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.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


(Florentine gown worn by Eleanora of Toledo, as interpreted by Isabelle de Borchgrave)

There's no doubt about it.

It's more than a little scary and beyond bold for an art lover to write about an art exhibit she has never seen.

But that's exactly what I'm going to do.

That's because I've got a feeling deep in my bones that Countess Isabelle de Borchgrave is an artist wildly deserving of that leap of faith.

Oh so many years ago, Isabelle fell in love with pencil drawing as a little girl in Belgium.

She treated every surface in her room as a canvas.

Even her walls and floors were not off limits.

As a teen, she studied at the Centre des Arts Decoratifs and the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels where she created, among other things, drawings of still lifes and model figures.

Later, she diversified her interests and began making clothes for friends.

Eventually, she opened her own design studio where she created dresses, scarves, and jewelry for a larger audience of buyers.

Isabelle's true love was fabric design and that was the common thread that ran through each of her artistic creations.

Then one fateful day – like most art lovers on the planet – she stepped inside the beloved halls of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Inside the Met, Isabelle began to imagine a new world of period costumes.

But this time things were different.

Isabelle did not dream up costumes made of fabric as one would properly expect from this creative genius.

No, Isabelle's newest line of costume dresses would, instead, be made of paper.

That's right.


Before long, Isabelle began work on four collections of painted, paper, period costumes.

Her first collection, “Paper in Fashion,” examined 300 years of fashion history – everything from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel.

Next, she delved into the fashion culture of 19th century Venice with a collection entitled “Mariano Fortuny.”

Her third collection, “I Medici,” brought Renaissance fashion to life by displaying prominent Florentine aristocrats in their pearls, silks, velvets and sumptuous gold braiding.

(Costume of Anna de' Medici as interpreted by Isabelle) 

(Costume of Isabella de' Medici as interpreted by Isabelle)

Finally, “Ballets Russes” highlighted the talents of Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse who designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's Russian ballet company.

Then, in 1998, Isabelle's mind blowing talents hit the big time when her exhibition, “Papier a la Mode,” toured France, the United States and Asia.

“The New York Times” called this popular paper costume review “pure delight.”

As the exhibition traveled, Isabelle continued to create new costume designs – all in paper - for some of history's most illustrious fashion leaders:

Queen Elizabeth of England,

Marie Antoinette of France,

and the Empress Eugenie, consort of Napoleon III,

to name a few.

Oh, I should tell you that Isabelle managed to knock out a a few Ottoman kaftans in paper while the exhibit was planted in Turkey.

This, my friends, is not a woman who lets dust gather under her feet!

Speaking through the “Daily Telegraph,” Isabelle talked about her commission for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.

She said: “Jackie Kennedy's wedding gown was dusty and fragile, wrapped up in black tissue paper. The silk was dead, you couldn't touch it any more. It was preserved like a relic. The original is dead, but the paper copy I created brings it back to life.”

Here's my favorite factoid about Isabelle:

In 2004, Isabelle designed and fashioned a painted paper dress for Queen Fabiola of Belgium. The queen actually wore this gown to the wedding of Prince Felipe of Spain in Madrid!

How does this mega-talented woman use paper and paint to fashion a gown?

The beginning of Isabelle's creative process starts with sheets of paper which measure approximately three by five feet.

Next, she gathers a large collection of brushes and paints and places them on a ginormous linen covered table in her studio.

Then she goes to work painting her paper masterpieces.

“The New York Times” makes the following comment about Isabelle's creative process:

“Her colors are very much inspired by her travels: reds from the roses of Turkey, earth hues from Egypt, blues from Borchgrave produces astonishing effects of scintillating color, weight, transparency and texture. Her renderings of diaphanous gauzes are especially astonishing.”

In 2008, a beautifully illustrated book entitled: “Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave” was published in America.

Within just a few weeks, “The New York Times” said the book was “one of the best gift books published in 2008.”

It the book's introduction, world renowned fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy, says:

“Isabelle is one of a kind; with a single sheet of paper, she creates the most beautiful dresses, the finest costumes, or, simply, a chain of white roses...whether it becomes a shoe, a hat or a few strings of pearls, Isabelle transforms paper the way a musical virtuoso plays an instrument.”

High praise, indeed.

So without further adieu, I bring you three concluding photos of Eleanora's breathtaking ensemble as it was envisioned by Isabelle de Borchgrave.


 (Eleanora's gown in all its frontal splendor)

 (The posterior view)

(Eleanora's pearl headdress and necklace)


Much of the information in this blog was gleaned from Wikipedia.

Some of the photographs were taken from the book: “Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave.”

And finally, Eleanora's stunning Renaissance gown was inspired by a portrait painted by Bronzino which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

I reviewed this very painting in an earlier blog on January 9, 1012.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


(Portrait of a Lady, Rogier Van Der Weyden, 1462, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Little did I know at the middle of March that I would be taking a four month sabbatical from writing.

A trip to Paris and Italy with our dear friends S & R kept me away from my desk for three weeks.  As soon as we arrived home, we got busy painting walls and assorted other surfaces at both of our daughters' homes.  Immediately after that siege of work, this thought popped into my head:  "Hey, as long as we've got our brushes and drop cloths out, why don't we paint a bunch of walls at our place?"

So we did.

Somewhere along the line, Bob and I managed to squeeze an art crawl into the mix which took us to Omaha, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Before we knew it, our two perfect grandchildren dropped in for their annual summer visits - one at a time, you understand.  These visits consist of  seven days of complete grandparental spoilage.  And, frankly, Bob and I are experts when it comes to this kind of work.  The kiddos, oddly enough, seem to be 100% behind us as well.

So here we are at the tail end of July.

And here I am with my first blog in just over four months:


Why beat around the proverbial bush?

I'm just going to come right out and say it:

This scrumptious painting by Northern Renaissance artist, Rogier van der Weyden, knocks my socks off every time I see it.

Though it may be possible to list 60 bajllion reasons why this work of art deserves its high and holy status, I'll mention just a few.

First of all,  it was painted by "Rogier" himself.

Rogier van der Weyden is a total VIP in the world of art.

That's why he's known by his first name.

Think "Madonna," Cher,"  "Michelangelo," and "Leonardo."

All known by their first names because they reached the stratosphere of public recognition in their respective fields of work.

Art historian, Lorne Campbell,  makes the following statement about Rogier's "The Magdalen Reading," which just happens to illuminate the banner of this blog:

"The Magdalen Reading" is one of the great masterpieces of fifteenth-century art."

No kidding.

The facts of Rogier's life are sketchy due to the loss of archival material back in 1695 and again in 1940.

But I can tell you that he was born in Tournai in modern-day Belgium in 1399.

Or maybe it was 1400.

We know the names of his parents and the woman he married in 1426.

And the fact that Rogier was made town painter of Brussels in 1436 is carved in stone.

He left no self-portraits so we don't know what he thought of himself in a painterly sense.

We know that several of his most important works were destroyed during the late 1600s.


What have I missed of this brilliant person's art?

We also know that nineteenth century art historians often attributed his work to others.

That's injustice of the first degree!

We know that he studied with Renaissance Master, Robert Campin, during the latter part of his life.

And it wasn't long before Rogier mastered his master.

Eventually, he actually influenced the artistic work of Campin as well.

To top things off, Rogier left no signed or dated paintings.

So, dear readers, I stand corrected.

The facts about Rogier's life are more than just "sketchy."

They are ridiculously sketchy!

But, then again, does it really matter?

Not when we've got this gorgeous portrait to gaze at.

I wish I could show this portrait to you in real life.

I can't.

But my dear friends, K & M will soon have the chance to get up close and personal with this mysterious beauty.

And I'm totally envious of them!

I hope they end up loving her as much as the rest of the world does.

No one really knows who this woman is.

There are no clues except for one in particular.

Because of her ladylike, poised bearing and serene facial expression, we assume that she is a member of the nobility.

In my opinion, this portrait speaks perfection.

I've looked - trust me I have! - but I simply can't find anything wrong with  this work of art.

Rogier was the consummate technician.

That's the understatement of like......forever.

He knew how to use line and color to evoke emotions within his sitters and within his viewers as well.

And that takes talent, my friends.

Lots and lots of talent.

Look at the sharp diagonal lines of our lady's veil.

Those lines draw us immediately into the painting.

The misty white, ethereal fabric of her veil is mesmerizing, isn't it?

Especially when that veil is displayed against a stark black background.

The delicate transparency of the veil is something to behold.

Every time I see this work of art, I am touched by the beauty, the grace, and the subtlety of Rogier's unforgettable veil which barely grazes this gentlewoman's  forehead.

The veil falls just over the sitter's eyebrows.

This allows the fabric to frame and accentuate the features of our lady's face.

This is a woman with model-like cheekbones!

Gentle curves and sublime colors define the beauty of her face.

Her complexion appears to be flawless, doesn't it?

And what about those intoxicating lips?

They are stained with just the right touch of sienna-tinged coral.

Those lips are echoed in the color of the belt that elegantly cinches her tiny waist.

Our lady is not laden with a mass of baubles and flashy doo-dads.

The simple elegance of this beauty speaks volumes.

I think there might be a lesson in that for all of us.

Rogier's emotionally expressive, superlative paintings have influenced a literal world of followers.

How do you explain the kind of talent that Rogier possessed?

It is God blessed and God given.

There can be no other explanation.

Monday, March 19, 2012


("Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash", Giacomo Balla, 1912, Buffalo Museum of Art, Buffalo, NY)

My sisters and I hounded our parents about getting a dog for years.

We were relentless.

It took a good long while but eventually Mom and Dad caved in.

I remember the day Dad arrived home with the precious pooch in tow.

My sisters and I were awe struck as we sat on the living room floor staring at our new pet.

We named this red-brown wonder, "Happy," for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Happy stared right back at us.

Who knows what he was thinking but it may have been something like this:

"Jeesh, there's three of them - all females.  And that doesn't count the mom.  I'm gonna be squeezed, pinched, carried and slobbered on to within an inch of my life."

And that's pretty much what happened.

We loved that dachshund.

Happy was your basic dog.


Good tempered.

He liked to sniff things.

Happy was definitely not the fastest canine on earth.

This, of course, was largely due to his short, stubby little legs.

My heart went out to him every time we went on a walk.

His paws were scrambling as fast as they could go on the pavement.

That's why I was totally tickled the day I discovered Giacomo Balla's wonderful painting, "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash."

As I stood gazing and smiling at Giacomo's peppy puppy, I was instantly reminded of my own beloved Happy.

What has Giacomo given us in his unusual painting?

A low view point, for one thing.

We don't see the whole woman walking the dog.

We see her feet and a few inches of her dress.

Balla is telling us that the human perspective isn't important in this painting.

But we can't miss Doxie!

She's up close and personal, isn't she?

We're really getting a dog's view of the world here.

And that's a nice change-up.

Most art critics agree that Doxie has eight tails.

Not literally, of course.

It simply looks like she has eight tails.

Balla's multi-layered brush strokes are a symphony of frenetic movement.

Words like "flurry" and "blurry" come to mind the second we see this prancing dog.

Balla's beautiful application of paint reminds me of feathery, black Spanish lace.

I see an intricate, delicate patterning of lacy veiling everytime I look at Doxie's whirling paws.

I love Doxie's flip-floppy ears - they are blowing in the breeze as she hurries through space.

Doxie is tethered to her owner by a silver chain that arcs back and forth in rhythmic movement as the walkers continue their promenade.

That silver chain ties not only Balla's walkers together, it also adds drama and interest to the overall composition of his painting.

Every turn of Balla's brush evokes feelings of joyful motion!

Giacomo, born in Turin, Italy, began working in a lithograph print shop at the tender age of nine.

At the age of 20 he decided to study painting at local art academies in Turin.

After marrying Elisa Marcucci in Rome in 1895,  Giacomo worked as an illustrator, caricaturist and portrait painter in that esteemed city.

Later, Balla became a leading member of the Italian avant-garde group, the Futurists.

This art movement focused on creating pictorial depictions of light, movement and speed.

That bit of information brings us back to our speedy Miss Doxie.

She's short in stature.

She's long in body.

But, my stars, can that girl get a move on!

She's inspiring me to get up and move my own creaky bones.

And that's a good thing.

Because I've got some serious hoofing to do in massive art museums in the near future.


There's gonna come a point when my aching "dogs" are gonna win out over the luscious Leonardos, the rapturous Raphaels and the magnificent Monets.

So when that happens, I'm gonna think about Doxie the Dasher the very minute I want to sit on my duff and whine about my aching feet.

Then I'm gonna bounce back up and start spinning my wheels.

Knowing me, I'll probably fall back down onto the gallery bench and promptly pass out.

That will be the signal for me to move on to "Plan B" which looks pretty much like this:

I'll get down on all fours and crawl like a baby through the Louvre's Italian Salon.

Thank heavens, Miss Doxie won't be there to see me!

Friday, March 9, 2012


("The Groom Presenting the Bride to His Mother," Jacob van Oost, The Younger, 1680, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina)

If you are not one who finds in-law relationships "amusing," you will probably wonder why I have chosen this painting for the "Just Gotta Laugh" series.

Please allow Dr. Merry to explain some basic facts of married life.

First of all, you never marry one person when you tie that blissful marital knot.

No, indeedy!

You marry that one person AND that one person's entire family.

At least it sure seems like it for a lot of folks out there.

Let's have a little reality check:

Many people have never heard of - gotten a glimpse of - or spoken a word to their future in-laws until that awkward, scary moment when "THE MEETING" finally takes place.

In fact, in many cases the in-law mate would not even know their in-laws existed if it wasn't for the institution of marriage that brought them together in the first place.

And yet, in-law mates are expected to accept, honor and love their in-laws as soon as it is humanly possible to do so.

Preferably within 42 seconds of the initial meeting.

Jacob Van Oost, The Younger's painting, "The Groom Presenting the Bride to His Mother," is a wonderful visual representation of that fateful, first time meeting between the future daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law to be.

Painter Van Oost was known for his beautifully balanced compositions with accents of bright, rich colors.

Just look at the bride's canary yellow gown!

It literally pops off the canvas with light, volume and delicate flourishes.

We see a bevy of silky pleats, tucks, braids and at least one hard-to-miss bow.

What about that regal, stand up lace collar with its matching cuffs?

That gorgeous gown is dripping in the finest Flemish lace.

"Mom's" ensemble doesn't fare quite so well, does it?

In fact, her dress - although accessorized by a beautiful lace collar, cap and cuffs - is, to say the least, a bit underwhelming.

Perhaps this woman is a widow in mourning.

That would certainly account for the missing father-in-law as well as for the mother's dark, drab attire.

I've gotta say that I'm loving that peachy peek-a-boo sleeve and those apricot leggings the groom is sporting.

Look closely at the opening of his waistcoat.

A peach colored tie is hanging demurely inside his coat.

There's just a smidgen of silky peach fabric turned back toward us, the viewers, isn't there?

And what about that spiffy little bow that fastens the sides of his coat together?

I'm thinking that this young gentlemen is stylin' to the nth degree!

Well, enough about the threads.

Let's get to the real fun - an examination of this family's bodily expressions.

First of all, no one is smiling.

We can't really fault them for that because portrait smiling wasn't chic in the 17th century.

A lot of folks wanted to hide their not so gorgeous teeth.

For me, the hands in this portrait are mesmerizing.

The bride' fingers on her left hand are clasping that fan for dear life.

The groom's left hand is gently grasping the right hand of his bride in a typical chivalraldic hold.

Nothing unusual there.

But look at the groom's right arm.

It is completely outstretched and angled toward his mother.

With that definite pose, the groom seems to be inviting his bride into his mother's circle of influence.

Notice the fingers of his right hand.

They are bent and curled inward fist-like.

I may be crazy - that's a story for another time -  but I think this dedicated son is feeling some definite stress here!

"Mom's" hands are planted languidly but firmly in her lap.

They appear to be contained, non-inviting and partially hidden as well.

Body language speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Let's take a a look at the subjects' eyes.

Initially, I thought the bride's eyes were focused on her mother-in-law.

They are not.

In reality, she is staring out into the far distance - certainly in the direction of her mother-in-law but she is not looking specifically at her.

"Mom" is sitting too far back in the foreground for the bride's eyes to be focused on her.

And who is "Mom" looking at?

Why, us, of course!

Even though her head is turned to her left in the direction of her son and daughter-in-law, she's clearly got her eyes trained on us, the viewers.

What about the man of the moment?

Now it gets tricky, doesn't it?

At first glance it looks as if he is looking at his lovely bride-to-be.

But is he?

Although this could be a close call,  I think he's actually looking at us, the viewers.

This is the way I see our dapper groom:

I think part of him wants to look at his bride.

And he knows he should be looking at his bride.

But he's not looking at his bride.

Not really.

Why should we care about who's looking at whom anyway?

Here's a thought:

If the eyes really are the "windows to the soul" as many of us have been taught to believe, it matters a lot!

We read emotions through the portals of the eyes.

By studying the eyes, we are often able to decipher a person's true feelings.

What, then, might our bride be feeling?

Since she's not looking at either her groom or her mother-in-law, she may well be thinking something like this:

"Gee, on second thought,  I'm not so sure I want to sign up for a lifetime with these people.  When's the next coach out of here?"

What about "Mom's" feelings?

Because she is looking directly at her viewers, I think it is obvious she is drawing us into the emotional drama of her touchy situation.

It's as if she is thinking:

"People!  Are you paying attention here?  Does my beloved son look happy to you?  And just who is this canary colored interloper who is swooping in to take my son away from me?"

Finally, there is the young man himself.

What does he seem to be telling us with his eyes?

I think this boy is seriously conflicted!

He is quite literally caught up in the middle of this emotionally charged situation.

He wants his bride to have good feelings for his mother - what son wouldn't want that?

And he wants his mother to have good feelings toward his bride for the same reasons.

I believe those eyes of his are bringing us, the viewers, into his dilemma.

He might be thinking something like this:

"Do you folks see what kind of a mess I'm getting into here?  I'm starting to get some serious cold feet!  Do I really want to marry this woman?  And if I do marry her, will she and Mom learn to live together peacefully? Or will they end up killing each other?"

Ahh - family life - the "fun" never ceases, does it?


Not when you're dealing with a myriad of personalities - all with highly intact egos.

I'm convinced that the only way to stay sane - and alive - in the midst of some family interactions is to use a liberal dose of humor.

I'll let ya'll know the second that starts workin' for me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


("Sometimes less is more . . . But not today", Stephanie Deer, 2010, Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, Utah)

The art world has been known to take itself pretty seriously.

Think about all those snooty portraits of history's movers and shakers, for example.

Most of these people - whether royal blood flows through their veins or not - love to point their noses in the air and pretend they're classier than the rest of us.

They're delusional, of course, but it's kind of fun to snicker and point our fingers at them whenever they pop up on the walls of our local art museums.

When I saw Stephanie Deer's painting, "Sometimes less is more...But not today," I didn't snicker.

I nearly busted a gut laughing.

When I finally calmed down,  I read the wall plate describing this artwork.

We'll let the artist speak for herself.

Stephanie - a native of Draper, Utah - says:

"My motivation starts with the Beehive State.  Utah in all its quirky glory inspires me.  Can you imagine a world without fry sauce?  Funeral potatoes?  The greatest snow on earth?  I shudder at the thought.  These are the warm, vibrant, often hilarious things that connect me to our community.  Painting allows me to celebrate all the pop culture icons that give Utah its unique personality."

Ms. Deer continues:

"The beehive lady emerged from the matriarchs who inspired me as a child.  These proud, native-Utah women loved their families, careers, aprons, roadshows and the occasional warm meal.  Incredible ladies, all of them.  They continue to profoundly influence my work with their strength, vitality and style.  When I was a girl my mother was the hippest gal around.  Her name is Loretta and I named the beehive lady after her."

Then she concludes:

"I am a self-taught artist and by combining several media together by trial and error, my style evolved over time.  Vibrant color and humor are mainstays in my pieces and I often comment on how SERIOUS I am about FUNNY."

Here's the thing, peeps:

I've had my nose planted in a plateful of yummy fries more than a few times.

And I don't dip these taters in boring old ketchup either.

I use the one and only best fry dipping substance on the planet:  Chick-fil-a Sauce.

Chick-fil-a Sauce is a super "delish" form of honey mustard.

I could take a bloomin' bath in this stuff.

Need I say more?

And I'm going to be honest here.

In the excitement of the anticipatory moment - and just like "Miss Loretta"- I've forgotten to remove my sunglasses a time or two before I've dived into the goodies.

This girl is "in the zone," isn't she?

She's staring at those tender sticks of golden deliciousness with everything she's got.

She's soaking up their unresistable aroma seconds before she starts dipping her fries into those - count them - seven cups of Chick-fil-a Sauce.


Excuse me - "fry sauce."

Here's another thing:

I am in love with the happy colors Stephanie has chosen for "Miss Loretta " and her fine dining experience.

Lush, coral reds dominate this painting.

The cheery, cherry wallpaper, the red vinyl bench and "Miss Loretta's" magnificent spiral-shaped "do" all work together to grab our attention and haul it right into the middle of this piece.

We see explosions of color, don't we?

Even "Miss Loretta's" coral-tinged lips - poised as they are over the divine French fries - act as a sort of beacon drawing us into the center of those potato-ey mounds of heaven.

The bright blues of the dress and the underside of the spud plate are the perfect color balance for all of those jump-in-your-face reds.

This painting is a hoot and a half any way you look at it!

Here's just a word or two about the title of  Stephanie's painting.

Most of us have been there, haven't we?

We wake up Monday morning with the best of intentions.

Today we are going to get it right.

Today we are going to eat the right stuff.

And we're going to eat the right stuff in the right proportions.

After all, we are the masters of our souls.

We are the captains of our fate.


But then we glance at a Chick-fil-a billboard as we glide down the interstate at 11:30 a.m. hungrier than ten horses.

Minutes later, the car mysteriously turns into the Chick-fil-a "enter" lane.

The next thing we know, we're telling "Miss Loretta" to schooch over on her bench.

We're gonna need some serious spreadin' out room if we are going to do this right!

Next, we find ourselves goin' head to head with "Miss Loretta" as we plow through our own plate of Frenchified fries.

To our horror, we realize we're downing these things like there's gonna to be no tomorrow.

Then it suddenly dawns on us. . . . . .

there will be a tomorrow!

Relief spills over our flushed faces.

We'll start again tomorrow!

Tomorrow we'll resist those crispy French fries with their seductive special sauce.

Tomorrow we will be masters of our souls.

Tomorrow we will be captains of our fate.

But today?


It's not gonna happen today.

Today we're goin' for it big time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


("The Goldsmith Ladies in the Bois de Boulogne in a Peugot 'Voiturette' 1897", Julius Leblanc Stewart, 1901, Musee National de la Voiture et du Tourisme, France)

I'll never forget the day one of my Women's Studies professors said:

"Driving vehicles has done more for the ultimate independence of women than anything else - including the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote."

That's a big, bold statement for sure!

But as soon as I heard those words,  I knew my professor was on to something.


A quick survey of history tells the tale.

The great majority of the world's cultures have been patriarchal societies.

That means, of course, that men have traditionally held power over women, children, animals and property.

In other words, men made the rules.

And everyone else fell in line.

This was certainly true in Biblical times.

Israelite women prayed to be blessed with male children for several reasons.

One of the most important was this:

A woman's eldest son held the power and the responsibility to look after his mother in her old age - assuming the woman's husband preceded her in death.

Under most of the world's social systems, daughters were strictly watched over by their fathers.

If the father died, the daughter's eldest brother inherited that responsibility.

If the eldest brother died, the daughter's next youngest male sibling took on that job.

Eventually, uncles and cousins would be pegged for the job of overseeing the life of a single female relative if the immediate family had no more males to carry out the task.

On and on it went.

Down the line of familial patriarchal responsibility.

It goes without saying that a daughter's husband took over this assignment on the day of her marriage - often at the tender age of 13 or 14 years old.

If we fast forward through history, we discover that little improvement had been made in the societal and political status of women by the time of the ancient Greeks.

In fact, most Greek women of the Golden Age were forbidden to leave their marital homes unless their husbands or other male relatives accompanied them outside to the larger world.

Occasionally, these women would be allowed to visit a next door neighbor - if their husbands knew about their plans in advance and gave their blessing.

In Renaissance Italy, women born into aristocratic families served as little more than bargaining chips in the marriage market.

Daughters were married off for economic and political reasons.

These well-born ladies were told who they would marry and then they were counseled "to make the best of it."

Now let's jump way, way ahead to the Victorian era.

During this period, men reasoned that women should be "elevated" and figuratively "placed on pedestals" due to the supposed moral superiority of the fairer sex.

Male thinking went something like this:

"Because women are moral, gentle, emotional and delicate creatures, they must be "protected" by men from the nastiness of life. The best way to accomplish this is to assure women that their place is in the home - not in the harsh outer world of commerce and business."


That's a sly way of saying the same old thing, isn't it?

The point is this:

Traditionally, men have wanted to keep power in male hands.

Today, power hungry males are alive and kicking throughout the world.

These men use the same old arguments to bolster their case against the freedom of women.

That's why in some modern cultures, women have not been allowed to drive on the world's roadways.

Cars, after all, are the vehicles (no pun intended) that bring education and understanding to the traveling throngs.

Travel leads to the acquisition of knowledge.

Knowledge not only about the greater world around us but also knowledge and enlightenment about ourselves.

Now, in the case of women, we can't have that, can we?

Because if we do have that, female drivers just might want more freedom to move themselves around the world.

If that happens, women are going to possess wider views of the planet they live on.

That could easily lead to the acquisition of new ideas, thoughts and ambitions.

And before anyone realizes what's happened, these world savvy women are going to demand - dare we say it?


(Otherwise known as control over their own lives.)

We don't know whether French painter, Julius Lablanc Stewart, was bothered by the idea of female drivers.

But it certainly looks as if he frankly promoted the concept, doesn't it?

The truth is, of course, that we don't know Stewart's political opinions about women drivers.

But I believe it's safe to say that he was - at the very least - intrigued by the idea.

Stewart was an American artist - he was born in Philadelphia.

Julius's father was a wealthy man who made his fortune in the sugar industry.

He moved his family to Paris in 1865 and became a dedicated art collector.

The fine arts were in the blood of this family.

So it was no surprise when Julius showed an early interest in painting.

He studied with many of the most polished masters of the day at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Because of the family's wealth, Stewart was able to live a  privileged life of his own choosing without having to worry about money issues.

Julius painted what pleased him.

And what pleased him were large scale group portraits of upper society people - people who were often his friends.

Stewart earned his creds in the art world.

He exhibited frequently at the Paris Salon and helped organize the "Americans in Paris" section of the 1894 Salon.

His beautiful painting, "The Baptism," was shown at the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition and it received honors at the 1895 Berlin International Exposition as well.

(The Baptism, Julius Leblanc Stewart, 1892, Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

I had the privilege of viewing "The Baptism" in Los Angeles a while ago.

It is a huge painting.

But that's not what draws you into the piece.

The painting depicts the gathering of a notable, uppercrust family who is experiencing some degree of distress.

The baptism of an infant is taking place in a gorgeous, spacious room at the family's mansion.

Several people are on hand to witness this sacred event.

But the baptism of the infant is not the focal point of the painting.

In the foreground of the work, we see a young mother languishing on a chaise lounge.

Though she is beautiful and well adorned, it is obvious that she is not physically well.

Bringing forth her child into the world has taken its toll on the young mother's health and well-being.

Stewart has expertly placed this woman at the center of his canvas and because he has done so, our hearts are easily drawn to this new mother's trials and personal worries.

As I studied this painting I imagined that this mother might be thinking,  "Will I live long enough to raise my child?"

That would not have been an unthinkable question at that time in history.

For these reasons - and many others -  "The Baptism" is a wonderful work of art.

Now, then.

Let's turn to happier thoughts.

Stewart's painting, "The Goldsmith a Peugeot" is simply an undisputed joy ride, isn't it?

Here we see two young women - I've named them "Sadie" and "Mae" - out on the road with their trusty canine friend - let's call him - "Blaze."

Sadie, looking particularly spiffy in her sienna hued driving coat, is captain of the Peugeot.

She is the driver of this early "convertible."

And there is no doubt that she is in command.

Those eyes of hers are staring straight ahead as she steers that bumpy buggy down the road.

She's taking care of business.

She knows exactly what she's doing!

And even if she doesn't, you'd never know it by looking at her.

Stewart's Sadie is competent and cool under what could be possible pressure to perform well.

What about Mae?

Look at that obvious grin on her lovely face.

She's enjoying every second of this driving experience.

Mae's left hand is grasping the brim of her perky straw hat.

She doesn't want to lose it to the breeze that is kicking up as the vehicle plows through oncoming air.

Mae's right arm is stretched across the back of the seat - perhaps to provide stability and balance for her as the vehicle rambles forward.

That gauzy scarf in her clasped fingertips is flying for all it's worth, isn't it?

Everything about Stewart's Mae says:  "I'm loving this!"

And then we have Blaze riding out front and center.

He's in his element!

Look at that taut torso and those sturdy legs!

His left ear is busy flapping in the wind.

The dog's eyes are virtual slits.

We can't tell if he can see anything at all.

But who cares?

Blaze is living in the moment and enjoying the brisk breeze as it flows across his body.

This animal - his body pressed forward into the wind - knows how to live life!

There's a lesson in this for each one of us.

Just as Sadie, Mae and Blaze are embracing new opportunities - and challenges - in their lives, should we not step forward in our own lives and brave the unknown?

Of course, the answer to that question must be a resounding "yes."

Stewart's Sadie and Mae are literally and figuratively driving into their futures.

Not only that, they are paving the road that will lead to joyful movement and purpose-filled freedoms for all women down through the decades of time.

Drive on, my dears.

Drive on!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


("Carolina Child", Stephen Scott Young, 2000, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, Alabama)

Stephen Scott Young's painting, "Carolina Child," knocked my socks off the moment I laid eyes on it.

This is a stunning work of art!

Young, born in 1957,  is an American contemporary artist from Honolulu, Hawaii, who is primarily known for his watercolor paintings and etchings.

In "Carolina Child," Young changes things up a bit because this is an oil painting done on masonite.

One of this artist's favorite themes is everyday life in the American South but he also creates work depicting the Out Islands of The Bahamas.

This modern master focuses on social concepts such as coming of age, class and race when he creates his art.

He is known as a "hyper-realist" which means that he is a painter who emphasizes highly intricate details in his realistic works.

His creations are also noted for their beautifully rendered simplicity of subject matter.

It's not difficult to see all of these qualities in "Carolina Child."

Let's look more closely.

We notice, first of all, that the composition of this painting is unusual.

Our subject is not standing front and center in the foreground of this piece.

Instead, she is standing at the lower left corner of the painting.

This deliberate placement helps catch the viewer's attention, doesn't it?

Next, we see that this child has been captured in shadow.

The dark tones of the shadows and the hues of her rich, brown skin are in direct contrast to the massive white spaces which surround her.

This painterly device should give us some clues into the artist's probable intentions.

Let's zero in on the young girl's pose and her facial expression.

Her head has been placed at a slightly downward slant.

And it has been turned to the right - but just barely.

The child's head is turned just enough so we, the viewers, can easily distinguish her facial features.

Glimmering shades of white settle on her ear, cheek and eyes as well as on the side of her nose and lips.

Just in case we have missed those glimmers, Young has given us a second chance to notice them with the sweetly scalloped lace collar that rests against her neck.

The collar is a larger splash of white and it serves as a pedestal of sorts for the child's head.

None of this was an accident, of course.

Young is using these whitewashed glimmers and poised scallops to draw our attention to the emotional temperature of his "Carolina Child."

She seems lost in her own thoughts, doesn't she?

Do we know what she is thinking?

No, we do not.

And, frankly, it's none of our business.

Still, it is readily apparent that she is in a contemplative state of mind.

She is mulling things over.

With these observations, we quickly identify with this girl and we share in her humanity.

For we are all thinking beings, frequently bent on pondering the circumstances of our lives in order to make sense of them.

The whitewashed walls and the sepia-tinged shadows seem to envelop "Carolina Child" in a cozy embrace while she meditates.

She is safe there.

Safe to think.

And safe to feel.

Next, we instantly recognize that the "pearls" in this painting are not real.

They are much too large to be real.

And it's a pretty good bet that they did not cost a fortune.

They are not precious jewels.

Except perhaps to our "Carolina Child."

And that's all that is important, after all.

She wears those four gigantic pearls proudly.

These pearls are workers.

They bind and twist the strands of her hair into a ship-shape, upswept "do."

A crimson red, fluttery bow - or is it a fabric butterfly? -  is placed at the back of her head.

That brilliant shot of red draws attention to those humongous pearls, doesn't it?

For many centuries,  the pearl has been a primary symbol of good taste and elegance.

Pearls, above all other gems, have decorated, highlighted and emphasized the countenances of women (and men) the world over.

They are symbols of innocence and purity as well.

In some ways, they lend a divine sort of light to their wearers.

It is this divine light that shines upon our "Carolina Child."

As we gaze upon her lovely countenance, we feel her innocence and purity.

She is no longer a stranger to us.

Without knowing the internal workings of her thoughts, we somehow share in them.

And that is a very godly thing to do.