Saturday, September 29, 2012


This is my friend, Art.

He works as a security guard at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. 

I stumbled into him in one of the galleries there.

Okay. . . . . .

I'll admit it.

I was more than a little shocked to see him sitting in the middle of the gallery on a chair.

But then I guess that's a pretty good perch for someone in his profession.

I'm sure he doesn't miss much from that front and center perspective.

Art is a really nice guy.

He's quiet.

A little shy.

He always greets his visitors with a smile.

And a twinkle in his eye.

Oh, and by the way, he's not real.

Art is made from polyester resin and oil

His masterful creator, Marc Sijan, is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a brilliant artist and technician.

(Seated Security Guard (Art), Marc Sijan, no date, Butler Museum of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio)

Friday, September 28, 2012


(Tea Party, George Luks, 1922, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama)

These adorable grannies have to be the cutest cluster of ladies I've ever seen.

They are filled with life!

I personally relate to the busiest granny.

The one who is holding a piece of bread – or a big fat sugar cookie! - in her left hand.

She's diving into her steaming bowl of veggie soup – or is it a gigantic dish of chocolate ice cream? - with her right hand.

This gal means business!

She's hunched over her lunch like a protective mama bear whose message to the world is:

Don't mess with me – I've got my feed bag on!”

American artist, George Luks, splashed these women onto his canvas in 1922.

He obviously knew what he was doing.

I love their perky hats.

I'll bet each one of those hats speaks to the unique qualities of its wearer.

And what about those electric blue ensembles?

You can't miss seeing them.

And you're not supposed to.

This is a feel good painting, isn't it?

It makes me happy every time I see it.

And, by the way. . . . . .

Maybe their conversation is going something like this:

MABLE: “Hey, Gertrude, would ya hurry up and pass those cookies my way?”

GERTRUDE: “Hold your horses, Mable, I'll get to it in a minute.”

HORTENSE: “Would you two give it a rest? You both are actin' like you've never seen a speck of food your whole entire lives!”

GERTRUDE: “I've seen plenty of food and I'm gonna see a lot more of it before they plant me! Just sit there and look pretty while I gorge on the groceries!”

Thursday, September 27, 2012


(Mrs. Louis E. Raphael (Henriette Goldschmidt), John  Singer Sargent, 1906, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama)

Today we have the good fortune to gaze upon this lovely portrait of Henriette Goldschmidt.

It was painted by American artist, John Singer Sargent, around the year 1906.

There are obvious similarities between Walter McEwen's “A Woman of the Empire” and Henriette's image.

Both women are wearing highly fashionable gowns of their day.

Both are standing in front of large mirrored surfaces.

And both project images of quiet, refined elegance.

Yet there are defining differences as well.

Sargent has introduced large splashes of cool, silvery blues into his neutral palette

“A Woman of the Empire” is shown mostly in soft, subtle neutral tones.

In addition, McEwen's subject is not adorned with jewels of any kind.

Sargent's sitter, on the other hand, is glistening with white pearls and sparkling finger baubles.

Our woman of the empire stands with her back facing us, her viewers.

Henriette is looking straight at us although her body is positioned in a half turn.

Painter Sargent seems to have captured the essence of Henriette's personality.

By the way, he was known for having the ability to do just that!

We see a hint of a smile on Henriette's delicate face.

She fingers her pretty strand of pearls and gently grasps her silken wrap.

McEwen's model fingers the marble top of the pier table standing before her.

Henriette is shown leaning her right arm on the classically carved mantel of the fireplace.

Sargent has expertly represented Henriette's image in the mirror just as Walter McEwen did with his subject.

Both of these women present dual images to their viewers.

In each case, we see representations of their “real life” countenances.

And we are treated to images of their reflected glories as well.

Perhaps there is a message in that for each of us.

Beauty surrounds us on all sides.

But only if we take the time to truly see it.   

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


(A Woman of the Empire, Walter McEwen, 1900, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond)

This beautiful image is titled “A Woman of the Empire.”

It was painted by American artist, Walter McEwen, around the year 1900.

The title of this piece references the model's gorgeous antique gown.

The satin dress has an elevated “waistline.”

Actually, no waistline exists at all.

What does exist could rightly be called a “bodiceline.”

One hundred years before this painting was created, Jane Austin might have been seen strolling around the city of Bath wearing a dress similar to this one.

It is known as an “empire” dress.

Artist McEwen spares no expense highlighting this lavish gown.

The dress shimmers with light.

But what I love about this painting is seen in the mirrored reflection of the woman herself.

I am intrigued by the painter's masterful ability to portray the subject's image in the mirror.

The mirrored image is subtle, of course.

Isn't that what you would expect in such a circumstance?

After all, the woman is viewed through what is in reality - silvered glass.

But the mirror is oh, so important in this painting.

It is the tool, the device McEwen uses to portray the model's face.

Even her very countenance.

McEwen has chosen a soft taupe hue for his massive mirror.

The same shade of soft grayish-brown is found on the floor.

The taupe tones serve to highlight the woman's glowing white gown.

The painting is literally covered in neutral tones.

In fact, the woman's auburn hair is the most striking of all the colors in the painting.

But even that is clearly muted.

I love the golden sheen and curvaceous lines of the mirror frame, wall sconce and pier table.

These objects bring a sense of definition and life to McEwen's painting.

All of these painterly devices combine to bring beauty and a sense of serenity to the artist's work.

In addition, the subject is beautifully and tastefully dressed.

She stands gracefully before the mirror – the tips of her fingers barely skimming the top of the table.

There is an aura of restraint and refinement about her.

She emanates elegance.

And that is why we are drawn into her world.

Monday, August 27, 2012


(Barking up the Wrong Tree, Francis William Edmonds, 1850, Birmingham Museum of Art)

The art world often takes itself a little too seriously.

That's why I am attracted to artists with a wicked sense of humor.

Such is the case with Francis William Edmonds who was known for his humorous depictions of American life.

Edmonds started his professional career as a banker in New York.

Perhaps he was a bit of a stuffed shirt at the time.

In any case, it didn't take long for him to catch a clue and enroll in the National Academy of Design.

The esteemed Mr. Edmonds wanted to be a painter.

But not at the risk of losing his day job.

He continued to work in the financial world while he studied painting at night.

After all, who knew if this painting gig was going to work out?

And why risk professional embarrassment if it didn't?

Francis decided to play it safe.

He exhibited his paintings under the pseudonym E. F. Williams.

As things turned out, Edmonds' paintings met with favorable reviews.

So he dropped the false name and the rest, as they say, is history.

Early on, Francis was known for his courtship scenes.

Aww – that's sweet!

But it wasn't long before he introduced an element of humor into this genre.

“Barking Up the Wrong Tree” is a fine example.

Let's take a closer look.

Here we see a decidedly older man trying to woo a young woman.

How do we know the man is in the act of wooing?

One look at his face tells the story.
His eyes are planted directly on the woman.

He only has eyes for her.

I wonder if the gentleman has an inkling of how this is going to go turn out?

Look at his frown.

Check out his pursed lips.

And his seriously set jaw.

He's not going into this quest with a high degree of confidence, is he?

He knows this is going to be a tough sell.

Another clue is found in Edmonds' composition of the painting.

He's placed the couple – and only the couple - in his “courting” room.

There isn't a chaperone in sight.

That's highly unusual when we consider the courting customs of the 1800's.

In fact, there were families who did not allow the courting couple to be alone at all – unless, of course, the gentleman was about to pop the question.

And how did the family know when the beau was about to pop the question?

In most families, the bride-to-be's father was in on the secret.

That's because he had already given his blessing to the beau when the suitor asked for the girl's hand in marriage.

Times have dramatically changed.

Still, it's a girl's prerogative to say “yea” or “nay” after the question has officially been “popped.”

Do we know which way our lass is leaning?

Well, she's certainly not looking at her long-in-the-tooth suitor.

She has her gaze firmly turned on us.

That's the first clue.

But there's more.

Do we detect a Mona Lisa-esque grin on that pretty face?

I believe we do!

And what category of emotion could possibly be lurking behind that sweet grin?

I've come up with one real possibility.

Perhaps that smile is saying to the suitor and to us:

“Not in a million lifetimes, honey!”

Alas, we'll never know.

But here's something I do know.

Our lady is holding a knitting needle firmly in her hand.

And it's aimed in the direction of her visitors.

I don't think she cares if the gentleman or his loyal pooch makes the first move toward her.

One of them is going to get taken out.

Unless, of course, she decides to go with Plan B.

In that case, both of them are going bye-bye.  


(Wrapped Oranges, William J. McCloskey, 1889, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

I've never been a huge fan of still-life paintings.

It's not that I don't appreciate their quiet beauty.

It's just that they never have any people in them.

And I find people to be endlessly interesting.

But then the day came when I was standing smack dab in the middle of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.


I was instantly blown out of my socks by the dramatic, simplistic beauty of a painting entitled “Wrapped Oranges.”

There is absolutely nothing that I do not adore about this painting!

William J. McCloskey painted wrapped oranges many times over the span of his career.

In fact, he seemed to be unusually devoted to this limited subject matter.

Some believe he was on the hunt for artistic perfection with his multiple images of wrapped oranges.

It would certainly seem so, anyway.

We know that decorative, table top still lifes were popular during the Victorian era.

These colorfully composed arrangements usually consisted of fruit, flowers, vegetables or a combination of those objects.

And let's face it, you can't go wrong with most of Mother Nature's productions!

Indeed, you can not open an interior design magazine these days without seeing many references to “organic” decorative design.

Elements in nature calm our spirits and uplift our souls.

That's why they've been popular throughout the ages.

Here's a short list of some better known “organic” objects:





And my personal favorite,


All of these natural elements have been painted gazillions of times since the days of Eve.

And rightly so.

They are restful.

They are beautiful for the human eye to behold.

That's apparent when we see McCloskey's brilliantly painted oranges.

However, perhaps the most fascinating fact about these oranges is this:

Four of them are wrapped in crinkly white tissue paper.


Art technicians might use the word “contrast” to explain McCloskey's decision to use the white paper.

And contrast there is!

We have additional information from the Amon Carter about this artist's motives:

“McCloskey imparted to each specimen a distinctive character. The tissue paper acts as a veil or drape, both suggesting and subtly altering the oranges' color and form.”

Just look at that partially unwrapped orange in the background of the painting.

It looks as if the top portions of the paper have been suddenly unleashed and flung into the very air itself!

To me, those white paper protrusions look like dog ears standing at attention.

We can't avoid noticing them, can we?

That's why I find this painting to be so visually exciting.

That brilliant white paper is covered in tiny creases and folds.

This artistic device lends crackly texture to those oranges.

Where does the light fall in this painting?

Most of the light is focused on the orange nearest the black background.

To be specific, it falls directly on the paper that still enfolds the orange.

But it also falls on each of the wrapped oranges in this painting.

The color white draws light to itself.

Perhaps that's why a car salesman once told me:

“White is the number one color choice of car buyers. When we sell a white car – which is frequently – we call it a “white sale.”

Mr. McCloskey seems to know a thing or two about our innate attraction to white, doesn't he?

What about the unwrapped oranges?

For one thing, they're definitely in the minority in this work of art.

They look like dyed-in-the-wool oranges.

Their color perfectly offsets the stark black background and the brilliant white of the tissue paper.

That lends further drama and life to the painting.

Let's talk about that gorgeous table top for a minute.

Someone has been doing some serious polishing!

Or maybe it's just a spectacular varnishing job.

Either way, the gleam of that table top allows the five foreground oranges to have added time in the visual spotlight.

We could even say that those oranges are basking in their mirrored, reflected glory.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure Mr. McCloskey wouldn't mind that assessment.

Monday, August 20, 2012


(Original work of art owned by a private collector, 2011)

As I write this, I'm gazing at an original work of art.

The gazing is taking place at my desk.

For once, I'm not standing in the middle of an art museum.

The canvas is covered in “you-can scratch-it-with-your-finger” paint.

Paint made of chemicals and compounds awash in color.

This time I don't have to settle for a copy of an original piece.


This time, it's the real deal.

And because it's the real deal, the painting emanates “life.”

By that I mean the colors are brighter.


More beautiful.

The composition - the positioning of lines, shapes and curves – is cleaner.

At other times, the composition appears softer.

More defused.

This all depends, of course, on the artist's conception of his or her piece.

Alas, my painting does not have a title.

So here's a thought.......

let's give it one!

We could call it:

“Composition in Blue and White”......

After all, this painting has been thoroughly composed.

It has lines, shapes and a boatload of sinewy curves.

It's obvious that this artist has chosen to color his composition in shades of blue and white.

So “Composition in Blue and White” would definitely make logical sense

But wait a minute here.

Aren't we missing the obvious?

The painting is a portrait of a woman.

A beautifully striking woman.

Perhaps not beautiful in the Hollywood, glamor girl sort of way.

Rather, she is beautiful because she reminds us of a living, breathing woman.

There is life in her rosy countenance.

And radiance in her large blue eyes.

It would be a travesty for this woman to continue her existence in this nameless condition.

Pardon my politics, but far too many women have roamed the earth nearly nameless.

Or worse yet – forgotten.

We can instantly remedy that.

From this moment on, this woman will be known as “Joanna.”

Don't you love that incredible headdress “Joanna” is wearing?

It seems massive at first.

But the more you look at it, the more it speaks perfection.

Part of it resembles a kind of contemporary crown.

Other parts of it encircle the woman's forehead and cheeks, delineating the features of her face.

Mostly, the headdress acts as a flowing drape, giving weight and balance to the subject's head and neck.

This effect is not unlike Rogier's ethereal veil in his “Portrait of a Lady” which we discussed a few weeks ago.

The scriptures tell us that a woman's hair is her crowning glory.

But not in this case.

Here we see but a few golden tendrils peeking out from the drapery.

In this case, it is the woman's magnificent headdress that is her crowning glory.

I can't leave “Joanna” without talking about her stunning blue bodice.

If you could see the painting in real life, you would see many, many tones of that beautiful blue.

All of these hues – when expertly blended by the eye of a seasoned artist - result in the striking shade you see here, a mesmerizing“royal” blue.

“Joanna” was painted by an artist not normally known for his “splash-it-on-the-canvas” portrait work.

He is by trade a successful digital artist.

And that's a horse of a different color.

When he feels the need to escape cyberspace, John William Thomas, likes to play with his paints.

And that's how “Joanna” came into being.

Simply put, I adore her.

She lights up my life each time I glance in her direction.

And one more thing......

I'm kind of related to the talented Mr. Thomas.

He happens to be my son-in-law.