PRETTY INDUSTRIAL CHIMNEYS

Milan, 12 December 2021

If there’s one thing that will always depress me when I see them, it’s those tall industrial chimneys belching out white clouds of steam (sometimes tinged a faint orange by the oxides of nitrogen they can contain, depending on which way the sun is shining). Here’s a typical example of the genre, this one a frequent sight on our hikes upstream of Vienna – it belongs to a power plant.

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It’s all that grey concrete that does it, often topped with garish red and white stripes to keep planes from flying into them. Just so ugly! And so damned tall that you can’t ignore them!! So in your face!!! They just drain any brightness and colour out of the surrounding landscape.
I almost think that the older designs of brick chimneys were nicer on the eye. They were less high for one thing, and – at least in some models – took the form of long thin cones, which are considerably more elegant than mere cylinders. But that black smoke which they routinely belched out! Like in this British painting from about 1830.

View of Rotherham, South Yorkshire (c. 1830) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Rotherham Heritage Services

The fact that someone actually painted all that black muck shows how our sensitivities have changed in the last fifty years or so. When the artist painted this, black smoke was a thing to be celebrated, it meant the economy was growing. Now, we think instead that the company’s top managers should be in jail for allowing it to happen.

But back to today’s industrial chimneys. Among all the gloom they have brought to my life, there have been two bright shafts of light over the years, caused by chimneys which I’ve actually enjoyed looking at. The first of these is a chimney in Vienna which belongs to a waste incinerator.

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Wonderful piece of work! The design, both of the chimney as well as the rest of the facility, is due to an Austrian artist by the name of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. His normal output looks like this.

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I’m sure readers can see the relation between this type of work and his chimney design.

The incinerator has been originally built in the late 1960s, but needed extensive repairs after a fire broke out in 1987. I was told that the mayor of Vienna brought Hundertwasser in to redesign the facades of the facility as well as the chimney, because the local community was up in arms about the city fathers’ plan to continue having a working incinerator in their neighbourhood. Hundertwasser, who was quite an environmentalist, was only persuaded to accept the commission when he was promised that the most up-to-date emissions abatement technology would be installed – and in fact the chimney hardly ever gives off anything. I must say I’m quite glad Hundertwasser accepted the commission, because he created what must be the jauntiest waste incinerator in the world. It makes you almost want to work there (almost …)

It was the second sighting, that of the chimney of another waste incinerator on the outskirts of Milan, which moved me to write this post, although it has taken me nearly nine months to get around to it. Last April, after the success of the hike my wife and I did from Milan to Monza, I decided to do a similar hike in another direction. I chose the direction pretty much at random, which meant, among other things, that there was one stretch where we had to walk along a very busy road with trucks thundering by and no space on the edge of the road for us to walk on. My wife regularly reminds me of this walk whenever I suggest doing a hike sight unseen around the edges of Milan … In any event, it was on this grim stretch of road that we stumbled across the waste incinerator. Its chimney immediately caught my attention. It had been painted a most extraordinary colour, a sort of shimmering, silvery grey blue, merging, but not quite, with the surrounding sky. It was really lovely to look at. I took several photos of it between the thundering trucks. I’m not sure any of them do justice to the chimney’s colour but I throw in the best one.

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By one of those extraordinary coincidences that make one believe that there is some order after all in the chaos of the universe, this chimney happens to have been painted by another Austrian artist! Jorrit Tornquist is his name; his Wikipedia entry informs me that he is a color theorist and color consultant (no doubt it was in this latter role that he was called in by Milan’s waste management company to paint the chimney). As an artist, he does works like this.

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Again, readers can surely see the relation between this type of work and the chimney.

As I say, these are the only two industrial chimneys which have ever brought some happiness into my life. But writing this post has moved me to search the Internet to see what other painted industrial chimneys await me and my wife on hikes we might one day do around the world. Here’s what I found, in no particular order.

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A couple of chimneys in the Paris suburb of Bagnolet, being finished up in classic trompe l’oeil style.

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A chimney at the sewage works in Milwaukee, where the art is actually part of the city’s water management system. The chimney is normally blue-coloured but turns red when heavy rain is forecast, warning people to reduce their water use so that the city’s drains are not overwhelmed.

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An old chimney in Mount Vernon, Virginia, now hosting two graceful tulips.

I finish with a chimney which happens to be in Milan! It’s the chimney of the old factory where the Italian amaro, or bitter, Fernet Branca used to be produced.

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For those of my readers who might not be too familiar with this drink, this is what a bottle of Fernet Branca looks like.

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This particular bitter was first formulated in 1845 in Milan. It is made by steeping 27 herbs and other ingredients in alcohol. Which herbs and ingredients are used is of course a tightly-held secret, a pesky problem I have already come across for these kinds of drinks. But apparently at least some of the herbs are pictured on the chimney, so perhaps a close reading of the chimney will lead me to figure out what herbs are used in this drink.

As readers have no doubt understood, I am planning to view this chimney. It can be the object of one of the urban walks my wife and I will take this winter. I’ve already checked on Google Maps to see how to get there, and I’m happy to report that we will not need to walk along busy roads with trucks thundering by. I’m going to have to wait for the right moment in which to casually suggest to my wife that we go for this walk, without spilling the beans about what we are going to see – and of course I will have to reassure her about the absence of busy roads with thundering trucks.

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