Mary Cassatt occasionally ran into model trouble. Early in her career, she tried to paint her father, but he kept falling asleep while posing and ruined the pose. She also tried to paint the Cassatt family’s maid, Mrs. Currey, who quit before the portrait was finished. Later, in Seville, Spain, her models grew tired because Ms. Cassatt spent so many hours painting them. Ms. Cassatt even wrote that one of her models asked her “if the people who pose for me live long.” And in the latter part of her career, people criticized her models because they were not good looking. Ms. Cassatt once wrote a letter defending her models against this kind of criticism: “So you think my models are not worthy of their clothes? You find their types coarse. I know that is an American newspaper criticism, everyone has their conception of beauty. I confess I love health and strength.”
In 1934, artist Salvador Dali designed a window that featured nude mannequins for New York department store Bonwit Teller. Of course, the professional window dressers preferred mannequins wearing the clothing that the store sold, so when Mr. Dali left they put clothing on the mannequins. When Mr. Dali and saw the alterations to his window display, he made a major display of temperament, including throwing a bathtub used in the display through a plate-glass store window so that the bathtub made an unscheduled stop on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. Shortly afterward, Mr. Dali made an unscheduled stop in jail. According to world-famous window dresser Simon Doonan, this situation was win-win for everybody. Mr. Dali further increased his reputation as an eccentric art genius and the store received lots of fabulous free publicity.
Artemisia Gentileschi was a Renaissance artist. Another artist by the name of Agostina Tassi decided to marry her. Unfortunately, his method of proposing to her was unconventional—he raped her, thinking that she would marry him to save her reputation (something that was regarded as valuable and even a necessity for women in Renaissance Italy). However, instead of marrying him, she took him to court, where he was found guilty of rape, although in the process her reputation was dirtied—his defense was that she was a whore and a slut, anyway. How did being raped affect her painting? She became very fond of painting a certain scene: Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. She did at least six paintings of this scene.
Sculptor Louise Nevelson once created a retrospective exhibition at New York City’s Whitney Museum of America Art. Because it was a respective exhibition, it included some of her early work—including work she was no longer proud of. One piece that she especially disliked was a sculpture titled Earth Figure. A friend of hers was helping to move the works of art around the gallery, and as he was moving Earth Figure, she suddenly yelled, “Drop it!” Startled, he did drop it, and the sculpture shattered on the floor. Later, the friend—her biographer Arnold Glimcher—wrote, “She was now satisfied with the exhibition; she had edited out the weakest piece.”
When Grandma Moses at age 80 was invited to attend her first important one-person art exhibit at the Galerie St. Etienne in New York City, she declined to go. Why? As she explained to the gallery director, Otto Kallir, there was no reason to go—she had already seen all the paintings. Shortly afterward, she did attend an exhibition of her paintings at a Gimbel Brothers department store in New York City. She brought some of her homemade bread and preserves, reasoning that since she had won prizes for them and not her paintings at the county fair, people would be asking her about food and not about art.
John Banvard worked for years on a painting of the Mississippi River, eventually producing a work of art that was first displayed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1845—the painting was three miles long. To enable people to see it, it was exhibited like a scroll that was unrolled from one spindle onto another spindle. He exhibited the painting in the United States and England, but when he died it was cut up into pieces, some of which were used as backdrops for plays.
At the University of Washington in Seattle, Jacob Lawrence was an excellent teacher in addition to being a world-class (and African-American) artist. One day, an art student brought a bad painting for Mr. Lawrence to look at and told him that the painting was exactly what he had wished to paint—it was painted in his “style.” Mr. Lawrence looked at the painting, then told the student, “Don’t bluff. If you paint, do it well or not at all.”
While living and painting at Zaandam, which is near Amsterdam, Impressionist painter Claude Monet bought some groceries and carried them home, where he discovered that they had been wrapped in paper that was actually a work of art—a brilliantly colored Japanese wood-block print. Mr. Monet went back to the grocery store and bought the rest of the prints, thus starting a collection that greatly influenced his own art.
MAD magazine publisher William M. Gaines used to take the MAD writers and artists on a trip every year or two. One year, he took everybody to Rome, and they visited the Sistine Chapel, where a tour guide informed them that Michelangelo had spent 15 years painting the ceiling. MAD magazine writer Dick DeBartolo explained why: “Yeah, but it was two coats!”
Pablo Picasso once attended the showing of a documentary about himself. After it was over, he called for an encore. And after the encore, he requested a third showing. He also enjoyed reading all the books that began to be published about him after 1945.
During a conversation, Pablo Picasso discovered that an American GI disliked modern art because it was unrealistic. At one point, the GI showed Mr. Picasso a billfold-sized photograph of his girlfriend. Mr. Picasso exclaimed, “Is she really that small!”
When Will Rogers saw the famous Venus de Milo statue—which has no arms—he commented, “See what’ll happen to you if you don’t stop biting your fingernails.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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