Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thirty five years ago, a collector named Dirk Hannema found and purchased this painting because he was "absolutely certain" it was a Van Gogh. However, Hannema had been famously duped by a fake Vermeer, so nobody was going to take his word for it. This week, Le Blute-Fin Mill has finally been added to the canon of nearly nine hundred works of the world's most admired painter.
We all like to second guess the experts. If this is a Van Gogh, it certainly is an unusual one. When I first saw it--in reproduction, mind you; I haven't been to Amsterdam this week--I wasn't sure I liked it. It reminded me of the souvenir art that was commonly painted and peddled near Europe's landmarks.
But then I looked at the people. There's the stout woman in the foreground, painted with the same grays as the mill. There's the man in black descending the steps, possibly a veteran, with downcast gaze and clenched fist. There's the gaily clad woman next to him with a large hat, her dress unseasonably blue, white and green. There are the three figures in scarlet that form an equilateral triangle. I count eighteen people in all, each making a distinct impression upon me.
Next I noticed the spray of yellow foliage on the left, and the graceful branches reaching upwards: still leafed in the middle, but bare on the right. And there are the blades of the windmill, stark against the ivory sky. Somehow all this tells me that the visitors to this architectural attraction on this bleak autumn day are not young.
Van Gogh or no, I like this painting very much.
Le Blute-Fin Mill; 1886. Click on the picture for a closer look.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I scratch my head at the number of vampire stories that appear each year. What else is there to be said about Dracula and his descendents? And yet this chiaroscuro by Edvard Munch catches my eye.
How many dreams are forgotten by morning? How many more are gone by the afternoon? But some dread images hang on for a lifetime.
Artists have long kept track of their nightmares, recording them on paper or canvas. Their gruesome narratives are reenacted while we look on, just as helpless to intervene as we are in our own sleep when unquiet thoughts appall us. Munch grew up haunted by his father's morbid Nordic religiosity. I suspect such piety has been the source of many awakenings in the dark.
Vampyr II by Edvard Munch. The oil painting Munch did of the same subject sold for thirty eight million dollars, but I prefer this print. Click on the picture for a closer look.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Ninety nine years ago today, two boys were born a few miles apart in Illinois. One grew up to be an actor, a governor, and the 40th President of the United States. The other, my father, worked for the Roosevelt administration during the depression and World War II and then became a retailer in Chicago.
I am not a believer in Astrology, and I don't know whether either man fits the profile of an Aquarian. However, I have long been struck by the many personal similarities between them.
Both were handsome, athletic, and tall: six feet one, a great height for their day. Both were good story tellers with gentle, resonant voices that drew in audiences, only rarely resorting to bombast. While neither was a great reader, both trafficked in ideas.
They were humble men, never accused of arrogance. They maintained civil tongues and did not use epithets. They took no delight in deriding their adversaries.
Both were faithful husbands, albeit Reagan was once divorced. Both inspired intense friendship and loyalty among their assoicates. And yet, they were distant and ultimately unknowable. Both were islands.
My father did not live to witness the Reagan presidency. Although he became more conservative in his later years, I doubt that he would have approved. And certainly he would have questioned Reagan's qualifications. He maintained a lifelong interest in public affairs and an admiration for thoughtful, well informed, and diligent leaders. In this regard, Ronald Reagan and Alexander Lavin were not alike: my father's standards were higher.
Ganymede by Bertel Thorvaldsen; marble, 1817. Aquarius, an air sign, is represented by this mythological libation bearer. Click on the picture for a closer look.