Leonard and Nick

A painting of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave by Australian artist Ben Smith titled “The Influence: Leonard Cohen consoles Nick Cave”:

Leonard pours out the wine of blood and the fruit of knowledge (apple of passion?) lies, sliced, before them. This is father and son, master and pupil, and — perhaps — ventriloquist and dummy.

Nick said in a French interview that listening to Leonard taught him that it was okay to sing sad songs:

He is the symbol of my musical independence. I remember these other guys that came to my friend’s house that thought Songs of Love and Hate was too depressing. I’ve realized that this ‘depression’ theory was ridiculous. The sadness of Cohen was inspir[ational], it gave me a lot of energy. I always remember all this when someone says that my records are morbid or depressing.

Leonard has said that he loves Nick Cave’s covers:

I never got over that thrill that someone else has chosen a song and wants to do it. I think Nick Cave’s instinct in choosing that song [“Avalanche”] to cover was very good because that’s just the kind of song that is made to be torn apart and I like the way he tore it apart. I like the way he went out with it.

 Yeah! I’m your man.

(via Dangerous Minds  Thanks, Klaus!)
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (DVD of tribute concert produced by Nick Cave)
Leonard Cohen’s jukebox .


Frank Frazetta’s Boner

Frank Frazetta was heir to a great tradition of book illustration that was dying out when he came on the scene. The pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan, John Carter of Mars — and Robert Howard — Conan the Barbarian — were all graced by the work of J. Allen St. John, himself following such artists as N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

J. Allen St. John, "Warlord of Mars"

In the 1960s there was a brief renaissance for Burroughs and Howard and new paperback editions for Tarzan, Conan, and the rest called for new illustrators. Frank Frazetta answered the call.

Frank Frazetta: "Warlord of Mars"



Frazetta was the premier fantasy illustrator of his day and revisited all of the books once illustrated by J. Allen St. John. He said later that he never read any of them, just drew what he felt like, but certainly Frazetta had seen St. John’s work and, whether he read the books or not, his Princess of Mars is closer to Burroughs’ concept than St. John’s. Burroughs wrote that his characters were naked, St. John always showed Thuvia and the others in modest garb, Frazetta drew them as the author intended. St. John did allow fewer clothes for his Tarzan illustrations, though. Here’s Tarzan prone before Queen La of Opar with her bare-breasted attendants just behind:

Frazetta was very good at drawing naked people. In 1994, Alex Acevedo was buying up all the original Frazetta art that he could get. Frazetta showed him a gouache drawing that was intended only for private perusal. Tarzan, held by two nude young women, is brought before an undressed African queen, La of Opar. The picture is pretty good as heroic erotica, or whatever you call this genre, but when Acevedo first saw it, it was better: Tarzan was sporting an erection.

Acevedo wanted to buy the picture right away. He offered $45000. Frazetta refused — unless he could remove the erect member. Acevedo agreed.

So Tarzan’s grand member has been erased forever. No doubt the world is better off without this smut, though it is interesting that the female pudenda are allowed. I suppose naked ladies are Art but naked men are Nasty. And Huge Erections are completely obscene! Maybe this is a definition: it isn’t pornographic unless it shows erect male organs. This is undoubtedly a reflection of male dominence — women get naked, men maintain their dignity (except for Greek statues with teeny peeny that don’t threaten anyone’s self-esteem). I keep reading in the Sunday supplements that women are taking over — they have the jobs, the university placements, and so on. I am certain that, once they are firmly in control, women will correct this error and male members in all their glory will be sported by the subservient erotic objects that men will become.

[via http://themanwhonevermissed.blogspot.com/ thanks, Bill Wottin!]

Whistler’s Women

James Abbot MacNeill Whistler left the United States in 1855 for Paris to study art. By the time he met Joanna Hiffernan, he had loved and left a woman or two.

Whistler in his studio, 1863

In 1860, artists’ models, especially nude models, were considered in the same class as women stage performers — that is, as semi-prostitutes. Successful models abandoned propriety and and embraced a Bohemian life style as well as their artist lovers. Joanna Hiffernan was a very successful model, appearing in paintings by the pre-Raphaelites Rossetti and Burne-Jones as well as Whistler and Courbet.

Hiffernan had long thick auburn hair and a slender figure well-suited to langorous treatments by the pre-Raphaelites. After she took up living with Whistler, Hiffernan posed for a series of portraits wearing a white dress, simple by standards of the day, that reflected a similar aesthetic. Whistler also took to posing her with Chinese and Japanese props, since he had become much taken by Asian art, especially Japanese prints and Chinese ceramics.

In 1863, Whistler and Hiffernan moved to London. At the end of that year, Whistler’s mother came to join him. She was a strict, religious person and Whistler quickly moved Hiffernan to another house, tidying up the signs of his wicked lifestyle.

“Symphony in White”. Joanna Hiffernan, 1862

Whistler was constantly on the jump, looking for wealthy patrons and lucrative commissions, and he was anxious to be very visible. In 1864, word got around that a Greek shipping magnate had two beautiful, paintable daughters. Whistler, along with other publicity-chasing painters, went to see these girls.

Marie Spartali was very tall, severely beautiful, and very gifted as an artist in her own right. She was painted by many artists of the day. Her sister, Christina, was less gifted and had little of Marie’s sparkling personality. The only major painting of her is Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain.

Joanna Hiffernan had originally posed for the painting, but Whistler painted Christina Spartali instead, to curry father with her wealthy father and garner a fat commission. There was no question of impropriety. Not only did Marie chaperone her younger sister, but Whistler’s mother was on hand, constantly dashing in and out of the studio, offering the young women refreshments. Finished in 1865, the painting was a success and accepted into the Paris Salon, but to Whistler’s dismay, Spartali refused to buy it. Eventually, it was sold to an unknown patron by either Joanna Hiffernan or Gabriel Rossetti, who was trying to market Whistler’s work while the artist himself wandered abroad.

“The Princess from the Land of Porcelain”, 1865. Christina Spartali.

Hiffernan, meanwhile, had done quite a bit of posing for Courbet. Some think that she was the model for his scandalous L’Origine du Monde, though that is hard to determine at this distance, but she certainly posed for other erotic paintings that Courbet was producing at the time. And she had an affair with him. This led to the breakup of her relationship with Whistler in 1867. This did not keep her from looking after Whistler’s “accident” with a chamber maid, a baby boy she took into her care in 1870.

“The Origin of Sleep” by Courbet, 1866. Hiffernan is the model on the right.

Gabriel Rossetti introduced Whistler to his own patron, Frederick Leyland, who had made an enormous amount of money from shipping. Whistler ingratiated himself to the man, claiming that Leyland had introduced him to the concept of naming his paintings after musical compositions — Symphony in White or Nocturne in This or That — even though Whistler had toyed with the notion long before Leyland hove into view. Leyland pretty much supported Rossetti for years and when later voices rose that the man had been fleeced, Whistler replied that without Rossetti “this wealthy person would never have been urged from his busy obscurity.” And, truth be told, that is so: Leyland is remembered not as a shipping magnate, but as a patron of the arts. This memory has a sour edge, as we shall see.

Speke Hall today.

A social lummox, Leyland had married a beautiful, lively woman to handle his non-business life and leased a magnificent, but ridiculous, half-timbered 16th Century house at Speke Hall where she could entertain. Immediately after leasing the place, Leyland began restoration, renovation, and recovery from disaster — three Rs known to anyone who has purchased a fixer-upper. This enterprise would require all the energy he could spare from the business that provided the funding for this folly.

“Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink”, 1874. Mrs. Frances Leyland.

Whistler soon landed a commission to paint Leyland’s portrait (to the chagrin of Rossetti who had been working toward that end) and then to paint one of Leyland’s wife, Frances.

It was during this period that Whistler found time to paint the portrait of his mother, Study in Grey and Black, that is his most easilly recognized work. Anna, who had tried to maintain a frugal household for her son and who wished she had more access to her illegitimate grandchildren, was made to pose when another model did not arrive. The result, which has declined or ascended, according to your point of view, into universal kitsch, was a very controversial picture in its day. The very formal composition and the limited colors made this a painting not easilly accepted by the Art Establishment. Whistler was dead before the painting achieved the iconic status it enjoys today.

“Study in Grey and Black”, 1871. Anna Whistler.

Whistler worked slowly and tended to rework and overpaint his original concepts. Frederick Leyland’s portrait was begun in 1870 but not finished until 1874. Frances Leyland began posing around 1871 but was not always available. Whistler then called on a young model, Maud Franklin, to wear the kimono that was to be featured in Frances Leyland’s portrait. Sometime in 1872, the fifteen-year-old Maud began a liason with Whistler. There were and are imputations against Frances Leyland, but she seems never to have slept with Whistler. On the other hand, he certainly flirted with her sister Elizabeth. He said, and this was probably true, that he proposed marraige to her. Elizabeth declined. Well, all these women, all this activity, Whistler was on fire.

“Arrangement in White and Black”, 1876. Maud Franklin.

Leyland had acquired Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain and meant to hang it in his London dining room where a grand collection of Asian pottery would also be displayed. The architect Thomas Jeckyll was employed to design a new interior. He erected a framework of gilded shelves for the ceramics and lined the walls with ancient — and very expensive — Spanish leather bindings meant for books. The room had large windows with folding shutters and Leyland asked Whistler to choose a proper color for them, one that would not clash with the Princess. Certainly, said Whistler, and moved in.

Peacock Room ceiling.

Over the next while, Whistler painted scenic peacocks on the shutters, peacock feathers on the ceiling, and covered the centuries-old leather walls with blue paint. He threw parties in the room while he was working and submitted all his bills — for gilt, paint, and parties — to Frederick Leyland. When Leyland saw what had been done to his dining room, he was aghast. He first refused to pay Whistler, then offered him a payment in pounds rather than guineas — a calculated insult. Jeckyll, meanwhile, went mad. Some say because of seeing his room destroyed, others that he was already unstable to begin with. (Panoramic view of the Peacock Room here).

The Peacock Room, 1892. The “Princess” at right.

Whistler managed to sneak into the dining room and paint two quarrelling peacocks on the wall, one with silver coins beneath its claws. There are those who claim that this peacock has a ruffled front, like Leyland’s shirts, and that the other bird has a raised feather on its head, reminiscent of the single white lock that Whistler brushed up from his own curly mop. Certainly Whistler promoted the exploited artist concept on his own behalf. Pretty soon though, he was embroiled with the lawsuit that he brought against Ruskin. Whistler won the suit but lost all his money in legal fees. Frederick Leyland presided over Whistler’s bankruptcy.

The Peacock Room with shutters open. The quarreling peacocks at center.

The shutters closed in the Peacock Room.

During the period that followed, Whistler made at least one attempt to lighten his load by jettisoning Maud Franklin. She persevered, however, and followed him onto the continent with their two children in 1879. They maintained a connection of sorts until 1888, when Whistler married Beatrix “Trixie” Godwin, widow of an architect, who had important connections to patrons Whistler might use. Trixie developed cancer and spent much of their married life bed-ridden until her death in 1896.

“Harmony in Red”, 1886. Beatrix Godwin.

Whistler’s mother died in 1881. Joanna Hiffernan and Maud Franklin both married several times, and seem to have escaped the fate of other models of the era: short, unhappy lives.

Whistler had been taken on by the American collector, Charles Freer, who purchased the Princess, and later the Peacock Room where she had been displayed. The room was transported to the United States where it may be viewed today in the Freer Gallery, part of that great complex of American museums in Washington, D.C. that includes the Smithsonian and the National Gallery. Freer handled Whistler’s funeral arrangements in 1903. He uncovered the artist’s face for Maud Franklin, and Joanna Hiffernan, her thick red hair now streaked with white, also came to grieve.

Notes: see especially The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography by Linda Merrill, if you can find it in a library.
Then the Freer Gallery’s sites, especially this one.
Otherwise, google away. There are many sites and a great deal of pretty pictures on line. There are many many shots of the Peacock Room, which is well worth a visit if you are ever in Washington, D.C.
Other paintings and drawings of these women by Whistler and other artists are not hard to find.

Boris Artzybasheff

I just received a belated Christmas present: As I See: The Fantastic World of Boris Artzybasheff. The book collects Artzybasheff’s folios and includes his notes on them. Some of Artzybasheff’s work has appeared here before in the post on The Circus of Doctor Lao which Artzybasheff illustrated, but there’s much much more to say about this man’s work.

click to embiggen

"The Last Fly" from Verotchka's Tales, 1922

Artzybasheff was born in Kharkiv in 1899. He claimed later that he fought with the Ukraine White Army as a machine-gunner and that might be true. At any rate, in 1919, he wound up working in New York for a print company. Soon he began illustrating books and, in 1928, Gay-Neck: The Story of A Pigeon won the Newbery Award.

click to embiggen

"The Goose and the Golden Eggs",Aesop's Fables, 1933

After 1940, Artzybasheff ceased book illustration and concentrated on commercial work: posters, advertisements, and 200 or so covers for Time magazine.

Anthropomorphized chassis, circa 1951

Artzybasheff’s anthropomorphized machines have attracted a great deal of interest over the years but his portraits, satiric and political drawings are well worth study. Boris Artzybasheff died 1964.

"Stalin", painting for Time Man of the Year 1942 (printed January, 1943)

Mechanix Illustrated article 1952

click to embiggen

"Plowman, plowman, what of thy hands?" Diablerie, circa 1949

click to embiggen

"We are getting to the bottom of it", Neurotica, circa 1952


Shell oil ad, 1953

For more Artzybasheff:

B/W book illustration: wiki
Machines: a series of posts by lord_k at dieselpunks.org: 1, 2, 3, 4
Time covers: via Google, Dieselpunks album
War: themafucage gallery
Neurotica: complete folio
American Art Archives

Goya: Senora Sabasa y Garcia

Sometime around 1806 Goya painted the portrait of the niece of Spain’s foreign minister, one of his patrons. Goya had been painting the royal family and other nobility but now had stepped down a social notch in his paintings. But, high or low, Goya painted his subjects with such biting precision that we feel now that we know the most salient points of their personalities. The Senora’s portrait is no different in this regard.

Goya in about 1795. He Sees you. Do you really want him to paint you?

Goya was sixty years old, a very seasoned artist. He was totally deaf from an illness a decade before. According to anecdote, he was painting the Minister when he caught sight of  his sixteen-year-old niece and asked to paint her because of her beauty. Perhaps. And perhaps this was just a bid to grease a favored patron. Goya had been around the block.

Francisca, or Sabasa as she preferred, was sixteen and recently married. She holds her head high, conscious of her position, yet there is something tenative and apprehensive in her expression. Perhaps this is the insecurity of her youth. Perhaps she has glimpsed the future as Napoleon’s invading army sends her class into disarray. Even so she is proud to show her face — veils now gone out of fashion in Spain — even as she maintains a mantilla, a gesture toward past propriety and, perhaps, a refuge should events turn reactionary.

click to make much bigger

Senora Sabasa y Garcia

I saw this painting in the National Gallery in Washington about 1964 and it knocked me out. It isn’t that I care so much for Sabasa — I suspect we would each have been contemptuous of the other’s position in society and perhaps of each other as people — but Goya brings us together.  I was trying to learn to paint then and Goya’s portraits fascinated me. He laid down a ground of raw siena or raw umber —  red and yellow pigments made of dirt — then quickly and precisely stroked in the portrait using more earth colors and a few touchs of brilliant hues. The Senora’s lips are (as I recall) alizarin crimson, a transparent scarlet. That doesn’t show up well in the Net reproductions but you can still see that Goya accomplished the mouth in a few direct brushstrokes. Whip, whip, whip: there it is. Goya didn’t like to overwork his paintings; all was spontaneous. This still staggers me — the brilliant confidence to slap on the paint that way. Then, I studied the effect thinking somehow that if I understood the brushstroke, I could repeat it. I am older now than Goya was when he painted this portrait and I know better.

Art and Arms

Sometime during the night of December 25, 1980, thieves broke into the Argentine Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires and stole sixteen Impressionist paintings and some Chinese art works. The sixteen drawings and paintings were part of the Santamarina Collection assembled by a wealthy Argentine family between 1890 and 1930. In 1974, the Santamarinas began selling off the collection through Sotheby’s and there was a great uproar about national treasures being removed and so on. So the widow of Antonio Santamarina gave the remainder of the collection to the nation. These were the pictures that were stolen.

This was during Argentina’s Dirty War when thousands of Argentineans were “disappeared” and murdered, when children of people tortured to death were given away to government supporters, when the police had a concentration camp in the Buenos Aires suburbs. Probably no one was too surprised when it was suggested that minions of the ruling junta had stolen the pictures. These military officers had long since shown that they were willing to peddle national pride to any buyer. Some had reported seeing a green Ford Falcon death car — the favored vehicle of the secret police — parked outside the museum that night.

US President Carter had helped impose an arms embargo on Argentina and, if there’s one thing a military junta requires, it’s arms. Ronald Reagan would reverse that policy, but he was not yet inaugurated at the time of the theft. One of the few places that was willing to sell arms to Argentina in 1980 was Taiwan, so perhaps it is not too surprising that when the paintings resurfaced, there as a Taiwanese connection.

Museum of Fine Arts, Burnos Aires (copyright maq202)

In 2001, a Texas woman named Gabriella Williams who claimed to represent a charity organization approached Sotheby’s in London requesting that the auction house give her a valuation on the sixteen pictures stolen in 1980. She said that they were in Taiwan in the hands of another charity, registered in Surinam by wealthy Taiwanese businessman, Arthur Lung. The charities wanted an evaluation so that they could use the artwork as collateral for a line of credit. Sotheby’s  agreed and did a little checking into the background of the charitable organizations involved. They did not look at the Art Loss Register which would have told them that the art was stolen.  Ms. Williams’ charity organization did exist, as did the one in Surinam, so Sotheby’s sent two experts to Taiwan to examine the pictures.

The experts found the Impressionist drawings and paintings to be genuine but their value had suffered since they had been removed from frames and stretchers. Sotheby’s was not asked to examine any Chinese art, not have the stolen Chinese items turned up. Mr. Lung and Ms. Williams were disappointed in the valuation given them by Sotheby’s. They had expected hundreds of millions but were given a much lower valuation: $2 Million. These were secondary works — drawings, sketches, studies — even though by Renoir, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Cezanne, they simply weren’t worth as much as larger paintings. Upon return, the Sotheby’s experts consulted the Art Loss Register and discovered that the pictures were stolen.

Julian Radcliffe

Julian Radcliffe of the Art Loss Register assumed from the start that the charitable organizations were scams, means to raise large sums of money for, perhaps, non-charitable purposes. In January of 2002, he flew to Taiwan to discuss getting the pictures back. He met with Arthur Lung’s brother who immediately assailed him with Britain’s imperial past: You Brits looted China, said Lung, what are you doing being all moral now? Even so, Radcliffe thought he made a little progress. He had only been back in England a few weeks when word came that three of the pictures had turned up in Paris.

A Paris dealer had been approached by a nephew of Lung’s, Yeh Yeo-huan who offered him a Gauguin drawing, a small Renoir oil sketch, and a Cezanne water color. The dealer recognized them as contraband and notified the authorities. The pictures were seized and Lung’s nephew taken into custody. Radcliffe and the Art Loss Register came on the scene to try to use this event as leverage for return of all sixteen works to Argentina. It seemed as though this might happen until Yeh’s lawyer was arrested on a charge of illegal dealings in gold. Immediately, communications with Taiwan shut down.

Gauguin’s <em>Le Cri </em> is rehung at the Museum of Fine Arts

The three pictures were returned to Argentina. Chances are slim that the other thirteen will be seen again. The Chinese artworks seem to have been repatriated, at least as far as Taiwan Chinese are concerned. No Argentine citizens have ever been charged with the theft, unless… In 1983, after the junta’s collapse, some former Argentine police officers robbed a museum in Rosario, taking five paintings including a Goya, a Murillo, and an El Greco. In 1987, they robbed another Rosario museum taking six paintings including works by Titian, Veronese, and another Goya. A sting operation in Miami caught a former Argentine police officer trying to sell Goya’s Doves and Hens. He denied being in on the robbery. Could it be that these thieves first picked up the idea of art theft working for the junta’s black operations and continued on afterwards? Things must be tough for ex-employees of criminal governments.

This article summarizes the case.
For more view The Art of the Heist, season 2: The Disappeared.
The 1983 and ’87 thefts are mention in Thomas Bazely,Crimes of the Art World

Bruegel’s Christmas Paintings

It’s time for a seasonal post! Personally, at Christmastime, I reflect on some of Bruegel’s paintings: The Census At Bethlehem, The Adoration of the Magi, and The Massacre of the Innocents.

Bruegel was born around 1525, probably in Breda, and died in 1569 — a short life for such a great painter. His early work used peasants and their world to illustrate such themes as the Seven Deadly Sins and The Months of the Year — the painting now known as Hunters In The Snowis January from that series. Many of Bruegel’s paintings have been lost over the years and some are known only from etchings or other prints depicting his subject.

Around 1562 Bruegel’s paintings suddenly took on  a new look. He had been influenced to some extent by Bosch and now produced several paintings with a nightmarish quality similar to the earlier master. Mad Meg shows a deranged woman wandering a sort of Hell populated by monsters and demons and The Triumph of Death has an army of skeletons besieging a small group of living humans. The Dance of Death was a common European theme but Bruegel’s representation of Death as an army is unusual. These paintings seem to me either directly influenced by political events or else demonstrate the wonderful qualities of  an artist’s antennae, for Europe was descending into decades of war and horror.

The Netherlands was a loose conglomerate of cities and principalities which was transferred from the Holy Roman Empire to the direct rule of Spain in 1555. The Habsburg Emperor had been relatively tolerant on religious matters, but his son, King Phillip of Spain, was a staunch Catholic who instituted harsh measures against Netherlands Calvinism. By 1559, hangings were commonplace. In 1566 the Dutch people erupted in a fury of iconoclasm, stripping churches of ornamentation. Spain saw this as uprest that required quelling and sent in troops. This begins the Dutch Revolt which later segues into the Thirty Years War — the Dutch ellide the entire series of events into the Eighty Years War.

Bruegel died as the real horror was beginning; he did not see his birth city razed nor the destruction of Antwerp where he lived and painted. Still, he saw enough and there is a tension through the three Christmas paintings that reflects that of 1555 – 1569. There is no telling the exact order in which these paintings were produced, but the Christmas story chronology follows the same escalation of events as in the Netherlands.

The Census at Bethlehem illustrates the account in the second chapter of Luke.

The Census at Bethlehem

Between 1555 and 1559, Spanish authorities re-organized the Netherlands under a governor-general and increased the numbers of dioceses. Whether or not there were such assemblies as the one Bruegel shows in his painting, there was certainly the sense of orders imposed from above. In the painting we see a vast congery of villagers working at their winter trades, children playing on the ice, and a crowd gathered around the door of the Inn where a clerk is processing paper.  At the bottom center there is Joseph leading the donkey that carries his pregnant wife. They, too, are going to the Inn but we know there is no room for them there. Nor is there any notice of them by the great mass of people occupied with their own lives and ignorant of the great event that is to occur in their town.

Continue reading