Friday, December 18, 2015

Essential Home

Johannes Vermeer, The Little Street, ca 1657-1661, 21 3/8" x 17 3/8" oil on canvas

Oh Goodie!!  A Vermeer painting Ciwt didn't know existed until today! And being (always) a homebody and (now) a city person, she was instantly taken by this naturalistic townscape.  It is a slice of daily, domestic 17th century life in Delft so exquisitely rendered that it captures the poetic beauty of and reverence for everyday life throughout Holland. In its tidy, clean, unadorned simplicity, The Little Street is essentially a portrait of Holland.


In Vermeer's time, the virtuous Dutch home had risen to the level of sanctuary, the seat of the individual soul where all domestic and good citizenship values were modeled and passed on.  Unlike European countries at the time, women's work was highly valued and so was the play of children. Sewing, like spinning was considered an attribute of Biblical origins, and cleanliness, washing and sweeping were associated with spiritual cleanliness and purity.  So too the purity of children who were dressed plainly in frugal, hand-me-down clothes.  All these values and thoughts - and so much more - are rendered easily, naturally and, to Ciwt, with such great love that Vermeer has quietly made his viewer an active participant in The Little Street's silent townscape narrative

This spring, after 320 years, The Little Street will be reunited with the place where it was created. It will be in Museum Prinsenhof Delft from March 25 to July 17, 2016 in case you are planning a trip or live abroad.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Not Buying

Ciwt didn't buy it: Peggy Guggenheim as "a kind of art collector who never existed before."  This was the central idea that launched and united the documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.

Maybe Ciwt has seen too many collectors; virtually all of them become addicts.  Art collecting is addictive.  Also Ciwt can't help but think - just off the top - of the Medicis, the Popes/Catholic Church, Katherine the Great, probably the Pharaohs, the various Emperors of China, and a host of other patron-collectors that existed before and Far surpassed Ms. Guggenheim.

Also the movie supports a certain absence of morality.  For openers, Peggy Guggenheim's atrocious mothering, the constant affairs (This to Ciwt was Guggenheim's true addiction; she labeled herself a nymphomaniac).  The depersonalization, predatory (in her sister's case, murderous) behaviors by virtually everyone we meet in the movie go from there.  Ciwt isn't being a scold, but it seems as if the audience is expected to join the film maker in allowing awe of Guggenheim's alluring riches and high artiness to override common humanity.

You don't learn much in depth about Guggenheim or the myriad of early and mid-20th century artists and advisors who circled around her and she around them (including with most in a carnal sense).  But the movie is a  marvelous 'scrapbook' of these artists and a treasure trove of famous artistic talking heads along with a newly discovered audio of her last interviews.  On that level it is a must see for art lovers of the pre-war avante garde (Duchamp, Tanguy, Magritte, Man Ray, Mondrian, Picasso, the list goes on and on) and the New York School (Pollack, de Kooning, Motherwell, and many more), critics, gallery owners.  They are all there to be seen and heard but not especially understood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day, 2015

Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), The Veteran in a New Field, 1865, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 38 1/8"

To confer honor this Veterans Day, Ciwt can do no better than Winslow Homer and the commentary by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Painted through the summer and fall of 1865, not long after the nation came to grips with Robert E. Lee's surrender and mourned President Lincoln's assassination—both of which occurred during the second week of April—Homer's canvas shows an emblematic farmer who is a Union veteran, as is signified by his discarded jacket and canteen at the lower right. The painting seems to blend several related narratives. Most soldiers had been farmers before the Civil War. This man, who has returned to his field, holds an old-fashioned scythe that evokes the Grim Reaper, recalls the war's harvest of death, and expresses grief upon Lincoln's murder. The redemptive feature is the bountiful wheat—a Northern crop—which could connote the Union's victory. With its dual references to death and life, Homer's iconic composition offers a powerful meditation on America's sacrifices and its potential for recovery.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

GrandPop of Pop

La femme au chat
Fernand Leger (1881-1955), La Femme Au Chat, 1955, o/c, 25 1/2 x 36 1/4"   

My recent romp through a few new tech gadgets put me in mind of the French artist Fernand Leger.  The Impressionists flirted with statements about technology, but Leger was one of, perhaps the first to directly address the human and social effects as well as the scientific understandings that accompanied it.  Along with several other French artists and painting colleagues at the 1910 Salon d' Automne Leger was definitely the first to introduce Cubism to the public eye.  A painting of a woman in blue 2

Over the years Leger's conical and tubular forms with patches of primary colors became more streamlined and figurative with (often playful and humourous) populist images.  So much so that he is now seen as the forerunner of Pop Art.

1  Sold at Christie's London, 18 June, 2007 fetching $2,702,084.
La Femme en Bleu(Woman in Blue), 1912, oil on canvas, 193 x 129.9 cm, Kunstmuseum Basel. Exhibited at the 1912Salon d'Automne, Paris

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Of Course He Doesn't

Someone recently got another of his serial 10 minutes of fame organizing a Renoir protest at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  It was a nothing event except that it has given Ciwt an excuse to revisit Pierre-Auguste Renoir.



3  4 5

To Ciwt's mind any artist who painted these happily colorful, warm, joyfully festive and loving canvases has earned a high place in the history of art.  Because of these works and others which warm her heart every time she encounters them - even in pictures - Ciwt is a fan of Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

But Renoir has many strong detractors who see his work as too sentimental, too pretty, purely decorative.  Or as one Renoir hater in Boston recently put it: The food equivalent of Renoir is a Twinkie.  Fluffy, empty calories that are way too sweet and ultimately bad for you.  Twinkies do not belong in our fine art museum.

Certainly Ciwt disagrees with the "Renoir Sucks at Painting" crowd about the works of Renoir's early maturity. These are the paintings pictures above whose colors Ciwt finds rich and warm rather than thinly pastel like the detractors.  And he painted the people - friends and family members - he genuinely loved enjoying the vibrant freedom and leisure that modernity - with its railroads, visits to the country, boating and bathhouses, had just opened to the lower classes. Renoir had begun as a porcelain painter, so he had and used great skill in the details of his works as well as judiciousness in the amount of purely decorative he allowed them.

But just after completing Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81), Renoir (who had been entirely too poor to travel up until this point) traveled to Italy where he was greatly impressed by the art of the classical old masters, particularly Raphael (1453-1520)Image result for raphael 6.  Compared with them, Renoir felt his style had become too loose and he began to separate himself from the Impressionists and look to the past for inspiration, painting in a tight carefully outlined way:  7.

At this middle point in his career, Ciwt begins to have some sympathy for the 'Renoir haters,' and by the end of his career, when he was painting fleshy, thinly brushed nude women one after another, her sympathy is quite complete.   8

On the other hand, there are coming to be many critics and artists who feel Renoir's late work is his most remarkable with its glorious outpouring of nude figures, beautiful young girls, and lush landscapes.  One of those artists was (Ciwt's love) Matisse who - Ciwt was amazed to read - declared Renoir's final work, The Bathers, "one of the most beautiful works ever painted."  9*

Agree with him or not, Ciwt defers to Matisse's eye for art and is looking again at Renoir's late period.  She also respects the many learned and discriminating art scholars in the nearly 100 years since Renoir's death who have consistently proclaimed Renoir a rich and imaginative genius and the fact that many of these men and women are also revisiting Renoir's late period.  Another way to look at Renoir's place in art history is the way his great-great granddaughter, Genevieve, does:  

1. Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876
2. Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81
3. Dance at Bougival, 1883
4. Jeanne Samary in a Low Necked Dress, 1876
5. Camille and Her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil, 1874
6. Raphael, The Three Graces, 1504-05, oil on canvas, 6.7" x 6.7"
7. The Umbrellas, ca 1885-6
8. Three Bathers, 1895
9. The Bathers, 1918-19

*The evident joy in painting and reverence for old master painters such as Titian and Rubens  displayed in 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Here It Begins (?)

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish 1746-1828), The Shooting of the Third of May, 1808 in Madrid,* 1814, 
Oil on Canvas, 8' 4 3/8" x 11' 3.7/8", Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Ciwt has not personally seen this famous painting by the equally famous Spanish artist, Goya, nor was she aware until recently of the historical circumstances it depicts*.  But The Third of May** (it goes by several titles) transcends its circumstances and is extremely moving even in pictures.  She can only imagine how she would feel if she stood face to face in its nearly 8.5' by 11.5' presence.

(Probably like she felt after writing her Sr. thesis on Picasso's Guernica (1937)from hundreds of images in art history books.  She had 'seen' and written about nearly every inch of the canvas and thought she 'knew' it until she encountered it in all its emotional enormity and outrage at MoMA.  She'd forgotten it was there, and nearly lost her breath when she looked up at its prominent position immediately upon entering MoMA)***

Guernica is absolutely related to The Third of May, 1808 - as an impassioned statement by a great Spanish artist about the abject bestial cruelty of war.  A Modern statement.  Like Guernica, The Third of May is acclaimed as one of the great paintings of all time.  But it stands alone as what many art experts have deemed the first modern painting.

The Third of May toppled many traditional art pillars.  One wonders if Guernica could have been received without The Third of May already being in the world. Goya's painting was not welcomed - might have even been hidden by the King of Spain rather than display a painting that fearlessly depicted the brutality and human suffering of war.  Up until this painting, it was traditional in Spanish painting to depict war as a bloodless affair with little emotional impact.  But here was a painting that, not only displayed blood but dared to mix Christian iconography with 'mere mortals' - common laborers at that.  (The lantern that is the sole source of light in the painting was traditionally associated with Jesus and the removed powers of the Church, and certainly the main figure is a crucifixion symbol - even including a nail hole in his right hand Image result for detail of hand in goya's third of may painting).

Just contemplating this groundbreaking artwork is a lot for Ciwt. So, more soon The Third of May, 1808  and the complex artist who painted it.

*Napoleon had tricked his way into Spain on the pretense of passing throug hin order to engage Portugal.  When he got his French troops across the border, he executed his original plan of occupying Spain and installing his older brother, Joseph, as King of Spain.  On May 2, 21.000 Spaniardsr ose up against the French military, but faced brutal and merciless retaliation the next day.  Goya painted both events within a six month period in 1814.

The Second of May, 1808, o/c, 105" x 132"

** The painting is also known as The Shootings of May 3, The Executions, The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid.

***Guernica was exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition and in 1939 was sent to New York on tour for the benefit of the Spanish Refugee Committee.  When World War II broke out later that year, Picaso requested that it and a number of his other works be held at MoMA on extended loan.  When the war ended, most of the works were returned to Europe, but Picasso asked that Guernica and its preliminary studies be kept by MoMA until 'reestablishment of public liberties.'  It was returned to Spain in 1982 under heavy guard; there is ongoing agitation about where its permanent exhibition home should be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793, 0il on canvas, 65"x52.5" (Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels)

Ciwt has four more episodes of Season Two left in her Ray Donovan binge, so she still has a mind for crime.  Or, in the case of The Death of Marat, murder.

The painting (or its image) is well-known and respected in art circles and beyond for many reasons: its size    Image result for the death of marat original, the quality of the brushwork in the softly painted but indeterminate background.  In contrast the foreground with its striking, horrendous and historically accurate details is deeply dramatic.  The details are all there, painted sparely, rationally.  Painted exceedingly rationally,  we see Marat in his tub, the wounds, the blood, the fatal knife, the letter sent by Charlotte Corday which gained her entry in order to murder him.  The tragedy of the death of this important leader of the French Revolution is made even more poignant by the simple spareness of his homely furnishings and body language that likens him to Michelangelo's Jesus in Pieta Image result for pieta . David clearly makes of Marat a secular martyr at the highest level.

Much more could be said of Death of Marat's technical triumphs; it is a truly great painting by a highly talented artist.  But what interests Ciwt today is its political aspects; first and foremost an image of propaganda promoting the democratic, secular ideals of the Jacobean revolutionaries.  David was a major force in this most zealous and violent overthrowing party. He came to act as its minister of propaganda and was commissioned by the new French Republic to commemorate Marat as a hero of the people's revolution.  As painted it is instantly obvious that Marat was a good, innocent, noble victim of a duplicitous, scheming woman. By extension noble too was all that Marat stood for: the New Republic, publishing, moving power into the rational hands of the democracy and away from the brutal and heedless aristocracy as well as the superstitious Church.

Clearly David, the artist, shows himself in this painting to be deeply engaged in  the principles and ideals of the Revolutionary party. But was he?  This is the question that interests some art historians and Ciwt.  It arises because nearly as soon as the New Republic failed and Napoleon became Emperor of France, David became Napoleon's court painter.  That is, within a matter of a couple of years, David went from being essentially Minister of Propaganda for the Revolutionaries to having that exact same position within Napoleon's Empire.  This is a truly shocking reversal and causes many to question whether David was at heart an artistic and political mercenary aligning himself with whoever was in control at the moment.

Ciwt thinks it is more probable that David was a survivor, and siding with Napoleon was the only way to ensure his life.

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793, oil on canvas, 65 x 50-1/2 inches (Royal Museums of Fin

e Arts 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Humble Collector

More thoughts on art collecting, a huge topic.

You're best off approaching art with humility.  Particularly if you are setting out to be a collector with an eye to investing in art and expecting your investment to grow in value over the years.

Learning about art is fascinating for anybody.  It can be fun, a hobby.  But if you wish to be a collector, educating yourself is a necessity.  And there are many areas of education, all of which are of vital importance.

For openers, there is knowing yourself.  What do you like?  What sings to you?  Knowing and following that is the basis of a truly great art collection.  A collection with soul - yours.

Not a collection comprised of the 'names' of the moment.  Right now in my opinion there is a surfeit of this in the individual museums being opened around the country.  They are essentially ego trips by wealthy businessmen who have relied on consultants to round up art by currently popular and established artists with the result, in my mind, that most collections in these museums have come to be predictable.  There are certain 'names' to be expected, and there they are -Again! if you look at a lot of modern art.  Eli Broad's museum has somewhere around 50 works by Jeff Koons. (You know:   ). That's a buying spree, a show of money, not a great art collection, and you encounter these sprees over and over.  And after a while, if you're like me, you start to feel an emptiness, a soullessness at the core.

But this doesn't happen when you are in the presence of great collections like the Rockefeller Collection of Early American Art or the Mellon Collection that forms the basis of the National Gallery, or the Phillips Collection.  The love, care and education that went into the selection of each individual piece in these and other great collections is palpable.  Also the thought and sensitivity and deep understanding of the art, the artists, the time in art and human history and other factors that went into grouping of the works with each other.

This care is a life's work really.  It is what makes a great collection and great collector, and it comes with humility.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Few Early Thoughts on Collecting

David Teniers the Younger, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery in Brussels, c. 1650

If you wish to collect art, the picture above does not have to be the way your walls look.  In fact, you can buy just one piece, learn from it that you have no interest in collecting and be done.  And that piece can be from an art or craft fair, an artist friend, a rummage sale. It can cost only a few dollars.

However you begin, Ciwt guarantees you that your life will be changed by bringing art into it.  What that change might be is personal.  You might be interested in the period portrayed in the work and begin researching it; you might have enjoyed talking to the artist him or herself and wish to return to their studio and perhaps collect more of their work; you might end up re-arranging or repainting your house because the artwork has influenced your aesthetic. Maybe the artwork you bought portrays a river, and you decide you would like many more artworks centered on a river theme. The possibilities are endless; the transformative capacity of art is as well.  Art can enliven anyone's life; it is not just for wealthy patrons.

Some people just enjoy the art they bring into their lives over time.  Others set out to become Art Collectors, to acquire and amass art so that it will have great future monetary value and status.  This is by necessity a different type of collecting and must be undertaken with education, care, time, some degree of courage and, yes, money.  Ciwt will write in the future about collecting significant (ie, rare and expensive) works, but she wants to be very clear from the outset that collecting is for everyone.

You may not be interested in art.  But in baseball cares, buttons, vintage jewelry, cars.  The range of collections is huge - and often lucrative in the end.  Collections in an of themselves have a certain cachet, interest value and, therefore, often monetary value to people.  One or two pin cushions or canes are fine, but hundreds of them from different eras, with different histories and made of different materials are fascinating and often auction worthy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Flaming Jane

Frederic Leighton, Flaming Jane, 1895  , 47" x 47", oil on canvas

This painting by the English classical painter, Frederic Leighton, is considered his masterpiece, has been widely reproduced in posters and  is beloved by many.  So why did Flaming Jane go unsold for its reserve price at auction in 1960 allowing a London dealer (The Maas Gallery) to acquire it for $140? ($840 in today's dollars)?

For one thing, 1960 (the Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art, Op Art, Color Field Art among other modern movements Era) was not the time to be selling Victorian art.  In view of the demand for Rothko, Kline, Stella, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Pollack et al, there was no demand for a stiff, formal, classically painted nymph/goddess figure.  But also the painting was controversial in the eyes of many in its own right.  The posture was questioned - particularly the positioning and size of the figure's right arm and thigh - as was the reality of the flow of the diaphanous fabric. More damning were the many English critics who called it kitsch.

But the painting's supporters feel the transparent material is very real.  They hail the stunningly rich colors, perfectly recreated marble surround and Leighton's use of natural light, allowing the painting to be lit by the molten gold of the sunset.  In other words, they praise it as embodying "Art for Art's Sake" which was what Leighton and the Pre-Raphaelite school which immediately followed him prized above all.

Possibly Flaming Jane's greatest supporter was Luis A. Ferre, a noted Puerto Rican industrialist, politician and founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce.  On a buying trip to London for his museum in 1962 Ferre encountered her at the Maas Gallery, was immediately smitten and bought her for the unheard of price of $2000 (Today @$9,000).  He had her restored, and she has been hanging in the Museo's permanent collection ever since.  Occasionally she makes visits to places such as the Prado (Madrid), Tate (London) and the Frick (New York where she was for a few weeks this summer). In every case art critical controversy precedes her and continues to grow when she arrives.

So she's not quite the innocently sleeping maiden she appears.  In fact, it has been pointed out that the red flowers on the ledge above her are oleanders which are known to be poisonous, thus suggesting Flaming Jane is a dangerously alluring femme fatale figure.  Other Freudian and Modernist interpretations abound  for those who see her painting as much more than Art for Art's Sake.

Friday, September 25, 2015


"I'm late! I'm late!  For a very important date...,"  said the White Rabbit.  Actually Ciwt has never entirely 'gotten' Alice in Wonderland, and probably would not have paid any attention to the book were it not for the illustrations.  Strange, grotesque many of them.  But memorable, fitting to the text and done by Sir John Tenniel (British 1820-1914).

Tenniel was a prominent (but socially reclusive) English illustrator, graphic humourist and political cartoonist who is best known for being  Punch magazine's political cartoonist and illustrating Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  He was knighted by Queen Victoria for his artistic achievements in 1893.

Contracting with Tenniel was a hard-won achievement by Carroll, one which he may have regretted when the book first came out - in the United States, not England.  Why the U.S.?  Because Tenniel, who was absolutely exacting in his eye, found the first book inferior in its printing standards. When his objections were cleared, a second printing was released in England in 1865 and became an instant best seller.

So, like the White Rabbit, Alice was late, and all of this is on Ciwt's mind because she ended up with numerous events today is feeling quite late herself.  So now, off to hear Marcia Coyle interview Justice Stephen Breyer......

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis (Canadian, 1903-1970), Three Black Cats, oil on board

Since returning from the Getty Center's current show of Hellenistic Bronzes, Ciwt has been researching that era and traveling through the Greek empire, the lives of Alexander the Great, Philip the 1st, Alexander's mother, sister, best friend, Aristotle, and so much more.  Ironically, as she has assimilating the powerful, rich complexity of that ancient era, the simple optimism of North American folk art has called to her.  It's just a nice way to clear her head from all those battles and larger than life people and happenings.

Yesterday, the first day of Autumn this year, she remembered Grandma Moses.  And memories of growing up years vaguely started wafting back: fall in New England where she lived for a while and went to school and college, and even a time when she had seriously considered opening a gallery of folk art back in the Midwest. That would have been right after her post-college New York and Washington, DC years.  But, instead of moving to the middle of the country (and possibly/probably losing her shirt in the art 'business,')* she went West where she has made her life for over 45 years and put folk art very much on the back burner.

Today she discovered Canadian artist Maud Lewis and rediscovered the simple, direct offerings of that type of art.  Often born of - but usually not speaking of - hardships;  hardships overcome, ignored, or somehow turned into joy, inspiration, love.

In Maud Lewis's case, she was born with almost no chin and a tiny body. Feeling uncomfortable with her differences from other children, she spent most of her time at home with her parents and brother in Nova Scotia. It was there  - as a child painting Christmas cards for sale to local neighbors - that her art career began and slowly grew through newspaper and magazine articles and eventually television documentaries until she became the most beloved folk artists in Canada.

Image result for maud lewis house


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Best of Autumn

Anna Mary Robinson 'Grandma' Moses (American 1860-1961), Autumn, Ca 1930's, oil

Especially on this first day of Autumn, 2015, Grandma Moses comes to mind.

Did you have Grandma Moses in your house growing up?  Ciwt did.  We had a set of Grandma Moses plates which Ciwt just Loved eating off of.  The borders were white with the image in the middle, so you didn't know what painting was on the plate until you finished your meal.  To Ciwt, it didn't matter what was uncovered because she loved them all - although maybe the ones with the checkered house best of all.

  Image result for grandma moses checkered house

Image result for grandma moses checkered house Besides capturing it, Grandma Moses - who didn't begin painting until her 67th year - embodied the spirit of Autumn.*

*In 1952, she published My Life's History, her autobiography. In it she said "I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."[