Film | National Gallery

Posted in films, museums by Editor on November 2, 2014

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Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary from Zipporah Films has its US premier in New York this month at Film Forum (November 5–18), with the director himself appearing at several of the early screenings (November 5, 7, and 8). The DVD release is scheduled for early 2015.

Frederick Wiseman, National Gallery (Zipporah Films, 2014), 181 minutes.

London’s National Gallery, one of the world’s foremost art institutions, is itself portrayed as a brilliant work of art in this, Frederick Wiseman’s 39th documentary and counting. Wiseman listens raptly as a panoply of docents decode the great canvases of Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Turner; he visits with the museum’s restorers as they use magnifying glasses, tiny eye-droppers, scalpels, and Q-tips to repair an infinitesimal chip; he attends administrative meetings in which senior executives do (polite) battle with younger ones who want the museum to become less stodgy and more welcoming to a larger cross-section of the public. But most of all, we experience the joy of spending time with the aforementioned masters as well as Vermeer and Caravaggio, Titian and Velázquez, Pissarro, and Rubens and listen to the connoisseurs who discourse upon the aesthetic, historical, religious, and psychological underpinnings of these masterpieces.

More information is available from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The First Georgians and Eighteenth-Century Britain on BBC

Posted in films, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on March 11, 2014

Yes, I realize the ‘300th observations’ just keep coming from the UK, but here’s more, this time from the BBC. CH

The BBC has unveiled full details of Eighteenth-Century Britain: Majesty, Music and Mischief, a major new season exploring the extraordinary transformation that took place across the arts throughout the 18th century. The season will include programming on BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Radio 3 in April 2014.

Details are available here»

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Among the offerings is the new television series by Lucy Worsley, chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces. The first episode is scheduled to be screened at the Oxford Literary Festival, on Monday, 24 March, at 4pm (with the ASECS conference in Williamsburg just a week away, Worsley should be particularly interesting to readers interested in the possibilities of historical re-enactment).

The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (w/t)
BBC Four, Spring 2014

For-front-page-229x3092014 marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession to the British throne. To mark the occasion, the BBC and Royal Collection Trust are embarking on a unique partnership—encompassing a three-part series presented by Dr Lucy Worsley for BBC Four, and an exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (w/t), will present the revealing and surprising story of Britain in the reigns of George I and George II (1714–60)—the age of the ‘German Georges’. In 1714, Britain imported a new German royal family from Hanover, headed by Georg Ludwig (aka George I)—an uncharismatic, middle-aged man with a limited grasp of English. Lucy Worsley will reveal how this unlikely new dynasty secured the throne—and how they kept it.

An intimate and close-up portrait of these German kings of Britain, the series will follow George I, his son George II, and their feuding family as they slowly established themselves in their adopted kingdom, despite ongoing threats from invading Jacobites and a lukewarm initial response from the British public.

Lucy will show how what was happening at court intersected with enormous changes that were reshaping Britain. The years 1714–60 felt like a ‘peculiar experiment in the future’: modern cabinet government began under the Hanoverian kings, satire spoke the truth to power, and ‘liberty’ was the watchword of the age.

Lucy will travel to Hanover to discover that the politics and dynastic squabbles, which defined the reigns of George I and George II, frequently had a continental backstory. And she will unravel the central paradox of the German Georges: it was their weaknesses—the infighting between king and Prince of Wales, and their frequent absences in Hanover—that, in a very real way, helped to secure the dynasty and shape our modern British political system.

The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (w/t) is being produced in partnership with Royal Collection Trust, to coincide with the exhibition The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760 at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace from 11 April to 12 October 2014. Curated by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures, the exhibition is the first to explore the reigns of George 1 and George II, shedding light on the role of this new dynasty in the transformation of political, intellectual and cultural life. Through over 300 works from the Royal Collection collected or commissioned by the Georgian royal family, it tells the story of Britain’s emergence as the world’s most liberal, commercial and cosmopolitan society, embracing freedom of expression and the unfettered exchange of ideas.

Lucy will discover the personal side of the early Georgians through the spectacular paintings, drawings and furniture on display in the exhibition. With Royal Collection Trust curators, she will see how objects in the Collection reveal Britain at the very moment it was becoming the modern country we know today.

Exhibition | The Monuments Men of the Nelson-Atkins

Posted in exhibitions, films, museums by Editor on January 30, 2014

Press release (21 January 2014) from the Nelson-Atkins:

The Monuments Men of the Nelson-Atkins
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, 5 February — 9 March 2014


Paul Gardner (1894–1972), director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of art from 1933 to 1953 (Nelson-Atkins Archive)

As excitement builds for the release of the Sony film The Monuments Men, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art applauds six real-life Monuments Men who either worked in or closely with the museum. Monuments men and women, commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, were tasked with the protection, recovery, and preservation of millions of Europe’s masterpieces during the Nazi occupation.

“The men and women involved in this selfless effort to keep art objects safe during a dangerous time in history showed immense courage,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO and Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “We are deeply in their debt for preserving these treasures for humanity.”

A display of archival materials will be on view in Bloch Lobby that includes postcards, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and biographies of the Nelson-Atkins’ Monuments Men.

“My research has shown that these six men brought to their military duties the same passion for art and culture that made them so valuable to the Nelson-Atkins,” said MacKenzie Mallon, a researcher in the European Painting & Sculpture Department who has been working on this project for many months. “They took their responsibilities as protectors of these monuments very seriously.”

Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland

Nicolas de Largillière, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, ca. 1714–15. Oil on canvas, 58 x 46 inches (146 x 116 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.

The museum employed four of the Monuments Men and maintained strong ties with two others. Paul Gardner, the first director of the Nelson-Atkins, served as Director of the Fine Arts Section of the Allied Military Government in Italy. Another former director, Laurence Sickman, was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo headquarters after the Japanese surrender and served as a technical advisor on collections and monuments, making trips to China and Korea to assess the level of damage to monuments in those countries. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his war services.

The first curator of European Art at the museum, Patrick J. Kelleher, served as the head of the Greater Hesse Division of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section. Otto Wittmann, Jr., the first curator of Prints for the museum, was part of the OSS Art Looting and Investigation Unit (ALIU).

Langdon Warner served as the Asian art advisor to the Trustees of the Nelson-Atkins in 1930 and was a close colleague of Sickman. He helped found the American Defense-Harvard Group, a precursor of the Roberts Commission, Roosevelt’s task force. James A. Reeds served with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section in France in 1944. He taught linguistics at University of Missouri at Kansas City and served as a docent for the Nelson-Atkins.


The Kansas City Star (Sunday, 15 September 1940).

One of the finest examples of 18th-century portraiture at the Nelson-Atkins, Nicolas de Largillière’s Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, was found by the Monuments Men in a bomb-rigged salt mine in Alt Aussee, Austria and returned to Clarice de Rothschild, whose family owned the painting. It was purchased by the Nelson-Atkins in 1954 after Rothschild sold it to an art dealer in New York. During World War II, the Nelson-Atkins also served as a safe house for more than 150 paintings and tapestries from collections on the East and West coasts.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri recently introduced a bipartisan bill that would award Congressional Gold Medals to all 350 of the men and women referred to as Monuments Men. “The Nelson-Atkins has a rich history which is only enhanced by the individuals who have worked there,” said Senator Blunt. “These Monuments Men protected historical artifacts from destruction and saved these treasures for future generations. I am proud to introduce legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the men and women who fought to preserve this priceless history.”

The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, will be released nationally on February 7. The film is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, who continued his investigation into the soldiers who rescued cultural treasures in Saving Italy. The latter book discusses the heroism of former Nelson-Atkins director Paul Gardner. Edsel has created the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, which honors the legacy of the Monuments Men. For more information, visit monumentsmenfoundation.org.

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Writing about the film for The NY Times, Tom Mashberg offers this important reminder:

Tom Mashberg, “Not All Monuments Men Were Men,” The New York Times (29 January 2014).

The art-hunting team, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, grew to more than 300 people in the postwar years. The women never numbered more than a few dozen, but, like the men, they were dedicated scholars and at times notable heroes.

Rose Valland, whose role is depicted briefly by Cate Blanchett in the film, was a French Resistance operative who spied on the Nazis and showed herself able to shoot and drink with the boys. Edith A. Standen was a captain in the Women’s Army Corps who went on to a career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [serving as curator of textiles from 1940 to 1970]. And Ms. Hall was a Smith College graduate who came to the task from a career focused on the study of Asian art. . . .

The full article is available here»

In Theaters This Spring: Belle

Posted in films by Editor on January 13, 2014


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Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

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From Jamie Doward’s article for The Observer (12 January 2014) . . .

Directed by Amma Asante, who . . . was born in Britain but lives in the Netherlands, the film tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of an enslaved mother in the Caribbean, who went on to live at Kenwood House in north London under the protection of Lord Mansfield, the lord chief justice. While she was living there, in 1772, Mansfield ruled that a master could not carry a slave out of Britain by force, a judgment seen as a crucial step towards the abolition of slavery.

Misan Sagay, who wrote the screenplay, has said that understanding Belle is crucial to understanding Mansfield’s motivation. “The abolition story is often told without a black person being there,” she said recently. “But Belle, living with such a power whose judgments affected slavery, must have had some impact.”

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Film | A Royal Affair

Posted in films by Editor on June 5, 2012

Inspired by, though not based upon, Per Olov Enquist’s 1999 novel The Visit of the Royal Physician, A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) brings the eighteenth-century Danish court to cinema screens this summer. As noted at Screen Daily (19 May 2011), much of this $8million film was shot in the Czech Republic. For more information, consult the film’s website.

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Winner of the Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards at the Berlin Film Festival, and written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel (co-writer of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), A Royal Affair is an epic tale of a passionate and forbidden romance that changed an entire nation.

Denmark, 1766, and Caroline Mathilde is married to the mad and politically ineffectual King Christian VII. Ignored by the wild King who chooses to live scandalously, Caroline grows accustomed to a quiet existence in oppressed Copenhagen. When the King returns from a tour of Europe accompanied by Struensee, his new personal physician, Queen Caroline finds an unexpected ally within the kingdom. The attraction between the two is initially one of shared ideals and philosophy, but it soon turns into a passionate and clandestine affair.

Committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment that are banned in Denmark, Struensee convinces the King to assert his previously untapped power to remove the conservative political council and implement drastic changes to Danish society. As the Court plot their return to power and the downfall of the Queen and Struensee, the consequences of their affair are made clear and the entire nation will be changed forever.

Director’s Statement

A Royal Affair is based on one of the most dramatic events in Danish and indeed European history; whenever I used to pitch the film to foreign investors, people had a hard time believing that the story was true, that these momentous events had actually happened in the late 1700s. In Denmark however, it is taught in school, more than 15 books have been written about it (both factual and fictional) and there has even been an opera and a ballet. I feel honored and extremely lucky to finally bring the full story to the screen.

Tonally, I was inspired by the great epics from the 40s and 50s where films would often feel like literary works, structured around characters and the passage of time, and not clearly following the obvious screenplay roadmaps. But my creative team and I were also fired up by the idea of bringing the Scandinavian historical drama into the new century. We wanted to achieve this by adhering to a self imposed rule; we didn’t want to ‘show’ history, didn’t want to dwell pointlessly on the big official events, the fancy dresses and hairdos, or the way the food was served.

Rather, we wanted people to simply experience the story through the eyes of the characters, taking the 1760s for granted. Even though the period is obviously there in the set designs, the costumes (Mikkel Foelsgaard who plays King Christian still insists our tagline should have been ‘Big emotions, Big wigs’), it was filmed and edited as we would have filmed and edited a film taking place in modern Copenhagen.

Finally, Gabriel Yared and Cyrille Aufort’s beautiful score has brought the film full circle, and home to its epic roots.

— Nikolaj Arcel