The Art of Perseverance

As tough as it is to make it as an artist, it’s even tougher to do so as a woman. Louise Bourgeois managed to break through – after decades of obscurity.

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ABOVE: Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, marble, and stainless steel, 364 x 350 x 402 inches, cast 2001, edition 2/6 + A. P., Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, Photo: © Guggenhein Bilbao Museoa, Bilbao

Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois was raised above a tapestry shop in the suburbs. Her father, an overbearing philanderer would often tease her in front of others, and her mother, albeit loving, was in many ways broken owing to her husband’s constant affairs.

In 1930, Bourgeois began studying mathematics at the Sorbonne. Although she loved math (for all its rules), she abruptly changed her major to art when her mother died in 1932. Her father wasn’t happy, and he refused to help her in any way, so, in order to obtain tuition, she worked as a translator for English speaking students.

After leaving the Sorbonne, she continued her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and began creating artwork inspired by her relationship with her father. Later, she opened a tapestry shop beside his, and because it was a ‘real job’, he helped her do so.

It was at the shop that she met an art professor named Robert Goldwater and after a brief affair, the two married and fled to New York City. Goldwater taught art at NYU and Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York.

Although friends with many successful artists (such as Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock), success proved elusive for Bourgeois, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that she began her ascent into the upper echelons of the art world. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective of her work, and from then on the accolades began piling up.

When Louise Bourgeois passed away in 2010 at the age of 98, she left behind a legacy that serves, in part, as testimony to hard work and perseverance. It wasn’t easy, but she’s in her rightful place as one of contemporary arts greatest practitioners.

Art and International Law

The international community has long recognized the importance of art and culture, and on occasion, have put measures in place to protect it. Here are two examples.

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ABOVE: Taller Buddha (of the Buddha’s of Bamiyan, 4th and 5th century, Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan) in 1963 and in 2008 after destruction by the Taliban.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.

Article 27

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was adopted at The Hague (Netherlands) in 1954 in the wake of massive destruction of cultural heritage during the Second World War. It is the first international treaty with a world-wide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.

The High Contracting Parties,

Recognizing that cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction;

Being convinced that damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world;

Considering that the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection;

Guided by the principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, as established in the Conventions of The Hague of 1899 and of 1907 and in the Washington Pact of 15 April, 1935;

Being of the opinion that such protection cannot be effective unless both national and international measures have been taken to organize it in time of peace;

Being determined to take all possible steps to protect cultural property.

America’s Most Famous Unfinished Artwork

This summer, I will be travelling to Boston, and when I do, I’ll be sure to swing by the Museum of Fine Arts to see Gilbert Stewart’s iconic George Washington Portrait.

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ABOVE: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, 1796, oil on canvas, 47 x 37 inches, The Museum of Fine Arts, Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1796, renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint George and Martha Washington. George was reluctant to sit for another portrait (Stuart had painted him the previous year), but agreed, so long as the finished products became the property of his wife.

Before completion however, Stuart decided that he liked these portraits better than previous efforts, and in order to avoid handing them over to Martha, he deliberately left them unfinished. Even worse, he theused the president’s portrait as a model for numerous commissions, and held on to both paintings until his death in 1828.

In 1869, Stuart’s image of George Washington was placed on the $1 bill, and to this day, is one of the world’s most iconic portraits. It is owned jointly by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I’m hoping to see it this summer.

Georgia O’Keeffe Comes to Toronto

On April 22, the long awaited, career-spanning retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe will open at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here is a very brief biography of the artist.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed, 1936, oil on canvas, 70 x 83.5 inches

Born in the tiny town of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, Georgia O’Keeffe decided at an early age that she was an artist, and after training with a local watercolorist, she left the state of Wisconsin and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905.

Although a great student, her time in Chicago was cut short by typhoid fever, so in 1907 she resettled in New York City and attended the Art Students League. While there, she continued to excel and was awarded a scholarship to the League’s summer school, but once again, her studies were cut short – this time do to a lack of funds. After briefly working as a commercial artist, she moved with her family to Charlottesville, Virginia and quit painting for the next four years.

In 1911, she began teaching at an all-girls prep school, and in 1912, she enrolled in courses at the University of Virginia. While there, her personal style began to take shape.

In 1918, after a series of teaching jobs, she once again moved to New York City, this time with the financial support of photographer, and future husband, Alfred Stieglitz. During this time, she captured the city skyline, and began painting what she’s best known for today, flowers.

In the late twenties, she began splitting her time between New York and New Mexico, and in addition to flowers, began painting the desert landscape, often with skulls floating on the horizon. By now, she was a famous artist.

Throughout her long career, she was plagued with a series of ailments, and in the 1970’s began losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. Nonetheless, she kept painting until her death in 1986 at the age of 98.

In the years since her death, Georgia O’Keeffe has remained a much loved and critically celebrated artist. Her work can be found in numerous galleries around the world including a museum that bears her name in Santa Fe, New Mexico.