If you’ve been following my post series about Ireland – its landscapes, people, history and art – then here’s a cheat sheet for all the photos and travel notes from the two weeks of my trip.
Do you live in Ireland, or have you traveled there (or maybe you’d love to)? I’d really like to hear your thoughts! Post your comments anywhere on my blog or send me your feedback via e-mail.
This spring I had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in Ireland, courtesy of some friends in Longford County. Home base for the trip was the hamlet of Carrickadorrish, nestled in the Loch Gowna Valley in one of the most scenic parts of the Irish Midlands…
The Newgrange Heritage Site in County Meath is one of Ireland’s archaeological treasures, and one of the world’s most important megalithic sites. The Bru na Boinne complex (meaning “Palace of the Boyne”) is dominated by three major prehistoric structures: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth…
On Saturday morning (which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day) I set out early just as the sun was coming up, and most of the landscape was still shrouded in a heavy mist…
Clonmacnoise, situated on the Shannon River not far from the city of Athlone, is an important monastic site founded in the 6th century. The Birr Castle Demesne in County Offally is a privately-owned estate boasting magnificent gardens and a world-class science museum.
Leaving the beautiful Slieve Bloom hills (reluctantly) I watched the terrain change into a swath of rugged moorland as we approached the windswept west coast…
It would be hard to sum up my week in the Midlands, which passed all too quickly in the company of old friends and new ones. For the last leg of my trip we were headed to Dublin, with high hopes for museum-hopping and hiking…
Dublin is a place where street corners are named from Viking hangouts, and the pulse of revolutions still beats strong. Steeped in its own history, it is strangely familiar, but with a fast-paced and cosmopolitan vibe.
- Bus Ride to Dublin
- Trinity College Library, Chester Beatty Museum & more
- Natural History Museum, Downtown Dublin, National Concert Hall
- Dublin’s green buses, Kilmainham Gaol, and the Museum of Archaeology
- National Gallery of Art
- Walk in Killinney
8 Things About Ireland
March 7, 1802: Birth of English nature artist Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
Landseer was born in London to a family who encouraged their children’s early artistic talents and cultivated a deep appreciation for nature. Edwin was the youngest of seven surviving children, all of whom became artists. His prodigious abilities won him praise very early on and marked him for a career in painting and illustration, earning him a place in the Royal Academy.
As a young man, he contradicted the popular image of the artist as a troubled, taciturn individual; he was an engaging, charming socialite with a gracious manner and an eager mind.
Most of all he was beloved for the careful and sensitive portrayals of domestic animals and wildlife that established him as the Victorian era’s pre-eminent animal painter. He was intimately acquainted with the anatomies of the animals he painted and with their natural surroundings; from specialty dog breeds favored by the nobility, to the majestic wildlife of the Scottish Highlands, to lowly livestock – all of his subjects received equal treatment.
Landseer, Self-Portrait (c.1840)
All this won him the admiration of the public, his fellow artists, and even royalty – he was a frequent guest & tutor in the home of Queen Victoria (who knighted him in 1850).
Ironically, Landseer’s best-known works are not paintings at all; the four giant bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London were one of his final great accomplishments, and evidence of his equal talents as a sculptor.
Sadly, as his health gradually declined later in adulthood, increasing substance abuse caused irreparable damage both to his career and to his mind. His death in 1873 marked the passing of a national icon; he was mourned throughout the country and buried with honors in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Influence and style
“If people only knew as much about painting as I do, they would never buy my pictures.”
(Sir Edwin Henry Landseer)
Landseer is certainly the best known artist of the 19th century’s animalier movement. Because his abilities were widely recognized during his lifetime, and his popularity transcended the boundaries of class and rank, his fame has continued to the present day.
Fortunately, Landseer was also a prolific artist, so there are an enormous number of beautiful and moving paintings to enjoy.
“Saved” (original 1856 – this is one of several widely-circulated engravings)
One of the hallmarks of his paintings is the tendency to portray his animal subjects with highly anthropomorphic qualities, often in sentimental terms that suited Victorian sensibilities. His depictions of dogs, for instance, as loyal companions and guileless defenders of children and the innocent, emphasized the virtues of nature over its harshness and unpredictability. But beyond the Romantic idealism, his powerful grasp of animal anatomy and the sensitive, respectful treatment of their character endowed them with a dignity usually reserved only for human subjects.
Today, it is his paintings of dogs on which his fame primarily rests. He championed the role of the heroic rescue dog and in particular the black and white Newfoundlands that now bear his name.
Few breeds could have been better suited to personify Landseer’s quintessential ideal of the gentle, devoted canine. In fact it was a Landseer belonging to the English poet Lord Byron who inspired the legendary encomium that has come to describe the best of a dog’s character:
“Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.”
(Epitaph to a Dog)
Incidentally, the Newfoundland Club of America has a very good page on Byron and his beloved Boatswain, and also an excellent section on Landseer and his work, including the stories behind many of his animal paintings:
Wikipedia: Thomas Landseer (Edwin’s eldest brother)
February 6, 1809: Birth of portrait painter Karl Bodmer
Karl Bodmer was a Swiss-born artist best known for depicting the peoples and landscapes of the early American West.
In 1832, an eager, energetic 23-year-old Bodmer was invited to accompany German naturalist Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied and hunter David Dreidoppel on an expedition through the Upper Midwest. The eventful trip lasted two years and explored the regions surrounding the Ohio and upper Mississippi River valleys, part of the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. This region was home to the Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot Indians – all of whom feature prominently in Bodmer’s work.
By the end of the journey, Bodmer had produced 400 original watercolors documenting the cultures, landscapes, flora and fauna encountered on the expedition. It took years to produce engravings of the entire collection. A portion of these became illustrations for Prince Max’s book, Travels in the Interior of North America.
Following his return to Europe, Bodmer spent the duration of his long career making a living as an esteemed landscape painter. While popular at first, his American paintings fell into oblivion for many years, until they were acquired by US collectors in the mid 1900s. Recently a huge cache of his journals and sketchbooks were uncovered in the possession of Prince Max’s descendants; today they have joined the illustration plates in the Joslyn Art Museum.
Karl Bodmer’s paintings are archetypes of historical Native American portraiture. Like the works of George Catlin, Charles Bird King, and Edward Curtis, they are nearly ubiquitous and have proven themselves more valuable with the passage of time.
They are highly regarded for their painstaking accuracy – a fact even more remarkable considering the less than ideal circumstances under which they were produced. In an era before cameras were widespread, Bodmer succeeded in capturing a rich and authentic image of the period’s natural landscape and of the Indians who still lived freely in the northern Plains.
Another central aspect of Bodmer’s work is its objectivity. As a continental European, his portrayals were not shaped by the same biases that often tainted those of his American contemporaries – making them as vivid and relevant today as when they were first captured.
Marshall B. Davidson writes in American Heritage:
“Almost everything Bodmer produced on his American journey was intended for reproduction, to provide specific graphic reports of the Prince’s observations; but, as his admirer Théophile Gautier remarked in later years, the youth had “the soul and eye of a painter,” and the purely artistic quality of his work was never lost in the reportorial realism that was required of him.
At times he was confronted by what must have seemed almost unbelievable prospects—the kind of nightmarish landscape and grotesque savagery that the Federalists with their eastbound imaginations (and political biases) were so quick to dismiss as figments of Jefferson’s enthusiasm. But he depicted these utterly alien sights without distortion, without reading into them what he had been taught and what he remembered that the world about him should look like. And in so doing he produced illustrations that, in their fidelity and charm alike, present an unsurpassed image of a vanishing America.”
One effect of Bodmer’s works, and their initial popularity, was the establishment of the Plains Indian in the public image of Native Americans. At a time when most Americans lived east of the Mississippi, Bodmer’s widely publicized paintings of the Western frontier and its native cultures captured the imaginations of people on two continents and created a precedent for later works of this genre.
January 30, 1615: Birth of Thomas Rolfe, the son of Pocahontas
Thomas Rolfe was the only child of the legendary Powhatan “Indian princess” Pocahontas and her English husband John Rolfe. Pocahontas, whom we all know from grade school history, was the daughter of the sachem or chief of the Powhatan Confederacy of Virginia’s Tidewater Region, and a pivotal figure in the founding of the Jamestown colony.
Although much of her life has been shrouded in popular mythology, many facts are well-established. In 1614 she was baptized Rebecca and married English planter John Rolfe in Virginia, where their son Thomas was born a year later. They traveled to England in 1616 where she and her son were presented at the court of King James and received with great ceremony. She died in 1617 at the age of 23 after falling ill on the voyage home. The young Thomas remained in England, where he later married an Englishwoman and served in the English military. He eventually returned to his birthplace in Virginia. The Rolfe’s influential position as planters made their descendants one of the founding families of Virginia, from which many politicians and other prominents have claimed descent.
Although only one portrait is known to have been made of Pocahontas in her lifetime, this painting showing her with her young son Thomas may have been commissioned shortly after her death. Known as the Sedgeford portrait, it was allegedly passed down through the Rolfe family for hundreds of years and now resides in a museum. Most representations of her tend to reflect stereotypes or agendas in the portrayal of history. The Nova special “Pocahontas Revealed” explores the many aspects of the Pocahontas story, and also features an interactive examining many famous Pocahontas portraits and how depictions of her have changed over time.
Virtual Jamestown: Pocahontas
(An essay from the Virtual Jamestown Museum with many little-known facts about Pocahontas)
How does their fantastic plumage develop across the hugely diverse array of the species – and by what process do we (and the creatures of their own habitats) perceive it?
Enjoy the amazing footage in this project video:
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Aldo Leopold was a conservationist who made important natural surveys of the Colorado River region in the early 20th century. His observations, and the stark warnings he made about the wanton misuse of resources and interference in its well-established eco-systems are a relevant prophecy today:
“Do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave?,” he asked. “Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”
What would he say to the fact that the Colorado is now so vastly overdepleted from supplying some of the world’s fastest growing metropolitan & agricultural centers in regions that could never support such populations?
Wherever natural crisis occurs, human disaster is not far behind. That’s the cycle that Leopold recognized. His investigations, and the development of engineering works on the Colorado, are detailed in a new book from anthropologist/ethnobotanist Wade Davis. It reminds me of Timothy Eagan’s excellent work on the Dust Bowl, “The Worst Hard Time,” in its bleak forecast of needlessly repetitive history.
Wade Davis is an author & National Geographic resident explorer, better known to many of us through his tv documetaries delving into the daily lives & traditional philosophies of indigenous peoples.
Ivan Kramskoy (also Kramskoi, 1837-1887) was one of the leaders of the original student protest at the Academy, and a founding force of the Itinerant movement. He is known primarily as a portrait artist; beginning in the 1870s he compiled a series of portraits of famous contemporaries – writers, scholars and fellow artists – who formed the backbone of the cultural revolution.
Self-Portrait, 1867 One of several self-depictions
In keeping with his democratic vision, his portrayals extended to every part of the social spectrum, from the nobility to the most humble peasant classes. His portraits are outwardly simple, but full of a psychological complexity that reflected his prowess as a critic. His artistic style was bold, decisive, and masterful – a fitting reflection of his inspired and driven character.
Christ in the Wilderness, 1872 A thought-provoking portrayal of Jesus’ forty days, with a deeply human Christ weary and alone in a desert moonscape.
Portrait of Leo Tolstoy, 1873 One of the best-known portraits of the great writer and philanthropist. In many ways, his familiar literary works embody the philosophies of the Itinerants.
Mina Moiseev, 1882 One of Kramskoy’s best “peasant paintings,” an individual he painted again several months later:
Peasant with a Bridle, 1883 An outstanding example of the high degree of realism achieved in this style of art. Like many of his contemporaries, Kramskoy favored the dramatic contrasts of strong chiaroscuro that add gravity to an otherwise ordinary scene. The elaborate and careful detail elevates the subject to an almost sacred level.
Click here for a larger detail view)
Portrait of Dr. Karl Rauhfus, 1887 Kramskoy died while painting this portrait. The medium he used here, known as sauce (pronounced sow-say) is a partly liquid blend of pastels made with rich Chasov Yar clays. He used this method in black and white elsewhere, with a similar effect to charcoal:
Portrait of Painter Ivan Shishkin, another famous Itinerant artist
Sophia Kramskoy, the artist’s daughter – one of many famiy portraits
Ivan Kramskoy, the artist’s son
Josephine Kramskoy, the artist’s wife
Images courtesy of Wikipaintings. See more: WIKIPAINTINGS – Ivan Kramskoy Gallery
Check out this infographic from OnlinePsychologyDegree.net (Creative Commons BY/NC/ND)
“Supposedly, the world should have ended about a month ago, on December 21, 2012. If you’re like many other people who were at least kind of expecting the apocalypse to actually come through, don’t beat yourself up about it—the fact is, humans have a long, long history of believing wholeheartedly that the end is near, only to have the world stick around for another few thousand years…”
“Yosemite Winter Night” by Wally Pacholka, as featured on National Geographic and the fantastic TWAN website. Does anything give you chills like a gorgeous shot of the night sky? Feast your eyes on this panorama! I couldn’t think of a better way to usher in the new year than with a timeless view of the Milky Way.
TWAN (“The World at Night”) is an international effort to capture the universal wonder of the starry sky – an experience that humans have held in awe since the dawn of time, and sadly one that comes at a premium in urban areas where light pollution robs millions of this quintessential joy.
Here’s another from this outstanding gallery, a view of the Milky Way over a Chaco Canyon kiva:
The Peredvizhniki (Russian for “Itinerants” – think the English word “peregrine”) were a group of 19th century Russian artists who, like the early Romantics of western Europe, ushered in an artistic revolution that rebelled against convention, embracing nature and emphasizing the beauty and drama of common life.
What started out as a protest against restraints in the academic community evolved into a new genre where realism of staggering beauty met with the freedom of impressionism, firmly establishing Russian art talent as some of the foremost in the world.
In 1863, fourteen students withdrew from the Imperial Academy as a protest against what they felt was socially polarized art. Several years later, they formed an artist’s cooperative that organized itinerant art exhibits all over the country. Their ideals about the democratization of art, and the traveling displays that earned their name, helped express the liberal principles they espoused, bringing the diversity and realism of freelance art to the public.
Right: An interactive collage of Peredvizhniki artists (WikiPaintings)
The Itinerant movement was loosely associated with a wider group of intellectuals, including many of the great literary minds of the era, and other intelligentsia who supported social reform and freedom of expression. While much of Western Europe was in the throes of political upheavals and intense struggles over censorship, Russia experienced a kind of cultural explosion, a brief window for a striking brand of individuality and creativity to blossom.
Among the great names of the Peredvizhniki, Ivan Kramskoy, Ilya Repin, Nikolai Ge, and others celebrated the expansive beauty of Russian landscapes – brought unparalleled drama to the portrait genre – painted Biblical scenes with a strangely candid new intensity – and made lowly, mundane aspects of peasant life into a poignant expression of fine art.
Next, KRAMSKOY: The Master
It’s about that time of year (for me, at least) when days are shorter, itineraries are longer, and blog posting wanes. My part of the country was fortunate to enjoy a spectacular jewel-toned autumn before the trees lost their leaves for the season, but the long stretch of suspiciously mild weather left many wondering if winter had lost its way. Late maybe, but not lost, judging by the mountainous clouds and frosty-smelling air. Christmas may be wintry after all?
So all this had me thinking about some of my posts from years past, and generally all things “winter” – among them a little tangent exploration of the humble snowflake:
Ice castles anyone? From National Geographic:
NatGeo: In Praise of Winter
And some especially appealing shots of the British Isles under the spell of a winter blast a couple of years back:
Let’s not forget the elegant swan, winter’s most graceful totem. If your December is as hectic as most people find it, a moment of “swan therapy” might be just the prescription. Few animals are as inspiringly soothing to see in photos.
Need to brush up on your reindeer trivia? Here’s some bite-sized factoids to keep handy when Rudolph comes calling:
Of course there are plenty more to choose from. Feel free to browse my archives at your pleasure! If time allows, I’ll soon have a new project in the works: a musk ox portrait to suit the season. More to come soon!