Vincent writes a descriptive letter to his brother:
My dear Theo,
At last I can send you a little sketch to give you at least an idea of the way the work is shaping up. For today I am all right again. My eyes are still tired but then I had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch of it. Another size 30 canvas. This time it’s just simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.
The walls are pale violet. The floor is of red tiles.
The wood of the bed and chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very light greenish-citron.
The coverlet scarlet. The window green.
The toilet table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.
And that is all – there is nothing in this room with its closed shutters.
The squareness of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. Portraits on the walls, and a mirror and a towel and some clothes.
The frame – as there is no white in the picture – will be white.
This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take.
I shall work on it again all day, but you see how simple the conception is. The shadows and the cast shadows are suppressed; it is painted in free flat tints like the Japanese prints. It is going to be a contrast to, for instance, the Tarascon diligence and the night café.
I am not writing you a long letter, because tomorrow very early I am going to begin in the cool morning light, so as to finish my canvas.
How are the pains – don’t forget to tell me about them.
I know that you will write one of these days.
I will make you sketches of the other rooms too someday.
Radio Rome provides this bit of Fascist propaganda:
The first ships left Sicily for London today with precious works of art, some of which will go to the British Museum and some to private collections”.
The idea is to create suspicion surrounding Americans interested in artworks (i.e., the Museum and Fine Arts Archives Program, AKA the Monuments Men). Given that American bombs have devastated Palermo just months earlier, feelings are already running high. A healthy dose of national pride doesn’t hurt either…what red-blooded Italian/Sicilian wants to see his or her cultural treasures going to private collectors in London, for pete’s sake??
October 15, 1951
Lee Krasner has her first solo show at Betty Parsons Gallery.
During World War II, it’s common to lodge Allied soldiers in cultural institutions. While many of them are emptied of their portable treasures, stationery pieces like frescoes, mosaics, even hidden artworks, remain. For example, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, provides bunking quarters, as well as a pharmaceutical ward where flammable alcohol is stacked up next to priceless frescoes. One of the duties of the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program (MFAA, but more commonly called Venus Fixers or Monuments Men) is to ensure that soldiers aren’t improperly billeted in cultural institutions.
Amid concerns about whether soldiers would be respectful enough of their surroundings, or treat them like “saloons”, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall cables General Eisenhower to say:
protection of artistic and historic monuments in Italy is subject of great concern to many institutions and societies”.
Alice Neel dies. She is a highly regarded painter, especially revered by feminists in the 1970s and beyond, though her mother once told her that her options were limited due to her gender.
She lives through various personal tragedies, which fuel her portraiture. Despite the death of her infant daughter, her husband’s kidnapping of another and leaving for Cuba, a nervous breakdown, an unstable boyfriend who burned hundreds of paintings, the loss of her job at the Works Progress Administration, and other trials, she perseveres with her painting. She comes into her own in the 1970s with the women’s movement.
Leonardo shows three of his paintings to the Cardinal of Aragon: Portrait of a Florentine Lady commissioned by Giuliano de’ Medici, Young St. John the Baptist, and St. Anne.
October 10, 1959
Before the planned demolition of Watts Towers, a DIY art project created over 34 years by one man without the use of machines, bolts or rivets, engineers and architects perform a required structural stress test. Steel cable is attached to each tower and a crane is used to exert force. The towers do not shift at all, let alone fall, and the test eventually ends when the crane breaks down. The towers still stand.
Nicholas Roerich, Russian painter and philosopher, is born. His gentle inspiration in banners around town in Johnson, VT, with calls to make the world a better place through creating positive artwork and contributions, were an inspiration to me at Vermont Studio Center.
Serial art vandal Hans Bohlmann is arrested, after vandalizing four paintings, including two Rembrandts, the day before. Bohlmann is known for targeting faces in his attacks, which I’m sure a psychologist would have plenty to say about. Unlike some vandals, Bohlmann also doesn’t limit himself to artwork; he’s also known for setting a fire in a church and spraying swastikas on hundreds of tombstones. Like many serial criminals, he enjoys reading about his crimes in the papers and very much enjoys his notoriety.
Marsden Hartley’s lover, Karl von Freyburg, dies in World War I; his death inspires Hartley to paint Portrait of a German Officer.
October 7, 2012
Art vandal Wlodzimierz Umaniec uses indelible, dripping ink to scribble his name and a slogan (“12 a potential piece of yellowism”) on Rothko’s 1958 painting Black On Maroon at the Tate in London. Wlodzimierz, who compares himself to Marcel Duchamp and claims he improved the work and its value, goes to jail for two years. Despite initial doubts that the piece could be saved, conservation experts work some real magic and the painting, one of the Seagram murals, goes back on display about two years later, to the delight of the Tate and Rothko’s family.
The damage to the work is especially wrenching because the painting has a special place in art history. Rothko personally donates the painting to the Tate, and it arrives at the museum on the day Rothko commits suicide.
Louis XII of France invades Milan, and allows his archers to shoot target practice at Leonardo’s 25 foot clay model for an equestrian statue. For shame!
The Duke of Milan commissions the statue in 1482 (that’s 17 years ago–see how slow Leonardo is?); he and Leonardo intend it to be the largest statue in the world. Leonardo studies horses and prepares extensively, but the destruction of the model is the end of the line for his participation.
Centuries later, an American revives the project and several versions of a horse are created and displayed in Milan, Pennsylvania and in a portable format that travels with various Leonardo exhibitions. That seems less impressive to me, so I’ll show Leonardo’s original preparatory sketches.
October 6, 1623
King Philip IV of Spain names Velazquez as painter royal to the Spanish court. His job is to execute royal portraits and decorate the royal houses, with a monthly salary of 20 ducats.
After a break of 14 months to accommodate a halfway unveiling ceremony as well as Michelangelo’s travel to Milan to get money from Pope Julius, Michelangelo and his team finish rebuilding their scaffolding and resume work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
After the opportunity to critique his work from the ground without the scaffolding in the way, Michelangelo executes the work now in a different style. Deciding that the fuller panels with smaller figures are too difficult to read from the ground, from here on out, Michelangelo will simplify and emphasize the core figures. The figures will now be 4 feet larger, with fewer figures per scene. Due to Pope Julius’ recent health scare, he also works now with a sense of urgency since he worries a new Pope might not continue the commission.
The first project in the new style is The Creation of Adam.
Leonardo is appointed ingegnere camerale by the Duke of Milan. This is an engineering position, and allows him to put his knowledge of structures and love of machines to work by acting as a consultant on the fortifications during this time of continual war.