April 24, 2014
Two instances of politics colliding with art today:
April 24, 1933
With Diego Rivera’s mural for Rockefeller Center two thirds of the way finished, the NY World-Telegram inflames tensions between the artist and patron by publishing this headline:
“Rivera Paints Scenes of Communist Activity and John D. Jr. Foots Bill”
April 24, 1964
Oh no, it’s The Little Mermaid getting injured again! Her head is sawn off and stolen in a political act by artists of the Situationist movement. The group is primarily composed of artists and serves as a standing critique of capitalism. The head is never recovered; a new head is later fabricated and placed on the statue.
April 23, 2014
April 23, 1519
Leonardo da Vinci writes his last will and testament. He asks that 60 beggars follow his coffin, stipulates the number of masses to be held in the church on the day of his funeral, and dispenses his property. His friend and apprentice Francesco Melzi is the principal heir, receiving money, as well as Leonardo’s paintings, tools, library and personal effects. Leonardo’s other long-time pupil and companion, Salai and his servant Battista di Vilussis, each receive half of Leonardo’s vineyards. His brothers receive land, and his maid receives a black cloak edged with fur.
Leonardo dies in France less than two weeks later.
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April 22, 2014
April 22, 2008
Scientists announce they have proved the world’s first-ever oil paintings were made in caves that were discovered behind, and after the destruction of, two giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan.
Ironically, the dynamiting of the statues by the Taliban in 2001 revealed the caves and art behind them.
Scientists discovered that paintings in 12 of the 50 caves were created using oil paints, possibly from walnut or poppy. Samples from paintings date them from the 7th century AD, which is hundreds of years before oil paint was used in Europe.
It wasn’t until the 13th century that oil was first added to paints in Europe, and it wasn’t commonly used there until the early 15th century.
This is the earliest clear example of oil paintings in the world, although drying oils were already used by ancient Romans and Egyptians, but only as medicines and cosmetics,” said Yoko Taniguchi, leader of the team of scientists.
Bamiyan was once a thriving Buddhist center, a stop on the Silk Road trade route between China and the West. Monks lived in the caves carved into the cliffs by the two statues. The cave paintings were probably the work of artist-travelers on the Silk Road. The colorful paintings depict Buddhas with gorgeous crimson robes, as well as mythical creatures.
April 21, 2014
April 21, 1988
Hans-Joachim Bolhmann, who we’ve met before this year, throws two bottles of sulfuric acid on five paintings by Albrecht Dürer in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek. The injured works include Lamentation for Christ, the Paumgartner Altar and Mater Dolarosa or Virgin of Sorrows.
The Virgin of Sorrows is hit directly in her face, and the acid drips down her blue gown. The varnish of the Virgin of Sorrows was thin, and the acid quickly penetrates the paint layer. The complexity of the conservation needs, and the fact that five Dürers were badly damaged, mean that conservation moves slowly. Work on the Virgin of Sorrows, the last of the Dürers to be finished, isn’t completed until 21 years later, in 2009. The damage is estimated at 35 million Euros.
April 20, 2014
April 20, 1968
Mark Rothko suffers an aneurysm. He’s told by his doctor to exercise, eat more heathily, slow down on drinking and smoking…he does none of this. His one concession is to work on smaller paintings, and he switches to acrylics on paper. His poor health after the aneurysm contributes to marital stress, and he and his wife separate less than eight months later. In another year, he will kill himself.
April 19, 2014
April 19, 1958
Salvador Dalí is a guest on the television show, The Mike Wallace Interview. You can watch the video here. My favorite part may be hearing Mike ask in all seriousness: “Well, what is philosophical about driving in a car full of cauliflowers or lecturing inside a diving helmet?”
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April 18, 2014
April 18, 1938
The exhibition Luis Quintanilla: An Exhibition of Drawings of the War in Spain, for which Ernest Hemingway wrote the catalog, closes at MoMA. Quintanilla was a distinguished leader of the opposition to the Fascists, director of the Republic’s intelligence services in the Basque country, and earned a spot on General Franco’s first black list, for execution in the bullring in Burgos.
Despite all these accomplishments, he was honorably discharged by the army because he was considered more valuable as an artist. He traversed the entire front line of the war in two months, and completed 140 drawings in another three. The drawings were exhibited in Barcelona, and at his friend Hemingway’s urging, at MoMA the following year. Hemingway’s catalog essay is typically pithy yet to the point:
A year ago today we were together and I asked Luis how his studio was and if the pictures were safe.
“Oh it’s all gone,” he said without bitterness, explaining that a bomb had gutted the building.
“And the big frescoes in University City and the Casa del Pueblo?’
“Finished,” he said, “all smashed.”
“What about the frescoes for the monument to Pablo Iglesias?”
“Destroyed,” he said. “No, Ernesto, let’s not talk about it. When a man loses all his life’s work, everything that he has done in all his working life, it is much better not to talk about it.”
These paintings that were destroyed by the bomb, and these frescoes that were smashed by artillery fire and chipped away by machine gun bullets were great Spanish works of art. Luis Quintanilla, who painted them, was not only a great artist but a great man. When the Republic that he loved and believed in was attacked by the fascists, he led the attack on the Montana Barracks that saved Madrid for the government. Later, studying military books at night while he commanded troops in the daytime, he fought in the pines and the grey rocks of the Guadarrama; on the yellow plain of the Tagus; in the streets of Toledo, and back to the suburbs of Madrid where men with rifles, hand grenades, and bundled sticks of dynamite faced tanks, artillery, and planes, and died so that their country might be free.
Because great painters are scarcer than good soldiers, the Spanish government ordered Quintanilla out of the army after the fascists were stopped outside Madrid. He worked on various diplomatic missions, and then returned to the front to make these drawings. The drawings are of war. They are to be looked at; not written about in a catalogue.
There is much to say about Quintanilla, and no space to say it, but the drawings say all they need to say themselves.
This is me again. Check out the drawings one after the other. They really build in power as you go through.
365 Days of Art: April 17 – Pope Julius Refuses to Meet with Michelangelo Regarding Tomb Commission, Stiffs Him on Money, and Causes Him to Flee Rome in Despair
April 17, 2014
April 17, 1506
Michelangelo is turned away by Pope Julius II, in his latest attempt to meet and move forward on the commission for Julius’s tomb. Adding insult to injury, the Pope doesn’t cover the freight charges for the marble which Michelangelo has already selected and shipped to Rome. “Overwhelmed with despair”, Michelangelo tells his servants to empty his studio and sell the contents to the Jews. He then flees Rome, saying he will never return.
PS: Of course, he does, or the Sistine Chapel as we know it would never have happened. Julius himself hires Michelangelo to paint the chapel, which Michelangelo accepts because he thinks it will favorably position him to eventually return to the tomb commission. He’s right, and begins work on Julius’s tomb almost immediately after finishing the chapel. The tomb is eventually finished, but not to Michelangelo’s liking because the scope is continuously scaled back after Julius’s death. It remained one of his greatest professional disappointments.
Note: I don’t understand the specific reference to selling his studio contents “to the Jews”. But, given the expulsion of the Jews from Spain just ten years earlier, I’m assuming a similar bigotry exists in Italy at this time. I suspect this reference is intended as a slur, the lowest way for Michelangelo to vent his frustration, disgust and bitter disappointment at the way he’s been dimissed by Pope Julius.
April 16, 2014
April 16, 1911
Apollinaire, the poet and friend of Picasso, writes in the Le Mercure de France about the differences in studio practice between Picasso and Matisse. These kinds of side-by-side comparisons stoked their professional rivalry:
On the contrary, Picasso, who is a Spaniard, takes delight in cultivating the disarray in his studio, where you see a jumble of Oceanian and African idols, anatomical pieces and a great deal of dust. The painter works there slowly, barefoot, and smoking a clay pipe. At one time he used to paint during the night…
The erudite Henri Matisse paints with gravity and solemnity, as if hundreds of Russians and Berliners were watching him. He works on one canvas for a quarter of an hour and then moves on to another. If anyone is in his studio, he indoctrinates them and quotes Nietzsche and Claudel, mentioning Duccio, Cezanne, and the New Zealanders as well.
365 Days of Art: April 15 – Brunelleschi Dies, Da Vinci is Born, Nike of Samothrace is Unearthed, Impressionists Exhibit Together, and Thomas Hart Benton Reveals Himself to Be a Fool (Again)
April 15, 2014
April 15, 1446
Filippo Brunelleschi, father of Renaissance architecture and engineer of the Duomo, dies.
April 15, 1452
Leonardo da Vinci is born.
April 15, 1863
An excavation on the Greek island of Samothrace unearthed a winged female statue carved from white marble, known as the Nike of Samothrace, or Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s considered one of the greatest masterpieces of antiquity, and many consider the lack of head and arms to add to its beauty. The original is dramatically displayed above the Daru staircase in the Louvre, in Paris.
Samothrace is the eastern-most Greek island, located in the northeastern Aegean Sea. In ancient times, the island was home to a temple complex known as the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. I spent a good chunk of one summer working on this archaeological site.
April 15, 1874
The Impressionists, though they weren’t known by that name yet, hold their first exhibition. A group of about 30 French artists which included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot called themselves “The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, Etc.” and displayed 165 works in Paris. Viewers thought the subjects (contemporary life) and execution (seemingly unfinished and untalented) unfit for fine art, even laughable. One art critic entitled his nasty, satirical review Exhibition of Impressionists, after Claude Monet’s painting Impression: Sunrise, 1873. The critic, Louis Leroy, meant it as an insult, but it eventually became their identity.
Over the course of the month-long exhibition, 3500 ppl came to see it, many of them to express their outrage at this new art form. People always get shocked by new things; even the Impressionists were once considered too edgy.
April 15, 1941
The New York World-Telegram runs an interview with the always-thoughtful and eloquent Thomas Hart Benton. Here is his monologue:
Do you want to know what’s the matter with the art business in America?…It’s the third sex [gay people] and the museums. Even in Missouri we’re full of ‘em. We’ve had an immigration out there. And the old ladies who’ve gotten so old that no man will look at ‘em think that these pretty boys will do. Our museums are full of ballet dancers, retired businessmen, and boys from the Fogg Institute at Harvard, where they train museum directors and art artists. [The typical museum is] run by a pretty boy with delicate wrists and a swing in his gait. If it were left to me, I wouldn’t have any museums. I’d have people buy the paintings and hang ‘em in privies or anywhere anybody had time to look at ‘em. Nobody looks at ‘em in museums. Nobody goes to museums. I’d like to sell mine to saloons, bawdyhouses, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, and Chambers of Commerce–even women’s clubs.
April 15, 2014
I try to feature artists who are female, gay, or of color whenever possible, but the fact is, most of recorded art history involves men. Because today is my birthday, and because there are two events involving female artists, here’s a bonus post.
April 14, 1939
Georgia O’Keeffe leaves Honolulu, a trip paid for by the precursor to Dole Pineapples, on the ship Matsonia, and returns to New York. She wrote to photographer Ansel Adams:
I have always intended to return to Hawaii… I often think of that trip at Yosemite as one of the best things I have done – but Hawaii was another.
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April 14, 2014
April 14, 1886
Letter from Mary Cassatt’s father about Mary’s painting, Girl Arranging Her Hair:
Mame [Mary] is feeling pretty well and working like a beaver…on a little red-headed girl in demi-costume, dressing her hair before a glass. The two or three experts and artists who have seen it praise it without stint. As for Degas, he was quite enthusiastic, for him.
Degas always sounds a little like he was a pain in the ass.
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365 Days of Art: April 13 – Ordered on Bed Rest, Frida Attends Her Solo Exhibition in Four Poster Bed
April 13, 2014
April 13, 1953
Advised by her doctors that she is too ill to attend the opening reception of her first solo show in Mexico, and that she needs to rest, Frida Kahlo transports her bed to the gallery and attends from there. She greets visitors from her four poster bed, situated in the middle of the Galeria Arte Contemporaneo.
To Time magazine reporters she declares, “I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
April 12, 2014
April 12, 1935
An interview with Thomas Hart Benton is published in the New York Sun. He sounds delightful.
[I am going to Kansas City] because since the depression [New York City] has lost its dynamic quality. On the upswing, New York is grand–when it is building buildings, tearing down buildings, making and spending money, its life is irresistible; and in its drive, it’s a grand show. But when it is on a downswing, it gets feeble and querulous and touchy. The place has lost its masculinity. Even the burlesque shows, which to my mind are the best barometer of the public state of mind, hae lost all their uproarious vulgarity…Principles…that’s what the town has come to. It don’t act anymore, it talks. The place has gone completely verbal, and people are getting the idea that if they can make a sentence that is logical, they have demonstrated a truth.
Even the pretty young ladies who ought to have their attention concentrated in their legs address you with a “Do you or do you not believe?” — and look at you contemptuously when they discover you don’t believe anything. It’s a hell of a note when women, who can generally be counted upon to hold on to some human sense and not be fooled by language, begin to go the way of Harvard graduates…The Middle West has no inhibiting cultural patterns wrapped up in a lot of verbal logic, or tied to practice habits that stop action.
I’m leaving New York to see what can be done for art in a fairly clean field less ridden with verbal stupidities…Then, I’ve been here twenty-one years, and that’s too long for any American to stay in one place.
Do I think I’m going to escape stupidity in the Middle West? Of course not. Wherever people talk, idiocy thrives.
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April 11, 2014
April 11, 1968
Lee Krasner gives an oral history interview with Dorothy Seckler and remembers a time when Piet Mondrian gave her a mini-critique. An excerpt of the interview:
LEE KRASNER: Now I’ll tell you something Mondrian said to me about my painting which does interest me enormously. This was at the time that I was a member of the American Abstract Artists. And this particular year both Leger and Mondrian partook in the exhibition. And I had the pleasure of walking around the gallery which Mondrian. Each artist had two or three canvases up. And Mondrian would ask, “Who did that?” And I gave the name, and he commented on each one. Well, then, pretty soon we were in front of mine and he said, “Who did that?” and I nervously said, “I did.” And he said, “You have a very strong inner rhythm. You must always hold that.” Now that makes sense to me rather than the male or female bit in relation to the painting.
DOROTHY SECKLER: That was a very, very profound comment.
LEE KRASNER: Oh, it was beautiful, just beautiful.
DOROTHY SECKLER: Just marvelous. Which one of your paintings was that? What stage of your painting was it at, at that point?
LEE KRASNER: Oh, well, this would be the work I showed in the American Abstract Artists, and that would date back to the late thirties. And so I don’t remember which one, but it would have been a group of those. It would have been three of that kind of thing. I’ve remembered that for a long, long time and still indeed remember it. And isn’t it a nice comment to make?
DOROTHY SECKLER: And coming from a man like Mondrian.
LEE KRASNER: From Mondrian. And of course, mine was full of curves. I mean, much as it is now, it was curvilinear. And he said just that. And I remembered it and felt good about it.
DOROTHY SECKLER: It’s interesting, too, that is shows that here’s a man who didn’t allow curves in his own mature work at all, but he was perfectly able to see something in curves and see the strength of it.
LEE KRASNER: Oh, absolutely. He commented on all the paintings in just that brief way.
DOROTHY SECKLER: That’s marvelous.
LEE KRASNER: Oh, it kept me going a long time.