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Monday, December 10, 2018

Nazi Art Plunder

Painter on His Way to Work, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
Some six or seven years ago, when my daily ruminations were little more the two or three paragraphs in length, I wrote about the nearly 20% of all European art plundered by the Nazi's during WW II. Needless to say, such items were quite general in scope and barely scratched the surface of any efforts too recover such work. I was astounded to read more recently that the unrecovered works, even some seventy years after the end of the war, still numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The search continues along with seemingly endless court battles when stolen works periodically turn up. Such litigation is understandable when the value of these works ranges (depending upon their condition) from nearly worthless to figures in the hundreds of million. Some of them, such as the ones seen here, are simply labeled "priceless."
Portrait of a Man,
Sandro Botticelli
The Painter on His Way to Work (top) by van Gogh is a self-portrait, painted in 1888 and hung in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Magdeburg, Germany, before the war. It was taken by the Nazis in the early part of the conflict and hidden in their secret salt mines' art repository in Stassfurt. While some reports suggest it was destroyed by fire, other sources indicate the artwork survived and might be out there somewhere. This masterpiece is on the Mon-uments Men Foundation's most wanted list. The foundation was set up in 2007 in memory of the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, who have recovered countless works of art stolen during the Second World War. Their story was told in the 2014 film The Monuments Men. Having a similar fate was Portrait of a Man by the Early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (right). Likewise labeled "priceless," this painting also appears on the foundation's most wanted list. The portrait was the most treasured object in the Filangieri Mus-eum in Naples, Italy, until the Nazis got their hands on it. On September 30, 1943, Nazi troops discovered the painting in a villa in Naples, where it was being hidden. As they did with so many exceptional works of art, they wasted no time stealing it. The portrait vanished en route to Germany and its whereabouts remain unknown.

The Russians couldn't cart the room off for safekeeping. The Germans were more resourceful.
For sheer audacity, it would be hard to match the Nazi theft of an entire room from Catherine's Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia. The star attraction of the 18th-century palace was the gold and amber-laden Amber Room (top image, above). It was widely regarded as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World.' Created in the early years of the century for Frederick, King of Prussia, the gilded masterpiece was stolen by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The Russian curators knew it would be impossible to store the room and its contents for safe keeping so they tried to hide it by covering the room in wallpaper. Their feeble efforts were of no avail. The masterpiece was taken by the Nazis to Königsberg Castle in Kaliningrad, which was then part of Prussia. The priceless room is thought to have been destroyed along with the castle in 1945, though some experts believe it was saved and may be stashed away somewhere in Poland. In 2017, three German treasure hunters claimed they had found it hidden in a cave in eastern Germany. The palace was largely destroyed during the war (below), but barring no outrageous expense, the Russians have totally reconstructed the ornate museum including a pale imitation of its once spectacular Amber Room (lower image, above).

The ruins of Catherine's Palace after the war.

A seminal piece by Michelangelo, the Head of the Faun (left) was the old master's first known marble sculpture. The piece is famous for its having won him the patronage of the powerful Florentine leader Lorenzo de' Medici. The sculpture, which is the property of the Bargello Museum in Florence, Italy, was looted in August 1944 by Nazi troops and loaded onto a truck, along with other priceless artworks. Some experts believe the sculpture may have eventually found its way to the Soviet Union, but Michelangelo's first marble artwork remains lost to this day.

Head of the Faun,
1489, Michelangelo

Two of the art-loving Nazi criminals.
Joining Michelangelo on the "most wanted" list is his rival, Raphael di Sanzio and his Portrait of a Young Man (above). This 1514 artwork by the quintessential painter of the High Renaissance is regarded as the most important painting missing since the Second World War. Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man was stolen from the aristocratic Czartoryski family in Kraków, Poland, in 1939. The painting, which had been spirited away by Prince Augustyn Józef Czartoryski (lower image above), was discovered by Gestapo agents working for Hans Frank (second image, above), the Nazi Governor-General of Poland. The portrait ended up in Frank's villa in Neuhaus, Germany, but its whereabouts have been unknown since 1945.

Klimt's work was highly prized by the Nazis.
En Canot , Jean Metzinger
Not all the artworks stolen by the Nazis were admired by the Nazis. In fact, art that was deemed "degenerate" by the Third Reich was looted and either destroyed or sold. This included many modern works of art, such as Jean Metzinger's En Canot (right). The hugely influential Cubist paint-ing, which caused a sensation when it was exhibited in Paris in 1913, was eventually acquired by Berlin's National Gallery. The Nazis confiscated the painting in 1936 and it featured in Hitler's Degenerate Art Ex-hibition in Munich. Since then, En Canot has been missing, likely destroyed. Unlike the paintings and sculptures of many of his contemporaries, Gustav Klimt's works were never labeled 'degenerate' by the Nazi authorities. Still, a number of the Austrian symbolist's canvases were seized by the Third Reich, including the Portrait of Trude Steiner (above, upper image), painted in 1900. The portrait depicts the father of Jenny Steiner (lower image, above), a Jewish collector who fled Austria in 1938. The artwork was confiscated by the Nazis following Steiner's lucky escape and sold to a mysterious buyer in 1941. It's not been seen since. Whether it survived the war is anyone's guess.

Rembrandt's "in house" model, his son, Titus.
Adolph Hitler was a failed artist who fancied himself as a critic and collector. He was planning to create the Führermuseum, a major art gallery in Linz, Austria, which would have displayed the most important treasures stolen by the Third Reich (A model of the proposed museum is seen below). Among the artworks earmarked for the gallery was An Angel with Titus' Features (above) by Rembrandt. The painting depicts the Dutch artist's son and was stolen by the Nazis from a chateau in rural France in 1943. It ended up in a Paris warehouse, awaiting the building of the Führermuseum, which never happened. After that, the trail runs cold and the painting is presumed destroyed, or might very well be languishing in a clandestine collection somewhere.

A model of Adolf Hitler's planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, designed by Roderich Fick based on Hitler's sketches.
Not all the victims of Hitler's wartime art rampage took the theft of their art lying down (often in their graves). The Jewish banker and collector, Hans Rudolf Fürstenberg (below), bought the sculpture titled Sappho from the renowned artist Auguste Rodin sometime in the early part of the 20th century. Fürstenberg fled Germany for France in 1937, and the sculpture was eventually stolen by the Nazi looting agency, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter (ERR). The sculpture was stored in a Paris warehouse for a time, but went astray around 1942. Despite its scale, today, Rodin's marble masterpiece is considered lost forever. Fortunately, Fürstenberg survived the war, having sought refuge in neutral Switzerland. Despite his best efforts, the avid art enthusiast was unable to recover a significant part of his collection.

One would think such a large piece would be simple to find and recover.

Nazi troops gloating over their plunder.

Monday, December 3, 2018

1918 Art

1918 Armistice Night, George Luks
During the past year or two I've covered the development of art, painting in particular, one decade at a time. I realize doing so is an artificial, contrived, and somewhat inaccurate framework from which to understand art from the past, but unless someone comes up with something better, most art historians are stuck with it. On the positive side, such a "scaffolding" may not tell us all we'd like about art, but it does serve as a means in coming to grips with many of the social and political developments of our recent past. Like art, some of what we see is not pretty, but art is an important key to how people of a given era saw and contemplated their current existence.

Art here and over there...
One of the problems in covering art decade by decade arises when discussing the first two decades of any century. It's awkward using the words "nineteen teens," but still worse, I'm at a complete loss as to what to call the first decade. To avoid this problem, I've decided to concentrate on a single year from that era and to make things interesting, the art from exactly one-hundred years ago--1918. I was a little surprised to realize how little art had changed since then. Styles and media have changed, to be sure, but at the same time, artists' approach to creating and the freedom they were only then just encountering, has changed little.

Louis Weirter, Battle of Courcelette.
Frank Schoonover, Doughboys Storming German Trench.
George Bellows, The Germans Arrive.
John Singer Sargent, Gas.
The art of 1918 was almost totally dominated by the war--World War I. From the work of Louis Weirter, and his Battle of Courcelette (upper image), to that of the American social realist, George Luks' 1918 Armistice Night (top), quite overwhelming the continued presence of daily life depictions, there seemed to be little else of major importance happening in the art world, and the real world at the time. The advent of the news photo as seen in Evertt's Spanish Flu Epidemic (below) allowed artists who never came within a thousand miles of the fighting to depict with great accuracy and powerful emotion the battles as well as their sad aftermath.

Spanish Flu Epidemic, 1918-19, Everett. Fifty to one-hundred million died, far more casualty than all the wars of the 20th century combined. 
The Germans Arrive (third image above) by the American social realist George Bellows is a prime example of an artist's use of photos from the front. It was also based on an actual account from the Bryce Commission of a German soldier restraining a young Belgian teenager whose hands had just been severed. This and the other paintings of the time suffered much criticism as critics accused Bellows of taking liberties when capturing on canvas, the horrific scenes of war. One notable detractor was the American artist and author, Joseph Pennell, who argued that because Bellows had never been at the battlefront and therefore had not witnessed at first hand the events he painted, he forfeited the right to paint them. Bellows responded sarcastically that he had not been aware that the great Leonardo da Vinci “...had a ticket of admission to the Last Supper”.

American artist: World War I recruiting poster.
French Farmer: Crashed Aeroplane, John Singer Sargent
The British: Munitions Girls, Stanhope Forbes
Meanwhile, on the home front, a civilian "army" was often depicted doing their part to "defeat the Prussian hoard." During the 20th-century, the phrase, "a nation goes to war," came into widespread use with a meaning far beyond simply sending young men off to a foreign land to fight. In Europe, the continued existence of entire nations was often at stake. The war, as in Sargent's Crashed Aeroplane (second image, above), sometimes came plummeting into the back yard. Such art was seen as uniting a nation in the war effort. Sometimes this theme was subtle as in the lower two images above. Sometimes it was not.

The Boat, Salvador Dali.
Ols Maria, Anders Zorn.
Adele Besson, Auguste Renoir.
Baby (Cradle), Gustav Klimt.
Over the Town, Marc Chagall
1918 and the ghastly war came during an epic era when most of the household names from European art history were still alive and producing the art that made them famous. An 18-year-old Salvador Dali was still toying with Pointillism. He'd yet to discover his knack for the surreal. Others were well past their prime. Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt died in 1918. The French painter, Claude Monet was in his declining years while his friend, Auguste Renoir, died in 1919. The Swedish portrait artist, Anders Zorn died a year later. However the Russian Jewish artist, Marc Chagall lived to be ninety-seven.

An artist transitioning (again).
In August, 1914, when the war in Europe ignited, Pablo Picasso was thirty-three, and by then already famous enough and rich enough to allow him to sit out the war in the relative comfort of his Paris studio, even vacationing periodically in the south of France. 1918 saw him wedded to his first wife, the Russian ballet dancer, Olga Kokhlova, whom he featured in many of his paintings. Her portrait (above) was from 1918. By 1918 Picasso had broken free from his stereotype as a Cubist to return to his more traditional, classical roots as seen in his Harlequins above. The work he did from 1916 to 1924 was among the most baffling in his entire output. The public, his critics, and fellow artists were now familiar with him as the founder of Cubism and indeed of modern art, the painter who was most radical and consistent in casting aside the conventional laws of art and putting new rules in their stead. Mimetic copying of the given world could be seen as superseded. Picasso bewildered the experts and general public alike by returning to a representational art of a monumental, statuesque kind. Picasso's pictures were figural. Wholly in the classical tradition, and in accord with European forms of classicism. 1918 was marked by the coexistence of polar opposites. And yet Picasso's work matched the mood of the age, and pursued his own intentions as an artist.
Matisse and Picasso--two of a kind (almost).
When the First World War began Braque and Derain, Picasso's closest artist friends, were called up. His dealer Kahnweiler, now an abominated German alien who remained in Switzerland for the duration of the war. Braque was wounded at the front. Around April 1906 Picasso met another close friend, Henri Matisse, who was 11 years his senior. The two became lifelong friends as well as rivals and are often compared. One key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted from nature, while Picasso was more inclined to work from imagination. The subjects painted most frequently by both artists were women and still lifes, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully realized interiors. 1918 saw Matisse living the good life on the French Riviera where he painted odalisques, landscapes, and scenes from his second-floor apartment, capturing the iconic essence of Nice.

Bathing Man, 1918, Edvard Munch
The Disquieting Muses,
1916-1918, Giorgio De Chirico
Elsewhere in the art world of 1918, Edvard Munch was paving the way for artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I'm especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s Bathing Man (above)from 1918. Although his paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief. A war often has that effect on people, especially artists and their art. For example, one of the most famous paintings by Georgio De Chirico is his The Disquieting Muses (left), painted in the city of Ferrara, Italy, during World War I. De Chirico considered Ferrara a perfect “metaphysical city,” and used much of the cityscape of Ferrara in the painting. The large castle in the background is the Castello Estense, a medieval fortress in the cen-ter of the city. The three “muses,” in the fore-ground of the painting, are “disquieting” due to the fact that they were the pathway to overcome appearances and allowed the viewer to engage in a discourse with the unknown.

Attempt on Vladimir Lenin's Life, Aug. 30, 1918, M.G. Sokolov. 
Although "all was well" in the United States once the war ended, that was far from the case in Russia where Bolshevism (Communism) was on the rise and the old Romanov aristocracy was in decline. Even before one war ended, another began as the Bolsheviks launched the "October Revolution" (which, ironically, began in November of 1917). It was led by Vladimir Lenin who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land to the peasants, and bread to the workers. The Russian artist, M.G. Sokolov painted an Attempt on Vladimir Lenin's life, Aug. 30, 1918 (above). Lenin survived the incident. He died in 1924. The painting was done some years later.
Series 1, No. 8, 1918, Georgia O'Keeffe
A new art medium.
America in 1918 was a much happier story. The "roaring twenties" were about to dawn. My dad was about to be born (1919); Georgia O'Keeffe (above) was a rising young star in the blazing New York world of art; and moviegoers were paying their nickels and dimes to see Theda Bara in a relatively new art form--motion pictures (albeit of the silent sort). William Fox's Salome (right) lit the silver screen followed in years to come by 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), City Girl (1930) and other equally forgettable silent "classics." Yes, that's the same Hollywood Fox as with Twentieth Century Fox, the Fox Network and any number of other such enterprises bearing his name. Actually, he had little or nothing to do with any of these companies, having lost control of Fox Films when the stock market plunged in 1929.
The Carriage Business, 1918, Grant Wood
painting a dismal transition

Monday, November 26, 2018

Rabbit Art

Rabbit Spread, 1989, Ditz
Every couple months I feature some animal favored by artists, which has some degree of following among collectors. In choosing rabbits, I debated as to whether to wait until what amounts to the international holiday devoted to the long-eared mammal (Easter), or to feature them now. In my mind, at least, Thanksgiving is the holiday more common associated with such creatures. When my mother's kin used to get together each year to celebrate our national day devoted to giving thanks, turkey, and football, the thankful menfolk took the opportunity to go rabbit hunting after the big meal (kids weren't invited). I can only recall once when my dad took me hunting (for squirrels). He said "never again." He complained I talked too much. I presume that, given their prominent ears, rabbits could sense my presence on the prowl even better than squirrels. Let's face it, despite their cute and cuddly appearance as depicted by artists, rabbits are, for both man and beasts, animals of prey.

The rabbit as a gift in courtship, c. 480 BC
18th-century vintage rabbit clipart.
As is often the case, especially for animals fairly low on the food chain, rabbits have a long history with artists. I don't know if cavemen depicted rabbit hunting, but at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, rabbits have had their place in art. The Greeks (and others) saw the prolific breeding bunnies as fertility symbols. The Greek men some-times gave them as romantic gifts to young men and boys who caught their fancy (above). In more recent times, quite apart from any symbolic sexual association, the one artist most responsible for his depictions of rabbits (or hares) was the German painter and etcher, Albrecht Durer. Two examples (below) have inspire imitators now for centuries. Compare them to some of the works by others seen here.

Dürer's watercolor should be seen in the context of his other nature studies, such as his almost equally famous Meadow or his Bird Wings.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Hans Hoffmann, as seen in his A Hare in the Forest (below), from 1585, owes a debt of gratitude to Durer. Born in 1530, the German painter and draftsman was a leading represen-tative of the Dürer Renaissance. He specialized in watercolor and gouache nature studies, many of them copied from or based on Dürer's work. Although I've painted very few rabbits over the years (only one that I can recall), my own Harey (right) dates all the way beck to 1978. I only just now realized how much it bears a startling re-semblance to Durer's model.

      Harey, 1978, Jim Lane.
A Hare in the Forest from a Durer Drawing, 1585, Hans Hoffmann.
During the 19th-century, rabbit art gained greatly in popularity, not because of their breeding habits or as hunter's prey, but through the literary efforts of writers such as English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Carroll's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. Its opening line, "Alice was beginning to grow very tired sitting with her sister by the river bank, . . . until she saw a White Rabbit with a waist coat and a pocket watch!" Quite apart from popularizing Victorian "bunny art" (below), Carrol's ambassador to one of history's greatest examples of literary nonsense has inspired artists, illustrators, and Walt Disney for generations.

Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904, Frederick Morgan. Although having nothing to do with the book, the painting has also come to be known as "Alice in Wonderland."
Disney led the rabbit (or should I say "rabid") art-lovers crusade for much of 20th-century, not just with Alice and the White Rabbit (1951), but we must not forget Carrol's equally famous March Hare (below). Then there's Bambi's friend, Thumper, and the adult oriented Roger Rabbit, (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), though Disney was only one of several players in the production of that $30-million cinematic extravaganza. The 1988 film featured Hollywood idols from the past, both human and animated. Noticeably absent was Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny of Looney Tunes fame.

Disney's rabbit pair, second only to Mickey Mouse in theme part popularity.
Forest Bunny, Marion Rose

No, he's not a cartoon character,
but maybe he should be.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Who Done It

Las Meninas, the Prado version, by Diego Velazquez.
It has long fascinated...even that in the art world today, and for at least a thousand years in the past, the monetary value of art rests not so much on the quality of the work but the name of the artist attached to it. I suppose there is a sort of valid logic to such a rule in that the great masters all did extremely high quality work, their efforts and outcomes well worth a reasonable price (depending upon your definition of "reasonable"). However, today this economic model is long past any definition of reasonable. In its place, the word "ridiculous" comes to mind. In defense of this model, there will always be copyists and their work must be exposed for what it is with prices adjusted accordingly. Complicating this factor is their broad range of competence from easily identifiable trash to works which often confound even the experts.
Two paintings, the giant one unquestionably by Velazquez (top and lower image above) and a smaller version unquestionably by Velazquez or his son-in-law and student, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (upper image).
For example, Diego Velázquez's original portrait of the Infanta Margaret Theresa. surrounded by her maids of honor, is the main attraction in Madrid’s Prado Museum. The artist’s use of mirrors and strange angles has long left the piece wide open to interpretation, causing it to become one of the most famous and studied paintings in the world. However, there is a smaller, similar version of the painting which recently gained notice in Dorset, England causing major disagreements, with ongoing questions as to who painted it. The painting was purchased by British MP William Bankes for his home, Kingston Lacy, where it has hung virtually unnoticed for the past 150 years. There are significant differences between the original and this version, causing experts to question whether it was a first draft by Velázquez, or a subsequent copy. Some notable experts believe the Kingston Lacy version to be a first draft, painted by Velázquez perhaps to be approved by the king. However, most experts maintain that it is a copy by Velázquez's son-in-law and student, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The attribution would substantially alter the painting’s worth, which is presently unknown.
A detective in the "who done it" attribution mysteries.
The key to this questionable evaluative model rests with the art and science of attribution. Chief among the "experts" which support this economic "house of cards" is the art historian. However, such writers and researchers are but one group of a number of others whose technical expertise, advice, and best guesses also provide the underpinning which determines auction prices and, unfortunately, bears far too much influence as to what we consider merely "good" art, and rare collectible masterpieces. The fragile nature of this system is very often born out when these art experts disagree (as in the case of Las Meninas), or new evidence surfaces having to do with attributions. Hundreds of millions can quickly come and go when a work's attribution is even questioned, or newly authenticated.
A museum drawing card on a par with Leonardo's Mona Lisa.
In 2017 art history was made when Leonardo's Salvator Mundi (above) sold for a record-breaking $450-million at Christie’s in New York. The seller was a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev. The buyer was the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. The Saudis were seen to have made a financially sound move, with the picture expected to draw in visitors rivaling those of the Louvre's Mona Lisa. Abu Dhabi has its own Louvre where the painting will be exhibited. However, despite experts previously confirming the da Vinci attribution, various scholars and critics have cast doubts on the painting’s authorship. The painting of Jesus was thought to be one of only twenty known paintings by Leonardo. However, a handful of art historians, da Vinci scholars, and critics have now suggested the piece might actually be the work of the artist’s studio assistant, Bernardino Luini. His work sells for less than $1-million.

Martin Kober and his Michelangelo
Then there is the story of an Italian Renaissance painting owned by a Buffalo resident and its questionable attribution to Michelangelo. While the city of Rome and Vatican recently celebrated the 500th Anniversary of Michelangelo's completion of the Sistine Chapel frescos, a New York State resident is also celebrating Michelangelo and the approaching authentication of a rare 470-year-old painting the owner had stored behind his couch. Italian scholars in several disciplines have compiled a catalog of scientific evidence supporting Martin Kober from and his claim that his 25 by 19-inch wooden panel is an original Michelangelo. The Italian art historian, Antonio Forcellino, sees Kober's painting as being even more beautiful than other versions hanging in Rome and Florence. Infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, along with an unfinished portion near the Madonna’s right knee. Forcellino notes that the unfinished portion proves that the painting could never be a copy of another painting. Forcellino insists, “No patron during the Renaissance would pay for an unfinished copy.” Also, the ownership history, points to the work being done by Michelangelo around 1545 for his friend Vittoria Colonna. The provenance is unbroken. If fully authenticated, the painting could be worth up to $300-million.

Nefertiti, 1400 AD., painted plaster over stone.
Moreover, it's not just works by relatively "recent" artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo which have come under closer scrutiny. With replicas made and exhibited around the world, the Nefertiti bust is one of the most recognizable and beloved archaeological discoveries of all time. Until recently, the original 3,400-year-old bust was believed to have been discovered by Ludwig Borchardt in Egypt in 1912. Now exhibited in Berlin’s Neues Museum (above), the bust of Akhenaten’s wife has always caused controversy. Despite many requests from Egypt, Germany has so far refused to give the treasure back. It draws millions of visitors to the museum each year. However, scandal engulfed the statue when two art historians challenged the history of the artifact. They have argued that the bust could be a fake. While it is possible to carbon date the pigments which have been proven to be ancient Egyptian, the bust itself can’t be accurately dated because it is made of stone covered in plaster. (So what?)

Black and White/Number 6, 1951 by Jackson Pollock.
Red, Black & Silver, 1956,
Jackson Pollock? 
And if you think more recent works are any simpler to authenticate, think again. Jackson Pollock's Red, Black & Silver (left) was painted sometime around 1956. The painting is just 24 by 20 inches and wholly unlike any other by Pollock. Increasing the stakes, the painting is probably Jackson Pollock’s final work. Neither the owner or the artist are alive to see the result of this fierce debate, the outcome of which will determine whether this painting is worth up to $50,000 or several million. In 2001, Jackson Pollock’s Black and White/Number 6, 1951 (above) sold for almost $8 million. in 2017, his Number 17A sold for a staggering $200-million. Therefore it’s little wonder that his mistress, Ruth Kligman, spent a lifetime trying to prove that Red, Black & Silver was a genuine Pollock, gifted to her only weeks before his death. Top authorities have denounced the painting as showing few characteristics of authentic works by Pollock (they're right about that). A panel of experts long ago rejected the painting as a fake. However, the panel was established by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, known for her rivalry with Kligman. Forensic tests now confirm Red, Black & Silver was created in Pollock’s home. Yet, even this has not convinced the scholars.

Instead of resolving disputes, fre-quently, scientific findings only reignited another, pitting traditional ways of determining whether a work is genuine against new technologies. Perhaps art historian William Wallace best sums up the "who done it" quagmire which sometimes surfaces to call into question our whole value system as pertains to fine art master-pieces: "Unfortunately, attribution is seldom a definitive affair. Assigning any work to a master is almost always a matter of waxing and waning scholarly opinion. Pieces tend to fall in and out of favor as opinions change over time."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Autumn Art

Captured Light, Cathy Hillegas--Autumn art in a unique light.
When we think of autumn art, most of us think first of color-laden landscapes, usually rife with yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Sometimes there's a bit of green or blue, thrown in--complementary colors just to break the monotony. Unfortunately, that's just what most such autumn art amounts, to, sheer monotony. Moreover, even though Halloween and Thanks-giving fall during the fall season, they do little or nothing to relieve this monotony. Often, with their trite, stock images, they might be considered the worst offenders along this line.
Autumn, Sorin Apostolescu
For those who have been following my series (this is the final posting), you know I always look for fresh insights into seasonal subjects that all too often tempt artists to fall back on safe (and profitable) images which have been "done to death" by every painter in the phone book and his second cousin. Now I have nothing against landscapes or their dead and dying leaves. I can even tolerate the traditional fall colors (in moderation). What I make no attempt to tolerate is sameness. Five minutes on the Internet inundated by the plethora of leafy paths or streams through the woods are enough to trigger the onset of nausea. Sorin Apostolescu's Autumn (above), though the leaves and colors are somewhat subdued, is a fine example of what I mean. Even the title is tiresome.
Autumn Hawthorn Berries, Ann Mortimer--fall colors, but in pleasant moderation.
First of all, there's a lot more to Autumn art than leafy landscapes. Cathy Hillegas' Captured Light (top) is an autumn still-life. The realm of possibilities for intricate studies of leaves alone opens up a vast area of color and composition that, for some unknown reason, is seldom touched by "autumn artists." Autumn Hawthorn Berries (above), by Ann Mortimer demonstrates the fact that watercolors are an ideal medium for this much-neglected branch of Autumn art. My own contribution to this genre, Final Nesting Place (bottom), is acrylic on Masonite trimmed in such a manner as to "break the frame." The painting is based upon a photo from a chance encounter in our backyard. Originally the painting featured actual dry oak leaves attached in a Postmodern manner to the surface. It's for sale but the buyer will have to supply their own fall foliage.
Autumn art is at its best when it's used as a setting for other content rather than a threadbare decorative motif.
Even some of the most famous painters from the past have fallen prey to the beauty inherent in this time of the year. Above I've chosen the work of Claude Monet (French) and his Autumn At Argenteuil, Autumn Afterglow by John Atkinson Grimshaw (English), and Marlborough Street, Boston, by Childe Hassam (American) as an international representation of what great artists can do with Autumn landscapes without diving into the shallow pool of stereotypical convention. Though the "leaf motif" may be somewhat overwhelming and the subject a bit "Rockwellian," the contemporary painter, Randy Van Beek with his Autumn-Leaves (below), stops short of cornball cliché.

Autumn Leaves, Randy Van Beek
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,
1905, Gustav klimt
It's likely that few artists ever contemplate an Autumn portrait, or if they have, few would be up to the task of painting one. Although the Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt might find the whole idea of an Autumn portrait a bit far-fetched, even amusing, his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (right), from 1905, seems to me to fall into that category. The colors, with their gold leaf base are certainly fall-like. Even his abstract shapes suggest those of leaves all but enveloping his wealthy client. Klimt seems to be suggesting Autumn without falling back on the obligatory leafy landscape. The paint-ing, stolen by the Nazis during the war, sold for $88-million in 2006. They buyer was Op-rah Winfrey.

Autumn Dragon, Ethan Aldridge
There are two other areas of Autumn art people seldom consider, one being fantasy art, such as Autumn Dragon (above), by Ethan Aldridge. Though some might consider Aldridge's art as illustration rather than fine art, it's a dichotomy with which I've never been comfortable. What difference does it make if the art is done for publication or a painting which may (if it's popular) be reproduced using some type of print mechanization?  The other type is Autumn figures. That question never arises with regard to the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha's Four Seasons (below), from 1896. Even though his works (he did several permutations on the "four season" theme) have been reproduced in some quantity both during and after his lifetime (1860-1939), his Art Nouveau figures are among the finest to be found in that style.

Four Seasons, 1896, Alphonse Mucha. The Autumn figure is enlarged.
The error so many painters of Autumn landscape make is in lavishing too much attention and detail upon leaves, trees, and fees (what sells), forgetting that such items make a far better background for their work than as their primary emphasis. Heidi Malott's Soybeans Ready for Harvest (below), is simplicity underscored. Her loose, Impressionist handling of the paint, along with her intricate cloud studies, create a strong beginning. Yet they leave the viewer yearning for some point of interest upon which to focus, even though the work is a welcome relief from what so often is "too much of a good thing."

Soybeans Ready for Harvest, Heidi Malott
Copyright, Jim Lane
Final Nesting Place, 2000, Jim Lane