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kottke.org posts about James Payne

Claude Monet’s War Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

This is another great episode of James Payne’s Great Art Explained on the work of Claude Monet, specifically the massive water lily canvases he completed before his death, created as “a war memorial to the millions of lives tragically lost in the First World War”.

Claude Monet is often criticised for being overexposed, too easy, too obvious, or worse, a chocolate box artist. His last works, the enormous water lily canvasses are among the most popular art works in the world.

Yet there is nothing tame, traditionalist, or cosy about these last paintings. These are his most radical works of all. They turn the world upside down with their strange, disorientating and immersive vision.

Monet’s water lilies have come to be viewed as simply an aesthetic interpretation of the garden that obsessed him. But they are so much more.

These works were created as a direct response to the most savage and apocalyptic period of modern history. They were in fact conceived as a war memorial to the millions of lives tragically lost in the First World War.

I’ve seen these paintings at the Musée de l’Orangerie — amazing to see them exactly the way in which the artist intended them to be seen.

See also Film of Claude Monet Painting Water Lilies in His Garden (1915) and Monet’s Ultraviolet Vision.

Great Art Cities Explained: Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2022

Great Art Explained is one of my recent favorite YouTube channels (see The Mona Lisa, Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Michelangelo’s David, and Starry Night, all fascinating) and host James Payne, along with Joanne Shurvell, are now doing a related series on Great Art Cities Explained. They tackled London first and have moved onto Paris, where they feature three of the city’s lesser known museums that were originally art studios: those of Eugène Delacroix, Suzanne Valadon, and Constantin Brancusi.

Great Art Explained: The Mona Lisa (The Extended Cut)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2021

In the most recent episode of the excellent YouTube series Great Art Explained, James Payne expands on an earlier, shorter video on the Mona Lisa with this double-length extended cut.

For Mona Lisa, Leonardo used a thin grain of poplar tree and applied an undercoat of lead white, rather than just a mix of chalk and pigment. He wanted a reflective base. Leonardo painted with semi-transparent glazes that had a very small amount of pigment mixed with the oil, so how dark you wanted your glaze to be depends on how much pigment you use. He used more like a “wash”, which he applied thin — layer by layer. Here you can see two colors of contrast — light and dark. When you apply thin glaze over both of them, you can see it starts to unify the contrast but also brings depth and luminosity. The lead white undercoat reflects the light back through the glazes, giving the picture more depth and in essence, lighting Mona Lisa from within.

This was fascinating, not a wasted moment in the whole thing. I’ve read, watched, and listened to a lot of analysis of the Mona Lisa over the years, but Payne’s detailed explanation both added to my knowledge and clarified what I already knew.

Great Art Explained: van Gogh’s Starry Night

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

Bear with me, I am on a bit of an art kick lately. As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slowly working my way through James Payne’s Great Art Explained video series. But then — bang! — he came out with a new episode on Vincent van Gogh and his masterpiece, Starry Night. Having seen this painting in person for the first time in a few years just days ago at MoMA, I abandoned the back catalog and dug in to this new one immediately.

Van Gogh is one of my favorites — I spent several happy hours at his museum in Amsterdam in 2017 — and Payne does a good job of contextualizing his life and work around the time he painted Starry Night, particularly the emphasis on the influence of Japanese art on his work and his probable incorporation of spiral galaxy imagery into Starry Night. Highly recommended, especially if you’ve seen the painting in person.

Great Art Explained: Michelangelo’s David

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2021

Great Art Explained is one of my favorite newish YouTube channels and I’ve been slowly working my way through their back catalogue. Today’s watch was a 15-minute explanation of one of the signature masterpieces of the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s David. The details related to the carving of the swollen jugular vein and the variable visibility of the veins in the hands is fantastic. (via open culture)

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai, Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

Great Art Explained is a super YouTube series that I am somehow just now learning about that, uh, explains great art. Host James Payne has done about a dozen videos on pieces like Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and Untitled (Skull) by Jean-Michel Basquiat. His latest is about The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai.

In 1639 Japan closed its borders and cut itself off from the outside world. Foreigners were expelled, Western culture was forbidden, and Entering or leaving Japan was punishable by Death. It would remain that way for over 200 years.

It was under these circumstances that a quintessentially Japanese art developed. Art for the people that was consumed on an unprecedented scale.

Really interesting stuff. Subscribed.

See also several different versions of The Great Wave print and The Art of Traditional Japanese Printmaking. (via open culture)