieces in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City also


El Lissitzky 1890 – 1941 was another seminal artist


Lyubov Popova 1889 – 1924 Russian cubist, suprematist, and constructivist artist Painterly Architectonic (1917) is an example of constructivist art and is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York City


Alexander Rodchenko 1891 – 1956 was a master constructivist


The paintings of these artists virtually cried out to be built as architecture. Who tried that?


Vladimir Tatlin’s Tower or Monument to the Third Internationale (1917-1919) was never built but models exist and are in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and in the Museum of Modern Art at Stockholm. Design of the Tower is the subject of another current separate exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts where a model was built for the exhibition Had it been built it would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Aesthetes continue to be amazed by Tatlin’s Tower, and one group wants to build sections of it at various venues without uniting them. Here’s a 3 min 37 second video depicting Tatlin’s genius.


Vkhutemas [Higher Art and Technical Studios] was established and constructed by Lenin in 1920 and lasted for a decade until politics overtook it and central control negated it.


Vladimir Shukhov 1853 – 1939 was a polymath engineer as well as an architect and invented doubly curved structural forms including the glass and steel roof of the Pushkin Museum. The statuary bronze monument of him in Moscow is testimony of Russian admiration His Shabolovka Radio Tower (1922) is on UNESCO’s endangered buildings list since there is a proposal to tear it down.


Ivan Nikolaev 1901 – 1979 architect, designed many buildings including the Communal House for the Textile Institute in Moscow 1929 -1931that presages Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City.


Georgi Marsakov built an industrialized bakery on Khodynskai Street in Moscow (1931)


Konstantin Melnikov 1890 – 1974 was famous for his architecture 1923 – 1933 but would not later conform to Stalinist classical monumentalism demands, so he lived out his life as a painter teacher and writer. books Richat Mullagildin, The Architecture of Melnikov (Toto Publishers 2002), S. Frederick Starr, Melnikov: Solo Architect in a Mass Society (Princeton Univ Press 1978), and Mario Fosso & Maurizio Meriggi, Konstantin S. Melnikov and the Construction of Moscow (Skira 2000)


Till Briegleb, Roman Bezjak: Socialist Modernism (Hatje Cantz 2011)


Catherine Cooke, Architectural Drawings of the Russian Avant-Garde (Museum of Modern Art 1990). See also her Russian Avant-Garde: Theories of Art, Architecture, and the City (Academy Editions 1995) in processing at Texas Tech Architecture Library


Richard Pare, the photographer, put together a book The Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922 – 1932 (Monacelli Press 2007) Texas Tech Architecture Library OVERSZ NA1188.P37 Some of the photographs are restored earlier photographs of presently not extant structures.


The talent in Russia at the time of the Tzar’s troubles and the several revolutions beginning in 1905 and leading up to the successful Bolshevik revolution in 1917 is amazing. Until tightly constrained by Stalinist policies in the late 1930s, Russian art and architecture led the world. It was known to and widely emulated in European capitals and art and architecture colonies such as Germany’s Bauhaus that welcomed emigres from Russia like Wassily Kandinsky. Mark Rothko nee Marko Rotkovich fled a Russian province now Latvia in 1913, his father trying to avoid his son’s conscription into the Tzar’s army. The family emigrated to the United States and settled in Portland Oregon. Rothko became an internationally admired abstract expressionist painter.

In 2007 his painting White Center (1950) sold for $72 million. One may meditate in the Rothko Chapel (1971) in Houston Texas built by oil millionaire John and Dominique de Menil. Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk (1963) sculpture was moved from the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC to outside the Rothko Chapel and set into a pool in 1971. Other castings appear elsewhere including my alma mater the University of Washington in Seattle.



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