Wednesday 31 July 2013

August - Très Riches Heures

August depicts a group of noble men and women on horseback with the men carrying falcons. They are accompanied by dogs and a Falconer. Behind them a small group of peasants are taking a refreshing dip in the river whilst others scythe the corn and place it in bundles to be collected by the horse and cart seen on the left. The Duc de Berry's Château d' Étampes can be seen in the background.

All that remains of Château d' Étampes today
The blue tympanum shows the star signs for August of Leo the lion and Virgo the virgin. Again the chariot of the sun continues to make it's yearly cycle through the heavens in the center. 
In the July post for Très Riches Heures, I mentioned that I would describe the minerals and plants used to paint the manuscript.
Amongst the more unusual colours used to paint the manuscripts by the Limbourg brothers was vert de flambe, a green obtained from crushed flowers mixed with massicot (massicot is a lead oxide). A further green was made from malachite and wild irises. 
Pink: extracted from the boiling down of red dyewood. 
One shade of red was made from red oxide of lead; another, vermillion, produced from cinnabar or mercuric sulfide; a third made from red ocher. 
An ultramarine made from crushed Middle Eastern lapis-lazuli and used for the brilliant blues, along with cobalt. 
Violet: a colour extracted from sunflowers. 
Yellows: one shade from a monoxide of lead, the other from arsenic trisulfide 
White: made with white lead ore 
Black: made from either soot or ground charcoal. They also used gold leaf and gold ormolu powder.
It is not surprising that medieval painters often died at a very early age from handling toxic substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic, and as many of you will be aware, artists do have a tendency to put brushes in their mouths to give them a sharp point whilst carrying out very fine details on paintings.
Month of September here.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Lars H Lende 1882 - 1971

This could be my very last post from Norway now that my eldest son and his family are moving to Paris after living in Stavanger for five years. However, as the song reminds us 'never say never'. Lots of happy memories of times spent with them in such a beautiful country.
What better way to finish than to show you a very special Norwegian man who selflessly gave his whole life to helping children and young people.
In a little park in Stavanager, which bears his name, is this bronze statue to Lars H Lende. "Alt for barna!" - "Anything for the Children!" - a remarkable little man.
Lars dedicated his extensive life to working for less advantaged children and young people to make their life better. He spread happiness amongst children by taking them on pony cart rides. He was trained in mechanics by his stepfather, Torkel Lende, and started his own workshop where he took in unemployed youths for apprenticeships under the slogan "save the youth". He always believed in the goodness of mankind, and was an exceptionally generous person. He had many original ideas to make the world a better place for children and young adults. He purchased a motor boat for the teenagers in the community so that they could learn to care for and know engines. They could also use the boat to take tours to the fjords to help them become familiar with the islands and mountains around their city of Stavanger, and also to make them feel good; have an interest in their country, and get away from the streets to learn a love of nature. 
In the last year of his life at the age of 89 years, he regularly spent time in Cathedral Square, Stavanger, urging people who past by to help the starving children in Africa.
A little man with a huge heart, and an example to us all.
A painting of Lars in the Norwegian Children's Museum, Stavanger. 
Farvel Norge - Goodbye Norway
Bonjour Paris - Hello Paris

Friday 26 July 2013

Rogaland Kunstmuseum Stavanger

My eldest son and his family are in the middle of leaving Norway after five wonderful years. Today their house contents will be packed and then travel on to France. They will fly to their new home in Paris after a holiday in a log cabin on a Norwegian island.
I did this post and one that will follow after our last visit to them in early January, both have been languishing in drafts. 
A visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Stavanger gave us an interesting visit for several reasons. The domed atrium conservatory entrance is a meeting point with a small cafe and a shop selling Nordic arts and crafts. We had just commenced our visit to the art gallery when one of the curators called us back into the atrium to listen to some music. Four young women were singing a new piece of Norwegian music without any instrumental backing. It is difficult to describe how haunting the singing echoing around the dome was. As they sang they slowly moved around, sometimes close together, at other times in the far corners from one another and creating an 'other worldly' melodic humming throughout the space. Our 16 year old granddaughter was enthralled, she has a lovely singing voice herself, and regularly sings in and around the Stavanger area - she was awarded a Saturday scholarship by Stavanger university to receive singing tuition in their music department, which she will now have to relinquish with their move.
Kitty Kielland sketch by Olav Rusti 
The art gallery introduced me to the work of Kitty Kielland (1843 - 1914) a Norwegian landscape painter. Kitty was born to an affluent family in Stavanger, and was the older sister of Alexander Kielland, also an artist. Although she received some training in drawing and painting, it was not until she turned thirty that she was allowed to train as a professional artist. She travelled to Karlsruhe where she was trained by Hans Gude, but as a women she was forced to take private lessons from Gude instead of being able to join his landscape painting class. She made rapid progress during the two years she spent training under his guidance. His adherence to realism left a lasting impression on Kitty that was visible in her later works. After the two years she departed for Munich where she joined a colony of Norwegian artists. In Munich she studied with Hermann Baisch, and Norwegian Eilif Peterssen whom she considered to be her most important teacher.
She spent 10 years living in Paris and this painting is from that period. Bretton women washing clothes and hanging them on the rocks to dry
Blossom tree in Cernay-la-Ville
Painter in the landscape at Cernay-la-Ville
Sommernatt 1886
Peat Bogs on Jæren 1882
Blått interiør (1883)
Effer solnedgang 1885
This painting above is in Stavanger art gallery
Paris interior
all images via wikipedia
This is my favourite painting - which seems fitting on this occasion as it shows Paris by a Norwegian artist.  
As we left the art gallery my eye was attracted to the nordic gift shop, and there I saw several Flensted mobiles. You may be familiar with them. 
In 1953, Christian Flensted from Denmark, created a stork mobile to celebrate the birth of his daughter. This first design was a great success and it now flies all over the world. In 1956 he gave up his job to devote his entire efforts to the fledgling mobile business. You can now buy mobiles for every occasion from festive Christmas trees to butterflies for the nursery. However, the ones I like the most are the abstract designs. The one I chose was a display item only, but they kindly let me purchase it for half price.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Some plants in our garden

Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote'
The zingy lime green leaves of the Catalpa aurea - Indian Bean tree
Lots of wild Opium poppies 
Allium seedheads
Seed pods on the Piptanthus nepalensis - evergreen Laburnum from the Himalayas - the stems turn black as they mature.
Piptanthus nepalensis as it looked in May

Spiraea douglasii
Lychnis coronaria - rose campion - silver-grey foliage and stems
Echinops bannaticus 'blue glow' globe thistle
Cephalaria gigantea - giant scabious
Crocosmia lucifer
The Callistemon citrinus - bottle brush - a shrub endemic to Australia. This is considered a hot house plant in the UK, but ours, now standing over 2 metres  high, is covered in blossom and also bees, having survived another cold snowy winter in the garden.
Ipomoea - morning glory - heavenly blue
I can't believe that I have missed the opening of my first morning glory of the season. This photo was taken at 8.00am, and it is just beginning to close. A case of 'hello' and 'goodbye'.
Dierama pulcherrimum - Angel's fishing rods

Monday 22 July 2013

Botanical Giants - Heracleum mantegazzianum

How can I possibly convey the size of the Giant Hogweed, especially if you have never met Heracleum mantegazzianum - later in this post I will call on some help from H
Introduced from the Caucasus to Britain in the 19th century for ornamental reasons it is a spectacular plant but with a very dark side to its nature. This giant is a phototoxic plant and its sap can cause severe skin inflammations especially when then exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. Initially the skin colours red and starts itching. Then blisters form as it burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars which can be permanent or last for several years.  Hospitalisation may be necessary. A minute amount of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness. In the UK, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to plant or cause giant hogweed to grow in the wild. Because of this it is rare to come across the plant, but H and I discovered a deeply banked stream with a forest of them growing alongside it. I have to admit that they looked absolutely spectacular - but because of the location and where they were growing it was only possible to get close to one small specimen to photograph.
A member of the Umbelliferae family (carrot) and described as "Queen Anne's Lace on Steroids" each flowerhead is enormous. Measuring about 38 cms - 15 inches across, much larger than a normal sized dinner plate, and standing 5 metres tall, it resembles a tree.
I remember seeing the plants growing in large quantities when we travelled beyond the Arctic Circle in Norway to Tromsø. There they grow even taller because during the summer months they have sunlight night and day, so the plants just keep on growing for 24 hours. They call them the Tromsø Palm.
H's wrist is behind the flowerhead in this photo giving some indication of the size.
The stems were roughly the size of a teenage girls lower arm.
As previously mentioned the only plant we could get close to for photographs was a 'baby' in terms of size.  This one had escaped from the Giant Hogweed forest below on the river bank.  Judging by H's height and arm stretch this baby must have been over 2½ metres high, bearing in mind that they grow to twice that height.
Nestling, juxtapose, beneath the Giant Hogweeds were some small wild Pyramidal Orchids 
I can't let this moment pass without showing my own spectacular garden giant.........the Dracunculus vulgaris - Dragon Arum, Black Arum, the Voodoo Lily, it's names are many. There do seem to be problems with many of these 'giants' this one has an overwhelming smell of rotting meat for a couple of days to attract the flies as pollinators, but I love it nevertheless.
When the swallows fly south, and lady frost's icy fingers weave their magic, I have promised myself a return to the Giant Hogweed's hidden forest to capture them again in all their naked sculptural glory.

Friday 19 July 2013

Mystical, magical moments

It was late in the day, the sun intense, bright, high in the sky, no light filtered through the dense forest canopy of the sweet chestnut leaves. Suddenly, upon reaching a clearing, dappled sunlight danced playfully across our path, beckoning, beguiling, enticing us down a narrow, green country lane. The smell of the baked earth mingled with the sweet scent from the pea fields, filling the warm early evening air with their aromas. Up and over a grassy bank, through a flower strewn meadow, and there in the middle stood a solitary, remote mound, surrounded by ancient oak trees as if standing sentinel.
Momentarily our eyes could not adjust to the shadowy scene, there was a quiet, peaceful solitude, a profound connection with the past. May be it was the spirits of the civilisation that had flourished 5000 years ago in this hidden corner of Brittany. 
Dolmen de la Maison Trouvée - is an Angevin type dolmen with a massive rectangular chamber still mostly buried within its mound. The chamber is roughly 4.5 metres by 2.5 metres and topped by a massive 6 metre by 3 metre capstone.  The side slabs are shaped so that they fit together creating a chamber that is straight sided and regular. The portal doorway faced towards the west which is more unusual. Invariably they are orientated east-west, with the opening facing east, suggesting a preference for equinoctial orientation. It is difficult to tell how high the chamber is as it is half buried. It is often assumed that dolmens were constructed for a funerary purpose. However, the lack of human remains in several prominent dolmens, combined with certain construction features suggest that this can no longer be considered a definitive theory.
To show our respect we reverentially gathered elderflower blossom and feathers, and wondered at the lives of those who had lived here in 3000 BC.
Earlier on this same day we had travelled to Carnac arriving via Locmariaquer, a small town based around its traditional fishing harbour and famous for oysters. The harbour is a popular starting point for trips around the Gulf of Morbihan and its islands.
There are more than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones in Carnac hewn from local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany - the largest collection in the world. They consist of alignments, dolmens, tumuli and single menhirs. On first appearance the stones seem to be randomly placed, but when wandering around their alignment can suddenly become more apparent. This megalithic site is even older than the dolmen I showed at the beginning of the post pre-dating it by 1500 years.
The stones at Carnac were surveyed comprehensively by Prof Alexander Thom, assisted by his son Archie Thom from 1970 to 1974. Their extensive survey produced a series of papers on the astronomical alignments of the stones as well as statistical analysis supporting Prof. Thom's concept of the megalithic yard.  H was a colleague of Archie's at Glasgow University when they were both lecturers, and he heard many tales regarding their work on archaeological sites both in France, Scotland and England.