Tuesday, July 31, 2007


This brook at Osny was painted by French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, who endured prolonged financial hardship in keeping faith with the aims of Impressionism. Despite acute eye trouble, his later years were his most prolific : in all, Pissarro painted several hundred canvasses. The Parisian and provincial scenes of this period include Place du Théâtre Français (1898) and Bridge at Bruges (1903).

Pissarro was born in St Thomas to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, a Portuguese sephardic Jew and Rachel Manzana-Pomié, from the Dominican Republic. Pissarro lived in St. Thomas until age 12, when he went to a boarding school in Paris.

After the Franco-Prussian war, Pissarro stayed in London for many years where he came back many times after returning to France. Known as the "Father of Impressionism", Pissarro painted rural and urban French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre.

Camille's great-grandson, Joachim Pissarro, is currently the Head Curator of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His great-granddaughter, Lélia, is a successful painter and resides in London. During his lifetime, Camille Pissarro sold few of his paintings.

This picture sold for 560 Pounds in London in 1922 and fetched 26,000 Guineas in 1965 (1 Guinea=1 Pound and 1 shilling). By 2005, however, some of his works were selling in the range of $ 2 to 4 million. In 1981, a record was set for the artist at Sotheby's impressionist and modern art auction in New York when La Rue Saint- Lazare sold for $ 4,512,806.

Monday, July 30, 2007


The boy in the painting has often been identified as Rembrandt van Rijn's son, Titus, because his face is rendered in sensitive, intimate detail, as if depicting a beloved family member. A mysterious animal, perhaps a pet, sits on the boy's shoulder. Some experts identify it as a parrot, others, a monkey.

Rembrandt Harmenszon van Rijn, born 15 July 1606 in Leiden, was the son of a miller, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn (1568-1630), and his wife Neeltgen van Zuytbrouck (1568-1640). The youngest son of at least ten children, he left the University to study the fundamentals of painting with the Leiden artist Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburgh (1571-1638). Rembrandt was enthusiastically praised by the secretary to the Prince of Orange, Constantijn Huygens (1596-1674) who admired particularly Rembrandt's ability to convey feeling through gesture and expression.

In 1663 a plague that ravaged Amsterdam claimed the life of his lifetime companion Hendrickje Stoffels . Four years later Titus married Madgalena van Loo (1642-1669), but the following year, in 1668, he also died, the victim of another plague epidemic. When Rembrandt died on 4 October 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

The painting, thought to be of the artist’s son, was last on view at the National Gallery more than 40 years ago. It made a brief stop there before it found its way to California after Norton Simon, the industrialist and collector who died in 1993, bought the Rembrandt at a Christie’s auction in London in 1965. The sale was considered so monumental it made the cover of Time magazine.

Not only was the price considered staggering — $2.2 million- which at the time made it the second most expensive painting ever sold. So was the bidding war that Simon fought to get the painting. When the auctioneer announced that the winning bid had come from Marlborough Fine Arts, Simon sprang to his feet and announced that he hadn’t stopped bidding. It turned out that he had given the auctioneer Peter Chance, head of Christie's, such confusing instructions that Peter Chance misunderstood Simon’s body language, thinking he had finished when he hadn’t. So the bid was reopened, and Simon bought the portrait.

There is a fantastic picture of Mr Norton Simon looking angrily at Peter Chance who had misunderstood their very confusing bidding arrangements.Those arrangements written down on a piece of paper were saying "If I stay sit I bid, if I stand I do not bid." Peter Chance said later that the furore caused by the sale of Titus was "the worst moment" of his life.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


This last portrait by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was made during the artist's stay in Auvers (near Paris, France) in 1890 where he rented a cheap room (3,5 FF /day) in the café of the family Ravoux. Vincent made this portrait of the daughter of the innkeeper, Arthur-Gustave Ravoux : she was then 13 but looked 16. After painting the portrait he gave it to the family to thank them. Mlle Ravoux described the portrait as a "symphony in blue." Van Gogh finished at least seventy paintings in the seventy days he lived in Auvers, the final days of his life.

Van Gogh painted with his heart since he so beloved all the pure colors. "How beautiful was yellow! How lovely was red! He wanted to paint with the simplicity that a child thinks. To go back to nature meant to see the world as a child sees it, act as a child, feel as a child. This is why he believed color should be applied pure, with a sense of urgency on the canvas. The sense of emotion could only be achieved without exactness. A very arguable point but who am I to argue with van Gogh ?

Vincent then lapsed into the madness that took his life and died a month later. This last painting was bought in 1921 for $20,000, along with two other Van Gogh works, by a sharp-eyed Pennsylvania clergyman named Theodore Pitcairn, heir of a very wealthy family. It also used to belong to the New Yorker artist Katherine Sophie Dreier (1877-1952) who lent it to the Armory show. In 1966, it was sold for $441,000 -the highest price for a van Gogh- to art collector Walter P. Chrysler Jr. (1909-1988) and it is now in the Cleveland museum of Art.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


In this picture (143.5x136.5 cm.) painted by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) in 1653, the artist ponders visually the importance in life of material success, fame, and power, compared with being true to art. Rembrandt does so by confronting the greatest Greek philosopher, Aristotle, with the greatest Greek poet, Homer.

The picture that was the property of the advertising millionaire Alfred W. Erickson was sold at the most attended auction of the early 60s at Parke-Bernet in NYC to James R.Morimer, Director of the Metropolitan Museum New York, for the then fabulous sum of $ 2,3 million (1961).
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"Deux blanchisseuses portant du linge" by Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Almost blind for his last twenty years, Degas worked mostly in pastel with increasingly broad, free handling. He loved to paint simple people's lives insisting on the dureness of their condition.

Five of Degas's pictures of laundresses including this one were shown at the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876.
In his novel the Dram Shop, French writer Emile Zola described laundresses at work, detailing the physically demanding labor involved in the act of pressing the iron. Similarly Degas emphasized the effort involved in carrying a heavy load of linen by showing the limping of the two women.

In addition to his artistic endeavors, Degas amassed a vast collection of art and considered to establish his own private museum. The museum was never realized and Degas passed away in 1917. The next year a big Degas sale was auctioned off by Christie's in London and this picture fetched 2300 Guineas (1 Gn=1 Pound and 1 Shilling).

Friday, July 27, 2007


Nicolaes van Verendael (1640-1691) was a Flemish painter of vases with flowers. He became a member of Saint-Luc d'Anvers' craft in 1657. He didn't paint lots of pictures and lived modestly.

This picture was sold in 1965 for $ 41,160.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Painted by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) born in Paris from English parents. Sisley was an Impressionist but was overshadowed by Monet and Renoir. After he went to London in 1871 with Claude Monet, he was influenced by Turner and even Constable.

Among Sisley's best known works are Street in Moret-sur-Loing and Sand Heaps, both owned by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Bridge at Moret-sur-Loing shown at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Compared with that of his colleagues, Sisley's development was neither complex nor dramatic ; the personality his work exudes is reticent and sober, marked by some typically English severity that his French colleagues did not share. This picture fetched however $ 99,960 at a sale in 1963.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was an English landscape and portrait painter, one of the great English masters. He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in the family of a clothier. At the age of 13 he was sent to London to study art. He spent several years working in the studios of different artists, one of whom was Hubert Gravelot, a draughtsman and engraver, another one was a scene-painter and illustrator Francis Hayman.

In 1760 Gainsborough decided to move to Bath, where it was possible for him to have portraits commissioned by the much wealthier and nobler persons. Gainsborough became well-known there and since then always had a lot of sitters including the future George IV. In 1774 he moved to London. He was an established master by then and painted a lot of noblemen and women.

He then met James Christie Sr. who established his own auction house in 1776 and made this portrait of him (Oil on canvas 49 5/8 x 40 1/8 in.) . In the 1920s the picture was still in the property of the Christie family : James Archibald Christie, great-great grandson of James Christie decided to sell it in 1927. The art dealer Agnew bought it for 7,200 Guineas.

During the 30s, the Art Market was depressed and Agnew could resell the picture only in 1938 to Mr Paul Getty who snapped the lot for £ 5,419 or $ 26,500 which represented at constant prices a loss of some £ 150,000. Today the picture is still the property of the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This picture, an oil on canvas (37x27.5 ins.), was painted by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) while he was in Italy where he was unknown. He was there only because the King of Spain Philip IV wanted him to buy pictures there, and also paint the Pope. He chose as his subject his assistant and friend, Juan de Pareja, technically his slave. Velazquez sent him free later. Pareja was a Sevillian of Moorish descent of "an odd color" but on the picture he seems full of confidence and almost the equal of his master which he in some ways he was.

Velazquez began to study at the age of 10 under Francisco de Herrera and left him at age 12. By the early 1620s, his position and reputation were assured in Seville. Velazquez died in August 1660 and was buried in the vault of the church of San Juan Bautista. Within eight days his wife Juana was buried beside him. Unfortunately this church was destroyed by the occupying French of Napoleon in 1811, so his place of interment has vanished.

It is after this painting which was exhibited in Rome on March 19, 1650 that Velazquez did the famous portrait of Innocent X, one of Velazquez's many masterpieces, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been unable to secure. In 1801, this picture had been sold for 39 Guineas by Christie's auction house that was established by James Christie in 1776 in London. It was then part of the collection of Sir William Hamilton, British Minister in Naples. Hamilton had left when the French were at the gates of the city and took with him his "Portrait of Juan de Pareja".

At auction, sir William got only 39 Guineas for his beloved Velazquez. In 1811, it was acquired by the 2rd Earl of Radnor for £ 151 14s. 5d. In 1970 it was still in the property of the 8th Earl of Radnor, a non easy going character, who was persuaded to sell it. The sale of such a masterpiece was in itself a challenge. People in the art world was talking of an appraisal of about 1 million pounds. A sum never seen so far in the small world of international art. In 1970 only American museums could possibly envision such expenses and the National Gallery London wanted it desperately.

After much discussion, it was decided that the sale by auction would be the best solution. Needless to say that the sale attracted hundreds of amateurs, dealers and media people : the bidding started at 200,000 Guineas and took it up quite slowly. But step by step it passed the magical million level and the bidding became a war between art dealer Geoffrey Agnew and a young man in his early 30s whom nobody knew.

Up and up went the bid war until it passed 2 million Gns. The young man nodded gently, 2,2 million Gns. The autioneer knocked down his hammer to you.... Sir and there was a moment of panic. Who was this very young man ? Did he have the necessary funds to complete the most fabulous transaction of the Art World ? Then the young man approached the table and said he was Alec Wildenstein, son of Daniel Wildenstein, the most powerful art dealer in the world. People at Christie's sighed in relief. The Gallery Wildenstein had just bought for $ 5,5 million the famous Velazquez.

A year later, the Metropolitan Museum bought the Juan de Pareja for $ 5,6 million.
Art prices have skyrocketed since the mid-1970s, and the picture could be expected to fetch easily ten times its purchase price today.