Thought-Pourri: Windy City Edition

I’ll be heading to Chicago this evening, and on Saturday, May 5th at 11:00 am, I’ll be speaking to the Catholic Art Guild at St. John Cantius parish, on the subject of how a rapidly secularizing culture is becoming increasingly illiterate, with regard to works of sacred art. More details can be found here. Although Catholic in orientation, the problem at hand has wider application for those who care about art, regardless of their particular faith or philosophy. I understand that there will be complimentary donuts and coffee at the event, which some may find a greater draw than yours truly, but I do hope that those of you who are in the Chicagoland area can drop in and say hello.

And now we will have just a quick roundup of some interesting news from the creative world this week.

French Fakery

Étienne Terrus (1857-1922) was a Post-Impressionist painter and friend of Matisse, who spent most of his career painting beautifully dappled landscapes and seascapes in Roussillon, a French province that was formerly part of Catalonia. The museum dedicated to his work in Elne, an ancient town in this region, recently discovered to its horror that nearly 60% of the paintings in their collection are fakes. It’s difficult to understand how so many of these went undetected for so long, given that, as described by the art historian who made the discovery, “[o]n one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.” Investigations into how and by whom this deception was carried out are ongoing.


Chagall: No Sale

Subscribers may recall my drawing your attention to an effort by the National Gallery of Canada to acquire a rare religious work by the French Neoclassical master Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) for their permanent collection, by selling off another painting in their collection by the more popular Franco-Russian Modernist, Marc Chagall (1887-1985). The story gained a great deal of criticism in the art press, and social media campaigns were started against the move. Now that effort appears to be scrapped, as the government of Quebec has created a kind of poison pill proviso, mandating that whoever bought the painting would be required to keep it in Canada. The National Gallery still doesn’t have the funds to permanently acquire the work, but at least it won’t be disappearing anytime soon.


Mixed Masters

One of my favorite new resources in the art world is the Colnaghi Foundation, the non-profit educational arm of Colnaghi’s, the venerable Old Master art dealers who have been doing business in London and elsewhere since the mid-18th century. Like yours truly, albeit on a much grander and more beautifully executed scale, they hope to bring new audiences to old art, something which is not at all easy to do when most of the art world seems to be ignoring art created before circa 1900. If you happen to find yourself in New York between now and next Thursday, you can check out “Textura”, a new exhibition which they have launched in conjunction with London Modern and Contemporary Art dealer Ben Brown, juxtaposing works by Spanish Old Masters with Spanish Modern and Contemporary artists. Were my schedule accommodating enough I would go myself, but hopefully one of my readers will see the show and leave us some thoughts in the comments section?


Thought-Pourri: Cut The Crap Edition

You may recall the contretemps that took place back in 1999 when a work by overrated British Contemporary artist Chris Ofili entitled “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996) went on show at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of the “Sensation” exhibition organized by the loathsome advertising mogul Charles Saatchi. Saatchi is perhaps best known on this side of the pond for an incident in 2013 involving his now ex-wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, while they were dining at Scott’s, my favorite London restaurant. The only reason you may have heard of Ofili, of course, is because of this particular piece, which “features a black Virgin Mary with exaggerated features, surrounded by butterfly-like images of women’s butts cut from porn magazines. Shimmering yellow, gold, and blue, the piece rests on two spheres of elephant dung; another adorns her breast.”

Unfortunately said work, which I will not illustrate here, is now coming back to New York – permanently. It was purchased by the (equally loathsome) hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen in 2015 for $4.6 million, and Cohen is now donating it to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. As someone commented to me recently, when they visit MoMA they have to avoid certain sections of the museum, and I would imagine that this piece will presumably be located in one of *those* galleries. It is a pity that our cultural institutions continue to proudly display work that can at best be described as poorly-executed manifestations of the workings of diseased minds, as supported by people of horrifically bad taste.

On that note then, on to some more interesting stories.

Saving Salus Populi

Now here’s an image of Our Lady which I’ll happily share with you. After months of careful cleaning and restoration, the medieval Byzantine icon of the Madonna known as the Salus Populi Romani (“Salvation of the Roman People”) was recently put back on display at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Years of dirt, soot, and grime were removed, along with badly-executed previous overpainting, to reveal the original splendor of the image of Mary holding the Child Jesus. The painting is a particular favorite of the current Pontiff: he went to pray before it on the morning after his election, and comes to visit before and after every time he travels outside the country, leaving a bouquet of white roses when he does so. In a papacy filled with many regrettable moments to date, this is at least one thing for which I can roundly applaud this pope.


So Long, Chagall

In a bit of a Scylla and Charybdis situation, the National Gallery of Canada has decided to sell one of the paintings in its permanent collection in order to purchase another painting; what’s highly unusual about this story is that the Canadians are selling a Modern painting in order to purchase an Old Master. The painting that the museum wants is by the Neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), the most important French painter of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. “Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment” (1779) is an extremely rare religious work by David, who was an anti-Catholic freemason, and dates prior to the French Revolution. The work that the National Gallery intends to sell is “The Eiffel Tower” (1929) by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Personally, I’d rather have the Chagall, but I can understand the reasoning here. As you would imagine, this is what is known in the trade as a “developing story”, so stay tuned.


Seeing Delacroix

Speaking of French art, The Louvre has just opened a major exhibition on the life and work of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1862), whose work as head of the Romantic school of French painting is essentially the antithesis of David’s. Personally, I’ve always found him something of a mixed bag, as I find the majority of his most famous works rather muddy and melodramatic. His portraiture, however, is often very interesting, such as in the 1837 self-portrait of the artist shown below.

If you can’t get to Paris between now and July 23rd, not to worry. The show will travel to The Met in New York from September 17th through January 6th, albeit at the slightly reduced size of 145 paintings instead of the 180 on show at The Louvre, since a number of the pieces in France cannot travel. This will be the first major American exhibition ever held on the work of Delacroix, which may cause some of us, myself included, to reconsider our currently-held views on this enormously important and influential 19th century artist. We shall see.