When Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire Were Accused of Stealing the Mona Lisa (1911)

If you visit the Louvre today, you'll notice two phenomena in particular: the omnipresence of security, and the throng of visitors obscuring the Mona Lisa. If you'd visited just over a century ago, neither would have been the case. And if you happened to visit on August 22nd, 1911, you wouldn't have encountered Leonardo's famed portrait at all. That morning, writes Messy Nessy, "Parisian artist Louis Béroud, famous for painting and selling his copies of famous artworks, walked into the Louvre to begin a copy of the Mona Lisa. When he arrived into the Salon Carré where the Da Vinci had been on display for the past five years, he found four iron pegs and no painting."

Béroud "theatrically alerted the sleepy guards who fumbled around for several hours under the assumption the painting might have been borrowed for cleaning or photographing, until it was finally confirmed the Mona Lisa had been stolen."

The immediate measures taken: "The Louvre was closed for an entire week, museum administrators lost their jobs, the French borders were closed as every ship and train was searched and a reward of 25,000 francs was announced for the painting."

High on the list of suspects, thanks to the word of an art thief not involved in the heist named Joseph Géry Pieret: none other than Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. Confessing to his habit of purloining small items from the Louvre, which then took no great pains to protect the cultural assets within its walls, Pieret informed the police that he had sold a couple of small Iberian statues to a "painter-friend." Pieret, writes Artsy's Ian Shank, "had left a clue — a nom de plume in one of his published confessions, pulled straight from the writings of avant-garde poet Apollinaire. (As police would later discover, Pieret was in fact the writer’s former secretary.)"

As the powers that be knew, "Apollinaire was a devout member of Picasso’s modernist entourage la bande de Picasso — a group of artistic firebrands also known around town as the 'Wild Men of Paris.' Here, police believed, was a ring of art thieves sophisticated enough to swipe the Mona Lisa." Though the Spanish-born painter and Italian-born poet had nothing to do with the theft of the Mona Lisa, Picasso had indeed bought those stolen sculptures from Pieret, and in a panic nearly threw them into the Seine.

"Apollinaire confessed to everything," writes Shank, while Picasso "wept openly in court, hysterically alleging at one point that he had never even met Apollinaire. Deluged with contradictory and nonsensical testimony the presiding Judge Henri Drioux threw out the case, ultimately dismissing both men with little more than a stern admonition." Two years later, the identity of the real Mona Lisa thief came to light: a Louvre employee named Vincenzo Peruggia (shown right above), who had easily smuggled the canvas out and kept it in a trunk until such time — so he insisted — as he could repatriate the masterpiece to its, and his, homeland.

All this makes for an entertaining chapter in the history of art crime, but if you still believe that Picasso must have had a hand in the Mona Lisa's disappearance, have a look at "All the Evidence That Picasso Actually Stole the Mona Lisa." Compiled by the Huffington Post's Sara Boboltz, the list includes such facts as "He was living in France at the time," "He’d technically purchased stolen artworks before" — those little Iberian sculptures — and "He loved art, duh." None could deny that last point, just as none could deny the Mona Lisa's enduring status as something of a Holy Grail for art thieves. But what modern-day Peruggia — or Picasso, or Apollinaire, or as some theories hold, Béroud — would dare make an attempt on it now?

via Mental Floss/Artsy/Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

Classic Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Stories by Gustave Doré, Édouard Manet, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley & Arthur Rackham

What do you see when you read the work of Edgar Allan Poe? The great age of the illustrated book is far behind us. Aside from cover designs, most modern editions of Poe’s work circulate in text-only form. That’s just fine, of course. Readers should be trusted to use their imaginations, and who can forget indelible descriptions like “The Tell-Tale Heart”’s “eye of a vulture—a pale, blue eye, with a film over it”? We need no picture book to make that image come alive.

Yet, when we first discover the many illustrated editions of Poe published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we might wonder how we ever did without them. A copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1935 (above) served as my first introduction to this rich body of work.

Known also for his editions of Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Alice in Wonderland, Rackham’s “signature watercolor technique” was “always in high demand,” Sadie Stein writes at The Paris Review.

Sometime later, I came across the 1894 Symbolist illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, and for a while, when Poe came to mind so too did Beardsley’s sensually creepy prints, influenced by Japanese woodcuts and Art Nouveau posters. His stylized take on Poe, notes Print magazine, offers “a very different aesthetic from the works of his predecessors.” Most prominent among those earlier illustrators was the hugely prolific Gustave Doré, whose classical renderings of the Divine Comedy and Don Quixote may have few equals in a field crowded with illustrated editions of those books.

But for me, there’s something lacking, in the 26 steel engravings Doré made for an 1884 edition of Poe’s “The Raven.” They are, like all of his work, classically accomplished works of art. But unlike Beardsley, Doré seems to miss the strain of absurdism and dark humor that runs through all of Poe’s work (or at least the way I’ve read him), though it's true that "The Raven" relies on atmosphere and suggestion for its effect, rather than torture, murder, and plague. In the later, 1923 edition of Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Irish artist Harry Clarke, we find the best qualities of Beardsley and Doré combined: finely-detailed, fully-realized scenes, suffused with gothic sensuality, symbolism, grotesque weirdness, and an almost comically exaggerated sense of dread.

Poe significantly influenced the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé, and Clarke foregrounds in his work many of the qualities those poets did—the tangling up of sex and death in images that attract and repulse at the same time. Early Impressionist master Édouard Manet also illustrated an 1875 edition of “The Raven," translated into French by Mallarmé. Manet draws the French poet/translator as the speaker of the poem (recognizable by his pushbroom mustache).

Manet’s minimal drawings of the poem contrast starkly with Doré’s elaborate engravings. Just as readers might imagine Poe's macabre stories in innumerable ways, so too the artists who have illustrated his work. See contemporary illustrations for “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for example, by South African artist Pencilheart Art and Brooklyn-based illustrator Daniel Horowitz, and recommend your favorite Poe artist in the comments below.

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Gustave Doré’s Splendid Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

Édouard Manet Illustrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in a French Edition Translated by Stephane Mallarmé (1875)

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

The Largest J.R.R. Tolkien Exhibit in Generations Is Coming to the U.S.: Original Drawings, Manuscripts, Maps & More

"I first took on The Lord of the Rings at the age of eleven or twelve," writes The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "It was, and remains, not a book that you happen to read, like any other, but a book that happens to you: a chunk bitten out of your life." The preteen years may remain the most opportune ones in which to pick up the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, but whatever the period in life at which they find their way in, most readers who make the journey through Middle-earth never really leave the place. And it hardly requires covering much more ground to get from hungering to know everything about the world of The Lord of the Rings — one rich with its own terrain, its own races, its own languages — to hungering to know how Tolkien created it.

Now the countless Lord of the Rings enthusiasts in America have their chance to behold the materials first-hand. The exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, which runs from January 25th to May 12th of this year at New York's Morgan Library and Museum, will assemble "the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations," drawing from "the collections of the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Library (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders."

All told, it will include "family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion."

Mental Floss' Emily Petsko also highlights the presence of "original illustrations of Smaug the dragon (from The Hobbit), Sauron's Dark Tower of Barad-dûr (described in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), and other recognizable characters," as well as that of Tolkien's draft manuscripts that "provide a window into his creative process, as well as the vivid, expansive worlds he created." You can see more of the things Tolkienian that will soon come available for public viewing at the Morgan in the exhibition's trailer at the top of the post.

"The Lord of the Rings has remained comically divisive," Lane writes. "It is either adored, with varying degrees of guilt, or robustly despised, often by those who have yet to open it." But after seeing an exhibition like Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, even Tolkien's harshest critics may well find themselves persuaded to acknowledge the scale and depth of the books' achievement, as well as the dedication and even bravery of its creator. As Lane puts it, "The Lord of the Rings may be the final stab at epic, and there is invariably something risky, if not downright risible, in a last gasp." But "Tolkien believed that he could reproduce the epic form under modern conditions," the fruit of that belief continues to enrapture readers of all ages more than 60 years later.

via AM New York and Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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 the Painstaking and Nerve-Racking Process of Restoring a Drawing by Michelangelo

We live in a disposable culture, but certain things warrant the time and effort of mending—good shoes, hearts, Michelangelo drawings…

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s paper conservator Marjorie Shelley, above, had the nerve-wracking task of tackling the latter, in preparation for last year’s Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibition.

The work in question, a two-sided sketch featuring designs for a monumental altar or facade, thought to be San Silvestro in Capite, Rome, arrived in sad condition.

The 16th-century linen and flax paper on which the precious renderings were made was stained with mold, and badly creased due to a poorly repaired tear and two long-ago attempts to mount it for easier viewing, one by the artist’s blind nephew and another by collector and biographer Filippo Baldinucci.

Like many restoration experts, Shelley exhibits extraordinary patience and nerves of steel. Identifying the damage and its cause is just the beginning. The hands-on portion of her work involves introducing solvents and moisture, both of which have the potential to further damage the delicate drawing. Even though she chooses the least invasive of tools—a tiny brush—to loosen the 500-year-old adhesive, one slip could spell disaster. It’s not just the drawing that’s of historical import. The well-intended mountings are also part of the narrative, and must be preserved as such.

As she explains above, a bedazzling Sistine Chapel-like makeover was neither possible nor preferable.

One wonders how many of the 702,516 visitors who attended the exhibition during its 3 month run noticed Shelley’s handiwork (or even the drawing itself, given the large number of other, sexier works on display).

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City this January as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Public Domain Day Is Finally Here!: Copyrighted Works Have Entered the Public Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

Earlier this year we informed readers that thousands of works of art and entertainment would soon enter the public domain—to be followed every year by thousands more. That day is nigh upon us: Public Domain Day, January 1, 2019. At the stroke of midnight, such beloved classics as Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Yes! We Have No Bananas” will become the common property of the people, to be quoted at length or in full anywhere when the copyright expires on work produced in 1923. Then, 1924 will expire in 2020, 1925 in 2021, and so on and so forth.

It means that “hundreds of thousands of books, musical compositions, paintings, poems, photographs and films” will become freely available to distribute, remix, and remake, as Glenn Fleishman writes at Smithsonian. “Any middle school can produce Theodore Pratt’s stage adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and any historian can publish Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis with her own extensive annotations… and any filmmaker can remake Cecil B. DeMille’s original The Ten Commandments.”

Those are just a few ideas. See more extensive lists of hits and obscurities from 1923 at our previous post and come up with your own creative adaptations. The possibilities are vast and possibly world changing, in ways both decidedly good and arguably quite bad. Teachers may photocopy thousands of pages without fear of prosecution; scholars may quote freely, artists may find deep wells of inspiration. And we may also see “Frost’s immortal ode to winter used in an ad for snow tires.”

Such crassness aside, this huge release from copyright heralds a cultural sea change—the first time such a thing has happened in 21 years due to a 20-year extension of the copyright term in 1998, in a bill sponsored by Sonny Bono at the urging of the Walt Disney company. The legislation, aimed at protecting Mickey Mouse, created a “bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and 1923.” It is fascinating to consider how a government-mandated marketing decision has affected our understanding of history and culture.

The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.

That year, however, marked the film debut of Marlene Dietrich, the publication of modernist landmarks like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Jean Toomer’s Cane and far too many more influential works to name here. Find several more at Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain,  Lifehacker, Indiewire, and The Atlantic and have a very happy Public Domain Day.

Public domain films and books will be added to ever-growing collections:

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

Watch an Art Conservator Bring Classic Paintings Back to Life in Intriguingly Narrated Videos

Even in our age of unprecedentedly abundant images, delivered to us at all times by print, film, television, and especially the ever-multiplying forms of digital media, something inside us still values paintings. It must have to do with their physicality, the physicality of oil on canvas or whatever tangible materials the painter originally used. But in that great advantage of the painting lies the great disadvantage of the painting: tangible materials degrade over time, and many, if not most, of the paintings we most revere have been around for a long time indeed, and few of them have come down to us in pristine shape.

Enter the art restorer, who takes on the task of undoing, painstakingly and entirely by hand, both the ravages of time and the blunders of less competent stewards who have come before. In this case, enter Julian Baumgartner of Chicago's Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration, a meditative short documentary on whose practice we featured earlier this year here on Open Culture.

You can see much more of it in these videos: in the one above, writes Colossal's Kate Sierzputowski, Baumgartner "condenses over 40 hours of delicate swiping, scraping, and paint retouching into a 11.5 minute narrated video" showing and explaining his restoration of The Assassination of Archimedes.

The project, not atypical for a painting restoration, "involved cleaning a darkened varnish from the surface of the piece, removing the work from its original wooden panel using both modern and traditional techniques, mounting the thin paper-based painting to acid-free board, and finally touching up small areas that had become worn over the years." Baumgartner's Youtube channel also offers similar condensed restoration videos of two other paintings, Mother Mary and a portrait by the American Impressionist William Merrit Chase.

Baumgartner packs into each of these videos an impressive amount of knowledge about his restoration techniques, which few of us outside his field would have had any reason to know — or even imagine —before. They've racked up their hundreds of thousands of views in part thanks to that intellectual stimulation, no doubt, but all these physical materials and the sounds they make have also attracted a crowd that shares a variety of enthusiasm unknown before the age of digital media. I'm talking, of course, about ASMR video fans, whom Baumgartner has obliged by creating a version of his The Assassination of Archimedes restoration especially for them. Now there's an art restorer for the 21st century.

via Colossal

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

10 Rules for Appreciating Art by Sister Wendy Beckett (RIP), the Nun Who Unexpectedly Popularized Art History on TV

While life lasts, let us live it, not pass through as zombies, and let us find in art a glorious passageway to a deeper understanding of our essential humanity.

- Sister Wendy Beckett (1930-2018)

Sister Wendy, a cloistered nun whose passion for art led her to wander out into the world, where she became a star of global proportions, entertained the television masses with her frank humanist assessments.

Unphased by nudity, carnality, and other sensual excesses, she initially came across as a funny-looking, grandma-aged virgin in an old-fashioned habit, lisping rhapsodically about appendages and entanglements we expect most Brides of Christ to shy away from.

Attempts to spoof her fell flat.

Having beaten the jokers to the punch, she took her rapt audience along for the ride, barnstorming across the continent, eager to encounter works she knew only from the reproductions Church higher ups gave her permission to study in the 1980s.

She was grateful to the artists—1000s of them—for providing her such an excellent lens with which to contemplate God's creations. Eroticism, greed, physical love, horrific violence—Sister Wendy never flinched.

“Real art makes demands,” she told interviewer Bill Moyers, below, speaking approvingly of photographer Andres Serrano’s controversial Piss Christ.

“Great art offers more than pleasure; it offers the pain of spiritual growth, drawing us into areas of ourselves that we may not wish to encounter. It will not leave us in our mental or moral laziness,” she wrote in the foreword to Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces, her handpicked selection of the greatest paintings of Western art. (“A thousand sounded like so many until we got down to it and then began the anguish of choice,” she later opined.)

A lover of color and texture, she was unique in her ability to appreciate shades of grey, delving deeply into the psychological motivations of both the subjects and the artists themselves.

On Francis Bacon’s Figure with Meat (1954):

Here, he shows the pope, father of the Catholic Church, both enthroned and imprisoned by his position. Bacon’s relationship with his own father was a very stormy one, and perhaps he has used some of that fear and hatred to conjure up this ghostly vision of a screaming pope, his face frozen in a rictus of anguish.

On Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Clown Chau-u-Kao (1895):

Toulouse-Lautrec, as the last descendant of an ancient French family, must have been bitterly conscious of his own physical deformities and to many people he, too, was a figure of fun…He shows us Chau-U-Kao preparing for her act with dignity and serenity, the great swirl of her frill seems to bracket the clown so that we can truly look at her, see the pathos of that blowzy and sagging flesh, and move on to the nobility of the nose and the intense eyes. This is a degradation, but one that has been chosen by the performer and redeemed by intelligence and will power.

On Nicolas Lancret’s The Four Times of the Day: Morning (1739):

Morning is filled with witty observation - a delightful young woman (who is clearly no better than she should be) is entertaining a young cleric, seemingly unaware of the temptation offered by that casually exposed bosom. He holds out his cup, but his eyes are fied, alas, on that region of the feminine anatomy that his profession forbids him.

On François Clouet’s Diane De Poitiers (c. 1571)

The implication would seem to be that this shameless beauty with her prominent nipples and overflowing bowl of ripe fruit, is a woman of dubious morals. Yet one cannot but feel that the artist admires the natural freedom of his subject. Her children and her grinning wet-nurse are at her side, and, in the background, the maid prepares hot water. /surely this domestic scene is no more than a simple and endearing vignette. 

Her generous takes on these and other artworks are irresistible. How wonderful it would be to approach every piece of art with such thought and compassion.

Fortunately, Sister Wendy, who passed away last week at the age of 88, left behind a how-to of sorts in the form of her 2005 essay, "The Art of Looking at Art," from which we have extracted the following 10 rules.

Sister Wendy Beckett’s 10 Rules for Engaging with Art

Visit museums

They are the prime locus where the uniqueness of an artist’s work can be encountered.

Prioritize quality time over quantity of works viewed

Sociologists, lurking inconspicuously with stopwatches, have discovered the average time museum visitors spend looking at a work of art: it is roughly two seconds. We walk all too casually through museums, passing objects that will yield up their meaning and exert their power only if they are seriously contemplated in solitude.

Fly solo

If Sister Wendy could spend over four decades sequestered in a small mobile home on the grounds of Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, surely you can go alone. Do not complicate your contemplation by tethering yourself to a friend who cannot wait to exit through the gift shop.

Buy a postcard

…take it home for prolonged and (more or less) distractionless contemplation. If we do not have access to a museum, we can still experience reproductions—books, postcards, posters, television, film—in solitude, though the work lacks immediacy. We must, therefore, make an imaginative leap (visualizing texture and dimension) if reproduction is our only possible access to art. Whatever the way in which we come into contact with art, the crux, as in all serious matters, is how much we want the experience. The encounter with art is precious, and so it costs us in terms of time, effort, and focus.

Pull up a chair, whenever possible

It has been well said that the basic condition for art appreciation is a chair.

Don’t hate on yourself for being a philistine.

However inviolate our self-esteem, most of us have felt a sinking of the spirit before a work of art that, while highly praised by critics, to us seems meaningless. It is all too easy to conclude, perhaps subconsciously, that others have a necessary knowledge or acumen that we lack.

Take responsibility for educating yourself...

Art is created by specific artists living in and fashioned by a specific culture, and it helps to understand this culture if we are to understand and appreciate the totality of the work. This involves some preparation. Whether we choose to “see” a totem pole, a ceramic bowl, a painting, or a mask, we should come to it with an understanding of its iconography. We should know, for example, that a bat in Chinese art is a symbol for happiness and a jaguar in Mesoamerican art is an image of the supernatural. If need be, we should have read the artist’s biography: the ready response to the painting of Vincent van Gogh or Rembrandt, or of Caravaggio or Michelangelo, comes partly from viewers’ sympathy with the conditions, both historical and temperamental, from which these paintings came.

…but don't be a prisoner to facts and expert opinions

A paradox: we need to do some research, and then we need to forget it…We have delimited a work if we judge it in advance. Faced with the work, we must try to dispel all the busy suggestions of the mind and simply contemplate the object in front of us. The mind and its facts come in later, but the first, though prepared, experience should be as undefended, as innocent, and as humble as we can make it.

Celebrate our common humanity

Art is our legacy, our means of sharing in the spiritual greatness of other men and women—those who are known, as with most of the great European painters and sculptors, and those who are unknown, as with many of the great carvers, potters, sculptors, and painters from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Art represents a continuum of human experience across all parts of the world and all periods of history.

Listen to others but see with your own eyes

We should listen to the appreciations of others, but then we should put them aside and advance toward a work of art in the loneliness of our own truth.

Sister Wendy’s television shows can be found on PBS, the BBC, and as DVDs. Her books are well represented in libraries and from booksellers like Amazon. (We have learned so much in the year her dictionary-sized 1000 Paintings has been parked next to our commode...)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City this January as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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