Friday, September 28, 2007


French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted in 1901 this oil on canvas (25x36 ins) representing Charing Cross bridge in London.

In 1899 Monet began painting London scenes, seeking to elicit an emotional response through the use of color and light. Monet wrote, "The Thames was all gold. It was beautiful, so I set to work in a frenzy following the sun and its reflections in the water."

Monet stayed in London after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 with his friend Alfred Sisley and both were impressed by Turner's and Constable's work.

This picture is part of the Ryerson collection and was auctioned off in 1963 for $ 64,680.

Monday, September 24, 2007


This is not a joke nor a painting but a real telephone receiver made by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) in the form of a lobster in 1936. In the early 1930s, Dalí promoted the idea of the Surrealist object, of which this is a classic example. The Surrealists valued the mysterious and provocative effect of such unexpected conjunctions. Dalí, in particular, believed that his objects could reveal the secret desires of the unconscious. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for him, and he drew a close analogy between food and sex. He made this Lobster Telephone for Edward James, the British collector who was the most active patron of Surrealist artists in the 1930s, notably of Salvador Dali.

In 1981 the Tate Gallery Liverpool bought it for £ 19,000 ($42,940). Prior to the sale, in the 40s, this curious phone was at the house of Edward James in London where he used to host lots of artists or their relatives. At the beginning of the war, Elsa Schiaparelli's niece, Bianca, was staying at James' s house but the Italian designer warned James that she was a spy. When Italy declared war on Britain, the police came to the house and saw Bianca talking to a friend with this telephone. At the end of the conversation, she hung up saying "good bye, darling." They were so convinced that they had encountered a mad woman talking to a lobster that they left without questioning her."

Thursday, September 20, 2007


This image was painted by Dirk Bouts (1410-1420/1475). Netherlandish painter, born probably in Haarlem and active mainly in Louvain, where he was city painter from 1468. His major commissions there were the Last Supper altarpiece for the church of S. Pierre (still in situ, 1464-67) and two panels (out of a projected set of four) on the Justice of Emperor Otto for the Hotel de Ville (Musees Royaux, Brussels, 1470-75).

His style was highly influential and was continued by his two sons, Dieric the Younger (c. 1448-90/91) and Aelbrecht (c. 1450/60-1549). Particularly popular were small devotional images of the Mater Dolorosa and Christ Crowned with Thorns.

This painting is now at the Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts at Antwerp (Belgium) and was bought in 1965 for $ 44,100. Bouts painted other Madonna and Child, one of the most famous being held at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

Friday, September 14, 2007


In July 2008, a Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) show at the Metropolitan in NYC was insured to the tune of $1.2 billion. This 149-work show was the first -- and last -- serious attempt ever mounted outside of Great Britain to present the full scope of the works of William Turner. It was fantastic.

Turner was a magician and poet of color and light and atmosphere who transforms grim reality into a surreal, dreamy land which is both intimate and universal at the same time. As Constable used to say "Turner has airy visions painted with tinted steam".

He was born in London in 1775 and his father was a barber. His mother died when he was very young. The boy received little schooling. His father taught him how to read, but this was the extent of his education except for the study of art. By the age of 13 he was making drawings at home and exhibiting them in his father's shop window for sale. He started as a watercolorist and was the preminent watercolorist of his time. He quickly achieved a fine reputation and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1802, when he was only 27, Turner became a full member. He then began traveling widely in Europe.

Turner left a large fortune that he hoped would be used to support what he called "decaying artists." His collection of paintings was bequeathed to his country. At his request he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in 1851 when he died.

This picture The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius restored was sold for £ 2,100 in 1876 and fetched £ 324,000 ($ 518,400) in 1981. Today part of the Richard L.Feigen gallery in Chicago, Ill.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) painted this "Jardin du Poète "(the Garden of the Poet) while he was in Arles, South of France, in the late 80s where he painted more than 200 canvases in 15 months. He became enthusiastic for the idea of founding an artists' co-operative at Arles and towards the end of the year he was joined by Gauguin. But as a result of a quarrel between them van Gogh suffered the crisis in which occured the famous incident when he cut off his left ear (or part of it).

The Jardin, part of the fabulous Ford's collection that went on sale in New York on May 13th 1980, fetched in presence of an audience of 1,300 people the fantastic sum of $5.2 million.

Poor Vincent had sold only one painting during his lifetime (
Red Vineyard at Arles; Pushkin Museum, Moscow, made in Arles, November 1888, Oil on Canvas, 75 x 93 cm), and was little known to the art world at the time of his death, but his fame grew rapidly thereafter. Van Gogh shot himself on 29 July 1890, just 20 months after painting The Red Vineyard and only five months after it was sold. His brother Theo died the following year and Gauguin left France for Tahiti. For the vignerons of The Red Vineyard, unaware of the artistic turmoil in their midst, life probably went on much as normal.

In the picture to the left which is the first of the three vineyards painted by Vincent van Gogh just before his death, the artist appears to have depicted with considerable accuracy a virus-infected vineyard. In September 1888 (two months before The Red Vineyard, suggesting a protracted harvest), he had painted his first vineyard canvas, The Green Vineyard, a daytime rather than evening representation of the same subject. Among the green sprawl of the vines are hints of red. The red leaves are indicative of' the leafroll virus that reduces yield and delays ripening, as well as suggesting the presence of phylloxera. This was a colossal problem in France at the time, ravaging Provence's vineyards towards the end of the 19th century.

Over 20,000 people visited the 5 days exhibition prior to the Ford's sale. The total of the sale reached $ 18.3 million. Henri Ford II had said that he would come to the sale but then told the auctioneers that there was a strike in Detroit and that he preferred not to be seen at the sale :"It would look very bad, he said, if I was seen to have made 10 million (the amount of the estimate) or more while I was telling the automobile constructors to get stuffed for $1.5." When the autioneers told him the sale had made 18 millions, he was nonplussed and said:"Well done, Jesus, people are crazy."

Sunday, September 9, 2007


In spite of his French name, Martin Carlin (1730-1785 ) was born in Germany and emigrated to Paris to become an ébéniste . He settled there with other German and Flemish craftsmen and took employment in the workshop of Jean-François Oeben, whose sister he married.

He was never famous nor rich during his lifetime. Until his death in 1785, Martin Carlin was the ébéniste most frequently employed by the marchands-merciers to mount porcelain plaques on furniture; this piece is likely to have been made for one of them.

It wont be a consolation to his dead body to know that in 1972 a secretaire like this one sold for $ 312,500 and that two centuries after his death the same piece fetched exactly one million dollars on auction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquis of Púbol (1904 – 1989), was a Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueras, Catalonia, Spain. Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Salvador Dalí's artistic repertoire also included film, sculpture, and photography.

The most notorious of the Surrealists because of his outrageous self-promotion, encouraged by his greedy wife Gala, who had been married to Paul Eluard before, Dali is IMHO one of the most talented painter and draftman of all times. His eccentric megalomania that was only a provocative game and a form of self-derision that few people really understood have pleagued him all his life. But he has his fans and admirers because his genius is unequivocal and the troubling charm that his work exudes will attract amateurs and the general public for the times to come.

His Enigme du Désir (Desire enigma), ma mère, ma mère, is symptomatic of the incomprehension that falls on Dali's work at times : it represents an indescriptible object that has no sense, no real form, no meaning. Probably like the desire itself was the message that Dali tried to convey.

This picture made in 1929 was bought in 1946 by Mr Oskar Schlag, a psychoanalyst living in Zürich, who hung it in his waiting room to see his clients's reactions. In 1981 the Staatsgemaldesammlungen Munchen bought it for £ 453,600 ( $ 816,180).

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed (in Latin) using the technique of printing (movable type) which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s, was initially owned by the Benedictine monastery, S. Jacobus in Würzburg, Franconia. There are copies on paper and copies on velum.

There are 48 known copies of the Book of which 6 are in Great Britain. The British Museum owns two copies on velum, one was bequeathed to it in 1846 by
British politician Thomas Grenville. It was bought at MacCarthy-Reagh's sale in 1817 for 6260 francs which was a fortune for the time.

Apart from the two copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the British Library there are 46 other complete copies of the Bible or substantial fragments worldwide. The country with the most copies is Germany (12), the United States has eleven and the United Kingdom six and not eight as falsely stated by Wikipedia. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has a complete copy printed on paper with a fascinating history. It was given by Erhard Neninger, mayor of Heilbronn, to the local Carmelite monks, probably in 1475. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, they handed it over to the Swedish general Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), in order to buy off the army. The Bodleian Library bought it in 1793 for £100 from the French cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.

There is a copy in Cambridge University Library. It has been digitalised, and is accessible from within Cambridge University. This copy is of special interest because, around 1469, Heinrich Eggestein, a printer in Strasbourg, used it for a new edition of the Bible which he produced.

Eton College has a copy on paper, notable for having retained a very early binding, made in the German university city of Erfurt. It is richly decorated, perhaps also in Erfurt.

At Lambeth Palace in London, the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, there is a copy of volume 2, printed on vellum. This copy is of great interest as it was decorated in England, very beautifully and very expensively. The Gutenberg Bible was sold out already before printing was finished and it was evidently distributed widely from the earliest days. This may well be the first printed book to have reached England, but its first owner is unknown.

The John Rylands Library in Manchester has a copy on paper. Nothing is known about its early history. Its first recorded owner was George John, second Earl Spencer (1758-1834), ancestor of the late Lady Diana.

The copy now in the National Library of Scotland was acquired by the Advocates' Library, shortly before 1806 from David Steuart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh. It contains splendid South German decoration.

The first copy that attracted attention was discovered about 1760 among the books of the French statesman Cardinal Jules Mazarin. The Bible, printed at Mainz, probably required several years of work; it began in 1452 and was completed not later than 1455 and printed in an edition of about 180 copies. The text of the Bible is Latin. Colored initials and other illuminations were hand drawn after the pages were printed. The Gutenberg Bible lacks many print features that modern readers are accustomed to, such as pagination, word spacing, indentations, and paragraph breaks.

In 1978, the General Theological Seminary's Gutenberg Bible was given for sale on auction to Christie's : it sold in New York for $2.2 million. In 1987 an other Gutenberg Bible went for sale from the Carrie Estelle Donehy Foundation and found a buyer for $ 5.9 million.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Of all nineteenth-century painters, Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is the oldest of the Post-Impressionists and had the greatest influence on the major movements of modern art, from Cubism to Expressionism. This canvas, one of a series of five studies depicting men engaged in a game of cards (left) , is a study for a larger work consisting of two pictures (currently one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and one at Le Louvre Museum, Paris) of two card players.

From 1882 on Cézanne lived in isolation near his hometown of Aix en Provence where the distinctive shape of the mountain Ste Victoire obsessed him.

Cézanne made his largest, most complicated watercolor still lifes at the end of his career, between 1902 and 1906. During these years, Cézanne worked in his final studio at Les Lauves, near his native Aix-en-Provence of which the above picture gives a pretty faithful idea as it is still today as it was at the time of the death of the artist.

In 1977, the Study, part of the Barlow collection, housed at the University of Sussex Library Building, went for sale and attracted several bid up to $ 450,000 by the art dealer Hans Berguen (Zurich) but did not fetched the reserve price (500,000) and the auctioneer bought it in at $ 480,000. Later the Metropolitan Museum bought it for an undisclosed sum.