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Archive for the ‘Happy Birthday’ Category

Ridiculed during his own lifetime, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings have added transcendant beauty to ours.

After struggling with mental illness his entire adult life, he died at the age of 37 of a gun shot wound, thought to be self-inflicted.

He is now recognized as one of the most influential artists of all time.

I put my heart and soul into my work, and have half lost my mind in the process.  Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night

The Starry Night, 1889.  Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Irises

Irises, 1889.  Collection of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Sower with Setting Sun

Sower with Setting Sun, 1888.  Collection of Foundation collection E.G. Buhrle, Zurich

Cafe Terrace at Night

Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888.  Collection of Rijkmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

Peasant Woman

Peasant Woman, 1885.  Collection of Foundation collection E.G. Buhrle, Zurich

The Red Vineyard

Red Vineyards at Arles, 1888.  Collection of Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

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I write this blog, which no one reads and even fewer people follow, to connect to a passion: art history.

My system is to see which artists were born during any given month, pick one, learn about him or her, write what I have learned, and post it in my blog on their birthday.  So, each month (when I’m feeling ambitious), I scan my list of artist’s birthdates for a new subject that interests me.  Someone I know enough about to want to learn more, and someone I can still learn a lot about.  This month my subject was Rembrandt Peale, and learning more about him has been an absolute joy.

Rembrandt Peale self portrait

Rembrandt Peale, Self-portrait, 1828.  Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts

His name was familiar to me from my time as a secretary to the curator of American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but I didn’t remember much about him.  I thought he was a portraitist from the colonial period, but I wouldn’t have been able to identify one of his paintings.  So, on a rainy and blustery day in early February, after a grocery run, I got back into my pajamas, lit some candles, uncorked a bottle of wine and got to know Rembrandt Peale.

And our meeting was fascinating.  Looking at the life of Rembrandt Peale is seeing the face of Colonial America.

R Peale Ruben Geraneum

Rembrandt Peale, Rubens Peale with a Geranium, 1801. (Rubens was Rembrandt’s brother.)
Collection of National Gallery of Art

I remembered correctly.  He was, indeed, a portraitist, and he painted the who’s who of our high school American history class:  George Washington, John C. Calhoun, Dolley Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson
Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Jefferson, 1800.  Collection of The White House

Rembrandt Peale was born in Philadelphia on February 22, 1778, seven months after the signing of the Declaration of Independance.  His father Charles Peale was also an acclaimed portraitist.  When Rembrandt was nine, his father painted one of his many portraits of the future president, General George Washington, and he introduced his son to Washington during the sitting.  Rembrandt would go on to paint many portraits of the man himself, the first when the artist was just 17.

Before I proceed with Rembrandt, I want to spend a moment more with his father, Charles.  As I mentioned, looking into the life of Rembrandt Peale is like seeing the face of Colonial America.  This vision begins with his father, who was born in Maryland in 1741 (121 years after the landing of the Mayflower and 34 years before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War).

As a boy, Rembrandt’s father Charles apprenticed as a saddle maker, and as a young man he opened his own saddle shop.  He fought in the War of Independence, gaining the rank of captain of the Pennsylvania militia.  As an artist, he studied under John Singleton Copley and traveled to England to study under Benjamin West.

A man of many interests, he organized the country’s first scientific expedition, leading him to found the country’s first museum.  (He drew many of the plant and animal specimens brought back by Lewis and Clark from their great trans-continental adventure.)

Rembrandt Peale Lewis and Clark

Charles Wilson Peale drawing of Lewis and Clark finding

Peale’s museum’s collection contained a diverse array of botanical, biological and archaeological specimens, including many birds he himself obtained, and those gathered by his son Raphaelle (four years younger than brother Rembrandt) on a trip to South America.  (Imagine how raw, exotic and logistically complex travel to South America would be in 1793.)

A museum highlight, which drew thousands of visitors, were the mastodon bones  Charles and his son Rembrandt excavated near Newburgh New York and painstakingly reassembled three dimensionally (at the time, an innovative display technique).  In Peale’s self portrait below, notice the mastadon skeleton behind the curtain on the right.

Peale Museum

Charles Wilson Peale self portrait, The Artist in his Museum, 1822. Collection of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Charles Peale’s son Raphaelle would die a slow, painful – and at the time mysterious – death of arsenic and mercury poisoning brought upon by his work as a taxidermist at his father’s museum.  (Raphaelle Peale, who also became a professional painter, is considered to be the first distinguished still-life specialist to emerge in the United States.)

Raphaelle Pealle Still Life

Raphaelle Peale, Still Life – Strawberries, Nuts, &c., 1822.  Collection of Art Institute of Chicago

Although respected and well attended, the museum failed to attract government funding, and after Charles’ death the museum’s collection was sold to P.T. Barnum (of the circus fame).

One of the six paintings Charles painted of the president, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, would sell in 2005 for $21.3 million dollars.  The highest price paid for an American portrait.

CWP Washington at Princeton

Charles Wilson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton. Collection of the United States Senate

Back to the subject of this post, today’s birthday boy, Rembrandt Peale.  He began his path as an artist at an early age, completing his first self-portrait at 13, followed four years later by the portrait of George Washington I mentioned earlier.   Years later, in 1822, and after many other Washington portraits, he completed Patriae Pater, which is considered one of the best portraits ever painted of the President (behind only Gilbert Stuart’s iconic The Athenaeum which graces our one dollar bill).  Peale’s Patriae Pater was purchased by congress in 1832 for $2,000, and it currently hangs in the Oval Office.

Peale Patreae Pater

Rembrandt Peale, Patriae Pater, 1822.  Collection of the United States Senate

Despite marrying at 20 and fathering 9 children, Peale travelled extensively throughout his adult life, seeking inspiration and opportunities as an artist.  His travels included time spent in Paris, where he was greatly influenced by Jacques-Louis David and neo-classicism.

raphaelle and emma

Rembrandt Peale, Michael Angelo and Emma Clara Peale, ca. 1826
(Michael Angelo and Emma Clara were Rembrandt’s children.)  Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rembrandt not only followed his father into the profession of portraitist.  He also opened a museum, located in Baltimore Maryland, which displayed paintings and manufactured products (a novelty at the time).  The museum was elaborately illuminated by gas light (also a novelty), which made a great impression on the visitors and led Peale to acquire an important gas lighting patent.

Photo of Rembrandt Peale

Rembrandt Peale

This photograph of Rembrandt Peale was taken by Mathew Brady, a celebrated nineteenth century photographer who took many photographic portraits of celebrities, including Abraham Lincoln.  (His Lincoln photos are used on the five dollar bill and penny).  Because of his extensive documentation of the Civil War, Brady is considered to be the father of photo-journalism.  He titled this photograph of Rembrandt Peale, “The Oldest Living American Artist.”  Imagining this undated portrait was taken in 1860 (the year Peale died at the age of 82), it was taken only 22 years after the first photograph containing people.

Building upon the Colonial/Early America theme, Rembrandt’s brother Titian was also a pioneer in photography, and his other brother Franklin was the Chief Coiner at the Philadelphia Mint.  (The nation’s first mint located in the then capital city of Philadelphia.)

Rembrandt Peale died in 1860, on the cusp of the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War.  His life spanned the time between the war that birthed the nation and the war that forced it into maturity.

Full disclosure:   The day is, as I said, rainy and blustery.  My jammies are feeling really good, and I’m enjoying my wine.  So getting into my car and driving to the fabulous UCSD library to conduct my research is out of the question.  My trusty, encyclopedic Gardner’s Art Through the Ages has no mention of the Peales, and although I have lots of art books, none of them focus on the Colonial Era.  Enter Wikipedia.  Thank you, Wikipedia!  I know you have your flaws, and your detractors.  But for someone who went to college before the advent of the internet, you are a marvel.  I promise to contribute next time you have a fundraising campaign.

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American copyright law prohibits the reproduction of images created after 1923 without the consent of the artist.

In creating my jewelry, I have been very careful to follow this law. But if I decided to break it, I would be all over Robert Motherwell.

Robert Motherwell, American Abstract Expressionist painter, January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991.

Motherwell Western Air

Western Air, 1946-47.  Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York

Motherwell Personage MOMA

Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, 1947.  Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York

Motherwell Elegy MOMA

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 54, 1957-61.  Collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Our 21st century eyes don’t appreciate Wassily Kandinsky’s radical artistic leap into total abstraction.  (Russian.  December 16, 1866 – December 13, 1944.)

Kandinsky Black Lines

Improvisation No. 29, 1912.  Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheum Museum

My favorite art history professor projected an image of a Kandinsky painting onto the screen and said, “This is considered to be the first completely abstract painting created in the history of western art.  Painted by Wassily Kandinsky in 1910.”  The piece looked utterly current, absolutely new — modern.  “Visualize the methods of transportation in 1910,” she said.  “Imagine how people washed their clothes in 1910.  How did people communicate in 1910?  What  did women wear?  They weren’t allowed to vote.”  And then she swept her arm toward the screen.  “THIS was painted in 1910!”

Kandinsky’s paintings were experiments, testing his complex theories about line, shape and color, and our psychological reactions to them.  He believed that color, shape and line — in and of themselves, devoid of all representation — created emotional reactions.  Eliminate all subject matter from a painting and, simple line, shape and color will create psychological reactions within their viewers.  We experience blue one way, red another; straight line one way, curved another — as purely abstract elements.

In 1912, Kandinsky published his treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which was widely embraced by his contemporaries and future generations of artists.  It radically altered the trajectory of art as we know it.

Kandinsky Composition VII

Compositon VII, 1913.  Collection of The State Tretyakov Gallery, Russia

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Diego Velazquez, one of history’s greatest masters of visual realism, became court painter for the Spanish king Philip IV as a young man and held the position for the rest of his life.  His close personal relationship with Philip and his high office of marshal of the palace gave him prestige, and a rare opportunity to fulfill the promise of his genius.

Velazquez painted this at eighteen years of age.

Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618.  Collection of National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Another work Velazquez created at eighteen.

Water Carrier of Seville, c. 1619.  Collection of Apsley House, London

At the height of his artistic powers, Velazquez was commissioned to paint a portrait of Pope Innocient X, a work which would become a masterpiece.  As a trial run, he painted this portrait of his assistant Juan de Pareja.  A painting that was also destined to become a masterpiece.

The practice run . . .

Juan de Pareja, 1649-50.  Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The commissioned portrait . . .

Pope Innocent X, c. 1650.  Collection of Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Perhaps the most recognized of Velazquez’s paintings is Las Meninas.

Las Meninas, c. 1656.  Collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid

In his role as court painter, Velazquez created numerous portraits of King Philip IV and his family.  Las Meninas depicts the king’s daughter, the infanta Margarita, with two of her maids in waiting, her favorite dwarfs, and a large dog.  It is a work of great compositional complexity.  Velazquez is shown to the left, before a large canvas.  What is he painting?  Portraits of the king and queen (who are reflected in a mirror in the background), or what he sees in a mirror reflecting this scene?  As the viewer, are we the king and queen being painted by the artist, or are we the mirror?

A fascinating sidenote . . .

In 2004, while he was a junior curator at the prestigious Yale University Art Gallery, John Marciari found a badly damaged painting stashed in the gallery’s warehouse.  “The angels started singing” he says, when he realized The Education of the Virgin could be an unknown treasure. “There’s no way,” he recalls thinking, “that I just found a Velázquez in a storeroom.”

The Education of the Virgin, c. 1617-18.  Collection of Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut

Smithsonian Magazine printed a fascinating article about the painting and Marciari’s quest to have it authenticated by his fellow scholars.  Here is a link to the article:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/A-Velazquez-in-the-Cellar.html#

And to make the story even better (for me, at least), John Marciari is now a curator at the San Diego Museum of Art.  I live in San Diego, am a member of the museum and had the pleasure of attending Marciari’s absolutely fascinating lecture on the topic.  (And kudos to San Diego Museum of Art director Roxana Velasquez for turning a sleepy hometown gallery into a vibrant museum.)

Are you a member of your local museum?  If you are at all interested in art, JOIN!  You will receive notices of wonderful events and lectures that — if you like the arts — you will love.

SOURCES

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, A Global History, Enhanced Thirteenth Edition, 2011, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Seventh Edition, 1980.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

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Mary Cassatt was an American artist who spent most of her adult life in Paris and exhibited with the iconic Impressionists.  The theme of her works were often the private lives of women and the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Because she was a woman, Cassatt could not study at the illustrious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, so she hired distinguished artists as personal instructors to hone her prodigious talent.  Edgar Degas noticed her work, befriending her and encouraging her as an artist.  It is said he observed that it was impossible to believe a woman could draw so well.  Not suprisingly, Cassatt was an active participant in the women’s sufferage movement.

The Bath, c. 1892.  Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Visit www.lisaconfetti.com to see jewelry celebrating history’s great artists, including Mary Cassatt.

The Cup of Tea, detail.  1880-81.  Collection of The Metropolitan Mueum of Art

Children Playing on the Beach, detail, 1884.  Collection of The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

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I’m celebrating Edgar Degas’ birthday one day late because his art is so gorgeous I couldn’t let the occasion slip by unrecognized.  And I usually relay a bit of information about my birthday artists, but not now.  His paintings are too beautiful for words.  Simply take a minute and enjoy.

Edgar Degas Dance Class

Dance Class, 1874
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Edgar Degas Waiting

Waiting, 1880-1882
Collection of Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena
 

Edgar Degas Laundress

The Laundress, 1873
Collection of Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Degas Dancers in the Wing

Dancers in the Wings, 1880
Collection of Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Lisa Confetti necklace with Edgar Degas painting

Ballerina Bouquet necklace by Lisa Confetti

Edgar Degas The Ballerina

The Ballerina, 1876
Collection of San Diego Museum of Art

Lisa Confetti necklace with Edgar Degas painting

Performance necklace by Lisa Confetti

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