Last weekend, while reading an art history book, I came across a familiar face, that of “The Thinker”. No, I’m not talking about Michelangelo’s Lorenzo de Medici or Rodin’s famous sculpture. I’m talking about Neolithic man’s version of “The Thinker”. Last time I saw it was in elementary school history class. Never thought of it ever since. And now there he was, with his companion piece, “Seated Woman”. I was impressed.
The two clay statuettes were found in 1956 in Cernavoda, Romania, in a tomb near the Danube. They originate from the Hamangia culture, an early farming society emerging in the sixth millenium B.C. They were found among other similar, but headless figurines. There seems to be no unanimous agreement on the age of the artifacts, various sources dating them somewhere between 2500 B.C. and 6000 B.C.
There are plenty of other statuettes from the Neolithic, but none of what I’ve seen so far show the level and care for form, gesture and emotional involvement of these figurines, clearly the work of an artist.
The woman is seated very casually, with her arms resting on one knee. Her robust thighs and hips show the usual Neolithic approach to femininity (i.e.fertility), but look at the well defined hands gently positioned on the knee. A very sensual and subtle portrayal of the woman indeed.
Can it get any better than this? Is sure can. The maker shows even more concern for the male figure. He is seated on a meticulously modelled realistic stool. Lost in thought, his facial expression and suggestive gesture show anguish and worry. The artist made a conscious effort to articulate his subject’s state of mind. If the statuette were to be used for religious ritualistic purposes, he needn’t do that. I suspect he made the figures for his own pleasure, like all artists do. The heavily stylized anatomy and the facial expression look very contemporary to us. The Thinker’s arresting presence conveys a feeling that perhaps what we are witnessing is one of the beginning moments of art. After thousands of years of progress, a lengthy but steady evolution, art has come full circle. Brancusi himself could have carved these figures!
This novelty is a Romanian coin dedicated to The Thinker:
The picture below shows a modern day copy of The Thinker and Seated Woman.
And lastly, this is my sculpture inspired by these two figurines. For more pictures follow the link: https://erikatakacs.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/evolution-new-sculpture/
Today I’d like to write about one of my favourite painters. I must have been 12 when I first saw his large sized paintings. They made quite an impact on me.
Csontváry (1853-1919), was born in Hungary the same year as Van Gogh, had a similar life, and as a painter was his equal (in my opinion). Unfortunately his contemporaries did not understand the symbolism of his vision. He was a loner and a schizophrenic.
Oil on canvas, 67 x 39,5 cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
At the age of 27 Csontváry had a vision. A voice told him he was going to become the biggest sunway painter (in his words), bigger than Raffaello. Nobody knows what he meant by “sunway”. He worked for more than 10 years as a pharmacist to make enough money to support himself as a painter. He was 41 when he set out for Paris, but like Van Gogh, didn’t stay long at the Academy. Like Gauguin, he yearned for something pure and simple, but he found the exotic in the people and nature of the Middle East.
Oil on canvas, 59,5 x 45 cm
Herman Ottó Museum, Miskolc
Csontváry painted thousand year old cedars in Lebanon, this one here is one of the best, titled “The Solitary Cedar”. The tree personifies him, the lonely artist, misunderstood and ridiculed by many. The sheer size of this canvas, and the incredibly vibrant colours left me breathless and speechless. I felt small and insignificant, overpowered by his art.
The Solitary Cedar
Oil on canvas, 194 x 248 cm
Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs
He held about three exhibits in his lifetime, largely ignored by the public and the press. He probably never sold a painting. Because of lack of success and loneliness he slowly descended into mental illness and was unable to paint another painting.
Oil on canvas, 385 x 714,5 cm
Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs (loan)
After his death he remained unknown for a very long time due to most of his work being owned by a private collector. Today his collection is exhibited in national galleries in Hungary.
Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon
Oil on canvas, 200 x 205 cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest