February 2010

Van Gogh News!

What immediately comes to your mind when you think of paintings by Van Gogh? Sunflowers? Starry nights? Creepy self portraits with bandages that cover up a mutilated ear? Well, my friends, it looks like you can add new subject matter to Van Gogh’s oeuvre: a windmill and tricoleur flag. This painting on the right, Le Blute-Fin Mill (1886) was recently authenticated as a Van Gogh painting. Honestly, I never would have considered this to be by Van Gogh, mostly because of the human figures: not only are the uncharacteristically large, but there are a lot more bodies than you normally see in Van Gogh’s work. But I really like the use of color, and that does remind me of Van Gogh. I especially like the red highlights of the woman’s dress in the foreground. What do you think? Do you like this painting?

This authentication is pretty exciting – Le Blute-Fin Mill is the first Van Gogh to be authenticated since 1995. However, admittedly, the painting has long been disputed as by Van Gogh – an eccentric art collector bought the painting and always claimed it to be by the master, but no one took the collector seriously. You can read more about the story and authentication here.

In other Van Gogh news, the famous The Night Cafe (1888, shown left) is involved in a dispute regarding ownership. This painting has hung for almost fifty years in the Yale University Art Gallery, but now Pierre Konowaloff, the great-grandson of the previous owner, is trying to claim the painting back. It seems like a pretty sticky situation: Konowaloff’s great-grandfather bought the painting in 1908, but it was subsequently nationalized and sold by the Soviet government during the Russian Revolution. Therefore, Konowaloff believes that the painting classifies as “stolen” and feels justified in claiming it back.

I personally don’t think that Konowaloff has a very good chance of getting The Night Cafe back, but what do other people think?


Update on "Victorious Youth": The Getty’s Response

Last night I received an email from Ron Hartwig, the Vice President of Communications from the J. Paul Getty Trust. After reading Pamelia Brown’s guest post on this blog, Mr. Hartwig wanted to clarify some of the facts regarding the “Victorious Youth.” He has given me permission to repost the text of his email, and you’ll find it in the comment section for the “Victorious Youth” post.

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Guest Post: Trouble for the "Victorious Youth"

Today I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Pamelia Brown. Pamelia writes for Associates Degree [dot] com, and has a written a couple of entries there that might be of particular interest to people who read this blog.

For today’s post, Pamelia is writing about the Getty Museum’s “Victorious Youth,” a sculpture which has seen a lot of news coverage this past month:

Victorious Youth, 300-100 BCE, Getty Museum

For a work of art whose creator isn’t identified, the Victorious Youth gets a lot of press.The Greek bronze statue was discovered in international fishing waters by Italian fishermen in 1964. However, instead of revealing the discovery to the Italian government, or even returning it to Greece, the men who discovered it hid it and sold it, leading to the statue eventually being smuggled out of the country and sold at auction. J. Paul Getty, the billionaire oilman, made plans in 1972 to buy the statue despite protests from the Italian government. He died in 1976, and the Getty Museum bought the statue the next year, after the seller’s Italian attorneys made assurances that the sale was legal. That was just the beginning of the trouble.
Earlier this month, an Italian judge ordered that the Victorious Youth be seized from the museum and returned to Italy. It’s a follow-up to a 2007 agreement in which the Getty, acknowledging that many of its pieces were likely acquired illegally, announced it would return 40 of its pieces to the Italian government, though not the statue. It’s not clear how effective the order could be enforced here, but it does open the door for further negotiations with the Getty Museum. While the museum did issue a statement saying the order was “flawed both procedurally and substantively,” the following week saw the Getty announce a renewed partnershipwith Italy by working with Sicily on object conservation, and that decision also stemmed from the 2007 agreement.I think it’s a shame that a sculpture has been reduced to a prize being quarreled over by an angry government and a museum that’s probably resorted to off-the-book practices to acquire art. It makes me wonder how many times we let art be swallowed by a different story. Perhaps some kind of share or trade could be worked out, where the statue spent part of its time in the Getty Villa in Malibu and the rest of the area in Italy. I know it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s surely better than courtroom showdowns.This guest post is contributed by Pamelia Brown, who writes on the topics of associates degree. She welcomes your comments at her email Id .


Howard Hodgkin

Apparently I’m out-of-touch with the British contemporary art scene. Last night I was watching a clip from Simon Schama’s “Power of Art” series (don’t hate me, heidenkind!), and Schama mentioned that the artist Howard Hodgkin is of Van Gogh’s “progeny” (in terms of Expressionism).

I had to rewind the DVD – Howard who?

Howard Hodgkin. You know, one of the foremost British painters today. [Silence.]

So, in order to educate myself, I looked up some of Hodgkin’s work this evening. Part of me wonders if I have seen his stuff before, since he has painted scenery for the Mark Morris Dance Group. Anyhow, here are some of Hodgkin’s paintings that I particularly liked:

Howard Hodgkin, Night and Day, 1997-99
This painting was exhibited in 2006 with an exhibition of Hodgkin’s work at the Tate Modern

Howard Hodgkin, Memories, 1997-99
You can read more about this painting here. I think it’s particularly interesting that Hodgkin often paints his frames (in addition to the canvas). I think this can tie into interesting ideas about objecthood and subjecthood, particuarly since the frame is no longer “containing” or “highlighting” the painting – it is part of the painting itself.

Howard Hodgkin, Curtain, 2002-07
I like this painting because it makes me think, “What would happen if you combined a Rothko painting with Edward Munch’s The Scream?” And I also like the bits of blue that peek out from underneath the black swath of color.

Have you heard of Hodgkin before? Which of his works do you particularly like?

Equality Leading the People

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1831

Last night I was reading a little bit of Théophile Thoré’s review of the 1848 Salon exhibition. The year 1848 was a very important year in European history. It was the year that Marx’s Communist Manifesto was published, and the year that socialist revolutions broke out all over Europe. Thoré was commenting on the contemporary political sentiment and fervor, and implied that similar political fervor is found in Liberty Leading the People (a painting by Delacroix that was made earlier, around the time of the national French revolution in 1830). Thoré wrote, “It is said that [Delacroix] has just begun an Equality Leading the People, for our recent revolution is the true sister of that national one to which he paid homage eighteen years ago. . . . One can only hope that Delacroix makes haste, and that both paintings will soon be on display, hanging side by side.”1

From what I can tell, Delacroix never made Equality Leading the People, and Thoré may have been discussing only hearsay. Nonetheless, this got me thinking. What type of figure would Delacroix have picked to represent Equality? Given the context of the 1848 socialist revolutions, I’m guessing that he would have picked some type of proletarian (member of the working class).

I think that Equality Leading the People would have contained an interesting idea that is still relevant with current issues. What if Equality Leading the People was being painted today? What figure would you pick to represent Equality? My first thought was Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. What person (or generalized type of figure) would you choose?

1 Théophile Thoré, “Salon of 1848” in Art in Theory: 1815-1900, edited by Charles Harrison, Paul Wood and Jason Gaiger, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 1998), 181. (Is available online here).


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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.