The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.
Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline.
A retired doctor from a remote town has discovered his father had a collection worth millions and he could sell it. The doctor went to a Paris auction house and showed them 14 ink drawings. One 7 1/2-inch by 5-inch piece of paper with a sketch on each side was interesting. The auction house’s expert on old master paintings realized the drawing might be from the 16th century. Three months and three art experts later, the sketch has been authenticated as the work of Leonardo da Vinci, drawn about 1482-85. The handwriting, inscription, and the subject are all related to a known drawing of St. Sebastian by da Vinci. The good news for the owner is the sketch is estimated at about $15.8 million. The bad news is that the French government has put an export ban on the art work because it is “a national treasure.” The owner would like to offer it to an international market where it could sell for much more. The French government has 30 months to buy the sketch at market value.
Sir James Gunn, Pauline in the Yellow Dress, 1944, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston.
“Pauline was the artist’s wife. Her glamour and enigmatic smile caused a sensation when the portrait was first exhibited in London. The Daily Mail described it as the ‘Mona Lisa of 1944’. Gunn was Britain’s foremost portrait painter of his time. Amongst his sitters were two kings and three prime ministers. He painted Pauline many times.”
Design You Trust has a feature on Polish artist Jakub Rozalski who specializes in images of supernatural creatures, werewolves, and particularly invading giant Mecha robots encountering Eastern European or Japanese peasants.
Frank Holl, Did you ever kill anybody Father?, 1883, Private collection.
Sold by Christies London 17 June 2014, GBP 74,500 (USD 126,426).
“She is holding what appears to be a British Pattern 1827 Rifle Officer’s Sword or a Pattern 1845 Infantry Officer’s Sword.”
I asked the same question as a child to my father, who had served in the Third Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Vella LaVella, Rendova, Guam, and Iwo Jima. He looked embarrassed, paused for a moment, and replied: “Oh, you know, we were all shooting at them, and they were falling down, and you couldn’t tell who had hit them…”
Robert Winthrop Chanler, Leopard and Deer (Death of the White Hart), 1912, Rokeby Collection, Barrytown, New York
Hyperallergenic: A new book takes a fresh look at a forgotten, but flamboyant, artist of the Gilded Age.
In one of the many licentious anecdotes from Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic, the Gilded Age artist throws a party in his Gramercy Park “House of Fantasy” so raucous that his neighbors across the street — who happen to be painter George Bellows and his family — call the cops. When an officer arrives, he is lured into in with libations, and Robert Winthrop Chanler is soon seen sporting the merry policeman’s hat.
An eccentric who lived the bohemian artist lifestyle to the hilt, as well as an artist whose work was prized by the elite and celebrated in the influential 1913 Armory Show, Chanler was an icon of his time. Now his name is almost forgotten. Recent restoration of his huge plaster murals has encouraged a new appreciation for his otherworldly art, where exotic animals sketched from his own Manhattan menagerie were painted in metallic hues, often joined by cosmic shooting stars and planets. His popular double-sided screens also portrayed his own invented myths that evoked a darker side of nature.
Discovering the Fantastic, recently released by the Monacelli Press, has essays based on presentations from the 2014 Chanler symposium organized by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida. The museum is housed in the former estate of Chicago businessman James Deering, and still has Chanler’s incredible swimming pool ceiling, where shells are embedded in a plaster mural of sea creatures, alligators, and swirling waves.
Friedrich Wilhelm “Lion” Kuhnert, as his contemporaries knew him, was born in Oppeln, Germany, in 1865. After beginning an apprenticeship at age 17, Kuhnert moved to Berlin in 1883 and studied with renowned animal painter Paul Meyerheim at the Berlin Academy of Arts. Kuhnert first traveled to Africa in 1891, going on safaris in the German and English colonial territories. He sketched and made field notes along the way, later turning them into impressive oil paintings in his Berlin studio.
A hunter as well as a painter, Kuhnert traveled to Africa annually to capture its wild animals in the flesh and on the canvas. Between Kuhnert’s extended visits to Africa, he returned to Germany and continued his wildlife studies, traveling throughout Europe in pursuit of its indigenous species, including red stag, elk, bison, wild boar, and moose.
It’s estimated that Kuhnert’s body of work once totaled 5,500 paintings. Today there are less than a thousand known works in existence. The remainder of his artwork was destroyed or lost in World War II.