The Case of the Destitute Granddaughter

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“They always say time changes things, but you always have to change them yourself.” Andy Warhol (from Artpromotivate)

One of the most famous paintings by Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) is The Angelus, originally titled Prayer for the Potato Crop. The painting was commissioned in 1857 by American collector, Thomas Gold Appleton. When Appleton failed to take possession of the painting, the artist changed the name and later exhibited it in the Paris Salon of 1865 with the new name. In later years, the painting became the subject of several controversies not the least of which concerned the living situation of Millet’s family and especially that of one of his granddaughters.

Perhaps the most bizarre of the controversies surrounding The Angelus was instigated by Salvador Dali. Dali claimed Millet had intended hidden meaning in the position of the figures suggesting aggression on the part of the female figure and more. The basket situated between the figures, Dali believed was an over-painting of what was a child’s coffin originally. Dali stirred the controversy so much that eventually an x-ray revealed there had actually been a box of some kind in the under-painting though whether or not it was a coffin is unknown.

The artist, before his death, had sold the painting for a small sum. A decade later, a bidding war broke out between the US and France elevating the price of the painting considerably. The Louve attempted to purchase the painting sparking feelings of patriotism among the French people at the time. Varying accounts give the price the painting sold for as between 553,000 and 800,000 Francs.

Meanwhile, the artist’s family was sinking into abject poverty. While the bidding war and other factors were increasing the value of the painting, the artist’s family was reduced to a position of barely scratching out a living. The painting was again, in later years, sold for a huge sum of money. At the same time it was discovered that the artist’s granddaughter was selling flowers on the streets of Paris to sustain herself.

The plight of the granddaughter led to the enactment of the first “droit de suite” laws in France. The law basically said that an artist or his heirs until 70 years after his death were entitled to a small percentage of the resale of any of the artist’s works. While the dealer made millions, the artist or his family would receive between 1 and 3 percent of the sale. The granddaughter’s flower vending led the French government to consider whether visual artists were entitled to profit further from their works after the original sale. Millet’s granddaughter has once again come to the center of the debate as more governments today are considering “droit de suite” laws. The destitution of Millet’s granddaughter has led to a look at the destitution of many of today’s artists.

For more on Millet, his work and “Droit de Suite” laws, check out the following links:

http://www.jeanmillet.org/

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=339

http://www.sncao-syndicat.com/droit-de-suite/13ff0a14-21aa-4eeb-91be-42471071d842.aspx

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/22/art-dealers-droit-de-suite

http://econ.duke.edu/uploads/assets/dje/2005/Deng.pdf

http://bcagalleries.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

http://adamlilithouse.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html

The Plight of the Impudent Thief–UPDATE

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The Plight of the Impudent Thief

A 24 million dollar loss in the art world has been replaced in the news by a one billion dollar find.  Just weeks ago, the art world was lamenting the theft and probable burning of seven works of art from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.  Now comes a new report of the German find of over 1400 artworks in an apartment owned by an eighty year old man.  The pain of loss is overcome by the joy of the new find.  But the antics of the theft ringleader are quite entertaining.  And insulting.

The Romanian ringleader of the art heist gang first attempted to have his trial moved from Romania to the Netherlands in hopes of a more lenient sentence.    His bargaining chip was the promise to reveal the location of the art in exchange for the trial move.  However, his loving mother may have nixed that plan when in an attempt to save her son, she stated she had burned them in her stove.  The ashes in her stove have been confiscated and are being analyzed.  She, apparently, didn’t have enough sense to get rid of the ashes, too.  Forensic capabilities may have uncovered evidence that proves she did, in fact, burn the art in spite of a latter retraction.

When the trial move was denied, the ringleader’s next trick was to claim the museum had been complicit in the theft to benefit from an insurance claim.  Or perhaps, it was the owner of the collection who was complicit.  “Somebody”, claimed the thief, made the heist possible so “somebody” could get the insurance money.  “Somebody” or “anybody” but the thief is responsible for the thief’s actions.  He is certainly not responsible.  He’s a good boy.  Just ask his mother.

And if that wasn’t enough, he continued to add insult to injury.  When the insurance claim idea was denied, he then threatened to sue the Museum, claiming it was the museum’s fault he stole the works because the museum’s security was not sufficient to prevent his theft.  Essentially saying, “Its your fault I stole from you because you were not strong enough to stop me.”  The sound of heads shaking can be heard.  One wonders who is paying the lawyers to file this claim?

However, the pain of the theft was deeply felt by the art community and compounded by the continued brazenness of the ringleader.  But all is not lost!  The stolen Matisse and Picasso artworks were replaced in the heart of the art community by the newly found Matisse and Picasso artworks.  The German find is many times larger than the Dutch theft. Will the thieving ringleader or his loving mother take credit for the find?  Who cares?  His fifteen minutes are over.  Hope that Romanian prison food is tasty.

Note:  The thief’s name has purposely been withheld in compliance with the fifteen minute rule.

The Dutch Heist and the German Find have been covered extensively by The Guardian.  Read more here and here.

The Scotsman, the BBC, The Claims Journal, CNN, the New Yorker and more have all written about various aspects of the theft and trial.  Follow the links for more on this intriguing story.

Update and a second fifteen minutes:  The Ringleader and one of his accomplices have been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.  The ringleader’s mother is also soon to stand trial for her role in the possible destruction of the art.  Hopefully, she will see a similar sentence.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer family!  Unfortunately, mom’s trial will add another fifteen minutes of fame to this thieving bunch.

 

The sentencing has been covered extensively.  For more go to the following links:

 

The Art Newspaper

The Daily Mail

The Japan News

Breitbart.com

Dw.De

Reuters News Service

Karma’s Little Spanker

 

Pack Animal or Solitary Traveler

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The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.” Washington Allston (from The Painter’s Keys)

Whether or not competition between artists is a good thing is the subject of opinion.  Some believe competition inspires creativity.  Others do not.  Rivalries among artists are not new. Perhaps, it is human nature for some to be competitive.  For artists, it can be a blessing or a curse depending on the individual.

Stories abound of famous rivalries.   The competition between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been fierce, especially on the part of Michelangelo.  According to an article for The Guardian by Jonathan Jones, the competition Michelangleo felt towards Leonardo was so bitter, Leonardo left Italy for France to escape it.  Leonardo strongly felt the need to be removed from the fierce rivalry.

On the other hand, Michelangelo, was reported to have been inspired by the competition he felt for Leonardo, Titian and other great artists.  Martin Gayford revisits the Michelangelo/Leonardo rivalry for The Telegraph.  Gayford states of Michelangelo, “his career was fired, and darkened, by bitter, personal rivalry with other artists.”  Michelangelo was driven by a deep competitive nature.

Much of the art world is geared toward competition.  Juried shows are everywhere and have a long history.  Many artists repeatedly enter multiple juried shows creating for the themes of the shows.  A theme can inspire artistic direction.  Installations and exhibitions are based on the judgment of the installation directors and are also frequently based on specific themes or goals.  Artists find fuel in these directions, as well.

But what of the artist who is not inspired by the Michelangelo competition? What of the artist who prefers the Leonardo escape? This artist may follow a different drummer or no drummer at all.  While the outward push may be to travel with the competitive pack, the lone artist must be true to the personal inner direction.   There is a place for both.  One artist may lead the pack in Italy while the other follows the road to France.  Great art is made in both places.   It is up to the artist to choose.  Michelangelo or Leonardo?  You decide.

Magnetic Obsession

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“Most inner-oriented artists share a common characteristic, a certain quality of obsession.”  Kenneth Coutts-Smith  (from The Painter’s Keys)

Much has been written and will continue to be written about the strange story of Cornelius Gurlitt and the hoard of some 1400 works of priceless art in his Munich apartment.  How much of the art legally belongs to Gurlitt will be sorted out by the German authorities, eventually.  Until that time, the man has finally come out of hiding to speak of his obsession.  Gurlitt has given an extensive interview to Der Spiegel

 Screen shot 2013-11-17 at 6.17.18 PMFor those hoping to make sense of the story of the man, the interview won’t make that happen.  If anything, the interview of Mr. Gurlitt only makes the story stranger.  Gurlitt lived for and with his art and only his art.  He has no friends and very little contact with any relatives.  According to the article, he loves his art as if the works are his children.  He is devastated by the confiscation of his art.  He kept a collection of 25 drawings in a suitcase, taking them out each night at bedtime to gaze at them.  For eighty years, Gurlitt has lived for his art.

What is it about art that can so totally consume a person as it appears to have done with Gurlitt?  Some will say it is a mental health issue.  That apparently occurred to the German authorities.  They sent a social worker to Gurlitt’s apartment to speak to him.  But Gurlitt’s behavior is really no more strange that the behavior of some of the artists whose work is in his collection.

The magnetism of art is a documentable phenomenon.  For some it is visual art.  For others it may be dance or theater, books, poetry or music.  Is Gurlitt any different than the “Mystery Man” who put three roses on the grave of Edgar Allen Poe on the anniversary of his birth every year for over twenty years?  Or of someone who pays 142 million dollars for a single work of art?  The artists themselves, some of them, can be equally obsessive in the creation of the art.  That doesn’t answer the question.  What is it that creates the magnetism?

Magnetism is not something learned in school or in a book.  It can’t be described in scientific terms.  It either happens or it doesn’t.  Some artists have it.  Others don’t.  It does not appear to be related to the skill or lack thereof, of the artist.  If magnetism can’t be learned, is it out of reach to those who are striving for it?  No.  Magnetism comes from the still, small inner voice.  Some may be better at listening than others.  The skill of listening should perhaps be cultivated vigorously.  Will following that inner voice lead to creating the kind of art that results in an obsession like Gurlitt’s?  Who knows!  But it is doubtful it will happen without it.

The Telegraph, CNN and the Daily Mail have more on the Gurlitt case at the links.

For more on Poe’s “Mystery Man” go here.

Colorful Fridays–Berry, Berry Grass Green

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“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barca  (from the paintedprism.blogspot.com)

The perfect green for the leaves of the trees and the grass of the fields has a name that misleads.  Sap green was not made from the sap of trees or leaves or grass.   Berry green would have been a more appropriate name.  More precisely, sap green was made from buckthorn berries and stored in animal bladders.  Why animal bladders?  Beats me!  For some reason, bladders seemed better than jars to these early makers of sap green, perhaps because at the time this green was known as verde de vescica.  (Since my knowledge of animal bladders and what they have to do with paint, is limited, we will move on.)  It is an old paint color and early painters of illuminated manuscripts considered it part of the four primary colors needed in their work.  Red, yellow, blue and green were the primary colors of these artists.  Sap green was the primary green.  Unfortunately, the early sap greens were not lightfast as they are now.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.32.44 PMIf you would like to make your own sap green, the blog, Medieval Whimsies, takes us through the process of identifying the different varieties of buckthorn plants growing in North America, Europe and Asia today.  The writer is planning to make a personal supply of sap green and is gathering berries from different buckthorn shrubs to make a determination as to which shrub’s berries make the best sap greens.  So far step one is all that is posted and we will have to stay tuned to find out what the outcome was.  In the meantime, you’re on your own with the berries but the blog has nice pictures (shown right) of the plant and the various berries to help you identify each.  There is no mention of where to find the animal bladders.  I guess you are on your own with that, too!

 Channeling-winslow-homer.com describes Winslow Homer’s use of Hooker’s green and sap green in his wonderful landscapes.  Homer’s The Blue Boat is featured on the website and is a great example of the lovely green grass that can be made with mixtures of sap green.  Susanart.com claims to have found the perfect “luscious” mix of sap green using Schmincke sap green and Schmincke translucent orange for richgrass and moss.  Gamblin states sap green warms nicely when mixed with Hansa Yellow and cools nicely with any of the blues.

Daniel Smith’s website describes techniques for using sap green’s staining ability in paintings.  Removing sap green from a painting, whether in oil or watercolor, leaves a green stain behind that creates many different wonderful effects.  This staining ability is the main reason sap green is favored in the layers needed for glazes in botanical painting.  Daniel Smith’s description goes on to point out which color mixes will make the best deep shadowy forest greens or the more olive tones of mossy greens.

Sap green is a must have in all paint boxes, especially for landscape painters.  Whether or not you make your own pigment, sap green is essential for wonderful lovely green mixes.  The adventurous may try gathering and boiling down the berries to see what happens.  Since buckthorn is wild and grows profusely, it should be easy to find.  Animal bladders may not be so easy.  Good luck finding them.

Artist Martine L’Etoile, at abstractchannel.com demonstrates a beautiful step-by-step use of sap green in a landscape painting here.

Winsor-Newton demonstrates sap green washes in the following You Tube video.

Moving the Barricades

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“To me, art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risk.”  Mark Rothko (from SusieGadea.com)

Capturing what is in the heart and splattering it all over canvas or paper is what artists do.  Facing what others say about that heart is what happens with every work of art placed into the public arena.  The risk of acceptance or rejection of what’s in the heart, what comes from a place that in most other people is only rarely exposed, is the daily life of an artist.  Some are more able to handle the daily unveiling than others.

For many artists, facing the big “F” word is a major challenge.  Fear!  And with fear comes the tag, “of failure.”  These two big “F” words pack a major punch.  What if no one likes my art?  What if no one wants my art?  Why am I risking my heart if no one wants to see what’s in there?  Maybe its better to just keep it hidden.  That’s the safe thing to do.  Keep it all inside.  Don’t let it out to play.  That way it can’t get hurt.  It stays safe, tucked away deep inside where the outside world can’t get to it.

In her blog, “I paint, I write” Pamela Hodges says, “The little girl wants an A on her paper.  A shiny star on top of the math page for not getting any problems wrong.”  That little girl or boy is inside the heart of us all.  We go into protection mode to shield the child from hurt.  So we erect the barriers.  For people whose life work does not require the continual heart exposure this is no problem.  For the artist, it can be a daily problem.

Dr. Bob Tobin, in his blog, states, “artists show the courage that many of us could only begin to imagine.”  This daily pumping out of what’s inside is a courageous undertaking.  Pamela Hodges states, “Creating takes courage.  Courage to stand out and be seen.  Courage to risk failure, and to risk success.”  To do less is to give in to the big “F” word.  Do we allow that to happen?

No!  The courage to conquer the big “F” comes from the same source as the art.  Courage comes from the heart.  As the art is allowed to flow from the heart, so must the courage.  To open to one, is to open to the other.  Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, it was there all the time.  It just has to be acknowledged and out it comes.  All the Lion lacked was a medal, an award of courage.  Go to the studio and make a medal.  You’ve earned it!  Then stand aside and allow the courage to flow along with the art as you allow the heart to come out from behind the safety barricades, and step into the sun.

Weekend Inspiration–All we are saying…….

This 20- minute lecture by Dr. Gil Dekel is worth a listen.  The feeling at the end is, “How awesome creativity is!”  What is the artist really saying in each and every painting?  Dr. Gekel tells us.