An Artist Unearthed

To disobey a person’s wishes in the event of their death seems an inconsiderate thing to do. I know I’d be pissed if the instructions I left behind were ignored. But in some rare instances it might be wise to respectfully defy the wishes of the deceased. Such is the case of Arthur Pinajian, an Armenian-American artist who died in 1999 and whose body of works were discovered in 2007 in a dilapidated cottage in Bellport, Long Island. With no heirs or loved ones with a vested interest, Arthur Pinajian insisted that after his death his artwork be thrown in the garbage – specifically, dumped into the Brookhaven landfill. His sister, with whom he lived, knew of Arthur’s wish for the works to be discarded but allowed them to languish – paintings, drawings, and notebooks in disorderly piles, under a leaky roof, splotched with mold and mildew. After she died a few years later, two investors, Thomas Schultz and Lawrence Joseph, purchased the property with the intention of renovating it. Little did they know that the angels of fortuity would drop an enormous stash of never before seen art in their laps. Serendipity happens, folks. Believe it.

I feel a bond with this story for two reasons. One is that Pinajian was Armenian, as am I. And when a talented Armenian receives positive attention that makes me happy. The other is that I am an inveterate saver. I can’t bring myself to throw out anything that holds even an iota of value, whether it be sentimental, historical, or practical. I never would have been able to carry out Pinajian’s wishes, and how lucky we are that his discoverers couldn’t do it either. As Thomas Schultz himself explained, “I didn’t want to be the person responsible for throwing a man’s life’s work into a dumpster”.

I was thrilled to see the Pinajian exhibit when I was in East Hampton last week. Howard Shapiro, the curator at Lawrence Fine Art Gallery, was kind enough to let me take a few pictures which I’ve posted here. It’s just a miniscule sample of a breathtakingly versatile artist who, at his best, rides neck and neck alongside Picasso, Gauguin, Kline, Mondrian, and his Armenian brethren Arshile Gorky.

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While Pinajian may not have found his way into the upper echelons of the fine art world, his life and career were not at all misspent. A child of Armenian Genocide survivors, Pinajian grew up in New Jersey and became a self-taught and well-respected cartoonist. He created comic book illustrations during the 1930s and 40s. He won a Bronze Star for valor in World War II, and attended the Art Students League on the G.I. Bill. Pinajian was personally acquainted with his contemporaries, the abstract expressionists who dominated the postwar art scene, and experimented vigorously with style and color. But he was, for whatever reason, unable to break through into Pollock and de Kooning levels of acclaim.

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There is something really bittersweet about this kind of story; an artist toils away in the shadows for decades and can’t get a gallery owner to return his calls, and then after he dies is “discovered”, purely by chance, and galleries clamor to hang his work, some of which is selling for tens of thousands of dollars. My mother owns a Pinajian, a small abstract pastel of gentle colors.

Some good reads on the Arthur Pinajian journey from obscurity to posthumous recognition:

Arthur Pinajian: An art world genius lost, found, and now worth millions

Who Was Arthur Pinajian? Master of Abstraction Discovered

The Pinajian Discovery

Short video on YouTube about Arthur Pinajian

Revealing the Art of Arthur Pinajian, Armenian Weekly

Arthur Pinajian website

and the Facebook page of the Estate Collection of Arthur Pinajian

Chasing Isabel – Gaston Lachaise and his Muse

So fellas, how far would you travel to be with the woman you love? The woman who inspires you? For French-born sculptor Gaston Lachaise the distance was 3,400 miles, though we can presume he would have traveled a lot farther than that for his muse, the person who set afire both his artistic imagination and erotic passions. For an attraction that powerful, a trip across the Atlantic is a mere walk down the block.

She was Isabel Dutaud Nagle, an American woman vacationing in Paris during the early 1900s. Gaston Lachaise was still a young 20 year old art student at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts when he first caught sight of her walking along the Seine. He was instantaneously captivated. There was only one problem; Isabel was married. She was also ten years his senior.

Isabel Nagle photographed in Paris, 1904:

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The son of a skilled woodcarver and cabinetmaker, Gaston Lachaise received training in the decorative arts from the age of 13. Immersed in apprenticeships and a supportive family, Gaston Lachaise was on a solid path to a life of creating art. But then, with a promising career in sculpture ready to break out, Lachaise did the unthinkable. At a time when artists from all over the world came TO Paris, often without a dollar to their name, to study and create and live in the city that was the happening, stimulating hub of vitality for artists during the 1900s  – Gaston Lachaise did the opposite. He made plans to leave Paris and follow Isabel to her home in Boston. On the surface it seemed he was going in the wrong direction. For an up and coming artist in 1904, Paris was the place to be, the heart, the “scene”. But in a choice between hobnobbing with Picasso, Modigliani, and art dealers in Montparnasse, or packing up and relocating to America to be with the woman he loved, Lachaise chose the latter.

But the logistics of such a move were not without snags. In 1903, the year Lachaise turned 21, he was was drafted into the French Army. He served an uneventful 12 months during which he could not see his beloved Isabel. It was also during this time that Isabel had to return to Boston. Her husband was a wealthy businessman who refused to grant her a divorce until their son Edward was grown and enrolled in Harvard. Isabel accepted those conditions. In the meantime, Gaston Lachaise was discharged from the army and, instead of returning to formal study, secured a steady job in the studios of René Lalique where he cast jewelry, modeled vases and other art nouveau objects that were all the rage of the day. Before long he had earned enough money to pay for his passage across the Atlantic plus $60. His girl was waiting for him.

Isabel doing a nice nude twist on the rocks:

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On December 5, 1905, Gaston Lachaise set sail for America. He arrived in Boston one month later and was reunited with his muse. He would never return to France again. Lachaise found work in the atelier of sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson and enjoyed the time he and Isabel were able to spend together. They listened to music, discussed art and books, and attended concerts. When Kitson moved to New York City, to a studio on MacDougal Street, Lachaise followed him. Isabel came soon after. By 1912, Lachaise was assistant to Paul Manship and about to enter the period of formidable personal expression in his own work, driven of course by his enchanting and inspiring muse. Of Isabel he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening.”.

Gaston Lachaise’s figurative sculptures are known for their Junoesque stature and voluptuous dimensions. Certainly Isabel was no skinny waif, but she was not quite the imposing figure of Gaston’s work either. In reality she was only 5’2″ tall and weighed around 110 pounds. But like many artists are inclined to do, Lachaise exaggerated for artistic effect, amplifying the sensuousness, strength, and vigorous force of the human form. This is one of Lachaise’s most famous works of Isabel, “Elevation”, in bronze. A fascinating sculpture that presents a full-figured torso and thick thighs in an active gesture balancing effortlessly on the tiptoes of tiny delicate feet. It looks as if she could lift off and float away, light as a feather.

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It’s hard to miss the influences of Rodin and Maillol. They along with Lachaise exalted the human form to archetypes of potency, energy, and forces of nature. Committed to his vision of “Woman” as he felt it and experienced it through Isabel, Gaston Lachaise remained faithful to his passions and his artistic vocabulary.

This is Gaston Lachaise’s “Floating Figure” at the National Gallery of Australia, also inspired by Isabel. Completed in plaster in 1927, there are seven bronze casts in existence altogether. At first glance we see an almost caricature-like exaggeration. But Lachaise is presenting us with curvaceous lines and shapes, which are inherently womanly and feminine, a disproportionately small head, and a cross-legged seated pose with outstretched arms that communicates a peculiar mixture of control, tranquility, expansiveness. An odd, original, memorable work of modern figurative sculpture:

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1917 was a banner year for Gaston Lachaise. He became a United States citizen, finally married the now-divorced Isabel, and was preparing for his solo show of sculpture and drawing at Stephan Bourgeois Galleries in New York. The next seventeen years brought more exhibitions, commissions, great success and critical acclaim, and the purchase of a summer home in Maine. In retrospect, Lachaise’s infatuation-induced decision to leave Paris for America was a wise one, however impulsive it may have been. His union with Isabel was happily made official, and his career flourished in his adopted homeland. He called America “The New World” and added that “The American soil is fresh. It is fertile. Flowers and fruit of new species will come forth from it to lighten the world.” The old adage about following your heart is exemplified by the journey of Gaston Lachaise.

And then, in 1935, Lachaise’s life and career were cut short by the sudden onset of acute leukemia. He died just months after a triumphant retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel Nagle, who left her previous husband to be with Gaston Lachaise, was now his widow. He had written 567 love letters to her and credited her as his “primary inspiration”. Isabel lived for another 25 years after Gaston’s death.

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An invaluable source of images and information for this post came from the Lachaise Foundation . Definitely check them out to learn more. Also of interest, an old art review from the New York Times

Raphael and the Body Electric

A few days ago I received an email from Sedef Piker, an art history and travel blogger, in which she generously invited me to take part in an online tribute the life and work of  Hasan Niyazi – a fellow art historian and blogger who left us far, far too soon. The “Day for Hasan” would coincide with the birthday of Raphael and consist of original blog postings written for the occasion. Honored that I was even asked to participate, I contemplated what my contribution should be and decided that I would respectfully leave the art historical discourses to the experts and the intimate recollections to those of course who knew Hasan personally. What I can offer instead is the point of view of an artist’s model toward the Renaissance master who so inspired Hasan’s passion.

My world is infused with figure drawing. Yes I have sat for countless portraits and oil paintings. But my years as a professional artist’s model have made clear one incontrovertible truth about the creation of art: drawing is the most vital and essential skill an artist can master. For it is from drawing the human form that all timeless art flows. Raphael’s magnificent paintings and frescoes exist because he was, above all else, a gifted master draftsman. Easily one of the best who ever lived. And when the rules of propriety constrained artists of Raphael’s day from working from nude female models – a taboo practice -Raphael did it anyway. Gotta love him for that.

Day in and day out, I see artists drawing my body, in chalk and charcoal, pen and graphite and conte crayon. Some do it with difficulty, others with facility, aspiring to capture the gestures, lines, volume, movement, and humanity of their life subject. If I could jump in a time machine and travel back to Rome in 1508, I’d bang on Raphael’s studio door and beg to pose for him. And based on accounts of Raphael’s irresistible charms I’d bring a bottle of red wine too ;-)

Hasan regularly expressed his admiration for my work as an artist’s model. He also enjoyed my blogging content which often includes art images with poetry. So for my friend Hasan who I miss very much on 3PipeProblem, Twitter, and warm, joyful notes in my email inbox, here are some Raphael drawings accompanied by excerpts from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing The Body Electric”, for a Museworthy virtual life drawing session:

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

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The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not           ….hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

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The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their
….dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent ….green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,

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The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his
….saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their
….wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the
….crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured,
….native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through ….clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,

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The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the
….listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and
….pause, listen, count.

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There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in
….the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.

Dewing’s Musical Maidens

If we can infer an artist’s interests from his body of work – and I believe we can – then Thomas Dewing, the American Impressionist, was evidently interested in women, music, and “tonalism”. The process of gathering images and material for Music Monday posts have put Dewing on my radar often. Whenever I searched via tags like “music”, “women”, “song’, “violin”, etc,  his elegant, soft-focus, monochromatic compositions of ladies and instruments would fill my laptop screen.

Music, Thomas Dewing, ca. 1895:

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Born in Boston in 1851, Dewing was one of the founding members of “The Ten” – a clique of painters who broke from the Society of American Artists in an act of liberation from the status quo and generally rigid, uninspired standards of the organization. Dewing studied at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris where he learned formal techniques. When he returned to the United States he became a practitioner of “tonalism”, a painting style which employs a dominant hue of color applied for nebulous, moody effect and, in some cases, figures or objects which are somewhat indistinct. If James MacNeill Whistler comes to your mind with that description, you’re totally grasping it. And you get a Museworthy “A” in art history. Whistler was the godfather of tonalism.

Whistler’s famous “art for art’s sake” philosophy was fully embraced by Thomas Dewing. His women are lovely, feminine, delicate . . . objects really. In this work by Dewing, The Lute, 1904, the women are arranged in a visually pleasing composition amidst a gorgeous veil of green. Unlike true art “subjects”, they seem to exist nowhere in particular, have no identity or reason for being. Can-can dancers, prostitutes, peasants, socialites, gypsies, duchesses, housemaids, beggars – Dewing’s women are none of these things. They are simply figures that emerge out of the tonal shroud in a detached world; a misty, amorphous “dreamscape”, serving an aesthetic that would make Whistler proud:

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Here, in The Music Lesson, Dewing’s setting is again vague – a sparse, nonspecific space to emphasize the tonalism technique and his “woman with a musical instrument” motif.

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The Song, 1891. Dewing sure liked green! I don’t blame him. Green is a beautiful color, and these ladies are bathed in it:

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Compare these Dewing works with Vermeer’s scenes of young women practicing music. Surely Dewing was influenced by the great Dutch master. But Vermeer offered social context, perspective, and spatial dimensions. His girls exist in a place and time. And they are unique individuals, their eyes, dress, and postures emanating personality, like in this splendid work. Dewing’s world, in contrast, is ambiguous, uncluttered, indeterminate. Poems presented in a limited palette. Different from Vermeer without a doubt, but both men immortalized an enduring theme: women and music. I’m good with both of those things, no matter who paints them :-)

Young Woman with Violincello, Thomas Dewing:

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Ars Longa Vita Brevis

When I first met Janet Cook, years ago in Mary Beth McKenzie‘s painting class at the National Academy, I was struck by two things; her strawberry blonde hair and her dainty English accent. Then I had a look at her artwork, and I was struck again by her imagination and originality. We have been friends ever since. Over the years I’ve been impressed by Janet’s dedication to figurative art, her tenacity, and her willingness to tackle bold compositions and embellish her paintings with decorative accents like stencils and jewels, or as Janet calls it, “bling”.

Her solo show, “Ars Longa Vita Brevis”, is now on view at Dacia Gallery, and it is thoroughly beguiling. The models – some of the best in the city – command the canvases through a multitude of physical expressions – they gaze, they twist, they extend and fly, they coexist with birds, butterflies, and shimmering fabrics, as joyful players in the colorful, vivid flight of fancy that is Janet’s artistic vision.

This piece is titled “Away”, one of my favorites:

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I am not among the models in this show’s work, but I have posed for Janet many times. You can see some of our past collaborations here and here. I took this picture of Janet at the gallery last Sunday. It was so great to see her and support her. Rock on, Janet! :-)

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At School With Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Hellooooooo!!! Greetings darling Museworthy readers. We are a few more days closer to spring since I last posted here. Ain’t that grand? I thought I saw some crocus bulbs poking out of the ground the other day. :happy dance:

My friend Francisco Malonzo was recently profiled in The Palette Pages with a splendid Q & A interview and magnificent images of his work. One of them is a portrait of yours truly that also appeared in this Museworthy post. More of Francisco’s paintings of me can be seen here and here. He and I have known each other for some time through the National Academy, and I’m delighted that he’s enjoying exposure and success :-)

Here in the Big Apple our newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio is waging a war against charter schools. The whole thing is a shitstorm of local politics that involves the teachers’ union, irate parents, and de Blasio’s personal vendetta against Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools. Lost in the midst of this imbroglio? The children of New York City, who deserve better. I was reminded the other day of an engraving I’d seen once by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Flemish painter and printmaker of the Northern Renaissance period. I found it on the Web. It’s called The Ass in the School, from 1556. The humorous scene depicts a classroom – more like a barn – of unruly children and a teacher about to discipline one with a spanking on his bare butt. A mysterious woman peers from behind a window, and a donkey, aka “the ass”, studies what appears to be sheet music from his perch. The inscription reads something to effect of “the ass goes to school but will never become a horse”.

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Bruegel could have been making a satirical statement about the folly of education, or rather certain aspects of it. Or perhaps a broad comment about human failings and our inherently flawed nature in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. If you enlarge the image and look closely, the faces of the “children” in the drawing don’t appear like true children but more like mini-adults. So Bruegel might be trying to suggest something there. Apart from the hidden commentary, the print is really great, in composition and character. Truthfully, I just wanted to post it because Bill de Blasio kind of looks like a donkey :lol:

Click on this link for a nice gallery of more Bruegel prints. Have a great weekend everyone!

Cézanne and Sensibility

“Women models frighten me”
– Paul Cézanne

Oh Paul don’t be scared! We won’t bite. Well, maybe a little :lol: During a recent visit to the Met with my friend Fred, the topic came up about the lack of posed nudes in the work of Cézanne, the greatly admired “father of modern art”. For me, as a blogging artist’s model, Paul Cézanne has always been a conundrum. His catalog of paintings, while significant and groundbreaking, isn’t exactly a treasure trove of nudes for me to choose from for post discussions. Yes, nudes do appear in Cézanne’s work – abstracted nudes in which the forms are simplified to serve a larger compositional scheme. But the explicit art “nude” as a primary subject was something Cézanne avoided like the plague. In all the art lectures I’ve been privy to, Cézanne is never cited as an exemplar of nude figure painting. The sentiment expressed in the above quote, which was corroborated by his good friend Emile Zola, offers some explanation, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

Sugar Bowl, Pears, and Blue Cup, 1866, by Paul Cézanne:

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An artist’s sensibility and attitudes are central to the work they create, and Cézanne was no exception. The son of a wealthy banker, Cézanne rejected a career in law to devote himself completely to art. An inveterate rural man, Paul Cézanne wore his country bumpkin hat with pride. He was only truly comfortable in the picturesque hills of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, the place where he was born and would die. Though he lived there for several years, Cézanne disliked Paris and preferred to spend as little time there as possible. When he did, he invited some derision from the fashionable Parisian sophisticates with his awkward social manners, southern dialect, and simple clothing. Mary Cassatt attended a dinner party where she observed Cézanne pulling the meat off his pork chop with his fingers. However, she also noted his respectful treatment of others which is rather interesting. “He shows a politeness towards us which no other man here would have shown.” she wrote.

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So I Googled a few book excerpts on the subject of Cézanne and nudes, specifically his aversion to them, and I found some explanations which are not totally unreasonable. First, it seems that Cézanne was genuinely uncomfortable in the presence of nude women. His discomfort stemmed from either his own prudishness or his fear of being sexually tempted. Or most likely a mixture of both. Cézanne was a fairly conservative man, raised by a conservative father, living and working in a generally conservative, rural, provincial town. To that last point, Cézanne also expressed concern that even if he wanted to paint a female nude, he believed he’d have trouble obtaining one in the region. Aix is a lovely place for sure, but it isn’t Paris – a city where an artist could find a willing nude model within five minutes. The local townspeople of Aix might not have taken kindly to Cézanne employing a parade of nude models.

One of Cézanne’s favorite painting subjects, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain overlooking Aix-En-Provence.

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Besides his personal inhibitions and neurotic issues with women, Cézanne’s scarcity of nudes can also be explained in the context of his strong preference for working outdoors. While Cézanne painted many still lifes and portraits of his wife Marie-Hortense and other family members, he still held the belief that studio art could never be superior to art created outdoors, among the ever-changing lights, shadows, reflections, forms and colors of nature. Since a traditional “nude” is a studio work (for obvious reasons) it makes sense that the diehard outdoorsman wasn’t terribly interested.  Perhaps Cézanne had his fill of being cooped up in the studio painting apples and peaches. The beautiful landscape of Provence was a far more compelling enticement, and for an artist who was interested in exploring optical phenomena, nature provides the best material. In fact, Cézanne literally died from his devotion to outdoor painting. On October 15th, 1906 he endured two hours of a rainstorm working at his easel, until he finally succumbed, drenched and freezing. He collapsed on the road where a laundry cart driver found him. Cézanne died a week later from pneumonia and complications from diabetes.

So what about the nudes Cézanne DID paint? He was content to use his old sketches from art school and copies he made from museum visits as his references. With those, and perhaps a bit of “winging it”, an artist of Cézanne’s talents could achieve the nudes he required, without working from life. Anatomical precision and the individuality of the figure were not his main concern. The nudes, as shapes, are part of the landscape. This is his famous 1905 work, The Large Bathers:

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In writing this post I learned a lot about Cézanne, both the artist and the man. And even though he would choose to paint a bowl of grapes over me, I don’t take it personally ;-) Artists are expected to paint what inspires them the most and captures their imagination. No one is obligated to paint classical nudes of course. Actually, I respect Cézanne for being his own man; part beneficiary of a wealthy inheritance, part country yokel, not a lothario, not a publicity-seeker. He rejected the nightclubs, brothels, and cabarets of Paris, and the insufferable snobs of the art elite, and said instead, “Screw that shit. I’m gonna stay here in Aix and pave the way for modern art”.