365 Days of Art: August 29 – The Federal Art Project of the WPA is Created

Works Progress Administration poster from 1936

August 29, 1935

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:

Berenice Abbott
William Baziotes
Romare Bearden
Thomas Hart Benton
Stuart Davis
Willem de Kooning
Arshile Gorky
Adolph Gottlieb
Philip Guston
Marsden Hartley
Vanessa Helder
Lee Krasner
Yasuo Kuniyoshi
Jacob Lawrence
Fernand Léger
John Marin
Louise Nevelson
Jackson Pollock
Ad Reinhardt
Mark Rothko
Augusta Savage
Ben Shahn
John Sloan
Raphael Soyer
Mark Tobey
Grant Wood

This isn’t a complete list, just some of the heavy hitters. That’s a Who’s Who of 20th Century Art, for sure.

365 Days of Art: August 28 – Edward Burne-Jones is Born

Edward Burne-Jones, The Beguiling of Merlin, 1872-1877

August 28, 1833

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…

365 Days of Art: August 27 – Michelangelo Takes 1st Commission, Krakatoa Colors Sky for The Scream, and Guernica is Displayed for 1st Time in US

Another big day in the history of art!

Michelangelo, Pieta, 1498

August 27, 1498

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.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1883

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.

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 1937
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.

365 Days of Art: August 26 – Renoir Is Drafted Into the Army

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party

August 26, 1870

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.

365 Days of Art: August 25 – Georgia O’Keeffe is Inspired by Arthur Dove

Arthur Dove, Nature Symbolize, No. 2, 1911

August 25, 1915

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.

365 Days of Art: August 24 – Serial Art Attacker Strikes Rubens Portrait with Acid

Portrait of Archduke Albrecht, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1619

August 24, 1977

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.

365 Days of Art: August 23 – The Little Mermaid is Unveiled

Little Mermiad, Edvard Eriksen, Copenhagen

August 23, 1913

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.

365 Days of Art: August 22 – The Scream is Stolen by Masked Men

Eyewitness photograph of art thieves at Munch Museum

August 22, 2004

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.

365 Days of Art: August 21 – Mona Lisa is Stolen, but Theft Goes Unnoticed

La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517

August 21, 1911

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…

365 Days of Art: August 19 – Art Competition to Design Duomo is Announced

August 19, 1418

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.

365 Days of Art: August 18 – Pope Falls Ill; Michelangelo Fears Sistine Ceiling Won’t Be Finished

Raphael, Pope Julius II, 1511-1512

August 18, 1511

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.

365 Days of Art: August 17 – Larry Rivers is Born

Larry Rivers, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1953

August 17, 1923

Painter Larry Rivers is born.

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”.