May 4, 2015

Whistler’s Mother, van Gogh’s Mother, Art Crime, Degas’ greedy heirs, and other art miscellany. All at Norton Simon Museum.


Little Dude’s class had a field trip to the Norton Simon Museum.  I was positively giddy to see that Whistler’s Mother would be visiting while we were there.  I cannot view Whistler's painting without hearing Mr. Bean in my head: "This picture is worth such a lot of money, because .... it's a picture of .... Whistler's mutha."  Whistler himself claimed that “One does like to make one’s mummy just as nice as possible.”

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Van Gogh was fond of his mother, too, and basing her portrait off a b&w photo, claimed, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.”  The Norton Simon placard adds that “Despite his intent to liven up her visage with his palette, van Gogh created a nearly monochromatic version – in a pallid, unnatural green.”  heh.  Green or not, his mummy does look like such a very nice lady.

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Manet also painted his mother.  But Norton Simon didn’t have that painting.  Instead, there was displayed this fine (dare I say, sentimental?) portrait of his wife…

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Manet also liked to paint unsentimental images of people on the margins of society, like this Ragpicker.  Of whom the critics of the day were …. critical.  But whom I thought was awesome.   (btw, our docent was super enthusiastic. Methinks she and the students mutually enjoyed each other).

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This pair of paintings caught my eye.  Probably because of the unusual tall/narrow size (each one approximately life sized) and the beautiful simple wood panel “canvas”, and the striking-ness of the images themselves.  Sharing space with Rubens and Raphaels and Rembrandts and Renoirs and Monets and Manets and VanGoghs and Matisses and Picassos (just to name a few), this pair draws relatively little interest.  Leastwise, no one was looking at them when I was.  Who would guess that this pair of paintings is right at the very center of an art crime controversy and a long-running lawsuit over legal ownership.  Long story short …Nazis confiscated Adam & Eve from Dutch art collector Goudstikker during the Holocaust.   Allied Forces recovered stolen loot and sent it back to Dutch Government, which then entered into negotiations with Goudstikker’s widow, which didn’t conclude with agreeable terms.  So the Dutch Government sold the paintings back to a Russian art collector Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who claimed a prior right to the art due to his family owning said paintings before they were (wrongfully) seized by the Soviets (to nationalize all art held in private collections) and then sold by the Soviets in an auction to raise money  (Goudstikker was the buyer).  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff (whose family may or may not have actually owned the paintings before they were seized) sold the paintings to Norton Simon in 1971, and they have been hanging in museums for public appreciation ever since.  Goudstikker’s family is currently suing Norton Simon Museum to recover paintings. Still with me???  Here’s the question:  Who actually has the proper right to the paintings?  Norton Simon who legally purchased them from Stroganoff-Scherbatoff?  Goudstikker who legally purchased them from the Soviets who may have [wrongfully – that is, seems wrong to me, didn’t seem wrong to Soviets] seized them from Stroganoff family (or other party)?  That’s the question still to be determined.  Oh, and the 2006 appraisal valued them at a mere $24million.  This article traces the provenance more at length than I did.

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Picasso was there.  I quite liked his painting.  It’s called Woman with a Guitar.  You can totally tell, right?  No?  Here, I’ll back up.  Totally obvious now, right?  No?

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The students were all super excited to see one of the bronze casts of Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen since they had studied this particular sculpture earlier in the year.  Our docent told tales of how the critics despised and reviled the original wax version of this sculpture, and how Degas himself never considered it a fully finished piece.  He never again publicly displayed this work – or any other piece of his 150+ sculptures!; it (and they) remained stored in a closet for 40 years (perhaps was reworked a time or two over the years for possible purchase by a private collector), and wasn’t found again until after his death.  Our docent claimed Degas denied possibilities of casting it.  Of course, after his death, his heirs were in charge.  And Little Dancer was casted and can now be found in many collections internationally.  The original wax figure was purchased by Paul Mellon and gifted to the National Gallery of Art.  Despite the critics maligning his work, contemporary artists held Degas in very high esteem.  Mary Cassat is quoted as saying, “I think Degas will live better and longer by his sculptures than by his paintings. I think him a greater sculptor than painter."   And Renoir claimed Degas to be  “equal to the ancients… Who said anything about Rodin? Why, Degas is the greatest living sculptor!"  (below are Little Dancer and some of his horse sculptures)

norton simon-4little dancer norton simon-9 More Degas sculpture background can be found here, here and here.

Back to van Gogh … such a short, troubled, self-destructive life … and yet such a vast body of awe-inspiring works of art.  This is Mulberry Tree, painted from the landscape surrounding the asylum he checked himself into in 1889.

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The gardens at Norton Simon will take your breath away.  It all feels so surreally like you’ve stepped into Monet’s garden world at Giverny.  Except this garden is peppered with modern sculptures.

garden-1 little dude and rodin garden-2 garden-3 
The Norton Simon is a gem of a museum.  This was a fantastic field trip. 


Life with Kaishon said...

It looks like a wonderful field trip! I love that you were able to go along. You are a great mommy!

Anita Johnson said...

I love this too. Back in the dark ages I was an art teacher....these pictures reminded me of our field trips to the art institute in Chicago...such fine times!

Tracy P. said...

That was completely and totally entertaining! I think it's amazing and wonderful that art galleries will let you take pictures. The texture of the VanGogh is awesome, and Little Dancer Dude totally creaked me up!

P.S. ReCaptcha is now testing whether I have glasses on, not whether I'm a robot. Identify all the pasta dishes? Good thing I'm not on Weight Watchers! ;-)

Rebeckah Leatherman said...

I am going to use one of these picture in an i heart faces article. You are an inspiration, Skeller.

“To create art with all the passion in one's soul is to live art with all the beauty in one's heart.”

I hope you are having a fabulous Saturday night. I am just about to go to sleep. I had coffee way too late today though so I am hyper. YIKES!