Bob Ross Day

July 4, 2020

That odd little wannabe dictator south of us is mouthing off all day about a Memorial to Great Americans. He could do a lot worse than rename today Bob Ross Day.

Bob, who has brought happiness to more people than Trump could even conceive of, died on this day in 1995. His memory goes on.

Sports Photography

July 3, 2020

The First Annual World Sports Photography awards have been announced.  The overall winner was this action shot from a world heavyweight title fight

Image: Richard Heathcote

I also liked these two:

Image: Scott Barbour


Image: Filope Amorin

The Extraordinary History of Prussian Blue

June 23, 2020

For anyone who paints today, it is hard to believe there was ever a time when the beautiful, versatile, and stable Prussian Blue pigment did not exist. But the fact is it is just a few hundred years old.

It was discovered, by accident, in the first decade of the 1700s in Berlin by a colour-maker called Diesbach.  Prior to that time, blue pigments had been sourced from “indigo, smalt, azurite and ultramarine, derived from lapis lazuli, which was expensive.”  The new process was cheap and easily manufactured. Its first verifiable use in an artwork was in “The Entombment of Christ” by Pieter vander Werff in 1709.


I didn’t know any of this until I read a fascinating article called “Prussian Blue and Its Partner In Crime” by Philip McCouat in the excellent Journal of Art In Society.  The article goes on to describe the pigment’s use in Europran art and, notably, in the creation of an entire genre of Japanese painting.

The second part of McCouat’s article (“…Partner in Crime”) takes the story into even more interesting ground once a Swedish chemist discovered that by mixing Prussian Blue with diluted sulphuric acid he could create the deadly poison hydrogen cyanide, a favourite of poisoners ever since.  This section of the essay details the first murderer caught by telegraph, and the use of cyanide and its derivatives both by US gas chambers and by Nazi mass executioners.

Who knew that such a beautiful colour could have such a blotchy history? Mix up your favourite beverage, settle back, and enjoy this fascinating long read.


Nat Geo’s Best Photographs

June 18, 2020

National Geographic has a web page full of its best photographs of the last decade.  Some remarkable images there.  A couple of favourites of mine:

Photographer: Joel Sartore


Photographer Jimmy Chin


The Art Business Evolves

May 16, 2020

When last I wrote about the art market, in November, it was buoyant and looking forward. Since then, of course, the world crashed to a halt; museums, galleries, artists, and auction houses have been shuttered like the rest of us.  Some old fortunes were lost, and some new ones found. How that has affected the upper end of the world art market is about to  be revealed, as Christie’s leads the way to a possible new future.

On 10th July,

“[u]sing streaming technology, ONE will be the first auction of its kind, taking place in consecutive sessions in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York. Alex Rotter, chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, says of ONE that, ‘with our virtual and physical worlds rapidly merging, we felt it was vital we meet this new reality with an innovative platform.’

Offering a range of exceptional 20th-century works, it will be staged by a leading auctioneer in each location (starting in Hong Kong) for a live and an online audience simultaneously. The new format aims to create a cutting-edge, adaptable, highly engaging platform for bidders around the globe, while also capturing the drama and excitement of a gala sale.

We’ll see if that is possible with the technology.  What is for certain is that they have laid on a masterpiece as their main lot: Version F of Picasso’s Les femmes d’Anger series.  Version O sold at auction for $179 million in 2017.

“Each of Picasso’s 15 canvases is a marvel of invention. What makes Version ‘F’ stand out is the way it marks a bridge between the first phase of the series (of regular-sized canvases) and the second, final phase (featuring much larger works).  Version ‘F’ is the culminating picture of the first phase, both brilliantly coloured and spatially ingenious, a composition so fully resolved that Picasso now felt ready to tackle bigger canvases. His palette is scorching, comprised principally of saturated red and gold tones. The airy white passages found in his previous versions of Les femmes d’Alger  are gone, replaced by a dense, expressive weave of Matissean pattern and colour. More than any other painting in the series, it conveys the hothouse atmosphere of a harem.”

This isn’t one of my favourite Picasso’s, but then again I was never going to be laying down $200 million to own it even if I loved it. But it is certain to attract a lot of interest and indirectly assist the rest of the Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary, as well as Design, lots.

Most of the really rich buyers phone it in anyway, through their agents, so going online should not be too much of a novelty.  It will be an interesting experiment.

Food Photographs of the Year

April 30, 2020

Earlier this week, the winners of the Pink Lady Food Photography awards were announced.  The overall winner was:

K.M. Asad: After Exodus

My favourites are:

Zay Yar Lin: Vegetable Stall


K.M. Asad: Making Together


German Nature Photography 2020

April 29, 2020

The German Society for Nature Photography (GDT) has selected its Nature Photographer of the Year 2020.  The winner was this:

Peter Lindel – A Hare’s Dream

My favourites were:

Flurin Leugger – Takeoff. A coyote panics geese


Benjain Waldmann – Magic Light


Banksy’s Bathroom

April 22, 2020

The most famous street artist in the world is home-bound just like the rest of us. But it hasn’t affected his creativity.


As he writes:  “My wife hates it when I work from home.”


Thanks to My Modern Met for the heads up.


April 18, 2020

The Washington Post this week includes a review by Paul Alexander of Blake Gopnik’s epic new biography of Andy Warhol, a work which calls Warhol — with complete justification in my opinion — “the most important and influential artist of the twentieth-century,” surpassing even Picasso.

For those unwilling to plough through the 1,000 pages of Gopnik’s book, this review outlines in broad strokes the reasons behind that bold claim.

Warhol was a highly successful commercial artist before turning his mind to what we might call fine art, first with the Soup Cans (which invented Pop Art), then with the silkscreens and Brillo sculptures and the first Factory.  By the mid-1960s he was creating experimental films (“Chelsea Girls“, for example, and “Poor Little Rich Girl“) and inventing new music with Velvet Underground.  Gopnik goes on to show that after he was shot and nearly killed in 1968, he returned to art (the Mao posters, and famous portraits) and allowed Fred Hughes to build a Warhol business empire which included television work and a new Factory.

Warhol produced a phenomenal amount of extraordinary and innovative material in his lifetime, stopping only for death in 1987.  Gopnik notes the “critical scepticism” that surrounded the living artist, a scepticism that has disappeared since Warhol’s death.  What has also grown over the years is a recognition of the positive and exciting influence that Andy Warhol had on so many other artists.

Andy Warhol is not my favourite modern artist — that remains Lucian Freud — but I share Gopnik and Alexander’s appreciation of his supreme importance.


Escaping Isolation via Web Cam #4

April 11, 2020

Take a stroll around the British Museum in London, follow your own path at your own speed. It’s a gas!

Select here to start the tour.


The Art of Fake Food

April 7, 2020

In Japan you see them everywhere — windows full of plastic food designed to tempt you into a restaurant.  Business Insider has a good little piece on the history (1930s on), how it became a $90 million business, and how the artistic manufacture of these masterpieces takes place.

I would love a few of them to decorate my kitchen.

In Support of Key Workers

April 6, 2020


British graphic artist Craig Oldham has produced this poster in support of all the workers continuing to deliver essential services through this virus crisis.  He notes that these now-essential workers are often the lowest paid and the least considered.

Thanks to Creative Review.

The Sensual Dadaist

April 4, 2020

A long time ago, probably in the mid-1960s, I found the Dadaists much to my taste. Of that group, perhaps Jean (or Hans) Arp has stayed with me longest. He was the only Dadaist to produce truly graceful artworks in contrast to the wrecking crew as some have dubbed the other anarchists.

Self portrait, about 1922

In an article for its online magazine, Christie’s describes Arp’s work as “playful, ambiguous, sensuous” and “alluring.”

“The highest 25 prices for Arp pieces at auction have all been realised in the past 15 years. According to Didier Hess, two types of work are the most sought-after. One are his bas-reliefs from the 1920s, which are rare and bear witness to Arp’s seminal role in the development of Surrealism.  The other, of course, are his biomorphic sculptures executed in prestigious materials such as white marble or black granite — and characterised by their purity of line and immaculate polished surface.”

A fine example of the latter is Demeter, created in 1961 and sold at auction in 2018 for $5.825,000.

Artwork: © DACS 2020


The Christie’s article is in advance of a coming sale of an Arp.  Selon Les Lois Du Hasard — a wood relief, 11 ½ x 17 ½ x 1 3/8 in., executed in 1951 in an edition of 3 — is expected to sell for about $55,000:


Jean Arp died in 1966.

Painting By Numbers

April 1, 2020


Today is the first anniversary of the death of Dan Robbins. You may not know his name, but you have almost certainly heard of the product he invented — Paint By Numbers.

Long before Bob Ross seduced the PBS audience into believing they could paint, Dan Robbins and the Palmer Paint Company sold millions and millions of kits to upwardly mobile folks in the 1950s and ’60s.  Even my mother and father — without an artistic bone in either body — insisted on placing their paint-by-numbers efforts around the house.

“Robbins’s paint-by-number kits, which were conceived as a way to promote Palmer Paint Co. paint sets to a wider audience,” according to an article in “were developed in conjunction with the company’s owner, Max Klein, and went on sell millions. Robbins was tasked with finding a way to market the paint kits to adults and found inspiration for his blockbuster invention in an odd factoid about the work of Leonardo da Vinci. ‘I remembered hearing that Leonardo used numbered background patterns for his students and apprentices, and I decided to try something like that,’ Robbins said …”

“The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History presented a paint-by-number exhibition in 2001, shifting critical conception of the painting fad from déclassé kitsch to a legitimately interesting and eminently collectible form of popular Americana. In step with the exhibition, Robbins authored a book, Whatever Happened to Paint-By-Numbers?: A Humorous Personal Account of What it Took to Make Anyone an ‘Artist’, but it was clear that he had a humble and balanced view of the artistic importance of his best-known invention.”

On April 1, 2019 Dan Robbins died in Sylvania, Ohio at the age of 93.


Moving Art by Caleb Schaub

March 28, 2020

Put this on full screen and just watch the creation process. Fascinating stuff.

How To Make A Tree Disappear

March 25, 2020

Marvelous work here!

Another Look at Lucian Freud

March 19, 2020


Long-time readers may recall that I have a real fondness and admiration for the painter Lucian Freud and his works. There is no uncertainty in my mind that he was the greatest British painter of our age. A long article in New Criterion gives me the excuse to repeat my praise.

Andrew L. Shea’s Facing Lucian Freud is a review of The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922–1968 by William Feaver and a reflection on the Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Ithe modern era, few artists have gripped the public’s imagination with a legend of biography and cult of personality quite like Lucian Freud. Rarely is the painter invoked without at least a sideline reminder of his influential grandfather (Sigmund), usually followed by the observation that he is confirmed to have fathered fourteen children of his own (twelve illegitimate) and probably spawned many more than this (estimates from the rumor mill rise as high as forty). Then we learn of his extraordinary gambling addiction and his wildly polarized social life—running with the literary, noble, and social elites of his generation one night, consorting joyfully with the some of the grimiest characters from London’s seedy underbelly the next. When the conversation does turn toward the pictures, it normally stops first to linger on the astronomically high auction prices they began to receive in the twenty-first century, especially in the years preceding and following his death in 2011.

Feaver’s aim is to bring context to Freud’s paintings.

“On a basic level, Freud’s claim that “everything is biographical” aligns with the fact that he drew and painted the people he knew, the things he liked, in his studio and home. As such, Feaver’s account of Freud’s life as he went about meeting these people and bringing them into the sitter’s chair is useful from an art-historical perspective …

“Feaver conducted what he says are thousands of interviews with Freud, and these sometimes daily conversations have formed the backbone of his book. Indeed, nearly every page contains firsthand testimonial from the painter, and many pages are filled primarily with Freud’s voice. This gives the biography a lively, often very funny, and intimate character. It also allows us an in-depth look into how Freud, reticent and reluctant to discuss the work publicly while he was alive, viewed his own artistic project.”

Shea then turns to the show in Boston which features a collection of more than forty works of self-portraiture that span the bulk of Freud’s seven-decade career.


Shea is a fine critic and a perceptive viewer of Freud through the decades.  He concludes his well worthwhile article:

Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits may not answer all our questions about the relationship between this fascinating artist and his often unsettling work. But it’s a welcome opportunity to ponder the same in front of unusually powerful pictures. Together, the exhibition and William Feaver’s new biography offer as penetrating a look into the man behind the mirror as we’ve had to date.”

Agora’s World of Work

March 17, 2020

The photography app Agora has announced the winner of their 2020 Images of Work contest. It is a stunning image:

Washing Water Lilies by @ptkhanhhvnh


Agora’s site displays all 50 finalists and there are some wonderful images in there.  I was most attracted to:

Working in the heights by @phamhuytrung


The sound of bamboo brooms by @tuan1368

Parks Photography 2020

March 14, 2020

The UK National Parks have released the winner, runner-up, and shortlisted images from this year’s Parks Photography competition.

The winner was this:

Breakfast to take away” by Peter Stevens


And my particular favourite was:

Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor by Debra Smitham

Mold As A Feature, Not A Bug

March 10, 2020

I am a great lover of ads that take risks and I have reported on some of my favourites in the past.  Now, we have the moldy Burger King Whopper to add to the list:


The point of the ad, of course, is to feature the fact that there are no artificial preservatives in a Whopper. They are made fresh and are designed to be eaten fresh. It works for me, but it did not air without a lot of controversy. Some people hated it, hated the very idea of it. But most didn’t. As Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer reports:

“The level of awareness we reached with this campaign was very high. In other words, this material truly stood out and was seen by a lot of people. Just to illustrate how big Moldy Whopper was, we reached a level of awareness 50% higher than our 2019 Super Bowl campaign (“Eat Like Andy”). And our 2019 Super Bowl campaign was the most talked about, searched, and discussed campaign of the Super Bowl last year. Moldy Whopper generated a significantly larger impact than that on a fraction of the budget.”

What do you think?