Jun 172018
 

Today is the birthday (1882) Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky, a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor who is widely considered one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. I wrote a post on the premiere of the Rite of Spring 3 years ago, that was quite technical concerning the music, and also analyzed the riot that (supposedly) erupted: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/rite-of-spring/  My spate of posts on individual musical pieces back then served its purpose, but it did leave the composers a little short-changed. Here is my opportunity to spread out more broadly about Stravinsky. What I most especially want to do is to place Stravinsky in the broader cultural and intellectual landscape of his time. This endeavor is partly facilitated by the fact that Stravinsky, while immersing himself in the world of music, had a wide range of interests and friendships with individuals who spanned all manner of artistic and intellectual realms. This gives me the opportunity to stop and reflect on a critical time in the development of Western culture – what has become known as the modernist era.

Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital at the time and was brought up in Saint Petersburg. His parents were Fyodor Stravinsky (1843–1902), a well-known bass at the Kiev opera house and the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, and Anna (née Kholodovsky; 1854-1939), a native of Kiev, one of four daughters of a high-ranking official in the Kiev Ministry of Estates. Stravinsky recalled his schooldays as being lonely, later saying that “I never came across anyone who had any real attraction for me.” Stravinsky began piano lessons as a young boy, studying music theory and attempting composition. By age 15, he had mastered Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor and finished a piano reduction of a string quartet by Glazunov, who reportedly considered Stravinsky unmusical and thought little of his skills.

Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov

Despite his enthusiasm for music, his parents expected him to study law. Stravinsky enrolled at the University of Saint Petersburg in 1901, but he attended fewer than 50 class sessions during his four years of study. In the summer of 1902, Stravinsky stayed with composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his family in Heidelberg, where Rimsky-Korsakov, who was arguably the leading Russian composer at that time, suggested to Stravinsky that he should not enter the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire but instead study composing by taking private lessons, in large part because of his age. Stravinsky’s father died of cancer that year, by which time Stravinsky had already begun spending more time on his musical studies than on law. The university was closed for two months in 1905 in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, and Stravinsky was prevented from taking his final law examinations and later received a half-course diploma in April 1906. Thereafter, he concentrated on studying music. In 1905, he began to take twice-weekly private lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov, and continued until Rimsky-Korsakov’s death in 1908.

Diaghilev and Stravinsky

In February 1909, two of Stravinsky’s orchestral works, the Scherzo fantastique and Feu d’artifice (Fireworks) were performed at a concert in Saint Petersburg Serge Diaghilev heard them. Diaghilev was planning to present Russian opera and ballet in Paris, and was sufficiently impressed by Fireworks to commission Stravinsky to produce some orchestrations and then to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird. While in Paris as the principal composer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Stravinsky also collaborated with Pablo Picasso (Pulcinella, 1920), Jean Cocteau (Oedipus Rex, 1927), and George Balanchine (Apollon musagète, 1928). His interest in art propelled him to develop a strong relationship with Picasso, whom he met in 1917 From 1917 to 1920, the two engaged in an artistic dialogue in which they exchanged small-scale works of art, which included the famous portrait of Stravinsky by Picasso, and Stravinsky’s “Sketch of Music for the Clarinet.” This exchange was essential to establish how the artists would approach their collaborative space in Pulcinella. Stravinsky also had broad tastes in literature with a constant desire for new discoveries. The texts and literary sources for his work began with a period of interest in Russian folklore, which progressed to classical authors and the Latin liturgy and moved on to contemporary France, and eventually English literature, including W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and medieval English verse.

Although Stravinsky was not outspoken about his faith, he was a deeply religious man throughout some periods of his life. As a child, he was brought up by his parents in the Russian Orthodox Church. Baptized at birth, he later rebelled against the Church and abandoned it by the time he was around 14. Throughout the rise of his career he was estranged from Christianity and it was not until he reached his early forties that he experienced a spiritual crisis. After befriending a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Nicholas, after his move to Nice in 1924, he reconnected with his faith. He rejoined the Russian Orthodox Church and afterwards remained a committed Christian. In his late seventies, Stravinsky said:

I cannot now evaluate the events that, at the end of those thirty years, made me discover the necessity of religious belief. I was not reasoned into my disposition. Though I admire the structured thought of theology (Anselm’s proof in the Fides Quaerens Intellectum, for instance) it is to religion no more than counterpoint exercises are to music. I do not believe in bridges of reason or, indeed, in any form of extrapolation in religious matters. … I can say, however, that for some years before my actual “conversion”, a mood of acceptance had been cultivated in me by a reading of the Gospels and by other religious literature.

Looking at Stravinsky’s life and relationships does make us understand a little more about the creative process, particularly concerning how certain fundamental ideas percolate around all manner of spheres. It’s not surprising that musicians and choreographers collaborate: ballets need both, and they have to work together. At the turn of the 20th century, visual artists, musicians, poets, novelists, dancers, playwrights etc. all found ways to share ideas partly because there were some BIG IDEAS percolating in the intellectual world in general, changing attitudes in the physical sciences, natural sciences, medicine, and allied fields of inquiry. If you want to sum it up in a short (simplistic) way you could say that in every field of human endeavor the foundational rules were being challenged. What seemed to be rock solid notions such as time, motion, form, substance, were all shown to be much more mutable than they seemed. Time was relative; a vacuum was not empty; solid things were shown to be made of atoms, which could be split, and those atoms contained huge areas of nothing; human consciousness was partly unconscious. In a word, things are not what our senses lead us to believe they are. These ideas affected all inquiry. The sad fact is that 100 years later, the general population is as clueless concerning these ideas as they were at the turn of the 20th century. But artists, scientists, theologians . . . whatever, grasped them – and they talked to each other. My questions is, “Where did the BIG IDEAS come from in the first place?” It’s easy (and common) to think that the ideas come from scientific discovery and then spread from there, but I am not so sure. Breakthroughs in science do not just happen because scientists are moving along step by step until they achieve their goals. There has to be a flash of insight that is creative. In a sense the idea comes from nowhere, or, at the very least is an unexpected departure from normal ways of thinking.

It is alleged that Einstein came up with the basic principle of special relativity when he was on his way to work and when he glanced up at the town clock saw that he was going to be late and wondered what it would be like if he were traveling towards the clock at the speed of light. He initially conjectured that time would stop. From there he began digging deeper, and working on the equations that emerged from that initial inspiration. In a sense, the idea came out of nowhere – just a random bit of imagination. But where does imagination or creativity come from? As an anthropologist I tend to think that they are part of constant shifts that occur within culture, and they can emanate from different arenas at different times. Maybe, sometimes the wellspring is physics, at other times it is music, or visual art, or linguistics, or religion. No single area of human endeavor has a stranglehold on creativity and imagination. Stravinsky’s life and work shows that this ferment of new ideas was all around in his heyday, and he tapped into it. He was well-educated and well-traveled enough (and sociable enough), to be one of the focus points of this ferment.

When I posted on Rite of Spring, I posted this story about Stravinsky:

Stravinsky and Rachmaninov had been contemporaries in St Petersburg but they did not actually meet until they started dining together in California in the 1940s. Although in opposite camps when it came to modernism, Rachmaninov very much wanted to be friends with his fellow composer. One night Stravinsky had gone to bed late after working on his orchestral suite, Four Norwegian Moods. To his surprise he heard footsteps on the porch outside. There towering over him – as he did over most people – was the lugubrious figure of Rachmaninov bearing a very large jar of natural honey. The explanation? At a recent meal Stravinsky had announced how much he loved honey and this determined Rachmaninov to bring some round, regardless of the hour.

On that post I gave a recipe for Russian honey cake, which you can use again for today. Or you can be a modernist: break all the rules. Soak 7 or 8 very thin slices of bread (crusts removed) in honey, stack them, sprinkle them with crushed nuts, and eat. Do something – anything – creative with honey, in Stravinsky’s memory. Just remember to break the rules. Recipes are not allowed. What you do must be original. Giving you too many ideas would be cheating.

 

Oct 252017
 

Today is the birthday (1881) of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, usually shortened to Pablo Picasso. Pablo is the first of his many given names and Picasso is his mother’s father’s family name in the combination of Ruiz y Picasso which is the usual Spanish way of denoting father’s and mother’s family names. Picasso needs no introduction, so I am going to dispense with most (not all) of my usual biographical and technical information in posting on him and cut to the chase. I will also admit that I am posting this year about Picasso because I have 2 recipes which he wrote for Vogue magazine. This is a food blog after all. Sometimes people forget that fact.

Picasso was born in Málaga in Andalusia, the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Picasso’s father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats. Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil.” From the age of 7, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional academic artist and instructor, who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.

The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost 4 years. In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his 7-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the jury admitted him, at just 13. Picasso lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented a small room for him close to home so he could work alone, yet he checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his drawings. The two argued frequently.

Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send him to Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the country’s foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements such as his elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.

Picasso’s progress as an artist can be traced in the collection of his early works now held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. During 1893 the juvenile quality of his earliest work falls away, and by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. The academic realism apparent in the works of the mid-1890s is well displayed in The First Communion (1896), a large composition that depicts his sister, Lola. In the same year, at the age of 14, he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a dramatic portrait that in hindsight presages great things.

Art historians usually divide Picasso’s oeuvre into “periods,” which I find a bit academic and stilted, but for the sake of brevity I’ll play along. The resultant gallery does show Picasso’s evolution as an artist which is something I like to contemplate with any artist. My question is always: What did this artist paint besides the immediately recognizable stuff? In Picasso’s case it’s more a matter of: “How did he get here from there?”

We start with the blue period (1901-1904) when he painted primarily monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works painted first in Barcelona and then Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. During this period Picasso was financially hard up and chronically depressed.  It shows. So does the influence of El Greco (to me, at least).

Picasso’s rose period (1904-1906) presents some more pleasant themes of clowns, harlequins, carnival performers, depicted in cheerful vivid hues of red, orange, pink and earth tones, although the somberness of the blue period is still there. These paintings are largely (not exclusively) based on memory rather than direct observation and marks the beginning of his stylistic experiments with primitivism influenced by pre-Roman Iberian sculpture, Oceanic and African art.

Picasso’s African period (1907-1909), also sometimes called the proto-cubist period, begins with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso painted this composition in a style inspired by Iberian sculpture, but repainted the faces of the two figures on the right after being powerfully impressed by African artefacts he saw in June 1907 in the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro. When he displayed the painting to acquaintances in his studio later that year, the nearly universal reaction was shock and revulsion. Matisse angrily dismissed the work as a hoax. Consequently, Picasso did not exhibit Le Demoiselles publicly until 1916. Formal ideas developed during this period lead directly into the Cubist period that follows.

Picasso and Georges Braque developed analytic cubism jointly and their paintings in the years 1909 to 1912 often seem stylistically indistinguishable. I am attracted to the cubist paintings of the era by different artists, but I do also notice a fair degree of sameness among them. In mitigation I will also say that I admire collaboration among creative people. I’d appreciate being able to do something similar in my waning years, but I travel too much to settle into a group.

From 1912 to 1919 Picasso’s cubist style shifted from strict analytic cubism to what he called crystal cubism – a more distilled form of cubism – and also towards cubist collage. This is sometimes called his synthetic cubist period. At this point, you can begin to see how the grouping of Picasso’s paintings into “periods,” not especially helpful all along, begins to crumble. During this “period” some of his contemporary complained that he was defecting from cubism back to realism. During this time Picasso entertained a distinguished coterie of friends in the Montmartre and Montparnasse quarters, including André Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Alfred Jarry, and Gertrude Stein. (As an aside, Apollinaire was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Apollinaire pointed to Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated).

 

In February 1917, Picasso made his first trip to Italy. In the period following the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Picasso produced work in a neoclassical style. This “return to order” is evident in the work of many European artists in the 1920s. Picasso’s paintings and drawings from this period frequently recall the work of Raphael and Ingres.

In 1925 the Surrealist writer and poet André Breton declared Picasso as ‘one of ours’ in his article “Le Surréalisme et la peinture”, published in Révolution surréaliste. Yet Picasso exhibited Cubist works at the first Surrealist group exhibition in 1925; the concept of ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’ defined in the Manifeste du surréalisme never appealed to him entirely.

During the 1930s, the minotaur replaced the harlequin as a common motif in Picasso’s work. His use of the minotaur came partly from his contact with the surrealists, who often used it as their symbol, and it appears in his Guernica (1937). Guernica is Picasso’s depiction of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war. Asked to explain its symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” Guernica was exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, and then became the centerpiece of an exhibition of 118 works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Henri Laurens that toured Scandinavia and England. After the victory of Francisco Franco in Spain, the painting was sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Until 1981 it was entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, as it was Picasso’s expressed desire that the painting should not be delivered to Spain until liberty and democracy had been established in the country.

I saw Guernica in 2007 when I was in Madrid. At the time it was housed in its own exhibit at the Museo Reina Sofia along with dozens of photographs showing Picasso painting it, preliminary sketches Picasso made, and a host of related items exploring the painting’s imagery. I spent a large part of a day at the exhibit.

All right, I’ll leave it there and move to Picasso’s recipes – finally !! These recipes come from Vogue September 1st, 1964, and are reproduced on this website https://www.vogue.com/article/haute-cuisine-pablo-picasso-recipes-vogue At the time Vogue was in the habit of contacting famous people and asking for their favorite recipes. This is Picasso’s contribution. The material is copyright by Vogue.

Picasso’s Omelette Tortilla Niçoise for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion

4 peppers, red and green

3 tomatoes

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

8 eggs

Salt and pepper

In a flat-bottomed frying pan, heat oil gently, adding the onion, sliced and separated into rings. After 5 minutes, add the peppers, seeded and diced. Mix and cook gently for a few minutes, then slip in the tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and cubed. After mixing and seasoning, cover pan and let simmer over a low flame for 1 hour. Vegetables should not stick. Uncover the pan, pour in the wine vinegar, and let cook until liquid is reduced.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Pour them over the vegetables, mix well, and let the omelette cook gently without touching it. When it is well set, put a big plate over the pan and reverse the omelette onto it, then slide it back into the pan on the other side. Finish over a higher flame until golden underneath. Cut the omelette tortilla like a pie, and serve with a bowl of garlic-mayonnaise seasoned with saffron.

Picasso’s Eel Stew for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons butter

12 small white onions

1 teaspoon sugar

2 yellow onions, chopped

12 mushrooms

⅓ pound salt pork, cubed

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eels of about 1 pound each, cut into four- to five-inch sections

1 bottle of good red wine

1 tablespoon flour

Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper

Bouquet garni: thyme, bay leaf, parsley, fennel, and a small branch of celery

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, add small white onions and sprinkle them with sugar. When golden on all sides, cover the pan and cook gently, turning onions carefully from time to time. Be sure they are well caramelized without sticking. After 10 minutes add the salt pork cut in cubes; when transparent, put in the mushroom heads, and let simmer.

At the same time: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of oil in a casserole. Cover the bottom with 2 chopped onions, minced shallots, garlic, and chopped mushroom stems. Put the bouquet garni in the center and the sections of fish around it. Season and cook gently for 5 minutes, then cover with wine. Bring to a boil, then lower flame as far as possible, to simmer, without boiling, for 15 minutes.

Drain the pieces of eel and place in the frying pan with the small onions. Keep warm over a low flame.

Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, return to high flame and reduce, uncovered for 5 minutes. Work 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon flour into a paste, and add it in bits to thicken sauce; stir to boiling point before removing from stove.

Cover the eel stew with sauce; and serve surrounded by croutons fried in butter.

May 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, French post-impressionist painter, sometimes  known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a slightly off-hand joke concerning his day job as an import tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties but was ridiculed during his lifetime by critics. He was not fully recognized as a self-taught genius until after his death when his work exerted an enormous influence on several generations of artists.

Rousseau was born in Laval (in northwest France near Brittany), in 1844, son of plumber. He attended secondary school in Laval first as a day student, and then as a boarder after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. After school, he worked for a lawyer and studied law, but after a short stint tired of the work and joined the army. He served for 4 years, starting in 1863, but on his father’s death, he moved to Paris to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1868, he married Clémence Boitard, his landlord’s 15-year-old daughter, with whom he had six children (only one survived). In 1871, he was appointed as a collector of the octroi of Paris, collecting taxes on goods entering Paris. His wife died in 1888 and he married Josephine Noury in 1898.

From 1886, he exhibited regularly in the Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review when the young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: “His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it’s the alpha and omega of painting.” In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 1910. In 1897, he produced one of his most famous paintings, La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy).

In 1905, Rousseau’s large jungle scene The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants near works by younger leading avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse, and by a group now generally known as Les Fauves.

After Rousseau’s retirement in 1893, he supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and casual work such as playing a violin in the streets. He also worked briefly at Le petit journal, where he produced a number of its covers. Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, in March 1910, at the Salon des Independants.

In the same month Rousseau cut his leg and the wound became infected, which he ignored. In August he was admitted to the Necker Hospital in Paris, where his son had died, and was found to have gangrene in his leg. After an operation, he died from a blood clot on September 2, 1910.

At his funeral, seven friends stood at his grave: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brâncuși, Rousseau’s landlord Armand Queval, and poet Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brâncuși put on the tombstone (translated here):

We salute you
Gentile Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth
Painting as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars

Here is a small gallery of some of my favorites.  I’m not particularly taken with his usual flat representation of the human figure, but I do like his portrayal of foliage, his colors, and his general composition. De gustibus . . .  I am not (nor want to be) an art historian.

Figuring out a recipe du jour is dead simple because of a famous event towards the end of Rousseau’s life. In 1908 Pablo Picasso, at the time an up and coming star, came across a painting by Rousseau (Portrait of a Woman) being sold in a junk shop cheaply as a canvas to be painted over. He was moved by the artistry, bought the painting, sought out the artist, and held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau’s honor. “Le Banquet Rousseau,” as it has come to be known is now legendary. US poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, wrote that it “was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one. Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement’s earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations.” Guests at the banquet included, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Constantin Brâncuși, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, and Leo and Gertrude Stein.

The banquet was designed to be in two stages: first a formal dinner for 30 special guests, and second a general party for anyone who wanted to attend. Unfortunately, Picasso mixed up his dates and had ordered catered food (from a cheap local bistro) for the formal dinner for the wrong night. Consequently there was a scramble to provide dinner, and French artist’s model Fernande Olivier who shared the apartment with Picasso, made a big batch of riz à la valencienne — i.e. the French idea of paella — while Gertrude Stein raced around Montmatre in search of cheeses, sardines, bread and so forth as hors d’ouevres.

You can read all about the events of the banquet elsewhere. There are numerous stories and vignettes recounted by those present. Rousseau arrived at 8 pm when the guests (who had been drinking since 5 pm) were, let’s say, in jovial spirits. He was wearing his artist’s beret with a cane in one hand and his violin in the other. An odd sight: the short, white-haired, 64 year old painter greeted by 20-something artists and poets living in the heart of Bohemia, who would all go on to be world famous, but at the time were just beginning to be noticed. All of them ultimately drew inspiration, in one way or another, from Rousseau’s work.  Opinion is sharply divided as to whether the attendees (and Picasso himself) were truly honoring Rousseau or mocking him. Probably a bit of both at the time. But in death Rousseau had the last laugh: the painting that Picasso bought for 5 francs and displayed that night is now valued at $100 million.

Paella varies considerably around the world and is rarely cooked as they make it in Valencia. You’ll find one traditional recipe of mine here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cesare-borgia/  Throughout Spain, France, and Italy people prepare a variety of dishes of saffron rice with fish, meat, and vegetables which they think of as “Spanish rice”, and, of course, I have no idea what actually went into the dish at Rousseau’s banquet. But the typical Parisian riz à la valenciennes, calls for chicken, mussels, chorizo, and shrimp, with bell peppers and onions; a far cry from the rabbit, beans, and snails in Valencian paella. It is essential to have a wide, deep skillet to prepare this dish, preferably a paella pan.  A wood fire won’t hurt either, but a gas stove will do.

Riz à la Valenciennes

Ingredients

1 small chicken, cut in 12 pieces
olive oil
½ L/1 pint unshelled fresh mussels, fully scrubbed and debearded
160 ml/⅔ cup dry white wine
6-8 large shrimp, raw
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
100 g/3½ oz. chorizo, finely sliced
250 gm/2 cups short-grain rice
800 ml/ 3½ cups chicken broth
½ tsp powdered saffron
salt and freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the chicken pieces until they are golden on all sides. Because they are small, this process will ensure that they are almost, but not entirely, cooked through. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl with their juices and set aside.

Heat half the white wine in a large pot. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat until the mussels are just open. Discard any mussels that do not open, and transfer the mussels to a bowl with their juices (strained through muslin) and set aside.

Sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil until they turn pink. Set aside.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive over medium heat in a large skillet or paella pan. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Add the chorizo slices and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the rice and sauté an additional 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. Add the broth and saffron, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring the broth to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down as low as possible. Let the rice to cook for about 15 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the cover and check the rice. It should be barely cooked. If need be cook a little longer. When the rice is almost ready, arrange the chicken pieces, mussels and shrimp on top of the rice. Add their juices to the skillet. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more.

Uncover, garnish with the fresh parsley, and serve in the skillet.

Serves 4

May 132015
 

gb1

Today is the birthday (1882) of Georges Braque, a major 20th-century French painter, collagist, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor — one of my all-time favorites. His most important contributions to the history of art were in his alliance with Fauvism from 1906, and the role he played in the development of Cubism. Braque’s work between 1908 and 1912 is closely associated with that of his colleague Pablo Picasso. Their respective Cubist works were in some cases indistinguishable.

Braque was born in Argenteuil, Val-d’Oise. He grew up in Le Havre and trained to be a house painter and decorator like his father and grandfather. However, he also studied artistic painting during evenings at the École des Beaux-Arts, in Le Havre, from about 1897 to 1899. In Paris, he apprenticed with a decorator and was awarded his certificate in 1902. The next year, he attended the Académie Humbert, also in Paris, and painted there until 1904. It was here that he met Marie Laurencin and Francis Picabia.

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Braque’s earliest works were impressionistic, but after seeing the work exhibited by the artistic group known as the “Fauves” in 1905, he adopted a Fauvist style. The Fauves, a group that included Henri Matisse and André Derain among others, used brilliant colors to represent emotions. Braque worked most closely with the artists Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz, who shared Braque’s hometown of Le Havre, to develop a somewhat more subdued Fauvist style. In 1906, Braque traveled with Friesz to L’Estaque, to Antwerp, and then home to Le Havre to paint.

In May 1907, he successfully exhibited works of the Fauve style in the Salon des Indépendants. The same year, Braque’s style began a slow evolution as he became influenced by Paul Cézanne who had died in 1906 and whose works were exhibited in Paris for the first time in a large-scale, museum-like retrospective in September 1907. The 1907 Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne greatly affected the avant-garde artists of Paris, resulting in the advent of Cubism.

Braque’s paintings of 1908–1913 reflected his new interest in geometry and simultaneous perspective. He conducted an intense study of the effects of light and perspective and the technical means that painters use to represent these effects, seeming to question the most standard of artistic conventions. In his village scenes, for example, Braque frequently reduced an architectural structure to a geometric form approximating a cube, yet rendered its shading so that it looked both flat and three-dimensional by fragmenting the image.

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Beginning in 1909, Braque began to work closely with Picasso who had been developing a similar proto-Cubist style of painting. At the time, he was influenced by Gauguin, Cézanne, African masks, and Iberian sculpture while Braque was interested mainly in developing Cézanne’s ideas of multiple perspectives. The invention of Cubism was a joint effort between Picasso and Braque, then residents of Montmartre in Paris. These artists were the style’s main innovators. After meeting in October or November 1907, Braque and Picasso, in particular, began working on the development of Cubism in 1908. Both artists produced paintings of monochromatic color and complex patterns of faceted form, now termed Analytic Cubism.

A decisive time of its development occurred during the summer of 1911, when Braque and Picasso painted side by side in Céret in the French Pyrenees, each artist producing paintings that are difficult—sometimes virtually impossible—to distinguish from those of the other. In 1912, they began to experiment with collage and Braque invented the papier collé technique. French art critic Louis Vauxcelles used the terms “bizarre cubiques” in 1908 after seeing a picture by Braque. He described it as ‘full of little cubes’. The term ‘Cubism’, first used in 1911 with reference to artists exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants, quickly gained wide use but Picasso and Braque did not adopt it initially. Art historian Ernst Gombrich described Cubism as “the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture—that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas.” The Cubist style spread quickly throughout Paris and then Europe.

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The two artists’ productive collaboration continued and they worked closely together until the beginning of World War I in 1914, when Braque enlisted with the French Army. In May 1915, Braque received a severe head injury in battle at Carency and suffered temporary blindness. He was trepanned, and required a long period of recuperation.

Braque resumed painting in late 1916. Working alone, he began to moderate the harsh abstraction of cubism. He developed a more personal style characterized by brilliant color, textured surfaces, and—after his relocation to the Normandy seacoast—the reappearance of the human figure. He painted many still life subjects during this time, maintaining his emphasis on structure. One example of this is his 1943 work Blue Guitar. During his recovery he became a close friend of the cubist artist Juan Gris.

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He continued to work during the remainder of his life, producing a considerable number of paintings, graphics, and sculptures. Braque, along with Matisse, is credited for introducing Picasso to Fernand Mourlot, and most of the lithographs and book illustrations he himself created during the 1940s and ’50s were produced at the Mourlot Studios. In 1962 Braque worked with master printmaker Aldo Crommelynck to create his series of etchings and aquatints titled “L’Ordre des Oiseaux” (“The Order of Birds”), which was accompanied by the poet Saint-John Perse’s text.

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Braque died on 31 August 1963 in Paris. He is buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. Valery in Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy whose windows he designed.

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Braque’s hometown, Le Havre, is a well-known fishing town in Normandy as these images attest (including a number of impressionist paintings by Monet who was a resident):

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I did find a recipe for scallops Le Havre but could not discover what made them unique to Le Havre. Besides it was not particularly interesting. So, I have settled for a Normandy fish stew that I like. It’s a simple but creamy bouillabaisse.

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Normandy Fish Stew

Ingredients

500g mussels

300ml cider

1 tbsp butter

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced

100g baby button mushrooms halved

150ml crème fraîche

4 fillets skin-on white fish

small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Instructions

Scrub and de-beard the mussels. Discard any that do not close when tapped.

Put the mussels and cider into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cover. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Discard any that do not.

Drain the mussels by using a sieve lined with muslin over a bowl to strain out any sand.

Clean and dry the pan and place it on medium high heat. Melt the butter and sweat the leeks until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

Add the mussel broth and crème fraîche and simmer to reduce by half.

Add the fish and parsley, cover, and cook until the fish is just cooked through (time depends on the thickness of the fillets). Return the mussels to heat.

Serve in the pot at the table, with crusty French bread.