11 July 2016

The Hermitage: four times in a week

In which we make repeated visits to the world's most fabulous museum and find we are not a bit jaded.
"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting" in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

I had the good fortune to attend the International Salon of Decorative Painters, held this year in St. Petersburg, Russia. This annual gathering attracts many of the finest painters in my field, from dozens of countries and several continents, and this time was well-attended by incredibly skilled Russian artists as well.   The venue for this event, the Exhibition Center for the St.Petersburg Union of Artists,  is a short walk to one of the greatest museums in the world, the Hermitage. 
Like other major museums, the Uffizi, the Met, the Louvre, it cannot be done in one visit, it's too overwhelming. So I popped over every chance I got. The Hermitage is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The museum is famous for its prodigious art collection, the Rubens paintings and sketches, and countless masterpieces of European art, but as usual, I was staring at the ceilings, walls, huge malachite urns, marquetry floors- because this building is first and foremost one of the most gloriously decorated palaces in the world.

Exterior of the Hermitage, painted with a distinctive and inspiring malachite green, ochre, and white color scheme

Just as in the (amazing film) Russian Ark, even the most organized tour through the Winter Palace will prove bewildering. The decor alone encompasses 300 years of Russian History. The collections reach through millennia. 

I forget what this room is for. Let's ring for tea, shall we?
Rococo styled rooms give way to Neoclassical spaces and "Russian Empire" style, and everything in between. Some interiors are pure fantasy.  I loved it. Every minute of it.

Ceiling detail from the lovely blue and white room used as the "silver cabinet"
Walls covered in gold leaf need plenty of candlelight to show it all off
In every space, gilding of a particular rosy color of gold leaf is used to great effect. OK I admit, in some cases, maybe it's over-used.  Nevertheless, the sheer level of craft is awe-inspiring.

nice example of Russian Neoclassicism in this trompe l'oeil ceiling
The Empire style found a great place in Russian design.  Large quantities of malachite were mined in the Ural Mountains and the famous Ural mosaic techniques were used to create columns, table tops, giant urns. A fairly liberal use of this intense green stone made for some eye-popping Empire interiors.

Gold and Malachite go so well together
Interior of the Malachite Room of the Hermitage, as painted by Constantine Andreyevich Ukhtomsky in 1885 image via hermitage.org
One of my favorite rooms is the"Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting." A long hall which houses a collection of white marble figures by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) and his followers.

"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting"  neoclassical design by  Leo von Klenze
The walls and ceilings of the gallery are decorated with grottesca (or grotesque) ornament in a vaguely Pompeiian scheme. Insets panels of encaustic paintings on brass plaques by Georg Hiltensperger are meant to illustrate ancient painting techniques.

Encaustic paintings by Georg Hiltensperger depict ancient painting techniques.

Still from the film "Russian Ark"  in which the Stranger wanders into the Raphael Loggia
The most breathtaking space of all, has to be the gallery known as the Raphael Loggia.  Designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s, the loggia was commissioned by Catherine the Great as a replica of the Vatican Loggia in Rome, originally frescoed by Raphael and his atelier in 1512.   

Raphael Loggia in the Hermitage
Grottesca detail of the Rapahel Loggia of the Hermitage
These paintings are of course clean and new looking, but by most accounts they are a faithful and direct copies of the Vatican originals, having been painted on site using tempera on canvas. The canvases were then sent to St. Petersburg for installation. Mirrors replace the Vatican windows, reflecting the northern light. And then there is that rosy color of gold trimming each panel.  The magic of this scene is difficult to describe. 
Hermitage Raphael Loggia
The jawbone of an ass- detail in the Raphael Loggia, Hermitage
Grottesca detail- from 1512 to the 1780s

The Hermitage Museum website has many lovely images, including 360 degree panoramas of entire rooms in their "virtual visit" feature.


21st century decorative artists:
Photos from Salon 2016 at Flickr

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted,  May 2016. Click on images to view larger.

02 July 2016

A visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

a breathtaking monumental "papier peint panoramique" by Desfossé, 1855
One of my favorite places to visit in Paris is the spectacular Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a comprehensive collection of the best of French design:  objects, architectural and applied arts from the middle ages to the present day. Generally uncrowded and serene, the museum is housed in the western wing of the Louvre, the beautiful Pavillon de Marsan, designed by architect Gaston Redon in 1905.
The lovely interior court of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (image via MAD)
Like the Victorian and Albert in London,  the MAK (Museum fur Angewandte Kunst) in Vienna,  and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, les Arts Décoratifs celebrates the finest work in applied arts,  but this museum is decidedly French, and notable for the depth and breadth of its collection.

Seemingly every possible decorative technique, material, or type of object can be found in the vast Arts Décoratifs inventories: tapestry, escritoire, eglomisé, shagreen, scenic wallpaper, jewelry, stained glass, wood, lacquer, plastic, and gold… but far from mind-boggling the collections are carefully edited and displayed chronologically, to encourage understanding of both the techniques used and the application of them. Meanwhile there are thousands of beautiful inspiring moments in each room.
Here are some highlights from my visit in October 2011.

"Cabinet des Fables" from the hôtel Dangé, Paris 1755 (repainted 1855)
Two adjoining rooms of boiserie taken from the hôtel Dangé on the Place Vendome, are displayed as one room here (you can see the gilt room in the mirror)- these really were meant to be small, intimate painted spaces.

a display of chinoiserie furnishings dating from the 17th century
A small gilt "cabinet" room from l’hôtel de Rochegude à Avignon, 1720. Oui.
Photography in the museum is allowed without a flash, but many of the rooms are kept very dim to protect the fabrics and delicate surfaces.  Despair not,  the MAD has an excellent database of images of its collection on its website.   Not only that, but the MAD bookshop at 107 Rue de Rivoli  is outrageous.  It is filled with fabulous books on your favorite subjects, all of them loaded with great pictures. Hard as you might try, you won’t be able to carry all the books out with you. Make note of the ISBN# so you can search for the books when you get home. 

wood doors decorated with gilt grotesque ornament, from the 15th century
Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790
One of the many period roomsets on display at the MAD, the Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790, is an early example of Egyptian theme interior design, which eventually became an all-out fad in the early 19th century.
detail from a Renaissance-Revival bedchamber, circa 1840
The boiserie decoration from the Renaissance-Revival bedchamber of Baron Hope is not typical for the Louis-Phillipe-era France. To me it seems more English Victorian. Have a look at the rest of the room here.

detail of a verre églomisé mirror frame.  Gasp! 

Detail of an entire wall of embossed leather, silver-gilt and amber-varnished to look like gold. circa 1600

detail of a splendid marquetry cabinet, made in 1670. I could stare at this all day.

One of the most fabulous room sets in this museum is the private apartment of Jeanne Lanvin. Designed by Armand Albert Rateau and built in 1925, it’s the ultimate feminine Art Deco interior.

The famous gilt and lacquered screen from Jeanne Lanvin's dining room is nearly 11 feet high, and was designed by Armand Albert Rateau, circa 1921 

Bedroom of Jeanne Lanvin, designed by Armand-Albert Rateau  (image via MAD)
The fabric in the private apartments of Jeanne Lanvin, a custom blue silk embroidered with cotton and copper thread,  is newly recreated and was all done by hand.

When you go:
Be sure to visit the Art Nouveau and Art Deco rooms, as well as the very interesting mid and late 20th century design rooms in the attic spaces of the pavillion.
Other tips:
The Mode et Textile Museum is just next door.
The Rue du Rivoli can be crowded and dirty.  It’s so much more stylish to arrive via the Carrousel entrance.  And be sure to dress fabulously, so you can have a bite at the Saut de Loup, the chic cafe on the terrace facing the Carrousel Gardens.

all images in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted. Click on images to view larger.

03 March 2016

Grotesque Obsession: The Art of Carolina d'Ayala Valva

linen table runner by Carolina d'Ayala Valva for Nina's Home Artists for Textiles
recent designs from Nina's Home Artists for Textiles

For more than 20 years, Carolina d’Ayala Valva and her partner Walter Cipriani have been decorating interiors from their atelier in the historical center of Rome.  Carolina has become known as a modern-day champion of Grottesca (also called grotesque),  a style of ornament first made popular by the Renaissance artist Raphael, and literally wrote the book on the techniques and use of this historic form. Walter excels at the important and age-old techniques of scagliola, and this talented couple are highly in-demand for decorating prestigious interiors from Rome to Paris to St. Petersburg.

I met them at the Salon, an international  gathering of decorative artists who meet in a different city each year. What impressed me most wasn't just the mastery of historic techniques, but the fresh and relevant way these techniques are being used in their work.

Recently, the famous French wallpaper manufacture Zuber commissioned new wallpaper designs from each of them, which has in turn led to the creation of a new line of fabrics and accessories for interiors, cushions, lampshades, and table linens are printed on natural fibres, entirely made in Italy.

Carolina in her studio
Grottesca candelabra panel

Carolina d’Ayala Valva is also a highly skilled and sought-after teacher of painted ornament, and I have invited her to my studio in San Francisco for a week-long workshop on the art of Grottesca later this year.

Here she is interviewed for The Ornamentalist. Get to know the work of this exceptional decorative artist!

Please tell me about your education and training. How did you learn to paint like this?

I did not start my professional career as a decorative painter, but as an architect.

  Architecture was not my first choice, but an alternative to my desire to attend the Academy of Fine Arts. However, it is thanks to the long university studies that I have design discipline, which is also very useful in my work as a decorator. So in the end, I'm a self-taught.

Was there any one person or place that inspired you to become a decorative artist?

Living in Rome, surrounded by a unique artistic context in the world, inspired me deeply.  It’s especially here that I could cultivate my passion for the “Grotesque” design.

  Our Atelier (L’Artelier-Roma) was two steps from the Vatican City and, in the past, I have often had the chance to see up close the Grotesque decorations in the halls of the Vatican Museums and the loggia of Raphael, which are the first and most famous in the world. I have been able to admire the beauty, the harmony of the colors and the fast but masterful brushstrokes of the artist.

  For all this I consider myself lucky.

Over time, though I was immersed in a wonderful classical context,  I tried to develop a very personal style, both in the use of the color and in the design’s style.  I also love to try more contemporary sources of inspiration that can be anywhere in the life of every day, inserting modern elements in the classic structures.
~ Carolina d'Ayala Valva 

set of doors ornamented with  figures in a grottesca style by Carolina d'Ayala Valva

work in progress on a Grottesca element

Which are your favorite materials/medium for painting?  favorite brushes or tools?

My favorite technique for painting, is the egg tempera.  I also use it for painting more contemporary subjects, in fact, is my personal opinion, that the egg tempera has no equal for beauty, brilliance and color depth. The egg yolk binder gives a softness and a flexibility to the brushstroke, truly unique. The binder allows the use of pure powdered pigments, these offer the possibility of having an infinite palette, rich in nuances that gives to the work so realized, the sumptuousness of the paintings of the ancient masters, performed with the same technique.

Of great importance in the use of this type of tempera is the choice of right brush, the right brush, leads to having an elegant pictorial gesture, soft and sinuous.  I use round synthetic brushes, very flexible and highly accurate.

custom ceiling featuring Grottesche painted by Carolina d'Ayala Valva

Some of Carolina's fabric designs made into tote bags!

What's new? favorite recent projects?

I worked for years painting Grotesque decoration work on ceilings, furniture and panels for important clients in several countries.
So much work and experience led me to publish a book: "Art et Techniques de la Grotesque" (Editions Vial, 2009) and this made my work widely known around the world, encouraging also my activity as a teacher in Italy, France, Belgium and the U.S.

In 2013, as a result of the popularity of the book,  Zuber,  the famous producer of papier peint, contacted me in order to create a new collection of wallpapers inspired by my Grotesques.  And this was the impetus to start building my collection of printed digital fabrics with the brand: Nina’s Home~ Artists for Textiles.

Please tell us a bit about the process of designing for textiles. 

Each design is first painted by hand as a work of art in a single original water-colored model. Then, the quality of the digital printing process allows us to reproduce the slightest nuances and brushstroke on the fabric, preserving the charm and originality of our hand-painted model.
As mentioned above, modernity and tradition, this is the right mix today to further our art.

painted ceiling with modern Grottesche by Carolina d'Ayala Valva

15 January 2016

Creating an Heirloom Display

Miniature portrait of Marie Antoinette, gouache on ivory, in an ormolu frame.
Some years ago I began a journey, cleaning and restoring a large collection of miniature portraits that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  A group of these had been set aside for my niece, Elizabeth, and long after I had finished cleaning them, I was still struggling with a way to arrange them in some kind of display, to both protect and present them in a relevant way.

Miniature collection, cleaned and restored, and arranged for framing!

Enter the wonderful Christine Lando.  Christine is an artist and archival framer,  with whom I share my studio in San Francisco.  She located a vintage oval frame with convex glass in which to set the collection.  The frame had been spray over with gold-brown radiator paint and its glass had been glued in place with gobs of silicone caulk.  While Christine studied the grouping of the miniatures and devised ways to attractively mount them in a reversible, museum-quality manner, I set about cleaning and re-gilding the frame itself.

Christine Lando, framer extraordinaire, made careful notes in preparation for mounting this display of miniature portraits.

Auntie Lynne, gilding the antique oval frame
gilding in progress

The frame was re-gilded using composition leaf, on a base of casein gesso made by Sinopia. This was then shellacked, antiqued, and waxed to make a nice vintage "French" looking finish.

The finished piece makes a very sweet display for this collection,  and a nice decorative addition to my newlywed niece's new home. 

Seven beauties presented in a vintage gilt frame with convex glass.

Soon after completing this display, I decided to make a similar heirloom as a gift for my sister.   To compliment the goth aesthetic of her home, I chose three portraits out of the collection that are just a tad creepy.  Christine created a shadowbox frame out of her personal stash of Italian mouldings, this one with a verdigris guilloche pattern.

A group of three miniature portraits of Marie Antionette, mounted in a shadowbox frame by Christine Lando

Included in this trio is my favorite big-eyed portrait of Marie Antionette,  beautifully painted and set  in an ormolu frame (see first image.)  This piece had a noticeable crack in it, damage that occurred after the frame had been back-stuffed with paper and cardboard (to keep it tight or something) which then got wet and swelled, pushing the fragile ivory substrate into the pillowed crystal front until it snapped. Someone then glued it to a piece of paper and stuffed it back into its frame.  After removing all the garbage from the back of the painting, I set it in a press for a few days to flatten it, and then cleaned it and restored just a few tiny areas. It is stable and won't get any worse, and in this setting, I think the remaining fracture adds a certain je ne sais quoi. 

See this previous post for up-close photos of these miniature portraits.
Have something special needing an inventive framing solution?
Christine Lando  artist, archival framer    415.821.6485