Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Musings 11

2012 has been a busy year so far, which is why I haven't been blogging lately. I've been working hard at my job, on my dissertation, and on my next conference presentation that is coming up in less than two weeks. So I thought I'd reconnect by posting a Random Musing about some recent things that have piqued my interest.

You know it's going to be a good day when The New York Times publishes an important news story about dogs in art here in New York City. Randy Kennedy writes about paintings and sculptures with dogs, ranging from a 5th-century ceramic coyote from Mexico to drawings of dachshunds by David Hockney. One of my favorite dog-themed pictures in NYC is the 1570s painting you see here by Veronese, Boy with a Greyhound (image: Metropolitan Museum of Art). There is something innately beautiful in the simple way the dog nuzzles the boy as he reaches back to scratch at his neck. And of course the greyhound makes me think of my canine nephew George in FL! Kennedy's article is a preview of sorts for the upcoming exhibition In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature, and Music at the Morgan, opening March 2 at The Morgan Library. 

The art world has been going a bit crazy over the recent news that the government of Qatar (i.e. their royal family) have purchased Paul Cézanne's painting The Card Players, ca. 1900, for the world record price of $250 million. Yes, you read that correctly. It is the highest price ever reported for the private sale of a painting. In comparison, Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust holds the record price for the sale of a painting at auction for $106 million. Alexandra Peers has an exclusive story in Vanity Fair about the purchase, which took place last year but only now has gone public. NPR has an interview with Peers about the story as well. My friend PR has some interesting links about this on his blog, including a startling tidbit I hadn't realized, that 7 of the top 10 highest priced paintings sold privately all have happened just since 2004. Clearly the failing economy isn't affecting everyone in the world. At least the royal family is planning to display the work in their new national museum. I may revisit this whole story again if I have time, as there's a lot more that can be said about this, including just how important this guy Cézanne really is. (Hint: He is important, but this painting certainly isn't his best work.)

I was startled to hear today that art historian John House had passed away at the age of 66. He worked at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, retiring in 2010. A specialist in 19th-century French art, he was one of the few art historians out there whose writing was not only intelligent but palatable. I always tell people that his book Impressionism: Paint and Politics (2004) is one of the best books I've read on Impressionist painting. Both a formalist and social historian in his methodology, his book engages lucidly with how the radical nature of the brush strokes of Monet, Renoir, and the rest of them reflected the changing socio-political and cultural environment in their daily lives. The book also utilizes digital imaging beautifully, publishing high-resolution details of Impressionist paintings that show first-hand how they handled paint, something you can never see as clearly looking at the pictures themselves. 

Speaking of books, I've been trying to keep my big budget under control these days, but I've added a few great new titles to my library over the past few months. In art history, I've been doing some research on 19th-century women sculptors and purchased Kate Culkin's Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography (2010) and Kirsten Pai Buick's Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History's Black and Indian Subject (2010). I also had to get the Brooklyn Museum's Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties (2011) since I loved the exhibition. For Christmas my cousin MB and her family gave me Robert K. Massie's biography Catherine the Great (2011), which was on my Books of 2011 list (thanks, MB!). In fiction, I picked up Barbara Pym's Jane and Prudence (1953) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (1920), and my artist friend MT just gave me  as a thank you gift George Eliot's Middlemarch (1874) because she was horrified to discover I had not read it yet (thanks, MT!). I'm currently reading Timothy Parsons's The British Imperial Century, 1815-1914 (1999), which is surprisingly good, but it could use some pictures. Speaking of imperialism...

This month is Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. Having now reigned 60 years, she is just on the tail of her ancestor King George III, who has held 2nd place for the longest running British monarch (r. 1760-1820). She's still just behind Queen Victoria, who reigned 64 years (r. 1837-1901). I've always thought it was interesting how people feel comfortable referring to Victoria's reign as the "Victorian" age, but no one would ever dare think of the past 60 years as the "Elizabethan" age. The image you see here is a fantastic portrait painting done by Pietro Annigoni in 1954-55, which The Art Newspaper talks about in more detail. It's a powerfully Romantic picture, isolating her against a barren landscape that epitomizes how youthful innocence can also show great power, especially for a nation rebuilding a decade after World War II.

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