Sunday, December 23, 2007


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) spent most of his time at Le Pouldu (September 1889 to November 1890) in an auberge (inn) belonging to a Mademoiselle Marie Henry, known as the Buvette de la Plage . Gauguin’s social and artistic life in Le Pouldu revolved around this inn. He slept and ate there, painted, hosted his friends and artists and “fraternized with the maid” . Gauguin and his close companion, financier, and understudy Meyer de Haan had developed a regular routine that didn’t involve much more than eating, sleeping and painting.

Gauguin and de Haan decided to decorate one wall of the room as a gift to Mademoiselle Henry. This idea, over the course of the year, grew to all four walls of the room as well as the ceiling, and included portraits of the main inhabitants, paintings depicting daily life at Le Pouldu, theological and mystical images, exhortations and mottos. The innkeeper Marie Henry, had a daughter by de Haan, and later played a negative role in Gauguin’s life: she refused to return his works, which he had to keep in her inn for some time.

These paintings were not created to please critics, not even to please potential buyers. They were created for the artists themselves to enjoy while taking their meals and entertaining each other. Those paintings are still there and can be seen on this picture to the right : this room provides an intimate snapshot of the life of Gauguin that we could not necessarily learn through his letters or other paintings .

La Plage au Pouldu (Britanny, France) was part of the fabulous Henri Ford II's collection that went for sale on May 1980 ; the picture fetched $2.9 million. It has been kept by the Fords in a for many years. Gauguin would have been mad to learn about it.But he would have been madder to learn that
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." People really ?

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577 in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother had fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.

Rubens was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.

The Massacre of the Innocents refers to the Bible (Matthew 2:16) that describes a massacre of babies on order of King Herod after hearing of the birth of a new king, Jesus, in his realm. This incident, known as the massacre (or slaughter) of the innocents, exemplifying the horror of harming children with the power of the state, has inspired artists over many centuries : Giotto, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Lebrun, Poussin, Doré...

In 2002, this picture (142 x 182 cm) painted in 1611-12 was sold by Sotheby's London for £ 49.5 million (then equal to some $ 86 million). The buyer was later revealed to be the Canadian press baron Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet. The price was then the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at auction. It is now on loan at the National Gallery London.

Towards the end of his life, between 1636 and 1638, Rubens painted a second version of the Massacre of the Innocents. This version was acquired by the
Alte Pinakothek in Munich in the XVIIIth century and it continues to hang there today. He died from gout on May 30, 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp. The artist had eight children.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), together with his brother-in-law Giovanni Bellini, was largely responsible for spreading the ideas of the Early Renaissance in northern Italy. In 1460, Mantegna became court painter to the Gonzaga family in Mantua. After that he only left Mantua for occasional trips to Tuscany and Rome. In about 1490, Mantegna began to produce engravings of great artistic and technical perfection, which contributed greatly to the dissemination of the Early Renaissance innovations north of the Alps.

Andrea Mantegna's composition of figures and objects compressed within a shallow space was based on his study of ancient Roman reliefs. He used a neutral background and sharply defined details to focus the viewer's attention on the kings' adoration of Christ. Mantegna died in Mantua, on September 13, 1506. In 1516 a handsome monument was set up to him by his sons in the church of Sant'Andrea, where he had painted the altar-piece of the mortuary chapel. The dome is decorated by Correggio.

In 1985, the Adoration -painted between 1495 and 1505- part of the collection of the Marquess of Northampton was one of the last paintings by Mantegna in private hands. It is rather small (21.5 x 27.5 ins) and was painted in tempera and oil linen laid down on a canvas. It was bought for $10.4 million by the P.Getty Museum of Malibu, Calif.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


When Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) settled in Paris in 1863, Romanticisim was very much in the wane. As he had been rejected by the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he had to drew on all possible sources. Courbet was one of his main source of inspiration. Camille Pissarro convinced Cézanne to adopt the broken brushwork and light palette of the Impressionists. He exhibited at the first and third Impressionist group shows, but soon lost faith in the goals of the movement.

"The greatness of Cézanne, wrote for the 1936 Salon in Paris the art critic Douglas Lord from the
Burlington Magazine, is now incontestable."

For somebody born almost a century earlier (1839) and then dead since 1906 it was indeed high time. At least it was a consecration. In 1980 the Paysan en blouse bleue (1897, 63.5x80 cm, oil on canvas), part of the famous Henri Ford II's collection's sale in May 1980, fetched 3.9 million de dollars bought by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas) whose collection of Impressionists is quite fabulous.

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."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Eugène Boudin (1824-1896) is one of the first French landscape painters to paint in the open air, directly from nature. His numerous beach scenes form a direct link between the carefully observed Naturalism of the early 19th century and the brilliant light and fluid brushwork of late 19th-century Impressionism. His pastels, summary and economic, garnered the splendid eulogy of Baudelaire and Corot who, gazing at his pictures, said to him, "You are the master of the sky."

In 1857 Boudin met the young Monet who spent several months working with Boudin in his studio. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence. Boudin joined Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but never considered himself a radical or innovator.

The "Plage" (beach) was sold on May the 13th 1980 at the huge Ford's Impressionist sale for $ 480,000. This sale comprised other Impressionists like Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Modigliani. The audience was huge : about 1,300 people had gathered in four galleries at Christie's New York. The total of the sale was $18.3 million.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


René Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian artist who painted detailed realism but founded his first inspiration in the work of Chirico. His naturalism stems from the tradition of Magic that flourished in Belgium in the late XIXth century. His goal was "poetic painting" : illusionistic pictures that transform objects into images having different meaning through astonishing transformations.

In the late 1920s, some critics heaped abuse on his first exhibition and depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton, and became involved in the surrealist group. His work was exhibited in the United States in New York in 1936 and again in that city in two retrospective exhibitions, one at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992.

In 1997, after a year-long media attack on its purchase of René Magritte's La Grande Famille for $5.9 million the year before, the Utsunomiya Art Museum opened in Tochigi, north of Tokyo showing the famous Magritte. To my opinion, it is far from being the best of the artist and it is not worth that amount of money.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


"Man in Korean Costume" drawing made by Rubens, in 1617/18 -- black chalk and some traces of red chalk on paper, 38.4 x 23.5 cm. The depicted man is probably an European, and the costume is indeed a Korean Chosôn period costume . The drawing is part of a series of five drawings, the other four being men in Chinese costumes.

It has been speculated that the man in the costume is the China missionary Nicolas Trigault (alias Kin Nige, 1577-1628), who in January 1617 was together with Rubens in Antwerp. In the
background, Rubens sketched a small boat to emphasize that his sitter was a visitor from a distant place, but he was clearly more interested in the man and his costume than in providing a detailed setting. The drawing is one of Rubens's most meticulous portraits, enriched by the highlights added to the man's face.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.In 1983, this portrait was sold in auction for
£ 324,000 ($ 476,280) and it is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, Calif.)

Monday, December 3, 2007


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was born in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.

This painting (52 ins. down and 69 ins. across) executed in Italy where Rubens stayed between 1600 and 1608 represents a mortal, Paris, judging three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite and deciding who is the fairest. Aphrodite was effortlessly sexual, both beautiful and charming; thus her ability to sway Paris and her position as Goddess of Love were more palatable to Paris.

Two centuries later, the picture appeared in 1815 in London in the hands of James Christie Jr. auctioneer who held it from the trustee of a certain H.Tresham who had recently died. It was auctioned off in June as lot 27 for 370 Guineas. More than a century later it was bought (1933) by a Mr. Robert Savage, a frame collector from Northampton, for less than one pound. When his wife was widowed she sent it with 39 other pictures to Christie's for sale in 1966. The people at Christie's catalogued it as the work of Lankrink, a 17th century copist of Old Masters and it was made lot 183 for the last sale of the summer season and appraised at 280 dollars.

But in the meantime, Sir Oliver Miller, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, had a look at the canvas and declared "it smelt of Rubens." Other experts joined the band wagon and declared it a Rubens, including Gregrory Martin, keeper at the National Gallery and Michel Jaffé, professor of Fine Arts at King's College, Cambridge. So everybody in England learnt that a "lost Rubens" had been discovered and the picture was withdrawn for the important Old Master sale of November 1966. It was appraised at $ 225,000. And it happened what always happens in that case : the picture was talked down by the dealers and the press. So when the painting came up for sale in November, the room went dead and the auctioneer had to buy it in for the ridiculous sum of 24,000 Guineas or $ 70,560.

Some days later the National Gallery made a bid which a terribly disappointed Mrs Savage accepted. The Lankrink-Rubens hungs today in the National Gallery London. Another version of the Judgment is on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.


(this image is of the Young Marin II that is very similar to Young Marin I whose picture is very rare)

Henri Emile Matisse (1869-1954) is often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. The leader of the Fauvist movement around 1900, Matisse pursued the expressiveness of colour throughout his career. His subjects were largely domestic or figurative, and a distinct Mediterranean verve presides in the treatment. Twice in 1906 Henri Matisse painted the same brooding young sailor in the same pose in the Mediterranean town of Collioure.

Critics have always preferred Le Jeune Marin II for its flowing strokes and color. Perhaps that was because they saw little of Jeune Marin I; Matisse sold it to Gertrude Stein's brother Michael, who twelve years later sold it to a Norwegian collector.

At the end of 1978, Marin I surfaced at exhibitions in New York and Zurich, a prelude to auction in 1979 at Christie's in London. There, in spirited bidding on the floor and by telephone, the oil was knocked down for $1,584,000, an auction record for 19th and 20th century paintings. Christie's would only identify the successful bidder as being from "across the Atlantic." Presumably that meant the U.S., although Jeune Marin II is in Mexico City.

Matisse initially became famous as the King of the Fauves, an inappropriate name for this gentlemanly intellectual: there was no wildness in him, though there was much passion. He is an awesomely controlled artist, and his spirit, his mind, always had the upper hand over the "beast" of Fauvism. Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and a Matisse Museum was opened in the area.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


This painting by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), American Abstract Expressionist painter, was done on an 8' x 4' sheet of fiberboard, with thick amounts of brown and yellow paint drizzled on top of it, forming a nest-like appearance.

Born in Wyoming, Pollock grew up in Arizona and Chico, California, studying at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School. In 1930, following his brother Charles, he moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York. Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936, at an experimental workshop operated in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Pollock's most famous paintings were during the "drip period" between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to popular status following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life Magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.

He died in a car accident on August 11, 1956 killing with him one of his passengers Edith Metzger. His wife , the Abstract painter, Lee Krasner survived him until 1984.

This painting was originally owned by publisher Samuel Irving Newhouse and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art before being sold to records producer David Geffen and then allegedly to Mexican financier David Martinez Gunzman in 2006. Martinez denied to have any right on the picture that was sold off by Sotheby's New York auctioneer Tobias Meyer for $ 140 million to a buyer who to this day decided to remain anonymous.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland. The son of a pastor, brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. In 1886 he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.

After a while he decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. In a fit of epilepsy, van Gogh pursued his friend with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his ear lobe off.

In May of 1890, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself "for the good of all." During his brief career he had sold one painting.

This picture used to belong to the Florence Gould' collection which Florence bought in 1965 for $700,000 from Robert Oppenheimer, one of the father of the atomic bomb. Twenty yeras later, the Gould's collection was for sale on auction and the van Gogh went for $ 9.9 million to an unknown buyer. People then assumed it was Mr. Alfred Taubman, president of Sotheby's Parke Bernet himself or a certain Mrs Amalita Fortabat, heiress to the South American cement empire.