Mar 052019
 

Today is the birthday (1637) of Jan van der Heyden, a Dutch Baroque-era painter, glass painter, draughtsman and printmaker, as well as engineer. Van der Heyden was born in Gorinchem, the son of a Mennonite father and the third of eight children. His father was by turns an oil mill owner, a grain merchant, and a broker. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1646 and van der Heyden’s father acquired local citizenship. Van der Heyden himself never became a citizen of Amsterdam even though he lived there most of his life.

Jan van der Heyden may have received his initial artistic training in the studio of a relative, perhaps his eldest brother, Goris van der Heyden, who made and sold mirrors. He had joined Goris in his mirror producing and selling business. He may also have learned drawing from a glass painter. It is possible that his teacher may have been one of the most admired glass painters of the time, Jacob van der Ulft, who was also originally from van der Heyden’s hometown. Several examples of van der Heyden’s paintings on glass (verre eglomisé) have survived and probably date from this early part of his career.

Van der Heyden married Sara ter Hiel of Utrecht on 26th June 1661 in Amsterdam. At the time of his marriage, he lived on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam, Herengracht. He was then already a practicing artist. His earliest dated works are two drawn portraits of his brother-in-law Samuel ter Hiel and his bride, Jacquemijntje van der Passe date 1659. His earliest dated painting is from 1663.

As a young man he witnessed the fire in the old town hall which made a deep impression on him. He later would describe or draw 80 fires in almost any neighborhood of Amsterdam. In 1668 Cosimo III de’ Medici bought one of his paintings, a view of the town hall with a manipulated perspective.  Painting was not his sole occupation and interest. In fact, he never joined Amsterdam’s painters’ guild. Even while his work was in great demand, he did not rely on his art to make a living. His principal source of income was, in fact, not painting. Rather he was employed as engineer, inventor and municipal official. He was clearly greatly preoccupied with the problem of how to fight fires effectively, and, with his brother Nicolaes, devoted much time between 1668 and 1671 to inventing a new, highly successful water pumping mechanism. He also devised a street-lighting system for Amsterdam and was in 1669 appointed director of street lighting. In 1673 the two brothers received official appointments to manage the city’s fire-fighting equipment and organization. The appointments were sufficient to ensure their financial security.

Van der Heyden moved in 1680 to the Koestraat near the St. Anthonismarkt. Here he built a new family home and a factory for producing fire equipment. In collaboration with his eldest son Jan, he published in 1690 an illustrated book on fire-fighting, entitled ‘Beschrijving der nieuwlijks uitgevonden en geoctrojeerde Slangbrandspuiten’ (‘Description of the recently invented and patented hose fire engines’).

Jan van der Heyden died a wealthy man in 1712. His wife survived her husband by only a month. The inventory of the estate made soon after her death includes more than 70 of his own paintings. His only known pupil was his son Jan.

Van der Heyden was one of the first Dutch painters to dedicate most of his output to cityscapes and other depictions of groups of buildings. In addition, he also painted approximately 40 pure landscapes, of which two on glass. At the end of his career he painted still lifes in indoor settings. His most frequent subject was various views of Amsterdam. In addition, he painted vistas of other Dutch, Flemish and German cities (in particular the region near the Dutch–German border), country houses and estates and landscapes. It is believed that he visited these places personally. A painting of an Italian scene is believed to have been based on a drawing by Daniël Schellinks. Other foreign scenes may have been based on drawings of other artists. Van der Heyden often painted country estates. Several views exist of Goudestein, a country estate owned by Joan Huydecoper II, the Amsterdam burgomaster. A set of 14 paintings depicting scenes in and around the village of Maarssen were likely also made on commission for Joan Huydecoper II, who had developed real estate around that village.

Van der Heyden also created completely imaginary architectural fantasies, so-called capricci. An example is An Architectural Fantasy (c. 1670, National Gallery of Art), which appears to be a product of pure imagination. Italian influences are visible in the classical structure recalling the buildings of Palladio and the decorative sculptural elements. The figures, probably painted by Adriaen van de Velde, on the other hand, are unmistakably Dutch. While the great house with its sunlit formal gardens evokes an idealized world, at the elaborate gateway of the brick walls surrounding the gardens, an elegant gentleman encounters a beggar with her baby. The inclusion of these discordant elements undermining the country idyll set van der Heyden apart from his contemporary Gerrit Berckheyde. Various of his compositions include out-of-place statuary, stray farm animals or even urban shepherdesses, which add a feeling of anomaly and contradiction. These elements contribute to the feeling of modernity typical for his works. Only one painting known as the Triumph of Mordecai (Staatliches Museum Schwerin), depicts a history scene. It is probably an early work.

Despite the apparently naturalistic style, which was so detailed that every single brick was visible, the artist did not strive for topographical accuracy in his city views. Even in his depictions of recognizable sites he regularly adapted and rearranged the architecture and setting to fit his overall compositional goals. Topographical accuracy was clearly not his primary objective. Rather he strove to present an idealized vision of the world around him. Despite the attention to detail, Jan van der Heyden’s primary aim was to achieve an overall harmony in his compositions. Van der Heyden’s scenes are usually bathed in a brilliant, crisp light of almost unnatural clarity.

The people in his paintings was often added by other artists such as Johannes Lingelbach, Adriaen van de Velde and Eglon van der Neer. He most often collaborated with the accomplished painter of figures and animals Adriaen van de Velde. The two artists had an especially successful partnership built on their complementary skills: Adriaen van de Velde contributed his lively and well-characterized figures to van der Heyden’s exquisitely painted architectural settings. A fine example of their collaboration is The Dam and Damrak (c. 1663, Fogg Museum). The composition depicts the Dam and Damrak bathed in a late afternoon sun, which casts long shadows on the cobblestones of the Dam. The Damrak, the waterway that linked the Dam to Amsterdam’s harbor, terminates at the far left of the composition.

Jan van der Heyden painted still lifes in the beginning and at the end of his career. Nine of his still lifes survive. One of his earliest dated still lifes is a Still life with a bible (signed and dated 1664, Mauritshuis). This and other early still lifes typically depict a bible and other objects on a table with a carpet. An example of his early works in this genre is the Still Life with Globe, Books, Sculpture, and Other Objects (c. 1670, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna). This painting stands in a long tradition of Dutch still life paintings depicting vanitas symbols. These symbols include not only hourglasses, skulls and smoking candles but also attributes of scholarship and intellectual inquiry assembled in an amateur collector’s cabinet or the study of a humanist scholar.

Unfortunately van der Heyden did not paint any typical Dutch Baroque still lifes of food, so I cannot use one of them as a springboard for today’s recipe. Instead I give you a classic dessert from the region where he was born, bossche bol, a kind of chocolate smothered profiterole

Sep 142016
 

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Today is the birthday (1909) of Sir Peter Markham Scott CH CBE DSC FRS FZS,  British ornithologist, conservationist, painter, naval officer, and sportsman. Scott was born in London, the only child of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/ and sculptor Kathleen Bruce. He was only two years old when his father died. Robert Scott, in a last letter to his wife, advised her to “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.” He was named after Sir Clements Markham, mentor of Scott’s polar expeditions, and his godfather was J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan http://www.bookofdaystales.com/j-m-barrie/

Scott was educated at Oundle School and Trinity College, Cambridge, initially reading Natural Sciences but graduating in the History of Art in 1931. He displayed a strong interest in painting, became known as a painter of wildlife, particularly birds. His wealthy background allowed him to follow his interests in art, wildlife, and many sports, including wildfowling, sailing and ice skating. He represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at sailing in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, winning a bronze medal in the O-Jolle dinghy class.

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During the Second World War, Scott served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. As a Sub-Lieutenant, during the failed evacuation of the 51st Highland Division he was the British Naval officer sent ashore at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in the early hours of 11 June 1940 to evacuate some of the wounded. Then he served in destroyers in the North Atlantic but later moved to commanding the First (and only) Squadron of Steam Gun Boats against German E-boats in the English Channel. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery.

Scott is credited with designing the Western Approaches ship camouflage scheme, which disguised the look of ship superstructure. In July 1940, he managed to get the destroyer HMS Broke (D83) in which he was serving experimentally camouflaged, differently on the two sides. To starboard, the ship was painted blue-grey all over, but with white in naturally shadowed areas as countershading, following the ideas of Abbott Handerson Thayer from the First World War. To port, the ship was painted in “bright pale colours” to combine some disruption of shape with the ability to fade out during the night, again with shadowed areas painted white. However, he later wrote that compromise was fatal to camouflage, and that invisibility at night (by painting ships in white or other pale colors) had to be the sole objective. By May 1941, all ships in the Western Approaches (the North Atlantic) were ordered to be painted in Scott’s camouflage scheme. The scheme was said to be so effective that several British ships collided with each other. The effectiveness of Scott’s and Thayer’s ideas was demonstrated experimentally by the Leamington Camouflage Centre in 1941. Under a cloudy overcast sky, the tests showed that a white ship could approach six miles (9.6 km) closer than a black-painted ship before being seen. For this work he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

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He stood as a Conservative candidate unsuccessfully in the 1945 general election in Wembley North. In 1946, he founded the organization with which he was ever afterwards closely associated, the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) with its headquarters at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, where he saved the nene or Hawaiian goose, from extinction in the 1950s, through a captive breeding program. In the years that followed, he led ornithological expeditions worldwide, and became a television personality, popularizing the study of wildfowl and wetlands.

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I’m not an especially avid fan of Scott. I watched a few of his television shows in the 1960s, but he seemed a bit too aristocratic and distant for my tastes. I was intrigued by the fact that he was Robert Scott’s son, though, and wondered whether that was what led to his fame. I think, in hindsight, that’s a bit harsh. His work on conservation, especially wildfowl and wetlands, is extremely important,  not least because he began it at a time when few were interested. The water meadows in Gloucestershire he preserved are some of the last remaining in Britain. They were once havens for biodiversity throughout the British Isles. By my eye his painting is sentimental and overrated as art. It was good for raising money for, and awareness of, conservation, however. Here’s a gallery:

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I’m awfully tempted to give a recipe for wild duck or goose, but will resist. You have to accept, though, that Scott came to conservation because he had been an avid hunter, not in spite of it. Many conservation efforts in Britain and the U.S. were promoted by hunters precisely because they experienced, first hand, the declining numbers of wildfowl. I’ve been a duck hunter myself, in the brackish sounds of North Carolina (not because I care for the sport, but because I was documenting the culture as an anthropologist). I too witnessed the plunging populations of ducks and geese over the course of the 1970s and ’80s. So, I’ll divert from meat to eggs.

Duck eggs are a rarity in the West, but in Asia they are as easy to find as chicken eggs (as are quail eggs). I probably ate duck eggs more often than chicken eggs in China. Basically you can do with duck eggs whatever you do with chicken eggs – fry, poach, boil, bake, scramble, etc. You can make omelets, soufflés, frittatas, cakes, or whatever you want. They are about the same size as a chicken egg and taste more or less the same – perhaps a bit richer, and the yolks can be more golden. Here’s a gallery to get you started.

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This website is great. http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/ingredients/duck-egg-recipes There is a heavy emphasis on asparagus and ham as accompaniments. So, for today I’ll go with a poached duck egg with fried ham and asparagus on toast. This can make a good first course. I often poach eggs instead of frying them, and have used them a lot in recipes here in this blog. But a quick scan shows that I have never given a recipe. People don’t poach eggs much these days. I guess they think it is more of a hassle than frying, though I don’t think it is. It just takes a little practice. Here’s a step by step.

Use a deep frying pan. Fill it with water and add a little salt and vinegar. The vinegar assists in keeping the white together as it cooks.

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Bring to a slow simmer.

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Crack an egg on to a plate or saucer. This step is not absolutely necessary, but I find it aids in getting the egg into the poaching water.

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Slide the egg gently into the water.

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Push the yolk  and white around a little (gently) whilst it cooks. You want to keep the white tight, and also keep the yolk off the bottom.

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Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve.

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The degree of doneness of the egg is your choice. I prefer the white cooked and the yolk runny. This takes about 3 minutes. If you want a harder yolk cook the egg longer.

Oct 062015
 

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Today is the birthday (1887) of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930. His career spanned five decades, with his buildings constructed throughout Europe, India, and the Americas. Dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities, Le Corbusier was influential in urban planning, and was a founding member of the Congrès international d’architecture moderne (CIAM).

He was born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in Neuchâtel canton in north-western Switzerland, in the Jura mountains, just 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) across the border from France. Young Jeanneret was attracted to the visual arts and studied at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School under Charles L’Eplattenier, who had studied in Budapest and Paris. His architecture teacher in the Art School was the architect René Chapallaz, who had a major influence on Le Corbusier’s earliest house designs.

In his early years he would frequently escape the somewhat provincial atmosphere of his hometown by traveling around Europe. In September 1907, he made his first trip outside of Switzerland, going to Italy; then that winter traveling through Budapest to Vienna where he would stay for four months and meet Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman. At around 1908, he traveled to Paris, where he found work in the office of Auguste Perret, the French pioneer of reinforced concrete. It was during both his trip to Italy and his employment at Perret’s office that he began to form his own ideas about architecture. Between October 1910 and March 1911, he worked near Berlin for the renowned architect Peter Behrens. More than anything during this period, it was his visit to the Charterhouse of the Valley of Ema that influenced his architectural philosophy profoundly for the rest of his life. He believed that all people should have the opportunity to live as beautifully and peacefully as the monks he witnessed in the sanctuaries at the Charterhouse.

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Later in 1911, he journeyed to the Balkans and visited Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, filling nearly 80 sketchbooks with renderings of what he saw—including many sketches of the Parthenon, whose forms he would later praise in his work Vers une architecture (1923) (“Towards an Architecture”, but usually translated into English as “Towards a New Architecture”).

During World War I, Le Corbusier taught at his old school in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, not returning to Paris until the war was over. During these four years in Switzerland, he worked on theoretical architectural studies using modern techniques. Among these was his project for the Dom-Ino House (1914–15). This model proposed an open floor plan consisting of concrete slabs supported by a minimal number of thin reinforced concrete columns around the edges, with a stairway providing access to each level on one side of the floor plan.

This design became the foundation for most of his architecture over the next ten years. Soon he began his own architectural practice with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896–1967), a partnership that would last until the 1950s, with an interruption in the World War II years, because of Le Corbusier’s ambivalent position towards the Vichy regime.

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In 1918, Le Corbusier met the Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, in whom he recognized a kindred spirit. Ozenfant encouraged him to paint, and the two began a period of collaboration. Rejecting Cubism as irrational and “romantic”, the pair jointly published their manifesto, Après le cubisme and established a new artistic movement, Purism. Ozenfant and Le Corbusier established the Purist journal L’Esprit nouveau. He was good friends with the Cubist artist Fernand Léger.

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Between 1918 and 1922, Le Corbusier did not build anything, concentrating his efforts on Purist theory and painting. In 1922, he and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret opened a studio in Paris at 35 rue de Sèvres. His theoretical studies soon advanced into several different single-family house models. Among these was the Maison “Citrohan”, a pun on the name of the French Citroën automaker, for the modern industrial methods and materials Le Corbusier advocated using for the house. Here, Le Corbusier proposed a three-floor structure, with a double-height living room, bedrooms on the second floor, and a kitchen on the third floor. The roof would be occupied by a sun terrace. On the exterior Le Corbusier installed a stairway to provide second-floor access from ground level. Here, as in other projects from this period, he also designed the facades to include large uninterrupted banks of windows. The house used a rectangular plan, with exterior walls that were not filled by windows but left as white, stuccoed spaces. Le Corbusier and Jeanneret left the interior aesthetically spare, with any movable furniture made of tubular metal frames. Light fixtures usually comprised single, bare bulbs. Interior walls also were left white. Such Spartan clean lines for walls and furnishings became Le Corbusier’s trademark.

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Between 1922 and 1927, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed many of these private houses for clients around Paris. In Boulogne-sur-Seine and the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret designed and built the Villa Lipschitz, Maison Cook, Maison Planeix, and the Maison La Roche/Albert Jeanneret, which now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier.

For a number of years, French officials had been unsuccessful in dealing with the squalor of the growing Parisian slums, and Le Corbusier sought efficient ways to house large numbers of people in response to the urban housing crisis. He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide an organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the lower classes. His Immeubles Villas (1922) was such a project, calling for large blocks of cell-like individual apartments stacked one on top of one another, with plans that included a living room, bedrooms, and kitchen, as well as a garden terrace.

Not merely content with designs for a few housing blocks, Le Corbusier soon moved into studies for entire cities. In 1922 he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” (Ville Contemporaine) for three million inhabitants. The centerpiece of this plan was the group of sixty-story cruciform skyscrapers, steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass. Referred to as towers in a park, these skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular, park-like green spaces. At the center was a huge transportation hub that on different levels included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and at the top, an airport. Le Corbusier had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers. He segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorified the automobile as a means of transportation. As one moved out from the central skyscrapers, smaller low-story, zig-zag apartment blocks (set far back from the street amid green space) housed the inhabitants. Le Corbusier hoped that politically minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient strategies adopted from American industrial models to reorganize society. As Norma Evenson has put it, “the proposed city appeared to some an audacious and compelling vision of a brave new world, and to others a frigid megalomaniacally scaled negation of the familiar urban ambient.”

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In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. Perhaps the most significant difference between the Contemporary City and the Radiant City is that the latter abandoned the class-based stratification of the former; housing was now assigned according to family size, not economic position. Some have read dark overtones into The Radiant City: from the “astonishingly beautiful assemblage of buildings” that was Stockholm, for example, Le Corbusier saw only “frightening chaos and saddening monotony.” He dreamed of “cleaning and purging” the city, bringing “a calm and powerful architecture”—referring to steel, plate glass, and reinforced concrete. Although Le Corbusier’s designs for Stockholm did not succeed, later architects took his ideas and incorporated them.

After World War II, Le Corbusier attempted to realize his urban planning schemes on a small scale by constructing a series of “unités” (the housing block unit of the Radiant City) around France. The most famous of these was the Unité d’Habitation of Marseille (1946–52). In the 1950s, a unique opportunity to translate the Radiant City on a grand scale presented itself in the construction of the Union Territory Chandigarh, the new capital for the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and India’s first planned city. Le Corbusier designed many administration buildings, including a courthouse, parliament building, and a university. He also designed the general layout of the city, dividing it into sectors. Le Corbusier was brought on to develop the plan of Albert Mayer.

Against his doctor’s orders, on August 27, 1965, Le Corbusier went for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. His body was found by bathers and he was pronounced dead at 11 a.m. It was assumed that he suffered a heart attack. His funeral took place in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace on September 1, 1965, under the direction of writer and thinker André Malraux, who was at the time France’s Minister of Culture. He was buried alongside his wife in the grave he had designated at Roquebrune.

During his career, Le Corbusier developed a set of architectural principles that dictated his technique, which he called “the Five Points of a New Architecture” and were most evident in his Villa Savoye. The five points are:

  1. Pilotis – Replacement of supporting walls by a grid of reinforced concrete columns that bears the structural load is the basis of the new aesthetic.
  2. The free designing of the ground plan—the absence of supporting walls—means the house is unrestrained in its internal use.
  3. The free design of the façade—separating the exterior of the building from its structural function—sets the façade free from structural constraints.
  4. The horizontal window, which cuts the façade along its entire length, lights rooms equally.
  5. Roof gardens on a flat roof can serve a domestic purpose while providing essential protection to the concrete roof.

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It was Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929–1931) that most succinctly summed up his five points of architecture that he had elucidated in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau and his book Vers une architecture, which he had been developing throughout the 1920s. First, Le Corbusier lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by pilotis – reinforced concrete stilts. These pilotis, in providing the structural support for the house, allowed him to elucidate his next two points: a free façade, meaning non-supporting walls that could be designed as the architect wished, and an open floor plan, meaning that the floor space was free to configure into rooms without concern for supporting walls. The second floor of the Villa Savoye includes long strips of ribbon windows that allow unencumbered views of the large surrounding yard, and constitute the fourth point of his system. The fifth point was the roof garden to compensate for the green area consumed by the building and replacing it on the roof. A ramp rising from ground level to the third floor roof terrace allows for an architectural promenade through the structure. The white tubular railing recalls the industrial “ocean-liner” aesthetic that Le Corbusier much admired. The driveway around the ground floor, with its semicircular path, measures the exact turning radius of a 1927 Citroën.

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A kitchen designed by Le Corbusier is on display at MoMA in New York City. In it you see his desire for clean efficiency – rather like an ocean liner galley. I’m in favor of the general idea although not this particular design. The kitchen sits in the middle of an open plan living space – isolated from seating areas by a sliding-panel wall which can be opened to pass food through.

Le Corbusier’s birthplace of Neuchâtel is noted for several culinary delights, including absinthe which was first produced there in the 18th century, although its roots may be older. It is also home to a particular style of cheese fondue. I used to hold fondue parties as a young man, but don’t do them any more because I gave away all of my apparatus. But I still know what I am doing. The main thing is to encourage guests as they dip their bread to swirl the cheese mixture as it is apt to separate. If it does, add a little more warmed wine and mix.

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Neuchâtel-style Cheese Fondue

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, split open
1 ½ cups shredded cheese, ½ emmanthaler and ½ gruyère
flour
½ cup dry Neuchâtel white wine
3 tablespoons kirsch (or more to taste)
1 pinch pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
day-old French bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

Instructions

Use a metal or ceramic fondue pot with a spirit burner, or a ceramic, thermostatically controlled one. In the latter case, prepare the cheese mix on the stove in a saucepan and transfer it to the pot.

Rub the inside of the pot well with the garlic (and leave it in if you wish). Heat the wine gently until it bubbles slightly.

Toss the cheese with a little flour and add it slowly to the warming pot, whisking vigorously. When all the cheese is melted, add the kirsch, pepper and nutmeg, whisk quickly and bring to the table.

Spear the bread pieces with fondue forks and swirl them in the cheese mix. Let the cheese cool slightly and eat the morsel whole. It can be washed down with more Neuchâtel wine. Halfway through it is traditional to have a toast with kirsch.

Dec 212013
 

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Today is the birthday (1401) of Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, commonly called Masaccio, the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance.  According to the 16th century historian of art, Giorgio Vasari, Masaccio was the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense of three-dimensionality. Despite his brief career (barely 7 years), he had a profound influence on other artists, such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Raphael. He was one of the first to use linear perspective in his painting (Donatello and Brunelleschi were his contemporaries), employing techniques such as the vanishing point in art for the first time. He also moved away from the International Gothic style of elaborate ornamentation of artists like Gentile da Fabriano, to a more naturalistic mode that employed perspective and chiaroscuro (light and dark) for greater realism.  What absolutely staggers me is that if you mention the giants of the Italian Renaissance, everyone immediately recognizes their names, but if you say “Masaccio” a great percentage say “who?”  The man who started it all lives in relative obscurity whilst his followers receive all the praise.  Doesn’t seem fair.  I do believe, though, that many people who do not know his name, recognize his work – some of it, at least.  The greats all studied his work intensively; we can do no better than to follow in their footsteps.

His common name, Masaccio, is a comic variant of Maso (diminutive of Tommaso), meaning “clumsy” or “messy” Tom. Some art historians suggest that the name was created to distinguish him from his principal collaborator, also called Maso, who came to be known as Masolino (“little Maso”), or it may, more likely in my opinion, simply have been his usual nickname.

Masaccio was born to Giovanni di Simone Cassai and Jacopa di Martinozzo in Castel San Giovanni di Altura, now San Giovanni Valdarno (today part of the province of Arezzo in Tuscany). His father was a notary and his mother the daughter of an innkeeper of Barberino di Mugello, a town a few miles south of Florence. His family name, Cassai, comes from the trade of his paternal grandfather Simone and granduncle Lorenzo, who were carpenters/cabinet makers (“casse” makers). His father died in 1406, when Tommaso was only five. In that same year his mother gave birth to his brother, Giovanni (1406–1486), named after the dead father. Giovanni also was to become a painter, with the nickname of lo Scheggia meaning “the splinter.” In 1412 his mother married an elderly apothecary, Tedesco di maestro Feo, who already had several daughters, one of whom grew up to marry the only other documented painter from Castel San Giovanni, Mariotto di Cristofano (1393–1457).

There is no evidence for Masaccio’s artistic education. Renaissance painters traditionally began an apprenticeship with an established master at about the age of 12; Masaccio would likely have had to move to Florence to receive his training, but he was not documented in the city until he joined the guild of painters (Arte de’ Medici e Speziali) as an independent master on January 7, 1422, signing as “Masus S. Johannis Simonis pictor populi S. Nicholae de Florentia.”

The first works attributed to Masaccio are the San Giovenale Triptych (1422), now in the Museum of Cascia di Reggello, near Florence, and the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (Sant’Anna Metterza) (c. 1424) at the Uffizi.

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The San Giovenale altarpiece was not discovered until 1961, in the church of San Giovenale at Cascia di Reggello, which is very close to Masaccio’s hometown. It represents the Virgin and Child with angels in the central panel, SS Bartholomew and Blaise on the left panel, and SS Juvenal (i.e. San Giovenale) and Anthony Abbot in the right panel. The painting has lost much of its original framing, and its surface is badly abraded. Nevertheless, Masaccio’s concern to suggest three-dimensionality through volumetric figures and foreshortened forms is already apparent.

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The second work was perhaps Masaccio’s first collaboration with the older and already renowned artist, Masolino da Panicale (1383/4-c. 1436). The circumstances of the 2 artists’ collaboration are unclear. Since Masolino was considerably older, it seems likely that he brought Masaccio under his wing, but the division of hands in the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is so marked – Masolino is believed to have painted the figure of St. Anne and the angels that hold the cloth of honor behind her, while Masaccio painted the more significant Virgin and Child on their throne. Given that Masaccio played the dominant role in this painting it is difficult not to see him as the one holding the commission despite his junior status.  Masolino’s figures are delicate, graceful, and rather flat, while Masaccio’s are solid and bulky.

In Florence, Masaccio could study the works of Giotto and become friends with Brunelleschi and Donatello. According to Vasari, at their prompting in 1423 Masaccio travelled to Rome with Masolino. From that point he was freed of all Gothic and Byzantine influence, as may be seen in his altarpiece for the Carmelite Church in Pisa. The traces of influences from ancient Roman and Greek art that are present in some of Masaccio’s works presumably originated from this trip: they should also have been present in a lost Sagra, (today known through some drawings, including one by Michelangelo), a fresco commissioned for the consecration ceremony of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (April 19, 1422). It was destroyed when the church’s cloister was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century.

In 1424 the “duo preciso e noto” (“well known duo”) of Masaccio and Masolino was commissioned by the powerful and rich Felice Brancacci to execute a cycle of frescoes for the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Painting began around 1425 with the two artists probably working simultaneously. For reasons that are unclear they left the chapel unfinished, and it was completed by Filippino Lippi in the 1480s. The iconography of the fresco decoration is somewhat unusual; while the majority of the frescoes represent the life of St. Peter, 2 scenes, on either side of the threshold of the chapel space, depict the temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve. As a whole the frescoes represent human sin and its redemption through the actions of Peter, the first pope. The style of Masaccio’s scenes shows the influence of Giotto especially. Figures are large, heavy, and solid; emotions are expressed through faces and gestures; and there is a strong impression of naturalism throughout the paintings. Unlike Giotto, however, Masaccio uses linear and atmospheric perspective, directional light, and chiaroscuro, the representation of form through light and color without outlines. As a result his frescoes are even more convincingly lifelike than those of Giotto.

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, depicts a distressed Adam and Eve, chased from the garden by a threatening angel. Adam covers his entire face to express his shame, while Eve’s shame requires her to cover certain areas of her body. The fresco had a huge influence on Michelangelo, as evidenced by his many drawings of it.

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Another major work is The Tribute Money in which Jesus and the Apostles are depicted as neo-classical archetypes. Scholars have often noted that the shadows of the figures all fall away from the chapel window, as if the figures are lit by it; this is an added stroke of verisimilitude and further tribute to Masaccio’s innovative genius.

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In the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus he painted a pavement in perspective, framed by large buildings to obtain a three-dimensional space in which the figures are placed proportionate to their surroundings. In this he was a pioneer in applying the newly discovered rules of perspective.

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On September 1425 Masolino left the work and went to Hungary. It is not known if this was because of money quarrels with Felice or even if there was an artistic divergence with Masaccio. It has also been supposed that Masolino planned this trip from the very beginning, and needed a close collaborator who could continue the work after his departure. But Masaccio left the frescoes unfinished in 1426 in order to respond to other commissions, probably coming from the same patron. However, it has also been suggested that the declining finances of Felice Brancacci were insufficient to pay for any more work, so the painter therefore sought work elsewhere.

Masaccio returned in 1427 to work again in the Carmine, beginning the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus, but apparently left it, too, unfinished, though it has also been suggested that the painting was severely damaged later in the century because it contained portraits of the Brancacci family, at that time excoriated as enemies of the Medici. This painting was either restored or completed more than fifty years later by Filippino Lippi. Some of the scenes completed by Masaccio and Masolino were lost in a fire in 1771; we know about them only through Vasari’s biography. The surviving parts were extensively blackened by smoke. In the twentieth century, the removal of marble slabs covering two areas of the paintings revealed the original appearance of the work.

On February 19, 1426 Masaccio was commissioned by Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto, for the sum of 80 florins, to paint a major altarpiece, the Pisa Altarpiece, for his chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. The work was dismantled and dispersed in the 18th century, and only eleven of about twenty original panels have been rediscovered in various collections around the world. The central panel of the altarpiece (The Madonna and Child) is now in the National Gallery, London. Although it is very damaged, the work features a sculptural and human Madonna as well as a convincing perspectival depiction of her throne. Masaccio probably worked on it entirely in Pisa, shuttling back and forth to Florence, where he was still working on the Brancacci Chapel. In these years Donatello was also working in Pisa at a monument for Cardinal Rinaldo Brancacci, to be sent to Naples. It has been suggested that Masaccio’s first ventures in plasticity and perspective were based on Donatello’s sculpture, before he could study Brunelleschi’s more scientific approach to perspective.

Around 1427 Masaccio won a prestigious commission to produce a Holy Trinity for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. No contemporary documents record the patron of the fresco, but recently references to ownership of a tomb at the foot of the fresco have been found in the records of the Berti family of the Santa Maria Novella Quarter of Florence; this working-class family expressed a long-standing devotion to the Trinity, and may well have commissioned Masaccio’s painting. Probably it is the male patron who is represented to the left of the Virgin in the painting, while his wife is right of St John the Evangelist. The fresco, considered by many to be Masaccio’s masterwork, is the earliest surviving painting to use systematic linear perspective, possibly devised by Masaccio with the assistance of Brunelleschi himself.

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The sacred figures and the donors are represented above an image of a skeleton lying on a sarcophagus. An inscription seemingly carved into the wall above the skeleton reads: “IO FUI GIA QUEL CHE VOI SIETE E QUEL CH’IO SONO VOI ANCO SARETE” (I once was what now you are and what I am, you shall yet be). This skeleton is at once a reference to Adam, whose sin brought humans to death and a reminder to viewers that their time on earth is transitory. It is only through faith in the Trinity, the fresco suggests, that one overcomes this death. The Holy Spirit is seen in the form of a dove, above Jesus.

Masaccio produced two other works, a Nativity and an Annunciation, now lost, before leaving for Rome, where his companion Masolino was frescoing a chapel with scenes from the life of St. Catherine in the Basilica di San Clemente. It has never been confirmed that Masaccio collaborated on that work, even though it is possible that he contributed to Masolino’s polyptych for the altar of Santa Maria Maggiore with his panel portraying St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist, now in the National Gallery of London.

Masaccio died at the end of 1428. According to a legend, he was poisoned by a jealous rival painter.

To celebrate Masaccio I have chosen a recipe from the cookbook Registrum coquina published first in 1430 by Johannes Bockenheim (or Buckehen), cook to Pope Martin V. The book, in Latin, is very brief, and the recipes are short and to the point, presumably written for professionals.  The curiosity of the volume is that each recipe is designated according to who was to consume the dish by social class, or by its national origin.  I chose “orange omelet for harlots and ruffians.”  The original recipe is typically terse:

Take eggs and break them, with oranges, as many as you like; squeeze their juice and add to it the eggs with sugar; then take olive oil or fat, and heat it in the pan and add the eggs.

I had to use sweet oranges but I recommend trying bitter orange to create something more akin to 15th century cooking.  For the general proportions use 2 eggs, ½ orange, and 1 tbsp sugar per person. I found this suitable as a dessert dish for the modern table. It was delicious both hot and cold. I used the orange zest instinctively; I think the dish would be rather bland without it because the juice alone does not contribute a lot of flavor.

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© Orange Omelet for Harlots and Ruffians

Ingredients:

8 eggs
2 oranges
4 tbsps sugar
1 tbsp butter

Instructions:

Grate the zest of the oranges and juice them.  Beat the orange zest and juice with the eggs and sugar.

Place a heavy skillet with a lid on very low heat and melt the butter in it.  Add the egg mixture.

Cover and let cook very gently for about 20 minutes or until the eggs are set. Towards the end of the process the eggs will rise a little indicating they are cooked.  The bottom should be nicely browned.

You can serve this plain as a dessert or with whipped cream with a little extra grated zest for garnish.

Serves 4

Dec 072013
 

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Today is the birthday (1598) of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (also spelled Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo), Italian artist and a prominent architect who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. In addition, he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets. Bernini possessed the ability to depict dramatic narratives with characters showing intense psychological states, but also created large-scale sculptural works which convey a magnificent grandeur. His skill in working with marble made him a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation. His artistry extended beyond the confines of his sculpture to consideration of the setting in which it would be situated. He had an extraordinary ability to synthesize sculpture, painting, and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole.

Bernini was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture along with his contemporaries, the architect, Francesco Borromini and the painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona. Early in their careers they had all worked at the same time at the Palazzo Barberini, initially under Carlo Maderno and on his death, under Bernini. Later on, however, they were in competition for commissions and fierce rivalries developed, particularly between Bernini and Borromini. Despite the arguably greater architectural inventiveness of Borromini and Cortona, Bernini’s artistic pre-eminence, particularly during the reigns of popes Urban VIII (1623–44) and Alexander VII (1655–65), meant he was able to secure the most important commission in the Rome of his day, St. Peter’s Basilica. His design of the Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs.

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During his long career, Bernini received numerous important commissions, many of which were associated with the papacy. At an early age, he came to the attention of the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and in 1621, at the age of only 23, he was knighted by Pope Gregory XV. Following his accession to the papacy, Urban VIII is reported to have said, “Your luck is great to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini Pope, Cavaliere; but ours is much greater to have Cavaliere Bernini alive in our pontificate.” Although he did not fare so well during the reign of Innocent X, under Alexander VII, he once again regained his place of artistic domination and continued to be held in high regard by Clement IX.

As persistent readers of this blog know well, I could ramble on a long time about Bernini’s life and works.  But I won’t. There are plenty of books and websites to consult if you are interested. The greatest testament to his life is his work itself. So here is a small gallery of some of my favorite pieces.  To me, Rome and Bernini are synonymous.  Well, I suppose Michelangelo should get a mention.  But Bernini is EVERYWHERE.

bernini5 bernini4 bernini3 bernini7 bernini9 bernini14 bernini11 bernini10 bernini14 (c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation bernini12

The great cookbook of Bernini’s era was Bartolomeo Stefani’s L’arte di ben cucinare (1662), still consulted today by Italian cooks.  Here is one of my favorite recipes from Stefani, mostarda mantovana.  It is actually Mantuan rather than Roman, but it is a perennial favorite in Italy to this day. You can use this spicy apple dish as an accompaniment to meats, especially pork, or serve it after the main course with a nice, ripe cheese.  Obviously, the type of mustard and quantity will radically affect the flavor and piquancy of the resulting product.  Cook’s choice.  I like it hot, so I use a tablespoon of English mustard powder.  Once stored in jars it will keep indefinitely and will continue to mature with age.

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Mostarda Mantovana

Ingredients:

2 lbs tart cooking apples

½ lb sugar

mustard powder or ground mustard seeds to taste

Instructions:

Peel, core, and cut the apples into thin slices. Place them in a non-reactive container and mix well with the sugar.  Let them sit for 24 hours.  Refrigeration is unnecessary, but it is best to keep the apples in a cool place.

At the end of 24 hours a syrup will develop.  Drain off the syrup and boil it for 5 minutes, then pour it back over the apples and let them sit for another 24 hours.

Repeat this process on the next day, and let sit for another 24 hours.

Next day bring both the syrup and the apples to a boil and add the mustard.

Store in sterilized containers.

 

 

 

Jun 202013
 

morse3  Morse_telegraph

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

On this date in 1840 Samuel Morse filed US Patent 1,647, “Improvement in the mode of communicating information by signals by the application of electro-magnetism.” It was the first in a string of patents  filed by Morse that made effective telegraphy a reality.  There were a number of other people in the game at the time, but Morse’s system (working with several collaborators) as well as his code for transmitting messages (also worked on with others) was the one that ultimately triumphed.

Morse, because of the code that bears his name, will forever be associated with the telegraph, but he actually had a well established career as a painter before he switched, midstream, to the communications field.  Many of his portraits and classical images enshrining the political values of the young nation had earned him national fame, and were commissioned for public display.  He worked professionally full time as a painter from around 1808 (supporting himself whilst a student at Yale) to 1825 (and part time until 1837).  In 1825, the city of New York commissioned Morse for $1,000 to paint a portrait in Washington of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (a general under George Washington in the Continental Army). While Morse was painting, a horse messenger delivered a letter from his father containing one line, “Your dear wife is convalescent.” Morse immediately left Washington for his home at New Haven, leaving the portrait of Lafayette unfinished. By the time he arrived, his wife had already been buried. Heartbroken in the knowledge that for days he was unaware of his wife’s failing health and her lonely death, he moved on from painting to the creation of a means of rapid long distance communication.

During the 1830’s there was fierce competition between British scientists (notably Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the English concertina), and Morse to develop a commercially viable telegraph system.  The British team filed patents and opened telegraph lines several years before Morse, but their system had two drawbacks: they could not transmit over very long distances, and their use of electromagnetically controlled needles to point to letters on a dial was cumbersome.  Morse understood that the use of a single telegraph wire with a single battery had severe limitations because the resistance in the wire weakened the signal over distance.  With the assistance of chemistry professor Leonard Gail (and, later, researcher and backer Alfred Vail), Morse developed a line that used battery powered relays at frequent intervals along the line to continually boost the signal.  In theory such a system had no distance limits.  In addition Morse’s team developed transmitting and receiving keys. At first the keys read punched tape strips at one end, and punched identical tapes at the other end using a code of dots and dashes.  But when it was discovered that the punching/receiving key emitted clicks as it punched the tape, the tape was abandoned in favor of the audible clicks.

Initially Morse had difficulty getting federal funding to support his work, so he set up a number of demonstrations, the most impressive of which occurred on May 1, 1844, when news of the Whig Party’s nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President was telegraphed from the party’s convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington. Subsequently Morse traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America to promote his telegraph and to apply for patents and, in turn, received international fame.  It was only in Britain that his system was rejected in favor of the older use of electromagnetic needles.  In time, however, the Morse system and the Morse code became, and remain, international standards.

Morse spent a great deal of the next 30 years both promoting his system and defending himself legally against endless patent infringements at home and abroad.  However, he lived comfortably despite receiving only a fraction of his due financially.  It is also notable that he was honored more abroad than at home. The photo above, taken by Mathew Brady in 1866 shows him wearing from his right to left — top row: Nichan Iftikhar (Ottoman); Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal); Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark); Gold Medal of Art and Science (Württemberg); Gold Medal of Science (Austria); Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy). Bottom row: Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain). A United States honor is conspicuous by its absence.

My recipe to celebrate Samuel Morse is a bit of a cheat, but only a bit of one.  There’s not a whole lot you can cook with dots and dashes.  But Morse’s invention was made possible by the huge strides being made in electromagnetism in general at the time.  The electromagnetic spectrum ranges over all manner of waves including visible light, X-rays, radio waves . . . and microwaves.  I tend not to use a microwave oven for much more than rapid defrosting of frozen foods and reheating leftovers.  But a microwave, with a little ingenuity, can produce excellent dishes.  Here is a recipe for salmon that is superb (akin to the dishwasher recipe in my post on Dalí: May 11).  The only catch is that the power of microwave ovens varies so much that to get this recipe right will require a bit of experimentation with times and intensities. Fortunately there is a fair degree of latitude. It is very important that the parchment cooking pouch is tightly sealed before cooking to prevent the escape of moisture. When chilled, the cooking liquids make a delectable aspic.

-… — -. / .- .–. .–. . – .. –  (I had to learn Morse Code in the Boy Scouts – you’ll figure it out. Hint: the first word is a giveaway).

Cold Salmon from the Microwave

Ingredients:

2 lbs (1 kg) fresh salmon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) melted butter
juice of ½ a lemon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) dry, white vermouth
salt and pepper, to taste
2 or 3 sprigs fresh dill
lettuce leaves
parsley sprigs
thin lemon slices
thin cucumber slices

Instructions:

Lay a large sheet of baking parchment into an 8 inch (20 cm) square glass dish.

Lay the salmon on the parchment and brush it with melted butter.

Pull up the sides of the parchment, shaping it into a bag.

Pour in the lemon juice and vermouth, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the dill sprigs on top of salmon.

Close the bag tightly, folding the top pieces over each other several times, but keeping as big an air pocket inside as possible.

Microwave for 20 minutes on medium/high (high is too intense).

Leave the package to rest for 20 minutes.

DO NOT unwrap the salmon.

Let the package cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for 12 hours.

Unwrap and serve the salmon over lettuce leaves.

Garnish with parsley sprigs, lemon and cucumber slices.

Serves 4.

Note:  If you do not have baking parchment you can use 2 thicknesses of waxed paper.

Jun 072013
 
Paul Gauguin in 1891

Paul Gauguin in 1891

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Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris on this date in 1848, to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the proto-socialist leader and feminist Flora Tristan, whose father was part of an influential Peruvian family. In 1850 the family left Paris for Peru, but Clovis died on the voyage, leaving eighteen-month-old Paul, his mother, and sister, to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima with Paul’s uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Gauguin in his art. It was in Lima that Gauguin encountered his first art. His mother admired Pre-Columbian pottery, collecting Inca pots that were at the time dismissed as barbaric by artists. Such memories later triggered an interest in Primitivism in his art.

At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, moving to Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from the area and were market gardeners and greengrocers: gauguin means ‘walnut-grower.’ His father had broken with family tradition to become a journalist in Paris. Although Gauguin learnt French his preferred language remained the Peruvian dialect of Spanish all of his life.  Gauguin apparently excelled in school, but hated the boarding school he was sent to, and so left at age seventeen. He worked as a pilot’s assistant for three years in the merchant marine, and then served in the French navy for two. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for eleven years. At this time he began painting, being inspired by his many friends and acquaintances who were painters, most notably Camille Pissarro, who was also his teacher.

In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad and they had five children.  In 1884 the family moved to Copenhagen where Gauguin tried his hand as a tarpaulin salesman.  Given that he could not speak Danish and there was not a huge market for French tarpaulins in Denmark, his endeavors failed, and his wife became the breadwinner whilst he took up painting full time. In 1885 he left the family (on his family’s insistence), and moved back to Paris.   In 1887 he sailed for Panama where he worked as a laborer on the canal before being laid off after only 15 days.  From there he moved to Martinique where he painted tropical scenes he hoped would sell in Paris (they did not).

In 1888 he was back in France where he spent a famously tormented three months with Vincent van Gogh (kudos to anyone who can pronounce his last name correctly — a source of constant irritation to Vincent). Both shared bouts of depression, suicidal tendencies, and an inability to sell their paintings.  It was in December of that year that van Gogh, during an illness, threatened Gauguin with a razor and then fled to a brothel where he cut the lower lobe of his ear off and gave it to a prostitute for safe keeping wrapped in his handkerchief (there are multiple versions of this story). Hint: if you are depressed, broke, and suicidal, making art that no one understands, try not to hang out with like people. Gauguin took the hint and left soon after.

In 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional.” He wrote a book there titled Noa Noa describing his experiences in Tahiti (although some modern critics believe it was largely fantasy).  He returned to France in 1893, but then left for Polynesia again in 1895, dying on Atuona in the Marquesas Islands in 1903 at age 54 of the combined effects of alcoholism, morphine use, and syphilis. No one is really sure how many children he left behind in Polynesia.

In the popular mind Gauguin is perpetually associated with his paintings of Tahitian women, but he experimented with many styles such as Cloisonnism, Primitivism, and Synthetism, influencing a generation of Post-Impressionists to come.  Most of his paintings are in museums, so one rarely comes up for sale. The last auction at which one of his paintings came on the block had a pre-sale estimate of $15.6 million, but ended up being sold privately.  It always irks me more than a little that he (and his erstwhile friend van Gogh) died in poverty, whilst now the über-rich battle over the spoils.

Today’s recipe combines elements from two aspects of Gauguin’s life: Peru and Tahiti.  It is a ceviche given a Tahitian twist. Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, now popular throughout Latin America and Polynesia, whose origin point is disputed.  However, it most likely originated in Peru where nowadays the varieties are seemingly endless.  I was once in a restaurant in Cusco with 58 versions on the menu.  This dish gets its Tahitian twist from the coconut milk in the marinade, and also from the fact that it is marinated very briefly so that the fish does not have a chance to “cook” in the citrus juice. Make sure the ingredients are well chilled before assembling the dish.

E’ia Ota (Tahitian Ceviche)

Ingredients

1 ½ lb (.7 kilos) sashimi quality tuna or firm white fish cut in ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes.
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes
1 tomato, seeded and diced
3 scallions, chopped (plus 1 for garnish)
½ cup (118 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice strained of pulp
¼ cup (59 ml) coconut milk
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Toss together in a non-reactive bowl the fish, cucumber, tomato, scallions, lime juice, and coconut milk with a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Drain off the excess fluid.  This can be served in small glasses with the ceviche. In Peru it is known as leche de tigre.

Serve in chilled bowls or large shells garnished with scallion.

Serves 4 to 6