Souvenirs of ShahJahan…Delhi and Agra in Instagrams

Taj Majal Agra India

I guess it’s not really fair to call this post ‘India in Instagrams’ as we only had a few days in New Delhi, ostensibly to “watch” our teenage daughters in a soccer tournament. While we did make it to the late afternoon games, the truth is it was an opportunity to dip our toes into the wonder that is India. Resplendent with color, in particular white, pink and green, it provided me with a jolt of energy after months here in the very beige desert. We managed to tack on a quick day trip to Agra for the Taj Mahal, because in the end, we needed to see that pearly resplendent monument itself, but I think we would all agree that it was not necessarily the highlight of our trip.

White marble was unquestionably one of the storylines throughout our days, from the incredible carved Mughal flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal…

Mughal Flowers marble Taj mahal

…to the ongoing and surprising details at the nearby Red Fort in Agra – which is not at all just red! It seems apropos just after Valentines Day to mention one of the world’s greatest love stories – that of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, over 22 years no less, as a tomb for his beloved wife. He was eventually deposed by his own son, but lived out his days confined to the Fort, with a perfect view of his masterpiece. Because Agra is not at all built up, some of the best views are from a distance, like those from the Red Fort and from the terrace of the Oberoi Hotel (more on that later).

Marble square Red Fort Agra

There were modern-day inspirations to be found everywhere, including this simplified arabesque floor pattern which I am planning to use as a model for a bathroom renovation back in Brooklyn.

Marble mosaic floor Red Fort Agra India

And speaking of marble and bathrooms, I must stop and mention one of my favorite places on the whole tour – the ladies washroom at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. This colonial era Art Deco masterpiece is on that list of historic hotels I have been carrying around with me and I was privileged to stay there this trip. The art collection and thousands of engravings that line the halls are worthy of a post of their own. But the ground floor loo with its bank of freestanding back-to-back sinks and mirrors takes the cake!

Imperial Hotel New Delhi Ladies Washroom Bathroom marble

We have all been told that pink is the navy blue of India and it is true. We could not stop snapping photos of the glorious pink saris everywhere, from the Sikh Temple in Delhi…

pink is the navy blue of india lady in sari

…to more subtly in Agra at the Red Fort.

Red Fort Agra Sari

Back in Delhi, we visited Humayun’s tomb which served as a model for the main building of the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful and relatively deserted, in great contrast to the aforementioned monument and therefore magical.

Humayan's Tomb New Delhi

In fact, other than the breathtaking moment when you first enter and the de rigueur perfect photo of the Taj, we often preferred the other sites for their mystery and mood.

Ladies at Humayan's Tomb New Delhi India

No trip to India is complete without shopping – and lots of it – so it is no surprise that green – the color of currency – was one of the other main hues of our visit. We hit many of the major markets including Khan market, Sundar Nagar and Santushi, along with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. I bought everything from Indian cottons – lots of scarves and kurtis at Anokhi and Fabindia – to carved wooden legs (custom ottomans anyone?) in the back alleys. I desperately wanted the stack of bracelets below, but you can imagine the price tag, so I contented myself with armloads of silver and a particularly delicate gold and raw sapphire necklace.  But all of that shopping was merely a distraction as I had come to India searching for one thing – Indian miniature paintings. At Sundar Nagar market, which sells bits and bobs of ‘antiques’ as well as all the lovely modern inlay furniture so popular today, I picked up a few fairly fine reproduction miniatures. In general these tend to be copies of famous original paintings done on old paper so as to give them a nice patina.

bracelets and indian miniature

In fact I had thought I might be content with my repros until we stopped in at the highlight of the visit, the home of Rohit Kaicker, also known as Gallery 29 Sunder Nagar. In all the rooms filled with spectacular artwork, this turn of the century painting of Shah Jahan himself on a background of malachite, surrounded by a border of Mughal flowers (remember the ones carved in marble at the Taj in the photo above?) screamed to come home with me from the very moment I walked in. I cannot recommend Rohit’s home gallery highly enough as prices are reasonable, his knowledge encyclopedic and seeing his home itself is worth the visit, although I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed. I’m actually thinking Indian miniature paintings might deserve a post of their very own so let me know if that would interest you.

Indian Miniature Painting Shahjahan Taj Majal Rohit New Delhi Mughal Flowers

And for one more glimpse of amazing Mughal flowers I must share the living room off the terrace at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra. Anyone else would be sharing the view of the Taj from the window, but then I am not anybody else. I wanted to move right in here and stay, or at least try this in a project. Any takers out there?

Oberoi Hotel Agra Taj Majal Mughal Flowers

I must give a final shout out to Fiona Caulfield‘s Love India, billed as a ‘Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond’. This book was our bible, albeit a carefully annotated one by our dear friend Lisa who used to live in Delhi. Other cities in India appear in the series and I am tempted to buy them and dream. Be sure to notice the accent color ;-)

Love India Guide Fiona Caulfield

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Toran on Provenance at Cloth & Kind
A Little More Toran Goodness
(Fabric) Bordering on Obsession
Renovation Report and a DIY…Using Indian Wood Blocks to Create “Wallpaper” in the Master Bath
A Possible DIY…Painted Inlay Vanity?

Artist Spotlight…Pip Hoy’s Resilience

“For me, painting is a vehicle to communicate with color, while collage is a vehicle to communicate ideas.”
-Pip Hoy

  Into the Light Pip Hoy Resilience is Australian born-Doha based artist Pip Hoy’s own personal pilgrimage along an artistic path that started four years ago, culminating in this, her first solo show. Opening night is this Wednesday, October 15 from 6-8pm at the Grand Hyatt Doha, by invitation only, but her work will be on display until January 2015.

Encompassing her earlier painting work with dots, dashes and grids, such as the spectacular Into the Light above, Resilience also introduces new work that meditates on the overlapping of circles. Pieces such as Corrugated II  demonstrate her masterly layering of texture and pattern.

Corrugated II Pip Hoy Inspired by the nazar, the eye shaped amulet which protects against the evil eye, these works had been percolating for some time, but it took her intuitive eye for color and her hand mixed palettes to get them right.

Nazar evil eye Working with acrylics on canvas, Pip meticulously plans her colors before starting each painting as the relationship between the pigments is so much of the storyline. I can’t resist showing you a sneak peek of one the newest nazar pieces in the exhibit, Paint a Rumour.

Paint a Rumour palette Pip Hoy

Pip’s crescent moon collages are a play on the nature of communication through abstract observation of daily life in the Middle East. Using pages in Arabic from regional publications, Pip creates collages around a theme, even though she is actually unable to read the words and stories she is working from. The irony of context is such that words themselves can be beautiful and painless when not understood, just as they also have the power to wound when they are.

Arabian Beauty Pip Hoy Many of her paintings are extremely large scale, making for powerful decorative statements. Readers may have already seen glimpses of her 2012 work Sway which holds sway over our dining and living room here in Doha.

friday flowers pip hoy sway Pip’s use of recognizable Islamic motifs, in this case the crescent moon and the nazar, mixed with modern color palettes and mixed media materials lends a contemporary twist on ancient symbols as seen through western eyes. Resilience is a celebration of achievement and renewal with powerful emblems of physical and spiritual healing.

All artwork images copyrighted by Pip Hoy. Please do not re-post without writing to me for permission. Thank you. Pile of nazars photo via Kay McGowan here. All other photos my own.

La Vie Est Belle…Paris in Instagrams

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It’s been 15 years almost to the day since I was last in Paris, undoubtably my favorite city in the world. I can’t say if it is the beauty of the Haussmann designed neighborhoods, the variety of world-class and intimate museums, the incredible shopping, in particular the antiques, or simply the butter and the croissants. It just doesn’t matter. Even when gray and rainy, life is beautiful in Paris. While my husband had long been in agreement with me, my girls had only fantasized about Paris and I was looking forward to sharing it with them. I wanted to be sure to do Paris right, because it can be done wrong – endless lines, endless tramping through museums coupled with bad cafe food. The key to doing Paris well with kids (and by default other cities too) is to break things down into small pieces, small tastes and acknowledge that only what is directly interesting in that moment needs to be experienced. Find the sublime, because it is out there.

Obviously museums are the baguette and butter of a trip to Paris. Some of the greatest hits should not be missed including Monet’s masterpiece Les Nymphéas at Musee de l’Orangerie, Winged Victory at the Louvre, and for my girls, Degas’ Blue Dancers at the Musée d’Orsay. But we arrived at l’Orangerie at opening to view the space empty and only went to the Louvre during the relatively uncrowded evening hours – it is open until 9:45 Wednesday and Friday – which made all the difference. Beyond the biggies are some magical places – the Musée Rodin Museum, Le Petit Palais, The Musée Jacquemart-André to name a few – but those are the ones that appeal to me. There are endless choices, but but be sure to pick only a few.

orangerie louvre dorsay museums

Ironically enough, at the moment I was uploading what I though was a very funny selfie of us crammed in at the Mona Lisa (with the actually much more interesting The Wedding Feast at Cana directly behind us), The New York Times was publishing its own version of the photo as a companion to their article “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum” which makes a strong case for doing just what we did.

view at the louvre nytimes

My small but very exciting moment was seeing Jaques-Louis David’s unfinished portrait of Madame Récamier (although I was probably supposed to be looking at the gargantuan The Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame across the room). You all know I am a sucker for a daybed of any type, but I’ve never been lucky enough to have one named for me. And in one of those moments of synchronicity that could only happen at the Louvre (or perhaps the Met), we stumbled across her actual chaise made by Jacob Frères.

Madame_Récamier_by_Jacques-Louis_David and her recamier by Jacob Freres in the Louvre

As the ballet obsession continues unabated in our house, a trip to the Palais Garnier was called for. Alas, there were no performances to be had during our visit, but the tour of the opulent and over the top Beaux-Arts theater did not disappoint. To make the space more digestible we focussed on the ornate ceilings.

opera palais garnier ceilings

Autumn had not quite yet come to Paris, but after a couple of months in the desert we were bewitched by the green and eager to be outside. We did a bike tour, a boat ride and played HintHunt, which has nothing at all to do with Paris, but trust me, if you are traveling with bigger kids its is one of the most enjoyable hours they will have.

tuilleries green

We had numerous memorable meals and one particularly magical night at Chez Julien just over the Ile St. Louis bridge on the right bank. My husband and I had eaten there 20 years ago and never forgot the prettiest Belle Époque interior. There happened to be a small wedding party – just 4 people – there that night and the candlelight and mirrors combined with her dress and headpiece made us feel as if we were in a Degas painting.

chez julien and degas

Where’s the shopping, you may be asking yourself? I did, of course, mention antiques. But that needs a Paris puces post of it own, later this week.

On another note, I forgot to announce the winner of Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print, although I did notify the winners in Singapore and Israel. One of the most enjoyable things about the giveaway was seeing the truly global span of my readership. 

Artist Spotlight and a Giveaway…Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print

UKIYO-E

I’ve been down and out with a bit of a stomach bug the last few days but luckily I’ve had Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print which has been eminently digestible. Harris was a fifty year plus veteran of life in Japan, having come there after serving in the Korean War and staying on to pursue his artistic ambitions. I was lucky enough to know him through the Tokyo American Club before he passed away in 2010.

Ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese prints, have existed since before the 17th century but truly flowered during the Edo period (1603-1868). They were mass-produced and created for mass-consumption by the common man – in effect the postcards and the Instagrams of the day. A four-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together to produce these images of ‘the floating world’ – impermanent places of pleasure. Geisha and courtesans, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, were all common subjects, along with landscape series, flora and fauna and the more unusual shunga (erotic prints) and Yokohama-e (prints with foreigners). Illustrated with only the choicest selections, Harris’s book arranges them by subject rather than chronology or artist, breaking down what can be a very confusing area of work, and highlighting the key issues and players.

He neatly spells out the three great H’s of Japanese scenic prints, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui, spanning a 100 year period. I was not that familiar with Hokusai’s waterfall series which while not as famous as his Mount Fuji series, Harris believed to be his masterpieces. “They are the most contemporary of all his compositions, embracing abstract qualities that do not appear in world art until the twentieth century.” I think he has a point there! Harris highlights the dynamism of what is – in theory – a landscape print by Hiroshige by wondering where the viewer would actually have to be standing to view this Boy’s Day carp streamer. And in Hasui’s shin hanga print, designed to appeal to a Western customer, with its romantic and nostalgic views of Japan, we see a level of craftsmanship and emotional content not seen before. To really appreciate the details, be sure to click and enlarge the images.

Hokusai Hiroshige Hasui

(1) Katsushika HOKUSAI, Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1832, (2) Utagawa HIROSHIGE, Sudo bridge and Surugadai, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-58, (3) Kawase HASUI, Snow at Mukojima 1931

Harris is sure to include a chapter on ukiyo-e books, an area that is both dear to my heart and often overlooked. From simple but powerful sumi ink illustrations by the ‘father” of ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu, in the 1650s to delicate asymmetrical compositions from Watanabe Seitei influenced by European paintings after the turn of the 20th century, Harris’s book is full of numerous rare images from the author’s collection.

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei's Bird and Flower Album) 1916

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei’s Bird and Flower Album) 1916

The final chapter is on Yokohama-e, prints about foreigners in Japan and the way in which Japanese artists imagined and portrayed them. Other than the Dutch, who were kept at far arms length, Japan was effectively closed to foreigners from the 1630s until the mid 19th century, until Commodore Perry and the Treaty of Kanagawa forced the opening of the country to outsiders. By far the most interesting image for me in this chapter is Utagawa Yoshitora’s Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji from 1870. Normally a triptych (three sheet print image) I have cropped it to two for a bit of comparison. In it we see a few Western women, in quite accurate dress for 1870, watching the launch of an exciting technical invention new to Japan – the hot air balloon.

Yoshitora Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji

Utagawa YOSHITORA, Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji, 1870

Besides being fascinated by this era in Japanese history and the cross-fertilization happening, I have also had the luck to have seen and held two of the three panels of this print in my hands. Take a few moments to really examine and compare these photos and see if you can find the fascinating major differences, besides some of the obvious coloring in the dresses, between them.

Yoshitoa Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy

These images give you a real sense of the complexity of learning about and collecting ukiyo-e as many of the most popular prints went through multiple printings and sometimes continue to be printed today. Harris makes excellent points about getting educated and using your eye and common sense when buying. Remember, if it is in absolute perfect condition and a bargain, most likely it’s a modern-day reprint.

So? What did you spot? Did you notice how all the flags on the balloons were changed from Japanese flags to American flags? According to Wikipedia, the Japanese officially decreed the Nisshōki or Hinomaru (sun flag) as the national emblem in 1870, although it was already accepted as the de facto flag of Japan. The print itself is from 1870, which makes the timing quite interesting. In all the other examples of this print in museum collections around the world, the flags are American as in my example. Harris’s example is courtesy of the Mita Arts Gallery, a very respected ukiyo-e gallery in Japan. I may have to write to them and see if they have more information. What else?  The seals and stamps are quite different – if anyone’s Japanese is good enough to shed some light on them it would be very appreciated. Other small details include the stairs and walkway in the lawn in the background and the gazebo shape in the trees. I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will spot many more!

Now on to the good part – the GIVEAWAY!! Tuttle Publishing has kindly offered 2 copies of Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print for me to offer to my readers. They will send them anywhere in the world, so everyone can enter. All you need to do is comment on this post, ideally after visiting Tuttle Publishing online and taking a look at their outstanding offerings in Art, Architecture & Design, with a real focus on Asia, and telling me what other books you’d like to see me discuss (and possibly have available for future giveaways :-))

The giveaway closes a week from tomorrow on Friday, September 19 at midnight EST. Winners will be announced the following week.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints
An Artistic Reflection…The 1860 Japanese Envoy to America and Yokohama-e
Artist Spotlight…Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist
Artist Spotlight…Dancers, Degas and the Demi-Monde in Yokohama
Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism
Battledores and Badminton…A History Of Hanetsuki Through Ukiyo-e
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns

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The items I get inquiries about all the time are my vintage Japanese filigree globe fixtures. The pierced brass scrolling arabesque pattern, known as karakusa, which appears everywhere in Japanese decorative arts, from porcelain to textiles and more, creates the most playful shadows on the ceilings and walls at night.

The largest of these globes that I have seen is this 18 inch diameter one now hanging in my Doha living room with its lovely high ceilings. It lived in a box in Tokyo as none of the rooms had ceilings high enough to accommodate it. That story can be found here.

doha living room

I’ve never been able to source the original maker and the fixtures themselves are unmarked but I would confidently date them to the post war period around 1950. Other dealers seem to make the same assumption, although I occasionally see them listed as 19th century or art deco, but that is incorrect. These modern fixtures take their cues from the ceremonial lanterns found at Japanese shrines and temples in terms of their pierced design work, but the round globes are a simplified modern form, quite different from those more ornate lantern shapes – often hexagonal or even octagonal. That said, I have sold a few hexagonal versions that take their cues more literally from the old shapes. No examples to show here as those lights are awaiting installation in clients’ homes, but I will share when they are ready. I don’t know if the globes were used as temple lamps or made for personal home use (I highly suspect the latter), but perhaps one of my readers will.

japanese temple lanterns

Over the last few years I have noticed them popping up all of a sudden on the internet, from Emily Henderson‘s LA shopping haul, where she found one identical to mine…

brass karakusa chandelier from emily henderson LA shopping

…and subsequently hung in the entry of her old house. I haven’t seen it anywhere in her new house so I am wondering what may have happened to it. You’ll notice that this globe is the same giant size as mine and she has had to semi-flush mount it, instead of hanging it from a chain, as the ceiling height is too low. It looks a bit awkward like that, don’t you think? Both of our fixtures have their original hanging cap and O-ring, but sometimes over the years those get lost.

emily henderson house brass karakusa fixture

Like me, Emily chose not to polish it much and kept the patina, unlike this highly shined one sold on Etsy. The seller used the horrible come-to-mean-anything-and-nothing terms ‘Hollywood Regency’ and ‘Moroccan Modern’ when this fixture is absolutely neither. You’ll notice this one still has its rice paper lining, unlike mine or Emily’s.

karakusa globe via a storied style

The fixture above seems to be a mid-size version (it’s listed as having a 14 inch diameter), but definitely made by the same maker. I’ve shown you my small size pair (9 inch diameter) that I found at a shrine sale before and now one hangs in our stairwell in Doha. You’ll notice how having the rice paper lining creates a completely different effect at night, casting no magical shadows but highlighting the detail of the pattern.

brass karakusa globe lantern pair resized

I can’t resist showing these two Katie Ridder rooms again either, as each uses a pierced brass globe to great effect in the bedroom. The one on the left has a floral pattern added to the scrolling vines.

Katie Ridder japanese pendant lamp in guest room ED0306 and girls room

There is a plethora of shapes and sizes available right now on 1st dibs, including this one from Downtown at Profiles identical to mine for a whopping $4200. They also have a midsize one available, and both have been fitted with triple bulbs as opposed to the usual single. Both are missing their original hanging caps and loops.

japanese brass globe lantern 1stdibs

Another 1stdibs dealer called Duo has a series of trios available (from $4200-$5800), including this 11.5 inch diameter group and this 9 inch diameter group. You’ll note they both have their original hanging caps and rings, although the latter are different in style. I find larger fixtures came with the more half-loop shaped style on the left and smaller fixtures have the upside down vee-shaped loop as on the right.

karakusa brass lamp trios

Duo also has this wild and unusual mismatched group, which includes a barrel-shaped fixture adorned with an imperial chrysanthemum and an egg-shaped one with ume (plum blossoms) in addition to the standard karakusa globe. I am fascinated that in the couple of days since I started writing this post and noticed these trios for sale, all three sets are on hold, so clearly a buyer is choosing between them or perhaps a designer is planning on using all of them for a commercial project.

trio of karakusa fixtures

Also worth looking at is this wacky three ball fixture with cracked ice and ume pattern here on Etsy, although it is sold. And if you are looking to buy a karakusa globe and your budget isn’t up for these prices, there is a lovely one available from Kodo Arts in Kyoto on Trocadero with its cap, hanging loop and rice paper intact for $1400. Or just drop me a comment or a note and I’ll add you to my waiting list :-)

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do
Katie Ridder, Eat Your Heart Out (Over My Latest Shrine Sale Find)

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