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, 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.