Duncan’s Dog meets Picasso

Dachshund-Picasso-SketchIn April 1957, the photographer David Douglas Duncan visited his friend Picasso at La Californie, the artist’s villa in the South of France.  He brought along his dachshund, Lump, and a mutual love affair began.

Picasso and his wife, Jacqueline, were having lunch when Lump first saw Picasso.  The confident young dog immediately walked up to him and put his paws on the man Duncan always referred to as “Maestro.”  Picasso looked down and said, “Buenos dias, amigo!” Lump jumped into Picasso’s arms and gave him a kiss.  Jacqueline was shocked. While Picasso’s own dogs were often in his studios, Jacqueline had never seen Picasso allow them to sit in his lap. But Lump was no ordinary dog.  He immediately made himself at home and thereafter became a regular visitor. Continue reading

A visit to Frida Kahlo’s studio

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This gallery contains 14 photos.

Frida Kahlo‘s home and studio, La Casa Azul in suburban Mexico City has been renovated in time to celebrate her 107th birthday. On the second floor, one can visit her studio just as she left it when she died in … Continue reading

For those who like to peek into artist’s studios

I’ve discovered a wonderful blog, atelierlog.  Since 2005, the Dutch artist, Harke Kazemier, has been collecting and posting looks into artist studios, from Rembrandt to Lucian Freud. While some of the text is in Dutch, the main content is the pictures and videos. If you are like me, you’ll find the more than a thousand entries fascinating. atelierlog is a rich resource that I highly recommend.

Joel Peter Witkin: Las Meninas, 1987

Joel Peter Witkin: Las Meninas, 1987

The Unwanted Gift: Picasso and Matisse

Detail, New Hebrides Mask (Musée Picasso)

Detail, New Hebrides Headdress (Musée Picasso)

In Paris’s Musée Picasso, a four-foot tall idol from the Pacific Islands sits in a glass case.  Wild eyed and dramatic, with arms flung out stiffly, visitors might justifiably assume that it was one of the many native objects that Picasso kept in his studio for inspiration.  But the story behind it is much more complicated. The idol was a gift from Matisse that Picasso didn’t want.

While their styles were quite different, both artists were inspired by the art of aboriginal peoples (‘primitive art’ as it was known then).  For Picasso, it is well known that African art was the catalyst for his Cubist revolution.  What is less well known is that Matisse collected African sculptures even before Picasso. In fact, he was the person who introduced Picasso to one of them at a soirée in Gertrude Stein‘s apartment in Paris in 1906.

According to Max Jacob, a friend of Picasso, who was there that evening,

Matisse took a wooden statuette off a table and showed it to Picasso. Picasso held it in his hands all evening. The next morning when I came to his studio the floor was strewn with sheets of drawing paper. Each sheet had virtually the same drawing on it, a big woman’s face with a single eye, a nose too long that merged into a mouth, a lock of
hair on one shoulder … Cubism was born.

Ultimately, Matisse found the work of the Pacific peoples more to his taste.  In 1930, when he was 60, he even traveled on a ship to Polynesia and lived in Tahiti for a couple of months.matisse-tahiti

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, after decades of sometimes bitter competition, Picasso and Matisse’s wary but respectful relationship had grown into an important friendship. Whenever the old rivals met together in the South of France, they discussed what they were working on and from to time exchanged gifts and paintings.  Since Matisse was twelve years older than Picasso, there was an element of the mentor in their interactions — one Picasso resisted.

Matisse's studio at Le Régina, Nice, 1953. New Hebrides mask on chair at right.  (Photograph: Hélène Adant)

Matisse’s studio at Le Régina, Nice, 1953. New Hebrides mask on chair at right.
(Photograph: Hélène Adant)

When Matisse presented Picasso with the New Hebrides idol from his tour of the South Seas, Picasso could only smile and say thank you.  But Francoise Gilot, Picasso’s companion at the time, noticed how Picasso’s jaws tightened as Matisse explained how he had come to own it and how it was used in rituals.  In her 1990 memoir Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art, she describes how she “could tell right away he didn’t like it.”

Picasso left Matisse’s studio without his gift by explaining that there wasn’t room in the car for it. As they drove away, Pablo released his anger. “Matisse thinks I have no taste. He believes I am a barbarian and that for me any piece of third-rate tribal art will do!”

When Gilot suggested they accept the gift, but put it in a room in their home where no visitor would ever see it, Picasso wouldn’t stand for it.  “Certainly not!…I will not accept this awful object…If I accept the hideous gift from my so-called friend, I will have to put it in a place of honor.  If I don’t our relationship is in jeopardy.”

Picasso spent much of the drive home angry and cursing. Obviously frustrated, he fretted, “I am in a bind; what am I to do?”

Gilot and Picasso decided the only thing to do was to come up with excuses whenever they went to Matisse’s home for why it was not the right time to take the idol with them.  This was not so easy.  Every visit they discovered that Matisse had placed the bright red, white, and blue idol in whatever room they were.  Yet somehow Picasso managed to never accept the gift from Matisse.

Ceremonial Headdress, New Hebrides, South Malekula in Musee Picasso, Paris, Tree ferns and pandanus coated in painted clay

Ceremonial Headdress, New Hebrides in Musée Picasso, Paris
Tree ferns and pandanus coated in painted clay

This is why Gilot was shocked to see it thirty years later proudly displayed in the Musée Picasso when she attended its opening in 1985. She later learned from Matisse’s son Pierre that after his father’s death in 1954, Picasso had asked him for the long postponed gift.  By then Gilot had already left Picasso.

Picasso with New Hebrides idol, Cannes,1956. (Photograph: Lucien Clerque)

Picasso with New Hebrides idol, Cannes,1956.
(Photograph: Lucien Clerque)

After considering this surprising news, she realized that several of Picasso’s later pictures had figures reminiscent of the wild-eyed idol.  Somehow, according to Gilot, “Matisse had foreseen his friend’s further evolution” and managed to mentor Picasso — even after his own death — with an unwanted gift.

Mr. Turner, a new film, and the Varnishing Day Incident

England’s greatest painter, J.M.W. Turner, is the subject of a new film by Mike Leigh. On May 15th, Mr. Turner premiered  at the Cannes film festival and received rave reviews.  Its star Timothy Spall won the best actor award for his portrayal of the artist. [Spall is best known in the U.S. as Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail in the Harry Potter films.]

The film covers the last twenty-five years of Turner’s life.  The trailer includes a famous incident from life of the eccentric and notoriously competitive artist — when he took advantage of the Royal Academy of Art’s ‘Varnishing Day.’  In the 1800s, the Academy was the center of the British artistic world.  No artist could truly succeed without being a member and no exhibition was more important for one’s reputation than the annual Summer Exhibition.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was one of the few child prodigies in the history of art. One year after he began classes at the Academy, he was made a member of the Academy. He was only 15. By the time he was 17 he could support himself with the sale of his pictures.   In comparison, the great landscape painter, John Constable, who was about the same age as Turner, struggled financially his entire life and didn’t earn membership until he was 53.

Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy, Punch magazine 1877.

Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy, Punch magazine 1877.

The Varnishing Day incident concerns both painters.  The day was a tradition at the Royal Academy.  Each year after the Summer Exhibition was hung by the jurors, artists were allowed inside to put the final protective varnish on their paintings before the show opened. This was not just a necessary stage in finishing a work but a bit of a social event.  The tradition continues to this day and the entrance of the artists includes a parade, a religious service, canapes and champagne.  Once inside, the painters chat amongst themselves as they apply their varnish and a few last touches.

Just as important as putting a protective layer on a painting, Varnishing Day allowed the artists to preview the exhibition before it opened to the public and to learn whether their pictures had been hung in a good location and discover whose work was hung nearby.  While it was an honor to be chosen,  if your picture was put very high up or to the side of a doorway, it meant the jurors did not consider it an important picture, which could damage your reputation.

In 1832, both Turner and Constable’s pictures were hung in good positions, but unfortunately next to each other. Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge was the largest painting he had ever painted for an exhibition, nearly seven feet long.  He had worked on it for thirteen years. When Turner arrived on Varnishing Day and saw his painting next to Constable’s, he began pacing, disturbed not only by its commanding size but by how exciting and colorful the Constable painting was.

John Constable, The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1832 (Tate Gallery)

John Constable, The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1832 (Tate Gallery)

As a fellow member of the Academy, Charles Robert Leslie personally observed:

Constable’s Waterloo seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while [Constable] was heightening with vermilion and lake the decorations and flags of the city barges.  Turner stood behind him, looking from the Waterloo to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from the great room where he was touching another picture, and putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, went away without saying a word.  The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak.

 

William Parrott, Turner on Varnishing Day, 1846 (Museums Sheffield)

William Parrott, Turner on Varnishing Day, 1846 (Museums Sheffield)

Constable was horrified at this breach of Varnishing Day etiquette and said to Leslie after Turner left,  ‘He has been here…and fired a gun.’  He knew the damage had been done. Turner’s painting and its bold red spot at the center would command the attention of anyone walking into the Painting Gallery.  Turner returned to the room later. With a swipe of a rag, he trimmed the red ‘gob’ and declared it a buoy.

This flourish was created with applause by his fellow artists.  At least, according to the movie.  Mr. Turner opens October 31st in the U.K.  No date has been set yet for its American release.

How King’s Dream was born

The Dreamer Dreams. Washington DC. 1963. Photo: Bob Adelman

The Dreamer Dreams. Washington DC. 1963. Photo: Bob Adelman

The speech was good, the speaker nervous.  Mahalia Jackson, behind Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, heard him hesitating.  She yelled out, “tell them about the Dream, Martin!”  King came alive and started adlibbing from his prepared text.  It grew from its planned seven minutes to become one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Jackson, an internationally known gospel singer who had been with the movement through its most difficult days, was the only woman seated in the podium party.  King, who had invited her, was the final speaker, a spot no one else wanted because they assumed that news reporters would have already left after a long day of speeches and song.  But the press and the crowd of nearly 250,000 did wait and were rewarded by a thrilling moment of inspiration that climaxed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Fittingly, after King’s speech was finished, Mahalia Jackson returned to the podium and closed the event with a final song, “How I got over.”

“I’m surprised that of all that pain, some beauty came.”  – See more at: http://www.laborarts.org/collections/item.cfm?itemid=347#sthash.AILwy2r9.dpuf
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King outside Montgomery on the Fourth Day of the March, Alabama Route 80, 1965. Photo:  Bob Adelman.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King outside Montgomery on the Fourth Day of the March, Alabama Route 80, 1965.
Photo: Bob Adelman.

I learned about this day and much more at a memorable exhibition of photographs called The Movement at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.  The photographs were all by Bob Adelman and follow the Civil Rights Movement and King from 1961 to the leader’s death in 1968.  According to the curator, between 1963 and 1968, Adelman was a photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and other civil rights organizations. Among the many magazines that have published his work are Esquire, Time, Life, New York, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, and Paris Match.
On August 28, 1963, Adelman was known not as a photographer but as a young activist in the movement.  Since he wasn’t considered a member of the press, he had unusual access to the podium during the March of Washington.   He was there to “see all my heroes, the people who were on the front lines.”  At the exhibition, a blow up of his contact sheet of podium shots puts you up there along with Adelman as the speech unfolds.

 

Protestors attacked with hoses by police.  Photo: Bob Adelman

Protestors attacked with hoses by police, 1963. Photo: Bob Adelman

Not only do his images bring you inside the Civil Rights movement, but they are tremendous photographs. According to Adelman, after King saw his images of protestors being sprayed by police hoses in Birmingham, he said, “I’m surprised that of all that pain, beauty came.”

“I’m surprised that of all that pain, some beauty came.”  – See more at: http://www.laborarts.org/collections/item.cfm?itemid=347#sthash.AILwy2r9.dpuf
“I’m surprised that of all that pain, some beauty came.”  – See more at: http://www.laborarts.org/collections/item.cfm?itemid=347#sthash.AILwy2r9.dpuf
“I’m surprised that of all that pain, some beauty came.”  – See more at: http://www.laborarts.org/collections/item.cfm?itemid=347#sthash.AILwy2r9.dpuf

The last room is devoted to King’s funeral ceremony at Morehouse College and is heart-breaking.  His casket was carried in a procession from KIng’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in a simple mule drawn cart, like one you might see on a share-cropper’s farm.  In what I believe are never published photographs, Adelman shows us the faces of the King’s family and other mourners as they pass in front of his open casket.  We learn that Rosa Parks cried through the whole ceremony.

It is hard to calculate how much impact King’s speech had on the nation.  President John F. Kennedy had never heard King give a speech before the March on Washington.  Later that day, he invited King and the other organizers to the White House.   When King entered the Oval Office, Kennedy shook his hand up and down, repeating, “I have a dream.”

Guess What: Michelangelo’s Grocery List

One of the myths about Michelangelo is that he was a loner who worked without assistants –even on the huge Sistine Ceiling commission.  Here’s a wonderful item from Michelangelo’s everyday life that disproves the myth — a grocery list he handed to an assistant who couldn’t read.

In fact, as William Wallace reveals in his 1999 biography, Michelangelo had a team of trusted and well-paid Tuscans (he didn’t trust Romans), who worked with him most of his career and were among his closest friends. Some lived with him in his home in Rome.  His life story is more like Michelangelo and his Eleven Dwarfs, than Michelangelo the Lonely Genius.

“Almost half of his workforce had some sort of pet name: the Stick, the Basket, the Little Liar, the Dolt, Oddball, Fats, Thorny, Knobby, Lefty, Stumpy, and Gloomy,’’ Wallace writes. “Because he was his own bookkeeper, Michelangelo recorded their names, number of days worked, and the wage of every employee every week. Having grown up in the stoneworking town of Settignano, Michelangelo was personally acquainted with most of his assistants; he was familiar with their talents and employed their fathers, cousins, and neighbors. Such familiarity was a form of quality control and provided an unusual degree of labor stability.”

[Thanks for the grocery list to Beth Wilson.]

Insults that named art movements

Detail of Daumier's Critic

detail of Honoré Daumier’s The Influential Critic, 1865

Be careful when you insult an artist.  You may be making art history.

Art criticism is probably as old as art itself and often comes in harsh tones.  Plato was no friend of artists, describing them as tricksters and called for their banishment from his Republic.  Yet more than once a critic’s insult has ended up naming an art movement.

In 1874, Louis Leroy wrote about an exhibition of a group of artists that included Monet, Pissarro, Degas, and Renoir, who called themselves Le Société anonyme. In a mocking tone, Leroy said of Monet’s Impression: Sunrise,

Impression; I was certain of it.  I was just thinking that as I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it.  And what freedom! What ease of handling! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more highly finished than this landscape!

Claude Monet, Impression:Sunrise, 1872

Claude Monet, Impression:Sunrise, 1872

At the end of the review, Leroy pretends he saw a mad admirer dancing around the painting, singing ““Hi-ho! I am impression on the march, the avenging palette knife…”

The article was called “The Exhibition of the Impressionists.” The name stuck.

Continue reading

Penguin out to destroy artist’s book

sticker_copyMiriam Elia, a British artist and comedian, and her brother, Ezra, recently published We Go to the Gallery, a book on art that parodies contemporary art in the style of a children’s first reader in England. The publishing giant Penguin want to destroy all copies of it.

Like the Dick and Jane books in the U.S., England has the Peter and Jane series published by Ladybird, a division of Penguin Publishing.  In Elia’s book,  Peter and Jane go to look at contemporary art in a gallery with their mother. Funds to publish the book were raised using Kickstarter and she printed 1,000 copies.

According to Penguin’s lawyers, the book violates the publisher’s copyright.  They are willing to allow Elia to sell enough books to pay off her costs as long as she burns the remaining copies herself or turns them over to them, so they can destroy them.

Elia is refusing “to bend to their depravity” in a statement that ends with:

They will never find the books they seek to pulp, and if they take me to court, I will fight them, however long the battle takes. But I am need of your help. If you like the work and wish to see it properly published, please email wegotothegallery@gmail.com. I will shortly be starting a petition, and may have to devise a fighting fund to help with legal costs.

The full statement can be found on Elia’s website.

Below is a gallery of some of the pages of Elia’s book.  (Click on an image to see a slide show.) Take a look while you still can.

Color ecstasy — the Holi Festival

holi.handMarch 17, 2014 was marked with two ecstatic celebrations where color plays an important role.  One, St. Patrick’s Day, has long been identified with the color green.  But in the Hindu world, the arrival of Spring is greeted with a mad riot of colors during the festival of Holi.

Celebrated in India and other nations with large Hindu populations, it welcomes the end of winter with wild ceremonies.  During this Festival of Color, men and women chase each other through the streets and throw handfuls of bright pigments or squirt colorful paint on each other.   Crowds of revelers sing and dance in town squares as priests with huge hoses spray magenta, blue, or red paint from above.  Young and old, rich and poor have fun together and no one is immune from being doused with color.  Even tourists who find themselves in the midst of the festivities will soon be drenched in wet paint by young children with spray bottles.  By mid-day, the air is filled with dense clouds of color and the smell of sweet perfumes added to the pigments.

Each year spectacular pictures of the Holi Festival are published in newspapers and magazines around the world.  Below is a gallery of some of them (click on a picture to go to slide show).

[Text from The Power of Art, Chapter 2.]