Nipponese Influence in Monet’s Art (Satis

(c) beyeler fondation, basle, schweiz

Nipponese Influence in Monet‘s Art (Satis Shroff)

It was a beautiful day in May with just the clouds moving languidly across the sky above the Rhine Valley. You could see the Vosges beyond the vineyards of Kaiserstuhl and the Schwarzwald seemed to be receding. It was lunchtime that I arrived in the second biggest town (after Zurich) in Switzerland, namely Basle. This Swiss town has almost the same population as Freiburg. I headed straight for Minamoto: a Japanese restaurant to fortify myself..

Apero was Riesling Kung Fu Girl, followed by Salat Kaarage, which turned out to be a salad compositae, as the French call it, with baked poulet pieces  in a plum vinnaigrette. Mundgerecht, as we say in German.  I opted for the Minamoto Don: meat in a Japanese onion sauce with Bei Shoga ginger. I skipped the Tiramisu because my inner man doesn’t prefer it and  chose Umeshu-plum wine choya.

Influence of Japan: Why does my visit to an art museum begin in a Japanese restaurant, you might ask. Monet was fascinated by the picture series of Japanese artists. For instance the landscape-painting with a row of poplars by Audo Hiroshige is one of the 69 stations on the way to Kisokaisso (1835-42). Through the passage of time Monet’s similar series of paintings were sold as single pieces and are scattered throughout the world from Boston and Chicago to London and even Japan, where it all began.

Monet and his Impressionist friends were fascinated by the way how Japanese artists created lighted colour spaces and enhanced the art. The colour wooden paintings of ‘Tsukuda at Fullmoon’ by Ando Hiroshige is an example. Monet’s bridge in Giverny is an expression of his homage and admiration to Japan, especially the bridge of Hiroshige.

Great Impressionist: Now I was ready for the 20th century anniversary of Fondation Beyeler devoted to one of my favourite artists. When you enter the Fondation you’re greeted by an outsized black-and-white photograph of Claude Monet (1840-1926). The great Impressionist started reorienting his art work after the demise of his wife Camille in 1879. He was the pioneer of Impressionism    but later he left it to others. Unlike other painters of his time, Monet was growing independent financially as seen by his journeys to Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast and , of course, London. He dedicated his work to subjective sensations ‘the strange and tragic’  quality of landscape, as stated in a letter he wrote to his second wife Alice Hoschede.

The exhibition has 62 works which have been borrowed from European, American and Japanese museums, and from rare private collections. When you observe all these paintings you begin to be awed by the endless possibilities of playing with your palette of colours. You discovered Monet’s diversity in art.

Recurring themes: One thing that strikes you is not only the choice of pastel colours in blue, orange, yellow and red but the recurring themes of the lily pond and the subtle differentiation of shadows in his art, whereby the shadows and the mirroring effect of the ladies fishing from a wooden Norwegian boat and the poplar trees appear in countless variations.

Ice floes become lilies: Winter is a hard, cold, frosty, icy season in Europe. History has shown that two great armies suffered heavy losses not from Ivan’s artillery but the enemy winter. The winter of 1879-80 was particularly cold and caused waterways to freeze—even Monet’s beloved River Seine. The thawing ice at night caused the ice to crack loudly. Monet went out to paint the spectacle and created a dozen paintings of the riverine winter landscape with white chunks floating in the thawing river.

The water lily pond in Giverny became a great motif from 1899 onwards. The layout of the Giverny garden was inspired by Japanese wood block prints. Monet used superb brushstrokes to evoke water lilies, algae, reeds, grass, bushes, leaves branches that dangled to the water surrounding a Japanese bridge. Monet’s garden came to its flourishing existence through his own perseverance: he dug, planted and cut out the weeks himself. And in the evenings the children watered the plants.

Although there were protests, he let the river Ru to be diverted to a pond where he planted meadows, iris and bamboo. The water surface was covered with exotic lotus flowers. This pond remained the middle-point of twenty-five years of Claude Monet’s life.

Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840. In his days art just wasn’t ‘in.’ He spent his youth in Le Havre, a harbour town. He didn’t like school but he was a promising caricaturist. Even as a youth he earned a lot of money through his caricatures of the citizens of Le Havre. The local artist Eugene Boudin talked him over to accompany him during his outdoor paintings.

‘Suddenly a veil was torn away and my calling to be an artist stood there,’ said Monet. His father didn’t like the idea but eventually allowed him to study Art in Paris. Monet had to do military service in 1861, was sent to Algeria. When he came back to Paris in 1862, he decided to make a name as a free artists. Monet’s family bought him free from military service under the condition that he continue his Art studies in Paris with his teacher. Claude Monet was obstinate and went to the atelier of Charles Gleyre against his will. Gleyre hurt his feelings deeply by criticizing the way Monet painted. But Monet met also similar thinkers: Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley and August Renoir. They painted together in the forest of Fontainbleu.

In his painting ‘Sunset on the Seine in Winter,’ Monet uses warm scarlet hues which form a contrast to the cold tones of the scene. The setting sun is a red fireball, which is reflected in the water in pink and orange hues. The ice floes dabbed in brush strokes of white and blue  impart the picture flashy patches and impart the impression of  ice floating on water. Monet experimented with this method and used it successfully by putting water lilies instead of ice floes. A genial transfer of technique from one theme to another.

More in haystacks than meet the eye: Haystacks in detail backlit with strong sunlight showing long shadows cast by them. The haystacks and grain were fascinating because they were painted  from various angles and light-conditions. The farmers in the Black Forest and alpine countries (Switzerland, Austria) do the same to store their harvest.

The pioneer of abstract art Wassily Kandinsky observed Monet’s painting in Moscow in 1896, and for him it was a work of artistic revelation. Kandinsky simply couldn’t identify what he was looking at. He said: ‘..for the first time, I saw a picture. That it was a haystack, the catalogue informed me. I didn’t recognize it..Painting took on a fairy-tale splendour.’ (W. Kandinsky, Reminiscences, 1913).

In the painting ‘Jean-Pierre Hoschede and Michael Monet on the Banks of the Epte’ the artist depicts the riverbank in pastel  tones with a series of naked poplar trees. There’s a certain rhythm the way the poplars and their reflections are shown, whereby the reflections of the poplars appear just as grand as the original objects above the water.

After Camille’s passed away, Monet lived with his two children and the six children of his companion Alice Hoschede. They lived in a big house in Giverny, which Monet bought in 1890. This was a period in which the artist filled his canvas with humans. Thereafter, he devoted his time singularly to landscapes.

Low tide at Varengeville: Claude Monet went to Normandy in 1882 for several months and lied in a town called Dieppe. But it was the fishing village of Pouriville where he painted the wonderful landscape: rugged chills and the Atlantic. His works with magnificent clouds reflected on water pools, in the background the receding tide. It’s amazing how the master captures,, fixes and reveals the objects and translates into unforgettable images with light and shade in pastel and oil. Monet loved to experiment with different angles and perspectives on the same object.

Like his contemporaries, Claude Monet and Alice also went to Venice in 1908 as tourists and were so happy at the Piazza San Marco with pigeons around them and even perched on their heads. Monet wrote: ‘She was so proud of my drive.’ He also painted the gondolas of Venice and found the extraordinary light in Venice  fascinating. Since she didn’t want to return to Venice alone after Alice’s death, he started working in Giverny with his Venice paintings. He said: ‘It is difficult. I always have to think of her, when I paint.’

London’s beauty and the fog: ‘Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city. It is the fog that gives it its marvellous breadth. In 1870 he painted ‘Views of the Thames in fog.’ He returned in the winter of 1899 and the following year. He had a view of  the Waterloo Bridge to the left and Charing Cross Bridge to the right. While painting London, Monet was perplexed by the fog because it was fickle and changed fast. He had to work feverish simultaneously with many pictures, and created around 100 works of art in the British capital. Monet began with the Houses of Parliament in 1900 and they were finished and signatured  in 1903 and 1904. He set up his easel on the terrace of St. Thomas’ Hospital in London to paint the Houses of Parliament at Sunset. He re-worked on the paintings for three to four years.  Like a work of literature, where writing is re-writing, the artist works on his themes till he has the impression that he can’t add anymore after an incubation period of several years.

I remember talking with my friend Herbert Tombreul after a vernissage about how long it sometimes takes to paint and finish a theme. You can actually see certain paintings   have taken time to be what they are. For Monet, the challenge comprised in conveying the visual impression experienced at the moment of watching the object.

Monet didn’t idealise London. He transferred the fog, light and atmosphere into their respective hues.

What does the artist or poet in you see when you look at an object? How do you see it? An interesting question to ponder about.

I’ve embarked on my homeward journey to the Schwarzwald. The sun is going down, as the scarlet double-decker train moves towards Freiburg from Basle Badische Bahnhof. You can see the blue Vosges mountains in the distance and rows of green bushes, interspersed with apple trees. Past Efringen-Kirchen. The while plastic covers of asparagus mounds lie bundled in a coerned of the field. A beautiful sunset, the sky above has retained its bluish colour. A Luftwaffe jet is climbing vertically in the distant sky, leaving behind a condense vapour trail.  The train stops at Auggen a short while, then starts slowly after the doors slam shut. It gathers momentum on its way to Offenburg via Freiburg. Next stop: Müllheim.

The small  fiery ball in the distance above the mountains has a scarlet glow, as we pull out of Müllheim.Stretches of light green grass and yellow rape seed flowers appear. ‘Meine Damen und Herren, der nächste Stop ist Freiburg im Breisgau. Der Zug hält hier.‘

 

In the Cobbled Streets of Prague (Satis Shroff)

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Memoir: IN THE COBBLED STREETS OF PRAGUE (Satis Shroff)

‘It’s awfully nice to see you in Czech surroundings’ said my long-lost friend Kundan, as he raised his massive and ornate glass of pivo, the famous black Czech beer. That was in 1976 and the Czechs and Slovaks were a single nation.

Kunda Dixit was “Our Man Behind the Iron Curtain” and wrote a column in The Rising Nepal named “Prague Prattles.” Kanak might have the gift of the gab, but I’d always enjoyed Kunda’s literary articles during my Katmandu days, when Hippies and Flower Power people were everywhere, mostly to be seen in the high temples and pagodas, stoned with Cannabis sativa, wearing deshi clothes with the word “Ram” printed on them a thousand times. In Katmandu it was a delight to go to the many psychedelic cafes, where you could drink tea and relish Katmandu’s “special” cake baked…

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In the Cobbled Streets of Prague (Satis Shroff)

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Memoir: IN THE COBBLED STREETS OF PRAGUE (Satis Shroff)

‘It’s awfully nice to see you in Czech surroundings’ said my long-lost friend Kundan, as he raised his massive and ornate glass of pivo, the famous black Czech beer. That was in 1976 and the Czechs and Slovaks were a single nation.

Kunda Dixit was “Our Man Behind the Iron Curtain” and wrote a column in The Rising Nepal named “Prague Prattles.” Kanak might have the gift of the gab, but I’d always enjoyed Kunda’s literary articles during my Katmandu days, when Hippies and Flower Power people were everywhere, mostly to be seen in the high temples and pagodas, stoned with Cannabis sativa, wearing deshi clothes with the word “Ram” printed on them a thousand times. In Katmandu it was a delight to go to the many psychedelic cafes, where you could drink tea and relish Katmandu’s “special” cake baked with hash. After that, and a round of charas smoking, Katmandu looked different. Fantastic, psychedelic Katmandu, made immortal by Cat Stevens in those days.

The place was U-Thomas, a well known beer tavern in Prague, and seated on a long table were five Nepalese male students and two female Germans. It was good to hear Nepalese being spoken, because over the months I’d had been in Germany, I’d heard only German, French, Spanish or Italian. The joint reminded me of a disco-cellar called ‘Le Caveau’ in Freiburg, a small town in southern Germany, except that there wasn’t any music. However, the din that arose from the tables loaded with loquacious and jolly Czechs would have drowned any type of music, and their presence only heightened the noise.
And who bothers about music, especially when old friends meet in a tavern 9000 km away from the Himalayas. It was one ‘cheers’ and ‘prost’ after another. That’s the wonder of the excellent 13% pivo. They say in Prague beer foamed in the tankards of its citizens long before Columbus discovered America.
When abroad, the Nepalese are always confronted with the question: ‘how do you say ‘cheers’ in your language?’ Which is quite embarrassing, because Nepalese always say ‘pyuno hos!’ (please feel free to drink) or ‘pyunu paryo!’ (let us drink), ‘huncha?’(shall we?) huncha! (we may). The whole affair is carried out non-verbally with a lot of affirmative head shaking from left to right.
The tavern just wasn’t a place where one could do any serious talking because of the general clamour. and we had to contend ourselves with small-talk that passed in the name of conversation. There were a good many interruptions when curious Czechs, high on beer, would stop over at our table and ask us where we came from. One could imagine their curiosity since we looked very different from the usual European foreigners in stature and complexion and, of course, sense of humour, for there we were rollicking with what the Germans call ‘Lebensfreude’ and the French ‘vivre’.
One burly, rosy-cheeked Czech, with a receding forehead and wearing a sailor’s uniform, who had plainly drunk one pivo too much, came every now and then asking for cigarettes. Either there were no cigarette-automats in the tavern or the fellow was broke. When we ignored him, the Czech began to pantomime a Sherpa-porter carrying a load on his back. After a short while he got bored and left. We also left U-Thomas.
It was winter and there was snow everywhere in the city, and icy gusts of wind blew incessantly, as we walked along the slippery streets of Prague. We boarded the rickety red-coloured state-run tram.

‘That’s the Eiffel Tower of Prague,’ said the jolly Gurung friend, as he pointed to the look-out tower on the Petrin, which formed an impressive background to the grey student hostels, where our Nepalese friends were residing. The amiable Gurung was entertaining the two German ladies in good German, and I noticed that he’d started the conversation with a game of associations, German associations. He mentioned the positive images of Germany: Beckenbauer, Bayern Munich, the VW Beetle (which was still in production at Wolfsburg then), Berlin as a wonderful city, Karel Gott the Czech singer who sings successfully in German, and soon he’d found a tenor which amused the teutonic ladies. He was doing famously.

I noticed that quite a few Nepalese students had married blonde Czechs and settled down in Prague. There they were, out in the cold, fresh air with their wives and prams, exchanging greetings in Nepali, Newari and Czech languages. The idea appealed to me. Bilingual or multilingual children who visited Czech or Nepalese schools in Czechoslovakia or Nepal. Why not settle down in a foreign country? Or bring your foreign wife or husband home? You could decide where you wanted to live later. There was also the possibility of oscillating between two countries. Or open a travel agency and send Czech tourists on guided trekking tours to the Himalayas? A good many Nepalese students from the Lumumba-Friendship University and Moscow University have brought their Russian spouses along, and they run elite-schools in Katmandu, where the children learn English, Nepal and French. It’s not unusual to see foreign females teaching in Nepalese schools these days. The number of foreign women married to Nepalese males is rising. And also the number of foreign males taking a Nepalese bride.

On the next day we were invited to a Nepalese lunch: dal-bhat-shikar cooked by one of the brahmin students, and it was delicious. The German ladies Andrea and Antonia relished it. Their only complaint was: ‘Es war scharf!’ (It was hot). But what’s an Asian meal without chillies. Or sambal olek? Or chutney and achar? Most Germans have a mild taste indeed, and prefer plain boiled potatoes and lot of sauerkraut, in addition to mountains of meat.

While waiting for a bus near the student hostel, I couldn’t resist the temptation of scooping handfuls of snow and confronting the others with snowballs. Soon we had, what the German ladies called a big ‘Schneeballschlacht’ in progress. It had snowed heavily the night before and was awfully chilly.
‘Do you have any samachar (news) from Nepal?’ I asked her pale, bespectacled friend Kundan, who was a brahmin, a high-caste Hindu, and could easily pass off as a European. He’d been home and had mentioned that the policeman at the Pashupatinath hadn’t let him through into the sanctum sanctorum because he’d thought he was a foreigner, a “quiray: He Who Has Grey Eyes.” My friend Kundan had reassured the policeman in fluent Nepali but the man had retorted with, ‘A lot of foreign development workers speak better Nepali.’ It was only after Kundan had produced his janai (sacred thread), which most high caste Hindus wear after an elaborate ritual-ceremony, that the policeman waved him past.

“When I left Nepal about two months ago, Nepal was rotting. It was dying. One of those slow painful processes, complete with rattles and groans,” said my long lost friend
‘Was it so dramatic?’ I asked him, for ever since I’d been living in Germany I had only heard of Nepal in the German media when some German expedition had climbed a peak or some crazy yeti-search expedition had thought they’d sighted the abominal snowman.
‘I won’t go through the morbid details and make your life miserable,’ he said with a beneign expression and a twitch of his facial muscles, as he went on to say, “ Frankly, I’ve been so anaesthesized by time and instance. I couldn’t express the horrors of contemporary Nepalese life, even if I wanted to. I’m not a pessimist, neither a fatalist, but I don’t see any hope for my beloved motherland. Don’t expect any news coming from that direction to be good news.’

That sounded very pessimistic indeed. Perhaps the Nepalese are survival artists. I couldn’t find another explanation. In the past we have adapted to different dynasties of rulers in Nepal, and in modern times have survived the rule of the arrogant Ranas and the greedy Shahs. And now the republic-minded Maoists under Prachanda.
‘Just a week ago the Nepalese rupee was devalued 16%. Imagine the plight of an ordinary Nepalese civil servant, who is by comparison much better off than his fellow men financially’, said Kundan.
‘He’ll have to pay 16% on basic commodities like rice and dal. It’s saddening.’
He was right. There was no real democracy in Nepal. The Panchayat System, with its intricate, archaic network of nepotism, corruption and couldn’t-care-less mentality was bleeding the country. The Nepalese intellectuals were playing it safely, and those who cared were living in exile in India. The entire media was controlled by the Palace Secreta­riat, and letters, pleas and petitions to the government for justice went unanswered. If you had connexions in the government or the palace, you could climb the career ladder fast, and if you didn’t have what the simple, honest Nepalese calls “source and force” or “afnu manchey” in the higher regions of the government and the Narayanhiti palace, you could slave all your life, and still remain in the same job.
A Nepalese king had described Nepal as a ‘yam between two big stones’ meaning thereby Tibet (later China) and India. The small country has a tough time trying to balance between the two gigantic neighbours, who had already fought a Himalaya-war in 1962, which the Chinese had won. After China had annexed Tibet, India did likewise in a­nnexing Goa and Sikkim. And now Nepal was in the news again. There was an article in the French Le Monde datelined New Delhi about the Indo-Nepalese trade and transit agreement which was to expire in August that year (1976).

“The Empress has not forgotten the Nepalese indignation over Sikkim, and demands that Nepal should pay for oil in dollars,’ said my friend. ‘Transit duties have also been raised.’ The word ‘Empress’ was reserved for Indira Gandhi. She was known for her constitutional chicanery and her almost totalitarian Emergency of 1975.
Kundan went on to say, ‘On April 2, 1976 Nepal signed a treaty with Bangladesh providing for use of the port of Chittagong for transit shipments to Nepal, but India is taking advantage of the narrow strip of Bengal which separates Bangladesh from Nepal. Thus Le Monde’.
Whereas the Chinese had their own problems with Tibetans and the implementation of maoistic-ideology, and in maintaining a strict border policy, Nepal’s southern border with India was open for smugglers, tradesmen and border-dwellers from both sides. (The government carried out a programme of resettlement of hill tribes in the flatlands, but the recent Madhesi movement which has gained momentum shows a different trend. The Madhesis, as the people of the Terai call themselves (and hill people are called Paharis), have a lot in common with the Indian culture and would like to see themselves integrated with the big neighbour to the south, for Katmandu has ignored them in all those years. Be that as it may, a peaceful compromise has to be found.

After India’s two major border conflicts with Pakistan, and the storming of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the Indian armed forces were getting bolder. Nepal and the other Himalayan nations wouldn’t be able to put up much resistance against the newly created mountain-divisions of the Indian Army. The diplomatic and peaceful channel was the call of the hour. And thus King Birendra’s fervent wish to have Nepal declared as ‘a zone of peace guaranteed by international treaty’. China, USA and a host of countries supported the proposal. India, through an inspired article, put it this way: ‘The pre-condi­tion for an improvement of Indo-Nepalese relations is the unequivocal acceptance that Nepal, which forms an enclave on the Indian side of the Himalayas, must belong to the defence system of the subcontinent.’ Thus her Gracious Imperial Majesty…’, said Kundan, with bitterness in his voice. There was no doubt that Nepal was India-locked and not only land-locked. Mrs. Gandhi made also insane internal attempts at social discipline of the Indian masses through licensed thuggery and mass sterilisations.
All that was a long time ago. Indira Gandhi, the uncrowned Empress of India, is dead. Rajiv Gandhi has been murdered. (And so is Benazir Bhutto recently). There was democracy and a multiparty-system in Nepal. A congress party, which had operated all those years in exile in India, held the maximum number of seats in the Nepalese parliament in those days, and Indo-Nepal relations were flourishing with new trade and joint ventures, despite the protests from the communist faction that Nepal was selling out to the neighbour from the south. In the Panchayat era, Katmandu’s beggars were rounded up and transported to the south. They turned up two days later after a long return-march along the Tribhuvan Rajpath. This only showed that you can’t drive people away. They wanted their rights. Human rights, which was long ignored in this kingdom of the past.
Then came Katmandu’s ecological-minded mayor, who wanted to drive the hawkers and peddlers away from Asan Tole and Indrachowk, without much of an alternative, apparently because Katmandu has sister-cities in the western world. But will driving away hawkers and beggars alone be a lasting solution to the problems? After all, what is a hawker or a beggar or a leprosy patient? A human being, a Nepalese in search of a better means of existence and medical treatment. Promising a better quality of life to one section of the population at the cost of the other? There are too many unanswered questions still floating in the Himalayan air. Since King Gyanendra has been stripped of his power, but still prefers to pay his ritual homage to the Katmandu Kumari, the Living Goddess, there are some democrats who still want him as their monarch. The Maoists, however, have taken a no-nonsense course and want to se the former kingdom as a Nepalese republic. The disarming and disbanding of the militant Maoist warriors is another social problem in Nepal. Does the new nation need so many ex-Maobadi fighters in the Nepalese Army? Can the former fighters be recruited to work for the development of Nepal in different development projects?

We, in the west, have to wait and see what unfurls in the years to come with curiosity, anguish and interest.

UELI STECK: The Pinnacle of Great Climbing (Satis Shroff)

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Ueli Steck: was a fascinating Swiss climber from Basle (near Freiburg) and now he lives no more. He was known for his daredevil speed-climbing in the Alps and the Himalayas, and had a row with Sherpas while climbing a few years back.Ueli was a blogger, climber and an inspiration for young climbers throughout the world. The world of high-altitude climbing will miss him. May his Bergsteiger rest in peace.
                                                                                             —Satis Shroff
 
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The Sherpa Issue: Live and Let Die on the Death-Zone (Satis Shroff)
 
Can you imagine over a hundred Sherpas throwing stones and threatening climbers from abroad? Even the Swiss climber admits…

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