The Case of the Destitute Granddaughter

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 6.57.01 PM

“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

Pack Animal or Solitary Traveler

Screen shot 2013-11-19 at 10.18.24 PM

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.