Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Wonders (and Turmoil) of The Barnes

In my previous art blog, I described an art collector named Dr. Albert Barnes. (See: "A Most Irascible Art Collector") Prior to Dr. Barnes' death, he set up a foundation to maintain and preserve his art collection.

Dr. Barnes did not like the museum way of exhibiting art. He saw his art collection, horticulture and architecture as a source of education. Therefore, he saw the collection as integral to its location in Merion, PA. (about 5 miles from Philadelphia)

To make sure that all would remain intact, Dr. Barnes set up a foundation. That's how the Barnes' extensive collection of impressionism and post-impressionism arts were treated until recent times.

As it happens, a collection valued at 6 BILLION dollars, is well, real money. Those who, working for the good of the public, decided that it should be open to the public as a museum and have wrested control from Merion, PA. (If you are interested in finding out more about how this control was taken, check out the documentary, "Art of the Steal" )

Below are renderings of the new museum located in Philadelphia. (The Merion, PA. building is above, left)

Besides the Renoir above of the little girl, here are a very small glimpse of the collection including Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani and Cezanne:

A Most Irascible Art Collector

Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was an American chemist who made his fortune by the development of a pharmaceutical; which he sold for 6 million dollars. This fortune enabled him to indulge his passion for buying art.

He had a keen eye for art and business. It was the Depression and many a failed businessman had to sell his art collection. As Barnes said, " specialty was robbing the suckers who had invested all their money in flimsy securities and then had to sell their priceless paintings to keep a roof over their heads."

In time, Barnes would own 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, 141 Renoirs and 44 Picassos. In all, he would amass some 2500 paintings! His collection included artists such as: Degas, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Seurat, and Rousseau.

Barnes had a particular disdain for art historians. He felt that they "stifled self-expression and art appreciation." As a result, in 1923 he opened his home for public viewing of the collection. The public had little understanding of the avant garde art and the critics gave the collection unfavorable reviews.

After that experience, Barnes allowed only limited access to the collection; which resided in his Pennsylvania home. He alone could grant access and he had no qualms about turning down requests from people such as T. S. Eliot and James A. Michener. (and, of course, any art historians or critics).

Before his death, he set up a foundation for his collection. Given his irascible nature, the terms of the Barnes Foundation would prove controversial and even make the news in 2011!

Next Week: The Barnes Foundation Turmoil (and the most beautiful art images.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Manet or Monet - Who's Who?

I was telling a friend about seeing a "Manet" and she said, "Don't you mean Monet?" I can understand the confusion. Two French impressionist painters with similar names, living at the same time who were also personal friends. It can seem confusing, so let's see if we can find the differences that distinguished Manet from Monet.

Since Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was born first, we'll start with him. Manet created the foundations for Impressionism. He walked the line between Realism and Impressionism. He painted directly from models to canvas as Realism required, but as an Impressionist, he worked quickly and completed the painting in one seating. He did not suffer the tedium of waiting for a layer of paint to dry and then adding another layer. No. Instead he applied the exact color directly and, if he didn't like it, he scraped it off and tried again.(Portrait of Berthe Morisot, Impressionist Artist)

By contrast, Claude Monet (1840-1926) was not interested much in the subject or model and preferred to consider the colors of the object. In other words, it wasn't a tree or grass. It was a square of green, a rectangle of blue, or a line of red. Monet would paint the same scene be it his gardens, a church or a stack of hay as changing bits of color.

How to tell whose work it is? If it is painted with dabs of color, you are looking at a Monet. If instead you are looking at models in a loosely painted style, it's a Manet.

Now, try your hand at identifying if the paintings below are Manet or Monet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beautiful Auto Sculptures: The Hood Ornaments

The other night I was watching "Antique Road Show." The show featured a collection of car hood ornaments. Some were really beautiful sculptures made by famous artists such as crystal ones designed by Rene Lalique.

There was a time in manufacturing when something so utilitarian as a hood ornament (They were originally thermometers to track radiator temperatures.)was embellished as part of the culture of beauty.

Here are a few designs from the cars of 1920-30s art deco era with animals and figures of Greek gods and goddesses:

In the 1940-50s, interest was in aviation as shown in these images:

Today, there are still a few luxury cars with hood ornaments, but most cars display only the logo of the manufacturer. Should you decide to have a special hood ornament designed for your car, there is one surviving design company - Louis Lejeune Ltd, England, established 1910.

I imagine it would cost more to make a custom hood ornament than most of today's cars are worth. You could look at it as an investment in the future. After all, some day that ornament may show up on a collectible show and astonish your heirs with its value. While you're thinking that prospect over, here are a few other beautiful hood ornaments:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Haitian Artists: Indomitable Spirits

As the news reported, on January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a catastrophic earthquake followed by 12 days of aftershocks. Destruction was everywhere including several important art galleries and museums.

Perhaps in other countries the loss of valuable art would be very unfortunate, but for Haitians it adds immeasurably to their misery. Art represents not only an important part of national pride, but also a great deal of income for the country. Indeed. For many Haitians, art is their "economic lifeline."

Within 9 months after the disaster, in spite of spates of hunger and impossible living conditions, Haitian artists' creative spirits were flourishing. They were inspired by their experiences of the earthquake.

Shows and exhibits were arranged throughout the United States. These efforts helped to generate income and donations for Haiti. The display of new art so soon after the earthquake also reflected the indomitable spirit of Haitian people. As the artist Duffaut quoted to The Smithsonian magazine, "Haiti will be back."