The truly Old Masters, Modern edition

matisse at workVolume 2 of our series “Truly Old Masters” focuses on Modern and Contemporary artists who lived long and fruitful lives in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (except Americans, who will be the subject of Volume 3). Since medical care improved considerably after 1900, it has become more and more common for artists to live to a ripe old age. That’s why for this volume we’ve raised the bar from 75 to 80 years old. Still, the list is long, even though it covers not much more than a century.

While there are plenty of artists who worry about aging, many celebrate it as an opportunity to do more and better work. To congratulate the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman on reaching his 70th birthday, the 77 year old film-maker Akira Kurosawa wrote to him about an artist who “bloomed when he reached eighty.” Kurosawa, who lived to 88 and continued to write films almost to the end, told Bergman that he realized his own work “was only beginning” and that artists are “not really capable of creating really good works until [they] reach the age of 80.”


Louise Bourgeois in 2009

Recent studies are debunking the old theories that great artists (and scientists, for that matter) do their best work by the time they are thirty. The sculptor Louise Bourgeois who lived nearly to 100, described herself as a ‘long distance runner.’ When she was 84, she was asked whether she could have made a recent work when she was younger. She replied, “Absolutely not.” When asked why, she explained, “I was not sophisticated enough.”

Old age is not without its hazards, but even they can be inspiring. Henri Matisse suffered from a near fatal illness in his seventies.  After he survived a dangerous surgery, he said,

“My terrible operation has completely rejuvenated and made a philosopher of me. I had so completely prepared for my exit from life that it seems to me that I am in a second life.”

Despite being mostly bedridden, his ‘second life’ led to the exuberant, colorful paper cut-outs that occupied him for the rest of his life.

Below is a gallery of portraits and works by twentieth century artists who did not die young but lived long enough to truly become old masters. [Click on an image to begin slide show.] 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 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.

How to pronounce artist names

Berthe Morisot signatureAndrew M. Goldstein of has put together a useful collection of modern and contemporary artist names for anyone who has wondered if they were wrong.  Boy, I could have used this when I first started teaching. Not that I still don’t need this.  I’ll be sneaking a peak at this list for years to come. Don’t forget the link at the bottom with page two and more help.