Claude Monet’s late life vision issues

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Claude Monet experienced problems with his vision later in his life, and it would seem it had a direct affect on his art-making. He was 65 in 1905 when he complained of not being able to perceive color in the same way. Then in 1912, at the age of 72, he was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes by a Parisian ophthalmologist. Let’s take a look at some of his paintings and make some observations.

Below left we have Waterlily Pond, painted in 1899 when Monet was 59. It looks like one of the many masterpieces that made Monet one of the most-famous artists of all time. Below right we have The Japanese Bridge at Giverny, painted by Monet around 1918, a good six years after he was diagnosed with cataracts. As you can see, it has a drastically-different feel, in the way the paint is handled and the style of brushstrokes. One could argue that Monet was simply 19 years older (and 78 years old) in the 2nd painting compared to the first, or that perhaps his style had evolved, but one has to wonder about the cataracts. If you’re not familiar with cataracts, it’s a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision. A few years later, in 1922, Monet wrote this to a friend: “My poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog. It’s very beautiful all the same and it’s this which I’d love to have been able to convey. All in all, I am very unhappy.” He eventually had a cataract operation on his right eye the following year, in 1923, but he was disappointed with the results.

looking at how cataracts affected Monet's art

Below we have two more examples of the evolution of Claude Monet’s visions and the way it affected his art: at left, The Japanese Footbridge, 1899; at right, Nympheas, Japanese Bridge, from 1920.

Claude Monet paintings of Japanese bridge

A mix of Warhol-style and Legos by Ai Weiwei

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I saw this 4 panel self-portrait by Ai Weiwei at his current exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery, and from a distance, it just looked like a play on one of Andy Warhol’s multi-panel portraits. But as I got closer, I realized it was made with Legos!

I can’t help but be curious, though – how hard would it be for someone with the right-colored Legos to make this? I’m not saying this in a way to downplay the creativity of the piece, or to take away from its artistic merits in any way. I guess my curiosity comes from the idea that this piece probably costs in the high 5 figures or maybe even 6 figures, considering Ai Weiwei’s international reputation. There’s no reason why someone couldn’t try creating their own version and hanging it on their wall. You have to keep in mind that this type of thinking comes from a guy like me who sometimes likes to try to copy famous artworks, like this Basquiat. I’ve also already made some of my own famous-artist Lego art, like this Peter Halley piece. I admit it, I’m an art geek.

4 panel self portrait made with Legos by Ai Weiwei

Google Arts & Culture: Freefall, Big Bang

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Art News, Art project

I saw something pretty amazing today: Google Arts & Culture’s “Freefall, Big Bang” version. It’s billed as “explore thousands of artworks in one 3 dimensional space,” and it looks like this:

Google Arts & Culture Freefall Big Bang

The picture doesn’t really do it justice, because the “big bang” name describes what happens … one little picture explodes into a full screen of images of artworks, and if you click and move your mouse, you can rotate everything around in 3-D. As you’re looking, if you see something that interests you, just click on it and you get a bigger view with a link to the website that has that particular artwork (such as the Smithsonian, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, or any one of a number of other sources).

It’s a pretty sophisticated web program, so the newer and more-powerful your computer, the better off you’ll be. I tried viewing it on an older laptop, and it really slowed everything down, but then I tried it on a one year old iMac, and it went a lot faster and smoother.

You know what? As I was writing the last paragraph about how the picture explodes, I decided that a simple written description isn’t good enough, let’s go ahead and have a video clip … so I went back to capture the Big Bang explosion, and here it is …

Keeping things off-balance with Hervé Van der Straeten

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Furniture, Interior Design, Products we'd like to see, Sculpture

The French designer Hervé Van der Straeten got his start creating jewelry, and expanded his work into furniture, mirrors and lighting. I was introduced to some of his designs via the NY Times T Magazine, and wanted to share a few with you. The ones I like are the ones that seem off-balance, or have suggestions of being somewhat precarious in their stability.

Clockwise from top left: Empilée Console (“stacked table”), Twist Candlesticks, Console Origami, and Psychose Console (“psychosis table).

work by Designer Herve Van Der Straeten

Valerie Hegarty: American Berserk

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We’ve seen Valerie Hegarty’s work before: a look at Fallen Bierstadt, and also West Rock Branches, two art works where Hegarty recreates a masterpieces but transforms it into something altogether different. So it was a bit of a surprise to walk into her exhibition titled “American Berserk” at Burning in Water Gallery and see this:

Valerie Hegarty American Berserk

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great show (up through December 5th), I was just surprised because the work is so different from what I’m used to seeing. The gallery director explained that the ceramic work was a new direction for the artist, and these watermelon pieces were inspired by video footage of environmental mishaps in China and Mexico in which fields of watermelons were sprayed with the incorrect growth hormone, which cause their pink insides to grow faster than their green rinds. Sounds pretty crazy, huh?

My photograph of the watermelons doesn’t do them enough justice – let me add one here that has some more visual punch, which I found on the gallery website. The pieces take on anthropomorphized elements, including suggestions of gums and growing teeth, tongues, ribs, stalagmites, and barnacles.

Valerie Hegarty watermelon sculpture

There’s a lot more to the show than just these watermelons, however – there’s other ceramic pieces featuring depictions of George Washington as a series of topiaries, some fruit faces, and a series of beautiful watercolor paintings, which you can see below. It’s a little difficult to show it all here, so if you’re in the NYC area, try to get over to the gallery to see the exhibition.

watercolor paintings by Valerie Hegarty

Running water, pots and pans … installation art by Subodh Gupta

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Here’s a short video of an installation art work by Subodh Gupta titled “This is not a fountain,” which we saw on view at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery a while back. We’ve featured this art work before – in our feature about “10 Challenging Art Works for Art Collectors” as well as our feature on “Readymades, Functional Art and Art for Art’s Sake” – but in both of those cases, we had a still photo, and we thought a video where you can actually get a sense of what is happening with this art would be interesting to see …

Van Gogh drawings, looking for clues of authenticity

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Below we have two drawings – at left, a recently discovered drawing from a sketchbook believed to have been Van Gogh’s, and at right, a known Van Gogh drawing, “Portrait of Patience Escalier,” from August, 1888, from the collection of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. There’s an art historian who has authenticated the drawing at left (and 64 more in the sketchbook) as Van Gogh’s from around the same time period as this 2nd drawing on the right, but the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam says that the sketchbook drawings are imitations. What do you think? Check out our own analysis of the drawings here.

Van Gogh drawings, one fake, one real

This fake Picasso fooled no one

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Art News, Making an art history comparison

Austria’s criminal intelligence service announced last week that it had uncovered a group attempting to sell art forgeries, including this fake Picasso (below left), titled “El Greco.” The forgers dated the fake Picasso “1950,” which made me curious about two things: did Picasso ever make a painting of El Greco, and was it close to the date of 1950?

The answer to that question came quickly: Picasso did make a painting which he titled “Portrait of a Painter, after El Greco,” and it was painted in 1950 – you can see it below right. As you can see, the two paintings don’t look anything alike, but then again, I’m sure the forgers weren’t trying to convince anyone that they had the real painting, since it is known to be in the Rosengart Collection, a museum in Lucerne, Switzerland. Scroll down for more …

Fake Picasso painting of El Greco next to the real one

But even if the forgers wanted a potential buyer to believe this painting was real – and willing to pay the $11 million dollars they were asking for it – didn’t they think a buyer would do a little research before buying it? The suspects told investigators that they bought the works from an art collector, but even if that were true, someone didn’t do much homework. My point is, even if Picasso made several different variations on the El Greco painting (which he often did with other subjects), these two paintings are so completely different that it really seems doubtful Picasso would have approached the same subject in such different ways in the same year.

Plus, being an avid fan of Picasso’s work, I take one look at the fake and say “no way,” for a couple reasons. Even though Picasso distorted faces in many different ways, there’s something about the way this face is painted that just doesn’t feel like a Picasso to me. For example, the yellow thing on top of his head looks like something you’d see on a cartoon chicken – and Picasso didn’t make any cartoon chickens! Also, in the real Picasso above, even though the El Greco figure is somewhat abstracted, you can still make out the two hands, the paint brush, the palette, and the decorative collar around his neck, etc. But on the fake Picasso, it’s purely abstract forms where the hands and palette should be, and the collar looks like it’s trying to run away from the rest of the clothes in the top left corner of the painting. It just seems “off” to me.

fake Picasso painting looks like a cartoon chicken

The suspects, whose names have not been released, told investigators that they believed the art works were real. The suspects have been released pending trial, and all of the art works are in police possession, awaiting an overview by representatives of the artists’ estates, in order to evaluate them for authenticity.

A new fascination with construction sites and visual composition

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Architecture, Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison, Photo of the day

When I go into NYC, I’m often walking around the Chelsea neighborhood, exploring all of the art galleries there. But lately I’ve found myself fascinated by all of the construction sites and funky new architecture going up in the neighborhood. Between the Hudson Yards project, and all of the new luxury condos and apartments going up in Chelsea, there’s a lot of cranes, trucks, and construction equipment all around. It’s not so much the actual construction that interests me, but rather all of the visual details and inherent compositions that I’m finding in these construction sites.

I know this may sound a bit confusing, so here’s an example. Check out this photograph below, which I took at a construction site on West 25th Street (I think … either 25th or 24th, between 10th and 11th Avenues). It’s a straight photo, just a view of the work-in-progress. But there’s something about the lines – the vertical pipes and the horizontal bands of color, interrupted by the diagonal cut of the hand-railing for the stairs – which I think makes for a pleasing composition. Scroll down for more …

a view of a construction site in Chelsea

The other thing I like about this particular view of this construction site is that the composition – along with the specific colors – reminds me of Richard Diebenkorn’s work. When I crop the construction picture just so, as you can see below left, do you see the similarities that I see with Diebenkorn’s painting below right?

comparing a construction site to a Richard Diebenkorn painting

Reflections on NYC architecture and Mark Tobey

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Finding visual references, Making an art history comparison, Optical Illusions, Photo of the day

As I was walking around the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC the other day, I noticed the unusual reflections on the side of this brick building (below left). I just wish I had thought to turn around and also photograph the building across the street whose windows were creating this funky reflection and pattern, but unfortunately, I did not.

But in looking at the near-white lines on this building that result from the reflections, it made me think of the “white writing” painting style of Mark Tobey, whose painting is shown below right.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen things that remind me of Mark Tobey … I saw these Tobey-like leaves a year ago, and a frost pattern on a slate sidewalk also brought Tobey to mind.

reflections on a building in NYC remind me of Mark Tobey