Tag-Archive for ◊ paintings ◊

Author:
• Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Mario Vargas Llosa was born into a middle class family in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, in 1936. His parents were separated a short time before his birth. Llosa spent his early childhood with his mother and maternal grandparents in Cochabamba in Bolivia, being falsely told by his mother that his father had died. Ten years later his parents reconciled, causing an abrupt change to Llosa’s life because, after being pampered by his mother and grandparents, he now found himself with an authoritarian, severe father. In 1947 Llosa went to the Christian middle school, Colegio La Salle.

Discovering his only child’s passion for writing when in his early teens, Ernesto Vargas, Llosa’s dictatorial father, wanting to prevent him pursuing a literary career – which he considered good for idle rich people – sent him to the rigidly disciplined Leoncion Prado Military Academy in Lima. This period will later be described by Llosa in his first novel, The Time Of The Hero, published in 1963 as “the discovery of hell”.

Living in a country led by an oppressive dictator and having a despotic father will make Llosa fight strongly to condemn any stifling, abhorrent dictatorship that suppresses individual freedom in any shape or form.

After dropping out of the academy, Llosa pursued his studies in Piura, north of Peru, while working as a journalist for a local newspaper. In 1953 Llosa studied literature and law at the National University of San Marcos and in 1958 won a scholarship to study in Madrid and later went to live in Paris. Llosa became a journalist, an essayist and a politician, running unsuccessfully in the presidential elections of 1990.

Mario Vargas Llosa is a prolific writer, having written many novels, non-fiction and drama. He has also received numerous awards and honours including the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature about which he was informed in a telephone call received in New York when teaching a semester at Princeton University. He has been married twice and has three children from his second wife.

The Way To Paradise recounts, in alternating twenty-two chapters and by moving back and forth, the historical biographical story of two extraordinary destinies: the post-impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin, and his illegitimate, socialist reformer and feminist grandmother, Flora Tristan. Flora was born to a wealthy Peruvian father and French mother and grew up in poverty following her aristocrat father’s death when she was just four years old. At the time, French law did not recognise her parents’ marriage and consequently she did not inherit her father’s estate as she was considered an illegitimate child.

Flora, who died in 1844 at the age of forty-one, never saw her grandson, Gauguin, born in 1848. Although they didn’t know each other and apart from their kinship, they both had one target, namely to aspire to achieve an insatiable and unrealistic dream in order to reach their much-coveted paradise on earth.

Flora wanted a complete change in the society of her time, where workers were poor, crushed and exploited by factory owners who worked them hard for a pittance in an unhealthy environment, while the destitute women and children were earning half a pittance for the same work. Flora was also campaigning for women to have a dignified and better life, whether they were poor, enslaved women workers or enslaved bourgeois women. Her fight for workers’ rights and women’s equality and emancipation from oppression is unprecedented and well ahead of her time.

In order to achieve her goal, Flora doesn’t spare any effort. She abandons her three children and André Chazal, the husband she detests and who made her hate sex. During the last months of her life she tours incessantly all over France for the sake of promoting her cause, travelling from town to city to recruit members for her Workers’ Union and encouraging workers to unite because unity is strength against the exploiters.

She publishes many works, her best-known being: Peregrinations Of A Pariah, published in 1838, Promenades In London in 1840 and her famous final work, The Workers’ Union in 1843, in which she criticises capitalism and its exploitation of workers in France. She is sometimes made fun of, threatened and rebuked but never gives-up her dream.

As for Gauguin, he quits his successful, well-paid job as a stockbroker in Paris in 1884 at the age of thirty-six and decides to become a full time artist. Soon after he abandons his Danish wife, Mette Gad, and his five children. In order to escape the civilised world, he looks for an unspoilt life in rural Brittany, in Pont-Aven then close by in Le Pouldu where he “went in search of the savagery and primitivism that seemed to him fertile ground for the flourishing of great art”. After a short, unfortunate conflictual cohabitation with Van Gogh in Arles, he travels to Panama followed by Martinique then Tahiti, which he finds a disappointment having been defiled by French colonialism.

Frustrated when realising that things are not as easy as he imagines and that his dream might never be fulfilled, and now consumed by syphilis, he goes to Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia which he thinks has maybe been slightly less spoilt by French colonialism, but to no avail. He spends the last two years of his life there and is buried in 1903 in the cimetière Calvaire, the main cemetery on the island, leaving behind a great collection of paintings, ceramics and wood carvings. Although not given the recognition deserved during his lifetime, after his death Gauguin’s paintings have made him immortal.

Gauguin believed that art had to be subjective to represent the artist’s vision and what goes through an artist’s mind and soul, he said when he was in Le Pouldu near Pont-Aven in Brittany: “Art is abstraction; draw art as you dream in nature’s presence, and think more about the act of creation than about the final result”.

The two lives had their differences: Flora was more concentrated on awakening the working classes to their rights in order to forge a better, brighter future for them, while her grandson, Gauguin, was searching everywhere for the unspoilt, “uncivilised” past. Nevertheless, Gauguin’s life was more colourful and interesting than his grandmother Flora’s, who spent a great deal of her time indefatigably touring in France, organising endless workers’ meetings to recruit support for her workers’ union.

They also had their similarities: Flora and her grandson Gauguin, both rebelled against the establishment and had one objective in mind, their endeavour to liberate themselves from the traditionalist society of their time. They were both obstinately tenacious in their quest, stoically enduring the hardship they encountered as well as both suffering lingering illnesses leading to their deaths. In order to reach their ideals, they both courageously reject the comfortable, bourgeois existence they could have both lived and opt instead for the hard struggle in the hope of attaining their idealistic life.

The Way To Paradise, although slow-moving and repetitive at times, is a well-researched novel. It is a fascinating double biography of a grandmother and her grandson who, through their eagerness, strong ambition and obstinacy, were unstoppable in their endeavours thus leaving their mark on the history of humanity.

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Author:
• Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Tracy Chevalier was born in 1962 and grew up in Washington DC. She obtained a degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio and worked as a Reference Book editor for a few years before quitting in 1993. She got an MA in Creative Writing in 1994 from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

She moved to England in1984 and stayed there since. She now lives with her husband and son in London.

She is chairwoman of The Society of Authors and is known for being a historical novelist. She said the reason why she likes this genre, is because she feels comfortable with the good, lasting value of the past.

Tracy Chevalier, has written six novels to date :
The Virgin Blue, published in 1997.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, published in 1999.
Falling Angels, published in 2001.
The Lady and the Unicorn, published in 2003.
Burning Bright, published in 2007.
Remarkable Creatures, published in 2009.

Girl with a Pearl Earring was made into a film which was released in 2003, starring Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as Griet. It won several awards.

Although Tracy Chevalier likes Vermeer’s thirty five paintings because of their beauty, the mystery surrounding them and also because of what the expressive solitary women accomplishing their daily domestic duties convey to the viewer. Girl With a Pearl Earring, one of Vermeer’s masterpieces, was the painting that inspired her the most because of the hypnotic and enigmatic look on the girl’s face.

Tracy Chevalier had a poster of the Girl With A Pearl Earring painting on her bedroom wall since she was nineteen-years-old. The mysterious look on the “Dutch Mona Lisa’s” face intrigued her to the extent that one day she decided to reveal what might have been behind this portrait by combining history and art with imagination.

The author had to do careful research to successfully capture Dutch peoples’ lives in those days, the landscapes and the surroundings in Delft. She went to the great length of taking a painting class while writing the novel in order to learn about the art of painting and accurately describe the mixing of the colours, the multiple technics, the different shades and their effects and all the intricacies involved.

She also gathered some information about Vermeer’s painting in their finest details from the woman who restored the painting for the 1996 Vermeer exhibition.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, is a novel set in seventeen century Delft in Holland about Vermeer’s eponymous painting. The fictitious story is built on a historical background, depicting life during this golden age of Dutch art. Vermeer being a mysterious painter, since very little is known about his life, gave the author the opportunity with her magic wand to mix the fanciful with reality and fill in the unknown gaps in his biography and therefore build an imaginary, compelling story about Vermeer’s portrait of Girl with a Pearl Earring as being his maid, Griet, who was also his assistant and model.

The novel is narrated by sixteen-year-old, solitary, innocent, naïve but intelligent Griet, who, due to her father’s fatal accident, becomes a maid in Vermeer’s household in order to support her family.

She is spellbound by her master from the first time she sets eyes on him but being aware of her position, she knew her place and therefore had to keep her feelings at bay.

Her quiet love and devotion to him are described in great subtlety during her posing for him, but unfortunately, the author described Vermeer so engulfed in his art, that he was oblivious to the outside world. The fact that he was not insensitive to Griet’s charms and her magnetic attraction to him and his paintings was implied by the author in a subtle way but never in words.

Girl With a Pearl Earring is a highly emotional novel without suspense or twists but is elegantly and poetically written with a great deal of subtlety, sensibility, sensuality and nineteen century romanticism. At times, the unsaid conveyed strongly the feelings of the protagonists.

The author with her description of suggestive, luminescent colours, seems to have succeeded the right oil brush strokes effect she was striving for. She wanted to “achieve with words what Vermeer achieved in paintings: simple writing, uncluttered and without superfluous characters”.

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