A Vermeer Souvenir

I’m a sucker for museum gift shops. To me they are vastly different from the typical tourist knickknack stand. Why? Because a shot glass with the I <3 NY logo on it isn’t nearly as charming as a shot glass with Matisse’s Blue Nude. Then again, maybe shot glasses aren’t “charming” at all, so let’s ditch the shot glasses and consider the notecards and postcards, ready-to-hang prints, umbrellas, glass paperweights, and tote bags. Art museums are proud of their permanent collections, as they should be, and they happily hawk goodies that bear the images of the mainstay masterpieces which adorn their gallery walls.

The gift shop at the National Gallery of Art was huge! Like a floor in a department store. When I strolled in after viewing the Degas/Cassatt show I thought “I’m gonna be in here for an hour!”. Luckily I kept the time, and my spending, to a minimum. I came out with a bookmark of Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance, one of the National Gallery’s prized possessions. I was genuinely in need of a new bookmark so it’s all good. Here she is already at work holding a place:

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It’s a trivial thought, but I wonder what the great artists would think if they saw their work mass produced in this way .. on bookmarks, baubles, and magnets? How would Degas feel knowing that his Dancers were holding a grocery list on a refrigerator? Or da Vinci if he learned that people were sipping coffee from a  Mona Lisa mug? We’ll never know. The way I see it, if I’m going to use a bookmark, why not glance at a Vermeer when I turn the page? He comes with me as I ride the train and read, and to modeling jobs when I read on my breaks. How I love Vermeer :-)

And here is the full Vermeer painting Woman Holding a Balance, from 1664:

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This is a magnificent painting in so many ways, considered by some to be Vermeer’s best. The woman is most likely Vermeer’s wife Catharina, who was probably the model also for Girl Reading a Letter by an Open WindowOne can clearly see a resemblance between the two. As always with Vermeer, the composition is extraordinary. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal “lines” are organized with geometric brilliance, and they converge at the visual center of the piece which lies at the woman’s hand holding the balance. And since a balance is a weighing and measuring instrument, Vermeer creates a fully realized work consistent with the theme of equilibrium. Also take note of the arrangement of color: two masses of blue in the woman’s jacket and the blue cloth on the table, and small dots of sparkle in the pearls in the open jewelry box.

The intriguing nature of Vermeer’s work takes us deeper when we analyze the subtext of this painting. Art scholars have stressed the significance of the painting in the background. It is a depiction of “The Last Judgment”, and you can bet not some random choice by Vermeer. The artwork page for this work on the National Gallery website offers this interesting assessment:

The woman’s gaze at the balance, when considered in the context of the Last Judgment on the wall behind her, suggests that Vermeer, a Catholic, sought to infuse this work with religious and spiritual significance. Saint Ignatius of Loyola instructed the faithful to examine their consciences and weigh their sins as if facing Judgment Day. Only such deliberation could lead to virtuous choices along the path of life. Poised between the earthly treasures of gold and pearls before her and Last Judgment painting’s stark reminder of the eternal consequences of her actions, this woman personifies the values of materialism and morality that jostled for dominance in 17th-century Dutch society.

Yeah, maybe that is too much to squeeze onto a bookmark! But I don’t care. Vermeer is marking my places as I read, and learn, and embark on journeys both intellectual and spiritual, and reminding me, with his serene and contemplative woman, to seek balance, harmony, and sound values in life.

Explore this painting further at Essential Vermeer

Hand in Hand

Tumblr has become my go-to place these days for discovering and browsing art, photography, and lots of other cool things. It’s a remarkably easy to use microblogging platform and if you follow the right people you can really enjoy yourself passing the time. My Tumblr page is “Meanderings”.

I happened upon this image of an Edouard Vuillard painting that caught my eye. It’s titled Seated Woman with Joined Hands, from the year 1916. I really like what Vuillard did here in terms of his palette, composition, and capturing of the subject’s presence. I tried to find out the identity of the sitter, as Vuillard used mostly friends and family members as his models. It’s very possible that this woman is his longtime mistress Lucy Hessel, but I can’t say with certainty. This is Lucy here. What do you think?

Vuillard

There is another reason why I studied this painting for a while; the clasped hands. In my earlier years as an art model I avoided putting my hands together, folded-style, for poses. Why? For one thing, I was so busy showing off my entire body and trying to be “exciting” that stodgy, old-fashioned hand-folding just wasn’t in the cards. It’s stupid, I know. Also, part of me just doesn’t like the gesture all that much. From a body language standpoint it can come across as stiff and guarded, putting up a “barrier” if you will. I also reasoned that since human hands are so expressive it seemed a shame to knot them together and hide the fingers. My paternal grandmother is seated with folded hands in almost every old family photo and I’ve never liked it. Just reminds me of her somewhat stern and less than warm personality.

But Vuillard’s depiction here works very well. The woman’s arm is leaning on the leg, like one would sit if casually talking. And if you zoom in to view the hands up close you can see that Vuillard used just a mess of short brushstrokes in darks and lights. Very nice. And by the way, you’ll all be happy to know that I have expanded my posing repertoire since the early days, so I do fold my hands now, albeit in small doses ;)

Some other artworks with folded hands. Compare and contrast these with Vuillard’s.

Girl With Folded Hands, Wilhelm Trubner, 1878:

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Frans Hals, Portrait of a Middle-Aged Woman with Hands Folded, circa 1640:

(c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Augustus Leopold Egg, A Girl with Clasped Hands 

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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

A Brief Interlude

Hey gang. I’m gonna hit the beach in East Hampton for just a couple of days. It’s a short getaway but a welcome one. As long as the weather cooperates I’m ready to don my bikini and feel warm sand between my toes. I’ll be back very soon, and there’s plenty of blogging to come!

I was going to post a beachy, summery art image, but today was Rembrandt’s birthday so I’m going to honor him instead. Here’s one from the master, Woman in a Doorway, year 1657. Cheers everyone :-)

Rembrandt

Models Front and Center

~ Be still my heart ~ Can it be? Is it real? A museum exhibition devoted to artists’ models? Why yes, yes it is! Hallelujah! :happy dance:

The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian has organized “Artists and Their Models”, a collection of photographs, letters, journals, and drawings exploring the professional experiences and interactions between models and artists over many decades. From the exhibition page, one passage jumped out at me: ” Models are too often given short shrift in art history, their names and stories left unknown unless their fame came by way of scandal.”. How true that is.

Many thanks to Fred Hatt for emailing me this story from NPR and to Andrew for posting it on Twitter. Good work guys! The exhibition is on view until August 27th. Think I’ll be making a trip down to D.C. :-)

And now a snapshot into the current art modeling world that may find its way into “archives” someday. I took this picture at the National Academy, Saturday painting class with Dan Gheno. It was the long break and everyone left the studio for coffee and fresh air. That’s a work-in-progress of me on the canvas, and my modeling partner Raven resting on the platform. He looks comfortable!

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A Poet Departs

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

RIP Maya Angelou  1928 – 2014

Somewhere in America, by Robert Brackman:

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Respighi and Botticelli

I don’t know about you guys but I could definitely use a Music Monday. A melodious distraction from life’s worries is never a bad thing. And today we have one that marries music with art, from the creative imaginations of two Italian fellas. In 1927, composer Ottorino Respighi wrote three orchestral movements inspired by the Botticelli paintings in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. The works are known as the “Botticelli Triptych”. You can visit an excellent post about this on the blog Muddy Colors. Here we have “Spring”, or if you prefer, “Primavera”. See you all very soon :-)