365 Days of Art: October 16 – Vincent Describes a Painting He Hasn’t Painted Yet

Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888

October 16, 1888

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.

With a good handshake.

Ever yours, Vincent

Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888

365 Days of Art: October 15 – Fascist Propaganda Discusses Artworks, Lee Krasner Has First Solo Show

Palermo devastated by American bombing, May 1943
Palermo devastated by American bombing, May 1943

October 15, 1943

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??

Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1948
Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1948

October 15, 1951

Lee Krasner has her first solo show at Betty Parsons Gallery.

365 Days of Art: October 14 – Marshall Telegram to Eisenhower Shows Concern for Artworks

Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

October 14, 1943

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”.

365 Days of Art: October 13 – Alice Neel Dies

Alice Neel, Dana Gordon
Alice Neel, Dana Gordon

October 13, 1984

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.

365 Days of Art: October 10 – Leonardo Shows Three Paintings to Possible Patron, Watts Towers Kill Stress Test

Leonardo, St. John the Baptist, 1513 - 1516
Leonardo, St. John the Baptist, 1513 – 1516

October 10, 1517

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.

Simon Rodia, Watts Towers, 1921-1955
Simon Rodia, Watts Towers, 1921-1955

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.

365 Days of Art: October 8 – Serial Art Vandal Arrested After Attacking Rembrandts

Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, 1656
Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, 1656

October 8, 1977

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.

365 Days of Art: October 7 – Lover’s Death Inspires Hartley Portrait, Rothko Painting Vandalized

Marsden Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer, 1914
Marsden Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer, 1914

October 7, 1914

Marsden Hartley’s lover, Karl von Freyburg, dies in World War I; his death inspires Hartley to paint Portrait of a German Officer.

Vandalism of Mark Rothko's Black on Maroon
Vandalism of Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon

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.

365 Days of Art: October 6 – Archers Destroy Leonardo’s Clay Model, Velázquez Becomes Royal Painter

Leonardo, Studies of a Horse, c. 1482-1499
Leonardo, Studies of a Horse, c. 1482-1499

October 6, 1499

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.

Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656
Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656

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.

365 Days of Art: October 4 – Following Extended Break, Michelangelo Resumes Work on Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1511 (Sistine Ceiling 1508-1512)
Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1511 (Sistine Ceiling 1508-1512)

October 4, 1511

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.