Oct 102018
 

Jean-Antoine Watteau, commonly known as Antoine Watteau, a French painter in the style dubbed Rococo, was baptized on this date in 1684. His birth date is unknown. Watteau is credited with inventing the genre of fêtes galantes, scenes of bucolic and idyllic charm, suffused with a theatrical air. Some of his best known subjects were drawn from the world of Italian commedia dell’arte and ballet.

Watteau was born in October 1684 in the town of Valenciennes which had recently passed from the Spanish Netherlands to France. Watteau may have been apprenticed to Jacques-Albert Gérin, a local painter.His first artistic subjects were charlatans selling quack remedies on the streets of Valenciennes. He left for Paris in 1702. And there he found employment in a workshop at Pont Notre-Dame, making copies of popular genre paintings in the Flemish and Dutch tradition. It was in that period that he developed his characteristic sketchlike technique.

By 1705 he was employed as an assistant by the painter Claude Gillot, whose work represented a reaction against the turgid official art of Louis XIV’s reign. In Gillot’s studio Watteau became acquainted with the characters of the commedia dell’arte, a favorite subject of Gillot’s that would become one of Watteau’s lifelong passions. Afterward he moved to the workshop of Claude Audran III, an interior decorator, under whose influence he began to make drawings admired for their elegance. In fact, throughout Watteau’s lifetime, his drawings were much more popular than his paintings. Audran was the curator of the Palais du Luxembourg, where Watteau was able to see the magnificent series of canvases painted by Peter Paul Rubens for Queen Marie de Medici. Rubens would become one of his major influences, together with the Venetian masters he later studied in the collection of his patron and friend, the banker Pierre Crozat.

In 1709 Watteau tried to obtain the Prix de Rome and was rejected by the Academy. In 1712 he tried again and by then was considered so good that, rather than receiving the one-year stay in Rome for which he had applied, he was accepted as a full member of the Academy. He took five years to deliver the required “reception piece”, but it was one of his masterpieces: the Pilgrimage to Cythera, also called the Embarkation for Cythera.

Watteau lacked aristocratic patrons; his buyers were bourgeois bankers and dealers. Among his most famous paintings, beside the two versions of the Pilgrimage to Cythera, one in the Louvre, the other in the Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, are Pierrot (long identified as “Gilles”), Fêtes venitiennes, Love in the Italian Theater, Love in the French Theater, “Voulez-vous triompher des belles?” and Mezzetin. The subject of his hallmark painting, Pierrot (Gilles), is an actor in a white satin costume who stands isolated from his four companions, staring ahead with an enigmatic expression on his face.

Watteau’s final masterpiece, the Shop-sign of Gersaint, changes his usual pastoral forest locale for a mundane urban setting at an art dealer’s.

Watteau alarmed his friends by a carelessness about his future and financial security, as if foreseeing he would not live for long. In fact he had been sickly and physically fragile since childhood. In 1720, he traveled to London to consult Dr. Richard Mead, one of the most fashionable physicians of his time and an admirer of Watteau’s work. However, London’s damp and smoky air offset any benefits of Dr. Mead’s wholesome food and medicines. Watteau returned to France and spent his last few months on the estate of his patron, Abbé Haranger, where he died in 1721, perhaps from tubercular laryngitis, at the age of 36. The Abbé said Watteau was semi-conscious and mute during his final days, clutching a paint brush and painting imaginary paintings in the air.

His nephew, Louis Joseph Watteau, son of Antoine’s brother Noël Joseph Watteau (1689–1756), and grand nephew, François-Louis-Joseph Watteau, son of Louis, followed him into painting as a career. Here’s my customary gallery. Watteau is not a fav of mine, so this is more for completeness than interest:

Valenciennes, Watteau’s birthplace, is noted for its fish dishes and sole Valenciennes is a standard of chefs worldwide.

Fillets of Sole Valenciennes

Ingredients

salt and pepper
¼ tsp ground mace
¼ tsp dried thyme
6 sole fillets
½ cup dry vermouth
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp melted butter, plus extra
1 tbsp chopped chives
2 tbsp minced onion
30 small mushroom caps
chopped fresh parsley
lemon wedges

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Instructions

Combine the mace and thyme with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the fillets. Place the fish in a buttered skillet with a lid.

Combine the vermouth, lemon juice and butter and pour over the fish. Sprinkle with the chives and onion. Place the mushrooms on and around the fish. Cover the pan and very slowly bring it to a boil over low heat. Immediately uncover the pan and place it in the oven. Bake, basting often with the wine-butter mixture, for fifteen minutes.

Place the fish on a heated serving plate and pour over the cooking liquid and mushrooms. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

Jul 122017
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Veronica, a pious woman of Jerusalem who, according to Catholic tradition, was moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it. This piece of cloth became known as the Veil of Veronica.

The name Veronica is a Latin form of the Greek Berenice (Βερενίκη, Berenikē), a Macedonian name, meaning “bearer of victory.” A false theory of the origin of the name emerged in the Latin West. Since the Latin word for “true” or “authentic” is “vera”, it was thought, wrongly, that the name is derived from the Latin phrase “true image” — vera icon. This theory still persists in some quarters.

There is no reference to the story of St Veronica and her veil in the canonical Gospels. The closest is the miracle of the woman who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment (Luke 8:43–48). Her name is later identified as Veronica by the apocryphal “Acts of Pilate”. The story was later elaborated in the 11th century by adding that Christ gave her a portrait of himself on a cloth, with which she later cured the Emperor Tiberius. The linking of this with the bearing of the cross in the Passion, and the miraculous appearance of the image only occurs around 1380, in the internationally popular book Meditations on the life of Christ. The story of Veronica is celebrated in the sixth Station of the Cross in many Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Western Orthodox churches.

The Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was eventually approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885 with Veronica’s feast commemorated on 12 July. Numerous purported “true” images of the face of Christ are venerated throughout the world, many predating the famous shroud of Turin.

The most common pass with the cape in bullfighting is called a “verónica.” The matador does not move as the bull passes, but simply swirls his cape (metaphorically brushing the bull’s face much as Veronica wiped Jesus’).

The dish for the day has to be sole Veronica, a simple but tasty dish of sole poached in grape juice and grapes. Make sure you use 100% pure, unadulterated white grape juice without added sugar. Sole is a delicately flavored fish, and grapes make a subtle complement.

Sole Veronica

Ingredients

4 sole fillets, 4 oz/100 g each
8 fl oz/ 250 ml grape juice
salt and pepper
40 grapes (approx.), seeded

Instructions

Place the fillets in a single layer in a wide pan or skillet. Pour over the grape juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is barely cooked. Add the grapes and warm through for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Serve one fillet per dish with the sauce and grapes divided between them, and with boiled new potatoes.

Serves 4

 

 

Nov 242015
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa usually known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is among the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, much of his work instantly recognizable.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838–1913) and wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran (1841–1930). His aristocratic family were descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfat. A younger brother was born in 1867, but died the following year. After the death of his brother, his parents separated and a nanny ended up taking care of him. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that Henri’s talents lay in drawing and painting.

At the age of 13, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his right thigh bone and, at 14, the left. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was extremely short – he stood 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m) – with an adult-sized trunk and child-sized legs. Because he was physically unable to participate in many activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer, and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed at his second attempt and completed his studies. During a stay in Nice his progress in painting and drawing impressed Princeteau, who persuaded his parents to let him return to Paris and study under the acclaimed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother had high ambitions and, with the aim of her son becoming a fashionable and respected painter, used the family influence to get him into Bonnat’s studio.

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Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed him in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years. After Bonnat took a new job, Henri moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat’s, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to paint. In this period Toulouse-Lautrec had his first encounter with a prostitute (reputedly sponsored by his friends), which led him to paint his first painting of prostitutes in Montmartre, a woman rumored to be called Marie-Charlet. During this time, he discovered the intimate relations many of these sex workers had with one another. Depictions of these relationships become a focus of his work for a brief period.

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With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym “Tréclau”, the verlan of the family name ‘Lautrec’. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, bought ‘Poudre de Riz’ (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the “Independent Artists’ Salon” on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. At this time the ‘Moulin Rouge’ opened. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-headed model who appears in The Laundress (1888). When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but Toulouse-Lautrec ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

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Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and although not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke English well enough to travel to London. While there, he was commissioned by the J.& E. Bella company to make a poster advertising their confetti, (which was later banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and the bicycle advert ‘La Chaîne Simpson’. While in London he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec became a very vocal supporter of his. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Le chaîne Simpson, 1896 Litografi, affisch 87,6 x 124,7 cm   Kunstindustrimuseet, Köpenhamn

He is reputed to have started drinking heavily because of mockery over his physical appearance, eventually becoming addicted to absinthe. The cocktail “Earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac (in a wine goblet, three parts absinthe and three parts cognac, sometimes served with ice cubes or shaken in a cocktail shaker filled with ice). To ensure he was never without alcohol, Toulouse-Lautrec hollowed out his cane (which he needed to walk due to his underdeveloped legs) which he filled with liquor.

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By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s alcoholism began to take its toll, and he collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of alcoholism. His family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly for three months. While he was committed, Toulouse-Lautrec drew 39 circus portraits. After his release, Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly due to alcoholism and syphilis which he reportedly contracted from Rosa La Rouge, a prostitute who was the subject of several of his paintings.

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On 9 September 1901, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate, Château Malromé, in Saint-André-du-Bois at the age of 36. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from his family’s estate. Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (“The old fool!”). This was his goodbye to his father. Although in another version he used the word “hallali”, a term used by huntsmen for the moment the hounds kill their prey, “I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the death.” (“Je savais, papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali”).

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Besides being a renowned artist Toulouse-Lautrec was noted for his adventurous cooking and lavish dinner parties. You can find many of his recipes collected in The Art of Cuisine. Poet Paul Leclercq wrote, “He was a great gourmand… He loved to talk about cooking and knew of many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes… Cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours or preparing a lobster à l’Américaine held no secrets for him.” He enjoyed both outlandish cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. For example, one recipe calls for three sirloin steaks which you slather with Dijon mustard, pile one on top of the other on a grill heated by a vine wood fire, and cook until the outsides are blackened. Then throw away the top and bottom steaks and eat the one in the middle. His recipes call for heron, squirrel, kangaroo, and the like.

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This is perhaps his most famous recipe:

Stewed Marmots

 Having killed some marmots sunning themselves belly up in the sun with their noses in the air one sunrise in September, skin them and carefully put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women, into the knees, ankles, and painful joints of sprains, and into the leather of shoes.

Cut up the marmot and treat it like stewed hare which has a perfume that is unique and wild.

For the less adventurous, here is his sole with white wine.

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500g/1lb whole Dover sole
knob of butter
500g/8oz mushrooms, sliced
500g/8oz shelled shrimp
6-8 cockles
12-16 mussels
120ml/4fl oz white wine
breadcrumbs
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

In a well-buttered, enameled earthenware dish lay out a handsome sole, belly upwards. Dot with butter. Garnish with mushrooms sautéed in butter, half a pound of shelled shrimp, a litre of mussels, half a litre of cockles – previously well washed, cooked and removed from their shells.

Reserve the liquid from the mussels to boil with the shrimp shells and some water to create a stock. Pour a good glass of white wine over the sole and then cover with the strained stock. Put it on the fire and let it simmer uncovered for 20 to 40 minutes, according to the size of the sole, and let the sauce reduce. At the last moment, dot the sole with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs worked with parsley, salt, pepper; use very little salt because of the salted liquid of the mussels.