Cold? Rembrandt’s studio was probably colder.

Rembrandt Artist in his studio MFAIn Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, there is a small Rembrandt of an artist at work in his studio that symbolizes the difficulty of making art. The dark, large canvas on the easel seems huge and forbidding.  With thick, spread legs, it dominates the picture and looms over the artist, who appears to have backed away from it, perhaps in fear.

However, this painting has taken on a whole new meaning for me because of this frigid winter in the Northern U.S.  While I never gave it a thought in the past, the artist (who resembles Rembrandt) is clearly unnaturally bundled up in heavy clothing even though he is inside.

Artist in his studio detailWhat is going on? Is the studio cold because the artist lacks the money to heat it? Or is it something else?

Painted around 1628, when Rembrandt was in his early twenties, the studio’s bareness could simply depict a struggling, young artist and the tools of his trade.  We can see his palettes hanging behind him, brushes and a maul stick in his hands.  To the right, is a large grinding stone where he makes his paints. To the left, is a table probably with jugs of oil and solvent.Rembrandthuis: grinding stone and materials

If you visit Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam – Rembrandthuis — you can see many of the same things and even witness a demonstration of how he ground his dry pigments into a paste by mixing them with oil. This stone looks nearly identical to the one there.

iceage_castle

Hendrick Avercamp, A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle, c. 1608–1609, oil on panel, The National Gallery, London

But his clothing is a clue to something else.  In 1628, Europe was in the midst of what is known as “the Little Ice Age.”  By the time of the painting, global cooling had been underway for more than a century.  In winter, the canals of Holland would freeze over and not thaw again until late in the spring. Growing glaciers had crushed small villages in Switzerland. The importance of the North American trade in beaver pelts was a direct result of climate change. Rembrandt’s artist is probably wearing a felt hat quite popular in this era and made from those pelts. [The phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the dangerous effects of the chemicals used to treat beaver fur.]

At the time of this painting, Amsterdam was rapidly growing and had become the most important port and economic center of Europe.  Homes were heated by burning peat harvested from bogs. Because of the rapid growth of Holland’s population, however, the peat bogs had nearly been exhausted and peat’s cost skyrocketed.

The combination of expensive fuel and the peaking of The Little Ice Age made for a poor time for a young artist to start his career. No wonder he is bundled up and fearful. It was really a cold world out there. I hope he sold the painting.

 

See and hear Matisse — drawing with charcoal and scissors

henri_mattise_drawing_3The following two short videos provide brief glimpses of Henri Matisse at work in his studio.  In the first from 1946, he draws a portrait of his grandson, Gerard, with charcoal. In the second, he was filmed near the end of his life “drawing with scissors,” which is how he described his method of working with hand-colored papers.

Besides the rare opportunity to see Matisse at work, we can also hear his voice in the first video.  He is explaining how he thinks about drawing. His comments translated into English are:

“Me, I believe that painting and drawing are the same thing. Drawing is a painting done in a simpler, limited way. On a white surface, a sheet of paper, with a pen and some ink, one creates a certain contrast with volumes; one can change the quality of the paper given supple surfaces, light surfaces, hard surfaces without always adding shadow or light. For me, drawing is a painting with limited means.”

 

Lydia Delectorskaya, Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1953 Courtesy Henri Matisse Archives

Lydia Delectorskaya, Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1953
Courtesy Henri Matisse Archives

Jacqueline Duhême, one of Matisse’s studio assistants in the late 1940s, describes how he made his cut-outs here.

See Monet Painting Waterlilies

MonetpaintingsnapIn our continuing series of peeks into artist studios — a unique item.  A rare 2 1/2 minute film that shows Monet painting his waterlily pond in Giverny in 1914.  And his little dog, too.

 

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, c. 1915 Neue Pinakothek, Munich Germany

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, c. 1915
Neue Pinakothek, Munich Germany

[Thanks to Vincent Pidone for the tip.]

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

Gallery

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 Dove: Picasso and Matisse

 

Picasso, Dove of Peace, 1949

Picasso, Dove of Peace, 1949

One of Picasso’s most famous and popular images is his lithograph of a dove as a symbol of peace.  But the dove was Matisse’s.  Literally.

Matisse and Picasso first met at the salon of the American patroness and writer Gertrude Stein’s in the early 1900s.  At the time they were rivals for both her affections and those of the modern artists of Paris.  Picasso’s followers once plastered the walls of Montmartre with anti-Matisse graffiti like “Matisse drives you mad!” and “Matisse does more harm than war!”  Matisse responded by using the term “Cubism” to mock the art of Picasso and his followers, a label that would, of course, stick.

As they grew older, they grew closer.  By the end of World War II, the old rivals had truly become great friends.  Matisse was now almost eighty, nearly bed-ridden and living in apartments in Vence, a town close to Nice.  His wife, Amelie, had recently divorced him; his children were grown with children of their own. His bedroom and studio were filled with birds and plants to keep him company and inspire him.

Matisse and Doves, Vence, 1944 Henri Cartier-Bresson

Matisse and Doves, Vence, 1944
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Picasso, along with his mistress, Francoise Gilot, was a regular visitor whenever they came south. They often exchanged paintings and even exhibited together.  Matisse kept a Picasso over his bedroom’s mantelpiece and Picasso displayed his Matisses in his studio. Picasso, who was eleven years younger, would bring recent paintings to Matisse for comments.  An engraver who did work for both of them said Picasso thought of Matisse “as an elder brother.”  Matisse thought of his rival as “the kid.” Their arguments continued, but more like sibling rivalry as they sat alone at the pinnacle of the art world.

When Matisse took on his last great commission —  the chapel of Vence — he emptied his living quarters so he could cover the walls with brightly colored cut-papers and not be distracted.  He bid a sad farewell to the plants that one can see in so many of his paintings. His exotic pigeons were sent to Picasso.

Continue reading