60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

Some art historians dedicate their entire careers, and indeed lives, to the work of a single artist. But what about those of us who only have a minute to spare? Addressing the demand for the briefest possible primers on the creators of important art, paintings and otherwise, of the past century or so, the Royal Academy of Arts' Painters in 60 Seconds series has published twelve episodes so far. Of those informationally dense videos, you see here the introductions to Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

Though short, these crash courses do find their way beyond the very basics. "There's more to Dalí," says the Royal Academy of the Arts' Artistic Director Tim Marlow, than "skillfully rendered fever dreams of sex and decay.




He painted one of the twentieth century's great crucifixions, but it's more about physics than religion, and he was as influenced by philosophy as he was by Sigmund Freud." Duchamp's unorthodox and influential ideas "came together in one of the most ambitious works of the 20th century, The Large Glass, an endlessly analyzed work of machine-age erotic symbolism, science, alchemy, and then some."

In the seemingly more staid Depression-era work of Edward Hopper, Marlow points to "a profound contemplation of the world around us. Hopper slows down time and captures a moment of stillness in a frantic world," painted in a time of "deep national self-examination about the very idea of Americanness." Hopper painted the famous Nighthawks in 1942; the next year, and surely on the very other end of some kind of artistic spectrum, Hopper's countryman and near-contemporary Jackson Pollock painted Mural, which shows "the young Pollock working through Picasso, continuing to fracture the architecture of cubism" while "at the same time taking on the lessons of the Mexican muralists like Siqueiros and Orozco."

Yet Mural also "starts to proclaim an originality that is all Pollock's," opening the gateway into his heroic (and well-known) "drip period." Rothko, practicing an equally distinctive but entirely different kind of abstraction, ended up producing "some of the most moving paintings in all of the 20th century: saturated stains of color." Making reference to classical architecture — going back, even, to Stonehenge — his work becomes "a kind of threshold into which you, the viewer, project yourself," but its soft edges also give it a sense of "breathing, pulsating, and sometimes, of dying."

If you happen to have more than a minute available, how could you resist digging a bit deeper into the life and work of an artist like that? Or perhaps you'd prefer to get introduced to another: Henri Matisse or Grant Wood, say, or Kazimir Malevich or Joan Mitchell. You may just find one about whom you want to spend the rest of your years learning.

See all videos, including new ones down the road, at the Painters in 60 Seconds series playlist.

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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.

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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Beautiful & Outlandish Color Illustrations Let Europeans See Exotic Fish for the First Time (1754)

Whether in the tanks into which we gaze at the aquarium or the CGI-intensive wildlife-based gagfests at which we gaze in the theater, most of us in the 21st century have seen more than a few funny fish. Eighteenth-century Europeans couldn't have said the same. The great majority passed their entire lives without so much as a glance at the form of even one live exotic creature of the deep, and most of those who have a sense of what such a sight looked like probably got it from an illustration. But even so, some of the illustrated fish of the day must have proven unforgettable, especially the ones in Louis Renard's Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes.

First published in 1719 with a second edition, seen here, in 1754, Renard's book, whose full title translates to Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs, of Diverse Colors and Extraordinary Form, that Are Found Around the Islands of the Moluccas and on the Coasts of the Southern Lands, showed its readers, in full color for the very first time, creatures the likes of which they'd never have had occasion even to imagine. The book's 460 hand-colored copper engravings depict, according to the Glasgow University Library, "415 fishes, 41 crustaceans, two stick insects, a dugong and a mermaid."

The specimens in the first part of the book tend toward the realistic, while those of the second "verge on the surreal," many of which "bear no similarity to any living creatures," some of which bear "small human faces, suns, moons and stars" on their flanks and carapaces, most possessed of colors "applied in a rather arbitrary fashion," though brilliantly so. In the short accompanying texts, "several of the fish" — presumably not the mermaid — "are assessed in terms of their edibility and are accompanied by brief recipes."

Renard himself, who lived from 1678 to 1746, seems to have had a career as colorful as the fish in his book. "As well as spending some seventeen years as a publisher and bookdealer," he also "sold medicines, brokered English bonds and, more intriguingly, acted as a spy for the British Crown, being employed by Queen Anne, George I and George II." Far from keeping that part of his life a secret, "Renard used his status as an 'agent' to help advertise his books. This particular work is actually dedicated to George I while the title-page describes the publisher as  'Louis Renard, Agent de Sa Majesté Britannique.'"

You can behold more of Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes at the Public Domain Review. "If the illustrations are breathtaking to us now, with all the hours of David Attenborough documentaries under our belts," they write, "one can only imagine the impact this would have had on a European audience of the eighteenth century, to which the exotic ocean life of the East would have been virtually unknown."

Though received as a respectable scientific work in its day — and even, as the Glasgow University Library puts it, "a product of the Enlightenment" — the book now stands as an enchanting tribute to the combination of a little knowledge and a lot of human imagination.

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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.

Interactive Map Lets You Take a Literary Journey Through the Historic Monuments of Rome

Arches on arches! as it were that Rome,

Collecting the chief trophies of her line,

Would build up all her triumphs in one dome,

Her Coliseum stands; the moonbeams shine

As 'twere its natural torches, for divine

Should be the light which streams here, to illume

This long-explored but still exhaustless mine

Of contemplation; and the azure gloom

Of an Italian night, where the deep skies assume

Hues which have words, and speak to ye of heaven,

Floats o'er this vast and wondrous monument,

And shadows forth its glory.

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818)

A modern visitor to Rome, drawn to the Coliseum on a moonlit night, is unlikely to be so bewitched, sandwiched between his or her fellow tourists and an army of vendors aggressively peddling light-up whirligigs, knock off designer scarves, and acrylic columns etched with the Eternal City’s must-see attractions.

These days, your best bet for touring Rome’s best known landmarks in peace may be an interactive map, compliments of the Morgan Library and Museum. Based on Paul-Marie Letarouilly’s picturesque 1841 city plan, each digital pin can be expanded to reveal descriptions by nineteenth-century authors and side-by-side, then-and-now comparisons of the featured monuments.

The enduring popularity of the film Three Coins in the Fountain, coupled with the invention of the selfie stick has turned the area around the Trevi Fountain into a pickpocket’s dream and a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare.

Not so in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s day, though unlike Lord Byron, he cultivated a cool remove, at least at first:

They and the rest of the party descended some steps to the water’s brim, and, after a sip or two, stood gazing at the absurd design of the fountain, where some sculptor of Bernini’s school had gone absolutely mad in marble. It was a great palace-front, with niches and many bas-reliefs, out of which looked Agrippa’s legendary virgin, and several of the allegoric sisterhood; while, at the base, appeared Neptune, with his floundering steeds and Tritons blowing their horns about him, and twenty other artificial fantasies, which the calm moonlight soothed into better taste than was native to them. And, after all, it was as magnificent a piece of work as ever human skill contrived. At the foot of the palatial façade was strown, with careful art and ordered irregularity, a broad and broken heap of massive rock, looking as if it might have lain there since the deluge. Over a central precipice fell the water, in a semicircular cascade; and from a hundred crevices, on all sides, snowy jets gushed up, and streams spouted out of the mouths and nostrils of stone monsters, and fell in glistening drops; while other rivulets, that had run wild, came leaping from one rude step to another, over stones that were mossy, slimy, and green with sedge, because in a century of their wild play, Nature had adopted the Fountain of Trevi, with all its elaborate devices, for her own.

The human statues garbed as gladiators and charioteers spend hours in the blazing sun at the foot of the Spanish Stepsthe heirs to the artists and models who populated William Wetmore Story’s Roba di Roma:

All day long, these steps are flooded with sunshine in which, stretched at length, or gathered in picturesque groups, models of every age and both sexes bask away the hours when they are free from employment in the studios. ... Sometimes a group of artists, passing by, will pause and steadily examine one of these models, turn him about, pose him, point out his defects and excellences, give him a baiocco, and pass on. It is, in fact, a models’ exchange.

The Medici Villa houses the Académie de France, and its gardens remain a pleasant respite, even in 2017. Visitors who aren’t wholly consumed with finding a wifi signal may find themselves fantasizing about a different life, much as Henry James did in his Italian Hours:

Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks—dwarfs playing with each other at being giants—and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid West! ... I should name for my own first wish that one didn’t have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades?...What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.

The interactive map was created to accompany the Morgan’s 2016 exhibition City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics. Other pitstops include St. Peter’s, the Roman Forum, and The Equestrian Monument of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol. Begin your explorations here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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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