Rare 1915 Film Shows Claude Monet at Work in His Famous Garden at Giverny

Long ago, we showed you some startling footage of an elderly, arthritic Pierre-Auguste Renoir, painting with horribly deformed hands. Today we offer a more idyllic image of a French Impressionist painter in his golden years: Claude Monet on a sunny day in his beautiful garden at Giverny.

Once again, the footage was produced by Sacha Guitry for his project Ceux de Chez Nous, or "Those of Our Land." It was shot in the summer of 1915, when Monet was 74 years old. It was not the best time in Monet's life. His second wife and eldest son had both died in the previous few years, and his eyesight was getting progressively worse due to cataracts. But despite the emotional and physical setbacks, Monet would soon rebound, making the last decade of his life (he died in 1926 at the age of 86) an extremely productive period in which he painted many of his most famous studies of water lilies.

At the beginning of the film clip we see Guitry and Monet talking with each other. Then Monet paints on a large canvas beside a lily pond. It's a shame the camera doesn't show the painting Monet is working on, but it's fascinating to see the great artist all clad in white, a cigarette dangling from his lips, painting in his lovely garden.

Note: This beautiful clip and post originally appeared on our site in 2012.

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Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Are we truly in the midst of a human-caused sixth mass extinction, an era of “biological annihilation”? Many scientists and popular science writers say yes, using terms like “Holocene” or “Anthropocene” to describe what follows the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods. Peter Brannen, author of extinction history The Ends of the Earth has found at least one scientist who thinks the concept is “junk.” But Brannen quotes some alarming statistics. Chilling, even. “Until very recently,” he writes, “all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass… almost half of the earth’s land has been converted into farmland.”

This state of affairs does not bode well for the millions of remaining species getting edged out of their environments by agribusiness and climate change. We learn from extinctions past that the planet rebounds after unimaginable catastrophe. Life really does go on, though it may take millions of years to recover. But the current forms of life may disappear before their time. If we want to understand what is at stake besides our own fragile fossil-fuel based civilizations, we need to connect to life emotionally as well as intellectually. Short of globe-hopping physical immersion in the earth’s biodiversity, we could hardly do better than immersing ourselves in the tradition of naturalist writing, art, and photography that brings the world to us.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), an “open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives,” has for many years been making it easy for people to connect to nature through nature writing and illustration. In 2012, they announced the “success story” of their Flickr streams, both containing thousands of illustrations and photographs uploaded by the BHL staff and readers from their huge collections of books.

The first stream, currently at 122,281 images, has been carefully curated, and includes searchable galleries and albums divided by book title or subject, such as “Exotic botany illustrated,” “The Birds of Australia v.1,” and “Bats!” The second stream, consisting of over 2 million images, is a massive grab-bag of photos, illlustrations from nature, advertisements, and imaginative renderings.

Though far less useful for the scholar—or the very purposeful user—this second photostream offers more potential for chance discovery, through the aimless wandering that often leads to serendipitously sublime experiences. The formal BHL stream does not disappoint, though it may offer fewer surprises. Both of these image archives offer expansive views of humanity's encounter with the natural world, not only through statistics and academic jargon, but through the artistic recording of wonder, scientific curiosity, and deep appreciation.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Mona Lisa Selfie: A Montage of Social Media Photos Taken at the Louvre and Put on Instagram

"Over 6 million people visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre each year. Many share their visit on social media." Created by Daniel McKee, this dizzying video gathers together hundreds of the photos that get taken at the museum and then wind up on Instagram. Only a minute long, it's a nice succinct commentary on our time...

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How a Korean Potter Found a “Beautiful Life” Through His Art: A Short, Life-Affirming Documentary

I like to think I appreciate all aspects of the culture of South Korea, where I live, but different attractions bring different foreigners here. Some come for the food, some come for the music (pop, traditional, or somewhere in between), some come for the medical tourism. Others, like British ceramicist Roger Law, come for the pottery. The half-hour documentary above will give you an idea of what makes Korean pottery, and the Korean potters who craft it, so distinctive, taking viewers into the workshop of Lee Kang-hyo, who has become famous by there bringing together the distinct traditions of onggi glazed earthenware pottery and buncheong white slip decoration.

"As a high school student, I asked myself some fundamental questions," says Lee in voiceover as we watch him beat the clay of what looks more and more like a large jar into shape. "What would be good to do for a living? What is my best talent? How can I enjoy a life of peace? It was then I decided to become an artist." As he creates, he tells us about the long history of pottery in Korea and his experience practicing and mastering the traditions in which he works. Looked at onggi, he says, "I never thought they were simply big jars. I thought they were great sculpture."




“My documentary tells the story of Lee Kang-hyo’s search for a beautiful life, through his work with clay and the love of his family," says director Alex Wright, a story that "gives an insight into the spiritual journey that plays a vital part in his artistic practice." For Lee, this had to do as much with the heart and mind as with the hand, loosening up and lightening up even as he grew more skilled, a realization that first occurred when he became friendly with Japanese master potter Koie Ryoji. "Kang-hyo, why don't you try to change your thinking?'" Lee remembers Koie asking after he presented him with his latest piece. "And he lifted it up and crushed it. He said: 'Form doesn't always have to be straight. It can be beautiful.'"

That lesson holds in other cultural spheres as well. "Ceramic culture is very closely connected to dietary life and food culture," Lee observes. "Korea has developed a fermented food culture. A lot of foods are fermented and stored, such as sauces and kimchi," which might stay in their ceramic jars for years before consumption. And so "Korea has developed the skills to make big jars, more than any other country" with the "quickest and most perfect forms." This might sound like the makings of a rustic, utilitarian pottery — and indeed cuisine — but in fact the work of Lee and other Korean masters increasingly aligns with the growing global taste for things outwardly simple but inwardly refined. In that particular sensibility, whether expressed as pottery or food or music or anything else, Korea might well lead the world.

Lee Kang-hyo 'Onggi Master will be added to our collection of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Did Leonardo da Vinci Write Backwards? A Look Into the Ultimate Renaissance Man’s “Mirror Writing”

As the standout example of the "Renaissance Man" ideal, Leonardo da Vinci racked up no small number of accomplishments in his life. He also had his eccentricities, and tried his hand at a number of experiments that might look a bit odd even to his admirers today. In the case of one practice he eventually mastered and with which he stuck, he tried his hand in a more literal sense than usual: Leonardo, the evidence clearly shows, had a habit of writing backwards, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left.

"Only when he was writing something intended for other people did he write in the normal direction," says the Museum of Science. Why did he write backwards? That remains one of the host of so far unanswerable questions about Leonardo's remarkable life, but "one idea is that it may have kept his hands clean. People who were contemporaries of Leonardo left records that they saw him write and paint left handed. He also made sketches showing his own left hand at work. As a lefty, this mirrored writing style would have prevented him from smudging his ink as he wrote."




Or Leonardo could have developed his "mirror writing" out of fear, a hypothesis acknowledged even by books for young readers: "Throughout his life, he was worried about the possibility of others stealing his ideas," writes Rachel A. Koestler-Grack in Leonardo Da Vinci: Artist, Inventor, and Renaissance Man"The observations in his notebooks were written in such a way that they could be read only by holding the books up to a mirror." The blog Walker's Chapters makes a representative counterargument: "Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualized parachutes even before helicopters were a thing."

Perhaps the most widely seen piece of Leonardo's mirror writing is his notes on Vitruvian Man (a piece of which appears at the top of the post), his enormously famous drawing that fits the proportions of the human body into the geometry of both a circle and a square (and whose elegant mathematics we featured last week). Many examples of mirror writing exist after Leonardo, from his countryman Matteo Zaccolini's 17th-century treatise on color to the 18th- and 19th-century calligraphy of the Ottoman Empire to the front of ambulances today. Each of those has its function, but one wonders whether as curious a mind as Leonardo's would want to write backwards simply for the joy of mastering and using a skill, any skill, however much it might baffle others — or indeed, because it might baffle them.

If you're interested in all things da Vinci, make sure you check out the new bestselling biography, Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Babies in Medieval Paintings Look Like Middle-Aged Men: An Investigative Video

How much special treatment should we give children, and how much should we regard them as small adults? The answer to that question varies not just between but within time periods and societies. The attitude in the 21st-century west can, at times, seem to have erred toward a patronizing overprotectiveness, but history has shown that if the social pendulum swings one way, it'll probably swing the other in due time. We certainly find ourselves far from the view of children taken in medieval Europe, of which we catch a glimpse whenever we behold the babies in its paintings — babies that invariably, according to a Vox piece by Phil Edwards, "look like ugly old men."

"Medieval portraits of children were usually commissioned by churches," writes Edwards, "and that made the range of subjects limited to Jesus and a few other biblical babies. Medieval concepts of Jesus were deeply influenced by the homunculus, which literally means little man." It also goes along with a strangeness prevalent in medieval art which, according to Creighton University art historian Matthew Averett, "stems from a lack of interest in naturalism" and a reliance on "expressionistic conventions." These conditions changed, as did much else, with the Renaissance: "a transformation of the idea of children was underway: from tiny adults to uniquely innocent creatures" with the cuteness to match.

You can witness a veritable parade of oddly manlike medieval babies in the short video at the top of the post. "After the Renaissance, cherubs didn't seem out of place, and neither did cuter pictures of baby Jesus," says Edwards, narrating. "It's kind of stayed that way since. We want babies who look like they need their cheeks pinched, not their prostates checked. We want them chubby and cute, and we want babies that fit our ideals" — ideals that have led from pudgy angels to the Gerber Baby to the collected work of Anne Geddes. We probably need not fear an aesthetic return to the middle-aged, homuncular babies of yore, but their frowny expressions have certainly made a comeback in real life: just look at any 21st-century infant immersed in an iPad.

via Vox

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch a 17th-Century Portrait Magically Get Restored to Its Brilliant Original Colors

Every week, five million people in the United Kingdom alone tune in to the BBC's Fake or Fortune?, a television show about the provenance and attribution of notable works of art. That may well say something about the British character, but it says even more about its host and co-creator, art dealer Philip Mould. Involved with antiques from a very early age, he displays in Fake or Fortune? and his other media projects a keen sense of not just how a piece of art appeals to us, but what hidden potential it carries within. Take, for instance, the grimy 17th-century portrait you can see partially restored in the clip above, which he posted on Twitter this week.

At first glance, the painting might not look that much worse for wear than anything else from the Jacobean era, but even the first few minutes of work reveal the true brilliance of the colors hidden underneath what turn out to be layers of brown and yellow. They've actually built up in the name of preservation: over about 200 years, a few (or more than a few) coats of varnish had been applied to the canvas in order to protect it, but that varnish turns color over time. Luckily, with the right tools and the right technique, it comes off.




“The painting was originally in a private collection in England,” Mould told the Telegraph. “A mixture of gel and solvent was created, specifically just to remove the varnish and not to damage the underlying paint." Certainly the portrait's subject would approve of her appearance's return to its former splendor, though little information remains as to the identity of the lady herself: “We don't know the identity yet but certain iconographic clues are starting to emerge,” said Mould. “All we know is she is 36 and it was painted in 1617.”

And so we happen upon another of the compelling aspects of art history: its potential to turn into a detective story. But if you'd like to accompany the narrative experience with a little more technical knowledge, have a look at the short video above showing what it takes to revive a 400-year-old masterwork. People once commissioned portraits so that posterity could know their likenesses, but one wonders if they understood just how far into posterity their likenesses would make it — some of them, thanks to art restorers, looking fresher than they have for centuries.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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