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Years ago, I was asked to write a screenplay about JMW Turner for Peter O’Toole (who was not going to play Turner). Sadly, the film never happened. It might have been a chance to redress the fact that most films about artists set in the past come badly unstuck when it comes to recreating the actual practice of drawing and painting. Peter Greenaway, in The Draughtsman’s Contract, took trouble to provide authentic 17th-century costumes and architecture, yet the draughtsman’s drawings – central to the plot – are embarrassingly late 20th-century in style. Likewise, Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio indulges in painterly oil-sketching procedures unthinkable in Caravaggio’s time.
When I, and some of my colleagues on the Turner’s House Trust, were consulted by Mike Leigh and his team for the film Mr Turner, we found them already steeped in the artist, his life and times. They were well-read, stimulating to talk to, not really in need of much guidance from us. And watching the finished film was a strange mixture of the comfortably familiar and the utterly strange: Turner and the early 19th century bursting fresh and fully formed from creative minds, quite different from those of art historians and museum curators.
As everyone knows, Leigh is an idiosyncratic director. His methods are inscrutable, he keeps his cards close to his chest. He seems to enter into a mystic pact with his actors who join him in a passionate attempt to get as close to their subject as possible, to identify with characters and events as though they were reliving them not as mere imitators but as incarnations of those people and events. Stanislavsky is only the starting point as far as Leigh’s method is concerned. As for plot, that emerges out of the white heat of this debate.
One of Italy’s most eminent art historians has claimed to have solved a centuries-old mystery after identifying a previously unknown painting in a private collection as a “magnificent” Caravaggio masterpiece.
Mina Gregori, 90, president of the Roberto Longhi foundation of art history studies in Florence and author of several books on the baroque painter, said she was 100% sure she had found the original Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy.
“I have become a connoisseur,” she said. “And I know a Caravaggio when I see one.”
A number of elements had combined to give her complete certainty, she said, that the oil on canvas she was presented with this year was the real thing.
There are several different versions of the Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, and until now the one thought most likely by art historians to be the 1606 original was lying in a private collection in Rome.
German heritage advocates have accused the Russian Orthodox Church of causing irreversible damage to the 14th-century Brick Gothic church of St Catherine at Arnau near Kaliningrad, especially to its frescoes.
“The… iconography of the painting[s] in St Catherine’s Church in Arnau from the 14th century had not yet been thoroughly researched [and they] are irretrievably lost,” wrote Nicole Riedl, an expert in Medieval wall paintings at Hawk University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Germany in her report, after she visited the church in July with a group of activists from the German-based Kuratorium Arnau.
Walter Rix, a German academic who led the trip and is one of the founders of Kuratorium Arnau, which was created in 1992 by German historians, theologians and art experts to save the church and its frescoes, described St Catherine’s in a 2010 report to the Nordic World Heritage Foundation as the second oldest “within the total of the historic realm of the Order of Teutonic Knights”.
The Art Newspaper
The birth of impressionism now has an exact date and time: it was invented at 7.35am on 13 November 1872, according to an astrophysicist who has calculated exactly when Claude Monet painted Impression: Sunrise, his smoky dawn vision of the port of Le Havre.
This makes a nice headline, but history, sadly for journalists, does not work like that. Things never really happen in a neat, packaged way. That’s why the first historian, Herodotus, dedicated so much of his epic book about the wars between Persian and ancient Greece to a digressive discussion about the entire history of the known world: he was trying to get at the complexity of cause and effect.
Art is just as complex as war. When Monet called his intensely atmospheric morning scene Impression: Sunrise he coined a name for this art movement in which French painters dedicated themselves to capturing the fleeting light of never-to-be-repeated moments. But it was not until they had a group exhibition in 1874 that they were recognised as fighting for a common cause. On the other hand, the ideas impressionism was to make notorious, then famous, then revered, were not new at all.
At the heart of impressionism is a desire to paint the immediate, sensual passing scene, in city or country – ideally and mythically – by placing an easel in the open air. John Singer Sargent beautifully captures this ideal in a portrait of Monet at work in the flux of nature, his easel set up amid the balmy elements.
But this idea did not appear like a flash when Monet painted Impression: Sunrise at 7.35am on 13 November 1872. It had evolved over nearly two centuries – at least. Oil sketching in the open air was already common in the 18th century, when it reflected a Newtonian belief in empirical truth and the Romantic pursuit of oneness with nature. The Welsh 18th-century artist Thomas Jones was a particularly bold Georgian proponent of painting in the open air.
Henri Matisse is supposed to have encountered someone who complained that the arm of a woman in one of his portraits was too long. “Madam, you are mistaken,” he replied. “This is not a woman, this is a painting.” She might have replied, “That’s not an argument, that’s attitude.” The painter’s bon mot is what E.H. Gombrich (to whose classic study Art and Illusion I owe the anecdote) called “one of the paradoxes with which modern artists and critics like to tease the long-suffering public.” Such paradoxes can be hard to avoid. Gombrich thought the development of pictorial illusionism—that is, of the European canon of realistic representation—“was stimulated by the dissatisfaction which certain periods of Western civilization felt with images that failed to look convincing.” The statement is itself paradoxical, because it ignores the question of who wants to be convinced by an image. Long before Matisse, the Italian artists of the sixteenth century who came to be known as Mannerists were willing to twist their figures out of proportion, and they did so to create not convincing images, but convincing paintings.
Scissors, paper, pins – these were all it took for Matisse, in the last years of his life, often bedridden and feeling he was living on borrowed time, to create the works that now fill a suite of galleries at Tate Modern. What a joyous and fascinating exhibition this is. I eat it with my eyes and never feel sated.
Ravishing, filled with light and decoration, exuberance and a kind of violence, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is about more than just pleasure. It charts not simply the consummation of the artist’s long career but a kind of self-usurpation. In his last years, Matisse went beyond himself.
As well as the works themselves, there is film footage of the artist and his assistants at work, swatches of the hand-painted papers he used, and a wealth of photographic and other material to broaden our understanding.
When he arrived in Toledo in 1577, the artist Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco, never thought he would stay long. After he had been rejected by King Philip II as a court painter, he sought a lifeline in a city that was then Spain’s religious hub, building up a clientele among its clergy as well as noblemen, particularly for portraits and altarpieces.
But these altarpieces were expensive to produce and El Greco ended up fighting as many as nine separate lawsuits over payments. “He lived here deep in debt and circled by his creditors,” said Fernando Marías, an art historian and the curator of “The Greek of Toledo,” an exhibition that opened last month in the Museum of Santa Cruz here and is being presented as the largest-ever exhibition of the painter’s works.
Still, Spain is paying tribute this year to its adopted son with a multipart commemoration of the least Spanish of its great painters to mark the 400 years since his death, with several exhibitions, mostly held in Toledo but also in Madrid and Valladolid. In total, 125 works by El Greco will be on view in exhibitions across Toledo, in locations ranging from its magnificent cathedral to the private family chapel of Saint Joseph, which had never been opened to the public before. The painter is believed to have completed around 300 works.
New York Times
It is one of the great unfairnesses in life that bad people sometimes produce great art. That is certainly true of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, about whom it is hard to think of anything nice to say. Vain, pugnacious, a rotten father and kind to his mother only because he was terrified of her, Whistler is not the sort of man you relish spending 400-plus pages with. But then you look at his Nocturnes – in which the industrial Thames becomes a serene, shimmering mystery – and you realise you could forgive him almost anything.
Living by the mantra of “art for art’s sake” meant, in Whistler’s case, not withdrawing from the world but hurling himself at it, fists flying. He called his autobiography The Gentle Art of Making Enemies and was careful to follow his own advice. Friends and rivals could reckon on being beaten up by the bantam scrapper, or else find themselves blackballed from their favourite members’ club on his say-so. Keeping a beady eye on his paintings’ prices, he accused anyone who sold or bought too low of personally picking his pocket. No stunt was too crass if it was good for trade: for his Arrangement in White and Yellow show at the Fine Art Society in 1883, visitors were told to arrive wearing cravats, kerchiefs and buttonholes the colour of egg yolk.
Up close and personal, Whistler was even more tiresome, practising the kind of effortful wit that gave young Oscar Wilde dangerous ideas. On one occasion when he accidently shot his host’s dog, Whistler declared: “It was a dog without artistic habits and had placed itself badly in relation to the landscape.” This was delivered in a voice that contemporaries described as “caustic nasal”, interrupted by a laugh like a peacock’s shriek. Then there was his startling streak of white hair, which was not technically his fault, yet still managed to seem like an affectation. Yet despite all this, he was impossible to dismiss. Any writer encountering him found themselves compelled to put him in a book, just to show everyone else what they’d missed. Proust, James, Wells, Du Maurier and WS Gilbert all did their version of the Yankee chancer whose claims of genius teetered between the preposterous and the plausible
Police display Gauguin’s Fruits sur une able ou Nature au Petit Chien and Bonnard’s La femme aux Deux Fauteuils. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
In 1975 a worker at the car firm Fiat went along to an auction of lost property organised by the Italian national railway in Turin.
He paid 45,000 lira (£32 – equivalent to about £300 today) for two paintings that caught his eye – one a still life and one an image of a woman relaxing in her garden.
For almost 40 years, the man – whose name has not been made public – kept the pictures hanging in his kitchen. They accompanied him on his move, post-retirement, to Sicily. At no point until last year, believe Italian police, did he realise quite what a bargain his purchase had been.
Now it has emerged that the paintings are stolen works by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, and the first – a still life dating from 1869 – has an estimated value of between €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m). The second, entitled La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (woman with two armchairs) is believed to be worth around €600,000 (£497,000).
Stolen in London in 1970, reportedly from the widower of a daughter of one of the Marks & Spencer co-founders, they were unveiled on Wednesday to applause at the Italian culture ministry in Rome.
To the contemporary viewer, Paolo Veronese, 1528‑1588, is a conundrum. How can one of the greatest of all painters not be a great artist, too? The answer was inadvertently suggested by one of his most ardent admirers, Henry James: “Never did an artist take a greater delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival,” he wrote. “He was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest pictures in the world.” Happiness is a trait that does not always play well now: we might prefer that Veronese displayed instead a hint of Michelangelo’s terribilità, Leonardo’s intellectual restlessness or Titian’s all-encompassing human sympathy.
To his contemporaries, however, the pomp and celebration to be found in his pictures were not defects but his distinguishing triumphs. Giorgio Vasari, the Florence-centric painter and artist-biographer, was sufficiently impressed by Veronese’s art and status to include the Venice-based painter in his second edition of The Lives of the Artists. He also attracted two near-contemporary biographers. Part of the reasoning behind the National Gallery’s new exhibition of 50 of Veronese’s paintings, the first ever large-scale show of his work here, is to gauge the true level of his merit and to ascertain whether he had depths to match his facility.