365 Days of Art: June 30 – Hitler Authorizes Degenerate Art Exhibition; Commission Created to Confiscate More Artwork

A Nazi storage room, holding confiscated "degenerate" works of art. Works by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Cezanne face us.

June 30, 1937

Hitler signs an order authorizing the Degenerate Art Exhibition, and Joseph Goebbels accordindgly creates a commission to oversee the confiscation from museums and private art collections any remaining artworks that are deemed modern, subversive, or otherwise contrary to the German spirit. This is an extension of Nazi policy to persecute Jews and incite hatred of the “perverse Jewish spirit” among German citizens.

Over 5,000 works are seized, including 1,052 by Emil Nolde, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and 508 by Max Beckmann, as well as smaller numbers of works by artists like Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

Can you imagine having 1,052, or 508 of your life’s work taken away? That is devastating.

365 Days of Art: June 29 – Richard Diebenkorn Describes Struggling with Watercolor

Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959, Oil on canvas, 57 x 62 in.

June 29, 1985

In an interview, Richard Diebenkorn (one of my favorite artists ever) describes reworking an old watercolor while he was in the Marines during WWII, stationed in Hawaii. He says he vowed he “was going to get it even if he had to make the black white and the white black”.

I know, Richard–watercolor is hard, isn’t it?!

365 Days of Art: June 27 – 15th Anniversary Exhibition Closes at Yokohama Museum of Art

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Walking on the Sea of Death, 1981. Plastic boat, metal oarlocks, wood and plastic oars, plastic fruit, sewn and stuffed fabric, and metallic paint.

June 27, 2004

The exhibition And or Versus: Adventures in Images, which is the 15th anniversary exhibition of the opening of the contemporary/modern Yokohama Museum of Art in Yokohama, Japan, closes. It features work by artists as varied as Salvador Dali, Richard Long, Yayoi Kusama, and Andy Warhol.

365 Days of Art: June 26 – Gorky Seriously Injured in Car Accident

Arshile Gorky, How My Mother's Embroidered Apron Enfolds in My Life, 1944

June 26, 1948

Arshile Gorky is seriously injured in a car accident, after gallery owner Julien Levy loses control of his car. The car skids on the rainy road, plummets down a hill and turns over. The impact breaks Gorky’s neck and collarbone, and he spends more than a week at the hospital, in traction. Besides the pain of his injuries, his colostomy makes him extremely uncomfortable. When his wife Agnes (nickname Mougouch) arrives at the hospital, she is stunned at his condition. (Remember that he and his wife have been having serious marital difficulties, and she’s had an affair just days ago. To get out of the house, Gorky has spent the day with Levy and his wife).

Agnes/Mogouch later writes:

He was in traction and he was completely berserk. They had to set his collarbone but when he got back up he discovered that his right arm was completely awful. I guess the nerves of the right arm had gotten messed up somehow, and his arm was semiparalyzed. He couldn’t lift it. So he saw this blackest despair. The nurses all said he was impossible: ‘You’ll have to take him home,’ they said… He won’t let us do anything to him.’ They wanted to give him an enema. He refused… Gorky couldn’t take it – this state. He couldn’t bear being in traction with a colostomy…”

Julien Levy’s wife, Muriel, would later say about Gorky, and this is what I think too:

To go through the path life took him, with all its pain, ordeals and nightmares… you’d have to be a saint to survive those things.”

My heart really goes out to the guy.

365 Days of Art: June 25 – Serial Art Attacker Ignites Painting

Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Münster, 1648, by Bartholomeus van der Helst

June 25, 2006

Serial art attacker Hans-Joachim Bohlmann pours lighter fluid on the painting Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Münster (1648) by Bartholomeus van der Helst and sets fire to it. Luckily, most damage occurs in the varnish layer, where it’s easier to treat. Bohlmann is sentenced to three years for this particular crime, though it’s not his first prison sentence for damaging works of art, since he’s been at it since 1977. This is thought to be his last attack though: he dies of cancer about six months after being released from prison.

365 Days of Art: June 23 – Van Gogh Writes a Self-Critical Letter About Zouave Painting

Vincent Van Gogh, Seated Zouave, 1888

June 23, 1888

Vincent Van Gogh writes a letter to Emile Bernard, and references the painting above.

What I’ve been doing looks very ugly – a drawing of a seated Zouave [pronounced zoo-AHV, a soldier in the French Army, based in North Africa, with a distinct uniform], a painted sketch of the Zouave against a completely white wall, and finally his portrait against a green door and some orange bricks in a wall. It is harsh, and taking it all in all, ugly and unsuccessful. Yet, because I was tackling a real difficulty with it, it may pave the way for the future.

Nearly all the figures I do look abominable in my own eyes, let alone the eyes of others.

Bonus: Van Gogh also refers to Louis XIV as a “killjoy”. Tee hee.

365 Days of Art: June 22 – Monet Writes Nasty Letter to His Eye Surgeon

Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge, c. 1922

June 22, 1923

Monet writes a letter excoriating his eye surgeon, Dr. Charles Coutela, who had performed a cataract operation on Monet’s right eye in January, when Monet was 82.

I might have finished the Décorations which I have to deliver in April and I’m certain now that I won’t be able to finish them as I’d have liked. That’s the greatest blow I could have had and it makes me sorry that I ever decided to go ahead with that fatal operation. Excuse me for being so frank and allow me to say that I think it’s criminal to have placed me in such a predicament.”

If it sounds like Monet isn’t a very good patient–well, he isn’t. Immediately after the surgery, he refuses to rest his eyes, saying that it would interfere with his work. He tries to rip off his bandages, and after stewing for six months, he finally lashes out at his doctor with this letter.

365 Days of Art: June 20 – John Henry Twachtman Writes a Letter About His Studio

John Twachtman, Fish Sheds, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1902

June 20, 1902

John Henry Twachtman writes in a letter that he’s rented a studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he’s about to spend his third summer. He will die in less than three months of a brain aneurysm, but the paintings he creates in Gloucester in the last three summers of his life are some of his most complex and engaging landscapes.

365 Days of Art: June 19 – Young Eakins Writes Regretful Letter

The Biglin Brothers Racing, Thomas Eakins, 1872

June 19, 1867

While studying in Paris, Thomas Eakins writes a letter home to his sister Fanny. It’s mostly a discussion of Latin tenses, but near the end he gets more personal:

I regret having wasted so much of my time from want of experience, but everyone must do bad things before starting on a right road”.

This is for sure the Artist’s Lament, but keep in mind–he’s all of 22 years old.

365 Days of Art: June 18 – Chicago Tribune Reveals Nevelson Estate in Turmoil

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral/Southern Mountain, 1958

June 18, 1989

The Chicago Tribune discloses that the late sculptor Louise Nevelson’s son and her personal assistant (and perhaps closeted lover) are locked in a legal battle over her estate.

And it gets messy. Mike Nevelson takes 35 sculptures from Diana MacKown which she says were a gift from Louise, and he says don’t belong to her. In fact, he says they never belonged to his mother either, but to a corporation he founded, called Sculptotek, in 1978 to provide tax benefits and to manage his mother’s finances. Mike also begins eviction proceedings against MacKown, keeping her from the Manhattan home she and Nevelson shared for 26 years.

365 Days of Art: June 17 – Gorky’s Wife Has an Affair

Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock's Comb, 1944

June 17, 1948

The morning after overhearing an unflattering conversation between Gorky and his dealer about the role of an artist’s wife, Gorky’s wife arranges for a babysitter for their children and leaves home for two days, during which time she has an affair with the artist Matta.

Agnes (nicknamed Mougouch) wrote later:

After I left I rang up Matta. It was perhaps the worst thing I ever did, but I did it. The affair with Matta ruined my life in one zip. But if I’d stayed, Gorky’s violence would probably have driven me away anyhow, as he got worse and worse.

I got into my car and drove down to the village. I rang up Matta and said: “Do you really want to meet me somewhere? I’m going to be on the Saw Mill River Parkway at such and such a mileage.” And he was there. I went away with Matta for two days and came back and felt completely reborn…”