Saturday 6 December 2014


“What a business is this of a portrait painter! You bring him a potato and expect he will paint you a peach.” - Gilbert Charles Stuart

For Art Sunday, an American painter active in the late 18th to early 19th century. Gilbert Stuart, in full Gilbert Charles Stuart (born December 3, 1755, Saunderstown, Rhode Island colony [now in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, U.S.] died July 9, 1828, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.), was an American painter who was one of the great portrait painters of his era and the creator of a distinctively American portrait style.

Stuart grew up in Newport, Rhode Island, where he learned the rudiments of painting. In 1775 he went to London and entered the studio of the expatriate American artist Benjamin West, with whom he worked for about six years. His mature style owes more, however, to the work of Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds than to West. In 1782 Stuart opened his own London studio, and for five years he received portrait commissions from some of England's most distinguished gentlemen.

After his apprenticeship, Stuart became London's leading portrait painter, next to Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, whose style he emulated, as in a rare full-length portrait of William Grant of Congalton as The Skater (ca. 1782). For a while Stuart lived in splendour, but being a bad businessman and a profligate spender, he was in constant debt. He fled to Dublin in 1787 to escape his creditors. He lived in Ireland from 1787 to 1792 and then returned to America to make a fortune, he said, by painting Washington's portrait.

This last phase of his career was so successful that Stuart had more work than he could handle. He'd developed his own distinctive style (emulated by the next generation of painters) that led to the title, “Father of American Portraiture”. After living in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., he settled in Boston in 1805, and spent the next 24 years painting Presidents, First Ladies, important figures in early American history and - of course - wealthy people from all along the Eastern seaboard.

Though he is best known today for his portraits of George Washington, Stuart is credited with well over 1,000 bust-, three-quarter- and full-length works. Many of these were unfinished and attribution is somewhat problematic at times, as he almost never signed his work. And, despite these many, hefty commissions, he never did develop any business sense. Ironically, the artist whose work is seen millions of times each day (on the U.S. $1 bill) died broke.

Stuart was known for working without the aid of sketches, beginning directly upon the canvas. This was very unusual for the time period. His approach is suggested by the advice he gave to his pupil Matthew Harris Jouett: “Never be sparing of colour, load your pictures, but keep your colours as separate as you can. No blending, tis destruction to clear & bea[u]tiful effect.”  Stuart's works can be found today at art museums and private collections throughout the United States and Great Britain, including the University Club in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

His daughter, Jane Stuart (1812-1888), also a painter, sold many of his paintings and her replicas of them from her studios in Boston and Newport, Rhode Island. A life mask of Stuart was created by John Henri Isaac Browere around 1825. In 1940, the U.S. Post Office issued a series of Postage stamps called the “Famous Americans Series” commemorating famous Artists, Authors, Inventors, Scientists, Poets, Educators and Musicians. Along with the artists James McNeil Whistler, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French and Frederic Remington, Gilbert Stuart is found on the 1 cent issue in the Artists category.

Today, Stuart's birthplace in Saunderstown, Rhode Island is open to the public as the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum. The museum consists of the original house Stuart was born in, with copies of paintings from throughout his career hanging throughout the house. The museum opened in 1930.

Stuart painted George Washington in a series of iconic portraits, each of them leading in turn to a demand for copies and keeping Stuart busy and highly paid for years. The most famous and celebrated of these likenesses, known as “The Athenaeum” (shown here), is currently portrayed on the United States one dollar bill. Stuart, along with his daughters, painted a total of 130 reproductions of The Athenaeum. However, Stuart never completed the original version; after finishing Washington's face, the artist kept the original version to make the copies. He sold up to 70 of his reproductions for a price of US$100 each, but the original portrait was left unfinished at the time of Stuart's death in 1828.

Friday 5 December 2014


“A good conscience is a continual feast.” - Robert Burton

Today is St Nicholas’ Feast day and it is also my Name Day. In Greek culture, one’s name day is personally equally important to one’s birthday celebration. While all of one’s friends and acquaintances may not be aware of the date of one’s birthday, there is no excuse for neglecting one’s Name Day as the date is widely known by everyone. Traditionally one has an open house” for all well-wishers who visit and are treated with sweets and cakes, while they wish one a Happy Name Day and generally bring one more sweets and/or flowers. If they are on more intimate terms they usually bring presents too.

In Northern Europe St. Nicholas’ Day is a big occasion. Traditional celebrations included gifts left in children’s shoes (from which English Christmas stockings developed). Good children receive treats: Sweets, biscuits, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive lumps of coal. In Germany, children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, and hope to find sweets, coins and maybe a small gift in them on December 6. In The Netherlands, children put their shoes in front of their chimneys in hopes of finding chocolate or a small toy in their shoe when they wake.

For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents! Although St. Nicholas' day is on the 6th December, in Holland, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas. On the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day, Sinterklaas travels to every city or town in The Netherlands, wearing his red bishop’s robes. He travels with his servants called “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Peters). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas then leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. When he visits Amsterdam, he meets the Royal Family in the Palace.

On December, 5th children leave clogs or shoes out, by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill, and sing Sinterklaas songs. They hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse, they will be left some sweets. They’re told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a Zwarte Piet will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/or candy in their shoes.

Children are also told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave! Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid, Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him. Every town in Holland has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out.

To celebrate, here is Joseph Haydn’s “Missa Sancti Nicolai” (Mass no. 6 in G major, Hob XXII:6, also known as the “Nicolaimesse” or St Nicholas’ Mass). This is a mass by Joseph Haydn, composed around 1772 and revised in 1802. The work is scored for SATB soloists and choir, two oboes, two horns, strings, and organ. The revision added trumpets and timpani. It is believed to have been composed for a celebration on St Nicholas’s Day.

Missa Sancti Nicolai in G major “Nikolaimesse”, H. 22/6
1 Kyrie
2 Gloria
3 Credo
4 Sanctus
5 Agnus Dei


“Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” - Bruce Feirstein

A vegetarian quiche recipe to serve to your real man. Easy enough for a real man to cook it too.

Vegetarian Quiche
2 sheets frozen ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, thawed
400g butternut pumpkin, peeled, cubed
1 small capsicum, sliced
1 small parsnip, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
Olive oil cooking spray
4 eggs
1/4 cup pure cream
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)
Ground nutmeg, pepper, salt.

Preheat fan-forced oven to 180°C. Place a baking tray on the top shelf of the oven. Line another baking tray with baking paper.Use pastry to line base and sides of a 4 cm-deep, 25 cm fluted tart pan. Prick base with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes or until firm.Place pumpkin, capsicum, parsnip and onion on lined baking tray. Spray with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place on lower shelf of oven. Place tart pan on hot baking tray in oven.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until pastry is golden and vegetables are just tender. Remove tart pan and vegetables from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 160°C.
Place eggs, cream and cheese in a large jug. Whisk to combine. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables in pastry case. Pour over egg mix. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and just set. If desired, top with parsley before serving.

Please share your fave recipes using the Mr Linky tool below:

Wednesday 3 December 2014


“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Julius II, pope (1443);
André Campra, French composer (1660);
Thomas Carlyle, Scottish essayist (1795);
Samuel Butler, English author (1835);
Rainer Maria Rilke, poet (1875);
Hamilton Harty, composer (1879);
Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Spanish dictator (1892);
A. D. Hershey, Nobel laureate (1969) virologist (1908);
Deanna Durbin (Edna Mae Durbin), actress (1921);
Ronnie Corbett, comedian (1930)
Jeff Bridges, actor (1949);
Pamela Stephenson, actress (1949);
Nick Vujicic, author, religious leader (1982).

The birthday plant for this day is cumin, Cuminum cyminum.  It has a long history of culinary use and its ground seeds are an essential ingredient of curry powder and mixed spice mixtures. The seeds are also used to flavour breads, cakes, cheese, sausages and other sweet and savoury dishes.  The cumin symbolises renewed affection and the seed in the language of flowers implies: “I shall await your arrival”.

St Barbara was beautiful young princess who was imprisoned in a high tower so that her many suitors were discouraged.  One of handmaidens smuggled in some Christian books to her and she embraced the Christian faith with much fervour.  When her father learned of her conversion he handed her over to be tortured as she would not renounce her new faith.  In the end, he beheaded her himself, upon which he was instantly struck dead by lightning.  Therefore, she is invoked against tempests and storms and she is the patron saint of artillery men and gunners, makers of fireworks and explosives.

Died on this day: John XXII (Jacques Duäsne), Pope of Rome (1334); Thomas Hobbes, Philosopher (1679); George Peabody, philanthropist (1869); Hannah Arendt, philosopher (1975); Benjamin Britten, English composer (1976); Frank Zappa, Musician (1993).

Tuesday 2 December 2014


“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” - Dolly Parton

Poetry Jam this week has as its theme the topic of “hands” with the instruction:
“Let your hands inspire you to write something POSITIVE. Absolutely no violence allowed. Then go out and use your hands to lift others up through comments on their blogs!”

Here is my contribution:

The Rendezvous

The rain fell all night long,
And gray dawn was wet
Making of the streets, steel mirrors,
And of the gutters, rivulets.

As raindrops fell and fell
I feared you wouldn’t come;
As clock hands crawled
And dark eddies swirled in my mind.

The street deserted, all taking cover,
Even the cars sparse, on the road;
I watch and wait, mindful of the rain
Saturating me to the core.

As raindrops fall and fall
I fear you will not come;
As clock hands stop
And frozen rain covers my heart.

A lone umbrella in the distance,
Approaching, and a familiar footstep
Making me watch alert,
The dawning sun of expectation
Lighting my darkness.

As raindrops vanish in mid-fall,
I clasp you to my breast and we kiss;
Our hands intertwined,
The umbrella now redundant,
As our love shields us from all outside.


When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before. - Clifton Fadiman

While searching on the net a couple days ago, I found an interesting site published by Random House. This, you probably know, is a large publishing house that is associated with the publication of much good literature. I found on this webpage a list of the 100 best modern novels, which I reproduce here for your reading pleasure.

I was interested to see how many of these I had read and whether I agreed that they were “modern classics” (as purported by the “Board” that comprises “celebrated authors, historians, critics, and a scientist.”)

So here are the Random House “100 best novels” in recent literature:

1 ULYSSES by James Joyce
2 THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4 LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5 BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6 THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7 CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8 DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
9 SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
10 THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
11 UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
12 THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
13 1984 by George Orwell
14 I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15 TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16 AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
19 INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
20 NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
23 U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
24 WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
25 A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
26 THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James
27 THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
28 TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald
30 THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford
31 ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32 THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
33 SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser
34 A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
35 AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
36 ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
37 THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38 HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39 GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
40 THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
41 LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42 DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43 A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44 POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
45 THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
46 THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47 NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
48 THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence
49 WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence
50 TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
51 THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
53 PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
54 LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
55 ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
56 THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
57 PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford
58 THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton
59 ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
60 THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
64 THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
65 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
66 OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
67 HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
68 MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
69 THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
70 THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
71 A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes
72 A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
73 THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
74 A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
75 SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh
77 FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
78 KIM by Rudyard Kipling
79 A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
82 ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner
83 A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
84 THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen
85 LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
86 RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
87 THE OLD WIVES' TALE by Arnold Bennett
88 THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
89 LOVING by Henry Green
90 MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
91 TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell
92 IRONWEED by William Kennedy
93 THE MAGUS by John Fowles
95 UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
96 SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron
97 THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
99 THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy

My tally of how many books on the list I have read: 65 – Whew! I passed! So obviously, I have a list of 35 books to go. I must say that the list contains some great novels, but with few exceptions, it is heavily weighted towards literature in English, rather than great works in all languages (that have also been translated into English).

So now that you have the list, see how you tally up, as far as reading the modern classics is concerned.

Monday 1 December 2014


“Of course all films are surrealist. They are making something that looks like the real world but isn't.” - Michael Powell

For Movie Monday today, an interesting and different movie made in 2005, McKean’s “MirrorMask”, which it is an example of art crossing barriers and creating a piece that is visually stunning, intellectually stimulating and working on multiple levels. The film is directed by Dave McKean who also wrote the story, in collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Dave McKean is a very talented man - artist, writer, sculptor, director, photographer, musician, etc, etc.

It is not surprising therefore that MirrorMask is a wonderful visual feast, with an engaging story and a well-executed, surrealistic feel to it. It was made by Jim Henson Productions, and if you have seen “The Dark Crystal”, “Labyrinth”, and “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller”, you would know the genre that this film falls into. However, having seen these films, I can also say that this film is similar to, but nothing like them.

The story is simple when viewed superficially. A coming of age plot with the usual conflicts between generations, a girl on the verge of becoming a woman and having to cope with guilt, while trying to define herself as a person and attaining independence while maintaining ties with the people whom she loves - her family.

Now that I have said all of that, let me take a few steps back and note that the majority of the film is a quasi-dream sequence where the young heroine is struggling with forces of good and evil, is attempting to save a world and its ruler, while all the while trying to assert her personality and wanting to make the right choices about her life and future.

The film has several important references to previous works and carries within the sprouts of the seeds of other creators’ ideas. Yes, there is an element of Alice in Wonderland in the film, but at the same time there is something of Oedipus and Greek tragedy in it. There is an obvious homage to the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” created by Salvador Dalí, but also I found the work replete with the dark imagery of Odilon Redon’s graphic works.

The whole film has a visual gorgeousness that I found similar to gorging myself with dark chocolate bon-bons filled with rich liqueur. In a strange way it also reminded me of Jostein Gaarder’s book “Sophie’s World”, although it had nothing to do with it! I am sure that on viewing the film again many more allusions to existing works, artists, directors, books, etc, will spring to mind, but on first viewing I was too busy relishing the colour and images to concentrate excessively on analysing the film too much.

The computer graphics that the film uses to good effect are varied in style and form a patchwork effect that is interspersed with live action and liberal portions of Dave McKean’s graphic art that I found enchanting. Some of the black and white sketches that are highlighted in the film are beautiful and are so in tune with the film and the story.

I would recommend this film to anybody who is interested not only in the fantasy genre, but also in animation, computer graphics, mixed media, sketching, and art more generally. Although the film would appeal very much to children and adolescents, there is a lot in it for adults too.