Norwegian police announce the recovery of Munch’s The Scream and Madonna, which were stolen almost exactly two years prior, in a daylight raid. Neither the Chief of Police nor the director of the Munch Museum provide details of the sting operation, but state that the damage to the works is less than expected, and can likely be repaired.
The city of Florence gets its wish for a domed cathedral when the cupola is consecrated at the very top of the Duomo. The occasion is 16 yrs and 2 wks after construction begins, but this is nothing, because Florence has dreamed of a Duomo for 70 years. The ceremony begins at 9 AM, with Bishop Fiesola climbing to the top to lay the last stone.
The Federal Art Project (FAP) is established as part of the Works Progress Administration and FDR’s New Deal. Like all WPA programs, its goal is to create jobs. Most of the jobs involved creating public art for government buildings like schools, libraries, airports and the like. One of the great features is that the program doesn’t favor representation over abstraction, but encourages all styles. Before it ends on June 30, 1943 it employs artists such as:
Thomas Hart Benton
Willem de Kooning
This isn’t a complete list, just some of the heavy hitters. That’s a Who’s Who of 20th Century Art, for sure.
Edward Burne-Jones, a painter and designer with the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and the Arts and Crafts Movement, is born. He works in many media, including glass and tile, rendering exquisite detail. In his words:
I mean by a picture a beautiful, romantic dream of something that never was, never will be – in a light better than any light that ever shone – in a land no one can define or remember, only desire – and the forms divinely beautiful…
At age 25, Michelangelo receives his first big commission: a statue of Mary and Jesus for a cardinal. He selects the Carrera marble himself from the quarry and carves the statue from that single piece of stone. The 450 ducats he’s paid make him one of the best-paid artists of his time. The Pietá, as the statue is known, is on display at the Vatican, and is my favorite Michelangelo work.
Aug 27, 1883
Krakatoa, an Indonesian volcano, erupts, pouring ash and debris into the atmosphere to such an extent that it wildly colors the sky around the world for months–including the sky painted by Edvard Munch in The Scream. Although this isn’t realized until the 2000s, newspaper accounts of the day are clear about the stunning evening skies in late 1883 and early 1884, even in Norway, where Munch works. Art history has always read the deeply colored and banded sky in that painting as an Expressionistic or Fauvist touch, but history says that Munch is painting what he sees.
August 27, 1939
The San Francisco Museum of Art (later SFMOMA) displays Picasso’s anti-war painting, Guernica, for the first time publicly in the United States. The exhibition is eerily relevant as tensions have been mounting in Europe, and World War II will officially begin in less than a week. To the museum’s credit, the exhibition is free.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir is drafted into the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the French Army. Several other of his Impressionist peers, including Monet, also serve in the Army because they are too poor to buy themselves an exemption. In fact, Monet credits his time in the Army looking at different landscapes as invaluable training for his painter’s eye.
Georgia O’Keeffe writes a letter to her friend Anita Pollitzer and mentions she has received a copy of the book Cubists and Post-Impressionism by Jerome Eddy. The significance is that this is the first time she sees Arthur Dove’s work, which she later says makes a lasting impression on her. There are similarities in the work above, like an interest in natural subjects with large abstracted natural forms, a strong focal point, and a limited palette.
Hans-Joachim Bohlmann, serial art attacker, damages the painting Archduke Albrecht by Rubens by assaulting it with acid. Still in the beginning of this career, he nevertheless starts out in a prolific way. A psychologist would have some fun noting that almost all of Bohlmann’s attacks are on the face and especially the eyes.
The Little Mermaid is unveiled in Copenhagen. The patron who commissions the statue is so taken by the fairytale, specifically the ballerina who portrays the Little Mermaid in a ballet based on the fairytale, that he asks her to model for the artwork. She agrees to model her head but refuses to pose in the nude. Therefore, the final statue is a compilation of the head of the ballerina and the body of the sculptor’s wife.
Gun-wielding men in masks raid the Munch Museum in broad daylight and steal The Scream (one of several versions),as well as Munch’s Madonna. About seven months later, a suspect is arrested, but the paintings are still missing. For ten months, the museum is closed for a overhaul of security systems. The city of Oslo offers a reward, but still no information is forthcoming. Another year goes by, and six men go on trial; three are convicted, and ordered to pay restitution amounting to almost $118 million USD.
Later that year, the paintings are recovered with repairable water damage and tears. Police don’t release details of the operation, but the works are back at the museum.
The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre, but it takes 24 hours to notice that it is missing. What in the world??
Yes, guards, and visitors too apparently, believe that the famous painting has been officially removed for photographs or other legitimate museum business. The same visitor has to report his concerns twice before anyone takes him seriously. Eventually, the police are summoned. In a stairwell, they find the frame and the infamous glass shield that separates the painting from the crowds.
It turns out a substitute guard had left his post to go on a cigarette break, and the painting must have been stolen during this time. The fact that the museum is closed at the time points to an inside job, though the theories fly: it’s a German attempt to destroy the French spirit, while the Germans counter that the French have staged the theft; it’s sabotage by discontented Louvre employees; it’s a way to blackmail the government; it’s a run-of-the-mill maniac. After months go by with no sign of the Mona Lisa, the theories change: it’s been accidentally destroyed and discarded in a cleaning mishap, and the idea of a theft is a cover-up for the Louvre’s carelessness.
Two years later, there’s finally a break in the case. To be continued…
An art competition is announced in Florence to design a dome over the unfinished cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The reason it has been incomplete for 140 years, since 1296, is because current technology (centering and buttressing) can’t yet bridge a span that large without collapsing.
This is an ingenious problem, and the person who wins the competition will be paid 200 florins. Enter Filippo Brunelleschi.
Michelangelo, halfway through painting the Sistine ceiling, fears for the future of his project when Pope Julius II, at age 67, comes down with a severe fever. It’s severe enough at his age that everyone assumes he’ll die. In an unstable time, with enemies circling, his strong personality and sheer force of will have basically held order for quite some time. Faced with the seemingly certain loss of this order, things disintegrate: his own servants loot his home, and rebels enter Rome.
Because Julius is the benefactor of the Sistine ceiling, Michelangelo is sure that a new Pope won’t feel obliged to continue to Julius’s pet project, but will take over with his own agenda.
Luckily for all of us, Julius stubbornly recovers and lives for another two years. The ceiling project continues.
He’s nothing if not colorful. He hangs out at the famous Cedar bar with the Abstract Expressionists. His love life is unconventional and prolific: he has an affair with Frank O’Hara, and marries several times. He raises his ex-wife’s sons and lives with his former mother-in-law, who is his favorite model. He designs sets and costumes for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. He appears with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in an independent film. He’s nearly executed on suspicion of being a mercenary in Nigeria, though he’s simply making a travel documentary. He wins $32,000 in a TV quiz show. One of his personal claims to fame is that Jackson Pollock “once tried to run down one of my sculptures that was standing in a friend’s driveway in East Hampton”.
He’s called the Godfather of Pop Art, for bringing a sense of humor to art that’s in direct contradiction to the heaviness of the Abstract Expressionists. As he says about one of his more famous works, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and this reminds me of something Andy Warhol might say regarding soup cans:
I wanted to take something corny and bring it back to life”.