Thought-Pourri: Back To Work Edition

Having had a terrific vacation in Spain, full of art, architecture, and yes, IG photos of what I ate, it’s time to get back to writing. There will likely be a few posts to come out of this trip, but as I’m still slightly jetlagged, it seemed best to start with an art news roundup. As you get older it becomes more difficult to bounce bag from that time zone shift, or so I find.

Anyway, on to some news.

Wrecked Repin

Ilya Repin (1844-1930) is possibly my favorite Russian artist; he specialized in historical pictures, and without question his most famous work depicts the aftermath of a moment of great violence, in which the infamous Tsar Ivan the Terrible is depicted with a powerful expression of utter horror and remorse after having killed his son Ivan in a fit of rage. In a way it reminds me of Goya’s famous “Saturn Devouring His Son” (c.1820-1823), now in The Prado, but I don’t know whether Repin was familiar with it. In a different moment of rage, a drunken visitor to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow recently attacked the 1885 picture with a metal pole, causing serious damage to both the canvas and the frame, but mercifully not harming the figures themselves. The assailant’s motives remain somewhat murky, although he told police that he had been drinking in the museum bar prior to his vandalism. After restoration, the painting will be put back on display in the museum again – but from now on, under bulletproof glass.


Catalan Comings (And Goings)

In Catalonia, the good news is that a stolen copy of Columbus’ letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel announcing the discovery of America has been located by U.S. officials and is returning home. One of 16 copies printed by the explorer, the letter had been in the collection of the National Library of Catalonia for about a century but was only missed in 2012 when, as part of their investigation, U.S. investigators visited the Barcelona-based library and determined that the copy in its collection was a facsimile of the original, substituted by thieves at some unknown point in time. The bad news, at least as far as Catalan museums are concerned, is that the main painting from the high altar at the Royal Monastery of Sijena, which the museum wanted for its collection, has been sold by a Madrid gallery to the Meadows Museum in Dallas, which has (arguably) the most important collection of Spanish works of art in the U.S. The painting, which depicts the Adoration of the Magi, was created sometime between 1510 and 1521 by an artist whose identity is currently a matter for scholarly debate, but it is believed that the youngest of the three kings in the altarpiece may be a youthful portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who became King of Spain in 1516.


Discovered Digit

The Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 272 AD-337 AD) commissioned a number of colossal statues of himself, remnants of which are found in a number of museums in Rome and elsewhere. One of the lesser-known examples was a giant bronze, fragments of which are located in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. Following some interesting detective work, The Louvre has recently discovered that a colossal Roman bronze digit, originally believed to be a toe, was in fact one of the bronze’s index fingers. When a copy of the piece was taken to Rome for comparison, experts were surprised and pleased to discover that it was an exact fit to the hand currently in the Capitoline’s collection.


Thought-Pourri: Living Edition

It has been a very busy week at the Fortress of Solitude, even with the holiday thrown in on Monday that gave me a bit of time to get some much-needed matters squared away. Between work, research on upcoming travels, and keeping on top of art research and writing projects, among other things, it has not been a dull February. As the month of March nears, warmer temperatures return, and new life starts bursting forth here in the capital, there are always new things to see and think about, so here are a few for you to ponder from the world of art news.


Still Life

Should you happen to find yourself in Belgium or Italy in the coming months, you’ll want to check out “Spanish Still Life”, a simply-titled but object-rich exhibition of 80 works covering the development of still life painting in Spain between 1600 and the present. A joint effort by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (BOZAR), and the Musei Reali de Torino, the comprehensive show brings together paintings belonging to a number of private and public collections in Spain and around the world, and features works by big names such as Velázquez, Picasso, Goya, and Dalí, as well as masters of the genre who are lesser-known outside of specialist circles, but whose works have been prized by collectors for centuries, including Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560-1627) and my personal favorite, Luis Meléndez (1716-1780). Among the more unusual pieces in the show is this 1937 work by Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983): the artist gives these everyday objects an almost metallic quality, as if they were reflected in an oil slick. “Spanish Still Life” opens at BOZAR tomorrow, and runs through May 27th, before heading to Turin for the summer.


Low Life

While as a general rule, anything that makes the oppressive government of the People’s Republic of China unhappy makes me very happy, an exception to this rule may be found when it comes to the preservation of cultural artifacts. Some of the famous terracotta warriors from the tomb of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC-210 BC) have been on loan since Christmas to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, as part of an exhibition that runs through March 4th. It seems that a Millennial (natch) guest at a party held at the museum and some of his friends decided to sneak into the exhibition, which was closed during the festivities, and have a look at the objects on display. After his friends departed, this individual (allegedly) decided to throw his arm around one of the statues to take a selfie – WHICH I HAVE WARNED YOU ABOUT BEFORE – and then (allegedly) broke off the left thumb of one of the warriors, taking it home with him as a souvenir. As is to be expected, this imbecile apparently forgot that museums have security cameras. Good luck with your court case, brah.


Lush Life

If you’ve ever dreamed of staying at the legendary Hôtel Ritz in Paris, now’s your chance to own a part of its history. From April 17-21, Artcurial in Paris will be auctioning off nearly 3,500 objects from the hotel, which recently underwent a major renovation and restoration. Items include everything from beds, bathtubs, and bar stools, to plush carpets and bronze lamps, as well as highly unusual objects such as a Louis XV style dog bed for a particularly pampered pooch. Some of the objects come from suites in the hotel that were habitually used by celebrities, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel. No word on whether they will playing “Fascination” – the recurring theme music in “Love In The Afternoon”, the classic 1957 Billy Wilder film starring Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier which was shot at and centers around The Ritz – on an endless loop during the sale.


Taking a Page from Honest Abe

News this morning that an unknown vandal or vandals splashed the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial here in the Nation’s Capital with green paint sometime last night is rightly causing outrage all over social media.  The reason for this crime is, as of this writing, unknown: it may be some sort of statement, or it may simply be criminal behavior with no real motive. One could easily write about how anti-social behavior has become the norm, for example, or bewail the ignorance of those who would want to deface the statue of a man who did so much for this country.  However this is a good opportunity to raise an issue The Courtier has been considering of late, and that is whether we are doing enough to engage with the sort of people who would contemplate such action long before they take action.

On a regular basis I am confronted on the street by friendly, but entirely unwelcome, campaigners for Planned Parenthood, or same-sex marriage, or those who want to save animals while murdering unborn children.  I must admit that the reason I do not engage them, but rather keep on walking, is that I find the idea of holding arguments in a public street, as if I were haggling over fish in a market, frankly rather tasteless.  As someone who in fact argues for a living, I generally prefer to do so in the courtroom, or at the very least in a good hotel bar.

However one of the reasons why such organizations tend to attract so much attention and gain support is because they are actually out there in the street, standing up for what they believe.  If there are two or three attractive, smiling young women from Margaret Sanger’s eugenics laboratory dressed in bright pink t-shirts out and about, asking you to stop and talk to them while painting their murderous cause as a “right” rather than what it is, they will get results.  The average passerby who does not know any better is far more likely to stop and listen, which is exactly what these organizations want.  And the more militant organizations will do things like commit criminal trespass or vandalize public property in order to get people talking about their issue, whatever the consequences may be.

Let’s face it, conservatives are not really good at such things.  The paradox of conservatism is that it seeks to conserve, rather than destroy, and thereby often loses what it is trying to save.  By this I do not mean to suggest by any means that conservatives need to go out and start climbing office towers to unfurl a protest banner, or strip off in the middle of a public place to make a point.  Such behavior would be antithetical to the nature of conservatism itself.

Yet perhaps those of us who hold conservative views ought to try to think of ways in which we can actually leave our comfort zones, and engage more frequently with the man in the street in an organized fashion, than is often being done at present.  One needs to meet a man where he is.  If he is not attending the rally or the panel discussion or the like, then one needs to frequent the places where he lives and works and relaxes, in order to engage him in conversation.

Like all savvy politicians, Abraham Lincoln did just that in his political campaigns.  Sometimes that engagement meant taking on his opponents, like Stephen Douglas, in formal, public debates which have become legendary.  Yet what we forget is that more often than not his campaigning meant simply knocking on doors, standing on street corners to talk to passersby, and so on.   Perhaps as we wait to find out why exactly someone would want to attack President Lincoln’s memory, we ought to reflect on what we can actually learn from his example of fearlessness.

Lincoln Memorial

Detail of “Abraham Lincoln” by Daniel Chester French (1920)
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC