Archive for the ‘Visual Arts’ Category
“If I were not making the paintings I make, I would paint like Matisse.”
- Pablo Picasso.
“Only one person has the right to criticize me, and its’ Picasso.”
It could be called a rivalry, a dialogue, a chess game—Matisse himself once compared it to a boxing match. And yet, despite (and perhaps because of) their intense rivalry, the two titans also served as lifelong muses for each other work.
Paradoxically, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were not fast fans of each other’s oeuvre when they first saw it. However, they both picked up on each other’s “Je ne sais quoi,” and immediately recognized the power each had to challenge and stimulate the other.
If Matisse was regarded as the father of modern art at the dawn of the 20th century, Picasso was sleeping with the same muse. Picasso, the younger artist, was constantly trying to get Matisse’s attention by showing off, stealing from his work, and rudely parodying him. Matisse, envious of Picasso’s success, tried to ignore him until the 1930s when he needed Picasso’s influence to bring himself out of an artistic funk. After that they traded paintings, visits, and little notes. But they were too competitive to really be friends.
For the rest of their lives each would keep a keen eye on the other’s new work, provoking each other to paint the same subjects, sometimes even with the same title. However, after Matisse died in 1954, Picasso was alone, but not quite. “When Matisse died, he left me his odalisques as a legacy,” he proclaimed, and proceeded to dissect them in a series of his own paintings.
Picasso died in 1973, believing to the end, as he said, “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”
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Which is better: “The Godfather” or “The Godfather II”? It is nearly impossible to say which is the greater masterpiece. However, one thing is certain; not even the most diehard devil’s advocate would argue for the relative merits of the third installment of the trilogy. Almost universally panned by critics when it was released in 1990, The “Godfather III” was a pale imitation of its far more distinguished predecessors. Most damningly, director Francis Ford Coppola was accused of nepotism, for his disastrous decision to cast his daughter, Sofia Coppola, in the prominent supporting role of “Mary Corleone”.
Julia Roberts was originally cast for the role, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Madonna subsequently expressed interest, but Coppola felt she was too old for the role. Rebecca Schaeffer was set to audition, but she was murdered. Winona Ryder subsequently accepted the part, only to drop out of the film at the last minute (supposedly due to illness, though other reports state that she was committed to “Edward Scissorhands”). Sofia was swiftly cast in the role of “Mary” following Ryder’s departure. Rumors regarding her acting chops — or lack thereof — began to swirl before she even shot a scene. Paramount begged Coppola to cast a known star, but he persisted, telling everyone that Sofia was the “actual embodiment” of “Mary Corleone.” Sadly for the untrained Sofia, her performance in the film exceeded even the lowest critical expectations. Critics had a field day savaging her (remarkably) monotonous and wooden performance, finding it “hopelessly amateurish” and unintentionally comical. Even her aquiline profile became fodder for ridicule, and in March 1991, the “Razzie Award” gave her the dubious distinction of “Worst Supporting Actress” as well as “Worst New Star.” OUCH!
Sofia initially retreated from Hollywood, entering the fine arts program at the California Institute of the Arts. There she began to nurture her interests in photography as well as costuming and experimented with video shorts. As their first post-graduate effort, she and some friends created the TV series High Octane, an offbeat news magazine on cable’s Comedy Central network. The show was discontinued in 1994 after just four episodes, and Coppola continued to work on her brother’s projects, primarily music videos. In 1999, Sofia shocked the socks off the critics with the release of her first feature film, “The Virgin Suicides”. It was actually REALLY GOOD! Like, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY GOOD! Her sophomore effort, “Lost in Translation” (2003), starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, became a critical smash hit and an impressive commercial success to boot. Her third effort, “Marie Antoinette,” while not quite the critical darling that “Translation” had been, definitely had its’ fair share of enthusiastic supporters. I think it is safe to say that Sofia Coppola will not be receiving any “Razzie” awards for her work on the other end of the camera…
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Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) — originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) — is a major early work by the artist Édouard Manet. Created in 1862 and 1863, the Paris Salon rejected it for biennial exhibition in 1863, but he was able to show it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) later that year. Emperor Napoleon III had initiated The Salon des Refusés after the Paris Salon rejected more than 4,000 paintings in 1863, over half of the works that were submitted to the committee that year.
The painting’s depiction of a female nude sitting in a park with two fully dressed men sparked controversy and intense debate at the exhibition. It was not the first time a female nude had been juxtaposed with clothed men, although the woman’s pose, which reveals little to the viewer except that she is naked, and he direct gaze, which conveys an immodest lack of shame, subverted the Salon’s traditional image of the female nude.
Nevertheless, the real controversy in the 1860’s was the painting’s size in relation to its subject matter. Manet’s Déjeuner posed problems of classification: it was too big to be a genre piece, too modern to be pastoral, too inscrutable to be a conversation piece. Manet’s canvas, measuring 7 by 8½ feet, was the largest that he had used at that point in his career. Canvasses this large were traditionally employed for the re-creation of noble events: historical, religious, and mythological ones: Manet’s depiction of an everyday scene on a large scale blatantly undermined this convention.
Earlier that year, the artist’s first champion, Émile Zola, had published a lengthy and glowing article about Manet. “The future is his,” Zola proclaimed. He insisted that the much-maligned Déjeuner sur l’herbe (which was included in Manet’s 1867 exhibition) would one day hang in the Louvre. Zola proved prophetic; it took almost seventy years, but the painting entered the collection of the Louvre (now Musée d’Orsay) in 1934.
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Vincent Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” during one of the most difficult periods of his life. This is truly saying something. The unchallenged Job of art history, Van Gogh’s life was no pink cupcake with too much icing and stupid sprinkles. But severed earlobes and broken bromances with Paul Gaughin aside, his brightly colored and gorgeously textured paintings convey a kinetic joy and energy unrivaled by any other artist, living or dead.
Van Gogh battled a host of physical and mental ailments, including (but not limited to) incurable/madness-inducing venereal disease, debilitating anxiety attacks and frequent and severe bouts of mental illness that landed him in insane asylums on several occasions. He died (cause: self-inflicted gun shot wound) at the tender age of 37, having sold a grand total of ONE painting during his lifetime, and believing himself to be a failure.
But I digress. The troubled artist painted “Starry Night” during one of his many stints at a mental hospital at Saint Remy. Locked inside the asylum and yearning to go outside, the despondent artist decided to improve the feng shui of his new bedroom by decorating the walls with some DIY paintings. Remarkably, Van Gogh painted the scene entirely from memory, as he was not permitted to venture outside of the white walls of the asylum.
Van Gogh’s personal papers and correspondences seem to suggest that he didn’t seem to think much of “Starry Night” after he had completed it (he mentioned it only twice in his letters to his brother Theo). I guess that even artistic geniuses sometimes miss the masterpieces that are staring them in the face….
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“Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” – Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 –1919) was French painter originally associated with the Impressionist movement, along with his friends Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. His early works were typically Impressionist snapshots of bucolic landscapes, full of sparkling color and light. However, by the mid-1880s, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women (e.g., Bathers, 1884-87).
Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects—pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women. His paintings are accessible and are instantly appealing, and he communicated the joy he took in them with unfussy directness. Along with every other heterosexual man on the planet, Renoir worshipped the female form, and many of his works feature dewy nude subjects. In fact, he once famously quipped, “I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it”.
One of his sons was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography, “Renoir, My Father” in 1962.
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Like most famous painters, Francisco Goya was extremely successful in his lifetime. He was a renowned painter by his late thirties, and an official court painter by his early forties, in 1789. The painting above, of pilgrims making their way to the San Isidro Hermitage in Madrid, gives a sense of his early style: vibrant, joyous, colorful. Remarkably, the painting below, which Goya made about four decades later, depicts the same scene.
By the time Goya painted the “black” version of the TK, his life had changed drastically. He lost his hearing around 1792, and his wife in 1812. In the years in between, Spain was ravaged by the disasters of the Napoleonic Wars (which Goya depicted brilliantly). Eventually, he withdrew from social life altogether: in 1819, Goya moved to “Quinta del Sordo” — “The House of the Deaf Man” — in the rural countryside of Spain. Within a few years, the walls of that house were covered with Goya’s “black paintings,” some of the most terrifying ever made. The full layout of the house, showing the paintings in their original positions, is available at Wikipedia. Here are a few of our favorites:
“Saturn Devouring His Sons”
“A Fight with Cudgels”
“Dog” (our vote for the masterpiece of the lot)
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This is not a mistake.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s 1871 portrait of his mother is—actually, we should stop right there. Whistler would never have accepted the description “portrait of his mother.” True, he did tack on the subtitle “The Artist’s Mother,” but the painting’s primary title is “Arrangement in Grey and Black.”
Whistler was among those early modernists — a group that also included writers like Charles Baudelaire and James Joyce — who were obsessed with the formal possibilities of music. They saw work being created by innovative new composers (Wagner above all) and felt constrained by the need to actually represent something: be it a story, a landscape, or a portrait of a family member. Many of them responded the same way Whistler did: by creating allegedly representational works that were actually formal experiments. A great way to see this in Whistler’s work is by flipping his paintings upside-down.
Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black” is a precise formal structure: a sharp diagonal created by the sitter’s profile separates the gray and black sections, with a frame created by the dark curtain in front of the sitter and the light floor below.
Let’s flip a few other Whistler’s upside down and see what we can find!
Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862)
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge (c. 1872-5)
Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple (1883-4)
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