HEIDI HORTEN’S COLLECTION

Vienna, 20 June 2018

This is the second posting where I write with wistful envy about a person who was rich enough to build up an art collection and who had enough taste to build up a great art collection. The first posting was about Ms. Kröller-Müller, whose museum we will visit in a few weeks’ time when we go to the Netherlands. This second posting is about Ms. Heidi Horten, a selection of whose collection my wife and I recently visited at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. (In passing, Mr and Mrs Leopold are another couple who used their riches to build up a ravishing collection now housed in this same museum.)

A few words about Ms Horten. As a 19 year-old, this Austrian girl married the much older Mr Helmut Horten, a German who had made his fortune after the war with a chain of department stores (I will skitter delicately over the fact that the start of his business empire was his purchase – I would assume on the cheap – of a department store owned by two Jewish partners who were forced to give it up in the wake of the Nazis’ antisemitic policies and prior to their emigration to the US). Here, we have the Horten couple.

As a couple, they did some collecting but nothing major. The serious collecting only really started when Mr Horten went the way of all flesh in 1987 and Ms Horten inherited the bulk of his fortune – some $ 1 billion, it is reported. Here is a photo of her in those years: quite a glamorous lady, I would say.

And what a collection Ms Horten has amassed! Like Ms Kröller-Müller and the Leopolds, she has focused her purchases on modern and contemporary art. I presume that the exhibition at the Leopold Museum is only a portion of her collection, but what they are showing is impressive. After doing a round of the exhibition, I went around again, taking pictures of the pieces which had particularly struck me. I post them below, in the order of their creation.

Lyonel Feininger’s The Honeymooners, from 1908.

Wonderful expression of the happiness of two honeymooners, dressed in bright clothes and towering over their surroundings.

Egon Schiele’s aquarelle of Seated Male Nude from Behind, painted in 1910.

Schiele painted a whole series of these aquarelles, a number of which I was fortunate enough to see several years ago on one of my periodic visits back to Vienna from China.

Emile Nolde’s Red Evening Sun, painted in 1913.

My wife was particularly struck by the painting’s dark, dark sea.

Gustav Klimt’s Church in Unterach am Attersee, painted in 1916.

Klimt painted a number of these views, which he saw, it is said, through a telescope to get that foreshortening effect.

Kees van Dongen’s Commedia (Montparnasse Blues), painted in 1925.


Emile Nolde again, Summer Day with Hay Cart, painted in 1926, more than ten years after the earlier painting.

Chaim Soutine’s Doorkeeper – Woman in Blue, from 1935.


Soutine captured perfectly the sour look which all the French doorkeepers of my youth constantly displayed.

After that, things begin to get grim. I’ve often complained (the latest time last December) that as Western modern art gets ever more modern it slips off into irrelevance and silliness. I feel that the rest of the exhibition demonstrates this pattern all too well. Nevertheless, I show here pictures of some of these later pieces, often for no better reason than they amused me.

Alexander Calder’s Untitled (Toy Train) from around 1946. A fine way to reuse old tins and cans.


Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Nurse and Girl from 1965.

What, I wonder, were the two discussing?

Pablo Picasso’s Bust of a Man, from 1969.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, among the dreariness of abstract art Picasso shines out as having stayed true to representational art.

Another Alexander Calder, Critter with Peaked Head, from 1974.

Funny title, and interesting change of view as one goes around the critter and as one of her three legs disappears (I assume the critter is feminine since she is wearing high heels; but perhaps male critters also wear heels).

Roy Lichtenstein’s Forest Scene, painted in 1980.


Andy Warhol’s Lenin, from 1986.

Normally, I find Warhol’s portraits wearisome and repetitive, but I found these two portraits of Lenin quite arresting.

Keith Haring’s Untitled, painted in the same year as Warhol’s Lenins.

Untitled, but I presume a commentary on the AIDS epidemic that was then sweeping through the US’s gay community and which counted him as one of its victims four years after he completed this painting.

Not Vital’s Untitled (Fuck You), from 1991-2.

I don’t know if this is what Vital intended, but I see this piece as a commentary on those awful collections of deer antlers which you see in many conservative Austrian homes, testimony to the enthusiasm with which the home owner and his ancestors have hunted deer.

If I were a deer, I too would want to have those seven letters dangling from my horns as I faced my hunter.

Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled (Zorro) from 1997.

I’m assuming that Cattelan was taking the piss out of Lucio Fontana, he of the cut canvases. I feel this ever more strongly given that this painting was hung beside some four or five Fontanas.

Cattelan, by the way, is the same artist who sculpted that hand with its finger raised in front of Milan’s stock exchange; it was the subject of an earlier posting of mine. He seems to be quite a joker.

And finally, Erwin Wurm’s Kastenmann, or Box Man, from 2010.

I don’t know what Mr. Wurm is trying to tell us, it just looks amusing.

I now invite my readers to scroll through all these pictures again. Did something not go wrong with the art we produced in the developed countries some time after the Second World War? Is all that’s left to our art is whether it’s a good joke or not?

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Pictures: all mine except:
Horten couple: https://www.falter.at/archiv/wp/das-maerchen-von-helmut-und-heidi
Heidi Horten: https://www.vindobona.org/article/heidi-horten-collection-leopold-museum-vienna
Deer antlers: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-trophies-of-deer-hanging-on-a-wall-in-a-hunting-lodge-styria-austria-18704002.html

VIENNA, “WORTH THE TRIP”

Phnom Penh, 7 December 2015

My wife and I have just come back from a trip to Vienna. I had to be there for work, but luckily we also got to stay over a weekend. This allowed us to taste once more the artistic delights of the city. Wonderful, truly wonderful … Enough to give one heart palpitations.

We had first tasted the artistic glories of the city back in March of 1985 (I am certain of the date, because I was in Vienna to witness the signing of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer). That time too we had had a weekend to ourselves, which we used to first visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Austria’s national Museum of Fine Arts. I have to tell you, we were gobsmacked – that’s the only word – as we walked from room to room and saw one marvel after another hanging on the walls. It was one of those cases of “Really? They have this painting here? Wow …” I just can’t stop myself from showing you some of my favourites; there are many, many more, for all tastes.

Here’s Raphael’s “Madonna del Prato”
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Lotto’s “Portrait of a Young Man with a Lamp”
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Arcimboldo’s “Summer”
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Canaletto’s “Vienna, seen from the Belvedere”
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A whole slew of Titians, most of which are of disagreeably sucrose blondes, but which also include this powerful portrait of Johann Frederich, Elector of Saxony
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Caravaggio’s “Madonna of the Rosary”
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as well as one of his several versions of “David with the head of Goliath” (another of which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post)
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A wondrous collection of Peter Bruegel the Elder, of which I throw in only his “Hunters in the Snow (Winter)”

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and his “Peasant Wedding”

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A magisterial self-portrait by Rembrandt
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Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting”
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Cranach the Elder’s “Judith with the Head of Holophernes” (although I still prefer the same scene which I came across years ago in the Queen’s Gallery in London)
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Dürer’s “Kaiser Maximilian I”
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as well his “Portrait of a Venetian Lady”
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I stop, otherwise I will bore my readers. But, without wanting to sound too much like an advert for Vienna, I would really urge any of them who are lovers of art but have somehow never made it to Vienna to hurry on over, if only to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum. As the Michelin Guides would say, it alone “is worth the trip”.

But Vienna has much, much more. That same weekend back in 1985 we discovered Egon Schiele. We saw an exhibition of his paintings somewhere in the Grinzing area of Vienna, and I was just blown away. This particular painting of his, “The Embrace”, has remained imprinted in my memory ever since.
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The most extensive collection in the world of Egon Schiele’s work is in the Leopold Museum, part of Vienna’s Museums Quartier, MQ. MQ opened when we were living in Vienna, some 20 years after our first visit. Along with the Leopold Museum, MQ houses MUMOK, the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien. Personally, I always preferred the Leopold Museum; MUMOK was a little too aggressively modern for my tastes. So I suppose it comes as no surprise to hear that after visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum last week we visited the Leopold. The Egon Schieles are wonderful. This one painting of his, “Seated Male Nude”, can stand in for the whole collection.
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You cannot go to the Leopold just for the Schieles, wonderful as they are. You must visit the whole collection. This is where I discovered a host of Austrian artists from the late 1800s up to World War II: Gustav Klimt of course, but also Richard Gerstl, Koloman Moser, Oskar Kokoschka, Albin Egger-Lienz, Anton Kolig, and many others. The Leopold holds the painting of Gustav Klimt which I adopted as my gravatar for this blog. Those who are interested to see it can visit my Home Page. Here, I will insert another of his paintings in the museum’s collection, a beautiful painting of early morning on Lake Attersee
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and I add to this, as a stand-in for all the others, a painting by Richard Gerstl, “Semi-Nude Self-Portrait” with its hypnotic eyes.
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It’s not finished! Vienna also has the Belvedere Museum. We wanted to visit it too last week – they were holding an Exhibition on “The Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka”, which included Schiele’s “Embrace” – but we ran out of time. The Belvedere has a collection which stretches all the way from the Middle Ages to the present day. It competes strongly with the Ludwig Museum, having an excellent collection of paintings from the late 19th Century to the Second World War (the Klimts and Schieles are not to be missed), but it also has interesting paintings from the Baroque to the Biedermeier period. I will not show any of these, however. Instead, I will throw in a picture of a piece from its Medieval collection, a statue of St. Leonhard, from South Tyrol.
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I chose this picture because the Belvedere has some beautiful pieces of that most Germanic of art forms, religious sculpture made of wood, originally painted in bright polychrome. The picture also gives me an excuse to cycle back to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Because that museum is more, much more, than a gallery of paintings! There’s the collection of arms and armour, which one has to visit simply to gawp at the brilliant metalworking skills of past armourers. There’s the collection of historical musical instruments, which my mother-in-law, a lover of music, frothed at the mouth about. And then there’s the collection of sculpture and decorative arts, a disparate collection of artifacts, ranging from the seriously bling to the exquisite. Probably the most well-known piece in this collection is Benvenuto Cellini’s salt cellar, currently famous because it was recently stolen dramatically, only to dramatically reappear, unharmed, a few years later.
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I prefer, though, this “Vanitas”, made, like St. Leonhard above, of wood and beautifully polychromed.
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It reminds us that while we may be beautiful now, and well-toned, one day we will be old and sag in all directions (in my case, I’m already at that point, so I suppose the piece reminds me regretfully of what I once was).

I like these two ivory pieces even more. The first shows Gregory the Great feverishly scribbling away (he was a very prolific writer, this Pope), with scribes below him feverishly joining in.
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The second shows the Ascension of Jesus, with the disciples weeping bitterly below. But rather than having Jesus levitate, which is the way this scene is normally depicted, Jesus is being swept up by God (note His hand), rather like a gymnast being elegantly swept up by a trapeze artist.
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If readers were to think that it finishes there, they would be wrong! The Kunsthistorisches also runs the Imperial Treasury, another smorgasbord of golden baubles smothered in precious stones. Because of my fondness of cabochon stones, I only show here the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, of the 10th-11th Centuries
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and St. Stephan’s  Purse, actually a reliquary, from the 9th Century.
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Along with various other items, these were taken in the early 1800s from Aachen, Charlemagne’s original Imperial capital, to keep them from falling into the hands of the revolutionary French, and somehow they never made it back.

I suspect that my readers’ attention might be beginning to drift, so I quickly throw in two other wonders to be found in Vienna. One, located in the Museum für Völkerkunde or the Museum of Ethnology, is the so-called headdress of Montezuma, an exquisite piece from Mexico made of the feathers of quetzals and other birds mounted in a base of gold studded with precious stones.
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As we once heard from Austria’s Ambassador to Mexico (whose apartment we were renting at the time), the piece is a source of continuing friction between the two countries, Mexico claiming that it was somehow stolen and Austria claiming that it was legitimately purchased (by the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in at least 1575 and maybe before, i.e., no more than 90 years after Columbus discovered America – how did our good Archduke lay his hands on it?).

The second piece is actually to be found a little outside Vienna, in the imperial abbey of Klosteneuburg. It is the 12th Century Verdun altar, so called because it was made by Nicholas of Verdun, one of the most famous goldsmiths and enamelists of the Middle Ages.

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The altar consists of 45 beautifully enameled panels, telling the biblical story. This one, for instance, relates the kiss of Judas (a theme I have mentioned in a previous post, in this case in a painting by Caravaggio).
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If any of my readers have finished visiting the altar and still feel ready for more, they can always consider visiting the Samlung Essl, a museum of (very) modern art in Klosteneuburg, which, like the MQ, opened while we were living in Vienna. On the other hand, if like me they find this museum’s art too aggressively modern, or if they are simply too tired, they can just head back into town and with a bit of luck they will sight a most interesting piece of art, the municipal incinerator of Spittelau, decorated by the Austrian artist Hundertwasser.
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I’ve seen many municipal incinerators in my time, and I must say this is definitely one of the prettiest; it certainly helped to gain its acceptance by the local population.

There’s more, much more art to visit in Vienna, but I’ll leave it at that. Like I’ve already said, I don’t want to sound like an advert for Vienna, but really it’s a wonderful destination for lovers of art.

And don’t get me started on the music …

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Paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum: http://www.khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/selected-masterpieces/
Egon Schiele “The Embrace”: http://www.wikiart.org/en/egon-schiele/the-embrace-1917
Egon Schiele “Seated Male Nude”: http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/leopoldcollection/masterpieces/35
Gustav Klimt, “Attersee”: http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/leopoldcollection/focus/Klimt
Richard Gerstl “Semi-Nude Self-Portrait”: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Gerstl_-_Semi-Nude_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
St. Leonhard, Belvedere: https://www.belvedere.at/en/sammlungen/belvedere
KHM, Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts: http://bilddatenbank.khm.at/
Imperial Treasury: http://www.kaiserliche-schatzkammer.at/en/visit/collections/secular-treasury/selected-masterpieces/
Moctezuma’s crown: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montezuma%27s_headdress#/media/File%3AFeather_headdress_Moctezuma_II.JPG (in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montezuma%27s_headdress#)
Verdun altar: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klosterneuburg_Monastery
Verdun altar – detail: http://armourinart.com/248/397/
Spittelau Incinerator: http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/waste/prob_solutions/WFdev_overseas.html

MY ART COLLECTION

Beijing, 3 August 2013

I was in Vienna a few weeks ago – it is always good to show your face from time to time in Headquarters to remind your colleagues that you still exist – and my wife accompanied me because we had decided to go on vacation at the same time. Since we had a free morning, we decided to visit the Leopold Museum.

The museum is part of a very nice urban recovery scheme which the Austrian government undertook some ten-fifteen years ago. There being no imperial horses to house anymore, the old imperial stables had fallen on hard times. So the city decided to turn the stables into a Museums Quarter, made a deal to purchase the art collection of a certain Rudolf Leopold, and built two art museums on the premises, one for his modern art

Leopold Museum

and one for his contemporary art

MUMOK

(is there a deeper meaning to the colour scheme of the museums’ cladding?)

For those readers who plan to visit Vienna, the Quarter is just across the road from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the country’s premier museum of fine arts, which houses the old imperial collection. This is a truly fantastic collection, which alone is worth a visit to Austria. One of my favourites there is Caravaggio’s “Madonna of the Rosary”.

caravaggio

As for the Leopold Museum, it has a great collection of early 20th Century Austrian, German and Central European art. I particularly like its collection of Egon Schieles. The very first time my wife and I went to Vienna, back in the early 80s, we stumbled on Mr. Leopold’s collection, hung at that time in a cramped house somewhere in the outskirts of Vienna. His Schieles knocked my socks off as they say. I particularly remember this one.

Egon Schiele

With the art from these fantastic collections almost spilling out onto the pavements of Vienna (and I haven’t even mentioned the Belvedere or the Albertina or the smaller collections), it’s not surprising that it is here that I started my own – very, very modest – art collection. The spark that lit the fuse was the Dorotheum.

Dorotheum

Wonderful, wonderful place, the Dorotheum. It’s an auction house, but the marvelous thing about it is that it has two whole floors where the price is fixed and you can buy the articles on the spot. Which is great, because auctions make me nervous; I only went to one auction at the Dorotheum – where Mr. Leopold was present, by the way – and the speed with which the prices levitated (on a particularly nice painting by a Hungarian artist) gave me palpitations. These two floors have more the feel of a jumble sale, full of horrible stuff, but where you feel – you know – that the piece of your dreams is just behind that dreadful cabinet in the corner. And in the spirit of a jumble sale the prices in these parts of the Dorotheum are – relatively speaking – affordable.

My first piece of art was hanging in a corner, in the dead end of a section dedicated to carpets.

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When I first spied it behind the carpets, it was woebegone, sagging in the middle, dust covering its frame. But it cried out to me: “Take me! Take me!” That riot of flowers and fruit against that cubist-type background of mountains! That river, with the small town on its bank! The happy people! It had to be mine!! But the price made me hesitate – it was 400 euros or thereabouts. And it would need fixing and cleaning. I dithered and dathered, I went back a few times, I was like one tormented. Eventually, my wife took over and gently pushed me towards the purchase.

They say that the first murder is the most difficult; after that, it gets easier and easier. I think it’s the same with the purchase of art. In relatively short order after that, I purchased, always at the Dorotheum, this gouache, a naïf view of the Seine in early 19th century Paris:

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(the apparent sun in the background is actually my camera’s flash)

This aquarelle, an 18th Century view of Kashmir:

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(same comment about my camera’s flash)

This oil painting, of a tramp ship ploughing its way through the waves:

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(I bought it because it reminded me powerfully of the poem “Cargoes” by John Masefield, whose last verse is:
“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays”)

This aquarelle, by the same artist, of fishing boats off the coast of Britain:

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This print, of a barn half buried in the snows of Upper Austria:

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It was just as well that we left for China. My wife was becoming anxious about how the art was slowly invading the walls of our apartment; she has always preferred bare white walls and generally uncluttered internal vistas. I could not bear to have these sitting in the dark of a warehouse in Vienna waiting for us to come back. We took them all down to Milan, where they hang in our apartment. I took the photos above a few weeks ago, when we passed through.

The wonderful thing about these pieces is that they have allowed me to also unfurl my passion for history, giving me an excuse to dig around into their past. For instance, the Dorotheum claimed that the first painting was a view of Dürnstein, north of Vienna on the Danube (and in whose Castle Richard I was kept prisoner for a while). But after revisiting the place, I am convinced that this is not so; the banks of the river are not that steep on both sides. The picture framer who cleaned and fixed the painting was also not convinced of the appellation. He thought it was the upper Moselle River; a visit there is on my to-do list. As for the gouache, it was sold to me by the Dorotheum as an urban landscape in northern Belgium. Not so! For reasons which I won’t go into here but have to do with research I did on that shop on the right hand side of the painting, I am convinced that it is a view of the Seine River in Paris, looking upstream from Pont Notre-Dame, one of the bridges linking the Île de la Cité with the Right Bank. For its part, the view of Kashmir was, according to the Dorotheum, a view from western China (which is why I bought it; I already knew then that I would be going to China). Research on my part quickly showed me that actually it is a well-known view of a rope bridge near Srinagar. Really, the Dorotheum is doing some very sloppy work here – but it’s more fun for me.

With the Dorotheum no longer just a few subway stops away, the collecting passion has slowed – the apartments are smaller too. We have bought a piece or two, which when we take them back will remind us of our stay in China, rather like those old English colonels who came back from the Empire with bits and bobs of native paraphernalia, which they would proudly display in their retirement home at Bournemouth.

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Leopold Museum: http://de.academic.ru/pictures/dewiki/76/Leopold_Museum_%28Vienna%29.jpg
MUMOK: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Museum_Moderner_Kunst_Stiftung_Ludwig_Wien.jpg
Caravaggio: http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav18.jpg
Egon Schiele: http://kellypahl.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/2.jpg
Dorotheum: http://static3.kleinezeitung.at/system/galleries_520x335/upload/3/6/3/2430195/dorotheum030810apa726.jpg
the rest are my pictures