Happy Birthday John Singer Sargent!


By unidentified photographer (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

American artist, John Singer Sargent, was born 162 years ago today (January 12, 1856). John Singer Sargent was apparently THE portrait artists back in the day. The photograph captures the artist in his studio. However, if you look closely at the painting behind him, you will get a glimpse at the portrait that probably brought him the most notoriety. Why this portrait? Well, the subject of the portrait was Virginie Gautreau. Madame Gautreau happened to be the “it girl” of Paris in the late 1800s. But the subject herself was not the reason the painting was famous.

It turns out that this particular portrait was quite controversial. The controversy surrounding the portrait was due to the fact that John Singer Sargent elected to paint Madame Gautreau in a dress with one bejeweled shoulder strap that had fallen from her alabaster shoulder. (I will give you a moment to GASP! and clutch your pearls!) This state of “undress” was too intimate, and apparently crossed the line, because it created quite a scandal. The portrait could not be exhibited which is why you see it in the studio. If you look closely, the artist even re-painted the strap in its proper place, but, as the saying goes, “the horse was already out of the barn”. Once you have collected yourself and recovered from the shock, I encourage you to read the book, Strapless by Deborah Davis.

And, speaking of books… if you are a bibliophile like me, I will be starting a “virtual” book club here on the website this year. I do hope you will join me on the last Thursday of the month to discuss books, books, and more books. But, until we officially kick off our year of reading, tell me what books you are enjoying (or have enjoyed) reading. (Scroll down and use the Comment box to share the book(s) you are enjoying.)

Happy Birthday Käthe Kollwitz!

Praying woman, 1892. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg

The subject of one of my college research papers was the German-born painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Käthe Kollwitz. Do not worry. I will not post the paper in its entirety. I will just give you the abbreviated version; not because it is undeserving, but because I want you to learn more about her and her work on your own. It is pretty powerful to see the work and relate it to what was happening in the world, and in her own life, at the time she created the work.

The brief background is that Kollwitz’s reoccurring themes of the human condition categorized her art as part of the German Expressionism movement. Her work was a vehicle that confronted current world affairs. But, her compassionate depiction of these themes is what most defines her art. She articulated these themes in a powerful, yet poignant, style. However, her works did not escape controversy during World War II. Much of Kollwitz’s works, which were considered social statements, were banned due to its anti-war content. Although her work was banned, it has withstood the test of time, politics, censorship, all the things that set us apart, and focuses on what we have in common. Her work has spanned geographic borders, generations, and continues to be popular today.

I do hope you will look at some of her work and read a little about her.