Jul 192018
 

Today is the birthday (1834) of Edgar Degas, born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, a French artist who is now mostly remembered for his paintings of dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. I will begin by saying that Degas was, by contemporary accounts of him, a thoroughly unpleasant man. I’ll get into details in the body of the post.  For now, I will content myself with saying that if I rejected posts on all famous creative people who led hideous personal lives, my writing would be a great deal slimmer.

Degas was born in Paris, France, into a moderately wealthy family. He was the oldest of five children of Célestine Musson De Gas, a Creole from New Orleans, Louisiana, and Augustin De Gas, a banker. His maternal grandfather Germain Musson, was born in Port-au-Prince in Haiti of French descent and had settled in New Orleans in 1810. Degas (he adopted this less grandiose spelling of his family name when he became an adult) began his schooling at age 11, enrolling in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. His mother died when he was 13, and his father and grandfather became the main influences on him for the remainder of his youth.

Degas began to paint early in life. By the time he graduated from the Lycée with a baccalauréat in 1853, at age 18, he had turned a room in his home into an artist’s studio. Upon graduating, he registered as a copyist in The Louvre Museum, but his father expected him to go to law school. Degas duly enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but put little effort to his studies. In 1855 he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whom Degas revered and whose advice he never forgot: “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist.” In April of that year Degas was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. He studied drawing there with Louis Lamothe, under whose guidance he flourished, following the style of Ingres. In July 1856, Degas traveled to Italy, where he remained for the next three years. In 1858, while staying with his aunt’s family in Naples, he made the first studies for his early masterpiece The Bellelli Family. He also drew and painted numerous copies of works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other Renaissance artists, but—contrary to conventional practice—he usually selected from an altarpiece a detail that had caught his attention: a secondary figure, or a head which he treated as a portrait.

Upon his return to France in 1859, Degas moved into a Paris studio large enough to permit him to begin painting The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas he intended for exhibition in the Salon, although it remained unfinished until 1867. He also began work on several history paintings: Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60; Sémiramis Building Babylon in 1860; and Young Spartans around 1860. In 1861 Degas visited his childhood friend Paul Valpinçon in Normandy, and made the earliest of his many studies of horses. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, which attracted little attention. Although he exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, he submitted no more history paintings, and his Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey (Salon of 1866) signaled his growing commitment to contemporary subject matter. The change in his art was influenced primarily by the example of Édouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864 (while both were copying the same Velázquez portrait in the Louvre, according to a story that may be apocryphal).

Upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defense of Paris left him little time for painting. During rifle training his eyesight was found to be defective, and for the rest of his life his eye problems were a constant worry to him. After the war, Degas began (in 1872) an extended stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. Staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue, Degas produced a number of works, many depicting family members. One of Degas’s New Orleans works, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum (the Pau) during his lifetime.

Degas returned to Paris in 1873 and his father died the following year, whereupon Degas learned that his brother René had amassed enormous business debts. To preserve his family’s reputation, Degas sold his house and an art collection he had inherited, and used the money to pay off his brother’s debts. Dependent for the first time in his life on sales of his artwork for income, he produced much of his greatest work during the decade beginning in 1874. Disenchanted by now with the Salon, he instead joined a group of young artists who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group soon became known as the Impressionists. Between 1874 and 1886 they mounted eight art shows, known as the Impressionist Exhibitions. Degas took a leading role in organizing the exhibitions, and showed his work in all but one of them, despite his persistent conflicts with others in the group. He had little in common with Monet and the other landscape painters in the group, whom he mocked for painting outdoors. He abhorred the scandal created by the exhibitions, as well as the publicity and advertising that his colleagues sought. He also deeply disliked being associated with the term “Impressionist”, which the press had coined and popularized, and insisted on including non-Impressionist artists such as Jean-Louis Forain and Jean-François Raffaëlli in the group’s exhibitions. The resulting rancor within the group contributed to its disbanding in 1886.

Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he continually belittled their practice of painting “en plein air.” He wrote:

You know what I think of people who work out in the open. If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don’t mean to kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.

Mlle. Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, exhibited in the Salon of 1868, was his first major work to introduce dancers as a subject with which he would become especially identified. In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job. From 1870 Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects, partly because they sold well and provided him with needed income after his brother’s debts had left the family bankrupt.

As his financial situation improved through sales of his own work, he was able to indulge his passion for collecting works by artists he admired: old masters such as El Greco and contemporaries such as Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Édouard Brandon. Three artists he idolized, Ingres, Delacroix, and Daumier, were especially well represented in his collection. In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography. He photographed many of his friends, often by lamplight, as in his double portrait of Renoir and Mallarmé.

Renoir and Mallarmé

Other photographs, depicting dancers and nudes, were used for reference in some of Degas’s drawings and paintings. He also photographed individuals and family groupings.

Over the years Degas became more and more isolated, due in part to his belief that a painter should have no personal life.  He wrote, “the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown.” In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an “old curmudgeon” by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. His argumentative nature was deplored by Renoir, who said of him: “What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay till the end.”

Self Portrait

Degas was profoundly conservative in his political opinions. He opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting Portraits at the Stock Exchange is widely regarded as anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time. The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic “Anti-Dreyfusards” until his death.

Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculptures as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence on the rue Victor Massé forced him to move to quarters on Boulevard de Clichy. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in September 1917. He was buried in the family vault in Montmartre cemetery.

Degas’s only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. A nearly life-size wax figure with real hair and dressed in a cloth tutu, it provoked a strong reaction from critics, most of whom found its realism extraordinary but denounced the dancer as ugly. In a review, J.-K. Huysmans wrote: “The terrible reality of this statuette evidently produces uneasiness in the spectators; all their notions about sculpture, about those cold inanimate whitenesses … are here overturned. The fact is that with his first attempt Monsieur Degas has revolutionized the traditions of sculpture as he has long since shaken the conventions of painting.”

Degas created a substantial number of other sculptures during a span of four decades, but they remained unseen by the public until a posthumous exhibition in 1918. Neither The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years nor any of Degas’s other sculptures were cast in bronze during his lifetime. Degas scholars have agreed that the sculptures were not created as aids to painting, although the artist habitually explored ways of linking graphic art and oil painting, drawing and pastel, sculpture and photography. Degas assigned the same significance to sculpture as to drawing: “Drawing is a way of thinking, modelling another”.

After Degas’s death, his heirs found 150 wax sculptures in his studio, many in disrepair. They consulted foundry owner Adrien Hébrard, who concluded that 74 of the waxes could be cast in bronze. It is assumed that, except for the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, all Degas bronzes worldwide are cast from surmoulages (i.e., cast from bronze masters). A surmoulage bronze is a bit smaller, and shows less surface detail, than its original bronze mold. The Hébrard Foundry cast the bronzes from 1919 until 1936, and closed down in 1937, shortly before Hébrard’s death.

Parisian café food in general would work to celebrate the life of Degas because he is known to have frequented both cheap and expensive cafés in Paris, although what he ate is not recorded. One of my favorites is steak tartare, so I will maunder on about that delicacy for a bit. First a STERN WARNING. Classic steak tartare uses raw beef and raw egg, both of which can be vectors for crippling, even lethal, diseases. You must be fully confident in your sources before eating either, and I cannot recommend them publicly. Chefs in France use hand chopped beef, not ground, so that they are sure that the meat does not pick up contaminants from the meat grinder. They also have to be scrupulous about the sources of both their beef and eggs.

I have eaten steak tartare in numerous restaurants in France (and elsewhere), and have made it myself. It is one of my favorite dishes. I had it first at a cast party in Australia for a play I was in at age 11, and have enjoyed it ever since. The two photos below give you the basic idea.

You will be served with the hand cut beef on a platter with a raw egg yolk on top, and in addition will be given a choice of things to add. Standard are chopped cornichons, chopped green onion, and capers, plus sauces of one sort or another, as well as salt and pepper. You might also get freshly chopped onions or shallots, anchovies, lemon, and Dijon mustard. Your job is to mix in what you prefer, stir it all together really well, and then heap the mixture on toasted bread slices. Yum. It is remarkably filling.

Nov 152016
 

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Today is the birthday (1887) of renowned U.S. artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, noted for images of big flowers, New York buildings, and (especially) scenes of New Mexico. She was a major player in the modernist movement. She was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents, Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida (Totto) O’Keeffe, were dairy farmers. Her father was of Irish descent. Her maternal grandfather George Victor Totto, for whom O’Keeffe was named, was a Hungarian count who came to the United States in 1848.

She attended Town Hall School in Sun Prairie. By age ten she had decided to become an artist, and she and her sister received art instruction from local watercolorist Sara Mann. O’Keeffe attended high school at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin as a boarder between 1901 and 1902. In late 1902, the O’Keeffes moved from Wisconsin to the neighborhood of Peacock Hill in Williamsburg, Virginia. O’Keeffe stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School, then joined her family in Virginia in 1903. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now Chatham Hall) and graduated in 1905.

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O’Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906. In 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied under William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she won the League’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot. Her prize was a scholarship to attend the League’s outdoor summer school in Lake George, New York. While in the city in 1908, O’Keeffe attended an exhibition of Rodin’s watercolors at the gallery 291, owned by her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

O’Keeffe abandoned the idea of pursuing a career as an artist in late 1908, claiming that she could never distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition which had formed the basis of her art training. She took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist and did not paint for four years, claiming that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She was inspired to paint again in 1912, when she attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School, where she was introduced to the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. From 1912-14, she taught art in the public schools in Amarillo in Texas. She attended Teachers College of Columbia University from 1914–15, where she took classes from Dow, who greatly influenced O’Keeffe’s thinking about the process of making art. She served as a teaching assistant to Bement during the summers from 1913–16 and taught at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina in late 1915, where she completed a series of highly innovative charcoal abstractions. After further course work at Columbia in early 1916 and summer teaching for Bement, she took a job as head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College from late 1916 to February 1918, the fledgling West Texas A&M University in Canyon just south of Amarillo. While there, she often visited the Palo Duro Canyon, making its forms a subject in her work.

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O’Keeffe had made some charcoal drawings in late 1915 which she had mailed from South Carolina to Anita Pollitzer. Pollitzer took them to Alfred Stieglitz at his 291 gallery early in 1916. Stieglitz told Pollitzer that the drawings were the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”, and that he would like to show them. O’Keeffe had first visited 291 in 1908, but did not speak with Stieglitz then, although she came to have high regard for him and to know him in early 1916, when she was in New York at Teachers College. In April 1916, he exhibited ten of her drawings at 291. O’Keeffe knew that Stieglitz was planning to exhibit her work but he had not told her when, and she was surprised to learn that her work was on view; she confronted Stieglitz over the drawings but agreed to let them remain on exhibit. Stieglitz organized O’Keeffe’s first solo show at 291 in April 1917, which included oil paintings and watercolors completed in Texas.

O'Keefe Love Letters

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe corresponded frequently beginning in 1916 and, in June 1918, she accepted his invitation to move to New York to devote all of her time to her work. The two were deeply in love and, shortly after her arrival, they began living together, even though Stieglitz was married and 23 years her senior. That year, Stieglitz first took O’Keeffe to his family home at the village of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and they spent part of every year there until 1929, when O’Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico. In 1924, Stieglitz’s divorce was approved by a judge and, within four months, he and O’Keeffe married. It was a small, private ceremony at John Marin’s house, and afterward the couple went back home. There was no reception, festivities, or honeymoon. O’Keeffe said later that they married in order to help soothe the troubles of Stieglitz’s daughter Kitty who was being treated in a sanatorium for depression and hallucinations at that time. The marriage did not seem to have any immediate effect on either Stieglitz or O’Keeffe; they both continued working on their individual projects as they had before. For the rest of their lives together, their relationship was, let us say, functional – characterized by her biographer as, “a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word. Preferring avoidance to confrontation on most issues, O’Keeffe was the principal agent of collusion in their union.”

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Stieglitz started photographing O’Keeffe when she visited him in New York City to see her 1917 exhibition. By 1937, when he retired from photography, he had made more than 350 portraits of her. Most of the more erotic photographs were made in the 1910s and early 1920s. In February 1921, 45 of Stieglitz’ photographs were exhibited in a retrospective exhibition at the Anderson Galleries, including many of O’Keeffe, some of which depicted her in the nude. It created a public sensation. She once made a remark to Pollitzer about the nude photographs which may be the best indication of O’Keeffe’s ultimate reaction to being their subject: “I felt somehow that the photographs had nothing to do with me personally.” In 1978, she wrote about how distant from them she had become: “When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me-some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn’t matter—Stieglitz photographed her then.”

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Beginning in 1918, O’Keeffe came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’ circle of artists, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work. Also around this time, O’Keeffe became sick during the 1918 ‘flu pandemic. Soon after 1918, she began working primarily in oil, a shift away from having worked primarily in watercolor in the earlier 1910s. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, as if seen through a magnifying lens. In 1924, she painted her first large-scale flower painting Petunia, No. 2, which was first exhibited in 1925. She also completed a significant body of paintings of New York buildings, such as City Night and New York—Night (1926) and Radiator Bldg—Night, New York (1927).

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O’Keeffe turned to working more representationally in the 1920s in an effort to move her critics away from Freudian interpretations. Her earlier work had been mostly abstract, but works such as Black Iris III (1926) evoke a veiled representation of female genitalia while also accurately depicting the center of an iris. O’Keeffe consistently denied the legitimacy of Freudian interpretations of her art, but 50 years after it had first been interpreted in that way, many prominent feminist artists assessed her work similarly. Judy Chicago, for example, gave O’Keeffe a prominent place in her The Dinner Party. Although 1970s feminists celebrated O’Keeffe as the originator of “female iconography”, O’Keeffe rejected their celebration of her work and refused to cooperate with any of their projects.

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In 1922, the New York Sun published an article quoting O’Keeffe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” Inspired by Precisionism, The Green Apple, completed in 1922, depicts her notion of simple, meaningful life.

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Beginning in 1923, Stieglitz organized annual exhibitions of O’Keeffe’s work. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe had become known as one of the most important artists in the US. Her work commanded high prices; in 1928, Stieglitz masterminded a sale of six of her calla lily paintings for US$25,000, which would have been the largest sum ever paid for a group of paintings by a living US artist. Although the sale fell through, Stieglitz’s promotion of it drew extensive media attention.

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In 1938, the advertising agency N. W. Ayer & Son approached O’Keeffe about creating two paintings for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Food Company) to use in their revamped and innovative advertising campaign. Other artists who produced paintings of Hawaii for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company’s advertising include Lloyd Sexton, Jr., Millard Sheets, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Isamu Noguchi, and Miguel Covarrubias. The offer came at a critical time in O’Keeffe’s life: she was 51, and her career seemed to be stalling (critics were calling her focus on New Mexico limited, and branding her desert images “a kind of mass production”). She arrived in Honolulu February 8, 1939 aboard the SS Lurline, and spent nine weeks in Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the island of Hawaii. By far the most productive and vivid period was on Maui, where she was given complete freedom to explore and paint. She painted flowers, landscapes, and traditional Hawaiian fishhooks. Back in New York, O’Keeffe completed a series of 20 paintings. However, she did not paint the requested pineapple until the Hawaiian Pineapple Company sent a plant to her New York studio.

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Even by 1929, O’Keeffe felt the need to find a new source of inspiration for her work and to escape summers at Lake George, where she was surrounded by the Stieglitz family and their friends. O’Keeffe had considered finding a studio separate from Lake George in upstate New York and had also thought about spending the summer in Europe, but opted instead to travel to Santa Fe, with her friend Rebecca Strand. The two set out by train in May 1929 and soon after their arrival, Mabel Dodge Luhan moved them to her house in Taos and provided them with studios. O’Keeffe went on many pack trips exploring the rugged mountains and deserts of the region that summer and later visited the nearby D. H. Lawrence Ranch, where she completed her now famous oil painting, The Lawrence Tree (one of those “modern” paintings that people can’t seem to orient correctly)

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Between 1929 and 1949, O’Keeffe spent part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. She collected rocks and bones from the desert floor and made them and the distinctive architectural and landscape forms of the area subjects in her work. She also went on several camping trips with friends, visiting sites in the Southwest, and in 1961, she and others, including photographers Eliot Porter and Todd Webb, went on a rafting trip down the Colorado River about Glen Canyon, Utah.

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Late in 1932, O’Keeffe suffered a nervous collapse that was brought on, in part, because she was unable to complete a Radio City Music Hall mural project that had fallen behind schedule. She was hospitalized in early 1933 and did not paint again until January 1934. In early 1933 and 1934, O’Keeffe recuperated in Bermuda, and she returned to New Mexico in mid-1934. In August of that year, she visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú, for the first time and decided immediately to live there; in 1940, she moved into a house on the ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes. In 1977, O’Keeffe wrote: “[the] cliffs over there are almost painted for you—you think—until you try to paint them.” Among guests to visit her at the ranch over the years were Charles and Anne Lindbergh, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, poet Allen Ginsberg, and photographer Ansel Adams.

O’Keeffe explored the land often in her Ford Model A, which she bought and learned to drive in 1929. She often talked about her fondness for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, as in 1943, when she explained: “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.”

Shortly after O’Keeffe arrived for the summer in New Mexico in 1946, Stieglitz suffered a cerebral thrombosis. She immediately flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946. She buried his ashes at Lake George. She spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. From 1946 through the 1950s, she made the architectural forms of her Abiquiú house—patio wall and door—subjects in her work. Another distinctive painting of the decade was Ladder to the Moon, 1958. From her first world travels in the late 1950s, O’Keeffe produced an extensive series of paintings of clouds, such as Above the Clouds I, 1962/1963. These were inspired by her views from the windows of airplanes.

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In late 1970, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the Georgia O’Keeffe Retrospective Exhibition, the first retrospective exhibition of her work in New York since 1946, the year Stieglitz died. This exhibit did much to revive her public career.

In 1972, O’Keeffe’s eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration, leading to the loss of central vision and leaving her with only peripheral vision. She stopped oil painting without assistance in 1972, but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984. Juan Hamilton, a young potter, appeared at her ranch house in 1973 looking for work. She hired him for a few odd jobs and soon employed him full-time. He became her closest confidant, companion, and business manager until her death. Hamilton taught O’Keeffe to work with clay and, working with assistance, she produced clay pots and a series of works in watercolor. In 1976, she wrote a book about her art and allowed a film to be made about her in 1977.

O’Keeffe became increasingly frail in her late 90s. She moved to Santa Fe in 1984, where she died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98. In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain.

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A recipe from New Mexico seems fitting, and in reviewing my previous posts I see that I have twice given recipes for green chile stew – an absolute favorite – and one for sopapillas. Trying to capture the flavors of New Mexico in other places is as elusive as emulating Chinese or Italian foods in Guatemala or Morocco.  It can’t be done. The green chile of New Mexico has to be savored in New Mexico – end of story. Not only that; you have to understand the many subtle differences between the chiles of different regions, and not just settle for everyday Hatch chiles, which are good, but not the best in my opinion. The chiles of Chimayó, for example, are exquisite and hard to come by unless you know someone, and know when to find them.

I’ve extolled the joys of posole – white hominy – several times, and certainly hanker after it now and again. I have not mentioned chicos, though, and you might be able to find them if you hunt. Chicos are dried yellow corn that are virtually unknown outside of New Mexico. The best chicos are dried overnight in a beehive oven and have an intense smoky flavor when rehydrated. Here is a classic recipe. As with all New Mexico stews the question is “verde o rojo?” – green or red? For green, use fresh chiles, for red use red chile powder. Actual quantities are cook’s choice. I ALWAYS eat green.

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Chico Stew

2 cups chicos
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ pork shoulder, cut in ½ inch cubes
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt
dried oregano
4 New Mexico green chiles, chopped coarse (or red New Mexico chile powder)

Instructions

Soak the chicos in cold water overnight.

Next day drain the chicos and cover them with 10 cups of cold water.  Cook the chicos in a crock pot all day on low, or simmer them on very low heat for 3 hours or more.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on a medium flame, and sear the pork all over. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until just translucent. Add salt and oregano to taste, chiles, and the chicos with all their water. Cook for about 20 minutes (or longer) to blend the flavors. Waiting one more day and reheating is even better.

Serve piping hot with sopapillas.

Feb 112016
 

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Today is the birthday (1800) of William Henry Fox Talbot who was a British scientist, inventor and photography pioneer who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, precursors to photographic processes of the later 19th and 20th centuries. His work in the 1840s on photomechanical reproduction led to the creation of the photoglyphic engraving process, the precursor to photogravure. He was the holder of a controversial patent which impacted the early development of commercial photography in Britain. He was also a noted photographer who contributed to the development of photography as an artistic medium. He published The Pencil of Nature (1844–46), which was illustrated with original salted paper prints from his calotype negatives, and made some important early photographs of Oxford, Paris, Reading, and York.

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The Pencil of Nature, was published in six installments between 1844 and 1846, and has good claim to be the first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published. It was written by Talbot and published by Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans in London. The book detailed Talbot’s development of the calotype process and included 24 calotype prints, each one pasted in by hand, illustrating some of the possible applications of the new technology. Since photography was still very much a novelty and many people remained unfamiliar with the concept, Talbot felt compelled to insert the following notice into his book:

The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.

The Pencil of Nature was published and sold one section at a time, without any binding (as with many books of the time, purchasers were expected to have it bound themselves once all the installments had been released). Talbot planned a large number of installments; however, the book was not a commercial success and he was forced to terminate the project after completing only six. Given the laborious method of production and expense, this is hardly surprising.

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Shortly after Louis Daguerre’s (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/daguerrotype/ ) invention of the daguerreotype was announced in early January 1839, without details, Talbot asserted priority of invention based on experiments he had begun in early 1834. At a meeting of the Royal Institution on 25 January 1839, Talbot exhibited several paper photographs he had made in 1835. Within a fortnight, he communicated the general nature of his process to the Royal Society, followed by more complete details a few weeks later. Daguerre did not publicly reveal any useful details until mid-August, although by the spring it had become clear that his process and Talbot’s were very different.

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Talbot’s early “salted paper” or “photogenic drawing” process used writing paper bathed in a weak solution of ordinary table salt (sodium chloride), dried, then brushed on one side with a strong solution of silver nitrate, which created a tenacious coating of very light-sensitive silver chloride that darkened where it was exposed to light. Whether used to create shadow image photograms by placing objects on it and setting it out in the sunlight, or to capture the dim images formed by a lens in a camera, it was a “printing out” process, meaning that the exposure had to continue until the desired degree of darkening had been produced. In the case of camera images, that could require an exposure of an hour or two if something more than a silhouette of objects against a bright sky was wanted. Earlier experimenters such as Thomas Wedgwood and Nicéphore Niépce had captured shadows and camera images with silver salts years before, but they could find no way to prevent their photographs from fatally darkening all over when exposed to daylight. Talbot devised several ways of chemically stabilizing his results, making them sufficiently insensitive to further exposure that direct sunlight could be used to print the negative image produced in the camera on to another sheet of salted paper, creating a positive.

Daguerre’s work on his process had commenced at about the same time as Talbot’s earliest work on his salted paper process. In 1839, Daguerre’s agent applied for English and Scottish patents only a matter of days before France, having granted Daguerre a pension for it, declared his invention “free to the world”. The United Kingdom and the British “Colonies and Plantations abroad” therefore became the only places where a license was legally required to make and sell daguerreotypes. This exception is now usually regarded as both an expression of old national animosities, still smoldering just 24 years after Waterloo, and a reaction to Talbot’s initial aggressive assertion of an extremely broad claim of priority of invention. Talbot never attempted to patent any part of his printed-out silver chloride “photogenic drawing” process.

In February 1841, Talbot obtained an English patent for his developed-out calotype process. At first, he sold individual patent licenses for £20 each; later, he lowered the fee for amateur use to £4. Professional photographers, however, had to pay up to £300 annually. In a business climate where many patent holders were attacked for enforcing their rights, and an academic world that viewed the patenting of new discoveries as a crass hindrance to scientific freedom and further progress, Talbot’s behavior was widely criticized. One reason Talbot later gave for vigorously enforcing his rights was that he had spent, according to his own reckoning, about £5,000 on his various photographic endeavors over the years and wanted to at least recoup his expenses.

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In 1844, Talbot helped set up an establishment in Baker Street, Reading, for mass-producing salted paper prints from his calotype negatives. The Reading Establishment, as it was known, also offered services to the public, making prints from others’ negatives, copying artwork and documents, and taking portraits at its studio. The enterprise was not a success.

Rather than explore Talbot’s inventions and personal history more I’d like to present a small gallery of his works using various processes. To my eye, many are breathtakingly beautiful, and are also priceless records of his life and times.

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William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800–1877) Group Taking Tea at Lacock Abbey, August 17, 1843 Salted paper print from paper negative; Mount: 9 15/16 in. × 13 in. (25.3 × 33 cm) Sheet: 7 3/8 × 8 15/16 in. (18.7 × 22.7 cm) Image: 5 in. × 7 1/2 in. (12.7 × 19 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2013 (2013.159.50) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/306333

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Given that Talbot’s studio was located in Reading, and a great many of his photographs were of Victorian Reading I thought I would give you Reading sauce as my recipe of the day. Reading sauce is virtually unknown now, but it was very popular in Victorian times. In Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, Fogg one day had for his breakfast at the Reform Club in London “. . . a side-dish, a broiled fish with Reading sauce.” Lewis Carroll wrote:

Then, fourthly, there are epithets, That suit with any word
As well as Harvey’s Reading Sauce, With fish, or flesh, or bird.

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The sauce rivaled Worcestershire sauce in Victorian times but fell out of favor in the early 20th century. However, there have been attempts recently to revive interest – especially in Reading. Here, of course, is Mrs Beeton.

READING SAUCE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2-1/2 pints of walnut pickle, 1-1/2 oz. of shalots, 1 quart of spring water, 3/4 pint of Indian soy, 1/2 oz. of bruised ginger, 1/2 oz. of long pepper, 1 oz. of mustard-seed, 1 anchovy, 1/2 oz. of cayenne, 1/4 oz. of dried sweet bay-leaves.

Mode.—Bruise the shalots in a mortar, and put them in a stone jar with the walnut-liquor; place it before the fire, and let it boil until reduced to 2 pints. Then, into another jar, put all the ingredients except the bay-leaves, taking care that they are well bruised, so that the flavour may be thoroughly extracted; put this also before the fire, and let it boil for 1 hour, or rather more. When the contents of both jars are sufficiently cooked, mix them together, stirring them well as you mix them, and submit them to a slow boiling for 1/2 hour; cover closely, and let them stand 24 hours in a cool place; then open the jar and add the bay-leaves; let it stand a week longer closed down, when strain through a flannel bag, and it will be ready for use. The above quantities will make 1/2 gallon.

Time.—Altogether, 3 hours.

Seasonable.—This sauce may be made at any time.

 

Jan 092015
 

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On this date in 1839 the French Academy of Sciences (Académie des sciences) announced the invention of the Daguerrotype, the first reliable form of photography and the first to come into widespread use during the early 1840s. By the early 1860s, later processes which were less expensive and produced more easily viewed images had almost entirely replaced it. A small-scale revival of daguerreotype among photographers interested in historical processes was increasingly apparent during the 1980’s and 1990’s and has persisted.

The distinguishing visual characteristics of a daguerreotype are that the image is on a bright (ignoring any areas of tarnish) mirror-like surface of metallic silver and it will appear either positive or negative depending on the lighting conditions and whether a light or dark background is being reflected in the metal. From certain angles the image cannot be seen at all.

Several types of antique images, particularly ambrotypes and tintypes but sometimes even old prints on paper, are commonly misidentified as daguerreotypes, especially if they are in the small, ornamented cases in which daguerreotypes were usually housed. The name “daguerreotype” refers correctly to only one very distinctive image type and medium, produced by a specific photographic process that was in wide use only from the early 1840s to the late 1850s.

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Since the late Renaissance, artists and inventors had searched for a mechanical method of capturing visual scenes. Previously, using the camera obscura, artists would manually trace what they saw, or use the optical image in the camera as a basis for solving the problems of perspective and parallax, and deciding color values.

In the early seventeenth century, the Italian physician and chemist Angelo Sala wrote that powdered silver nitrate was blackened by the sun, but did not find any practical application of the phenomenon. previous discoveries of photosensitive methods and substances—including silver nitrate by Albertus Magnus in the 13th century, a silver and chalk mixture by Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1724,and Joseph Niépce’s bitumen-based heliography in 1822—contributed to development of the daguerreotype.

The first reliably documented attempt to capture the image formed in a camera obscura was made by Thomas Wedgwood as early as the 1790s, but according to an 1802 account of his work by Sir Humphry Davy:

The images formed by means of a camera obscura have been found too faint to produce, in any moderate time, an effect upon the nitrate of silver. To copy these images was the first object of Mr. Wedgwood in his researches on the subject, and for this purpose he first used the nitrate of silver, which was mentioned to him by a friend, as a substance very sensible to the influence of light; but all his numerous experiments as to their primary end proved unsuccessful.

In 1829 French artist and chemist Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (photo above), contributing a cutting edge camera design, partnered with Niépce, a leader in photochemistry, to further develop their technologies. The two men came into contact through their optician, Chevalier, who supplied lenses for their camerae obscurae.

Niépce’s aim originally had been to find a method to reproduce prints and drawings for lithography. He had started out experimenting with light sensitive materials and had made a contact print from a drawing and then went on to successfully make the first photomechanical record of an image in a camera obscura—the world’s first photograph. Niépce’s method was to coat a pewter plate with bitumen of Judea (asphalt) and the action of the light differentially hardened the bitumen. The plate was washed with a mixture of oil of lavender and turpentine leaving a relief image. Niépce called his process heliography and the exposure for the first successful photograph was eight hours.

After Niépce’s 1833 death, Daguerre continued to research the chemistry and mechanics of recording images by coating copper plates with iodized silver. Early experiments required hours of exposure in the camera to produce visible results. There is a story of a fortunate accident, related by Louis Figuier of a silver spoon lying on an iodized silver plate which left its design on the plate by light perfectly. Noticing this, Daguerre wrote to Niépce on 21 May 1831 suggesting the use of iodized silver plates as a means of obtaining light images in the camera. Letters from Niépce to Daguerre dated 24 June and 8 November 1831, show that Niépce was unsuccessful in obtaining satisfactory results following Daguerre’s suggestion, although he had produced a negative on an iodized silver plate in the camera. Niépce’s letters to Daguerre dated 29 January and 3 March 1832, according to Eder, show that the use of iodized silver plates was due to Daguerre and not Niépce.

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Jean-Baptiste Dumas, who was president of the National Society for the Encouragement of Science and a chemist, put his laboratory at Daguerre’s disposal, which was fortunate, according to Eder, who says Daguerre was not versed in chemistry; and it was Dumas who suggested Daguerre use sodim hyposulfite, discovered by Herschel in 1819, as a fixer to dissolve the unexposed silver salts. Much of Daguerre’s early work was destroyed in a fire: “Until 1839 Daguerre resided in Paris, living at 15 Rue de Marais, the premises of the Diorama from which he derived his income. On 8 March 1839 the house was burned to the ground, and with it the bulk of his early experimental works including the experimental picture which Daguerre made with Arago in order to instruct him in the method and importance of his invention.” Malcom Daniel points out that “fewer than twenty-five securely attributed photographs by Daguerre survive—a mere handful of still lifes, Parisian views, and portraits from the dawn of photography.”

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François Arago announced the daguerreotype process at a joint meeting of the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des beaux arts on January 9, 1839. Later that year William Fox Talbot announced his silver chloride “sensitive paper” process. Together, these announcements mark 1839 as the year photography was born, although Daguerre’s view of the street outside his window was produced the year previously, 1838. Other, earlier practitioners of photography include Hippolyte Bayard and Hércules Florence who produced photographs in 1833—earlier than Daguerre, although later than Niépce’s bitumen heliography. Also, Hércules Florence called his invention photographie whereas in the early days of photography it was called daguerreotypy and the daguerreotype. No one mentioned the word “photography”.

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Daguerre did not patent and profit from his invention in the usual way. Instead, it was arranged that the French government would acquire the rights in exchange for a lifetime pension. The government would then present the daguerreotype process “free to the world” as a gift, which it did on August 19, 1839. However, on August 14, 1839, a patent agent acting on Daguerre’s behalf filed for a patent in England, Wales and Scotland. For some reason the patent in Scotland was not enforced, but it was in the other two, making them the only countries in the world in which the purchase of a license was legally required to make and sell daguerreotypes.

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By the 1860’s the process had been superseded by other processes. But there was a “retro” revival in the 1980’s that continues

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Entrecôte Marchand de vin is a classic Parisian dish suitable to celebrate Daguerre. You’ll need a sirloin steak, ½ an onion, and 3 fluid ounces of red wine per person. Heat a little olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the onion in a heavy pan until it is browned at the edges. Remove the onion and turn the heat to high. Allow the pan to get smoking hot. Sear the steak on both sides and cook until reaching the desired doneness – about 2 minutes for rare is my preference. Add back the onion and the wine and let it reduce until it is syrupy. Serve with chunky fried potatoes and a green salad.

Feb 202014
 

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Today is the birthday (1902) of Ansel Easton Adams, U. S. photographer and environmentalist. His black-and-white landscape photographs of the U.S. West, especially Yosemite National Park, have been widely reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books.  I could give you a pile of technical stuff about his cameras, his vision, and such.  But I won’t.  You can look it up if you care.  What I will say is that he helped revolutionize photography into an art form in its own right.

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He is probably best remembered for his images of Yosemite.  But he did actually take quite a number of other memorable images such as of a WWII Japanese internment camp euphemistically called the Manzanar War Relocation Center. He was deeply distressed by U.S. policy on Japanese internment.

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Adams was a realist when it came to loss of natural habitat due to ever expanding development, but advocated for balanced growth. He wrote, “We all know the tragedy of the dustbowls, the cruel unforgivable erosions of the soil, the depletion of fish or game, and the shrinking of the noble forests. And we know that such catastrophes shrivel the spirit of the people. The wilderness is pushed back, man is everywhere. Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere.”

Adams’ black-and-white photographs of the West became the foremost record of what many of the National Parks were like before tourism, and his persistent advocacy helped expand the National Park system. He used his works to promote many of the goals of the Sierra Club and of the nascent environmental movement.

Adams also spent considerable time photographing the Southwest of the U.S.

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This fact gives me the opportunity, finally, to give you a recipe for sopapillas, a great staple of Arizona and New Mexico (where it is claimed they originate).  They are a classic accompaniment for all soups and stews. They are called “little pillows” but the name actually translates as something like “soup catcher” – their main purpose.  In New Mexico people usually eat leftover sopapillas with honey, and all restaurants have a squeeze bottle of honey on the table.

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Sopapillas

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tbspns lard (or vegetable shortening)
1¼ cups warm milk (approximately)
vegetable oil for frying

Instructions:

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.

Cut in the lard.  You can use a pastry cutter, but it is generally better to do it with your hands.  (Actually, I cheat and use a food processor – pulsing about 10 times).

Add the milk, and mix the dough quickly with a fork or by hand until the dough forms a mass. Do not get it too sticky.

Turn the dough on to a well floured board and begin to knead the dough by folding it in half, pushing it down, and folding again. It should take about a dozen folds to form a soft dough that is pliant.

Rolling the dough is the tricky part.  Like pastry, you do not want to work it too much or the resultant sopapillas will be tough. Take half the dough and roll it out to ? inch thickness (keeping the other half under a damp kitchen towel).  Cut the dough into 5 x 5 inch squares, then cut on the diagonal to create triangles.  Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.  DO NOT re-roll any of the pastry. You can just fry up the scraps and eat them with honey (cook’s privilege).

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or a deep fryer to 400°F/205°C.

Fry the sopapillas in small batches.  They should begin to puff immediately.  Turn once so that they are browned nicely on both sides and then remove to a wire rack to drain.

Serve immediately.

Yield: about 20