Friday, January 19, 2018

Paul Cézanne, Father of modern art. Born on this day in 1839


January 19, 1839. Paul Cézanne (19 January 1839 - 22 October 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. In this image: Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906). Recto: The Chaîne de l'Etoile Mountains (La Chaîne de l'Etoile avec le Pilon du Roi), 1885 - 1886. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper; Verso: Unfinished Landscape, undated. Watercolor and graphite on wove paper, Sheet: 12 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (31.4 x 48.6 cm). BF650. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation.

What a mediocre way to describe the father of modern art and the most influential painter of the 20th century. Artist, painter and so much more. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne "is the father of us all."

The son of a banker, he was born in Aix-en-Provence and from the age of 10, was a friend of Zola whom he met in school. Although he first complied with his father's wishes to study law, Cézanne left Aix and moved to Paris in 1861. His early work was not inspiring but he continued to struggle to unite "observation of nature with the permanence of classical composition." His father disinherited him but later relented and left Cézanne with a large legacy which gave him a financial independence rare among painters of any era. 



The more he painted, the more he saw. The more he saw, the more manifold and unattainable truth became. "I must tell you," Cézanne wrote to his son six weeks before his death in the fall of 1906, "that as a painter I am becoming more clear-sighted before nature, but with me the realization of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses. I do not have the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature. Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply ..."

Did any painter ever achieve more in such isolation? Cézanne did not have a one-man show until 1895, when he was 56. If the last years of his life made him something of a public figure in his native Aix-en-Provence and among the artists in Paris, he spent them in virtual seclu sion in his studio at Les Lauves, on the hillside above Aix. The workplace held the permanent characters of his still lifes: the plaster cupid, the blue ginger jar, the plain Provençal stoneware, the scroll-sawed kitchen table, the floral rug, the skulls, onions and peaches. 


Above all, there was Mont Ste.-Victoire, which would become, thanks to the painter's obsessive scrutiny, the most analyzed mountain in art. One sees how absolutely, unlike most other painters who work en série, Cézanne despised repetition. Each painting attacks the mountain and its distance as a fresh problem. The bulk runs from a mere vibration of watercolor on the horizon, its translucent, wriggling pro file echoing the pale green and lavender gestures of the foreground trees, to the vast solidarity of the Philadelphia version of Mont Ste.-Victoire, 1902-06. There, all is displacement. Instead of an object in an imaginary box, surrounded by transparency, every part of the surface is a continuum, a field of resistant form. Patches of gray, blue and lavender that jostle in the sky are as thoroughly articulated as those that constitute the flank of the mountain. Nothing is empty in late Cézanne — not even the bits of untouched canvas. This organized dialectic of shape and of color is the subject of Cézanne's famous remark: "Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations." To realize a sensation meant to give it a syntax — and as the hatched, angled planes in late Cézanne become less legible as illusion, so does the force of their pictorial language become more ordered. His goal was presence, not illusion, and he pursued it with an unremitting gravity. 





The fruit in the great still lifes of the period, like Apples and Oranges, 1895-1900, are so weighted with pictorial decision — their rosy surfaces filled, as it were, with thought — that they seem about twice as solid as real fruit could be. It mattered to Cézanne that he was a Provençal. Mont Ste.-Victoire was central to him, not only as a shape but as an emblem of his roots. 




The light in his watercolors (perhaps the most radiant exercises in that medium since Turner) is not just the transcendent energy, the "supernatural beauty" of abstraction; it is also the harsh, verifiable flicker of sun on Provençal hillsides. To his anguish and fulfillment, Cézanne was embedded in the real world, and he returns us to it, whenever his pictures are seen. —: Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New


In his later years, the years when he wrote his best letters, the French painter Paul Cézanne did not cease to study and worry. He was solitary and difficult and as devoted to his art as a mystic might be to salvation. “I think the best thing to do is to work hard,” he wrote. For him, painting was the most exacting process. “He was,” Alex Danchev writes, “a thinker-painter of formidable penetration.” In April 1904, for example, two years before he died, he wrote to a young painter: “Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth . . . Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. Now, we men experience nature more in terms of depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our vibrations of light, represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient quantity of blue tones, to give a sense of atmosphere.” Colin Tobin

Heilbrun Timeline of Art history here 
Wikipedia here 
Guardian review of a current exhibit here
Web page of quotes, etc here

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A year of resistence


Indira Cesarine’s Resist featured at The Untitled Space One Year of Resistance exhibit, in NewYork, January 2018. Photograph: The Untitled Space/Courtesy of The Untitled Space

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/17/one-year-of-resistance-exhibit-anti-trump-art

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Henri Fantin-Latour. Born on this day in 1836







 Henri Fantin-Latour (14 January 1836 - 25 August 1904) was a French painter and lithographer best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of Parisian artists and writers. His first major UK gallery exhibition in 40 years took place at the Bowes Museum in April 2011.  Musée du Luxembourg presented a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2016-7 entitled "À fleur de peau".Top Image: Henri Fantin-Latour, La leçon de dessin ou Portraits. Oil on canvas, 145 x 170 cm Musées Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Brussels.


Henri Fantin-Latour came to prominence in the era of Impressionism and had personal and professional connections to the group. But he preferred to exhibit at the Salon rather than with the Impressionists and unlike Claude Monet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Fantin-Latour rarely painted outdoors. 
At the age of ten, Fantin-Latour began training as an artist with his father, a painter. He later studied with Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, an innovative and important teacher known for his system of teaching visual memory. Fantin-Latour developed an enthusiasm for Italian painters, especially Titian and Paolo Veronese, and regularly copied their work at the Louvre. It was at the Louvre that Fantin-Latour met Édouard Manet with whom he forged a friendship; he would later paint Manet on several occasions


By the early 1860s, Fantin-Latour was producing the three genres of painting that would sustain his career: portraiture, still-life painting, and imaginative or mythological scenes. Commissioned portraits and still-life paintings of flowers and fruit were essential to the artist's livelihood and he established an important clientele in England. But Fantin-Latour received the greatest critical attention for a series of ambitious group portraits featuring many of the most renowned artists, writers, and musicians of the time. His imaginative works were often inspired by his great love of music and he created several paintings based on the operas of Richard Wagner. Fantin-Latour increasingly explored lithography as a testing ground for his fantastical works.

Images and information here

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chaïm Soutine. Born on this day in 1893


January 13, 1893. Chaïm Soutine (13 January 1893 - 9 August 1943) was a Russian-French painter of Jewish origin. Soutine made a major contribution to the expressionist movement while living in Paris. Inspired by classic painting in the European tradition, exemplified by the works of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet, Soutine developed an individual style more concerned with shape, color, and texture over representation, which served as a bridge between more traditional approaches and the developing form of Abstract Expressionism. In this image: Chaim Soutine, Two Pheasants.

Born in Belorussia (Now Minsk, Russia), of a poor Jewish family, Soutine made his way to Paris in 1913. He remained the outsider, gauche, speaking poor French and always on the edge of starvation which is probably why so many of his works portray meat.  In 1915, however, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who also had studied in Vilna, introduced him to Modigliana, and Soutine soon became one of the companions of Modigliani as the Italian roamed Montparnasse in the evenings, offering to sketch portraits on the terraces in exchange for drinks. When Modliagini died in 1920 (?) of advanced TB and alcoholism, the news shocked and devastated Soutine who never drank from then on. 

Carcass of Beef

He seldom showed his works, but he did take part in the important exhibition The Origins and Development of International Independent Art held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1937 in Paris, where he was at last hailed as a great painter. Soon afterwards France was invaded by German troops. As a Jew, Soutine had to escape from the French capital and hide in order to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He moved from one place to another and was sometimes forced to seek shelter in forests, sleeping outdoors. Suffering from a stomach ulcer and bleeding badly, he left a safe hiding place for Paris in order to undergo emergency surgery, which failed to save his life. On August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died of a perforated ulcer. He was interred in Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.


Despite dominant trends toward abstraction, Soutine maintained a firm connection to recognizable subject matter. His innovation was in the way he chose to represent his subjects: with a thick impasto of paint covering the surface of the canvas, the palette, visible brushwork, and forms translated the artist's inner torment. As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider, further enhancing his unique perspective regarding his human subjects, landscapes, and still lifes and lending them a particular vanitas and poignancy. A prototypical wild artist, Soutine's temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas. Soutine's body of work transcends the movements that dominated the avant-garde during his lifetime, expressing a clear personal and artistic vision that both looks back at historic themes as well as toward future modernist styles.

More about Soutine's tragic life at Wikipedia and here

Friday, January 12, 2018

Celebrating Martin Luther King. Free admission at the de Young on January 13


The NorcalMLK Foundation and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are proud to present Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Revelations. Enjoy free admission to the exhibition ‘Revelations: Art from the African American South’ and the de Young permanent collection galleries, along with programming and activities that celebrate the themes in the exhibition and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Though not required, they encourage everyone to RSVP. )

FREE ADMISSION On January 13. 
9:30 AM–5:15 PM

Complimentary admission to the exhibition Revelations: Art from the African American South and the permanent collections. Pick up your free ticket from the Admissions desk on the day of the event (one per person). Related programs are also free with no ticket required.

PERFORMANCE

10:30 AM, REPEATING AT 12:30 PM | WILSEY COURT

Jusepe de Ribera. Born on this day in 1591

The Clubfooy
January 12, 1591. Jusepe de Ribera (January 12, 1591 - September 2, 1652) was a Spanish Tenebrist painter and printmaker, also known as José de Ribera and Josep de Ribera. He also was called Lo Spagnoletto ("the Little Spaniard") by his contemporaries and early writers. Ribera was a leading painter of the Spanish school, although his mature work was all done in Italy. In this image: Jusepe de Ribera, Saint James the Lesser, ca. 1632.  Born in Spain but worked in Italy, Ribera stated that Spain was "a loving mother to foreigners and a very cruel stepmother to her own sons. "

Faces contorted in pain, mutilated bodies, sagging flesh, bearded women and deformed boys: such is the stuff of Jusepe de Ribera's paintings. The fact that Ribera was probably the most influential painter of the Spanish Baroque (even more influential than his far more famous compatriot, Velázquez) tends to be overshadowed by the fact that his often twisted, bizarre images have categorized the artist as a painter of the dark and bloody, and nothing more.

But he was more than a painter of the grotesque and bizarre. In fact, a closer look at his oeuvre reveals that the artist was as much a master of Baroque color, dynamism and grandeur as he was a master of Caraveggesque chiaroscuro and naturalism. Furthermore, Ribera's prints and paintings alike had an enormous impact on the development of Baroque art all over Europe.

But he was more than a painter of the grotesque and bizarre. In fact, a closer look at his oeuvre reveals that the artist was as much a master of Baroque color, dynamism and grandeur as he was a master of Caraveggesque chiaroscuro and naturalism. Furthermore, Ribera's prints and paintings alike had an enormous impact on the development of Baroque art all over Europe.
In his earlier style, founded sometimes on Caravaggio and sometimes on the wholly diverse method of Corregio,  the study of Spanish and Venetian masters may be traced. Along with his massive and predominating shadows, he retained from first to last a great strength in local coloring. His forms, although ordinary and sometimes coarse, are correct; the impression of his works gloomy and startling. He delighted in subjects of horror. In the early 1630s his style changed away from strong contrasts of dark and light to a more diffused and golden lighting.



Images and info from Wikipedia and Art Bible

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Barbara Hepworth, Born on this day in 1903





Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. Barbara Hepworth was a sculptor and a leading figure in British sculpture as well as the international art scene until her death.

Hepworth studied at Leeds school of Art from 1920–1921 alongside fellow Yorkshire-born artist Henry Moore. Both students continued their studies in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Both became leading practitioners of the avant-garde method of Direct Carving (working directly in to the chosen material) avoiding the more traditional process of making preparatory models and maquettes from which a craftsman would produce the finished work. She moved toward greater and greater abstract forms. creating work that was also tactile and sensuous. 

From 1924 Hepworth spent two years in Italy, and in 1925 married her first husband, the artist John Skeaping, in Florence; their marriage was to last until 1931. But it was never an easy marriage; Skeaping was self indulgent and charming but feckless, and found Hepworth's fierce drive frightening and worse of all for a woman, not sexy. "Barbara was very unsexy and I was just the opposite," he maintained in his complacent autobiography.

From 1932, she lived with the painter Ben Nicholson and, for a number of years, the two artists made work in close proximity to each other, developing a way of working that was almost like a collaboration. They spent periods of time in Europe, and it was here that Hepworth met Georges Braque and Piet Mondrian, and visited the studios of PicassoConstantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp and Sophie Taueber-Arp. The experience was a hugely exciting one for Hepworth, for she not only found herself in the studios of some of Europe’s most influential artists, which helped her to approach her own career with renewed vigor and clarity, but also found there mutual respect. The School of Paris had a lasting effect on both Hepworth and Nicholson as they became key figures in an international network of abstract artists.


Barbara Hepworth deserves wider recognition as an artist of extraordinary stature whose importance is still to some extent hidden by the fame of the men in her life. Over 50 years, from 1925 to her death in 1975, she made more than 600 works of sculpture remarkable in range and emotional force. Her private life was complicated, at times traumatic: two marriages and four children, three of whom were triplets. And there was the long disruption of the war. What makes Hepworth wonderful was the strength of her ambition, the unswerving self-belief. She demonstrated so tangibly her understanding that "the dictates of work are as compelling for a woman as for a man”.

In 1934, Hepworth's unexpected triplets Simon, Rachel and Sarah were born.

The practical problems were formidable. But Hepworth did not reject being a mother, and was able to draw on the resources of her time and place - a nursery-training college, scholarships to a progressive boarding school. The whole business of organizing and keeping things together fell to her (of course) and she has been heavily criticized for not dropping her art and devoting her time and energies to being a more traditional mother. Nicholson has never been criticized. Intellectually she found the balancing of work and domesticity challenging but one that stimulated her creativity. 

 "A woman artist," she argued, "is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles (even in triplicate) - one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that the images grow in one's mind." She came to see that the female physical experiences extended the range of the artistic perceptions. When she watched a woman carrying a child in her arms, she would feel the experience as if it were her own.

She tenaciously continued to develop her own work, refining naturalism, creating the series of strictly abstract white marble circles, segments, slabs that became a symbol of 1930s Hampstead. For many leftwing artists, abstraction had become an article of faith, a bastion of freedom in the face of European fascist censorship.




When WW II broke out, Hepworth, Nicholson, the children and family help left for Cornwall where Barbara established a secondary circle for British art that survived WW II, although she was continually eclipsed by those who viewed Moore as the better artist. Her strong will and fierce determination to create too a toll on all her relationships although she was never "cut any slack" the way male artists are. 

Even after her life fell apart, even after the death of her eldest son Paul (1953) , even after the diagnosis of cancer of the tongue, she kept on working, kept on creating." In those last years before her accidental death by fire in her own house, she returned to smaller carvings - to themes of myth and magic, to the gravitas and stillness that was so strong in her." A life long smoker and now in extreme pain from cancer, Hepworth took a sleeping pill and fell asleep with a cigarette in her mouth. She was 72. 

One can only hope that like Lee Krasner, her artistic vision will be recognized for what it is -- and not as a pale reflection of the men in her life. 

https://barbarahepworth.org.uk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Hepworth

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hepworth-barbara.htm
  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Born on this day in 1875

Artists are important but so are those who supported them: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (January 9, 1875 - April 18, 1942) was an American sculptor, art patron and collector, and founder in 1931 of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She was a prominent social figure and hostess, who was born into the wealthy Vanderbilt family and married into the Whitney family. (January 9, 1875 - April 18, 1942) was an American sculptor, art patron and collector, and founder in 1931 of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She was a prominent social figure and hostess, who was born into the wealthy Vanderbilt family and married into the Whitney family.


She was also a sculptor with numerous shows and commissions. 

The iconoclastic woman who founded the whitney: 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Albert Bierstadt , born on this day in 1830


Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail, ca. 1873. Oil on canvas, 54 × 84¾ in. (137.2 × 215.3 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Vincenzo Ardenghi.
Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was an American painter, best known for his glorious landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.

Indians Spear Fishing, 1862

He became part of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along the Hudson River.  Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. An important interpreter of the western landscape, Bierstadt, along with Thomas Moran, is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the CatskillAdirondack, and White Mountains; eventually works by the second generation of artists associated with the school expanded to include other locales in New Englandthe Maritimes, the American West, and South America.

This painting is the major work that resulted from the artist's first trip to the West. His intention to create panoramic views of the American frontier was apparent by December 1858, just before he embarked on the trip. In early 1859 he accompanied a government survey expedition, headed by Frederick W. Lander, to the Nebraska Territory. By summer, the party had reached the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains in what is now Wyoming. Bierstadt dubbed the central mountain in the picture Lander's Peak following the colonel's death in the Civil War. This was one of a number of large works painted after Bierstadt's return from these travels. It was completed in 1863, exhibited to great acclaim, and purchased in 1865 for the then-astounding sum of $25,000 by James McHenry, an American living in London. Bierstadt later bought it back and gave or sold it to his brother Edward.

His wife was diagnosed with TB in 1876 and from then on, until her death in 1893, they lived in the Bahamas. In later life, his work fell out of favor but interest was renewed in the 1960's with an exhibit of his smaller works. 

"The temptation (to criticize him) should be steadfastly resisted. Bierstadt's theatrical art, fervent sociability, international outlook, and unquenchable personal energy reflected the epic expansion in every facet of western civilization during the second half of the nineteenth century." Howat, John K., editor. American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, 284. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987. ISBN 9780870994975.  



Sunday, January 7, 2018

Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré born on Jan 6, 1932

artist, printmakerillustratorcomics artistcaricaturist and sculptor who worked primarily with wood engraving

Illustrations for Dante's The Divine Comedy

Illustrations for Dante's The Divine Comedy

Gustave Dore was a prolific engraver, artist, illustrator, and sculptor, working primarily as a wood and steel engraver. He produced over 100,000 sketches in his lifetime, and lived to be 50 years old, averaging 6 sketches per day for each day he lived. By the time he died he had also earned over $2 million, living a life of affluence. Even though he was an untrained, self-taught artist, who never used a live model, and who could not sketch from nature, his work is considered some of the most important in the entire engraving art world. 

As a child, young Dore was an avid artist, and earned his way as an illustrator in a Paris bookshop, publishing his first drawings when he was 15 years old. His young age and great talent drew much attention, which led to newspaper and journal articles written about the “child illustrator,” and generated further interest in the artist. As an illustrator, Dore created engravings for the books of Balzac, Rabelais, Milton, Dante, Edgar Allen Poe, and Lord Byron. He was commissioned to illustrate a version of the English Bible, which was extremely popular, allowing for the foundation of his own gallery, the Dore Gallery. For his work on Dante’s Inferno, he was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. 

Although he lived a wealthy life of affluence, received many commissions, and continued to reap the rewards of commercial success, by the end of his life Dore’s illustrations had begun to receive negative reviews. He rarely completed any works with colors, leading to the speculation that he was color blind, and his negative portrayal of subject matter made his works difficult to display. After the death of his mother, who had been is roommate and life time companion, he lost the will to live and died after a short illness.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy born on January 5, 1900


Indefinite Divisibility by Yves Tanguy, 1942; Oil on canvas.

January 05, 2018. Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy (January 5, 1900 - January 15, 1955), known as Yves Tanguy, was a French surrealist painter. Tanguy, the son of a retired navy captain, was born at the Ministry of Naval Affairs on Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. His parents were both of Breton origin.
January 5th is going to go down for more than Tanguy’s birthday. Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art will now have to pay $25 to enter if they do not live in New York state 
starting March 1, a first in half a century. link here

Tanguy's paintings have a unique, immediately recognizable style of nonrepresentational surrealism. They show vast, abstract landscapes, mostly in a tightly limited palette of colors, only occasionally showing flashes of contrasting color accents. Typically, these alien landscapes are populated with various abstract shapes, sometimes angular and sharp as shards of glass, sometimes with an intriguingly organic look to them, like giant amoebae suddenly turned to stone.



According to Nathalia Brodskaïa, Mama, Papa is Wounded! (1927) is one of Tanguy's most impressive paintings. He took the title of this and other works from psychiatric textbooks: "I remember spending a whole afternoon with ... André Breton," he said, "leafing through books on psychiatry in the search for statements of patients which could be used as titles for paintings." 

Brodskaïa writes that the painting reflects his debt to Giorgio de Chirico – falling shadows and a classical torso – and conjures up a sense of doom: the horizon, the emptiness of the plain, the solitary plant, the smoke, the helplessness of the small figures. Tanguy said that it was an image he saw entirely in his imagination before starting to paint it.

Tanguy's style was an important influence on several younger painters, such as Roberto MattaWolfgang Paalen, and Esteban Francés, who adopted a Surrealist style in the 1930s. Later, Tanguy's paintings (and, less directly, those of de Chirico) influenced the style of the French animated movie Le Roi et l'oiseau, by Paul Grimaultand Prévert. 

https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/52.4155



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy birthday to J. R. R. Tolkien






Happy birthday to J. R. R. Tolkien, born today in 1892! Here's four wonderful Hobbit illustrations by Tove Jansson, Maurice Sendak, Mikhail Belomlinsky and Cees Kelfkens to celebrate...


http://bodleianlibs.tumblr.com/post/165612414050/hobbitday

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Piero di Cosimo. Born on Jan 2, 1462

St. John the Baptist as a young man

Piero di Cosimo (2 January 1462 – 12 April 1522), also known as Piero di Lorenzo, was a Florentine painter of the Italian Renaissance.

The Death of Procos
He is most famous for the mythological and allegorical subjects he painted in the late Quattrocento; he is said to have abandoned these to return to religious subjects under the influence of Savonarola, the preacher who exercised a huge sway in Florence in the 1490s, and had a similar effect on Botticelli. The High Renaissance style of the new century had little influence on him, and he retained the straightforward realism of his figures, which combines with an often whimsical treatment of his subjects to create the distinctive mood of his works. Vasari has many stories of his eccentricity, and the mythological subjects have an individual and quirky fascination.


Reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food; he lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Vasari, "more like a beast than a man”.  


Also, according to Vasari,  Piero “changed his style almost from one work to the next.” He devoured influences—Leonardo, Filippino Lippi, Flemish painting—and espoused radical ideas, notably a borderline heretical vision of human prehistory as brutally primitive. Compulsively original, he wouldn’t hold still to be revered. The glancing ironies and the frequent wild humor of his art remain freshly confounding—and a good deal of fun—today.


He trained under Cosimo Roselli, whose daughter he married, and assisted him in his Sistine Chapel frescos. He was also influenced by Early Netherlandish painting, and busy landscapes feature in many works, often forests seen close at hand. Several of his most striking secular works are in the long "landscape" format used for paintings inset into cassone wedding chests or spalliera headboards or panelling. He was apparently famous for designing the temporary decorations for Carnival and other festivities.

To look intently at Piero’s paintings, to pry beneath their surface, is to realize that the artist is forever playing with the nature of representation. His images, at once seemingly familiar, on closer view blur the line between illusion and reality. Though Piero steeped himself in the world of classical literature, to read his paintings too literally is to diminish an appreciation for his originality and wit. For Vasari, it was Piero’s gift to see “a certain subtlety in the investigations of some of the deepest and most subtle secrets of Nature, without grudging time or labor, but only for his own delight and for his pleasure in the art” (vol. 1, 657). To modern audiences, this continues to be a source of wonder.  Phil Jacks. 


Renaissance Wild Man: