Archive for the ‘Artist’ Category

Service of Why the Faux When the Real is Right Here?

Monday, January 30th, 2023


Claude Monet: Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I’ve covered this topic from food substitutes to forged paintings over the 15 years I’ve written the blog. A different slant hit me after two conversations on the same day last week. From one friend, who lives in the south: “Cannot help but envy you being near such great artwork.” Another friend grumbled “What’s the point?” after having seen a commercial for Monet’s Garden: The Immersive Experience downtown on Wall Street.

The website describes the experience as follows: “Art enthusiasts will have their moment to surround themselves with moving Monet visuals and curated music to create their own impressionist masterpieces. This is not a class, but an immersive, exploratory painting experience where you will get to reconnect, express and be present.” It was to close the end of January but has been extended for another month.

Anyone who has spent as little as an hour at a major museum anywhere around the world will have noticed students with sketchbook in hand studying and sketching the pictures or sculptures by masters that are in front of them.

So why go downtown to see digital images when you can see original Claude Monet’s in museums such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum? The downtown immersive experience charges $25 for kids, $28 for students and up to $45 per adult. If you live in NYC you need only give a donation of any amount—or pay nothing–to visit the Met. MoMA charges $25 for adults, $18 for seniors, $14 for students and children under 16 are free. Plus you can sign up for free entrance days.

But it’s not a question of money–which I mention for those who thought the Wall Street view of Monet’s work might be inexpensive therefore better than nothing and a way to get people interested in art. It sounds like a gimmick. What could be better than the real thing? A visit to a museum to stand in front of art that a gifted person has created that perhaps you’ve seen in books that is now just a few inches from your face is thrilling.

There had been a similar immersive show focusing on Van Gogh which must have been financially successful or there wouldn’t have been a reprise. Do you think that a painting that moves–or is huge–in a flashy presentation can be better–more insightful–than the original?

Van Gogh’s “Silent Night” at MoMA

Service of Burying the Lead in a Story About Art Recovery

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

Congrats to the New Paltz, N.Y. curator and librarian who located two Ammi Phillips [1788-1865] oil paintings of Dirck D. Wynkoop and his wife, Annatje Eltinge stolen from the local historical society– Historic Huguenot Street–50 years ago. New York Times reporter Vimal Patel wrote a good piece covering how they unearthed the primitive portraits of descendants of first Dutch settlers in the area so the FBI could close the recapture. The buyer didn’t know that the pictures were stolen and they are back at the historical society.

The amateur detectives found the pictures in a Sotheby’s catalog. They had been sold in 2005 for $13,000. Phillips portraits have sold as much as in the early seven figures.

Phillips worked for 50 years and of 2,000 pictures he was thought to have painted, some 400 have been attributed to him. Many 19th century American itinerant primitive portrait artists didn’t sign their work or for other reasons remain anonymous.

But what got me in this story was the auction house’s passive role 17 years ago. I think if not a headline, it should warrant a subhead.

Sotheby’s didn’t appear to perform due diligence when it accepted the portraits. Patel reported: “The couple’s names were on the backs of the paintings. Ms. Johnson said that should have been enough information for the auction house to know the paintings were stolen.” Carol Johnson, one of the successful sleuths, is a librarian at Elting Memorial Library in town.

Patel wrote: “A lack of transparency among auction houses and a desire to protect the privacy of art buyers and sellers create a culture in which art theft can flourish, said Erin Thompson, an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Thompson says auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s argue that art is often sold under sensitive circumstances — the ‘three D’s’ of death, divorce and debt. According to Dr. Thompson, these are the circumstances that the auction houses contend beg for privacy.”

Thompson added that this approach sets the stage for laundering stolen work.

Have you heard of other citizens being instrumental in finding long lost art or objects? Do you think that auction houses should be proactive in vetting the work they sell so as to identify stolen works?

Service of the Story Behind the Picture

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

I love to read captions in museums with nuggets of information beside objects and pictures. It was from such a label by a pair of gloves at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. that I learned, decades ago, that FDR’s father, James Roosevelt I, was considerably older than his mother Sara–26 years in fact. Captions of pictures with no information other than the artist’s name and date irritate me, especially if the picture goes by “Untitled.”

Stories behind pictures, an artist or illustrator are fun to read. James Barron wrote such a piece in The New York Times: “A Model and Her Norman Rockwell Meet Again.”

Charlotte Sorenson, an octogenarian living in Boulder, Colo., was 15 when she posed for a Rockwell illustration “Bright Future for Banking,” that he created in around 1955 for a bank ad. She is in a white cap and gown, front, right, in the photo at the right. The picture was published inside the Saturday Evening Post, not on its cover where his most iconic work appeared. Sorenson recently saw the illustration in a gallery ad because it is for sale–more about that shortly.

His models, regardless of the destination of the work, most often were his Stockbridge, Mass. neighbors. Sorenson told Barron “‘It was quite common to be sitting somewhere or walking somewhere, and he would spot you and in his mind he had some painting that he was thinking of, so he would ask you or send somebody to ask if you would come up to his studio.’” While she posed alone schoolmates surrounded her in the illustration. To name a few she identified “Carrots,” for her red hair and two Normans. She admitted she was disappointed that the art didn’t appear on a cover.

Barron wrote: “Rockwell’s studio on Main Street had a plate-glass window and was nicely situated for people-watching. Sorenson remembers that it was across the street from one important local hub, the drugstore, and next to another, the Western Union office.”

She doesn’t remember much about the sitting. Stephanie Plunkett, the deputy director and chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge said that a studio assistant took photographs of the models in the studio, one-by-one. Rockwell directed the shoots. “He thought of himself as a movie director casting a role,” she said. He gave the models a coke and paid them $5 to $10 for a 20 minute session, reported Barron.

Art critics were not kind to Rockwell in the day, their disdain vividly expressed by the word “treacly.” According to Barron, a Time Magazine critic wrote in 1943 about a series “The Four Freedoms”  that Rockwell “would probably be incapable of portraying a really evil human being, or even a really complex one — perhaps even a real one.”

However period magazine readers loved his work and today his fans pay dearly for originals. “Bright Future for Banking” is for sale for $885,000 at the M.S. Rau gallery in New Orleans. It was in a Rau ad that Sorenson saw it again. Barron quoted prices of other Rockwell originals from $46 and $8.45 million in 2013 to $15.4 million in 2006 and $1.9 million in 2017. Remember that the bank ad picture was not on a cover which is reflected in the price.

I always loved the American scenes and characters Rockwell depicted even though they were of a life far from mine growing up in NYC. The Pollyanna in me delights in happy endings. Life is complicated enough that I don’t feel everything must capture challenges and a sad side.

I enjoyed my visits to the Rockwell Museum in its original spot at Rockwell’s home and studio in midtown Stockbridge as well as in its new much larger location outside of town. Have you been? Do you read captions in museums? Do you have a story about a favorite picture, sculpture or artist? If funds were no issue, is there an artist whose work you’d enjoy buying for your home or office?

Service of Who Vets the Details for a Prince?

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

The characters in this post are Charles, Prince of Wales, a British businessman, James Stunt, and a convicted painting forger Tony Tetro.

Javier Pes covered the incident on artnet.com in “Prince Charles’s Charity Displayed Paintings by Picasso, Dalí, and Monet—Until a Convicted Forger Claimed Them as His Own.” He wrote that Stunt lent “works supposedly by Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dalí to Dumfries House, the historic property in Scotland that is a cause close to the heart of the heir to the British throne.”

Stunt got them back after Tetro announced he’d painted them. He also said that Stunt knew they were fake because he’d ordered them for his home. The faux artist added that “there is no way that these paintings could pass even the lightest scrutiny. The canvases are new, paint is modern, stretcher bars are not correct or period.”

The coverage implied that the Prince should have known better and we don’t know if he’d ever seen the canvases. Pes wrote: “The British royal, who is a former trustee of London’s National Gallery and grew up surrounded by Old Masters, must have been delighted when the flamboyant British businessman James Stunt agreed to lend 17 works.”

Stunt was also on the griddle. Quoting the Daily Mail‘s account and what Stunt said, Pes reported: “ ‘What is the crime of lending them to a stately home, [to] the Prince of Wales and putting them on display for the public to enjoy?’ He stopped short of accepting that he knew they weren’t originals,” added Pes.

Pes wrote: “Tetro, who was found guilty of art forgery involving works by Dalí, Miro, Chagall, and Norman Rockwell in the past, now makes what he calls ’emulations’ of Modern masterworks. Stunt ‘knew with 100 percent certainty that these works were by me,’ Tetro said, a claim that Stunt denies. ‘We discussed the subject of the paintings and many of the particulars. These were decorative paintings that were purposely made by me as decorations for his home.'”

It’s hard to tell who was pulling the wool over whose eyes in this $136 million art scam. Was Stunt trying to gain provenance for fakes he knew were such? Did he really know what he bought from Tetro? Was the Prince of Wales, who was trying to generate funds for a historic Scottish property, taken to the cleaners by Stunt, whom, Pes notes at the end of the article, went bankrupt this summer? Should the Prince’s front people/handlers–or the folks in charge of fundraising for Dumfries House–have done a better job at vetting the background of the theoretically munificent businessman before accepting his offer? Or should the Prince have known better?

Service of Lag Time for Recognition: Are Geniuses Discovered More Quickly Today?

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Fortunate is the artist, writer, scientist, poet or inventor who is recognized and reaps the benefits in his/her lifetime. There are so many who died on the equivalent of Skid Row only to be discovered once they were long gone. Just these few names that fit this tragic situation–Oscar Wilde, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Keats, Johannes Vermeer, Gregor Johann Mendel, Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Van Gogh–make the point.

Swiss-born photographer died recently at 94 and enjoyed a different experience. While his early and some say best work was widely criticized when first seen, it garnered the praise it deserved long before his demise.

In her Wall Street Journal article “Robert Frank, 1924-2019: He Saw America Without Illusions,” Mary Panzer wrote: “Published first in France in 1958 and the following year in New York, ‘The Americans’ was deemed mean and depressing by critics in the U.S. Popular Photography’s editors called it ‘a wart-covered picture of America by a joyless man.’ Reigning photography critic Minor White found it ‘Utterly misleading! A degradation of a nation!’ The book sold less than half the print run of 2,500 copies; the rest were remaindered. Within 10 years, the critical tide had turned, and today the book is considered one of the most influential art publications of the 20th century.”

Panzer reviewed highlights of Frank’s life in her article and concluded: “’The Americans’ remains Robert Frank’s most important legacy, a modest book with 83 photographs that changed the way we see and photograph the world around us.”

It only took a decade for “The Americans” to be reevaluated and admired. So it’s hard to argue that a short life is the reason for a lag in appreciation of seminal work.

Might it be that since the middle of last century tastes and mores changed more quickly than before allowing visionaries to see their work accepted? Do drastically improved communications tools help geniuses in arts and science spread the word to a wide spectrum of people allowing more to “get” what they do? Is there an historic or contemporary person you admire who wasn’t discovered during her/his lifetime or someone who isn’t yet and should be?

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