Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh – A Review

sunThere is nothing easy about writing historical fiction. Once a writer adds art into the mix, the project becomes something entirely different as many artists, especially those like Vincent Van Gogh are not so easily defined. Furthermore, having the ability to blend factual art historical information with the fiction a writer creates, is difficult and can often produce novels that are more of a creation as opposed to a well-researched, factual backdrop with a fictional story also added for entertainment.

This, however, is not the case with Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers. As an art historian and professor, Bundrick brings to the table a strong set of skills and research that are more than evident in her fictional retelling of the final two years of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s troubled life. She recounts with some liberty, the time that the struggling artist spent with a young woman named Rachel – the very same lady that would be presented with a fragment of his ear.

Rachel Corteau

In reality, there is nearly nothing that has survived in history about the real Rachel, other then a document that lists her name, address, occupation and that she was the woman Van Gogh asked for at the brothel to present her with a piece of his ear. Other artists such as Bernard and Gauguin mention Rachel in their writings and letters only in passing, referring to her as the “cafe girl” or “a wretched girl” respectively.

Irregardless of the reality of the factual, historical relationship between Van Gogh and Rachel, Bundrick writes her story having imagined what it might have been like had there been a relationship between the two people while incorporating factual information regarding the time period and Van Gogh’s work.

Mixing Factual with Fantasy

Moreover, Bundrick creates this mixture of fantasy and art historical fact seamlessly. She captivates her readers from the very first page and does not let them go until they reach the inevitable end of both the novel and of Vincent Van Gogh. Her intricate descriptions make her readers feel as though they are part of the dingy cafe where Vincent and Rachel meet to talk, part of the garden where he draws her and even part of the city and busyness of the city of Arles as a whole.

Overall, Sheramy Bundrick’s work is captured best through Susan Vreeland, author of Life Studies, ” [Bundrick] lays bare in rich, compelling scenes the mystery of the turbulent and misunderstood final two years in Van Gogh’s life.” Sunflowers is a gem of a first novel and makes for an interesting glimpse into the mental decline of one of the world’s most famous artists.

Sunflowers – A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick is available for purchase through Avon with ISBN 0061765279.

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Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime – A Review

missingKevin Nance of Booklist describes Houpt’s book through the following angle, “when houses like Sotheby’s trumpet their sales records – $104 million for a Picasso! – what’s a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them. In a few cases, Houpt has already been outpaced by events. Munch’s The Scream, stolen from a Norwegian museum in 2004, was recently recovered, and the Picasso sales record was eclipsed this year by the sale of a Klimt (once looted by the Nazis) for a reported $135 million.”

The Hypothesis

Auction house pricing has been a big complaint of many in the art world over the years. It is clear that such enormous prices for famous works by such well-knowns as Picasso only drive up the temptation behind nabbing one of these high-priced canvases for claim in a art thief’s private collection. Taking this idea, Houst takes the reader into the dark underbelly of one of the world’s largest markets and shows the reader just how underhanded some of the worst crimes in art have come to be.

From Munch’s The Scream to the Henry Moore Sculpture

Nothing will illicit intrigue more than when a largely famous work of art goes missing. Houpt does not miss a beat of the action in Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime as the author delves into heavy detail over such infamous thefts as the theft of The Scream and the even more bizarre theft of the nearly two-ton bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Using photographs, illustrations and case studies, Houpt brings these crimes against art to life while still keeping the reader intrigued to learn just how people were able to pull off these brazen acts.

Large-Scale Thefts: From the Nazis to Iraq

What was most intriguing about this book was the coverage that Houpt included on much more large scale operations such as the Nazis’ art theft during World War II and the acts of looting that nearly crumbled the Iraqi Museum and outlaying institutions. If the Rape of Europa piqued your interest, then Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime will take it even another step.

Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime by Simon Houpt is available for purchase with ISBN 1897330448 through Black Walnut/Madison Press.

El Greco to Velazquez – A Review

The Spanish court, specifically under the reign of Phillip IIIspain, is a period in art history where the mature El Greco and the young Velazquez flourished.The court of Phillip III “ushered in a time of elaborate celebrations and religious festivals, a major expansion in new building, and an unprecedented rage for art collecting in the Spanish court. Spain’s art became more naturalistic and expressive; the royal portraits are masterpieces of detailed elegance, and the religious figures have reality and solidity new to the genre,” according to the School Library Journal.

Scholarly Essays

In conjunction with the lavish world of Spanish court portraiture, Bass juxtaposes her rich subject matter with scholarly essays written by some of the nation’s leading art historians. Baer (senior curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Schroth (senior curator, Nash Museum, Duke Univ.) lend their extensive knowledge on Spanish portraiture to the catalog with their thought-provoking and well-written essays on the subject. In addition to the inclusion of better-known names such as El Greco and Velazquez, Bass and her contributors also include lesser known artists who lived and worked in the court of Phillip III.

Foundation of the Spanish Style

Through the essays, the reader sees how the naturalistic and dramatic style of paitning would slowly come to define Spanish court portraiture under Phillip III and would go on to lend to the new innovations that would come in the future after El Greco and Velazquez. The history is rich and deep in the Spanish mindset and lends to the reader a fascinating journey of the evolution of court portraiture under each new reign.

Imagery

Bass includes over 170 color plates that are so well-lit and reproduced that the exhibition catalog without the essays would serve as a great way to understand the art of the court of Phillip III with just the imagery alone.

Crucial Artistic Development

As editor Ronni Baer notes in the description of the catalog, Phillip III “actually presided over an era of crucial artistic development in Spain. His reign was a time of cultural and political vitality for the Spanish monarchy, as the king and his court, having successfully maintained a peaceful foreign policy in Europe (the “Pax Hispanica”), ushered in a style of grandeur where fabulous gala celebrations, building campaigns, picture collecting, recreation and travel were the order of the day.

Accordingly, the art of this period flourished, witnessing the birth of a naturalistic style that was variously reflected in a new attention to detail and spatiality in court portraiture, the thriving of still life, the humanizing of saints and the development of polychrome sculpture.” Such a description only teases the reader as to what will unfold while reading Bass’ catalog.

El Greco to Velazquez by Laura Bass is available for purchase through MFA Publications with ISBN 0878467262.

Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century

cubismPrimitivism is an area within art history that is most famously associated with artist Paul Gauguin. He often traveled to tropical areas such as Tahiti where he believed that he was observing primitive cultures that were untouched by the modern world. Largely, this was not the case, but in turn, Gauguin along with many artists who followed, began to paint native people in a basic, unassuming way.

Towards the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century, artists began to form primitivist artist colonies in Germany and France. The fauvists and German expressionists would later follow.

In Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century, Perry, Frascina and Harrison begin by focusing the beginning of their catalog on the work of the primitivists and then moving into the works of the cubists and abstractionists, thereby creating a thematic and seamless look at the movement of art from and through the 19th and early 20th century.

Dr. Charles Harrison

Harrison was a professor at The Open University in the United Kingdom. He made many contributions to the humanities and more specifically the arts. He passed away in August of 2009. His full obituary is available through the University’s website.

Francis Frascina

Frascina is a is John Raven Professor of Visual Arts in the Department of American Studies at Keele University in the United Kingdom. According to the University’s website Frascina “founded the Department of Visual Arts at Keele University in 1994 and served as Head of Department from January 1994 to October 1998. He formerly held academic posts in Fine Art at Leeds University and in Art History at the Open University. His research interests include the social history of modern art and modernism and the relationships between art, culture and politics in America since 1945.”

Gill Perry

Perry is the co-chair of the Gender in the Humanities Research Group in the Arts Faculty at Open University in the United Kingdom, and was the Reviews Editor of the journal Art History from 1995 – 2001. Along with her accomplishments with in the University, she has also written several books and catalogs. According to the University’s website, she is also a panel member (Panel 2) of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the main UK funding council for academic research.

Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century by Gill Perry, Francis Frascina and Dr. Charles Harrison was first published on May 26, 1993 and is available for purchase through the Yale University Press with ISBN 0300055161.

Picasso Looks at Degas – A Review

picassoArtists will often look at, admire and even borrow from other artists to create their own style and ideas. For Pablo Picasso, this was Edgar Degas. His admiration bordered on near-obsession and even went on to extend to Degas’ personality.

Picasso not only borrowed from the artist that he so admired, but he also took from and reworked some of Degas’ works, including the brothel mono-types that Picasso would acquire during the later years of his artistic career.

Comparing Degas and Picasso

It is evident, by looking at the body of work from both artists, that they both were obsessed with the female figure which they both portray in the form of dancers, singers and prostitutes. Degas tended to favor capturing the female form with the portrayal of ballet dancers and singers. Some of his more famous works include L’etoile and The Singer in Green. Comparatively, Pablo Picasso is more widely associated with works such as Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, a cubist portrayal of the ladies that composed a scene consisting of prostitutes. Some scholars have since made a connection between Picasso’s work and that of the court portraits of Spanish painter, Velazquez.

Degas and Picasso Exhibitions

This exhibition catalog is from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute located in Williamstown, MA which hosted the exhibition that depicted the influence of Edgar Degas on Pablo Picasso. The exhibition lasted from June 13, 2010 until September 12, 2010. It was a joint project between the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. According to the Clark Institute website, it was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, and with the special cooperation of Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte.

About the Author

According to amazon.com, “Elizabeth Cowling is Professor Emeritus of History of Art at Edinburgh University, and an independent scholar and exhibition curator. Richard Kendall is Consultative Curator of Nineteenth-Century Art at the Clark, as well as an independent scholar and exhibition curator. Cécile Godefroy is a researcher at the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte in Madrid. Sarah Lees is Associate Curator of European Art at the Clark. Montse Torras is Exhibitions Coordinator at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.”

Picasso Looks at Degas by Elizabeth Cowlin, Mr. Richard Kendall, Montse Torras, Sarah Lees and Cecile Godefroy is available for purchase through the Clark Art Institute with ISBN 0300134126. It was originally published on July 13, 2010.

 

About Vernon Hyde Minor’s Art History’s History

art historyBudding art historians and those with only a slight interest in the subject should pick up a copy of Art History’s History by Vernon Hyde Minor. It not only creates a brief introduction into the rich and lavish world of Art History, but it also relates to the reader in such a way that it can be considered a book based on the introductory level of Art History. Vernon Hyde Minor simplifies the practice of art and its history to appeal even to the casual reader of the subject.

Vernon has done something that most art historians would view as the impossible – he has taken the entire history of art and condensed into 200 pages. He has done so in such a way that readers are not missing out on any sort of basic introductory information. If anything, such a concise compilation will draw more people into the history of art and help to foster an appreciation for the subject that might have otherwise gone overlooked.

Terminology

In Art History, much of the terminology used can be considered to be a language all its own, if it is not in another language to begin with. The subject is steeped heavily in French and German and those who are not trained in either language may have a hard time adjusting to Art History as a subject. However in his book, Vernon avoids this sort of confusion thereby allowing the history of art to be understood by those who are not classically trained in the subject.

Why is Art History Taught?

Through methodologies and the evolution thereof, Vernon Hyde Minor attempts to explain to his readers not only the importance of Art History, but also why it is being taught, specifically in American classrooms. Unlike its European counterparts, the American people often times overlook the importance of the subject and are quick to dismiss it when their children return home from their first semester of college, announcing their major as Art History. Vernon Hyde Minor tries to debunk that ideal, but displays its importance through his methodology.

Focus on the Famous

Many of the works discussed and highlighted in Vernon’s book are famous works that the general public would be aware of. By doing so, Vernon’s concise and condensed history of art has the potential to draw people in to the subject matter. By the time a reader has completed this book, it is sufficient to say that they would be willing and open to the idea of learning and reading more about the mini-course they just took on the subject.

Vernon Hyde Minor’s Art History’s History is available for purchase through Prentice Hall with ISBN 0130851337.

Anton Gill’s Art Lover – A Review

peggyPeggy Guggenheim is known for many things – the death of her father on the RMS Titanic, her sexual escapades and most importantly, her hand in the founding of Modern Art.

Anton Gill paints a colorful portrait of the late Peggy Guggenheim in his biography entitled, Art Lover. It begins where Peggy began, being the young daughter of a Jewish family in New York’s elite inner circle at the turn of the last century. From there, the book unfolds into Peggy’s illustrious life abroad.

Donna Seaman explains it best in Booklist, “Gill patiently records every battle in her two violently contentious marriages, her compulsive promiscuity, miserable failure at motherhood, and peripatetic lifestyle, then, with a sigh of relief, concentrates on her vision and generosity in supporting avant-garde writers and artists and her influential role as gallery owner and pioneering modern art collector. In spite of much chaos and unhappiness, Guggenheim–flamboyant and audacious, a magnet for gossip and a champion of artistic freedom–did move culture forward in the face of fascism, virulent anti-Semitism, and pervasive sexism.”

Guggenheim was Neither

Guggenheim was not one of her richer relatives, nor was she known to be a great beauty, however Gill focuses on not only how this would later form her life, but also how it would change it. Peggy preferred Europe to America and often used her sexuality to claim the things that she wanted- whether they be an artist or a painting.

Private Life

Gill outlines Peggy’s early life in a series of re-tellings about Peggy’s early marriage to the Dad sculptor, Laurance Veil. Together they would have two children and a very tumultuous relationship that would inevitably end in divorce. Gill depicts her life in New York with Veil, their move to Europe which seemed to only strengthen the intensity of Peggy and Laurance’s arguments, culminating in the destruction of furniture and prized possessions more often than not. Laurance’s affair with Kate Boyle would ultimately destroy the marriage and Peggy would go on to marry Max Ernst for a brief time.

Her Gift to Modern Art

According to Gill, Peggy lived out the remainder of her life in Venice where her collections still remains. In recent years, her home has opened as a museum, inviting guests from all over the world to see what was once only privy to Guggenheim and a select few of her artistic circle.

Death

Following her death, Peggy Guggenheim was laid to rest in Italy. Her marker lays next to a plaque remembering all of the dogs that she had owned during her life.

Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill can be purchased online through ISBN 006095681X from Harper Perennial.