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  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
  • Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)
    Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)

    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    When British stencil artist Banksy traveled to Los Angeles to work, he came across obscure French filmmaker Thierry Guetta and his badly organized collection of videotapes involving the activities of graffiti artists. Inspired, Banksy assembled them with new footage to create this talked-about documentary, and the result is a mind-boggling and odd film (so strange as to be thought a hoax by some) about outsider artists and the definition of art itself.
  • The Impressionists
    The Impressionists
    A dramatization of the Impressionist movement as seen through the eyes of Claude Monet. Highly entertaining and informative.
  • The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    A very personal and revealing look at the personalities that created Impressionism.

Joan Miró: A Language of His Own

Joan Miró - The Farm. 1921-22 - Oil on canvas - 132 x 147 cm. (52 x 58 in.) The National Gallery of Art - Washington, D.C. (click photo for larger image)Spanish Artist Joan Miró (1893-1983)—discussed elsewhere on What About Art?—was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse, and in 1920 he moved to Paris. Under the influence of Surrealist artists, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line. He was generally thought of as a Surrealist because of his interest in automatism and the use of sexual symbols. But, Miró rejected membership to any artistic movement in the interwar European years. This strong individualistic streak benefited Miró and accommodated his uniqueness well. He also remained deeply connected to his Catalan roots and would eventually split his year between living in France and his homeland.

Miró’s work featured here presents a view of the artist's masia or "family farm," filled with animals, farm implements, plants, and evidence of human activity. Miró explained, "The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything I loved about the country into that canvas - from a huge tree to a tiny snail." The intensity of vision and almost maniacal attention to detail gives the work the quality of a memory reconfigured in a dream, and prefigures his later Surrealist work. Art critic Laura Cummings wrote, "every entity is given its own autonomous space in the picture, separately praised but connected by rhyming shapes," due to the "quasi-cubist space, tilted upright; and presumably because Miró is celebrating the thriving upward growth of home." 

The artist considered this work among his most important, marking a turning point. While reflecting a number of influences, including Catalan folk art, a Romanesque sense of hierarchy where scale reflects importance, and a Cubist vocabulary. 

After completing The Farm, Miró struggled to find a buyer in a Parisian modern art market that preferred Cubism. One dealer suggested cutting it into several smaller paintings for ease of sale. Fortunately, the artist had become friends with the writer Ernest Hemingway, then a struggling unknown, and, after hours of working the two would meet for boxing sessions to unwind. Hemingway was determined to buy The Farm and, after borrowing money and working as a grocery clerk, was able to purchase it. He kept it throughout his life and wrote, "I would not trade it for any picture in the world. It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there.”


Quote of the Day

"The joy of achieving in a landscape a perfect comprehension of a blade of grass.. as beautiful as a tree or a mountain.. What most of all interests me is the calligraphy of the tiles on a roof or that of a tree scanned leaf by leaf, branch by branch.” - Joan Miró


Gertrude Stein: A Self-Styled Genius

Pablo Picasso - Gertrude Stein - 1905-06 - Oil on canvas - 39-3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.3cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkNovelist, poet, and playwright Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was born in Pittsburgh. She moved to Paris in 1903 and would spend the rest of her life in the French capital. Stein hosted a salon in Paris where Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many more artists would meet. Together with her brother Leo, Stein created an impressive art collection. Between 1903 and 1914, the siblings accumulated art by Gauguin, Cézanne, Renoir, Delacroix, and Toulouse-Lautrec, among others. (You can read more about each of these artists on What About Art?)

Gertrude and Leo would split their collection after they ceased living together, but Gertrude’s reputation in the art world only grew. At the time, art critic Henry McBride wrote that Gertrude “collected geniuses rather than masterpieces. She recognized them a long way off.” Stein was especially appreciative of Pablo Picasso’s work—although she didn’t take to it right from the start. He painted her portrait in 1906—now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and she continued to support his work when it transitioned to Cubism.

Stein was known as a genius in her own right for her own literary work, although her only book to reach a wide public was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which was actually Stein’s own autobiography. 

Stein’s importance in the art world cannot be underestimated. Her support of early modern artists helped the careers of many artists who are now considered modern masters. Not at all humble in her estimation of herself, Stein observed, “Einstein was the creative philosophic mind of the century, and I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” 

For Picasso, Stein’s early patronage and friendship was critical to his success. He painted this portrait of her between 1905 and 1906 at the end of his so-called "Rose Period." Her body is reduced to simple masses—a foreshadowing of his adoption of Cubism—and portrays her face almost like a mask with heavy lidded eyes, reflecting his recent encounter with Iberian sculpture.


Daniele Da Volterra: A Michelangesque Mannerist

Daniele da Volterra - Michelangelo Buonaroti - c. 1544 - Oil on wood - 34 3/4 x 25 1/4 in. (88.3 x 64.1 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkOne of the works featured here has only recently been identified as the work of Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566) Michelangelo’s faithful follower and the author of a bronze bust of the great Florentine artist. Indeed, an inventory drawn up after Daniele's death lists "a portrait of Michelangelo on panel." It was probably painted about 1545, when Michelangelo would have been seventy. It was the source for numerous copies. The portrait looks unfinished, but Daniele has fully described the sculptor's features and his left hand, almost as though recalling Michelangelo's notion that, "It is necessary to keep one's compass in one's eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges.”

Daniele da Volterra - Bust of Michelangelo - Bronze, black patina, on black marble plinth - height: 13.8 in. (35 cm) - Musée du Louvre, Paris (click photo for larger image)Daniele da Volterra was a Mannerist painter and sculptor who probably first studied in Siena. Sometime after 1535 he moved to Rome. While there, he became a pupil and close friend of Michelangelo. He painted significant a fresco frieze in the Massimi Palace depicting the story of Fabius Maximus. That same year he painted his most famous work, the Descent from the Cross, in the Orsini Chapel of the church of Trinità dei Monti in Rome. He also painted Massacre of the Innocents and David Killing Goliath, among others.

In 1559 Pope Paul IV assigned him the task of painting in draperies to cover the nudity of many of the figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. For his performance of this task Daniele earned the nickname Il Braghettone (or Brachettone; “The Breeches Maker”), as well as an undeserved posthumous reputation as a prude.  


Did You Know?

Paul Gauguin, who later went on to influence Matisse and Picasso, had a very rocky friendship with Vincent Van Gogh. Some speculate that this might be because it was Gauguin, not Van Gogh himself, who cut off Vincent’s earlobe. Gauguin was an expert fencer, and while this explanation of the ear-lopping cannot be definitively confirmed, it is widely accepted. It is certainly true that he was a man with a temper—who also happened to be very good with a sword.