Monday, November 26, 2007


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working class family . As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to him being chosen to paint designs on fine china .

Renoir filled his work with the joie de vivre of a happy temperament. When we look at his work we know that we are the casual stroller who takes in this slice of life in passing but nothing more. However he makes us extremely happy to see it. A prolific artist, he made several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir's style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently-reproduced works in the history of art.

In the 1890s Renoir began to suffer from rheumatism, and from 1903 (by which time he was world-famous) he lived in the warmth of the south of France. The rheumatism eventually crippled him (by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair), but he continued to paint until the end of his life. In 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, French Riviera, on December 3.

In 1977 his Baigneuse Couchée fetched $ 660,00 at a auction sale in New York City. Two of Renoir's paintings have sold for more than $70 million : Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre sold for $ 78.1 million in 1990.

Monday, November 19, 2007


John James Audubon was born in Santo Domingo, present-day Haiti, in 1785. He grew up in France, where his loving stepmother encouraged his interests in drawing and the outdoors. His father sent him to the United States in 1803 to avoid Napoleon's draft. Over the next 17 years, Audubon unsuccessfully wandered from career to career, and place to place.

In 1820 Audubon began his masterpiece, The Birds of America. From then on, he devoted most of his time to painting birds, with the intent of printing as engravings life-size portraits of all the kinds of birds in the United States.

Unable to secure financial backing in the United States, Audubon went to Europe in 1826. There he found both subscribers and engravers for the project. The first prints were made that same year.

Over the next twelve years, Audubon divided his time between London and America. When abroad, he supervised the engraving and coloring of the prints. In America, he traveled in search of birds to paint. He died in 1851.

The Birds of America by John James Audubon, is a fantastic representation of the flying species and more of the United States in the 19th century. There is now an Audubon Society that promotes the knowledge of Audubon and of the animal world of America.

The University of Pittsburgh is fortunate to own one of the rare, complete sets of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It is considered to be the single most valuable set of volumes in the collections of the University Library System (ULS). Indeed, only 120 complete sets are known to exist.

One set containing 436 planches in color printed in London in 1827 went for sale on auction in 1977 and fetched $320,000. It was then the highest price reached by a printed book.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) was Boucher's star pupil. His figures moves with a grace that links him with Tiepolo whose work he admired. He painted with a breadth and spontaneity reminiscent of Rubens. But Fragonard had the misfortune to outlive his era : his pictures became outmoded as the French Revolution approached. After 1789, he was reduced to poverty, supported ironically by Jacques Louis David who recognized his achievements and who made a fortune under the Napoleonic era.

Fragonard died virtually forgotten in they heyday of this Imperial era. This painting -whose full title is Psyche showing her sisters her gifts from Cupid- too had been forgotten by the public and the art dealers all together and when it was rediscovered in the ex-Rothschild House of the 7th Earl of Rosebery, Mentmore Towers, it was attributed as "The Toilet of Venus" by the French painter Carle van Loo ( 1705-1765). When the whole collections of Mentmore Towers went for sale, an expert from Christie's thought it could be attributed to Boucher which was quite a good bet by the way.

But when he checked on the Boucher's catalogue he did not find any mention of such a picture : so it was put on auction as attributed to van Loo and the auction house bought it in for
$8,800. After the sale, Christie's expert thought that the next possibility was Fragonard as he had worked 5 years in the studio of Boucher. The Wildenstein catalogue on Fragonard mentioned that he had painted a picture of this subject as a pupil but that it was "an untraced work."

After further expertise with the National Gallery London, Christie's resold it in 1978 for almost £ 500,000 ($850,000). It is now the property of the National Gallery which could have bought it a year earlier for 8,800 quid.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


A bottle of Lafite-Rothschild 1805 was sold on auction in London in 1978 for the modest sum of $ 14,524 . Today a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild cuvée 2006 is available for $368 but must be bought by case of 12 bottles which makes the whole purchase jump to $4,416. To me it is not Art anymore but sheer snobism to buy such a bottle of wine. And plain stupidity to drink it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Peak of stupidity or snobism, this 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafitte, stamped with the initial T.J (for Thomas Jefferson, later President of the USA) was sold in 1985 for $1.3 million to the heir of the Forbes group, Chris Forbes.

Chris Forbes who is by the way a very charming man came to London with his private (corporate) jet and immediately after the auction flew back to the USA in the hope to get in time to put the bottle on Thomas Jefferson's table which was on loan to the Forbes Museum from the Maryland Museum for the evening opening of an exhibition.

You do no want to know how much would cost in those circumstances the privilege to own the bottle of this prestigious vinegar. I am a wine amateur but the idea makes of me a Budweiser fanatic. Those super-riches have amusements of another nature. Are they nuts ? It is not even pretty. Anyway it will make happy a bunch of gullibles who will be be ecstatic and crack silly jokes about the price of one glass of Lafitte 1787 once owned by Jefferson.And it will make Mr Forbes feel powerful and richer in his little museum.


James Tissot (1836-1902) give us a glossy and accurate mirror image of European high society. He was at home both in Paris, where he lived and exhibited in the 1860s, and in London, where he spent a professionally successful decade after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. Tissot's art belongs to an international milieu of high fashion on both sides of the Channel, today he would depict people wearing Dior, Vuitton and others luxurious fashionable items.

This painting that should be called Banc de Jardin pour Riches considering the expensive fur skin which has been pulled on the bench represents his mistress Mrs Kathleen Newton and her kids. The phrase "Social Realism" is usually applied to art that reveals truths about the oppressed working class, but it would seem no less applicable to Tissot's documentary revelations about high society in the 1860s and 1870s. However to be realistic this Social Realism should be dubbed Capitalist Realism.

This Social Realistic picture was sold in 1983 for $842,000 (£561,000).The descendants of the people in the picture probably bought it to have a closer and better look at their glorious ancestors.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, known as Camille Pissarro, was born on July 10, 1830 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies; to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, of Sephardic (or "Morrano") Jewish ancestry, and Rachel Manzano-Pomié, a Dominican of Spanish descent. His parents sent him to Paris at age 12 to a small boarding school. It was there that the director, seeing his interest in art, advised him to take "advantage of his life in the tropics by drawing coconut trees." When he returned to St. Thomas in 1847, this advice had been taken to heart.

He moved to Paris in 1855 and studied there with the French landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. He later became associated with the Barbizon school. Afterwards, he came under the influence of Claude Monet and other impressionists. During the Franco German War he lived in England, where he made a study of the landscapes of Joseph Mallord Turner. On his return to France he settled in Normandy. An active, productive Master of his art until the end, Camille Pissarro succumbed to blood poisoning on 13 November, 1903 in Le Havre, France.

His landscapes have a naturalism that places him close to the Barbizon school and a firm classical structure shared only by his good friend Paul Cézanne. This Blvd Montmartre in Paris is part of a series of the same scene that he painted under different weather conditions in 1897.

In 1973 it went on auction for £ 161,764 in London ($275,000). The scene to the right is another version of Blvd Montmartre at night which is now property of the National Gallery London. Whilst in England in the 70s and back in the 90s, Pissarro was introduced to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel who bought two of his London’ paintings. Durand-Ruel subsequently became the most important art dealer of the new school of French Inpressionism.

In March 1893, in Paris, Durand-Ruel organized a major exhibition of 46 of Pissarro's works along with 55 others by La Gandara. But while the critics acclaimed Gandara, their appraisal of Pissarro's art was less enthusiastic. During his lifetime, Camille Pissarro sold few of his paintings. By 2005, however, some of his works were selling in the range of $ 2 to 4 million.

Pissarro died in 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.