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Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla's conducting style is elegance embodied. Photo:

MIRGA MAGIC DELIVERS THE BRITISH GOODS

Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla's conducting style is elegance embodied
Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla’s conducting style is elegance embodied. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

BBC Proms 5 August Ruth Gipps Symphony No.2 in B major, Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel Symphony, Johannes Brahms Symphony No.3 in F major

I have been sitting it out for nine months, waiting for proper concerts with a live audience to recommence.

The BBC Proms is this year my reintroduction to concert going and there can’t be many better ways to start a new concert season than seeing  Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla conduct ‘her own’ City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)?

Two Proms premiere performances by British composers in one evening should have attracted a capacity audience. But perhaps the extremely wet weather dampened the spirits of some regular concert goers.

Ruth Gipps (1921-99) used to be a CBSO oboist and also performed as a solo pianist with the same orchestra. She had her first composition performed at the age of 8 and later studied with Gordon Jacob and Ralph Vaughan Williams. In her thirties a shoulder injury put an end to her career as a soloist which meant that she focused on composing.

Gipps’s Second Symphony (1945) was supposed to celebrate the end of WWII, but the composer admitted later that she had tried to depict the effect of the war on a young woman’s private life. Gipps’s own, at times traumatic, experience of the war comes to the fore in a number of passages. Ruth’s husband went off to fight and she didn’t see him until the war ended. This one-movement symphony has a fairly classic structure and Gipps makes no attempt to adhere to any modernist trends. The opening section depicts the almost carefree mood before the war, which pretty soon converges with the stark realisation that war is inevitable. The sadness creeps in with the short solo violin passage, but there is still time for a burst of hope that it will soon be over. The pastoral element that follows, with echoes of Vaughan Williams, was rendered movingly by the CBSO. The second section with its fanfare and march sees Gipps’s husband departure for the theater of war. Yes, it’s all rather theatrical, maybe even filmic. Once the soldiers have disappeared into the distance the soldier’s wife is left to reflect on a very uncertain future. The adagio with its muted tones of deep despair reminds me of Sibelius and even if I have no evidence that Gipps knew his work, her teacher Vaughan Williams was positively a fan. But the work ends in a fanfare of joy and not only does Gipps’s husband return, there is a powerful sense of hope in the final section of the work. The multi-talented Gipps was also a prolific conductor and I’m sure that this fact inspired Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla together with the CBSO to deliver a superb performance of a work that deserves more regular outings.

Clarity is Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s middle name. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel (2015-16) is based on Luis Buñuel‘s Mexican film (1962) with the same name. Last year Adès composed  a symphony adapting some of the music from the opera as well as adding a newly composed movement . It’s interesting to note that the original film contains no music.The first movement focuses on the entrance of the guests. In the film this happens twice. In the symphony the unstable entrance of the bourgeois guests to the palatial house also receives a slightly amended reprise. The grand dinner party gets under way, but pretty soon it emerges that some mysterious compulsion stops the guests from leaving the room. As the guests become increasingly hostile towards each other and anxious, all survival tactics seem futile and the tribal nature of a society in free fall emerges. In the second movement this descent into hell is illustrated by a snare drum led ostinato reminiscent of Shostakovich’s seventh symphony (first movement). Does this relentless music represent the exterminating angel of the title?  Buñuel wanted to mock the church and the pretensions of the (Mexican) upper class, but Adès struggles to convey that in the music without the words. The third movement depicts the suicide of two lovers with a fairly predictable mock (?) sentimentality. It is perhaps the fourth movement with its wonky waltzes that comes closest to reflecting Buñuel’s surrealist style. Adès’ has described the Waltzes, that can be heard in the fourth movement, as ‘joining together the bits of a broken porcelain object’. Here the off-kilter instrumental humour is used to great effect and in the vein of Buñuel’s film. There is no waltz in the film but I imagine that Adès sees the Viennese dance as a symbol of glamour and easy seduction. But Adès’s waltzes are not meant to be seductive, they are disturbing  and eventually wipe the smile off your face, when you realise that the exterminating angel is already in the (Albert) hall, sitting in your seat.

The CBSO’s musicians were still forced to sit at a social distance from each other which seemed to enhance the clarity and accoustics, or perhaps it was further evidence of the magic that is Mirga’s elegant conducting style.

 

 

 

Sir Mark Elder conducting the Hallé

HALLÉ AT THE PROMS: WAGNER, DEBUSSY AND STRAVINSKY

The Hallé is one of  Britain’s oldest orchestras and it is no surprise that they have championed many compositions at an early stage, before they became true classics.

The orchestra’s founder, Charles Hallé, put Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture on the repertoire (in the 1860s?). Under Hans Richter’s stewardship (1899-1911) the Manchester audiences would have heard quite a lot of Wagner. After all, Richter worked closely with the composer and conducted the first performance of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth. Therefore the Hallé can claim that it has Wagner in its DNA, a fact that the orchestra’s current Music Director Sir Mark Elder is well aware of. Elder is an expert Wagnerian and member of a select group of British conductors that have conducted at the Festspiele Bayreuth. The orchestra recently performed Siegfried, thereby completing its presentation of the Ring Cycle while at the same time consolidating its reputation as one of the foremost Wagner orchestras in the land.

At home with the Wagners. Wahnfried in Bayreuth. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
At home with the Wagners. Wahnfried in Bayreuth. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Prom 16 saw the Hallé present the original Dresden version (1845) of the Tannhäuser overture. The horns, clarinets and bassoons were incredibly pianissimo in the opening Pilgrim’s Hymn theme. The trombones were not much louder when they repeated the tune. With the lure of the Venusberg the volume increased, but Elder made sure that the bacchanal remained a fairly measured affair. Only when the profane and the sacred clashed was the orchestra let off its leash. When the pilgrims returned, hailing ‘salvation’s grace’, the murmuring violins were doing just that, murmuring, while the wind instruments were giving it some brass. This was the Hallé at its rich, harmonic best, replacing Wagnerian pomp with English understatement, but it was perhaps not the most theatrical of interpretations.

Debussy had a love-hate relationship with Wagner’s music. He was so aware that his first version of Pelléas et Melisande sounded too Wagnerian that he destroyed it and started anew. La damoiselle elué (1887-8) was luckily not ripped up by Debussy, despite the fact that there are hints of the Siegfried idyll and the spirit of Parsifal clearly inhabits this masterful cantata. I own three different recordings of the work, but had never heard it in concert and clearly didn’t really appreciate its celestial beauty. Inspired by a poem by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti Debussy composed ”a little oratorio, in a mystic, slightly pagan vein”, as he put it.

La Blessed Damozelle by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the painting based on the poem that inspired Debussy
La Blessed Damozelle by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the painting based on the poem that inspired Debussy

The work is scored for two sopranos, female chorus and orchestra (the piano version is also perfectly charming). Amazingly this accomplished work was Debussy’s first orchestral work to be performed (in 1893). The symbolist poetry seems to evoke the Victorian idea of medieval imagery. The blessed and chaste damozel, ‘leaning out from the gold bar of Heaven’, laments the brief time she spent with her lover. The narrator sets the scene, but musically has little to offer. It is the female chorus that has all the best lines and music. The combined forces of the Hallé Choir and the Hallé Youth Choir executed this to perfection. The subtly shifting harmonies would have confused some contemporary listeners, but shocking or incomprehensible it wasn’t (like the opera Pelléas). Harp, oboe, English horn, flute and the strings provide the most memorable colours and to me, this sounds like Art Nouveau set to music. The title role was sung by Sophie Bevan who took over from the indisposed Sabine Devieilhe at very short notice. After an initial, slight hesitation she was marvellous and the Hallé could hardly have been more supportive.

Igor Stravinsky’s The Song of the Nightingale takes its inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Nightingale. Stravinsky set out in 1908 to compose an opera but he didn’t get very far because he received a commission from Diaghilev in Paris to write The Firebird. This made the critics take notice of the then-unknown composer. Two more ballets, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring followed resulting in fame and fortune. In 1913 Stravinsky took up the opera project again and Le Rossignol(The Nightingale) was premiered just before WWI with the singers in the pit and Ballets Russes’ dancers miming and dancing the roles! After the war, Stravinsky created a symphonic poem with music from the opera. I am not sure how much of this music I would have appreciated if I hadn’t read a synopsis of the story provided in the programme. It helps to know what characters the instruments represent, but the music is a bit too descriptive for my liking and gets tedious. The musical ‘Chinese’ references sound comical because they are pure cliché. But there are ample opportunities for various soloists in the orchestra and they execute their solos well.

After this not wholly satisfying symphonic poem, we were treated to two short Russian folksongs sung by the Hallé Choir. The reason being that these songs are quoted in The Firebird. This was followed by the third version of the suite (1945) which has some added extras but also boasts a tighter orchestration and a stripped-down orchestra. Today the Firebird doesn’t sound as exotic (the eight-note diminished scale) as it originally did, but the magic of this music is that it hasn’t dated in any way. Surely this music appeals to anyone (?)almost everywhere,  and particularly when it is performed so well. The soothing horn solo that signals the end of the berceuse and the start of the vibrant finale summed up perfectly, in 40 seconds or so, why the Hallé at the moment is such a wonderful orchestra that doesn’t seem to be able to set a (dance) foot wrong. I can’t recall that I have heard The Firebird performed better anywhere and this is a Prom I will revisit in the BBC Prom archive.

The Marktkirche in Halle and the Händel statue seen from behind (lower left). Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

SAMSON AT HÄNDEL FESTSPIELE HALLE

Sunday 27 may 2018, Handel Festival Halle

The late-Gothic Ulrichskirche in Halle (Saale) has been a concert hall since the 1970s and the massive concert organ is now a bit of a feature. It is not old, but if you visit the iconic Marktkirche you can during the Händel festival in June on a daily basis hear the original Reichel organ in action. This is the very organ that Händel played in his youth. J.S.Bach also almost certainly had a go on it. Today the sound is as splendid as ever.

The famous Reichel organ in the Marktkirche in Halle. G.F. Händel played on it in his youth. Altar painting by Cranach's workshop. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
The famous Reichel organ in the Marktkirche in Halle. G.F. Händel played on it in his youth. Altar painting by Cranach’s workshop. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Only a little over a month after having composed The Messiah in September 1741, Handel turned his hand to the oratorio Samson. This was an incredible feat, considering that the work is nearly 3 ½ hours long. After finishing Samson Handel left for Dublin, but he returned to London to revise the work and in February 1743 it had its premier at Covent Garden.

The Scottish Dunedin Consort have so far made critically acclaimed recordings of Handel’s The Messiah, Acis & Galatea and Esther, all conducted by their music director John Butt. They are planning to release a recording of Samson in the not too distant future. This was to be my maiden Samson and I couldn’t have wished for a better qualified ensemble.

The Ulrichskirche also seemed a perfect venue for an oratorio with a biblical story. But Handel didn’t intend his oratoria to be religious, they were simply operas on a sacred subject.

Samson includes two famous arias: ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ and ‘Total eclipse’. It helps that the story about Samson and Delilah is  well-known and not as complicated and convoluted as Handel’s opera Berenice (see https://acge.net/handel-festspiele/). The libretto by Newburgh Hamilton was a bit of a cut and paste job. The main source is John Milton’s drama Samson Agonistes, rather than the Book of Judges (which features the ‘original’ story). There are also quotes from many poems and odes by Milton, as well as bits and pieces from the Book of Psalms. But the story remains rather straightforward and sets the Israelites against the Philistines, the worshippers of false gods. This is where Mendelssohn got some of his ideas for the oratorio Elijah. Every time Samson was performed in the 1740s and 50s it turned out to be a hit.

Dunedin Consort in Halle's Ulrichskirche, which foundations were laid by the Servite friars in 1339
Dunedin Consort in Halle’s Ulrichskirche, which foundations were laid by the Servite friars in 1339. photo:Thomas Ziegler

We meet Samson in Gaza where he has been imprisoned after he has had a severe haircut and his eyes gouged out. No wonder he is bewailing his fate. It helps to know that John Milton was blind and Handel’s eyesight was beginning to fail when he composed Samson. Previously his title roles were mainly written for castrati but Samson, being a man’s man, was created for a tenor.

In this concert performance tenor Joshua Ellicott (Samson) was giving it his best shot, but in the first act it seemed that there simply weren’t enough memorable moments – apart from the aria ‘Total eclipse! – No sun, no moon!’. The plot is very static to begin with and the singers were in the opening act, with the exception of Ellicott, focusing a little bit too much on just singing. I know, this was a concert performance, but even so I could have done with a bit more interaction between the soloists. I respect that John Butt probably wants to perform the whole oratorio uncut, but in a live performance it is an unwise idea.

Jessica Dandy (Micah) is a great talent with a wonderful contralto. The role of Samson’s friend Micah was originally sang by a woman, but today a countertenor usually sings the part. Dandy placed her score on a big music stand and thereby put up an invisible barrier between herself and the audience. Her voice sounded at times underpowered and she could seem more absorbed by the music than connecting with the audience (or at least with me). I repeat, her voice is very attractive, warm and glowing like burnished bronze and with some more guidance she could become a top Handel interpreter.

Sophie Bevan (nearest to the viewer) shines as Dalila in Handel's Samson. photo; Thomas Ziegler
Sophie Bevan (nearest to the viewer) shines as Dalila in Handel’s Samson. photo; Thomas Ziegler

The soprano Sophie Bevan knows the tricks of the trade and never puts her score on the stand. She wasn’t afraid to immerse herself in the role of the two-faced Philistine Dalila. I did every now and then get that feeling, and you only get rarely in the concerts, that she was singing to me personally. Joshua Ellicott responded accordingly. Samson and Dalila’s heated exchange in the second act consequently became one of the highlights of the night. I also want to single out the bass Matthew Brook (Manoa). Samson’s father is by no means an essential character (and could be cut by at least a third) but Brook  squeezed every bit of tenderness out of the role that you could wish for. The nine soloists also doubled as chorus of Israelites, Philistines and Virgins.

Handel scored Samson for a large orchestra and there was some particularly brilliant individual playing. The solo trumpet in ‘Awake the trumpet’s lofty sound’ and ‘Let the bright seraphim’ was outstanding. Butt directed from the harpsichord, but much of the time he was standing while at the same time playing the keyboard. He kept the pacing fairly crisp and was not tempted to speed too much in the final act. Dunedin Consort is Scotland’s finest when it comes to Handel and Bach, but sometimes they perhaps need to be less of a slave to the material. My advice is once more: omit parts of the ponderous first act!

Dunedin Consort will perform Samson at the Edinburgh Festival

https://www.dunedin-consort.org.uk/diary/handels-samson-2/

Svitlana Slyvia (Selene), Filippo Mineccia (Demetrio) get ready to share a selfie with the Halle audience.

BERENICE FINALLY CONQUERS HÄNDEL FESTSPIELE

The Handel festival has taken place on an annual basis in the composer’s birthplace Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, since 1952. This year’s premiere of the original Italian version of the opera Berenice means that all of Georg Friedrich Händel’s 42 operas have been staged in Halle, which is a feat that no other city can boast (according to the festival organisers). This Handel festival (there are two others in Germany)  features many local productions, but this year some of the baroque genre’s most celebrated singers are visiting Halle : Joyce DiDonato, Magdalena Kožená, Nathalie Stutzmann and Max Emanuel Cencic are among the solo performers.

An anti-German clique, absurdly with the support of the Prince of Wales (an Hanoverian!), started the Opera of the Nobility company in London. Händel’s company, the Royal Academy of Music, couldn’t compete with the star-studded casts that the upstarts presented. This caused Handel a lot of stress and a month before the premiere of Berenice, Regina d’Egitto in 1737 the composer suffered a mild stroke or possibly even a heart attack. This meant that he neither conducted or attended the premiere of the new work. It is often reported that the opera was a failure with the public but there is no actual evidence of that. But it is a fact that the work until recently was rarely performed and was dismissed by most experts. The minuet from the overture continued to be popular in versions for different instruments.  eleven years later Handel included the sinfonia from the third act in the overture to the famous Music for the Royal Fireworks.

 Svitlana Slyvia (Selene) is slumming it
Svitlana Slyvia (Selene) is slumming it © Anna Kolata

The subject of this opera seria in three acts is the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra Berenice III. The libretto is only very vaguely based on historical facts. Rome, which rules over Egypt, wants Berenice for political reasons to marry her stepson Alessandro, who has actually fallen in love with her. The queen on the other hand loves Demetrio, but he is already romantically involved with her sister Selene. And to complicate it all there is the Egyptian prince Arsace who is in love with Selene. What ensues is a classic tale of thwarted romances and erotic encounters.

Berenice doesn’t display the musical fireworks that you can find in some other Händel operas and by his standards it is a fairly restrained piece. In that sense this  exuberant staging at the Halle Opera seems to suggests the opposite.

The Berenice possie get ready for a groupfie
The Berenice possie get ready for a groupfie © Anna Kolata

Director Jochen Biganzoli sets the action firmly in today’s self(ie)-obsessed world. One can see parallels with vainglorious circles during the Baroque period, but this production at times works a little bit too hard at dragging the plot into modern times. The costumes are a mixture of contemporary and historic but the set is modern. Handel’s operas and oratorio have a tendency of becoming rather static and this is where the revolving stage comes to  good use, particularly when it turns fast like a carousel with the characters chasing after each other through adjacent rooms. But the backdrop, which projects a mixture of various news media updates and messages sent in various forms between the characters, is in the long run a terribly distracting concept. It works for half an hour and then it gets tedious. Biganzoli charges the piece with narcissist and voyeuristic aspects and he is right in stressing sex as a political weapon

If you want to stay with the spirit of this opera it is closer to the Age of Enlightenment than our modern media age. But Biganzoli’s argument for a total visual overhaul of the plot is, all told, pretty successful.

With the risk of sounding patronising I was surprised by the high standard of some of the Halle Opera ensemble’s own singers. The soprano Romelia Lichtenstein might be slightly too old for the role of  queen Berenice but her voice shows no signs of aging. She was splendidly furious in the Traditore, traditore aria and effortlessly nailed the bravura aria Chi t’intende which ends up as a duet between queen and the oboe. It was the production’s highlight and most tender moment when Romelia, dangling her legs in the orchestra pit, sat next to the standing (and rather brilliant) oboist. It all ended comically with the pair sharing a selfie.

Ki-Hyun Park (Aristobolo) and the burlesque dancers
Ki-Hyun Park (Aristobolo) and the burlesque dancers do their thing. © Anna Kolata

Berenice’s sister Selene is turned into a comical character with a strong sex drive. The Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Svitlana Slyvia handles all that is thrown at her by the director with aplomb (including the heavily tattooed look) and it could easily have become a 3D printout of a cutout cardboard, but Slyvia manages to give the role plenty of depth. This in-house production features a number of guest stars. Demetrio is the most multi-facetted male character: he plots against Berenice, together with her younger sister Selene, while at the same time pretending to be the queen’s lover. The Italian countertenor Filippo Mineccia portrays the  jealousy and lust for vengeance in the Su Megera, tesifone, aletto! aria very well. Demetrio’s Si, tra i ceppi aria is easily the opera’s most recognisable and here Mineccia didn’t let us down either. His rather ridiculous cool-lover-man act was greatly helped by his silly Kenny G perm wig.

I expect in the near future to hear more from Samuel Mariño, the young Venezuelan countertenor with a soprano voice. He more or less stole the show and got the biggest and longest applause at the end. His lovelorn Alessandro walked around with a naive smile while  clinging on to a giant coke with a straw. It was almost inevitable that this little-boy-lost would win the queen’s hand in the end. In the voice department  Mariño could still learn a trick or two, but he already has a remarkably assured stage presence and is still fairly inexperienced.

Conductor Jörg Halubeck doesn’t let the, at times frantic, action on stage affect the music and he keeps the very competent Handelfestspielorchester der Staatskapelle Halle in check. Handel’s arrangement was only for strings, oboes and basso continuo (in this case a harpsichord) and why Halubeck (?) deemed it necessary to add some modern style percussive effects to the score, is not clear. The score is quite descriptive as it is and  I think it suffices that  mobile ringtones played on harpsichord and other instruments have been added for comical effect.

But I do recommend you catching this production, particularly with this cast in place.

There will be two more performances during the Händel festival: June 2 and 7 at the Oper Halle.

The Paris-based Eric Philippe, who can be seen in the picture, devoted his whole stand to Finnish design, photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Scandinavian paintings at Tefaf

In the good ol’ days every Broadway show had weeks of previews out in the sticks. The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) only needed two previews to get it right. TEFAF Maastricht, 8-18 March 2018, see also my previous blog.

Despite some early grumblings the new arrangements that Tefaf Maastricht put in place turned out to be a resounding success. The Early Access Day (8 March) and the following (admittedly less prestigious) Preview Day setup led to an increase in sales and more room for serious collectors, museum curators and myself to have a look around. The corridors of the exhibition space were  slightly widened, which also was a subtle improvement.

The temporary oyster shack in front of Helmer Osslund's View from Storberget, Nordingrå. Photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

Early Access Day and the temporary oyster shack is hitched in front of Helmer Osslund’s View from Storberget, Nordingrå. Photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The positive feedback from the exhibitors was essential, but a pleasant bonus was the fact that the number of museum representatives visiting the fair also reached a new high. Which other antique fair can claim to attract some 300 curators and representatives from the world’s most prestigious museums? On top of that some 60,000 paying visitors came to Tefaf over the nine days that followed the previews.

In my previous blog I already mentioned and posted a picture of ‘Lilacs’ by Vincent van Gogh which was sold by Hammer Galleries. It probably became the fair’s most expensive artwork selling for a sum close to €7,7 million. The magnificent Bulgari Clock, which I also featured previously, is likely to have come a close second on the top sales list. Rumour has it that it sold in the region of €7,5 million. It remains guesswork because a few galleries are sticking with their opaque policy of not revealing prices. When it comes to transparency there is still room for improvement at Tefaf . A couple of gallery owners have told me that their insurance company stop them from publicising prices. In that case we need to get on to the insurance companies.

In this final blog about the Tefaf art fair I will look at some Scandinavian artworks that were on offer in Maastricht.

‘A trunk and pine trees, landscape at Hyvinge’ (1914) by Helene Schjerfbeck (€ 220,000) was offered by the Munich dealer Daxer & Marschall. Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is undoubtedly Finland’s most well-known artist. She studied in France, and briefly also in St. Ives. She was influenced by the Symbolist movement, but Cézanne, Manet and Degas also made an impact on her work. This oil and charcoal painting (see picture) was made in the artist’s home town of Hyvinge, where she had moved in 1902 together with her mother.

Landskap och tallar, ett landskap från Hyvinge (1914), Helene Schjerfbeck, photo:Albert ehrnrooth
Landskap och tallar, ett landskap från Hyvinge (1914), Helene Schjerfbeck, photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The delicate composition with the pink tree trunk in the foreground is reminiscent of Japanese woodblocks. But where had I seen this picture before, quite recently? A little googling did the trick. It went  under the hammer at Uppsala Auktionskammare last June for €80.000.

The same gallery also had a very fine interior by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916). It is a reasonably early work (1895), painted before his grey-toned, tranquil scenes of home life became almost over-familiar.

Pigen dækker bord (Maid setting the table) by Vilhelm Hammershøi features an armoire that could be harboring some dark secrets....photo:Albert Ehrnrooth
Pigen dækker bord (Maid setting the table) by Vilhelm Hammershøi features an armoire that could be harboring some dark secrets….photo:Albert Ehrnrooth

The maid setting the table has a dynamic air about her unlike all those reading and contemplating women in other Hammershøi pictures. This painting has an interesting provenance for Swedish readers. The writer and publicist Olof Lagercrantz used to own this work. The price: €650,000.

Dickinson displayed a slightly intriguing,  small-scale portrait of  Queen Christina of Sweden (1661) by Wolfgang Heimbach. Christina is posing with a crown and orb, while holding some sort of baton.

Where this painting of the abdicated Queen Christina is set remains unclear, but she is no Greta Garbo. photo: Alnert Ehrnrooth
Where this painting of the abdicated Queen Christina is set remains unclear, but she is no Greta Garbo. Note that she is wearing men’s shoes. photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Slightly curious because she had abdicated and moved to Rome seven years before this portrait was painted.  Kristina, that was the spelling of her name before she converted to Catholicism, was among many other things an avid art collector. She received a stash of priceless paintings when the collection of the Holy Emperor Rudolf II was seized by the victorious Swedes at the end of the Thirty Year War in 1648. She continued to add to that collection and acquired works by among others Raphael and Titian. Unfortunately this treasure  was dispersed.  According to London–based Dickinson this painting has been in the same collection for a long time and was last exhibited in 1966.

Helmer Osslund is seen in sweden as an early modernist.Before the storm (1910).
Helmer Osslund is seen in Sweden as an early modernist. Before the storm (1910).

Helmer Osslund was deeply influenced by synthetism, a style closely associated with Paul Gauguin. Osslund’s panorama landscapes depicting beloved views in the (old) northern province of Ångermanland remain popular, at least in Sweden. Galerie Michel Descours did manage to sell Osslund’s expressionistic Before the storm (1910). I am not sure if the Swedish art  gallery Åmells sold Osslund’s more typical and autumnal View from Storberget (see second picture from the top).
This year Verner Åmells’ pièce de résistance was Cleopatra (1883) by Julius Kronberg, which until recently hung in a Swedish manor house. Its size and theatricality makes it ideally suited as a backdrop for an old fashioned touring production of Händel’s opera Giulio Cesare or a revival of a 1898 actor-manager production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Gazing up at the vast expanse of canvas I am not too surprised that Kronberg is today largely forgotten, but many Swedish people have unwittingly seen his work either at the Royal Palace, Hallwylska Museum or the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.

TEFAF Highlight: Cleopatra by Julius Kronberg @amellsfineartdealer
Do you like it large? This is super-large. Cleopatra by Julius Kronberg, 410x225cm.

Åmells also offered Inferno, painted by the writer August Strindberg’s. This work now seems to do the rounds as it was auctioned only last year at Bukowskis for €1,9 million. We are given a visual glimpse of the author’s inner demons. He wrote an autobiographical novel (in French initially, not Swedish) titled Inferno in 1896-97 and the painting was  conceived a few years later.

Strindberg was not really a painter. But he could express himself with paint. Although his Inferno laways reminds me of a waterfall. An infernal waterfall.
Strindberg was not really a painter. But he could express himself with paint. His Inferno effort always reminds me of a waterfall. An infernal waterfall.

Axel Törneman’s full frontal nude ‘Modell i blått’(1915) appeared at Ambrose Naumann’s gallery.  I should perhaps mention that at Uppsala Auktionskammare the hammer price for this quite attractive painting (the breasts were surely modeled after bowling balls?) last year was 26.000 SEK (€ 2,500). And that price came in  below the estimate. I am not sure what Ambrose is playing at, but he is offering the blue model for $30,000. Ambrose is the son of the well-known art dealer Otto Naumann (who has retired).

No Finnish gallery has ever exhibited at Tefaf, despite the ever increasing popularity of classic 20th century Finnish design. I spotted ceramics by Birger Kaipiainen’s and Paavio Tynell’s lamps in at least three different galleries. Paris-based  Eric Philippe is an early devotee of Finnish furniture. This year he devoted his whole stand to eleven Finnish designers. He was particularly proud of the two chandeliers (see picture) by Tynell, pointing out that only three pieces were ever produced. Eric declined, with a perfectly charming smile, to reveal the price for the pair.

Two chandeliers(1954) by PaavoTynell, they were produced for the club house of the paper mill Myllykoski
Two chandeliers(1954) by PaavoTynell, they were produced for the club house of the paper mill Myllykoski

TEFAF New York Spring will be at Park Avenue Armory,  4-8 May