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

Movie Madness

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 6.27.49 PM

Question what you see.” Rene Magritte

Surrealism followed Dada in the early twentieth century art movements. Where Dada made very little sense to the average viewer, Surrealism created abject confusion. But in the confusion of Surrealism was a kind of understanding. People generally recognized the confusion of dreams. Surrealism gave a name to that confusion. In dream discussions, people could talk with confidence about the “surreal dream” they had last night. Dada made very few inroads into the general population. Surrealism became a household name.

The teachings of Sigmund Freud were slowly gaining in popularity in the time period between World War I and World War II. Analyzing dreams became all the rage. The Paris art scene was home to the new surrealist visual artists and the surrealist poets. Spanish artist, Salvador Dali and Belgian artist Rene Magritte, led the surrealist artists early on and are likely the best known to this day, of the Surrealist Artists. Perhaps the movie industry is responsible for the continued popularity of the Surrealists.

Alfred Hitchcock brought the work of Dali into film and thus into the minds of the general population. The Hitchcock film, Spellbound with Gregory Peck featured a dreamscape sequence designed by Dali. Hitchcock, always on top of popular culture, created a masterpiece based on the trend of dream analysis. Hitchcock’s later film, Veritgo, featured surreal sequences, as well, though not designed by Dali. Veritgo recently surpassed Citizen Kane as the most popular film of all time. (My favorite is still The Birds).

Magritte’s work was less about dreams and more about questioning ways of looking at things. His painting, The Son of Man, owes a more recent surge in popularity to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. Pierce Brosnan and his co-conspirators, dressed as The Son of Man, escape undetected with stolen artwork. Men in bowler hats appear everywhere creating confusion with a bit of whimsy. Flashmobs in the bowler hats have also been trendy, as of late, inspired by the scene in the movie.

Without these movies to highlight the Surrealists, would their work have faded into history in the same way the Dada Movement did? Both movements were difficult to understand by the average person. Dada was just plain madness. Surrealism had the madness of dreams to grasp onto. Movies made the Surrealists’ madness comprehensible. And in the case of Magritte, the madness was light and whimsical, but madness all the same.

For more on the Surrealists:

New York’s Museum of Modern Art has a new exhibit of Rene Magritte’s work. The exhibit is titled, “The Mystery of the Ordinary.” CBS Sunday Morning featured the exhibit’s curator, Anne Umland talking about the exhibit here. The Huffington Post has a feature article on Dali’s dream sequence in Spellbound here.