Densmore in Oz

January 22, 2020

On the always wonderful Public Domain Review I found a glorious essay on W.W. Densmore, the illustrator of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books at the beginning of the last century.  Moreover, it has a collection of dozens of Densmore’s images.  I chose two early examples.


Well worth the time!

When A Regime Goes Pear-Shaped

January 9, 2020

In the Public Domain Review, Patricia Mainardi has a fascinating essay on how the image of the pear became a symbol of opposition to the French monarchy in the 1830s.

The most famous of the images was probably this:  Daumier’s The Past, the Present, the Future, depicting Louis-Philippe’s pear head in triplicate, his topknot defining the fruit’s stem. The caption (possibly written by Philipon himself) notes: “What was in the beginning: fresh and confident; What is now: pale, thin, and anxious; What will be: despondent and broken. ”



While originally based on the supposed physical shape of King Louis-Phillipe, it quickly became a general symbol for the anti-monarchists.

The essay goes into great detail about how this symbol developed into a political tool — a proto-meme.

“While the government at first responded to these drawings with repression and seizures, they gradually came to adopt, however reluctantly, a laissez-faire approach. In the course of numerous prosecutions, Philipon had learned how to turn court cases into circuses, much to the amusement of jurors who often declined to convict him.”

A really interesting piece of political history.

Cimabue Blocked

December 24, 2019

Back in October, I reported on the accidental finding of a medieval masterpiece — Christ Mocked by Cimabue — and its sale for $26.8 million.  At the time of the sale, it was not known who had purchased the painting.  Now, the buyers are revealed as US-based Chilean collectors.

However, the French government has declared the painting to be a ‘national treasure’ and have refused an export license.  This refusal gives the French thirty months in which to raise the money. “The culture minister, Franck Riester, said the export block ‘gives us the time to mobilise all efforts for this exceptional work to enrich our national collections.'”

All well and good perhaps, except for the original owners of the painting:

“France’s move to block the export complicates matters for the family of the woman in whose home the picture had hung. They had remained anonymous in what was seen as an improbable saga of overnight riches … But Agence France-Presse reported this week that the woman, who had moved into a retirement home, died shortly after the painting was auctioned. Her family, who must continue to pay high fees to insure the work until the sale is finalised, could now have to negotiate with tax officials over the timings of inheritance tax payments while the sale is in effect suspended for almost three years.”

Definitely a case of not counting one’s chickens before they are hatched.


Art Auctions 2019

December 20, 2019

The figures are in for the top auction sales of the year.  There were some remarkable individual results, topped by this Monet:


  1.  $ 110.7m — Claude Monet:  Meules
  2.  $ 91m — Jeff Koons:  Rabbit
  3.  $ 88.8m — Robert Rauschenberg:  Buffalo II
  4.  $ 59.2m — Cezanne:  Bouilloire et fruits
  5.  $ 54.9m — Pablo Picasso:  Femme au chien
  6.  $ 53m — Andy Warhol: Double Elvis
  7.  $ 52.5m — Ed Ruscha:  Hurting The Word Radio
  8.  $ 50.3 — Francis Bacon: Study For A Head
  9.  $ 50.1m — Rothko:  untitled (1960)
  10.  $ 37.6m — David Hockney: Portait of Henry Gledzahler and Christopher Scott


Some readers may recall that when the ridiculous shiny toy called Rabbit made $91m, I stopped reporting on art because I was so distraught at the weakening of values that Koon’s kitsch revealed.

More importantly, the figures show that New York continues to top London as the number one place to sell art. Highest prices 1 through 9 were sold in NY while only the Hockney was from a London sale.

Also noticeable is the continued dominance of male artists.  The highest price for a female artist was the $32m for Louise Bourgeois’s Spider, which clocked in at 15th place.

Most Important Art of the 2010s

December 2, 2019

ArtNews has published its list of the 20 most important pieces of art created this decade. Like many such lists, this one is sure to create both debate and controversy.

The types of art included are interesting to me: Only 4 are paintings, while 8 are either sculptures or installations; another 6 are videos, and 2 others are pieces of performance art.

Other than the Michele Obama portrait, I was not aware of any of them before today (which no doubt says more about me than about the works). Not having seen any of the videos or the performance pieces, I cannot judge them. Of the others, my particular favourite would be this, both for its immense presence and for the depths of allusion to which it attaches:

A Subtelty, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, by Kara Walker


A quick note: the incredibly facile and over-priced hanging chandelier under the Granville Street Bridge did not make it to the list.

Photos of Historic Places

November 26, 2019

Yes, there is an award for photographing historical sites.  The overall winner this year is:

Mulberry harbour, by Stephane Hurel

My own favourite of those shortlisted:

Shravanabalagola Temply, by Vinor Kumar Kulkarni

The Art Market Thrives

November 14, 2019

We are currently going through the late fall sales of Modern and Impressionists, and the market seems to be as brisk as ever.  Last night’s Christie’s sale of Post-war paintings, for example, raised more than $325 million.


The star of the show was this piece — Hurting The Word Radio #2 — by an artist that would be obscure to most people on the street, I suspect.  Ed Ruscha‘s 1964 work sold for a remarkable $52.5 million, almost double the best price a work by this artist has seen before.