David Bruce: Art Anecdotes

• Sergei Shchukin collected the paintings of Henri Matisse and other then-controversial artists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh when they were not popular. Even Sergei had to take some time to get used to their new styles of painting. Mr. Shchukin visited Matisse’s studio and liked a still life, but he told Matisse that he would have to take it and live with it for a number of days, “and if I can bear it and remain interested in it, I’ll keep it.” Other people could not bear the then-new styles of art. A visitor to Mr. Shchukin’s house wrote — directly on a canvas by Monet! — some indignant words. Mr. Shchukin commissioned Matisse to create Dance IIand Musicfor his house. After they had been created, Mr. Shchukin wrote Matisse, “I am beginning to enjoy looking at your panel the Dance, and as for Music, that will come in time.” Mr. Shchukin was a champion of the controversial new art, and he — a stutterer — once showed a Gauguin he had bought to a visitor and said, “A ma-ma-madman painted it, and a ma-ma-madman bought it.” However, Mr. Shchukin truly did appreciate this art. About Matisse’s Moroccan Café, he wrote Matisse that he contemplated this painting — his favorite — not less than one hour each day.

• Enrico Caruso did many good deeds. An old friend of his once told him, “I have the most wonderful painting of Naples to show you. I assure you that it was done by a great artist, and I came by it through a stroke of luck. It hangs in my restaurant. You must come see it immediately. You, who are a connoisseur in these matters, will appreciate it.” Enrico, accompanied by his wife, Dorothy, and by his friend, did see the painting, which Dorothy recognized as very bad — she even expected her husband to reproach his friend for recommending that he see such a bad painting. Enrico, however, looked at the painting seriously, and then he asked how much it would cost to buy the painting. Hearing the answer — $500, a very large sum of money at the time — he said he would buy it. Later, Dorothy asked why he wanted such a painting. Enrico explained that his friend needed money and would never ask him for it, and that this was his way of giving his friend money. Besides, he would send the painting to another friend as a joke. (When Enrico learned that the friend to whom he had sent the painting had actually hung it on a wall out of respect for him, he was horrified and told him to take it down because he had been “making a funny” — Enrico’s term for a joke.

• Claude Monet created a series of paintings with the haystacks of Giverny as their topic. Why did he paint the haystacks over and over? So that he could capture the various kinds of light on them. When he first decided to paint the haystacks, he sent Suzanne Hoschedé, his stepdaughter, to get him two canvases: one for painting the haystacks in direct sunshine, and one for painting the haystacks when a cloud covered the sun. However, he quickly discovered that there were other variations of light that he wanted to paint, and so he kept sending Suzanne to get more canvases. When Suzanne returned with the first two canvases, Monet remembered, “I noticed that the light had changed. I said to [her], ‘Would you go back to the house, please, and bring me another canvas?’ She brought it to me, but very soon the light had changed again. ‘One more!’ and, ‘One more still!’” Eventually, he was painting on five canvases, moving from one to the other as the light changed.

• Not everyone wanted drawings by Pop artist Andy Warhol. He once gave a drawing of a butterfly to actress Greta Garbo, who was famous for wanting to be alone. She crumpled up the drawing and threw it away. He retrieved it and gave it a new name: Crumpled Butterfly by Greta Garbo. Another person who crumpled up a drawing that Mr. Warhol gave him was Frank O’Hara, poet and curator at the Museum of Modern Art. The drawing, which was imaginary, was of Mr. O’Hara’s penis. Of course, Mr. Wahol’s art became popular. In a notebook, he once wrote that he wanted a “GALLERY LIVE PEOPLE”—an exhibit that consisted of people as the works of art. Something like that occurred in 1965 when an exhibition of his art in Philadelphia became so crowded that the staff took the artworks off the walls so that the artworks would not be damaged. All that was left was the people.

• Polyclitus, an ancient Greek sculptor, once created two statues. One statue he kept private; the other he displayed to visitors. Often, a visitor would criticize the statue in some way, saying that the eyes were too far apart or that a thigh was too long. Whenever someone criticized the statue, Polyclitus would “fix” whatever the visitor had criticized. When both statues were completed, he exhibited both statues. The statue he had worked on in private was pronounced a masterpiece; the one that had been “fixed” by taking account the criticisms of visitors was laughed at. Polyclitus was asked, “How can one statue be so good and the other statue be so bad?” He replied, “Because did this one, and you did that one.”

• In her old age, Mrs. Georges Kars, the widow of a Jewish painter who committed suicide while the Nazis were occupying Paris, owned a valuable — both artistically and financially — art collection. Some people wondered what would happen to her art collection when or before she died, and an art dealer upset her one day by insensitively asking, “Well, Mrs. Kars, now that you will soon have to prepare yourself for the long, long journey, what are the plans for your collection?”

• Artists frequently work with nude models. Artists John “Jack” Baldwin and his wife, Bunny, once took a vacation in Mexico, where they went to a clothing-optional beach. Bunny pointed out a particularly beautiful naked woman to Jack, who told her, “I am not here to work.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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