David Bruce: Art Anecdotes

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Edgar Degas [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Impressionist artists painted landscapes outdoors, but Edgar Degas preferred to paint indoor scenes of entertainers such as ballet dancers or singers. A landscape artist once asked him whether such subjects were suitable for art, and Mr. Degas replied, “For you, natural life is necessary; for me, artificial life.” (Actually, Mr. Degas disliked painters who worked outdoors. He said, “If I were in the government, I would have a brigade of policemen assigned to keeping an eye on people who paint landscape outdoors. Oh, I wouldn’t want anyone killed. I’d be satisfied with just a few buckshot to begin with.”)

As a child, Benjamin West made his own paint brushes, using hairs from the tail of the family cat. Unfortunately, Benjamin liked to paint, and soon the cat’s tail was bald in places. A visitor from Philadelphia saw Benjamin’s works of art and was so impressed that he gave him some paints and brushes. Because Benjamin enjoyed painting so much, he played hooky from school and instead went into the attic to paint. His parents had no idea he was playing hookey until his teacher paid a visit to find out where Benjamin had been for the last several school days.

When Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski decided to collaborate on a children’s picture-book titled Louis the Fish, author Yorinks wrote that Louis was a salmon. However, illustrator Egielski didn’t know how to draw a salmon, so he went to a grocery store, where he found a picture of one on the label of a can of salmon. Since he watched his money carefully in those days, he didn’t buy the can, but instead tore off the label and smuggled it out of the store. Mr. Egielski says, “The salmon on that can is what I used to draw Louis.”

One night, children’s book author/illustrator David McPhail stayed up very late creating an illustration in which the character Henry Bear plays music in the rain. Despite his hard work, he wasn’t sure whether he had correctly drawn the rain, but he knew that if he stayed up any later and worked on the illustration, he could ruin it. Early the next morning, his five-year-old son, Tristan, woke him up. Tristan had the illustration in his hand, and he told his father, “Henry Bear playing music in the rain—it’s good!”

Marc Chagall and his wife were friends with Sir Rudolf Bing and his wife. Once, Mr. Chagall sketched a vase of flowers, and Sir Rudolf’s wife said, “That’s pretty.” Happy with the compliment, Mr. Chagall gave her the sketch. Later, Sir Rudolf had the sketch framed, and the art dealer asked if he would take $15,000 for the sketch. (He declined, and the sketch instead hung in his and his wife’s apartment.)

Children’s book illustrator Pat Cummings started drawing with crayons when she was very young. Often, she would take a drawing to her mother, who would say something like, “What a nice duck.” Young Pat would say that it wasn’t a duck, and her mother would look at the drawing more closely and say, “Oh, I see. It’s a dinosaur.” Pat would then reveal, “It’s a picture of Daddy.”

Sports artist Leroy Neiman once drew a portrait of Hank Aaron. Mr. Aaron was impressed with the drawing, and he wanted it, so he made a deal with Mr. Neiman. In return for the drawing, he agreed to be a model for one of Mr. Neiman’s art classes—the kids got a thrill when they discovered that their model was the king of home runs.

Mary Cassatt loved to paint children, but sometimes they did not want to be her models. Her nephew, Gardner, Jr., appeared in her painting, Boy in a Sailor Suit, but at one point he grew tired of posing and spit in her face. The boy’s mother locked him in a closet as punishment, but Mary bought him a box of chocolates.

Children’s book illustrator Lisa Desimini used to do her friends’ art homework for them when she was small. One of her friends’ mothers liked a sunflower that she had painted so much that she hung the painting up in the living room—of course, the mother thought that her own daughter had created it.

When Paul Cézanne was 13 years old, he rescued a skinny, near-sighted kid named Émile Zola from bullies. To show his gratitude, the future novelist gave the future painter a basket filled with apples. As an adult, Mr. Cézanne frequently painted apples and once declared, “I wish to conquer Paris with an apple.”

For a while, children’s book illustrator Floyd Cooper worked as an artist at a car dealership. Each time someone bought a car, they got a free portrait. One day, a woman bought a car, then told Mr. Cooper, “Make me beautiful.” Mr. Cooper looked at the woman, then he said, “I quit.”

Winston Churchill was an amateur painter. Once he showed a group of landscapes to a friend, who asked why he painted only landscapes and not portraits. Sir Winston replied, “Because a tree doesn’t complain that I haven’t done it justice.”

Some agents go out of their way to help a client. While in New York City, actor Ralph Richardson started to paint, so whenever his New York agent came over to his apartment to listen to his lines, she also posed nude for him.

American landscape artist George Inness was a perfectionist. Often, he would walk into his studio, look at a painting he had finished the previous day, shake his head, then paint a new picture on top of the old one.

In 1979, after buying a 23-room, 129-year-old mansion in Bangor, Maine, horror writer Stephen King put a fence around it—the fence is decorated with the figures of bats and spiders.

Movie sales agent Irvin Shapiro has a Picasso hanging on a wall of his office—when he was a young man, he had traded a bottle of wine to Picasso for the painting.

While looking at the Venus de Milo, Will Rogers said, “See what’ll happen to you if you don’t stop biting your fingernails.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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