May 13, 2011

The ecstasy of influence

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WHEN Commodore Perry convinced the Japanese to open ports to the west in 1854, their country had been isolated for two centuries. Europeans and Americans were amazed by what they saw. Traders started carrying back objects and works of art, and western artists and artisans began making work influenced by the Japanese aesthetic and techniques. This is obvious in the colours and compositions of Edouard Vuillard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and above all Vincent van Gogh. Between 1886, when Van Gogh arrived in Paris to stay with his brother Theo, and 1888, when he left for Provence, the brothers acquired hundreds of ukiyo-e or woodblock prints. Some of them can be seen on the walls of his radiant paintings of the period.

But Japonisme, the name given to works influenced by Japan’s arts, was not confined to the creations of painters. Designers of textiles, furniture and gardens were also inspired by their Japanese counterparts, as were gold and silversmiths. Westerners were captivated by the attentiveness, poetry and wit of Japanese observations of nature. This aesthetic is now the subject of a rare exhibition in London, which opens today. Wartski, a London-based antiques dealer that specialises in jewellery, is staging a loan show of some 160 objects made of precious metal and jewels, all created between 1867 and 1917. There are tea pots and cigarette cases, flasks, spoons and jewellery. A benefit for the Prince’s Trust, the show counts Prince Charles among its lenders. (The Fabergé seal in which a plump, green nephrite frog with diamond eyes straddles a graceful pink enamelled column is his; Wartski also made the gold wedding band that Prince William slid onto his bride’s finger last month.) The show includes work from other famous jewellers, including Lalique, Falize and Tiffany.

A rare pendant by Fernand Thesmar, a renowned enameller, shows a damsel fly perched on a bright green lily pad. Thesmar’s application of three translucent dew drops brings the image to life. Chrysanthemums, sometimes called Japan’s national flower, were the inspiration for a splendid diamond-set dress ornament by Vever (pictured). Each of the many petals of the two flowers is a long, narrow Mississippi River pearl. There are some lovely hair ornaments, too. One, from the firm of Georges Fouquet, is made of translucent horn decorated with diamond-studded facsimiles of sycamore seed pods.
Wartski is a famous dealer in Fabergé. Here Fabergé loans include acrobatic frogs, nestling rabbits, smiling rats, wicked monkeys and cuddling puppies carved from semi-precious stones. Many have jewelled eyes. Readers of “The Hare with Amber Eyes” will immediately recognise the influence of netsuke—Japanese toggles carved from ivory or wood. It turns out that Fabergé owned some 500 netsuke, quite a few of which are visible in a photograph of his St Petersburg apartment in this show.

The most bedazzling jewel is a diamond-set spray of cherry blossoms almost a foot long (pictured below). This piece, intended to be worn descending from one shoulder, begins with a broken off bit of “branch” and ends with a tiny pair of leaves. Despite the bling, it conveys a delicate naturalism, with each cherry blossom seemingly thin as paper and trembling with every movement (an effect created by invisible springs). New research undertaken by Wartski’s Katherine Purcell, the exhibition curator and author of its excellent catalogue, reveals that the brooch, long thought to be by Vever, is in fact by Renée Lalique, adding to its rarity. Lalique made few diamond-encrusted pieces and none other on this scale.

The upheavals of the first world war made 1917 a natural cut-off date for this show. As for the starting date, 1867 was the year of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where the public could see for the first time a Japanese-curated display of paper, porcelain, textiles, baskets, netsuke and wood cuts. The term Japonisme wasn’t coined for another 20 years, but this is where it was born. When the exposition closed there was a stampede to buy the contents of its Japanese pavilion.

The arts of Japan and Japonisme are not in the spotlight these days, but they are not without admirers. At a recent Christie’s South Kensington jewellery sale, a Japanese inspired enamelled necklace by Falize was estimated at £25,000-30,000; it sold for £115,250 ($188,319, including the buyer's premium) to Wartski, and can be seen in this eye-opening show. Like everything else on view here, it is not for sale—yet.


Elizabeth Taylor portrait sells for about $27 million

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"Liz #5," a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol, fetched nearly $27 million at an auction Thursday.
"Liz #5," a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol, fetched nearly $27 million at an auction

A portrait of actress Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol raked in $26,962,500 on the auction block.
Three other Warhol pieces -- "Flowers," "Third Eye" and "Witch" -- were also sold at the auction conducted by Phillips de Pury & Co. in Manhattan. Each sold for $8,146,500, $7,026,500 and $2,658,500, respectively.

Taylor died in March at age 79.

"Liz #5" (1963) didn't come close to breaking the record for a Warhol -- his "Green car crash-Green burning car I" (1963) sold for more than $71 million -- but it did come close to the sale price of more than $23 million for "Liz" (1963) when it was auctioned at Christie's auction house in 2007.

The silkscreen, which is one of a number of pieces by Warhol that celebrate the American actress, was offered by art collector and hedge fund financier Steve Cohen.

Prior to its sale, "Liz #5" garnered a lot of interest in the art world, said Michael McGinnis, who heads the contemporary department at Philips de Pury & Co. He guessed that Taylor's death would bring a renewed interest to the piece, but that its artistry makes it valuable on its own.

"In terms of its impeccable provenance and the quality of the silkscreen, this has perfect qualities," McGinnis said of the piece.

Before its acquisition in 2007 for an undisclosed price, "Liz #5" belonged to famed art dealer and collector Ileana Sonnabend, who was an early admirer of Warhol.

In the early 1960s, Warhol, who was enamored by the glamorized and beautiful images of Hollywood stars, began his streak of works featuring iconic products and celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Taylor.

In 1963, Taylor was already a giant in Hollywood, with movies like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "Butterfield 8" (1960), for which she won an Oscar, propelling her to the height of fame.
The movie "Cleopatra" (1963) catapulted Taylor further as her off-screen romances monopolized Hollywood gossip magazines.

"Liz #5" is a silkscreen picture of ink and acrylic on linen. Measuring 40-by-40 inches, it reveals Taylor's face as she was already a presence in American culture. She appears on a turquoise background, her skin a glowing pink, her unmistakable eyes painted violet and her lips lathered in red.

The colored "Liz" series includes 13 pieces.

In his 2007 book "Andy Warhol Portraits," art gallery owner and artist Tony Shafrazi pays homage to the artist whom he first met in 1965. He was a friend until Warhol's death in 1987.

"He was interested in movie stars and their sense of beauty," Shafrazi said.

As simple a process as it may appear, he says that in 1963, the silkscreen image process that Warhol used was very rare and new.

For Shafrazi, Warhol's work reflected the assembly-line format that the American experience was projecting onto the world at the time. And even though the U.S. mass-produced items, Warhol's work meant to show that each item is independent of the other, even though there is sameness.

Shafrazi said that when he met Taylor years ago, the actress, who once told journalist Barbara Walters that she hated to be called "Liz," told him that she was fond of Warhol's paintings.

Water, color and light

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Master and pupil present paintings together

Paintings such as "End of Summer, Washington Square" clearly demonstrate Keiko Matsuura's innate finesse for depicting people in outdoor scenes.
Paintings such as "End of Summer, Washington Square" clearly demonstrate Keiko Matsuura's innate finesse for depicting people in outdoor scenes. / Courtesy of the artist
Watercolor paintings by Bernardsville resident Keiko Matsuura stand alongside those of her teacher, Mark de Mos, in the May exhibit at the Bernardsville Public Library. The "Art As a Second Language" show makes for an intriguing comparison of the similarities and contrasts in styles and emphases between student and instructor.

Matsuura arrived in the United States from Japan in 2004. She settled in Bernardsville in 2006, where she began studying at the library's English as a Second Language program, teaching arts and crafts and origami as a library volunteer, and taking watercolor lessons from de Mos. Under de Mos' expert tutelage, Matsuura became immediately enamored with the charms of watercolor painting.

"I was hooked right away on his lesson which showed me how water and color can run freely together on the paper, magically creating exciting colors," Matsuura said.

Matsuura earned immediate success. One of her first paintings, "Summer Day in Madison," gained acceptance into the 2009 New Jersey Watercolor Society Juried Exhibition. Since then she has won many honors, including the Century Link Award in the Skylands Juried Art Exhibit, and recently became an elected member of the New Jersey Watercolor Society.

Paintings such as her "Texting in the City" and" End of Summer, Washington Square" clearly demonstrate Matsuura's innate finesse for depicting people in outdoor scenes. A sense of joyous energy and optimism pulses from the folk who mingle and move across her pictures.

The paintings by de Mos do not include people as insistently as those of Matsuura. But whether he portrays a milling crowd, a building facade, street scene, winter landscape or still life, the splash and play of light pervade his paintings, giving them a vivid vitality.

DeMos has been making art for more than 35 years and teaching art for more than 25 years. A neighbor started him working in pen and ink while in high school, and his mother gave him his first watercolor lessons. He sold artwork during his college years at Rutgers-Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. De Mos cites the influence of John Singer Sargent, and says he strives for a dynamic realism that is painterly and not photo-realistic.

Throughout the years, de Mos has worked in pastel, pen and ink, watercolor and etching. His art has earned numerous honors and has been featured in many publications. He founded the Pastel Society of New Jersey in 2005 and currently teaches watercolor and pastel at the Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster and at other venues, and is represented by the Studio 7 Fine Art Gallery in Bernardsville.


May 12, 2011

Van Gogh: The effect of colour

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Vincent van Gogh is always associated with colour due to his bright and vivid French paintings. But his early paintings from the Netherlands on the other hand are never seen as colourful.  This, however, is not the case;  colour is an essential and constant element in Van Gogh’s entire oeuvre.  Even if the dark paintings from Nuenen (Holland) and the luminous works from France seem to be miles apart from each other, they are the result of the same colour theory.  

Vincent van Gogh, Head of a woman, 1885
Vincent van Gogh, Head of a woman, 1885
Vincent van Gogh, Zelfportret met strohoed, 1887. De helderheid van het zelfportret bereikte Van Gogh met dezelfde primaire kleuren als voorheen, maar met een beter begrip van de kleurtheorie.
Vincent van Gogh, Selfportrait with straw hat, 1887
Vincent van Gogh was confronted with the colour theories of Charles Blanc in 1884.This book was one of the most important sources of inspiration for Van Gogh’s use of colour. Blanc gave a clear overview of the theory in which the contemporary colours played a key role. These are colours positioned opposite of each other on the colour circle and which are enforced when placed next to each other (red-green, blue-orange, purple-yellow). Van Gogh started experimenting with these contrasts in Nuenen.

Colour circle of Charles Blanc
Blanc’s colour circle
Van Gogh greatly admired Delacroix’s use of colour, which he had read about in Blanc. He knew that colour gradations are relative, so that a dark colour could seem light if the surroundings colours would be darker. This principle is correct for a bright use of colour as that of Delacroix.  But Van Gogh applied it on the temperate colours used by the Hague School painters.

Eugène Delacroix, The good Samaritan, 1849
Eugène Delacroix, The good Samaritan, 1849
The understanding that light gradations are always relative depending on their surroundings. This theory inspired Van Gogh during his whole Nuenen period and he demonstrated this principle in a letter sketch of a painting of a weaver. 

He has applied two dots in the margin, which both represent the white colour of the skein in the painting. However, the tonal effect on the eye is different: the grey dot expresses the colour white in the light, while the other dot represents the same colour influenced by the surrounding shadow – and hence shows a lot darker.

The understanding that colour effects are always relative and dependant on their surroundings inspired Van Gogh throughout his Nuenen period. Van Gogh demonstrated the principle in this sketch. He has applied two dots in the margin, which both represent the white colour of the skein in the study.
Sketch after a painting, in a letter to Theo van Gogh, mid June 1884
He didn’t realise that within this tonal palette certain colours, like yellow and orange, if applied (mixed) with dark tones lose their power. If Van Gogh could have seen Delacroix’s work in colour reproduction or even for real, he would have realised that he was on the wrong track!


Artist's flower paintings under the hammer

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Albert Williams flower painting

Work by Sussex artist Albert Williams, whose flower paintings were reproduced on millions of greetings cards, is going under the hammer.

Williams, who lived and worked in Hove in the former home of Victorian artist Charles Burleigh, was born in Sussex in 1992 and died last year.

He painted each bloom as an individual portrait from nature, then incorporated them into the final compositions.

The work was also used on commemorative china and collectors' items.

Williams initially studied with his father and grandfather, who were both artists, then attended arts schools in London and Paris.


May 11, 2011

High Art, Which Is to Say 29,029 Feet

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Ranan R. Lurie Panels
Panels by the artist Ranan R. Lurie en route to the summit of Mount Everest.

The cartoonist Ranan R. Lurie has had his downs and ups: He has gone skydiving with Israeli soldiers and the 101st Airborne Division, and he has climbed Mount Fuji in Japan. But only the art, not the artist, is going to the top of Mount Everest.

“I did once consider it,” he said, “but I was informed by the authorities that you can’t do it beyond 60.” Noting that he will turn 79 this month, he added, “I don’t want to get a ticket.”

Mr. Lurie said that the three panels, taken from his 2005 “Uniting Painting” exhibition at the United Nations, will be the first art installation at the top of Mount Everest. The canvases were placed in what was described as “element-resistant material” to survive the weather at 29,029 feet — which, for the record, is almost two and a half times the height of Mount Fuji. The canvases will be illuminated by solar-powered light boxes that the climbing team is carrying.

He said they were among the smallest of the works that hung at the United Nations, a parade of 37 mostly outsize squares and rectangles. They began in the lobby of the General Assembly building and spread toward the East River outside. Later, “Uniting Painting” was installed along the demilitarized zone in Korea.

Mr. Lurie, who was born in Egypt and grew up in Israel, has done more than 2,000 paintings (and 11,000 political cartoons), along with 28 statues. In preparation for the journey to the top of the world, he went to Nepal last month for an official reception for, as he put it, “my wife, myself and the canvases.” 

But he did not wait around for the expedition. “The time invested in having to get used to the environment — you have to stay for several weeks in base camp to allow your body to adjust to the lack of oxygen,” he said.

“This,” he added, “I cannot afford.”


Watercolours definitely treasures, not trash

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The charming railroad station in Hopewell, N.J., is on the National Register of Historic Places.
While cleaning out my closet recently, I came across two watercolour paintings that I had purchased many years ago. They are by Ranulph Debayeux Bye, and both measure 9-1/2 inches high by 12 inches. I can find information about Bye, but not about the value of these paintings, and I would like to know if they are trash or treasure.

- Sincerely,

J.M., Pinckney, Mich.

Dear J.M.: We vote for treasure. These are a wonderful pair of views of old railroad stations, by an American artist whose work is very highly regarded by many.

We gather that J.M. knows all the biographical information that follows because she says she has done the research about Bye's life - but for those unfamiliar with him who are reading this, let's review.

Bye was born in Princeton, N.J., in 1916. He studied art at what is now known as the Philadelphia College of Art. But at the time Bye studied there it was called the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art.

Bye also studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Later, he taught art for more than 30 years at the Moore College of Art and Design, which was established by Sarah Worthington Peter in 1848 as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Bye was very successful both as a teacher and an artist, and it has been estimated that, since 1953, he painted more than 3,000 images. He was a member of the National Academy of Design, the American Watercolor Society, and Allied Arts - and all of these institutions exhibited his work at one time or another.

Today, Bye's watercolours are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Boston Museum of Fine Art and many other smaller, less-well-known repositories of fine art.

Bye is associated with painting farm and other pastoral scenes, plus paintings of houses, barns, fire stations and, yes, railroad stations. He published several books, including "Painting Buildings in Watercolor," "Ranulph Bye's Bucks County" and "Ranulph Bye's Collection of Old Firehouses."

We were able to identify one railroad station that is the subject of one of J.M.'s paintings. It is the Hopewell Railroad Station in Hopewell, N.J. It was built by the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad in 1876 and leased to the Philadelphia Reading Railroad in 1879. Train service there ended in 1983.

We found a much larger version of this painting (14 by 21 inches) that sold at auction in 2004 for $1,800 - but the rendering belonging to J.M. would sell for much less because of its rather diminutive size. As a pair, we feel these two paintings would sell at auction for between $1,000 and $1,200 and have an insurance value of around double that.


May 10, 2011

Postcards from Pakistan: The spirit of Hunza

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It is 11 am in the morning but the hands of the clock that hangs on Karim Hachani’s wall in his office in Karimabad, Hunza Valley, shows 9 am and it seems as though the hands of clock have stopped moving altogether. 

I ask Hachani about this. He shrugs and instead, offers me chai.

Hachani, who has been a tourist guide for the Hunza Guides Pakistan for more than 15 years, tells me about the lack of tourism-related business. “It’s difficult to put food on the table now,” laments the 44-year-old father of two. His own father had been a trekking guide as well.

In the heydays, Hachani would bring groups of tourists on trekking expeditions to base camps, often stretching several days. Now, he is contemplating switching jobs.

Behind him, a pinned-up corkboard bears several letters of gratitude, some in French, German and Spanish. One of them, dated 2004, came from a group of university students from my home country, Singapore, thanking him for his “excellent” service.

And just like the hands of the clock on his wall, Pakistan’s tourism industry, has come to a standstill.

Often known as “Switzerland of the East”, the northern areas of the country are home to some of the world’s tallest peaks such as K2, Nanga Parbat and the Hindu Kush.

Photo by Ng Yixiang

Admittedly, the northern areas are not for the faint-hearted. The rugged terrains, steep gorges and the harsh Karakoram Highway that cuts across mountains make for quite a perilous journey, one that appeals to those seeking an adventure.

From the ’70s up until the ’90s, Pakistan was a popular destination for European travelers who reveled in tracing the steps of notable travelers and historic figures such as Alexander the Great. But the onslaught of military operations in the country has led to falling numbers of tourists.

A few cups of chai later, I bid goodbye to Hachani who has offered to take me to the old village of Ganish the next day.

I step out onto the empty streets, lined with tall poplar trees. Signs in a myriad of languages like Korean and Japanese greet me, a vestige of what Hunza used to be – a thriving tourist destination.  Hotels and backpacker inns stand empty. Rooms now come cheap. I pay just Rs.100 a night for a single bed at the Karimabad Inn.

Around me, houses sit on neat, terraced valleys blanketed in hues of yellow and green from the maize and wheat plantations.

Photo by Ng Yixiang

Hunza, standing at around 8, 500 feet high (roughly 2, 440 meters above sea level) is also flanked by mountains from all sides, the most famous one being Rakaposhi, the 27th highest in the world measuring at more than 25, 000 feet.
And every year, around June, seasonal fruits such as peaches, apricots, cherries and mulberries hang heavy from the trees.

I make my way to the Baltit Fort, strolling down the carefully paved walkway but not before I am distracted by the array of hand-woven carpets (made with vegetable dyes) on display outside some shops. Colourful traditional costumes, pashmina shawls and wooly hats are also on display.

A shopkeeper beckons to me and I enter the shop – probably the first one to do so in days.

An hour later, I walk out the shop with some shopping bags. I bought a vest with peacock motifs (I have yet to find an occasion to wear the somewhat outlandish vest) and a few topi (hats) as souvenirs for people back home. As I continue down the sleepy street, another shopkeeper calls out to me. A few minutes later, I walk out of the shop with a new blue lapis pendant around my neck and ruby earrings.

The time I was in Hunza, the town was in the spotlight for different reasons. The visitors include members of the local media, going around in their newsvan, eager to capture the Attabad lake crises. For months since January 2010, due to a landslide, the lake has threatened to burst. And it finally did so in early June.
As a result, houses and shops were flooded and some 6, 000 people were displaced.
Every half and hour or so, the loud whirring of helicopter blades is heard and schoolchildren in caps emblazoned with the word “Pakistan” would look up and point to the chopper flying overhead.

On my third day there, I befriended some journalists who offered to take me with them on their reporting trip. In Aliabad (another town in Hunza), the Pakistan Army has taken over the Federal Government Degree College for boys and converted it into an army camp of sorts. A military helicopter stands in the middle of what used to be a playing field, waiting to carry officials and rescued villagers.

After an hour or so of negotiations, I was denied a pass to board the chopper, owing to my status as a foreigner. But what I went through was nothing compared to the residents of Hunza.

Outside the compound, relief tents have been set up where stranded residents wait patiently, usually on days end. In the days that followed, boat services were carried out.

But the people of Hunza are a resilient bunch.

Photo by Ng Yixiang

Once ruled by a prince, the population of 60, 000 are known for their peace-loving nature (the last battle was fought in 1889 against the British) and their longevity that stems from their healthy diet of unprocessed food. The fair-skinned residents are still speaking the native language of Burushaski.

“Yahan bohut sukkun zindagi hai (Life is very peaceful here),” says Ahmad, my guide at the 800-year-old Baltit Fort as he gave me a tour of the place that has been restored remarkably well.

Traditions dating back centuries are still being practiced in Hunza. My visit to Ganish village with Hachani reaffirmed this. The village, proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to Hunza’s artisan community. A few days shy of the upcoming festival of Ginani that marks the start of spring, artists with feathers in their topi are seen around the village rehearsing for a show that will be attended by Hunza’s royalty.
At night, the melodic sound of flutes being played followed by a continuous chorus of singing echoes across the town whose streets are illuminated by the moonlight.

Charmed by the peace and serenity that pervades Hunza, I stayed on in Hunza for a few more days. Quiet afternoons were spent in the popular Café de Hunza enjoying coffee and walnut cake while perusing books left behind by other tourists. At night, I would sit among the locals in the eateries around town to watch the FIFA World Cup matches.

Alberto, the Spaniard I met in the inn has likened my extension in Hunza to the Spanish saying of “mañana, mañana” (meaning: tomorrow, tomorrow which denotes procrastination). Another backpacker I met was Pierre, a French tourist whose injured ankle had stalled his trekking expedition to the Rakaposhi base camp. Fellow Frenchman Aly Bossin, who is married to a Pakistani, has also brought his family of six to vacation here all the way from Hyderabad.

Photo by Ng Yixiang

One afternoon, as I was walking around, 15-year-old Naila – a local – approached me and invited me over to her house for chai. Along the way, I volunteered to carry the heavy basket of grass that her mother was balancing on her back. Naturally, I could only manage a few metres.

Her house sits on top of a hill and getting there meant having to cross streams and slippery rocks. Her house was scarcely furnished except for a few mattresses laid out on the cold stone floor – typical of a Hunza home.

Over chai and biscuits, we conversed in our broken Urdu and English (her’s was pretty good) while her nani (grandmother) placed a topi on my head and her sister danced for us. They posed for some pictures and made me promise that I would mail it to them (I have yet to follow through on my promise!). And typical to Pakistani hospitality, she wanted me to spend the night there but I politely declined and made my way back to the hostel. Amazingly, even today, we have continued to keep in touch through regular phone calls.

Earlier in the day, I woke up before the crack of dawn to follow Ilyas, a local trekking guide, who speaks fluent Japanese, to catch the sunrise from high up in the mountains. A 45-minute jeep ride and 20 minutes of trekking later, I arrive at the peak of Eagles Nest. The cold thin air makes me numb but I quickly recover as I watch alpine light being casted onto the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains.

On my last night in Hunza, the local reporters I befriended organised a cultural night. The tourists from the inn and myself were treated to hours of revelry as musicians played traditional Hunza music accompanied by local dancers.

Tourism may have dipped but clearly, the heart of Hunza remains intact. Forts restored to great care and traditions are still being practiced as they have been for centuries.

The next day, I finally left the town to continue my way to other places in the northern areas of Pakistan, eager to capture more life in these remote mountains while knowing very well that Hunza has enthralled me deeply.

Photo by Ng Yixiang

Five things to do in Hunza:

1)    Check out the 800-year-old Baltit Fort and Sacred Rocks with drawings depicting events in Hunza dating back to the 1st century

2)    Visit Ganish village and attend a cultural event

3)    Trek to Rakaposhi base camp

4)    Enter China via Khunjrab Pass, also called Zero Point

5)    Don’t forget to bring home a piece of Hunza, for a start you should check out shops that carry embroidered and beaded purses from Thread Net Hunza, a non-profit organisation that empowers women in northern areas of Pakistan

How to get to Hunza (Best time to visit would be anytime between the summer and spring months of April-July)

1)    By air: Pakistan International Airlines flies daily to Gilgit from Islamadad, tickets cost around 3, 000 -5, 000 rupees. Passengers will be able to enjoy an aerial view of the mountains. Flight time is about 45 minutes.

2)    By land: Bus companies like NATCO and Mashabrum carry out services daily from Rawalpindi to Gilgit with tickets starting from 1, 000 rupees, journey time is around 20 hours.

3)    From Gilgit, vans transport passengers every hour or so (in the morning) to places in Hunza like Karimabad and Aliabad. Tickets are as cheap as Rs 300 and journey time is approximately 5 hours.



PTDC launches discount tour packages for groups, families

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pakistan tourismpakistan tourismISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) has launched a number of discounted tour packages for groups, families and students.

Tourist Coach Services to Swat and Kaghan Valley will also be resumed from June 1. PTDC has also set up accommodation facilities at fairy tale places like Rama Lake, Phandar Lake, Gupis, Mastuj, Bunni, Bumburet (Kalash Valley) and Khaplu in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral areas, an official of PTDC told APP.

"From a modest beginning with 10 units in 1976, PTDC Motels have now expanded its boarding, lodging and restaurant facilities to 43 remote tourist destinations spread across the country," he said.

Fourteen motels have been leased out to private parties, whereas remaining units are being operated by PTDC itself. With over 600 rooms, it has now become the largest chain of motels & restaurants in the country.

In line with government's tourism development strategy, PTDC motels were constructed to meet two primary objectives; to open up new areas for tourism and set the pace for the private sector to follow, secondly, to initiate socio- economic development of the area.

PTDC has been successful to meet these objectives and presents an accessible and affordable facility at the most picturesque sites.

PTDC Motels are set up in areas where private sector is reluctant to invest or where infrastructure facilities are not yet fully developed.

Playing a role of pioneer and trend setter, PTDC Motels have always opened up new and remote places for tourism thus bringing infrastructure (road, water, electricity, telephone, etc.) facilities and employment opportunities at the door-step of the local communities.

PTDC Motels lead the road to prosperity and development.

For facilitation of tourists, PTDC has set up a website:  on tourist attractions of Pakistan, in addition to its 18 Tourist Information Centres located in main cities and tourist places.

It is pertinent to mention that temperature in the central and southern parts of the country is rising with every passing day. However, there are places like Murree, Ayubia, Nathiagali, Azad Kashmir, Kaghan, Swat, Chitral, Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu where the weather is pleasant the air is fresh, the valleys are green and the river waters are refreshingly cool.

First impressions of Monet's new gardener

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In his first interview since being appointed head gardener at Giverny, James Priest - a 53-year-old horticulturalist from Merseyside - reveals his plans for Monet's glorious gardens outside Paris 

gardens outside Paris

James Priest, the British head gardener at Monet's garden at Giverny
James Priest at Monet's Giverny: 'I don't want to frighten anyone, but the time might soon be right to look again at the original garden'

The deep green pond may look serene, but look closely and there are ripplings among the water lilies, a rustling in the wisteria. Giverny, home and inspiration of Impressionist painter Claude Monet, magnet for half a million camera-wielding visitors a year, and second only to Versailles as the most iconic garden in France, has a new head gardener. And he’s from Merseyside. Zut alors!
Any suspicions, however, that James Priest, 53, might be a naïve rosbif bumbling into a culture and legacy he doesn’t understand are swiftly dispatched the moment you meet him. Priest might have been born and brought up in Maghull, near Liverpool, and trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but he greets me at Vernon train station, 45 miles west of Paris, all shrugs and charm, a jumper casually, some might say Gallically, tied around his shoulders and speaking with – can it be? – a French accent.
“I’ve been living here for so long the English think I’m French and the French think I’m English,” he smiles with a shrug. He has lived in the country for 27 years, his former wife is French and his 19-year-old son (he has a daughter, too) “can’t speak a word of English”. So does anything English about Priest remain? “I always drink my coffee in the morning in a mug. I’ve never got used to a bowl.”
Priest officially starts his new job as head gardener at Giverny on June 1 and is still learning the ropes – he has yet to memorise the security code to access his new house next door to the garden, which comes with the job and into which he moved this week. It’s been a hectic time for a man more usually found keeping his head down in the shrubbery of super-wealthy French estates – such as Royaumont in Chantilly, where he worked for 17 years for Baron Elie de Rothschild.
Monet lived at Giverny for 53 years until his death in 1926. What began as a few flowers for cutting to paint inside on rainy days soon became a five-acre obsession; part formal flower garden, part serene lily pond. “I am no good at anything but painting and gardening,” the Impressionist painter famously claimed. 

Before long, he was diverting a river to make a pond that he would go on to paint repeatedly in his famous “Water Lilies” series, with its iconic green Japanese bridge festooned with wisteria – the original vine Monet planted remains today. The pond had to work hard to perform to Monet’s artistic standards. His team of eight gardeners would wipe the lily pads daily, remove leaves and scoop out algae to keep the water clear, and he paid road-workers to tar the road next door so that cars – a recent invention – didn’t throw up dust to settle on the water. 

The algae-scooping continues to this day, a daily necessity thanks to nitrates in fertilisers used on farmland nearby washing into the pond and encouraging its growth. The long-handled nets also come in handy since a visitor has just dropped her handbag off the Japanese bridge into the water. One of Priest’s team of eight gardeners punts gallantly over in a wooden boat and fishes it out. 

It’s a blistering May day, and Priest picks through the crowds with a diffident smile. The Clos Normand – the beds of the formal flower garden directly below Monet’s house – are looking delicious, like overstuffed cushions. Mauve and white sweet rocket, fat-headed alliums and towering foxtail lilies are flanked by regimented rows of irises of varying blues, their rigid lines softened by blousy laissez-faire blooms. “Even in the very wide borders, there are dominant lines,” Priest points out. “This is the way Monet painted, in blocks and lines. Not groups.” 

There is little natural about this part of the garden, and Priest loves the contrast between French and English gardening styles. “French garden style is formal. It’s regular, geometry, perfection. English garden style is breaking away from that – trying to interpret nature, keeping natural shapes. The big difference is that French gardens weren’t for walking in but for looking down on from the house.” 

As a Kew student in his twenties, Priest visited Giverny for the first time and admits he didn’t understand it. “As a young gardener, I was comparing it to English gardens. It was a shock.” 

Now he has been “enlightened” to Giverny. “It’s a wonderful garden. You have to look at it with a painter’s eye, rather than a gardener’s eye. This garden appeals to all nationalities. It has the straight lines, but it also has natural, soft plants. I see people leaning down and expressing wonder over a simple pansy, taking photographs. They would never do that in a public park. Because it’s Monet’s garden, the poetry takes over.” 

Priest was always a Francophile at heart. As a child, he loved French lessons and tried to make wine. It was his father, a greengrocer who had a store at Liverpool Exchange Station, who lit the spark of young James’s enthusiasm. When their family gardener retired, Priest’s father didn’t replace him, instead splitting the family’s large garden into four and giving each of his children a piece. 

When Priest left school, and dutifully filled out his banking application forms like all the other grammar school boys, Priest’s father stepped in once more. “He said, ‘I can’t see you behind a desk, you’d be bored as hell.’ ” Soon he was picking up leaves for the Queen at Windsor Park on a placement from horticultural college in Preston. 

At 17, he and his English friends hung out in Paris in the artists’ quartiers, drinking wine and jumping off bridges into the Seine. “There’s a big ledge below, so you don’t really jump in, it just looks like you did,” he recalls. “And I liked French girls!” He met one and married her, returning to England to study at Kew, then zipping back across the Channel to immerse himself in a life full of French gardens. 

And this one is a national treasure. When Monet died in 1926, the garden was abandoned. His son turfed over the flower beds and the pond silted up. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that it was restored – a project headed up by the curator Gerald van der Kamp and head gardener Gilbert Vahe, who is retiring after 35 years. 

So does Priest have any goals? “I don’t want to frighten anyone, to change the garden. The interesting thing for me now is that that was the garden with two people working together. So now maybe in the next 10 years, we can take another look at what’s been done and, rather than just copying it, the time might be right to look again at the original information.” 

But as he poses amenably, if awkwardly, for the photographer on the Japanese bridge, squeezing between a man with a camera and two staring ladies, you see that Priest is really just one of many who have possession of this garden. The visitors, the Monet Foundation, the retiring gardener hanging up his hat, and of course the ghost of a certain Impressionist heading back up the garden with his canvases and tubes of oil paint, “own” it too. 

“Sometimes there’s a little wind,” says this most French of Englishmen, “and I’m not sure if it’s Monet trying to point me in the right direction.” 





A German Artist Reinterprets Two Dutch Masters

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Left, a detail from Anselm Kiefer's
Left, Charles Duprat; right, Anton CorbijnLeft, a detail from Anselm Kiefer’s “La Berceuse (for Van Gogh),” 2010; right, Anselm Kiefer, 

On invitation from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer was given full rein to create a new work of art inspired by the museum’s most famous painting, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.” The result, titled “La Berceuse (for Van Gogh),” unveiled today and  on display in the museum’s Philips Wing through July 4, manages to pay homage to those two well-known Dutch masters, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. 

With the “Kiefer & Rembrandt” exhibition, the Rijksmuseum continues promoting the long tradition of artists creating work influenced by their predecessors. Mr. Kiefer, whose work is shaped by historical, mythological and spiritual themes, reinterprets “The Night Watch” as a three-dimensional triptych, each piece approximately 5 feet wide and 13 feet tall. The center element displays a worn antique garden chair, seemingly floating in space. The two side sections showcase inverted sunflowers and cracked, dry soil — Mr. Kiefer has chosen to depict Rembrandt with objects distinctly attributed to van Gogh.

“Van Gogh was known to be a great admirer of Rembrandt, and Kiefer is a huge admirer of van Gogh,” said Ludo van Halem, curator of the exhibition. “So you can say that it is not Kiefer directly confronting the work of Rembrandt, but rather using van Gogh as an intermediate artist. So it’s a chain of artists admiring each other.”


May 9, 2011

The Art Of Tagores

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 Rabindranath's foray into painting came rather late in his life -he was in his 60s when he discovered art and managed to develop in a short span of time, a distinctive and surprisingly modern style of his own.

Monochromatic to start with, his paintings began to acquire colour as be became surer of his style. Pen and ink drawings came first, followed by the use of one or more colours in landscapes, figures and portraits -he tried his hand at everything. Never at a loss for words, Rabindranath wrote, "Creation is not repetition...The world of reality is all around us. When I look at this phenomenon with my artist's eye, things are revealed in a different light, which I try and recapture in my picture -call them realistic or not...." Possibly somewhat wary of how his paintings would be perceived in India, he decided to display his work publicly for the first time in Paris in 1930 and followed it up by a show back home in Calcutta in 1931.

Besides his drawings, what was even more fascinating, were the drawings he created, while writing his poems, where he would delete unwanted words or even whole lines by creating strange intriguing images so that the whole page became a work of art. His own self-portraits -of which there were many -and other faces that have become among his most famous works, including one familiar to all on a postage stamp, all seem to be imbued with a mysterious quality. While looking at these paintings, one realises that they are the work of the same mind whose prose and poetry brought him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, for Rabindranath Tagore's writings often focused on mysterious subjects, such as the `King in His Dark Chamber' from his famous play Rakta Karabi or the ghostly Manihara.

In the last 17 years of his life, Rabindranath Tagore is said to have created more than 3,000 drawings and paintings. Out of these the NGMA has around 100 works in their collection. During Tagore's 150-year commemoration, a large number of these have been seen by the public ­ many of these perhaps having been seen for the very first time.