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Thoughts from the First Day of Toronto Pursuits 2014

July 15, 2014 in Art, Canada Travel, Classical Pursuits, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Special Events, Summer Fun, Toronto Pursuits

Susan Lahey signs up for Twitter Just before giving her talk on Chinese Decorative Arts.

Guest Post by Ann Kirkland of Classical Pursuits

The first full day of Toronto Pursuits was a great success. It was great to see and meet some of the new people and find out about how they discovered Toronto Pursuits. Some people said they were here for their love of discussions and great ideas. Others were from Toronto and lived here their entire lives but never knew about it. Many were repeat attendees who keep coming back to Toronto to join us and partake in sessions and discussions.

“The Forbidden City” Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

On Monday, we started the day with sessions and then after lunch had a great talk from Susan Lahey and learned more about an insider’s view of Chinese Decorative Art. We took a trip with her to the Royal Ontario Museum to see an exhibition on “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors.” Ian Scott shared his wealth of knowledge of Eastern and Western opera.

To finish off a rewarding day, we had an intimate reception at the Park Hyatt in Toronto. The week is just getting started and there is much more to come. Stay tuned!

Read more about Classical Pursuits and the Toronto Pursuits program.

Site of Iconic Wyeth Painting Named National Landmark

July 18, 2011 in American Art, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Maine travel, Uncategorized

Andrew Wyeth’s art is quiet. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, whose works scream out for attention through bright colors and bold shapes (Rothko and Mondrian), or seduce with lush layers of paint and incomprehensible abstractions (Pollock and de Kooning), Wyeth’s paintings are subtle. They whisper their intention to the viewer. Muted colors and barren landscapes mark Wyeth’s most recognizable works, but all of his paintings share a common sense of stark intimacy.

I’m not the only one who feels this way about Wyeth’s art. Earlier this month, the house in Maine depicted in his most famous work, Christiana’s World (above), was named a national landmark. “It’s now affirmation that it’s an American icon,” said Christropher Brownawell, executive director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, in an interview with the Associated Press. On July 1, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that The Olson House, along with 14 other locations, is now officially recognized by the U.S. Government.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with American art. Though he didn’t fit into any of the major artistic movements of the 1940s, Wyeth was an exceedingly popular artist; something about his pieces felt recognizable in that post-depression era. I like to think it’s because his scenes are so touching and instill an immediate familiarity in the viewer: we can’t help but feel as though we’ve been there. His style may not have been as flashy as that of his contemporaries, but Wyeth’s work has long been recognized as different, respected in its own right. Quietly, it captured the era.

Painted in 1948, Christina’s World was titled after the woman who inspired the image, Wyeth’s neighbor, Christina Olson. But while the painting is ostensibly about her, Wyeth did not use Olson as a primary model. Instead, he called upon his wife to pose for the scene, recreating the moment he looked out the window and saw his neighbor, who suffered from polio, making her slow crawl across the yard. Looking at this painting, I believe I can see the love he had for his wife, and the sad respect he had for his subject. The landscape is bleak and muted, but there is a tenderness in the way Wyeth depicts Olson. I feel instinctively, as many have before me, that this piece captures something essentially human, something even bigger than the scene, more important than the farmhouse.

Though I’ve seen the painting in person—it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York—I haven’t yet visited the location in Cushing, Maine. But somehow, I feel as though I have been there, as though the moment he depicted is not in a place or a time, but happening constantly. It’s an ineffable thing, but one I’m not quite ready to mar with a visit to the actual location. But despite my personal reluctance, I’m happy to know that no matter what, the Olson House will be there when I’m ready to see it.

Goya and Van Gogh, Masterpieces out of Madness

March 30, 2011 in Famous Painters, Great Artists, LIterary Traveler Birthdays

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823

Van Gogh, Self Potrait, 1889

by Katie Davis

Francisco Goya and Vincent Van Gogh had a lot in common; not only were they two of the greatest artistic innovators of 18th and 19th centuries, but they were both a bit bonkers. Though Van Gogh is known for lopping off a piece of his own ear lobe with a razor blade after an attempted attack on Paul Guaguin, this outburst is not entirely surprising when we take a look at Van Gogh’s history of mental illness and substance abuse.

Throughout his life Van Gogh suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy which probably wasn’t helped by his fondness for absinthe. Many believe he also suffered from bipolar disorder and mania, which would explain his spells of extreme enthusiasm and artistic creation followed by bouts of depression and his eventual suicide in 1890 at a young 37.

Though Goya lived a long life, he also had his fair share of personal struggles, especially as he grew older. After fighting an unknown illness, Goya become completely deaf at age 47 and in his later years he sunk into depression and isolated himself from Spanish society in a country house called Quinta del Sordo, the Deaf Man’s House.

Obviously these artists suffered significantly from their illnesses, yet it seems more than coincidence that some of their most famous and thought-provoking work emerged from periods of madness. Van Gogh produced his celebrated, Starry Night, while staying in Saint-Rémy-de Provence, an asylum for the mentally ill, and some say the painting was influenced by his use of digitalis, a drug used to quell epileptic seizures and mania.  The substance can cause patients to find their surroundings tinted yellow and green and to see halos around sources of light, visual traits clearly present in Starry Night and much of Van Gogh’s work.

Though perhaps they are not his most famous pieces, “The Black Paintings,” frescos which Goya completed privately on the walls of his country house during periods of isolation, are extremely intriguing and provocative. They depict scenes of witches, darkness, and gore that truly convey the raw emotion of a deeply troubled man, yet they also force us to confront the evil that resides within all humankind.

In the end, it is a pity that Van Gogh and Goya were forced to wrestle with the demons of mental illness throughout their lives; however, in appreciation we can value the work of these geniuses not only as artistic masterpieces, but also as windows into the human psyche.

Francisco Goya – b. March 30, 1746

Vincent Van Gogh – b. March 30, 1853

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