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.

The Portrait of an Artist by Another Artist

If a picture says a thousand words, then a portrait says a million. More than just an image, true portraiture captures and conveys a persons character and vulnerability.

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ABOVE: Chuck Close, Kara Walker, 2008, pigmented inkjet print, 47 x 34.5 inches

andy warhol

ABOVE: Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, 1975, gelatin silver print, 9 x 7 inches

joseph beuys

ABOVE: Andy Warhol, Diamond Dust Joseph Beuys, 1980, silkscreen inck and diamond dust on synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 40 x 40 inches

ABOVE: Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Diego, 1937, oil on masonite, 20 x 15 inches

Louise Bourgeois 1982, printed 1991 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

ABOVE: Robert Mapplethorpe, Portrait of Louise Bourgeois with Filette, 1968, taken in 1982, printed in 1991, 14 x 14 inches

Tahitian Dreams

Artists are often searching for something. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for; other times, not so much. Paul Gauguin was a searcher who fell into the later category.

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ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, When Will You Marry?, oil on canvas, 1892, 40 x 30 inches

Born and raised in Paris, Paul Gauguin longed to travel and escape the trappings of western life. Being poor often put a damper on travel plans, but after a successful auction of his paintings, he was able to leave Paris for Tahiti in 1891.

Unfortunately, his escape from Europe proved futile as Tahiti had previously been colonized by the British, and in the process, many of the islands indigenous people had been killed by the diseases they brought with them. Owing to this, French and European culture had taken over, and Gauguin’s expectations of Tahiti were at odds with his actual experiences there.

After struggling to make ends meet in the capitol (Papeete), he eventually settled in a bamboo hut just outside the city, and began work on what many consider to be his finest paintings. It was during this time that he painted “When Will You Marry?” which consists of one women wearing traditional garb, and another dressed like a missionary. This contrast serves to highlight the changes evident in Tahiti at the time, and Gauguin’s attempts to reconcile them.

Gauguin returned to France in 1893, but continued to paint Tahitian subjects with the belief they would appeal to a French audience – they did not.”When Will You Marry?” was placed on consignment in an exhibition, but after failing to sell, it remained with the artist until his death in 1903.

In 2015, “When Will You Marry?” sold to a member of the Qatari royal family for close to US $300 million (exact price unknown). To date, it, along with Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange”, is the most expensive painting ever sold. Its current whereabouts are unknown. I wonder what Gauguin would have thought.

Quotes of the Successful

I’m a big fan of quotes. Sometimes they reinforce what I’m already thinking; sometimes they add a new perspective. The following are a few of my favorites.

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ABOVE: Andy Warhol, Photo of Wayne Gretzky, 1983, Polaroid Polacolor

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Michael Jordan

“Starting and growing a business is as much about the innovation, drive, and determination of the people behind it as the product they sell.” Elon Musk

“You have to think anyway, so why not think big?” Donald Trump

“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.” David Bowie

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” Steve Jobs

“The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead.” Jack Nicholson

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Warren Buffett

“Lose your dreams and you might lose your mind.” Mick Jagger

“The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.” Barack Obama

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretzky

Upcoming Toronto Art Shows

Every now and then, I do a web search to see what’s coming up in the Toronto arts scene. While things are currently slow, the following exhibitions caught my eye.

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ABOVE: Geogria O’Keeffe, From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, oil on canvas, 35.9 x 40.1 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Size Matter: Steve Driscoll and Finn O’Hara

McMichael Canadian Art Collection (opens March 11, 2017)

Juxtaposing the urban with the rural, Size Matters will be the first exhibition in in a public gallery for Toronto artists Driscoll and O’Hara.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Art Gallery of Ontario (April 22-July 30, 2017)

Organized by Tate Modern and making its only North American stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario, this retrospective contains more than 80 of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works and looks like a hit in the making.

Artifact by Deborah Samuel

Gardiner Museum (May 1 – 31, 2017)

Running as part of the Contact Photography Festival, Artifact consists of twelve 20 x 24 inch black and white prints by Santa Fe artist Deborah Samuel. As transformation is the central theme, what the viewer sees changes depending upon their distance from the wall.

Anishinaabeg: Art & Power

Royal Ontario Museum (opens June 17, 2017)

Containing art produced over the last 200 years, this show will highlight the artistic evolution of the Anishinaabeg peoples while exploring their life, traditions and sacred stories.